31 May, 2014

Kempton Nature Reserve

I visited Kempton Nature Reserve this morning to help Paul Wheeler search for the larval stages of the tiny micro moth, Neofriseria peliella. It's a member of the large family Gelechiidae, and has historically been restricted to only a handful of sites along the coast of Kent. It was therefore quite a surprise when two individuals turned up at a moth trap on the Middlesex reserve last summer, almost 100 miles from the only other known site for the species! The larvae feed on sheep's sorrel, and much of the morning was spent on all fours examining the stems of plants for evidence of the inconspicuous silk tubes within which the larvae develop. Neither of us wanted to admit the fact that it was very much a needle in a haystack job, and after a few hours of unsuccessful plant fondling, we called it a day. Moth-trapping in the next few months hopefully help determine whether an established population is present on site.

The reserve itself- which is only accessible for those with a Thames Water membership permit- is nothing less than a gem amongst the urban sprawl of Sunbury and Hanworth, combining short-turf downland with some fairly extensive reedbed and wetland habitats. Certainly worth another visit as the season progresses...

Alabonia geoffrella- one of late spring's best kept secrets, flying throughout the reserve.

Four-spotted Chaser

Acrocercops brongniardella- a larval leaf mine on oak.

29 May, 2014

Storm respite

A couple of hours respite from the constant rain was enough to encourage invertebrates of all sorts onto the wing at Esher Common this afternoon. Nemapogon cloakella, Epinotia tetraquetrana, Epinotia cruciana, Neofaculta ericetella, Ptycholoma lecheana and Emmetia marginea were all netted within 5 minutes of leaving the car park, more than making up for the recent moth drought.

A Black-tailed Skimmer hawked over Black Pond, but unfortunately no sign of Brilliant Emerald- small amount of coppicing appears to have been undertaken in the area they frequented last year, and I just hope that hasn't put them off hunting there this year.

By far the coolest find of the day was this leaf beetle, Clytra quadripunctata. Larvae develop in the nests of wood ants; this one was perched just a short distance from a busy Formica rufa foraging route...

Clytra quadripunctata

Merodon equestris- a fantastic bee mimic hoverfly! 

27 May, 2014

Funk, soul and some moths

I'm still enduring the last remnants of a killer hangover after spending the weekend at a fantastic local soul & reggae festival. The weather was perfect, and with 9 hours of 70s soul legends on stage to appreciate (including Aswad, Rose Royce AND Sister Sledge) it was inevitable that a cider or seven would also be enjoyed. I'd been hoping to get out into the fresh air yesterday to cure the Irish flu, but with the current diabolical weather, it looks like I'll have to resort to the rainy day folder. These ones are from a brief wander around Esher Common last Thursday...

Glyphipterix fuscoviridella

Roeslerstammia erxlebella

Grapholita internana

Epinotia bilunana

Green Hairstreak

It didn't surprise me in the slightest to recently find out that Esher Common has one of the longest pan-species lists of all nature reserves in Britain. The range of habitats represented on the Common provide ample resources for thousands of invertebrates, including a very respectable list of Odonata (dragonflies & damselflies). I'll be back there soon catch up with the site's rarest dragonfly, Brilliant Emerald, although quite when that will be is going to depend on the skies.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with the highlight from this weekend's festival...

The geniuses behind the funk- Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers. Pioneering countless musical genres and responsible for creating the greatest bass lines in the history of music.

Edwards teaching John Taylor (of Duran Duran fame) how to play the bass...

24 May, 2014

Pine Carpet

From the garden moth trap last night, I don't often catch Pine Carpet, and I've certainly never caught it at the same time as its main associate species, Grey Pine Carpet. A nice chance to make an easy comparison between the two...

Pine Carpet Thera firmata (left) and Grey Pine Carpet Thera obeliscata (right)

When compared like this, identification seems relatively straight forward. There are forms of Grey Pine Carpet which exhibit the reddish-brown ground colour of Pine Carpet, but the central cross-band of the latter species is always faded, and never very well marked out. It starts to get a little bit more confusing when you compare Grey Pine Carpet with Spruce Carpet, but that's one for another day... 

23 May, 2014

A dusking session

Foxglove Pug

Platyedra subcinerea

Callisto denticulella

Hedya nubiferana

Incurvaria oehlmanniella

I enjoyed a successful evening of dusking yesterday; catching moths in the fading light with a net. The rewards were four new species for the year, including the first record of the nationally scarce Platyedra subcinerea since 2011, and a beautifully-marked Callisto denticulella, the latter of which I usually only find as a leaf-mine on apple. The real highlight of the session was finally netting Incurvaria oehlmanniella, a moth which now completes my attempt at photographing the confusing members of this genus side-by-side (along with pectinea and masculella). When I get time I'll update this post with the new image.

Checking the moth trap this morning failed to produce anything much different from the last time it was run in April, with the only slightly interesting visitor being the first Foxglove Pug of the year.

22 May, 2014

The use of a spruce

Norway Spruce

I'm sure I've sung its praises on here before, but I just thought I'd put in another good word for the Norway Spruce tree that resides in a garden a few doors down the road.

"Why the good word?", you ask in a curious tone. Conifers aren't generally known for their biodiversity, but each year this particular tree acts as the sole food-plant for a fantastic array of scarce lepidoptera which reach the garden moth trap throughout the year. One of the tree's most recent surprises is Assara terebrella, a rather localised pyralid which feeds within the spruce cones themselves. The species has been known as an immigrant along the coast (don't tell Farage), but with this individual from last night constituting the second record for the garden in the past two years, I think it can be assumed with some degree of confidence that they are part of a local population.

Assara terebrella

Cydia strobilella- another 'notable' species dependent on Norway Spruce, netted in the garden each April for the past four years without fail!

20 May, 2014

What now?

I handed in my last colossal assignment last Friday, pretty much signalling the end of my first year in Worcester Uni. It's been a fantastic experience, but has sped by ridiculously quickly- it seems like only last week that I was travelling up the M40 with a car full of completely unnecessary pots and pans, excited at the prospect of independence and new people to meet, but at the same time crapping bricks at the prospect of independence and new people to meet. Looking back now, any worries I ever had seem laughable, and I can't wait to start it all again next year with the added luxury of a house, albeit getting ever closer to starting that inevitable dissertation.

I'll be heading back down south tomorrow, so it seemed only right to pay the Grimley Pits a final visit, where absolutely thousands of damselflies had been emerging. Common Blue made up the majority, with smaller numbers of Blue-tailed, Red-eyed and a single Azure Damselfly mixed in. Great to have them back...

Common Blue Damselfly

Blue-tailed Damselfly

Cercopis vulnerata- a brute of a bug

Now the soppy stuff's out the way, did I ever mention that back in March I found out that I'd been offered a position as one of two long-term volunteers at the fantastic Skokholm Bird Observatory (just off the Pembrokeshire coast), working alongside the wardens from July until October? No? I thought I was dreaming at first but it turns out it actually is happening, which means that with any luck this here blog will be coming to you from the Welsh coast for the duration of the seabird breeding and autumn migration season. In the very likely scenario that I have no internet connection up there, you'll be able to follow our happenings on the Skokholm Blog- updated daily by the wardens, Richard and Giselle, with mouth-watering photography and wildlife sightings. Should be a fun season- I've even heard that they have a moth trap...

18 May, 2014

Wyre Forest bryophyte surveying

I joined a crack team of local Worcester bryologists yesterday morning for another moss survey, this time on the Shropshire-Worcestershire border and the very lush-looking Wyre Forest. May isn't generally known for its bryological activity, but there were still some very interesting acidic soil-loving mosses and liverworts to keep everyone happy- proven by the fact that we'd barely moved half a mile from the car park within the first two hours. I was still trying to figure out my pleurocarps from my acrocarps by the time scientific names had effortlessly been given to these little beauties...

Calypogeia arguta (Notched Pouchwort)

Frullania dilatata (Dilated Scalewort) 

Campylopus introflexus (Heath Star-moss)

Hypnum jutlandicum (Heath Plait-moss)

I almost made the mistake of leaving the flat without a net, which would have been disastrous considering the quality of invertebrates on the wing. The underside of almost every deciduous leaf held a resting Phyllonorycter...

Phyllonorycter lautella

Phyllonorycter ulmifoliella

Schreckensteinia festaliella

15 May, 2014

Walking with moths

I woke up late yesterday afternoon bright and early yesterday morning to the sight of a single Common Marbled Carpet on my bedroom window.  Not only was this first moth to grace our halls of residence since last September, but it was also the first moth I'd seen so far this week, which considering it's now mid-May, is an unforgivable disgrace.

With the weather being nice and all, I decided to take a break from the 2,500 word essay I'm currently knee-deep in to head out into the local Worcestershire countryside, armed with nothing but a camera and a sweep net.

No listing was done, and no 'tricky' species were taken back for further examination, but I reckon that I must have encountered at least 40 species of lepidoptera within the limits of a square mile or two. The hedges and grasses were teeming with micro moth activity, and it was absolutely fantastic to see. For me, there really is no better way to clear the mind than to aimlessly wander along hedgerows in search of moths, as sad as that may sound...

Aethes smeathmanniana

Aspilapteryx trigipennella

Cauchas rufimitrella- one of many micro moths to have recently receive a name change in the latest checklist.

Alabonia geoffrella, a truly Hepburn-esque moth with a scientific name that definitely doesn't do it justice.

Phyllonorycter muelleriella- this nationally scarce species was abundant on just about every oak searched.

Micropterix aruncella- several of these minute gems were mixed in with the very abundant M. calthella.

It seemed rude not to miss out the larval stages, without which there would be no adult moth (... obviously). I don't usually focus on early stages until the autumn, when leaf-mines generally become more noticeable, but there are caterpillars of some description to be found all year around...

Coleophora serratella, feeding on a Hazel leaf within it distinctive larval case.

The colourful caterpillar of Aphelia paleana, feeding on Cleavers. 

13 May, 2014

The art of procrastination

As you can probably tell by the lack of activity recent, Bill's Birding recently realised that he should cut down on the nature stuff and actually start planning 5,500 words worth of assignments he has to hand in this week. 

Of course, just realising that I should do them doesn't mean that I actually will. For example, the other day, instead of starting a 3000 word assignment titled 'The Practical Study of Soils', for whatever reason I found it much more enlightening to attempt to sketch the external differences between our two commonest Eristalis hoverflies, albeit with a really, really bad end result...

The weather forecast for the next couple of days is looking more and more delicious by the hour, and I'm finding it very hard to resist the urge to head out into the miles of countryside that can be found just a few minutes cycle from Uni, what with all the day-flying insects that are no doubt on the wing as I write this. Just a few more days before hand-in date, and then it'll be time to chill with a celebratory beverage... and a sweep net.

04 May, 2014

Phyllonorycter muelleriella

Carrying on the (repetitive) theme of moths, this little stunner here is Phyllonorycter muelleriella- netted from an oak during yesterday's session on the patch. This rather scarce species has a more westerly distribution than other moths in the same genus, present mainly along the Welsh border and into northern England. For some reason, I hadn't clocked the fact that it could still be found in Worcestershire, so it was a nice surprise to find this well-marked individual on an otherwise casual, unassuming visit to the patch. Certainly not a moth I'd have any chance of seeing back in the home counties...

Probably my new favourite member of the Phyllonorycter genus- this one was genuinely emanating light from its body!

Phyllonorycter corylifoliella

Took part in an all-day migration watch at Grimley yesterday, the aim being to record as many species as possible during daylight. We ended the session with 83 species recorded, the highlight being the continued presence of a Bar-tailed Godwit on the north-east shoreline.

There was a distinct 'lull' in bird activity from about midday onwards, and I took the time to get a bit of sweep-netting done. Several Small Yellow Underwing were patrolling the roadside hedges, whist Heliozela sericiella was active around the base of oak trees. This Phyllonorycter corylifoliella was netted from a hawthorn hedgerow, its distinctively marked forewing making a nice change from the 'usual' pattern exhibited by other Phyllonorycters...

Phyllonorycter corylifoliella