Autumn Hog Blog

I’ve managed to go almost 2 whole months without doing another hog blog, but there’s been lots happening in the garden and I can no longer resist! Pink & Freda are still with us, plus at least one other hog, possibly more.

Pink is still using the nest box with the camera in, which is great. In the three months since she was released she has continued to ram the box full with leaves and straw. The first video below shows how empty the box was the night she was released – just the straw I’d put in there to start her off and you can still see the entrance tunnel on the right of the sleeping area.

First night in hedgehog house

 

Three months later and you can see how much nesting material she has managed to cram in there. Some days it is impossible to see anything through the camera because the leaves are pushed right up to the lens. Still it’s better for her to be well insulated than for me to have good views of her sleeping.

Full Hedgehog house

 

Here’s a view from outside Pink’s house. You can see how much nesting material is already in there and she’s still taking more in. Considering this will be her first winter, she is doing really well making her nest warm and snug. Fingers crossed she manages a successful hibernation.

Hedgehog coming and going

 

Freda, our three legged hedgehog, continues to thrive in the garden. She can move very well on 3 legs and is surprisingly agile. The cameras caught her hopping over the bars at the bottom of the BBQ with no trouble at all:

Freda hopping over BBQ

 

Hedgehogs aren’t the only animals benefitting from the food we put out. We are also feeding several local cats. Most of the cats I think have perfectly good homes to go to, but one I suspect maybe a stray. He is an elderly looking gentleman, a sort of greyish tabby colour, who looks like he’s seen a lot of life! We’ve named him Roughtie Toughtie. I was pleased therefore to get a video of him and what I think is Freda sharing food quite amicably one night.

Hog & cat sharing dinner

 

Freda was courted quite determinedly by a male hog called Wodan when she first returned to our garden in the summer. I had wondered whether she would have a second litter, but as it got to half way through October, there were no signs of any hoglets. But then last week I downloaded the camera footage and spotted what looked like a small one. I wasn’t sure at first but then found these clips which clearly show a much smaller one next to an adult. (sorry for the flashing effect on the video, not sure what was going on with the camera!)

Little & Large hog

The adult hog with the hoglet wasn’t Freda (too many legs), but then the hoglet may not have actually been with the adult, they may just have crossed paths. I’ll probably never know for sure whether they were Freda’s or another female’s.

Hedgehogs need to reach an absolute minimum of 450g by the time they start hibernating to stand a chance of surviving the winter. The bigger they are the better their chances, but anything below 450g at the start of November is going to need to be rescued. I’d only seen one hoglet but there might have been more, and the one I’d seen looked very small. I faced the prospect of sitting up that night trying to catch hoglets to weigh them.

So I wrapped up warm, took a torch, the kitchen scales and a pair of gloves outside with my kindle to read – potentially I could be out there a long time! Fortunately the hutch was empty so I had somewhere to put any hoglets I found – I prepped it with fresh bedding and food and water and sat down to wait. After an hour there had been no sightings of hedgehogs and I’d played a lot of sudoku on the kindle. Half an hour later and I could hear rustling but still no sightings of hedgehogs of any size. So I decided to have a walk about with the torch. Heading down the garden I spotted Freda, another adult (possibly Pink) and a hoglet! I grabbed the somewhat surprised hoglet and popped it on the scales – 240g, way too small to make it through the winter, so in the hutch it went. I gave it another half hour and went back out – another hoglet, just 206g this time. Into the hutch it went with its sibling. An hour later I thought I’d have one last look in case there were any more and spotted a third – 238g.

All three spend the night in the hutch until I could get them to Viv of Malvern Hedgehog Rescue (http://www.malvernhedgehogrescue.co.uk/) the next day.

Hoglet trio

The three hoglets turned out to be 2 females and 1 male. So far no other small hoglets have been spotted on the trail camera, so I’m hoping I managed to get the whole litter.

Roughtie Toughtie the cat spends a lot of time sleeping in our garden and since he looks like he may have no home,  we’ve bought him an outdoor kennel. Needless to say I have yet to see any evidence that he is using it, but we can but try. The night I caught the hoglets, I’d had the cameras out as usual and filmed one of the hoglets investigating the cat kennel just before I caught him/her for weighing. He or she struggles a bit to get in the big kennel, but was clearly determined to check it out.

Hoglet in kennel

 

I seem to be totally unable to resist a new gadget for watching wildlife in the garden. The latest one I found is this illuminated hedgehog feeder. The hogs don’t seem bothered at all by the light and started using it straight away. We’ve put it in front of our patio doors so we can sit on the sofa and watch them feeding. Freda has been using it and at least one other unidentified hog (not Pink as I’ve been able to watch her in her hedgehog house at the same time as this one was feeding in front of us). With the lights off in our living room, I can creep along the floor with the camera and photograph/video the hedgehogs feeding without them realising I’m there. Took a bit of trial and error working out how to stop the camera flash and also realising that I needed to clean the smudgy glass in the patio doors!

Hedgehog at new feeder

When I took the hoglet trio into Viv for overwintering, I ended up bringing back a bigger hog for fostering (seemed a fair swap). Gwendolen, as I’ve called her, just needs fattening up before she can be released. Hopefully if the weather stays mild this can be soon, but after the risks of bonfire night have passed. Here she is checking out the strange sounds and smells in our garden from her hutch.

Gwendolen hedgehog in hutch

 

So that’s a round up of hedgehog activity in the garden over the last couple of months – lots going on. To end though, the annual plea to please be careful if you’re considering building a bonfire this year. Bonfires just look like an ideal home to a hedgehog, so please only build them just before you’re going to light them. If for some reason you really have to gather the wood together earlier, please try and move it all before lighting or at the very least lift it up and check underneath for sleeping hedgehogs. Only light the fire from one side, to give any creatures under there the chance to escape from the other side. #rememberhedgehogs.

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!

Another Hog Blog

I’ve been getting some really nice hoggy video clips from the assorted cameras in the garden lately; the perfect excuse for another hog blog!

Freda our resident 3-legged hog is still with us and doing well around the garden. It is now about a month since she was wooed by Wodan, so if she is pregnant we may well have the patter of tiny hoglet feet soon. Part of me hopes so, but at the same time it is late in the season to be having babies, so they may struggle to put on enough weight for the winter, so I am also worried for her and potentially them. Watch this space.

In the meantime though we still have plenty of other hedgehog activity. Wodan seems to have wandered off now that he’s either had his wicked way with Freda or finally got the message that she’s having none of it. But we do have Pink, a juvenile hedgehog that I fostered until she was big enough to be released. Pink came from a litter of hoglets that couldn’t be returned to where she came from (the best option) due to a dog attack. Instead she seems happy to make her home in our garden, although she is of course free to come and go as she pleases. Here she meets Freda, just a couple of nights after she was released into the garden. Freda is considerably larger than Pink, who wisely tucks herself up as Freda approaches.

When Pink met Freda

Fortunately Freda was more interested in the food than in Pink and they both carried on eating without any further argument.

Pink seems to have decided to make one of our hedgehog houses her regular home, which is great. She has been really busy the last week furnishing it to her liking – in and out with as much nesting material as she can find. For a young hedgehog she is doing a fantastic job at nest building, even if she is sometimes a bit over-ambitious with the stuff she tries to drag in there.

Gathering nesting material 1

It is amazing how much she can carry in her mouth and how determined she is to get it all back to the house.

Nest gathering

Fortunately the house she has chosen to nest in is the one with a built-in camera. So not only do I have footage of her gathering from outside, I can also see her bringing it in from the inside.

Bringing in nest material

Her behaviour pattern seems to be to wake up when it gets dark (as she should of course), then go out for something to eat for the next few hours. Around 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning she then resumes her nest building until it starts to get light. Finally as the sun comes up she retires to bed for the day. As hedgehogs shouldn’t really be out in the day, it’s not often I get daylight footage; but this is her heading back to the nest first thing in the morning after a hard night’s eating and gathering.

Time for bed

She’s packed her nest so full that it’s getting a bit of a struggle to get in there. She has to clamber over the pile of leaves and grass, before pulling it back over herself. She can then snuggle down (with a bit of a yawn) safely away from draughts until it’s time to start all over again.

Bed time

So hopefully both Pink and Freda will continue to make our garden their home. The garden is not enclosed so they are free to roam if they wish. Hopefully though they will realise that here they have a plentiful supply of food, hedgehog houses and more than enough weeds and wildlife to provide for all their hedgehoggy needs. And we will get to continue to enjoy their company in our garden.

Lonesome George

At the end of June I caught an Eyed Hawk-moth in the trap as part of my regular Garden Moth Scheme trapping.  She (as it turns out) was a beautiful specimen with the characteristic eyes on the underwings and raised position of the upper wings. As it was about 4:30am, I put her in a pot for a couple of hours until I could photograph her at a more reasonable time of day.

When I came to photograph and release her I found she’d laid two perfect green eggs in the pot.

It seemed such a shame to just get rid of the eggs without giving them a chance, so I thought I’d have a go at rearing them. The eggs were transferred still in their pot into a larger container and I read up on how to rear hawk-moths. I checked on them every day and was starting to think they weren’t going to do anything when they both hatched about 2 weeks after they were laid. The two tiny green caterpillars of course needed food and apparently apple leaves are a favourite, which fortunately we could supply in plenty. Sadly one tiny caterpillar didn’t make it past the second day, but the remaining one, hereafter named Lonesome George (or possibly Georgina), is pictured below. So this blog post records George’s transformation. The photo below shows him at about 2 weeks old not long after hatching. The red dorsal spike is at the rear end.

George had a prodigious appetite, munching through as many apple leaves as he could get. By three weeks old he had started to develop striped markings.

By 4 weeks old the red rimmed spiracles were visible along his side and his dorsal spike had turned white.

By 5 and a half weeks, the dorsal spike at the end had started to turn blue. He had prolegs (not true legs) at the back and true legs at the front.

In this close up of  his head, you can see his true feet, used for gripping the leaves. His black jaws are just about visible in his mouth.

Caterpillars really are just eating machines.

Eyed Hawk-moth Caterpillar eating

By 6 weeks George was over 5cm long – a very handsome chunky caterpillar.

George wasn’t the only thing getting bigger – his poops were now over 5mm long, perfectly formed little packages of waste apple leaf!

At 7 weeks old George’s colour started to change, a sign apparently that he was getting ready to pupate.

So he was transferred to a larger container with compost in the bottom and a layer of leaf matter. Almost immediately he started burrowing into the compost until he was completely submerged.

Eyed Hawk-moth getting ready to pupate

Ten days later and George the caterpillar had turned into a chrysalis or pupa. Already you can see the outlines of wings forming and it bears no resemblance to the original caterpillar.

So that’s it for George for now. I just need to keep his chrysalis safe and dry until the early summer when he (or she) will hopefully emerge in all his glory as an adult Eyed Hawk-moth.

 

So this was going to be the end of this post on rearing moths, but then I caught a female Antler Moth.

As Antler Moths are such striking moths, I’d put her in a pot for an hour until I could take a photo. She surprised me in that short time by laying at least a dozen tiny eggs; I could see her abdomen still pulsating when I released her so hopefully she managed to lay more in the garden too.

So once again it seemed a shame for these eggs to have no chance at life, so I now have a pot of Antler Moth eggs as well as Lonesome George’s chrysalis. Antler Moths it seems overwinter as eggs, so I can do little for this clutch until the spring, other than to try not to let them get too dry or too damp. Come the spring I will have to find suitable food plants (grasses) for the caterpillars that will hopefully emerge. So watch this space…..

In the meantime here’s another Eyed Hawk-moth, just because they are so magnificent.

 

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!

 

 

 

Freda – A Hog’s Tale

If anyone reads this blog regularly, they will know that hedgehogs feature quite a lot. We feed the hogs, put water out for the hogs, provide houses for the hogs, pester the neighbours to put gaps in fences for hogs, watch the hogs on cameras and generally worry about our hogs and their well-being on a near daily basis.

When we got a hedgehog house with built in camera, we were thrilled to get one using it regularly. Never staying the whole night, but most nights he or she would come and have a rest for an hour or so, before continuing with the nightly foraging. Here’s a compilation from a few nights of resting and yawning!

Hedgehog Yawning compilation

This hog came at a similar time every night, so we think it was the same one. Following the events below, we hardly saw one using the box for months, our regular just stopped coming. So I think the yawning one above is the one who went on to have an eventful summer – Freda.

In the middle of May we caught a hedgehog with difficulties on one of the cameras. There was clearly something wrong with one back leg in the video below.

Hedgehog in need of help

I messaged Viv our local hedgehog rehabilitator and she kindly came round to help me look for our limping hog. I had thought I might have to sit up for nights trying to see the struggling hog, but thankfully Viv found it in one of our hedgehog houses. “It” turned out to be a “she” and so she was named Freda. Freda had one back foot missing completely. We’ll never know what happened – whether it was an animal attack or a strimming incident, but it was heart-breaking to see.

Hedgehogs can manage quite well with one back leg missing, but it is usually best to remove the leg entirely. If they are left with a stump it drags on the ground when they walk and the wound keeps getting opened up again and infections would set in. So it was decided that it would be best for Freda to have the leg amputated and she would stay at Viv’s until her wound had healed and her spines had grown back.

Poor Freda had more drama in store though. Having survived the operation successfully, it turned out she was pregnant. In June she gave birth to 5 hoglets. Unfortunately Freda had developed an infection and was unable to suckle the babies properly. Sadly by the time this was discovered it was too late to save the  hoglets.

Fortunately Freda herself responded well to antibiotics and began to recover from her ordeals. By the middle of July she was well enough to be fostered back to us in our hutch in the garden. We could feed and monitor her for a while and it would free up space at Viv’s for other hedgehogs in more need. I pointed a camera at the hutch to check how Freda was doing on her first nights in the hutch. Although she could move around the hutch well on 3 legs, unfortunately she seemed completely stressed out by it all. She could now smell the garden and like most wild animals was desperate to be free. She was climbing the front of the hutch and scratching at the walls trying to get out.

Freda in rehab hutch

Stress can be a killer for hedgehogs, so we couldn’t keep her cooped up like this any longer. Viv has someone with an enclosed garden that she uses to do soft releases for hedgehogs like Freda. Freda could be released into this garden and monitored to make sure she could cope back outside on her own and move around OK with only 3 legs. Fortunately Freda proved that she could cope very well, so after a week it was decided to catch her and bring her back to our place to release in the garden properly this time. It is always best to release hedgehogs back where they came from if at all possible, so Freda came back home.

I put her in the hedgehog house with the inside camera and blocked the entrance so she’d stay there until it got dark. She settled right in and had a bit of a nap as if she knew she was home. When it got dark enough, I unblocked the entrance and off she went.

Freda release night

The video below shows her emerging from the hedgehog house (ignore the date on one of the cameras, it wasn’t set right). Almost immediately she finds some smell she’s interested in and starts self-anointing – a good sign I think that she’s behaving naturally. Then off she trundles into the rest of the garden.

Freda release

We had cameras set up round the garden for the next few nights to check she was OK. Fortunately she seems happy to stay in our garden where there is plenty of food and water. Her gait may not be gainly but it doesn’t stop her moving around and finding food, water and shelter.

Freda getting about the garden

We weren’t the only ones pleased to have her back in the garden. By the second night she had already attracted an admirer. We’ve had a one-eyed hedgehog in the garden for some time – we hadn’t known whether it was male or female, but given the attention it was paying to Freda I think we can safely assume it’s a male. I’ve named him Wodan – the Anglo-Saxon variation on Odin the one eyed god! In the video below Freda goes into the hedgehog house and within minutes Wodan is running up and down looking for her, before realising she’s in the house and following her in.

First encounter

Wodan may be keen, but Freda is less so. A couple of nights after her return to the garden he pursued her for at least an hour and a half. They circled round and round with lots of annoyed huffing from Freda.

Persistent Pursuit

The same happened inside the house – she clearly wasn’t impressed and did her best to turf him out.

Freda & Wodan

Whether Wodan got his way with Freda in the end – well we won’t know unless of course she has another litter of hoglets. It’s getting late in the year for hoglets to be born now – they won’t have enough time to put on weight before the winter. So that will be the next worry for us and for Freda. Fingers crossed though that the dramas are over for Freda now and that she can live a long and healthy life in the relative safety of our garden.

A huge thank you to Viv at Malvern Hedgehog Rescue http://www.malvernhedgehogrescue.co.uk/  for all she’s done for Freda and all the other hedgehogs in her care. Hedgehog rescues like Viv’s tend to be self-funded so please consider supporting your local one. Donations of food, supplies or just good old financial support are always welcome.

Or why not consider becoming a supporter of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/ – raising awareness and campaigning on behalf of our native hedgehogs.

Or simply help the hedgehogs in your own garden. Put out shallow dishes of water; all year round but especially in hot dry weather. Supplement their natural food with either meaty cat or dog food, dry cat food or good quality hedgehog food. Leave a bit of your garden wild to provide natural food and shelter. Simple things that can make a big difference.

 

A Pootle Round Poolbrook

This weekend we had a couple of lovely walks around nearby Poolbrook Common in search of butterflies. I say walks, they were really more of a pootle – a gentle meander through the grass. Poolbrook Common is so close to us there was none of the usual “pressure” to see things, as we could always go back the next day, or even later the same day. The butterflies were also so abundant that getting photos was a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. So we pootled happily for an hour or so just enjoying being surrounded by so many butterflies.

The butterflies in question were mainly Marbled Whites, although there were also Meadow Browns, Ringlets, Small Skippers and one Gatekeeper. Poolbrook Common seems to be well managed in that the grass & meadow flowers have been left to grow, then cut later in the year and the butterflies have benefited. We met a walker who told us one of the reasons the Common is managed this way is due to the presence of Skylarks. And sure enough we saw several of these rising high above the grass or flying past with beaks full of large insects.

We didn’t really care whether the Common was managed for butterflies or birds, the end result was lovely. We’d seen on the Malvern Butterfly Facebook Group that the Common was well worth a visit right now and they weren’t wrong! There must have been literally hundreds of Marbled Whites – neither of us have ever seen so many. We both tried getting photos to convey the abundance, but none of them really did it justice.

So I did make this little video, just panning around to try and show how many there were in just a small area. Not sure it was really any more successful than the photo – I think you just have to go and see them for yourself.

Marbled Whites are beautifully photogenic butterflies (not that there are really any butterflies that aren’t photogenic), both from above and from below.

Males and females look similar on the upperside of the wings, but can be differentiated by the undersides. The males have completely black and white patterning.

Whereas the females have a more sepia tone going on.

Mr and Mrs Marbled White.

We saw a few bits of flirtatious butterfly behaviour, but only found one properly mating pair.

None of the ringlets would pose for photos, but fortunately the sole Gatekeeper sat still long enough for one.

The Meadow Browns were quite flighty on Saturday, but on Sunday we’d got up really early and were down on the Common before the butterflies had really woken up. The Meadow Browns were still roosting in the grass and much easier to photograph.

There were plenty of Small Skippers about too; I always think they look cheery little butterflies, I don’t know if it’s their colour or their buzzing flight.

And of course I can never resist a moth, particularly one as dashing as this Five Spot Burnet (possibly Narrow-bordered Five Spot Burnet?) moth.

One final photo, just because we don’t often get the chance to be so face to face with a butterfly!

 

 

Final Fritillary Makes Fifty

As 30 Days Wild draws to a close for another year, we are managing to go out with a bit of a bang.  Having already had a very successful June, seeing our first ever Marsh & Heath Fritillaries, we set off to Wales in search of our final fritillary and 50th butterfly species – the High Brown Fritillary. Some of the land we went on was private, so I can’t disclose the exact location but we were in the Alun Valley area, courtesy of an organised and escorted trip by Butterfly Conservation.

The High Brown Fritillary is apparently the UK’s most threatened butterfly species, remaining in only a few sites in England and only one in Wales. It happened to be the hottest day of the year so far for our walk – challenging conditions for an unfit middle-aged couple!

For the first site we visited we parked (I say “we parked” but we got a lift there from the very kind Mike) next to a dried up river bed. There were a few pools remaining and it was great to see loads of what we think were toad tadpoles wriggling in the shallows. They’d got their back legs but no front ones yet; fingers crossed they complete their metamorphosis before their pool dries up completely.

We headed up a slope to an open area of bracken that is being managed for fritillaries. Loads of large fritillaries were visible darting about the bracken – a mix of Dark Green and High Brown. The High Browns were a really rich dark orangey brown colour, the Dark Greens being a bit more muted, but at the speed they all flew, it was difficult to tell which was which. It soon became apparent that the fritillaries had little intention of stopping to get their photos taken. A ready rule soon came into practice – if a large fritillary landed it was a Dark Green one; if it flew past you like the clappers, it was probably a High Brown. Despite repeated attempts to chase them down, the High Browns escaped our cameras at this site. Thankfully the Dark Greens were a bit kinder to us. This one posed nicely for Chris on a thistle flower.

Then Mike spotted a pair of mating Dark Greens and we all rushed to get a photo of something!

Having had enough baking in the heat at the first site, we moved onto another site a mile or two away. This also had lots of High Browns with perhaps fewer Dark Greens. Apparently some other lucky butterfly spotters had got plenty of good photos of the High Browns earlier in the day – our timing was not so good.  The cloud cover meant a lot of the fritillaries had gone down into the bracken and weren’t flying, making them virtually impossible to spot.  They do particularly like thistle flowers and a local guide pointed out a thistle that had had High Browns nectaring on it in the morning. It seemed worth a shot, so I staked out this thistle for a few minutes. Having limited patience, I soon got bored of looking at a butterfly-less thistle, so reached into my bag for some water. No sooner had I done so than a High Brown Fritillary landed on the thistle. Water bottle cast aside, I grabbed the camera again and managed a few frantic shots before it flew off. None of my photos would win any awards, but they are at least identifiable as High Brown Fritillaries – on the first photo you can see an extra row of brown spots between the outer edge and the silver spots – the Dark Green Fritillaries don’t have these.

We saw lots of other butterfly species during the day – Small Heath, Comma, Red Admiral, Meadow Brown, and Skippers – most of which were also bombing around in the sunshine too fast to photograph. Heading back to the car we saw a patch of nettles covered in Peacock caterpillars – the next generation in the making and a lot easier to photograph than fast flying butterflies.

So we’ve “bagged” our final fritillary species and our 50th butterfly species in total. Only 8 more species to go (9 if we count the Cryptic Wood White over in Northern Ireland). It was a really great day in Wales, with a lovely bunch of people.

And to finish the day – a bottle of Wood White beer – a new beer produced by Wood’s brewery with part of the sales going to Butterfly Conservation. Always happy to do our bit for conservation!