Back Down to Daneway

As we were still technically on our holiday that never happened/staycation at the weekend, we decided to head out again for another butterfly day. Not a new species this time, but back down to Daneway Banks in Gloucestershire to see the Large Blues that we had only seen once before.

As we entered the reserve, the air was positively buzzing with the sound of grasshoppers. I think they were Meadow Grasshoppers and they were everywhere, pinging away from us as we walked across the grass.

The commonest butterflies by far were the Marbled Whites and Meadow Browns.

The Marbled Whites in particular were very fresh looking and quite stunning in the sunshine.

We even managed to find a mating pair; the female is the one at the top with the browner looking markings on the underwings.

It was a bit cloudy when we first arrived, so the Large Blues weren’t flying much, but as the sun started to come out we spotted a couple. On our previous visit we had only managed to get photos of a mating pair of Large Blues – most unusual for that to be our only shots, but it meant they had their wings closed. So this time we were keen to get one with its wings open. Fortunately the first one was fairly relaxed and let us take a few photos.

A very helpful reserve warden then pointed us in the direction of a “hot spot” for them, further into the reserve. This coincided with the sun really coming out, which made them much flightier. So although we probably saw about 10 more, we couldn’t get as close again to get better photos.

The final individual we saw was another raggedy one, who was perhaps to worn out to be bothered flying off, so allowed us a photo of the underside of what was left of his wings.

We’d seen a few skippers about during the day, but they are so fast it is often hard to tell which species until we can download the photos. Turns out these ones were Small Skippers, our first of the year.

The final butterfly species appeared just as we were leaving the reserve – a Small Heath, again the first of these we’d seen this year.

Once again I failed to get decent shots of a couple of birds. This woodpecker sat on a fence post for ages as I crept closer trying to get a photo, then of course just as I was getting within reasonable focal distance he flew off.

Most unusually a swallow landed on the ground only a few metres away from me. I was so surprised that I didn’t react quick enough to get a photo of it on the ground, only this blurry one as it took off again. I’d always thought they stayed on the wing almost permanently apart from egg time, but clearly this one had other ideas.

As we were about to leave the same helpful warden suggested that we might want to nip across the road on our way back to the car and have a quick look in Siccaridge Wood. It is an ancient coppiced woodland and there was apparently a Greater Butterfly-Orchid just 30 yards in. Never having heard of this, let alone seen one, it seemed worth a small detour. Sure enough, exactly as described was the tallest British orchid we’ve ever seen; it must have been at least 50cm tall. With hindsight I should have got Chris to take a photo of me next to it for scale (I stand a majestic 1.5m tall).

I can’t say the flowers looked particularly butterfly like to us, but it was certainly an impressive plant.

On our previous trip to Daneway we had finished up at the very nice Daneway Inn, but sadly of course that wasn’t possible this time. Daneway Banks is a fantastic site and a real success story for the Large Blue butterfly, which had gone extinct in the UK before the heroic efforts to bring it back. The perfect way to round off our non-holiday.

Bee ‘n’ Bees

We have always tried to make our garden as bee friendly as possible – we garden organically, there are plenty of weeds providing nectar through most of the year and we put up bee hotels. We’ve had these regular bee hotels dotted around the garden for a few years and they’ve proved very popular with a few species, but most noticably the Red Mason Bees (Osmia bicornis). Every spring they are buzzing with bee activity and every spring I try and photograph/video them with mixed results. The Red Mason Bees have an ingenious system whereby the females lay female eggs at the back of the tubes first, followed by eggs destined to be males at the front. Because they are at the front the males emerge first and will initially feed a bit then they head back to the nest or bee hotel to wait for the virgin females to emerge.

The airways can get a bit congested as many males, desperate for their chance to mate with the females, jostle for position. Here’s a short video of a bunch of males doing just that – buzzing around, ever hopeful.

 

Red Mason bees are medium sized, solitary (despite the crowds around the bee hotel) bees with as the name suggest bright red hairs on their bodies. As they get older the hairs can fade or get worn away and they lose their bright red colour; the one in the photo below is probably fairly recently emerged.

The males can get so excited at the prospect of the new females, that they will pounce on virtually anything roughly bee sized that appears, including each other. I found the trio in this next video on the path beneath a bee hotel. The female is the one on the bottom with two makes stacked on top of her. One of them is going to be very disappointed!

 

The mason bit of their name comes from their use of mud to form individual nest chambers for the larvae to develop in. Each tube in a bee hotel may contain several muddy chambers and the end of the tube is sealed off with damp mud, which then hardens to form a solid plug. Here she’s just deposited a fresh blob of mud which she works into position with her feet.

The Red Mason bees aren’t the only spring species to use the bee hotels, we also saw some Blue Mason bees (Osmia caerulescens). These were smaller than their red cousins and so tended to use the smaller tubes. I think this is a male which has more of a metallic green body with pale brown hairs.

Beneath one set of bee hotels is our bench set on slabs, which in turn are set (somewhat unevenly it has to be said) on sand. While videoing the mason bees, we realised that there were also bees burrowing into the sand beneath us (I will blame them for any unevenness of the slabs). I’m not sure whether they are also mason bees, or something different, they didn’t stay still long enough to get a decent photo. But they were certainly busy bees.

 

So I’ve always been very happy with our bee hotels and then I saw this, the absolute Ritz of bee hotels.

The inner section can be removed for storage and cleaning and the side panels can be removed to reveal a Perspex panel so that you can view the bees working away. So of course we had to get one! I waited patiently until the end of March then up it went on the fence wall ready for bee season. I got very excited when I spotted the first bee in one of the chambers.

Unfortunately the bees didn’t seem quite so excited by my deluxe offering and most seemed to stick with the old bee hotels. This may be because the old hotels with last year’s bee chambers in would have smelled of bees and so attracted the new generation back. In the end though I did get a few bees using the new box, although annoyingly most seemed to go for the tubes either above or below the viewing chamber. I did manage to get this video of one female stock-piling the pollen for her egg. She starts by rearranging the pollen that’s already in there and then turns around and uses her legs to brush the pollen off her body and add it to the pile.

 

Once there’s enough pollen in there, she will lay an egg in it and then seal that chamber and start work on the next.  By the end of the red mason bee season, I had several tubes full of developing larvae.

The eggs hatch into larvae and feed on the pollen that the mother bee has provided for them.

Once the larvae have eaten all the food they will spin a silk cocoon and pupate, turning into adult bees. They then stay in the cocoons like this through the winter, until the warmer spring days tell them it is time to emerge. Hopefully I will be able to get photos of these cocoons when the time comes. For the time being, the inner section of this deluxe bee hotel has been removed (complete with developing larvae) and is being safely (I hope) stored in the garage away from parasites. A new inner section has been put out which will hopefully attract the next season’s bees – the Leaf-cutter bees. Watch this space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Video of ones nesting in sand – yes

 

 

Video of red mason in tube yes

photos of tubes – yes

photos of grubs – yes

video of trio – yes

video of males buzzing round old box – yes

 

Lonesome George – Born Free!

Way back at the end of last August I blogged about Lonesome George, the Eyed Hawk-moth caterpillar I had been raising. You can read the original blog post here:  https://toolazytoweed.uk/2019/08/29/lonesome-george/

Now, finally, George’s story is complete!

On 30th June 2019 I caught a female Eyed Hawk-moth in my moth trap. I put her briefly in a pot so I could take some photographs of her. Here she is in all her splendour.

While in captivity she laid 2 eggs. Hopefully she laid many more eggs too, once she was released, as she looked full to bursting.

I decided to try and rear the caterpillars if I could. They both hatched into tiny caterpillars, but sadly only one lasted beyond the first day – Lonesome George was the survivor. George was lovingly tended and fed fresh apple leaves every day and soon grew into a handsome fellow about 5cm long with a voracious appetite.

Towards the end of August 2019 he pupated and he’s been safely kept in a large tub with soil and leaves ever since. I checked on him every couple of days to make sure nothing untoward had happened to him.

At the  beginning of May I started seeing reports on social media of Eyed Hawk-moths being out and about, so I stepped up my surveillance of George. For the last few days I had been checking him almost hourly for any signs of activity. What I’d hoped to see was him (or her) emerging from the chrysalis and to watch the wings expand into full blown moth! Of course George had other ideas and chose to emerge during the night.  I got up yesterday morning and checked on him about 7am to find the chrysalis cracked open – I had a split second panic that something had somehow got into the tub and got him.

I love that in the bit of the chrysalis shell that has broken off, you can see the imprint of his antennae – it’s almost like a death mask! Anyway I checked the rest of the tub and there was George sitting proud and fully formed. Here’s the first hasty photo I took of him in case he flew off.

Fortunately he was fairly dopey, perhaps after the exertions of emerging and of course it was daylight. I say he, I can’t be totally sure but I think George is probably a George not a Georgina. I read that the males tend to be slightly smaller than the females and that they sit with their abdomens curled up a bit – both of which seemed to apply to George.

Having reared him for a year, I was loathe to just release him during the day and have him snaffled by a hungry sparrow. So I kept him in his tub in the shade for the day until it started to get dark and I gave him a stick to perch on to make him feel more comfortable. I did of course take the opportunity to take lots (and I mean lots) of photos of him. Here are just a few.

He had been raised on apple leaves as a caterpillar, so when the time came, the apple tree seemed the most sensible place to release him. I waited until it was almost dark and most of the birds had turned in for the night, then gently transferred him from his stick to some apple leaves.

He fidgeted a bit then settled down.

By this time it was getting pretty dark and I spent the next hour juggling camera, torches and tripod, trying to film George’s departure. About 21:45 he started fidgeting a bit more and even started having a good clean of his antennae, perhaps getting them in tip top condition to detect any nearby females.

He then started revving up his wings, presumably warming up the muscles which would never have been used before. I just had time to click record again on the camera.

Just before he took off, he squirted out a creamy white liquid, which I believe is the remains of the meconium (I’d had to google this) which was used to pump up the wings. Obviously there was some waste left over, so he expelled this before flight. But then he was off, free at last, circling the apple tree before I lost sight of him in the dark,

I had hoped to get a photo of the eye spots which give the Eyed Hawkmoth its name and which it flashes when threatened, but he refused to show them. I suppose I should feel good that George didn’t feel threatened by me! The best I managed to do in the end was take this still from the video.

Adult Eyed Hawkmoths don’t feed, they have no working mouth parts with which to do so. So sadly George will probably only live for a couple of weeks at the most. It may sound daft, but I felt quite emotional releasing him and watching him fly away. I had spent the best part of a year rearing him and checking on him almost daily and I did feel genuinely sad to see him go although very proud that he had made it. I just hope he finds a female (or finds a male if I got it wrong and he is a Georgina) and that our garden will be home to future generations of Georges. Good Luck George.

 

 

 

 

Pond Arrivals

Never has the old adage “Build it and they will come” been more true of anything than of building a pond. Our new pond went in at the beginning of February – seems a world away now, given everything that has gone on in the world since then. The human world may be in chaos and despair, but for everything else life goes on and a new pond is a beacon attracting wildlife from all around. Every week if not every day something new finds its way to our pond. We’ve not been able to finish all the landscaping or get all the plants I would like to have got due to various restrictions, but it seems the wildlife doesn’t mind at all.

Quite a wide variety of insects have already found their way to the pond. A few tiny beetles whizzing around were the first we spotted, followed shortly by a lone water boatman. We suspect there are now more water boatmen, but since we only every see one at a time we can’t be sure. Both of the above have so far proved too fast to photograph.

Of course small flies and mosquitos were soon flitting over the surface of the water laying eggs, which soon hatched in large numbers into wriggling larvae. These will hopefully provide plenty of food for larger animals further up the food chain, so are a very welcome addition to the pond.

Within a couple of weeks our first pond skater arrived, followed by several of its friends! These insects are great to watch scooting across the surface of the pond in search of food. They regularly battle each other, that or they get very frisky, we’re not sure which. Apparently they use the middle legs for propulsion, the back legs to steer and the front ones for grabbing their prey.

Next insect to appear was this diving beetle which flew in and plopped into the pond while we were sitting watching. These diving beetles come to the surface and collect a bubble of air to breathe, so he or she pops up to the surface quite often.

Since then we have spotted numerous medium sized beetles whizzing around the pond, all adding to the food chain.

The biggest excitement though was the arrival of our first damselfly – a Large Red Damselfly to be precise. Hopefully this will be the first of many damselfly and dragonfly species to use the pond and I can do a full post on them soon. In the meantime here is our first one.

Other insects have been using the pond in other ways; a Holly Blue caught drinking from the pond, an Orange Tip butterfly nectaring off the cuckooflower and this snazzily striped hoverfly buzzing all over the place. The hoverflies have clearly been making whoopee as we’ve already started finding their larvae – the delightfully named rat-tailed maggots in the pond. Wriggling and semi-transparent these are very difficult to photograph, the best I could do was this short video.

Spiders have also moved in amongst the stones at the side of the pond, nipping in and out to catch unsuspecting insects.

The birds have of course continued to make good use of the pond (drinking, bathing, catching insects), to the point I feel they are annoyed with me for hogging it by sitting there for so long. My favourites so far are this pair of young magpies, exploring the world for the first time. They go everywhere together and particularly like the pond, squabbling one minute and then looking to each other for reassurance the next – a typical pair of siblings.

Sadly all the frog activity we saw in March came to nothing and we didn’t get any frog spawn this year. It’s not too surprising as the pond had literally only been in for a couple of weeks before their mating season. We’ve yet to see a toad around the pond either, but the newts have come up trumps. The first newt (they are Smooth Newts) arrived early April and since then there seems to have been more each day. I shall do a full newt blog soon as they’ve provided lots of photo and video opportunities, but here’s a taster.

Sometimes the things you don’t get to see in person can be the best though. Our hedgehogs have been making good use of the pond, carefully tiptoeing down the sloping beach that was put in specifically for them to access the pond. Obviously we rarely see them directly, but the night cameras pick them up regularly. This video shows 7 separate visits to the pond by at least 3 different hedgehogs over the course of one night. Shows the value of providing a drinking source for your hedgehogs, especially in hot weather.

 

I am so glad that we got to make the pond before the world went into lock-down. It has provided interest, relaxation, welcome distraction and so much more – we have spent an awful lot of time in the last 3 months gazing into the pond, grateful for having a garden we can sit in while staying home and staying safe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2019 – The Year of the Moth

2019 seemed to flash by in the blink of an eye; but then it probably says something about my age that the whole twenty tens decade seems to have whizzed by too. So before my 2020 year’s wildlife adventures kick off, here’s a bit of a review of some highlights of 2019.

As usual the moth trap has been out most weeks for the Garden Moth Scheme and National Moth night and often just for the hell of it. Over 220 moth species graced our Malvern garden with their presence this year. This included over 30 new ones, bringing the total number of moth species recorded in our garden, since we started trapping, up to 368 species! Even better some of the new ones were ones I’ve been wanting to see for a while – Antler Moth, December Moth, The Playboy Bunny Moth (yes really – Ypsolopha sequella) and a Lobster Moth. But best of all, and possibly my best moth find ever – a Bedstraw Hawkmoth. And I was not alone getting excited by this moth – 4 moth watchers came over to the house just to see it. I doubt I’ll ever top this, hence 2019 being the Year of the Moth!

Continuing on the mothy theme, a couple of individuals laid eggs while I was photographing them. An Eyed Hawkmoth laid 2 eggs, one of which I managed to successfully rear to pupation. The chrysalis is now dormant and I’m hopeful that an adult moth will emerge in the spring.

The cameras have of course been out in the garden (and the allotment) throughout the year, recording mammals, birds and amphibians. As always hedgehogs stole the show (and my heart) with plenty of drama. We’ve had the highs of successful releases and hoggy courtship and  the lows of underweight and injured ones needing rescued. We’ve got a new hedgehog house with built in camera, which gave us great views until a hog packed the house so full of nesting material that it blocked the camera! We’ve also got a new illuminated feeder outside the patio doors so we can watch them come to feed from the comfort of the sofa.

 

A fox has also become a semi-regular visitor to the garden – thankfully there is enough food that it hasn’t bothered the hedgehogs. On the allotment, I was thrilled to get a badger drinking from the pond. The pond was also crammed full of frogspawn in the spring with plenty of newt and frog action throughout the year.

 

Beyond the garden, we’ve been out and about with the cameras. Back in April we finally managed to get over to the Lugg Meadows near Hereford to see the Snakes Head Fritillaries. Beautifully little flowers bobbing about on a blustery day.

We had a lovely week’s holiday down on Exmoor in the summer and between that and a trip to Wales, we’ve managed to “bag” three more butterfly species – The Marsh (shown below), Heath and High Brown Fritillaries.

A poignant event for me last year was that we had to sell my Dad’s house in Herefordshire. It was the house my sister and I grew up in and it was a sad day to see it go, but needs must. It had a large garden full of wildlife – not because Dad was a wildlife enthusiast, more because it was pretty much untouched (this is may be where the Too Lazy to Weed mentality came from). The remains of an old orchard, a stream running by and swathes of unmown grass. We left the new owners with a hedgehog house as a welcome gift and instructions to “be careful” when mowing. I shall miss this garden very much.

So every year I make some wildlife oriented New Year’s Resolutions and every year I manage to fail on most of them. 2019 was no exception. So here were last year’s targets:

  • The Red Kites at Gigrin in Wales – success with this one. We finally got round to going last January and it was spectacular.
  •  See 3 new butterfly species – success again, with Heath, High Brown and Marsh Fritillaries.
  •  Visit 5 new nature reserves – I think we succeeded although not with the local ones we’d planned. We did go to a few down in Exmoor and one in Wales and found a new walk in Malvern. But could definitely do better next year.
  •  Video some rock pools using the GoPro camera – failed on this one but not for want of trying. We visited the North Devon seaside, but picked a stretch with no decent rockpools. Did get some nice footage of fish in the River Barle though.
  • Garden pond – still not done it although we have started clearing a space for it. When I say “we” I actually mean our eco-friendly Cycling Gardener – Gwyndaf.
  • Moth tattoo – epic fail again, although the Bedstraw Hawkmoth is looking like a likely contender if I ever do get round to it.

So now to 2020s possibly unrealistic resolutions:

  • The pond – absolutely determined to put a new pond in the garden this year!
  • Create a Moon Garden. We do pretty well for moths as it is, but I’ve decided to create a Moon Garden with even more moth-attracting night scented flowers.
  • See 2 more species of British Butterfly. We’ve now seen 50 of the 58 species, but the last ones will be getting harder, so only aiming for 2 this year.
  • Visit 5 new nature reserves.
  • Rockpooling.
  • Go and see some wild Ospreys.
  • The moth tattoo!

 

 

Moth Trap Intruders

Nearly at the end of October and we’re coming to the end of “moth season”. Moth numbers are dwindling as the nights get colder, so it seems a good time to review what I’ve had in the trap. It’s been an interesting year for moths, but they aren’t the only animals the trap attracts. So I thought I’d share some of the Moth Trap Intruders (a name shamelessly copied from a very interesting Facebook group I’m a member of) I’ve had over the last few years.

Sadly I can’t compete with a blogger who had the most amazing moth trap intruder ever – a puffin! Have a read of http://www.surfbirds.com/community-blogs/amigo/2017/06/17/puffin-in-the-moth-trap/ if you don’t believe me.

But puffins aside, there is still quite a variety of animals that find their way into our moth trap. The biggest and probably most impressive non-moth I get in the trap is the May Bug or Cockchafer (Melolontha melolontha). It is a huge beetle and I remember being absolutely amazed the first time I found one in the trap. Chris wasn’t quite so impressed when I woke him about 5am waving a large beetle in his face!

The May Bug isn’t the only large beetle we get though. These jazzily coloured Sexton Beetles pop up occasionally too.  Not as big as the May Bugs, but the Wildlife Trusts describe these as the undertakers of the animal world, burying dead animals. Slightly gruesome to think that perhaps the reason these appear in the traps is because there is a dead mouse or bird nearby that they’ve been burying.

Smaller still are these, which I thought initially were water beetles. Thanks to a kind reader I now know they are bugs not beetles, a type of water boatman. They must have flown in from a nearby pond. Some summer nights they can appear in large numbers in the trap, trying to swim about ineffectually at the bottom. Caught and released into some water they whirl around surprisingly quickly.

Caddisflies are common intruders. There appears to be a variety of species, but I’ve yet to get to grips with identifying most of them. Some of them have quite strikingly patterned wings and look like they should be easy to identify, but I suspect they are more difficult than they look.

I did manage to identify one tiny black & white caddisfly, mainly because I initially thought it was a micro moth. It was so small, I potted it up to take a photo so that I could zoom in on it. Turned out not only to be a caddisfly, but to be a fairly rare species –  Leptocerus interruptus. It is associated with the Severn catchment which I suppose we just about come under here in Malvern.

Bees and especially wasps often end up in the moth trap and fly off in the morning when they have warmed up. In the summer months I sometimes put the whole trap inside a mosquito net tent to empty it. When there are large numbers of moths, they will sometimes escape quicker than I can count them and the net tent catches them before they disappear. I was a bit surprised one morning to find myself sitting in this tent with a large and slightly angry hornet! I have nothing against hornets, but being stuck in a small tent with one was slightly alarming even for me. The hornet found the entrance to the tent only slightly slower than I did (I rarely move that fast first thing in the morning), so I only got this one poor photo of it.

Another occasional intruder is the mayfly. These alien-like insects can hatch in their thousands if not millions and swarm over rivers. A lot of fishermen’s flies are designed to look like mayflies as they are a favourite food of fish like trout.

These beautiful green Lacewings are also occasionally attracted to the light. They are so transparent and delicate the camera struggles to focus on them and I’ve yet to take a photo that does them justice.

Various leafhoppers get attracted to the light. My favourite is the weird and wonderful Eared Leafhopper (Ledra aurita). Again difficult to photograph, these strange little insects are so well camouflaged I’ve never seen one in the wild, only when they come to the moth trap.

Various other invertebrates have also ended up in the moth trap over the years. Ladybirds, snails, slugs, spiders, flies, mosquitos and shield bugs have all appeared, but I’ve not thought to photograph them – something to keep in mind next summer.

Invertebrates may be attracted to the light but if I don’t get up early enough in the morning, birds are then attracted to the invertebrates. I may not have a puffin, but plenty of other birds have cottoned on to the benefits of moth trapping. The blackbirds have learned to check the grass around the trap in the morning for stray moths. The robins take their entomology to a whole other level though. If I turn my back they are on the trap itself and on one occasion I felt the robin literally land on my back itself. Whether I had a moth on my back or he was just trying to get a better view of the trap, I don’t know.  Once I’ve emptied the trap I put all the moths in a quiet corner of the garden near the house where they can rest up on the egg boxes until the next night. The birds of course have learned to watch where I put the eggs boxes. I have had to become increasingly devious to prevent them helping themselves to a moth buffet. The photo below is from a day where I obviously wasn’t careful enough!

Incoming Insects

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks for migrants (of the insect type) in our garden and around Malvern, so I thought I’d collate what we’ve been seeing.

First up an insect that is really only a migrant by name – the Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta). A beautiful dragonfly that used to be fairly uncommon in the UK – hence the name Migrant, but is now well established. This particular one was buzzing for insect prey on some rough ground at Chris’ workplace.

We’ve been blessed with at least one Painted Lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui) in the garden most days for the last month or so, but apparently we are not alone. Every few years the country gets a “Painted Lady Summer” when they come over in huge numbers from abroad – and this is one of those summers. Some people have reported seeing them in their hundreds (a friend of mine in Edinburgh got driven inside by having so many of them on her patio it freaked her out!). Sadly we’ve not had that many, probably because we’re the wrong side of the country, so the most we managed to count on the buddleia was 5 at one time. But that’s a record for us, so we’re happy to see them even in low numbers.

We tend to be more lucky with the moths. First a very small migrant moth, but one which some years can come over in huge numbers. The Diamond-back Moth (Plutella xylostella) is only a few mm long, but somehow manages to survive the journey over from the continent and into our Malvern garden. Most years we only get 1 or 2 at a time; the most we’ve ever had in the moth trap in one night is 20, but they can apparently arrive in their thousands. Not the greatest photo of this one below, but you can at least make out the joined up diamond pattern on its back.

A larger macro moth – the Silver Y (Autographa gamma) is another one we see regularly in low numbers. They have a characteristic Y shaped mark on the wings (although admittedly it is upside down) and are often active during the day. The first one I ever saw, was nectaring on some lavender during the day – I thought initially it was a Hummingbird Hawkmoth from the way it moved, but  know better now!

We have seen genuine Hummingbird Hawkmoths this summer, but I’ve not managed to get any photos – they’re just too fast and I’m just too slow most of the time. But here’s one we did manage to catch a couple of years ago.

 

Undoubtedly though the highlight of my moth-ing career so far, and probably the best catch I’ll ever get, was one from a fortnight ago. I’d been enviously enjoying photos of Bedstraw Hawk-moths (Hyles gallii) on various social media for a couple of weeks, but never dreamt I’d be lucky enough to catch one in our garden. But at the beginning of August I got up to empty the trap and nearly fainted at the sight of a Bedstraw Hawk-moth sitting there. I was so nervous opening the trap in case it flew off – no-one would ever believe me unless I could get a photo of it! Fortunately it was a docile beauty that didn’t object too much to being potted up and photographed.

I posted some photos on Facebook and a few fellow moth enthusiasts came round to see it before I released it unharmed. When I put it out on some Rose Bay Willow-Herb, it vibrated its wings for a few seconds to warm up:

Then it shot off like a rocket. We have a large buddleia bush nearby and it circled that a few times. I watched in horror as 3 sparrows flew out from the bush trying to catch it, but thankfully the moth was quicker than the birds and it got away. Don’t think I could have lived with myself if I’d seen it get eaten by the sparrows!

I am told this was only the 5th record of a Bedstraw for Worcestershire and probably the first record for Malvern. I doubt I’ll ever see another one and unless a Death’s Head Hawkmoth lands in the garden, I doubt I’ll ever have a more exciting moth find. But each weekend from now on I will open the moth trap in hope because you just never know what is going to be in there!

 

 

 

Heath, heath, heath!

On our recent trip to Somerset, we had a bit of a mission going on – to see 2 more species of butterfly, namely the Heath Fritillary and the Marsh Fritillary. We went for the Heath Fritillary first, having discovered a site at Haddon Hill that was supposed to have a population of them. Haddon Hill is at the edge of Exmoor and overlooks the delightfully named Wimbleball Lake. Unfortunately having researched enough to find the hill had a population, we didn’t dig deep enough to find out exactly where on the hill to look. So we ended up spending about 3 hours wandering round the hill on a walk that was only supposed to take an hour! Not a glimpse of a fritillary, but we did see a Small Heath at least – not the heath we wanted, but after 3 hours we were just grateful to see a butterfly – any butterfly!

The hill did however have its fair share of bird life, including lots of Meadow Pipits, who seemed to fly up repeatedly to get a better view of us trudging in circles.

We also saw several of the famous Exmoor ponies – much easier to spot than the butterflies. They are native breed of pony and were recorded on Exmoor as far back as the Domesday book and have probably been there for thousands of years.

Fortunately having drawn a blank on Haddon Hill, we had a plan B when it came to the Heath Fritillary. We had booked ourselves onto a guided walk by Butterfly Conservation and the National Trust around Halse Combe the following day. The weather wasn’t promising with rain forecast, but at least we were with people this time who knew where they were going!

So we headed up the combe until we reached a sunny(ish) open slope. Almost immediately someone spotted a Heath Fritillary, basking in what little sunshine there was on some bracken. It was smaller than we had expected and much browner than the other fritillaries we have seen, but a real beauty. We waited our turn while everyone in the group had a go at photographing the first one – so here it is, our first heath fritillary:

After that the group fanned out across the slope looking for more butterflies and being very careful not to stand on any! It being a bit of a cold damp day actually helped with the photographs as the butterflies weren’t in the mood for flying. So once you found one, it was relatively easy to get a photo. The Heath Fritillaries are beautiful on their uppersides, but their wings are even more stunning when the undersides are visible; like miniature stained glass windows. So here are a few of our favourite shots from the day.

We spent a very happy half hour or so photographing the butterflies before the heavens opened and it really did start raining quite heavily. We took shelter under some trees, until it became obvious that the rain wasn’t going to stop and we headed back down hill. On the way, one of our guides showed us some of these pretty little Heath Spotted Orchids.

We returned to the carpark, slightly soggy, but very happy to have seen our 48th species of butterfly. Thank you to Meghan from Butterfly Conservation and Basil from the National Trust to leading us straight to these elusive butterflies and giving us an excellent and informative guided walk. So we went looking for a Heath Fritillary and ended up getting a Small Heath and a Heath Spotted Orchid too – 3 for the price of 1, can’t be bad!