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.

 

 

 

 

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!

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.

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.

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!

 

 

 

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!

 

 

The Marsh Fritillary – Butterfly No. 49.

Our final blog post from our holiday in Somerset/Devon and we set out to see and hopefully photograph our next butterfly species – the Marsh Fritillary. From our base on Exmoor we headed across north Devon to the Dunsdon National Nature Reserve. We were reliably informed by the local Wildlife Trust that this would be a good place to see the Marsh Fritillaries and with the weather forecast looking better than it had all week, we set off. The reserve took a bit of finding as it is tucked away, but it was well worth the visit. There was only one other couple there – also keen butterfly spotters, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

The marsh fritillary likes damp grassland and given the weather we’ve been having recently there was certainly plenty of the damp element around. We left the car and followed the boardwalk through the trees until we got to the first field. Within yards we’d spotted our first ever Marsh Fritillary – our 49th species was ticked off the list!

We managed a few photos before it started pouring with rain again and we retreated to the car. Thankfully the rain didn’t last too long, so we headed back out again and were rewarded with plenty of butterflies. We must have seen at least a dozen fritillaries during our visit. The first few we saw were all sitting with their wings open to reveal their beautifully patterned uppersides. Here are some of our better photos.


Of course having got the upper view, we wanted some side on shots. Luckily we found a few feeding on thistles, nicely displaying their gorgeous undersides.

Most of the fritillaries we saw were settled on the thistles or amongst the grass, but we did see a few in flight, dancing over the meadow – a really lovely sight.

The marsh fritillaries may have been our main focus, but other insects kept side-tracking us as well. I can never resist a moth and spent a large part of the visit chasing a particular species around until I could get close enough to identify it – a Burnet Companion as it turns out.

We had hoped for some dragonfly action, but apart from a brief glimpse of an impressive dragonfly in the distance, the only one we got close enough to was this female large red damselfly.

Scorpion flies always fascinate me, so after a bit of the usual chasing I managed to get a photo of this one. I think it must have been a female, as there wasn’t much sign of the scorpion like tail.

We do try to enjoy any interesting plants we see too and not focus solely on the insect life. Dunsdon reserve also had some lovely spotted orchids. No idea what species they were, but guessing they were not the same as the Heath Spotted Orchids we’d seen the day before as the habitat was different.

The reserve had a fair number of dainty Ragged Robin flowers which prefer damp meadows like this. Not only are they gorgeous little flowers, they are great for wildlife too.


But my favourite remains the Forget-me-not. I’ve loved these flowers since I was a child and the holiday cottage we stayed at had a whole meadow of these gorgeous sunny blue flowers. The image has stuck with me for over 40 years and I still love the sight of them today.


So that’s the final blog post from our trip down south and our 49th species of butterfly photographed. Only 9 to go now (10 if we decide to include the Cryptic Wood White in Northern Ireland). We’ve got one more species we are hoping to see this year – the High Brown Fritillary – watch this space!

 

Bees, Bats, Butterflies and Birds at Bridge Cottage

We’re just back from a holiday in Exmoor and as usual have returned with hundreds of wildlife photos, having spent the week in our usual glamorous manner. Most people probably take swimming costumes, flip flops and suncream on holiday; we took a moth traps, bat detector,  underwater camera and trail cameras! We stayed at a lovely cottage by the River Barle in Withypool, Somerset – an absolutely idyllic location, with plenty of wildlife potential.

Our holiday coincided with the start of 30 Days Wild, so the perfect excuse for wildlife watching, not that we ever need an excuse. The cottage had loads of bird life including sparrows nesting around the guttering. A pair of blue tits were nesting in the apex of the shed. They were really devoted parents bringing food constantly despite the rain (hence dishevelled photo below) and removing the faecal sacs to keep the nest clean.

There were plenty of mayflies hatching while we were there and the swifts made good use of them flying low over the water and snatching them out of the air. Best of all we could hear a cuckoo calling every morning around dawn. The sound of a cuckoo combined with the sound of the river is a great way to wake up in the morning.

Not surprisingly the abundant insect life attracted bats too. We got the bat detector going and were rewarded with clicks and chirp noises that sounded different to our usual Pipistrelle bats at home. The clicks were closer to the 47-48kHz frequency than the 45kHz we get at home, so perhaps these bats were either Daubenton’s or Natterers? Unfortunately we didn’t manage to record the noises to be sure and it was too dark to actually see the bats.

The first day we arrived at the cottage we had glorious sunshine and a warm night – perfect conditions for an evening glass of wine in the garden and to put the moth trap out! We couldn’t believe the abundance of moths we got in the morning. Many of the moths we caught were species we’d seen before but never in such numbers – buff tips, white ermines, brown silver lines – all species which we see occasionally in Malvern, but rarely more than single individuals. There were 2 species though that we’ve never seen before – Nut Tree Tussock and Campion – nice to add to our life lists of species.

As usual an Elephant Hawkmoth stole the show, but it did have competition from this stunning Puss Moth!

The River Barle which ran past the garden had sparkling clear water (every day except the last day when heavy rain had clouded it).  One of the first things we noticed were several dead Signal Crayfish both in the water and on the river bank.

These are an introduced species and are causing serious problems by outcompeting the native crayfish and by tunnelling into river banks leading to erosion. There are projects to actively remove them from rivers like the Barle, so it could be the dead crayfish we saw were part of this.

On a cheerier note, there were lots of presumably native minnows swimming in shoals near the river bank. So armed with our waterproof GoPro camera, I heroically waded in with my wellies. A slight miscalculation between height of wellies and depth of water, led to some wet feet, but at least I managed to video the minnows!

The river also had numerous tadpoles, who remained hidden in the plants near the bank during the day, but emerged into a sheltered inlet in the evenings. They were much darker than the tadpoles we get back home in the pond, so they may be toad tadpoles rather than frogs.

 

The cottage garden was well planted with plenty of shrubs and flowers for wildlife, including some gorgeous lupins that the bees absolutely loved.



One even got so carried away it forgot where it was and landed on my hand.

We saw a few butterflies in the garden, including our first Painted Lady of the year, but the highlight had to be this – a Green Hairstreak. To see these little beauties previously we’ve had to travel to nature reserves, so to have one virtually fly up to us in the garden was amazing. So amazing that I fumbled with the camera and only managed one rubbish photo – but it is just about recognisable as a green butterfly!

So we can highly recommend a stay at Bridge Cottage in Withypool for anyone interested in wildlife – there’s certainly plenty of it. The village itself was charming with a pub, shop and café – what more could you want from a holiday?

We did of course venture out while we were in the Exmoor area in search of more butterflies, but I’ll cover those in subsequent blog posts – watch this space!