Moth (and Mouse) Night

This weekend is Moth Night (it troubles me every year that Moth Night is actually a weekend!). It was supposed to be a fairly windy night and the various moth groups I follow were abuzz with prospects of exciting migrant moths being blown in from the Continent. One of the themes for this year’s Moth Night was the importance of ivy as an autumn food source. I cleared a path to our patch of ivy, so I could get close up for nocturnal photos and out my moth trap went in hope and anticipation. As anyone who reads my blog, or indeed anyone who has ever tried photographing wildlife knows, things rarely go to plan.

So the moth trap attracted just a measly 10 individuals of 8 species. October is getting near the end of moth season, so I was never going to get hundreds of moths, but I had hoped for a bit more of a selection. There are some lovely colourful autumn moth species, but none of them fancied my moth trap last night. I did get two migrants – both Silver Y moths – seen here with their distinctive y or gamma (hence their latin name Autographa gamma) marks on the wings.

The remaining 8 moths were made up of 2 Common Marbled Carpets, 1 Light Brown Apple Moth, 1 Blair’s Shoulder Knot, 1 Lesser Yellow Underwing, 1 Setaceous Hebrew Character, 1 Black Rustic and 1 Shuttle-shaped Dart. All lovely moths in their own right, but not the most exciting selection.

The ivy was also a complete wash out. Although it was in full flower, I didn’t see a single moth on it. Admittedly I didn’t sit in the bushes staring at it all night, but I did pop out for frequent spot checks. Maybe the light from the moth trap was doing too good a job attracting what few moths there were and keeping them away from the ivy? I’ll keep checking the ivy over the next few nights – it will be too late for Moth Night, but I’d like to get a photo of at least one moth on it. I did check out the ivy this morning and it was buzzing with bees (who had clearly got the memo the moths had missed about it being a good source of food in the autumn!). No sign of any Ivy Bees, but plenty of Honey Bees making the most of it.

One surprise find to finish off Moth Night was this mouse. As I was putting the moth trap away in the garage, I saw movement from the box with the birds’ peanuts in. A mouse had got stuck in there and looked just as surprised as me. A quick photo and he was running free in the garden again, although he may have preferred to stay in the garage with the bird food.

Table Manners

Our garden furniture doesn’t seem to have had much use this summer; we normally try and eat outside quite a lot, but the weather just hasn’t been tempting enough. Of course in true Too Lazy style, the garden table is still sitting out on the grass, where we left it a couple of months ago. Various things get dumped on it, including the occasional hedgehog feeding bowl, which fills up every time it rains. The sparrows had taken to using this as an impromptu bird bath, cramming themselves into the small dish with barely room to flap a wing.

Today though I looked out to see that one of the unfortunate sparrows was suffering an altogether different experience on our table – he had become lunch for our local sparrowhawk. My first thought was guilt that I’d encouraged the sparrows, only for this one to become today’s special on the sparrowhawk menu. My second thought was can I get the camera in time? And for once I did. Not the finest set of photos; there was nothing I could do about the bits of grass and weeds obscuring the view, I just had to snap away getting as close as I could before the sparrowhawk spotted me. Thankfully the window cleaner had been literally an hour before, so I could at least see out of the patio door; the photos would have been a lot blurrier otherwise.

The black tripod visible behind the table had the trail camera set up on it. Needless to say, the trailcam was pointing in the opposite direction and missed all the action!

I headed out into the garden a bit later, not really expecting much after the excitement of the sparrowhawk. It may not have been quite so dramatic, but I was chuffed to find a Common Darter resting on the table – in almost the same spot the sparrow had met his unfortunate end. I never find it very easy to get all of a dragonfly in focus, so having failed a bit on the full body angle, I tried focussing on its head and the amazing compound eyes.

The sparrows don’t actually need to be using the tiny terracotta bowl as a bird bath. Having seen them all squashed in there, I had bought them a more spacious bird bath and put it right next to the table. They don’t seem that keen on it and are a bit wary of the slippery sides. I’ve yet to see one bathing in it, although they did have a tentative paddle a few weeks ago.

Our robin however has taken to the new bathing facilities quite happily, maybe because he doesn’t get jostled for space by the sparrows.

While I was gathering together these clips and photos of goings on around the table, I remembered that last year I’d videoed a wasp eating chicken on the table – not a chicken with an appetite for wasps, but a wasp tucking into some cooked chicken that we’d left out. I’d never got round to adding this to the blog before, so here are a few clips now:

So our garden table may not have seen much of me and Chris this year, but it’s still getting plenty of use from an assortment of winged wildlife!

30 Days Wild – Day 30 – Night and Day

I’m running late with the blog, so this is for yesterday’s Day 30 of 30 Days Wild! I’d thought it would be nice to push the 30 days to the limit and be looking at wildlife right up to midnight on the last day. So the plan was to set the trap for moths, the trail camera for hedgehogs and sit out looking for bats. As it turned out, with a few glasses of G&T and our friend to talk to as we sat outside, midnight came and went and it was 2:30am before we packed up. Not surprisingly then it’s taken a while to get going on the blog today!

All week we’ve been seeing bats in the garden, swooping around hoovering up our plentiful insects. They’ve come really close to the house as they circle around a large buddleia. But last night of course as we sat there waiting for them with bat detector in hand – none at all! It was a bit windy, but other than that the conditions seemed OK, but they were a no-show. Somewhere in Malvern someone else was probably enjoying “our” bat show! So all I can really say is that we normally get pipistrelles, which click on our bat detector at about 45 kHz.

Similarly with the hedgehogs, all week we’ve had a pair snuffling round the garden at night. It’s been great to be able to show our human friend our hoggy friends. So I was sure we’d pick them up on the trail camera last night – but again nothing! This absence can probably be explained though by our gin-swigging presence in the garden until 2.30. If I were a hedgehog I probably wouldn’t want to listen to 3 humans laughing loudly at their own jokes and clinking glasses either! So I’ve no video to show from last night, but fortunately I can do one we filmed earlier in the week (in true blue peter fashion) of our resident pair. It looks like the larger male is trying to woo the smaller female – with very little success!

So that left the moth trap to deliver the goods for our nocturnal nature-fest. But even the moths were few and far between (maybe that was why there were no bats?) A few came while we were still sitting there, but refused to actually go in the trap. This pretty green Common Emerald fluttered about and two Swallowtail moths entertained us by flapping somewhat ungracefully around us for a while. One of the Swallowtails was even still there in the morning.

My first Mother of Pearl of the year sat on the outside of the trap but didn’t go in – hence the shadowy photo lit up by the blue bulb from the moth trap.

There were a few Heart & Darts and a couple of other species in the trap when I emptied it this morning. None made for great photos apart from this Garden Grass Veneer.

There was one final mothy visitor – our friend spotted movement in the bushes this morning and found a Common Footman.

So our nocturnal safari of wildlife round the garden didn’t quite go as planned – when do things ever? But it didn’t matter at all. We had a thoroughly enjoyable evening sitting out in the garden until all hours, making the most of just being outside.

So that would have been the end of the blog post for Day 30, except that this morning as we photographed the last of the moths, suddenly the garden filled with butterflies (maybe wanting to get in on the act as Day Moths?). We’ve had hardly any butterflies lately but today we had 7 species fly in all within the space of an hour or two.

Every year we seem to get a pair of ringlets and sure enough they turned up today. One even chased off a Meadow Brown from his patch!

Then the first Red Admiral we’ve had for ages flew in and out, stopping to feed on the buddleia for a bit.

We also saw Large Whites, one Small White and a fleeting Comma. Two Small Tortoiseshells completed the day’s sightings. They fed on the buddleia (too high up for photos), the red valerian (waving about in the wind too much for decent photos) and thankfully one settled on the stationary table for an easy photo.

So it would have seemed rude not to include the day flyers with our night time ones. So what if it extended 30 Days Wild by a few hours – why wouldn’t you want to do that? In fact why wouldn’t you want to go a bit wild and get a bit of nature into your life every day? Stay Wild!

30 Days Wild – Day 29 – Fine Crop of Flowers on the Lottie

It’s Day 29 of 30 Days Wild and since I didn’t get home until quite late and it was raining when I did, the choices for today’s “wild thing” were a bit limited. Fortunately my friend was still staying and I’d promised to show her the lottie, so we headed up there to see what we can find. Although not everyone at the allotment site gardens organically, enough do that there are plenty of wildflowers to see amongst the deliberately planted plants.

First thing we spotted was Pineapple Weed (Matricaria discoidea). I’d never noticed it before but my friend identified it and got me to crush a flower – it really does smell like pineapples! Does what it says on the tin!

Next up was Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum), a pretty wild version of Geraniums.

Another new one for me was a member of the Bistort family, possibly Redshank, but my dodgy rainy photo wasn’t good enough to be sure.

Next one we were a bit more confident about – Green Alkanet. The blue flowers were almost glowing in the rain. All these plants (weeds in some people’s books) were growing along the path as we walked down to our plot.

These pretty daisy-like flowers were actually Feverfew. As the name suggests, this plant has been used in traditional medicine to cure all manner of things. Like the bindweed photobombing in the corner!

Another medicinal herb growing around the plots was this St John’s Wort.

It had been a few days since I’d been down to the allotment, so it was really nice to see how some of the deliberate plantings had come along. The runner beans were going great guns – hopefully we’ll get a good crop.

Really chuffed to see one of our sunflowers was out despite the complete lack of sun today.

As is so often the case we had a surprise on today’s walk – we found 3 huge puffballs. Thought at first they were footballs, but they were way better than that – giant fungi. Seen here with a foot for size comparison! If it hadn’t been so wet we might have been tempted to take it back to try fried puffball steaks.

So even on a unpromising wet work night, there was still plenty to see and enjoy if you get out and about. Get your wellies on and get out there!

 

 

 

30 Days Wild – Day 19 – Upton Warren Wetlands

It’s Day 19 of 30 Days Wild and after yesterday’s lethargy, I was determined to get out and about. So I headed out to Upton Warren Wetlands Reserve. For some reason I thought it might be cooler near water and I fondly imagined bird hides would also be oases of calm in the heat. How wrong can you be? It was of course hot and humid there like everywhere else and the bird hides were more like ovens than fridges!

Chris and I had been to Upton Warren a couple of months ago, but we’d only had time to visit the Moors section of the reserve. So this time I headed for The Flashes, which are saline pools and so attract an interesting array of birds, especially for such an inland location. Since I was expecting to photograph birds, I left the macro lens at home – with hindsight another error of judgment for today! Fortunately the lens I did take, wasn’t too bad for insects (although I couldn’t get as close as I would have liked), because the place was alive with damselfies, demoiselles and dragonflies.

The sailing pool was absolutely awash with Common Blue damselflies – they were everywhere. They certainly lived up to their name today – they were very common and very blue. There were so many I was afraid of treading on one.

Then I spotted something bigger, which fortunately settled on a landing platform. I think it is a Black Tailed Skimmer. It was certainly skimming low over the water.

Next up was a Banded Demoiselle; my second demoiselle species of the year.

The final one was this huge dragonfly I spotted as I finished up for the morning. I say spotted, but actually I heard it first. It was so big that when it flew off, its wings made such a noise, I actually thought I’d disturbed a small bird and turned round to see what it was. I think it is some kind of hawker dragonfly.

Anyway on to the birds – there were of course plenty there, despite me being distracted by the dragonflies. First happy sighting was this mother duck with her ducklings.

Moving on, probably the most common bird I saw this morning was the Black Headed Gull – again it does what it says on the tin – a gull with a black head! This one is an adult in breeding plumage.

Although this one looks completely different, I think it is also a black headed gull, but a juvenile this time.

And to confirm the difference in plumage, here is a poor photo of an adult feeding an even younger one.

My favourite bird from today, and the one I went hoping to see, was the Avocet. Absolutely stunning black and white birds with long curved bills. I couldn’t help but take loads of photos! They seemed very territorial, chasing off anything that came within their patch, regardless of size of the intruder.

And this I think is an avocet chick. It’s not got the adult plumage yet, but the beak is the same and it was behaving the same.

Both adult and young avocets behaved the same way – poking about through the water with their long bills looking for food. I managed a couple of shaky videos of them doing this. You can tell from the noise in the background, just how many birds were around today.

 

There was a real cacophony of bird sound all morning, most of which was unidentifiable to me, although I did think that perhaps there were some warblers near the hides – something definitely seemed to be warbling! Although there were birds everywhere, the only other species I really took photos of were this Shelduck and some Canadian Geese.

I no doubt missed lots of other species. Someone in one of the sweltering bird hides told me they’d seen a Mediterranean Gull from the next hide. I don’t think I saw one of those, but then I’m not sure I’d have been able to tell the difference if I did! Although it would be nice to be more knowledgeable about the birds, I don’t really mind going to places like Upton Warren as a novice. Just seeing so many birds, species I’d only ever seen on the telly (thank you Springwatch), is glorious. Upton Warren is a delight and I’m already looking forward to going back so Chris can see it too – although we might wait for a cooler day!

 

30 Days Wild – Day 18 – Flaming June

They say be careful what you wish for – last week I was wishing the wind would drop and it would get warmer. Well it’s certainly flaming June now and I’m regretting last week’s wishes, as we swelter here in Malvern! It’s Day 18 of 30 Days Wild and it’s so hot it’s hard to find the energy to do anything. I haven’t ventured further than the garden, so today’s post is pretty much restricted to what is going on there. All I really managed was a gentle bit of garden bird watching, but there are worse ways to spend your day!

We have assorted feeders all over the garden, but I was restricted to photographing those I could see from the shade! I think perhaps it was too hot even for the birds as not that many showed themselves, despite me putting out several bowls of water. I even poured a load of water into the wheelbarrow to give them an impromptu pond (our other pond being more silt than water).

The old faithfuls the jackdaws did of course appear when I put out some suet shreds. They are always first down to the bird table – they must have good eyesight to spot me putting out food from wherever they are. I know they get a bit of a bad press, but they are beautiful birds really.

Next down to the table was this blackbird – more cautious than the jackdaws.

The only other birds I saw in abundance while I watched were the sparrows. They were everywhere, but too nervy to get a good photo. I kept seeing adults feeding fledglings, it looks as if it’s been a good year for sparrow babies in our garden at least. I never seemed to be able to get a clear shot though and in the end the best I managed was this blurry one – from a distance and through our grubby patio doors, so not ideal.

Of course you can put out all the intentional bird food you like, but sometimes the birds are just canny enough to help themselves to things you don’t want. This morning a Great Tit found the box full of egg trays that I’d put the moths in from last night’s trap, ready for them to fly off when it gets dark. He must have thought Christmas had come early until I moved it inside the boxes inside the old hedgehog hutch. Even then he managed to squeeze through the bars to get more until I blocked it up. Hard to be cross though, as he needs to feed his family too.

So not my most productive wildlife day, but very enjoyable all the same. Chris was more adventurous than me and did go for a walk (more heat tolerant than I am obviously) and came back delighted that he’d seen a Hurricane (previously misidentified as a Spitfire – thanks to Dave for the correction). Must have been perfect flying conditions over Malvern today.

 

30 Days Wild – Day 13 – Harvest Time

 

It’s Day 13 of 30 Days Wild and I really don’t know where the time has gone today! I haven’t ended up doing any of the things I intended to, but have done a few things on the spur of the moment instead. Nothing monumental, just a quiet, pottering kind of day.

It started off well (albeit at 04:30 in the morning) when I found a Ghost Moth in the trap. I’ve wanted to find one of these for ages, especially after I saw a couple on a Wildlife Trust “moth breakfast” last year. This is also one of the few species where I can say with confidence that I’ve caught a female one. The females are yellow like this and the males are a more ghost like white (although they both have the same Trump-like yellow wig on the head!).

After that the day seemed to slow down a bit, partly due to a couple of trips to the vet with our elderly diabetic cat Bert (all well, just routine check up).  Hanging around waiting to pick Bert up again gave me time to finally get round to starting the elderflower champagne, with the now slightly elderly elderflower heads I’d picked last week. Many thanks to Christine Lucas for her recipe (https://redpanda08.wordpress.com/2017/06/07/30-days-wild-2017-week-1/) which I’ve tweeked only slightly because we happened to have an orange in the fridge! Fingers crossed it produces something resembling the stuff I remember from childhood.

Feeling like I was on a roll, I checked the fridge to see what else needed using up. We’ve got a glut of strawberries & raspberries from the allotment at the moment and there’s only so many bowls of them you can eat just straight. So in a rare fit of baking enthusiasm (although this was actually a no-bake recipe) I made a strawberry cheesecake. There’s something really satisfying about making something with fruit you’ve not only picked but grown yourself! Although by the end of the summer when we’ve had strawberries every night, I might not be quite so enthusiastic about them!

Once Bert was safely back home, I headed down the allotment to do a bit of the never ending weeding. Things are really coming along down on the lottie now. Latest addition were these pak choi – I seem to be incapable of going into a garden centre (or in this case a certain well known DIY store) without coming out with more vegetable seedlings – hence the tub of these.

We’ve also got a couple of tubs of mixed salad leaves, grown from seed and doing remarkably well. No idea what any of it is, but there’s plenty so it’s a bowl of side salad again for dinner tonight!

Back from the lottie and into the greenhouse to water the motley assortment of plants I’ve got in there. I spotted this wasp’s nest that has clearly been there some time, but for some reason I’ve never noticed it before.

If the weather’s still OK by the time Chris gets home from work, we may manage to eat our salad and cheesecake outside, otherwise it’s dinner in front of Springwatch as usual! It may not have been the “wildest” of days, but spending a few hours in the fresh air pottering down the lottie and tinkering about in the kitchen using things I’ve picked myself, is a great way of recharging the batteries.

 

 

Hedgehog Housekeeping

Just a short post today with an update on our foster hedgehog Meadow. We’ve had him now since early January and I’m very relieved that’s he survived the winter with us! We’ve been weighing him every fortnight and although he’s lost a bit of weight, he is still a very healthy 800g or so – plenty heavy enough to see him through to the spring hopefully.

Since we last weighed him he has become increasingly active and has presumably decided he’s had enough of hibernation. For the first 2 months our care duties had consisted mainly of checking each day that he had fresh water and food, but while he was asleep, there was little else to do.

Now he is an eating and pooping machine! His food bowl is at best empty every morning and at worst he’s pooped in it! The water bowl is regularly slopped about soaking the newspapers and he has generally managed to poop in every corner of the hutch! So every day he needs fresh food, water and newspapers and a general clean of the hutch. We never see him though (apart from when we take him out to weigh), he’s always buried in the hay when we look in.

Invisible he may be, but since he is clearly very active when we’re not around, I had a go with the old trail camera in his hutch.  There’s not much space to position it without disturbing him, but I managed to get it wedged by the roof out of his way and he seemed blissfully unaware of it. The field of view is pretty small since it is so close up, but I got lots of clips of him doing what he’s good at – eating and pooping and rearranging his bedding. He clearly doesn’t approve of my style of housekeeping (nor does my husband Chris probably, but that’s a different story) as he is constantly dragging the hay and/or the newspapers around to where he thinks they should be.

So below are a couple of stills taken from the video showing him a) eating of course and b) dragging the hay around. Then there is a compilation of video clips taken over roughly a 24 hour period. Note his food bowl starts of clean and full of food and ends up empty and covered in poop and hay! But he’s a little character and we will miss him when we eventually get the go ahead for releasing him in the spring.