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!

Nest Box No. 15

Way back in February, we took up Worcestershire Wildlife Trust’s Rent-a-Nest scheme. Having failed spectacularly to get anything to nest in our boxes at home, we figured we could at least support one at one of our favourite local nature reserves. So we chose a Knapp & Papermill nest box and were allocated Box No. 15. As part of the lease, we were to get a guided tour of “our” nest box in the spring. So skip forward a few months and a week or so ago, we met up with Garth from Worcestershire WT who led us on a very entertaining and informative walk to see Nest Box No. 15. Amazingly the sun shone down even though it was a bank holiday weekend and the public were out in force enjoying the nature reserve. It was great having Garth point out things on the walk that we would never have known were there – such as a Mandarin duck nesting quite high up in an old tree trunk!

We reached Nest Box No. 15, tucked away from sight and Garth cautiously peered in and confirmed that our box was occupied by a blue tit. I had a very quick look in and could just see a little blue head. Obviously we couldn’t take a photo of the blue tit inside the box as we didn’t want to terrify it with the flash, so all I can offer is a photo of the box itself. The entrance has been reinforced with metal to prevent larger birds getting in to predate the chicks.

We left Garth to carry on his walk and his butterfly count (part of a regular count he does for Butterfly Conservation) and pottered around the reserve on our own for a bit. We’d last been to Knapp & Papermill in the winter when everything was green and white with snow drops. Now, in spring, we had the same colour scheme, but it was wild garlic that carpeted the slopes amongst the trees. The scent was unmistakable, but fortunately we like garlic!

Butterflies were out in good numbers – lots of Orange Tips that were too fast to photograph, but also a few lovely fresh Green-Veined Whites who were a bit easier to track.

The reserve is one of the best sites we know of to see demoiselles, but it was still a bit early for these. But the pond near the reserve entrance provided our first damselfly of the year – a Large Red Damselfly.

So all in all a lovely way to spend a few hours on a bank holiday weekend. There are nest boxes (and bat boxes) all over the reserve, but apparently only about 25% are sponsored. Hopefully we can continue to sponsor a box in years to come. The money helps with the costs of maintaining the reserve and we get the pleasure of seeing a nest box that actually gets used – if only the Knapp blue tits could pass the word on to our own blue tits and get them to use our garden box too!