The Large Heath – Butterfly No. 46!

We headed off again on Saturday in search of our next butterfly species – the Large Heath. Whixall Moss is a peat bog on the English/Welsh border and the only place anywhere near us where we might see this increasingly rare butterfly. The bog has the beautiful Llangollen canal running along one side of it. We had to stop and wait for the bridge over the canal to be hand-winched back down as a narrow boat passed through.

We’d seen reports a mere 4 days before of sightings of upwards of 30 Large Heaths at Whixall Moss, so we’d set off with high hopes of nailing this one easily. These hopes were slightly dampened almost as soon as we left the carpark when we met an exhausted looking lady (carrying her even more exhausted little dog) who’d been searching in the scorching heat for 5 hours and not seen a single one. Undeterred (while slightly deterred to be honest) we carried on, following the walk described in the Butterflies of the West Midlands book.

We’d been walking for about an hour and a half and it was starting to look as if we’d draw a blank, although we had seen lots of other lovely wildlife. But then finally, just as we were about to head back, I spotted a butterfly dancing about the path. Initially I wasn’t sure what it was as it didn’t look like I’d expected. Turns out the Large Heath would struggle to pass the trade description law – it is actually really small! It was a raggedy little specimen and it insisted on hiding behind bits of grass, but at least we’d found one. It proved to be the only one we saw that day, but after a 2 hour drive and an hour and a half walk, we were grateful just to have found one. So here it is – our one and only Large Heath.

It looks a bit like a Meadow Brown but smaller and with spots like a Ringlet.

Whixall Moss is also well known for its population of White-faced dragonflies. Despite taking lots of dragonfly photos, none of them turned out to be white-faced. But we did get a new one for us – the Black Darter. Here is a male (top) and female (bottom).

There were blue and red damselflies everywhere and love seemed to be in the air for many of them, including this mating pair of Azure ones.

Aside from the whirring of insect wings in the air, there was the chirping of grasshoppers in the undergrowth. This one hopped obligingly onto the path in front of me.

The final insect of the day was a day flying moth and a new one for me – the Common Heath. As the Large Heath wasn’t particularly large, so the Common Heath didn’t seem to be particularly common, but I did manage to chase one down to get a photo.

As we’d walked along the path, something had scared up a pair of ground nesting birds. They took to the air for a few minutes until the danger had passed. We didn’t know what they were at first, but working on our usual principle of snapping anything that moves, we took some photos. Turned out they were lapwings.

A bit further on and we found more of them – this time looking a bit more relaxed, nesting by a pooled area. Lapwings have suffered major declines in the UK in recent years, so it’s always nice to go somewhere that has them.

So it was a long hot day at Whixall Moss, but the success of seeing the Large Heath and the bonus of the lapwings, made it all worthwhile. Butterfly species no. 46 ticked off the list – only another dozen or so to go!

Moth Breakfast & Butterfly Brunch

Yesterday we had the perfect start to a Sunday – a Moth Breakfast, followed by a brunchtime stroll for butterflies. Thankfully the Moth Breakfast was not as insectivorous as it sounds – we simply looked at moths while actually eating bacon butties!  The event was organised by the West Midlands Branch of Butterfly Conservation and took place as one of our favourite places – Monkwood. The moth traps had been put out the night before and all we had to do was turn up to see what had been caught. The great thing about an event like this is that we got to see moth species that we just don’t get in our garden. So amongst many others we saw woodland moths such as – Blotched Emerald, Large Emerald, Peach Blossom and Rosy Footman – all species that I have been dying to see for ages. So here they are:

Blotched Emerald.

Large Emerald.

Peach Blossom

Rosy Footman

Another bonus of going to this kind of event, is getting to meet a load of like minded people. It’s not often I get the chance to discuss with enthusiasm the differences between a blotched and a large emerald, or a Fan Foot versus a Small Fan Foot. I’m more used to amused tolerance rather than eager enthusiasm when waxing lyrical about the beauty of moths! So it was lovely to chat to some new people.

After we’d had our fill of moths (and bacon butties) we headed off for a mid morning walk around the wood. Monkwood is run by Butterfly Conservation and as such is brimming with butterflies. The very first time we went to Monkwood we were amazed to see White Admirals flitting around as we got out of the car. This time it was Purple Hairstreaks – there were at least 3 or 4 (and possibly many more) fluttering around the tops of the trees around the carpark. Sadly none came down low enough to get a decent photo, so this was the best distant shot I managed.

The White Admirals though were much more obliging and appeared along the path almost as soon as we left the carpark. The uppersides of their wings might not be as showy as their Red Admiral cousins, but the undersides more than make up for it. They are fast flying butterflies, but thankfully a few settled long enough to get some pics.

We also saw our first Meadow Browns and Ringlets – common enough butterflies, but still always nice to see your first ones for the year.

A couple of Silver Washed Fritillaries bombed passed us but didn’t hang around long enough to get their photos taken. Same story with a Comma and a White of some description which didn’t even slow down enough for me to tell if it was Large or Green-Veined.

By far the most common butterfly we saw was the Large Skipper. As always I love these cheery little orange butterflies, not least because they pose so nicely for photos.

Butterfly highlight of the morning though has to be the Wood White. We have seen Wood Whites once before (at Haugh Wood in Herefordshire), but it was nice to see these delightful little butterflies again. Their renewed presence in Monkwood is a relatively new thing and is all down to the hard work that Butterfly Conservation have put in. We were at the tail-end of the Wood White season, so there were only a couple around, but there had apparently been plenty of them earlier in the month. A good news story!

The Wood Whites are such ethereal little butterflies. This last photo in particular reminds me of how I imagined fairies to be when I was little – long before I’d even heard of Wood Whites.

Monkwood has plenty of other insect life to offer too. There are a few small ponds, so dragonflies and damselflies were abundant in those areas. We are used to seeing the red and various blue damselflies, but this Emerald one was a new one for us I think.

We saw quite a few beetles, including several of this splendid Black & Yellow Longhorn Beetle.

Chris managed to find our first Speckled Bush Cricket of the year,

whilst I got a male Scorpion Fly showing off his strange scorpion-like rear end and his even stranger proboscis.

Final interest for the day was this pair of mating Dock Bugs, who for some reason had chosen a spot of bird poo for the site of their nuptials, all watched it seems by a curious fly.

So many thanks to Butterfly Conservation West Midlands for getting us out of bed on a Sunday for a most enjoyable morning.

 

 

 

A Lot Going on at the Allotment

We’re well over half way through 30 Days Wild already, but I’ve not had chance to blog much this month. This certainly hasn’t been due to a shortage of wildlife though. The allotment is particularly busy at this time of year with everything (especially the weeds) springing into life. A neighbouring plot has regular slow worm sightings, which I view with great envy. For some reason we can’t tempt them onto our plot even though it is just a few metres away. But I sneaked a peak into said neighbour’s compost bin the other day and was delighted to spot a lovely large slow worm happily sitting on top of the compost.

Unfortunately the compost bin was too high and I was too short to be able to hold the camera high enough to get the whole reptile in focus, which was a bit annoying. So I went back the next day with my GoPro camera on a stick and did a short video to fit it all in. The slow worm didn’t move so it’s not exactly an action packed sequence, but at least you can see the whole animal.

Slow worm on allotment

 

A few sunny June days have also allowed me to try out my latest moth pheromone lure – this time trying to attract the currant clearwing. We have plenty of currant bushes down on the allotment, so it seemed a reasonable assumption that we’d get the moths, but I was still amazed how quickly they came. No sooner had I put the lure out and turned round to get the camera when there was already a hopeful moth buzzing round the trap. Within minutes I had about half a dozen. They were smaller than I expected and are most unusual looking insects. If I didn’t know they were moths I don’t think I would ever have guessed. See-through wings on a body striped a bit like a wasp with a strange pompom tail. They were of course all males having been fooled into thinking my lure was an attractive female.

I did try the lure out at home later – we don’t have any currant bushes there, but I was just curious. Surprisingly I got even more moths in the garden than I did on the allotment. The currant clearwing moths are obviously reasonably abundant in our area and yet I’ve never even glimpsed one without the lure.

Next insect of interest was a large red damselfly laying eggs in the allotment pond.

I didn’t see the male, but there obviously must have been one, because the female was very busy ovipositing in the pond. You can see her in the next photo curving her abdomen round to place each egg carefully in position.

I did try and video her laying the eggs, but she managed to position herself at an awkward angle to film, so apologies for the blurry (and shaky) camera work, but you can hopefully see how carefully she positions her abdomen, delicately probing to find the right spot.

Damselfly ovipositing

The other really interesting insects we’ve been getting at the pond are signal or semaphore flies – small long legged flies with the grand name of Poecilobothrus nobilitatus. The males have white tips to their wings which they wave about like semaphore flags to signal to each other and to females. I’ve spent ages trying to film their displays, but they are so small and so quick it is very difficult to focus on the right bit of the pond at the right time! But in this first shaky video below a male can just about be seen energetically trying to see off another male with his assertive wing display.

signal flies males

In this second shaky video a male (on the right) is trying to woo a female (on left) with his hopefully impressive courtship display. Not sure how convinced she was!

signal flies male and female

But the big excitement for me is the development of our tadpoles into mini frogs. We’ve been anxiously watching over them since March and spotted our first mini frogs in early June. I’ll do a full froggy update soon hopefully, but here are a few photos for now. We seem to have them in all stages of development still – many are still just tadpoles, some now have back legs only, some are starting to show front legs and some like this one below are virtually there apart from the remains of a tail.

The froglets are generally only about the size of a fingernail, but they are perfectly formed – frogs in miniature.

They can of course breathe in the air now, and some are already starting to explore beyond the confines of the pond. We have to be very careful where we tread as the grass is now full of tiny froglets.

So plenty going on down the allotment and that’s without even looking at the bees, the birds, the hoverflies and butterflies that we see regularly too. Not all the plots on our allotment site are gardened organically, but ours is and I feel we reap the benefits. So what if we loose the odd vegetable or some fruit to caterpillars or slugs or pigeons – the rewards of a plot full of wildlife far outweighs the losses. I can live without the odd lettuce or raspberry, but I wouldn’t want to miss out on mini frogs and semaphore flies!

 

Isle of Wight – Part 3 Butterflies at Last!

It’s taken me a full week to whittle down the 600+ photos we took on our second full day on the Isle of Wight to a manageable number to post. We went looking for butterflies and found so many to photograph I think we got a bit carried away! Our main targets were the Glanville Fritillary (pretty much only found on the Isle of Wight) and the Adonis Blue – two new ones to add to our tally of British species. After our usual struggle getting lost before finding the right carpark, we set off on the “Paradise on the Isle of Wight Butterfly Trail” over Compton Down. The walk was only supposed to take 2 to 2½ hours, but we spent so long taking photos, it took nearly 5! But it was well worth it, not only for the butterflies, but for the fabulous views of the white cliffs.

The day started sunny and bright, but then the fog rolled in incredibly quickly and the cliffs (and butterflies disappeared). It was amazing watching the fog come, it seemed to chase us along the path until we were completely enveloped. Fortunately it didn’t stay too long, the sun came out again and we resumed out wildlife watching. There were butterflies and moths everywhere. Although our main targets were the butterflies, as usual we couldn’t resist the moths either. There were Silver Y moths everywhere (when we got home to Malvern the next day there were well over a dozen of them in the garden too, there must have been a big influx of them from abroad that weekend).

One we don’t see so often is the Burnet Companion – a subtly pretty day flying moth.

A more showy day moth was the Cinnabar – flashes of red underwings catching our eyes as we walked over the downs, although we never managed to catch one in flight to show this.

But on to the butterflies – the walk certainly lived up to its name, they were everywhere. In total we counted 14 species of butterfly, which maybe our highest count ever for one walk.  Some were fairly common ones we were familiar with, but a couple of others we’d previously only seen on one occasion. The Wall butterfly we’d only seen for the first time last year up in Shropshire, but Chris spotted one here – I missed it unfortunately.

But then I got my own back by spotting a Grizzled Skipper, which he missed. This was another species that we’d only seen for the first time last year in South Herefordshire.

Grizzleds weren’t the only Skippers around though, one of the most common butterflies we saw here was the Dingy Skipper, a species we’ve seen in a few places before, but is always nice to see again. We were almost tripping over them as they seemed to like sitting on the path.

Another find was a Large Skipper. We saw a few of these, but not nearly as many as the Dingys.

Small Heath butterflies were also reasonably common. Not as showy as some of the others, but a lovely butterfly nonetheless.

So on to the blue butterflies – there were blues flying everywhere almost as soon as we set off, but it quickly became apparent that there were several species. So in an effort to ensure we didn’t accidentally miss the Adonis, we took photos of virtually every blue thing moving! In the end we got 4 of the “blues” including a few of these Brown Argus which aren’t really blue at all but fall into the same group.

Of the true blues, we got 3 species. The small blue is as its name suggests very small – Britain’s smallest butterfly in fact. They may be small but they are very quick, so it took a while to get a half decent photo. They’re not as blue as the other species, but there is a definite dusting of blue scales near the body.

Perhaps not too surprisingly, the most common blue butterfly was the Common Blue Butterfly! We saw loads of these and photographed many of them in the hope they would turn out to be Adonis. The males are a beautiful bright blue with a plain white fringe around the edge of the wings.

The females are duller – more of a brown colour but with a row of orange spots around the wings.

We even saw a pair of these mating, although at the time we weren’t sure which species they were as its hard to tell from the underside (a kind soul on Facebook confirmed them as Common Blues).

Although obviously only 2 can mate, a third one (a male) did try and get in on the act, perhaps hoping to drive the first male away so he could have his way with the female.

But of course the blue we really wanted to see was the Adonis. Adonis Blues are found other places than the Isle of Wight, but this was the first time we’d been to a site with the right habitat, so while we were here we were keen to see one. We took a lot of Common Blue photos before we got one we were sure was an Adonis. Thankfully there was another couple of butterfly enthusiasts on the same walk as us and they confirmed we had finally bagged our target photo. The Adonis can be distinguished from the Common Blue by the presence of black marks crossing the white fringe around the wings. They also seemed to us to be a much more vivid, azure blue than the common ones.

The real priority for us that day was to see a Glanville Fritillary. Restricted to south facing chalk downs, it is now only found on the Isle of Wight, although it used to be more widely spread. They only fly when it’s sunny, so were lucky the weather was good and we saw one almost immediately as we set off on the path. It was a bit of a scruffy specimen, but we didn’t care – it was a result!

Fortunately as we walked on we saw lots more, most of which were in much better condition. They are small but beautifully patterned butterflies with orange and brown chequered markings on the uppersides of the wings.

The underneath of the wings are even more striking with a stained glass window effect of cream , orange and black markings. We had hoped to get the classic shot of one posed with its wings upright to show this off, but none of them would oblige. The best we managed were these two shots partially showing the undersides.

So that was it, two more species added to our list to bring us up to 45 out of the 59 British species seen and photographed.  Only 14 more to go, although I think they may get harder and harder to find.

Other species seen that day included Large Whites, Speckled Woods, a Peacock and a Painted Lady to make up our total of 14 species in one day. The walk certainly lived up to its name, as the area was a complete paradise for butterfly enthusiasts – the perfect end to our mini break to the Isle of Wight.

Isle of Wight – Part 2 Thwarted By Fog

Our first full day on the Isle of Wight coincided with the first day of 30 Days Wild – the Wildlife Trusts’ annual event to get people to engage with nature.  Perfect day then to go looking for our next two species of butterfly – the Glanville Fritillary and the Adonis Blue. Unfortunately the weather had other ideas and a thick blanket of fog seemed to have covered most of the island. No self respecting butterfly was going to fly in that, so our chances of seeing them were virtually nil. We did make a short half-hearted attempt and had a bit of a wander around the chalky slopes on the southern coast. Fortunately we like all sorts of invertebrates besides butterflies and many of these are fog tolerant.

Snails of course don’t mind a bit of damp weather and we found two new (to us) species in the hedgerows. This beautifully coiled one is a Kentish Snail (Monacha cantiana).

This tiny pointy snail is in fact called a Pointed Snail (Cochlicella sp.). It was only about a centimetre long, but still managed to have at least 8 whorls on its shell.

The other group of invertebrates that braved the fog in reasonable numbers were moth caterpillars. We saw several species, but these two were particularly striking. We’ve never seen them before either in caterpillar form, nor as adult moths. The top one is the caterpillar of the Lackey Moth and the bottom one of a Dingy Flat-Body Moth (thank you to the good people of iSpot for identifying the second one for me).

The other notable invertebrate was a cricket – there were large numbers of these Dark Bush Crickets (Pholidoptera griseoaptera) in the undergrowth. We only saw immature stages such as this nymph.

After an hour of enjoyable but butterfly-less searching, we went to Plan B. Isle of Wight is also known for its thriving population of Red Squirrels. Thankfully the grey squirrels haven’t made it across the water yet, so for the time being the reds have free rein over the island. So we headed inland to Borthwood Copse, a small woodland managed to support the red squirrels. The first interesting animal we spotted when we got to the wood, was another insect. This female Scarce Chaser dragonfly (Libellula fulva) is, as its name suggests, fairly scarce, so it was a really nice find. With its yellow veining and dark tips to the wings, it was clearly different to any dragonfly we’d seen before.

The wood was full of birds, all singing their hearts out (or all shouting warnings that we were intruding possibly). We could hear, if not see, lots of species, but the only one we really managed to photograph was this male Great Spotted Woodpecker.

After a lot of dizzying staring up into trees, we eventually spotted our first red squirrel. I think we had both fondly imagined that the squirrels would come down and somehow just sit waiting to be photographed. Needless to say, they did no such thing and remained steadfastly high up in the branches. Over the course of the next hour we spotted a few (or possibly the same one taunting us over and over) and although they were a delight to watch, they never came close enough for any really good photos. But we did eventually get some recognisable red squirrel photos, so here are our best efforts. We watched this one for a while carrying a bundle of nesting material, jumping from branch to branch.

We followed it by eye until it disappeared with its bundle of nesting material into what looked like a denser patch of leaves. It stayed in there for ages, so we wondered whether this might have been a nest or drey? You can just about make out the denser patch in the photo below.

When it eventually emerged it no longer had the nesting material, but decided to sit nearby watching us below. I know the next picture is really dark, but you can see the squirrel staring directly at us.

 

We had a few more sightings after this. In some they were again carrying nesting material, although we lost track of them in the branches so couldn’t see if they took them back to the same place.

The final photo I know is really rubbish, but I just love the way it looks like he’s just dangling there, when obviously we just caught him mid-jump.

So Plan B worked out pretty well in the end. The fog may have stopped us seeing butterflies that day (don’t worry we got there in the end – see next blog post), but there was plenty of other wildlife to enjoy. That’s one of the things about wildlife watching I love, you are never really disappointed, as there is almost always something amazing to see if you look.

 

 

 

 

Isle of Wight – Part 1 Chalet Life

We’ve just got back from a fantastic few days in the Isle of Wight. It was our first visit to the island and our first experience of the Airbnb way of holidaying – and we were very happy with both. We’d decided to go to the Isle of Wight to try and tick off a couple more butterflies on our quest to see all the British species. The Glanville Fritillary can pretty much only be seen on the island and we hoped to spot the Adonis Blue too while we were at it. We picked a self contained chalet on the south side of the island. It proved to be the perfect location – remote and peaceful and surrounded by so much wildlife it almost felt like we didn’t need to go anywhere else. The lovely host even had bird feeders and left us food to put out for them – a real home from home for us. Here’s Chris sitting out on our own private terrace (enjoying a post journey tipple!).

Normal people when they get to a holiday destination probably go about unpacking and then start sight-seeing. We started peering around in the bushes to see what was there. The place was buzzing with bees and lots of butterflies flitted around, but almost immediately this Cardinal Beetle caught my eye. A gorgeous jewel like beetle it spent quite a lot of time around our little terrace and made a great start to our wildlife watching holiday.

We also kept seeing this nice damselfly, although it tended to land a bit too high up for me to get really good photos.

The bird feeders attracted plenty of birds, including what looked like a rock pipit, although it flew off too quickly for me to get a photo. The surrounding hedgerows were full of bird song, one of which proved to be one of my favourites, the wren. It was so busy singing that it didn’t mind Chris getting the camera out (unlike the ones in our own garden which are stubbornly camera shy!).

Normal people  also probably pack sensible things like swimming costumes or holiday guides – I packed my moth trap and moth book! I had hopes of getting something a  bit different to the usual moths in our garden – perhaps some fabulously interesting migrant moth. I may not have got that, but I was amazed by the number of White Ermine moths. I’m usually lucky back in Malvern if I get 1 or 2 of these, but there in the Isle of Wight I got at least a dozen in the trap in one go.

There were also lots of the other usual suspects, but I was most pleased to see my first Elephant Hawkmoth of the year (my top moth if you read my previous blog post).

So our little chalet proved the perfect starting point for our short holiday. I’ll blog more about the butterflies and other animals we saw in the next couple of posts, but the chalet had one more final surprise for us. As we drove off to catch the ferry back on the final day, I spotted a butterfly in the field near the entrance to our site. We stopped and looked closer – it was a Glanville Fritillary – the very butterfly we’d come to see! We had already been lucky enough to see them the previous day on a (very) long walk, but it seems we could probably just have sat on our terrace and waited and the Glanville would have come to us!

300 moths and counting

In autumn last year I did a tally up of the number of moth species I’d recorded in the garden since I began looking about 5 years ago. I was amazed to find it was over 290, but then of course I started thinking, wouldn’t it be wonderful to get to 300. I thought I was sure to hit the magic number by the end of the year, but as the months rolled on I got stuck at 297.

So as the spring moths started appearing this year, I started ticking the new ones off – no. 298 the Satellite, no. 299 the Early Tooth Striped. No. 300 was tantalisingly close, but what was it going to be? Sod’s law being what it is, around this time I got a bit behind identifying some of my moth catch. I’d taken loads of photos, but not gone through them all properly. So the next moth I identified was a little micro moth called the Sulphur Tubic (Esperia sulphurella) – moth no. 300 had arrived. But then this week I went back through some of the photos from earlier in the month and found another new one – the Silver Cloud (Egira conspicillaris). As I’d technically caught the Silver Cloud first, it took the noteworthy no. 300 spot and the poor old Sulphur Tubic got bumped to no. 301. So here it is, proud no. 300 – the Silver Cloud. This moth has quite a restricted distribution in the UK, so I’m lucky to get it here in Malvern.

Having been pipped at the post for the glory of being no. 300, I felt the Sulphur tubic deserved a photo too. So here it is, a pretty little moth only a few millimetres long.

Having hit the magic number 300, I thought I’d have a look through my records and share my top 10 favourite moths. This proved harder than I expected, because I just like all of them! So in the end, here are my top 12, just because I couldn’t whittle it down any further.

So in reverse order  – at No. 12 is the Scarce Silver Lines (Bena bicolorana). I’ve included this one because it is just too beautiful not to.

At No. 11 another moth that is so perfectly marked, it’s hard to believe it’s real – the Black Arches (Lymantria monacha).

At No. 10 the first day flying moth on this list – the Six Spot Burnet (Zygaena filipendulae). It’s a beautiful glossy black moth, with 6 clearly defined red spots – I always like a moth that fits its name.

At No. 9, a moth that gets my vote for its mastery of camouflage – the Buff Tip (Phalera bucephala). It looks just like a broken twig, particularly of a silver birch tree, but it even blends in pretty well with this apple tree twig I used for the photo.

At No. 8, not my favourite looking moth, but it makes the list because the individual I caught was the first record of this species in Worcestershire – the Box Tree Moth (Cydalima perspectalis). I felt quite proud to have caught the first one, although it’s not good news for anyone growing box trees, as it is a pest. It is an introduced species having only been recorded in the UK from 2007.

At No. 7, a moth that is not only striking in appearance, but has a great name – the Leopard Moth (Zeuzera pyrina). I like moths and I like cats, so put the two together and it’s bound to be a winner for me (although on that principle I could also have included the Puss Moth or one of the Kitten moths).

At No. 6, the second day flying moth on this list – the Scarlet Tiger. Stunningly colourful moths that fly on sunny days and are often mistaken for butterflies. We were lucky enough to have a whole flock of them come into the garden one afternoon.

At No. 5, a cute moth that looks like it’s got a pair of glasses on its head – the appropriately named Spectacle (Abrostola tripartita). I’ve spent a lot of time photographing these moths, always focussing on the heads to get their funny specs and tufted topknot in.

At No. 4, the first of the big guns moths – the Lime Hawk-Moth (Mimas tiliae). These are great big moths (up to 7 or 8 cm across) and seem almost too heavy to fly.

At No 3, probably one of the most beautiful moths of all and with another fantastic name – the Merveille du Jour (Dichonia aprilina). Despite its Latin name it flies in September/October and is always a joy to find in the trap at the end of the summer. The name means Marvel of the Day in French and it certainly is.

My second all time favourite moth has to be the amazing Hummingbird Hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum). A medium sized moth, it hovers over flowers so well it often gets mistaken for an actual hummingbird. It is actually an immigrant moth from as far away as Africa, but nearly every year we get at least one in our garden. They are so quick, it is virtually impossible to get a sharp photo of them, so I’ve often resorted to videoing them instead.

 

Hummingbird Hawk-moth

But finally there could only ever have been one moth that was my No. 1 favourite – the biggest, the pinkest and the best – the Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor). I can still remember my utter amazement the first time I caught one of these (Chris was less enthusiastic when I woke him at 4am to show him my prize specimen!). And they still thrill me today whenever one appears. They just don’t look real – big fat pink bodies with pink and green wings. If I were to make up a moth this would be it and I will never tire of seeing them.

Buntings, Warblers and Fishers

Last year for my birthday we had an amazing day at some local Nature Photography Hides. As part of the deal we were entitled to a return visit to one hide this year. So a couple of weeks ago we headed over there for another lovely peaceful day – this time at their reed bed hide. This provided pretty much what it says on the tin – a hide in the middle of a reed bed.

Not knowing much about the ecology of reed beds, we weren’t sure what we would see, but as soon as we got there we could certainly hear plenty. Lots of small birds were clearly hiding in the reeds and singing their socks off. Much more visible and considerably noisier was a small flock of Canada Geese which flew in almost as soon as we got settled in the hide.

They are noisy, boisterous birds and seemed to be constantly squabbling with each other, although there seemed to be plenty of room for everyone. While they jostled for position a lone coot sailed serenely around, unfazed by their kerfuffle.

Another small water bird also emerged periodically from the reeds. We didn’t know what it was at first, but the good people of the iSpot website identified it as a Little Grebe. It was a fairly dumpy little thing, but was clearly very good at diving. Sadly it didn’t ever really come close enough for a very good photo.

Another species which arrived in a small flock was Black Headed Gulls. At least half a dozen of them would appear and hover over the water before diving for small fish. They are beautifully sleek looking gulls, with perfect delineation between their black heads and white bodies – as if the heads had just been dipped in black ink.

Several other species put in fleeting appearances. Swallows skimmed the water for insects, but were way to quick to catch on camera. Buzzards soared above us, but were too high and silhouetted against the pale sky were also too hard to photograph. A heron did flap lazily by a couple of times, flying slow enough to get recognisable shots, but sadly not landing anywhere within sight of the hide.

Aside from the distractions of the larger birds coming and going, the most common birds proved to be the buntings and warblers that we’d heard in the reeds when we first arrived. As usual we took literally hundreds of photos, which I’ve gradually whittled down to a few half decent ones. The willow warblers were singing all around us and often obliged by landing photogenically on reeds near the hides.

While scanning through the warbler photos, I found one that looked a bit different – it had more of a white stripe over its eye. Turns out this one was probably a Sedge Warbler. Shame there was only the one slightly blurred photo.

The reed buntings were as abundant as the willow warblers and also had a penchant for posing photogenically on the reeds. The males are more distinctive with a black head and white collar above a mottled brown body.

The people who run the hide site, supplied us with mealworms to attract the birds. This one is feeding from a tiny pot, camouflaged and stuck to the reeds.

The females are a bit plainer, without the black and white headgear, but beautiful nonetheless. They also seemed a bit bolder than the males, often coming onto wood near the walkway quite close to the hide.

We even got to see one of the female reed buntings gathering nest material, although we never saw a nest.

There is always the hope whenever you visit a hide near water of seeing a kingfisher. The site we were on has a dedicated kingfisher hide and last year we’d spent a very happy couple of hours with amazing views of one right in front of us (see https://toolazytoweed.uk/2017/01/16/wildlife-hides-part-2-the-king-of-fishers/ for last year’s blog post)  After a few hours in our reed bed hide though we hadn’t been so lucky. Chris decided to get up to stretch his legs and as he put his camera down said “this will probably make the kingfisher appear”. Unbelievably as he turned his back on the reeds a kingfisher did just that – flew right past the hide and way up onto the power lines above. Grabbing the camera quickly again he managed to get at least a recognizable shot.

The power lines were a long way up, but incredibly the kingfisher could still look down and focus on the fish in the water below. We watched amazed as it dived straight down to catch them.

After a few dives the kingfisher flew off, so Chris again decided to go stretch his legs. Although my short legs would benefit from stretching, I stayed put and continued trying to get the perfect shot of a reed bunting. I was so focussed on this that I initially missed the fact that the kingfisher had landed on a perch just feet in front of me. I got so flustered when I did see it that I couldn’t focus in time, so only managed this blurred shot of it flying off. But at least it proved to a disbelieving hubby when he returned that I had indeed seen the king again!

So I guess the moral of this story is that once you’re in a hide, never lose sight of what’s in front of you, never leave your chair and never turn your back to the view!