At the moment.... mostly about moths

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Moth trap 4

3 more moths this morning:

2 Common Quaker
1 Shuttle-shaped Dart

Shuttle-shaped Dart (Agrotis puta)

Heart and Dart (Agrotis exclamationis)

Based on a little research, this would seem to be a very common species

Moth totals

Total Species 4
Total caught 10

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Cantharis decipiens

There were a few of these beetles around the garden at the weekend:

Cantharis decipiens

It took me a while to identify it as it wasn't present in any of my general ID guides, which generally cover beetles very poorly and so far I haven't managed to find a decent guide specific to beetles. In the end this website came to rescue which has a nice gallery of beetle pics and I found this one just by systematically going through ones with a similar body shape until I found it! Not very scientific I know. Checking the NBN site it's quite widely distributed across England and Wales but it hasn't been reported from this part of kent before. Apart from that I can't find out much about it!

Monday, 27 April 2009

Meligramma trianguliferum

A few days ago I found this hoverfly, as usual at the moment, in our garden:

Meligramma trianguliferum

Initially I couldn't identify it and posted it to Flickr hoping for some ID advice. Fortunately Tim Ransom from jersey was able to help. Of course when I look in Stubbs and Falk, THE guide for UK hovers, then it becomes obvious that it's this species. I guess it takes time to get your head around the many species of hoverflies that occur in the UK. As usual Thanks to Tim for the help.

As it turns out this is quite an interesting fly, maybe the most scarce species I've yet recorded. Stubbs and Falk report it as being widespread but scarce, occurring in spring in association with shrubs such as Hawthorn, which we do have in the garden. Checking the hoverfly recording scheme map for this species here agrees with Stubbs and Falks statement. For the most part M. trianguliferum occurs from the home counties north to the peak district and across to East Anglia. There are few records further north to Scotland, but nothing from Wales or the West country. There are no sightings from East Kent! One observation is that most of the records are from since 1990. Does this reflect increased amount of hoverfly recording activity or an increase in the incidence of this species? I suspect it's the former but I'll need to check more species at the scheme to see if they all have this pattern.

Moth trap 3

2 moths in the trap this morning, another Common Quaker and a new species: Early Grey (Xylocampa areola). According to UKMOTHs it's a scarse species, commoner in the south and which favours suburban environments.

Early Grey (Xylocampa areola)


Total species: 3
Totals caught: 7

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Melanostoma scalare

Lots of insects in the garden today, in what were perfect spring conditions. I actually had a new butterfly for the garden, namely a Speckled Wood. No photo though, it didn't settle. Also saw my first Holly Blue of the year. I did manage to find another new species of hoverfly:

Melanostoma scalare

Melanostoma scalare

Checkout Flickr for some pics of other species seen today.

Moth trap 2

Ran the trap again last night, but slim pickings this morning, just one Common Quaker. I might try it in another part of the garden.

Total species recorded 2

Total moths recorded 5

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Lots of Hovers

It was a lovely spring day today and I spent some time in the garden with the camera. Several hover species were evident, Epistrophe elegans was the most abundant (at least a dozen being present), but there were lots of Syrhus ribesii too. There were several Eristalis pertinax and Myathropa florea also. Of particular note were a few Helophilus pendulus, perhaps my favourite hover species, around the pond. I had direct evidence (eggs) of this species breeding in the garden last year, so it's good to see them back. In addition I spotted 2 new hoverfly species for me:

Pipiza noctiluca

Pipiza luteitarsis?

Platycheirus manicatus

Platycheirus scambus

Of course, hoverflies weren't the only creatures of interest, there were several St Mark's flies seen early in the morning, a new bug and a new spider species which I haven't identified yet. Finally a new species of wasp was spotted, only identified down to the genus level, namely Pimpla.

New Moth Trap

I've been wanting to try out moth trapping for some time now and recently I treated myself to a new moth trap courtesy of Anglian Lepidopeterist Supplies ( - They were very helpful and gave a great service). The model I got myself was the Heath type, with a 15W lamp running off the mains. This is what the set up looks like:

New Moth Trap

It's fairly basic, but didn't cost too much, so is probably a good compromise. I had wanted a battery powered setup to give portability, but they are quite a bit more expensive and tricky to maintain. The bulb is of the fluorescent type, but emitting towards the UV end of the spectrum - it glows with a pinkish blue colour. This is more attractive to the moths, apparently. The idea is the light attracts them and they enter the trap through the hole in the middle to be viewed the following morning. I put a few egg boxes in there to give them some security.

So, last night was my first proper run at this and I actually caught some moths, 4 in total,

3 Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi)

Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi)

This is a common and widespread species in the UK, flying during March and April.
See UK moth site for more info

1 Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica)

Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica)

Again common and widespread in the early part of the year, readily attracted to lights. UK moths

Obviously not a huge catch in terms of numbers or variety but my moth list has formally begun!

Friday, 24 April 2009

Great Shunner Fell wildlife

My daughter and I climbed Great Shunner Fell whilst in the Yorkshire Dales last week. It was misty so the views were minimal, however that didn't stop us seeing some interesting wildlife. For instance we came across this very colourful lichen species, Cladonia diversa. As far as I'm aware this is one of the few lichen species coloured red in this way. It's quite widespread, but favours acid environments - which is just what the slopes of Great Shunner Fell are like, since it's very peaty.

Cladonia diversa

We also came across a little pool with a few pond skaters in. We noted however that some of them were smaller than the others and on looking in our guide book later we realised these were a distinct species, called the Water Cricket. Sorry about the poor quality of the picture but this was the best I managed and given this was a new species for me I wanted to share.

Water cricket (Velia caprai)

A couple more sightings of interest included some well developed frog spawn, looking like it would soon hatch and later some close views of a pair of Golden Plover. This is was of particular interest for us since my daughter and I had twitched an American Golden Plover back in Kent last summer. Since this was my daughter's first sighting of the normal variety she now has both on her list - can't be many UK folks who see the American version before they see the European variety!

Monday, 20 April 2009

European Bullhead (Cottus gobio)

During our recent holiday in the Dales we took a walk along the Swale towards Muker and when checking out the rocks in the side of the river we found several of this fish:

European Bullhead (Cottus gobio)

This was a first for me, and quite interesting. It's clearly well adapted for a fast flowing river, such as the Swale. It looks very much like a loach but is actually a member of the Scorpionfish family. It's a species that is indicative of good water quality - which you'd hope would be the case for the Swale, high up near it's source. According to the NBN website:

It's quite widely distributed, favouring northern rivers, but also found down south - even near to me in Kent! If you zoom into the exact area around Muker:

you can see there are 2 close-by records, but interestingly none from the stretch of the Swale itself, which runs north from Muker. We saw ours somewhere just above the "u" of Muker.

There's lot's more info at the Encyclopedia of Life: entry.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Major gardening session

Spent several hours in the garden today, even though it wasn't really that warm. Seeds of lettuce, radish and carrots were all planted. Some shallots went in too and several types of poppy. I also potted on about 20 chilli plants from the seeds planted back at the end of feb. Those seedlings were all at risk whilst I was away last week, as I just had to let them take their chances. Luckily they all survived, so all being well I should end up with lots of chillies later in the year. Finally we put up a rickety bamboo cane structure, up which will grow the sweet peas, which also survived being abandoned for a week. All in all I'm feeling quite pleased with myself.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Yorkshire Dales

We're on holiday, staying in a cottage in one of the Yorkshire Dales, Swaledale to be precise. It's a wonderful area, scenes like this abound:

Swaledale scene

I've lots of other pics so rather than repeat the photos here this time I'll just provide the link to the flickr set - I'll add a few more over the next few days.

The trip is a combination of family days out, a bit of birding and further efforts on my part to get fit including some gentle jogging and a bit of cycling - although in both cases the brutal hills around here makes it for quite a workout for someone as unfit as me.

My best effort so far was a quick cycle I took late this afternoon,from Swaledale, south on a very minor road towards Askrigg. It's about 250m of climbing in a few km, so fairly strenuous - but good coming back down! The road is very remote, I didn't see a single car, but did have to open and close about 6 gates. Some decent bird sightings including: Lapwing, Curlew, Golden Plover, Red grouse and a pair of pristine Northern Wheatears. A fantastic brief cycle.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

More Hovers

Not too much to report today as busy packing for our trip up the Yorkshire Dales. However i did spot a couple of new hoverflies for the year: Syrphus rebesii and Merodon equestris. The latter one is a pest of bulb plants such as Daffodils. The one I saw seems to have grabbed a territory in our front garden just where you might expect right over our Daffodil patch.

S. rebesii

Syrphus ribesii


Merodon equestris

Neither photo taken today.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Volucella inanis

This is a seriously impressive fly, which we've been lucky enough to find in the garden on a couple of occasions in the summer months. Like many other insects they're keen feeders on hebe flowers. This photo, whilst it shows the colours and details of this insect quite well, it doesn't portray the size since they're surprisingly big, maybe almost 2cm long - you can't possibly miss them if they're around. I took this pic with my 180mm sigma macro lens. It's really great for this sort of subject since you don't need to get too close.

Volucella inanis

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Kestrel 4

Despite my long ride to work I still managed a lunch time walk. I was dismayed to find a dead female kestrel in the road and felt sure that this must be the female of the pair I have been watching. However, subsequently I saw the pair further along the road, hunting, so I guess the dead bird was unrelated, about which I was relieved. It's still a shame to see a beautiful creature killed in this way though.

Long ride to work

I say long ride, but not really i guess, I took an 18 mile route to work. It was windy and I was carrying a heavy pannier so I found i was quite fatigued by the time I arrived. It was nice to be out in the countryside though, you can't beat it. Some decent birds seen on route including: my first swallow of the year, up to 8 Corn Buntings and interestingly a Treecreeper. With the ride home adding another 9 miles I feel I've done a fair effort today.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

My cycle route earlier today

If of interest this is my cycle route today: Out past Manston airport, down to Stourmouth, through to Sandwich on the back lanes near Westmarsh, then back along the coast to Broadstairs, about 28 miles in total. I managed it in 1h 50' today, which for me is pretty good.

This is the route in more detail:

Walmer Castle

We spent a very enjoyable hour at Walmer Castle near Deal. It's run by English Heritage and is quite expensive to enter (£17 for a family). As it happend we're member of English heritage.. so get in for free. Suffice to say the Castle and particularly the grounds were at their absolute best in the spring sunshine. The following photos show that well I think:



Some of their formal beds are stunning:


These cowslips seemed to be growing wild, but this appears to be a cultivated variety


Finally we got good views of this frog in a large pond


Saturday, 4 April 2009

I bought a book: Lichens, by Frank Dobson

I received a neatly wrapped parcel today from NHBS. In it was Frank Dobson's "Lichens: An illustrated Guide to the British and Irish Species".

Check it out:

This is described as the standard British work, covering 450 species including all of the common ones and many rare ones too.

This fills a previously very empty hole in my wildlife library, since I had no way to effectively identify lichen species. The book has a key, a large number of pictures and very usefully distribution maps for all species. I'm looking forward to using to add to my species list.

First species I need to identify is this one:

Lichen close up

This was taken on our front wall using the MP65mm macro lens at about 4:1. The little cups are about 0.4 mm across!

Derby Cathedral Peregrines

I've started following a blog and associated webcam of a pair of Peregrines nesting on Derby's 470 year old cathedral. I won't repeat all the details - just visit their website:

The bit of most interest perhaps are the high quality webcams:

The birds have laid a clutch of 4 eggs this year and are now sitting tight so I suppose not much
much will be happening for a few weeks but once they hatch it'll be well worth visiting regularly
to monitor their progress.

This has proved to be a very popular site with many thousands of visitors - it's well worth
checking out!

Friday, 3 April 2009

Common Gull at Cuil bay

This photo is a very simple shot of a relatively common species and yet it's one of my favourites. I took it from the car window in a rain storm and I think it was reluctant to move on because of the weather so it stayed put. The bird's posture reflects how it's having to steady itself against the wind.

Common Gull

I also like it because it brings back memories of the location where I took it, namely Cuil Bay. Cuil Bay is in the Highland's of Scotland, some 20 miles down the coast from Fort William, lying about 1/2 mile west of the main road. It's a wonderfully remote and peaceful spot. The single track road curves around the sandy bay, which faces South West down Loch Linhe. When we went we parked up in a layby and had our picnic, checking out the shore birds and so on - fantastic. The beach is also great for beach combing, I assume because it collects lots of stuff that's swept up the Loch. Amongst the various bits we found were several dead Guillemots, including one sporting a BTO ring. When I got the details back from the BTO, some time later, it emerged the bird had been ringed on the island of Canna, in the inner Hebrides, a few years before. Our beach combing wasn't just a pleasurable hour with the kids but also added a tiny bit more to the knowledge of Guillemot biology!

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Cycled to work!

Inspired by the great weather of yesterday I decided today would be the day (and I'll freely admit this is very much overdue) that I would cycle to work for the first time this year. It's about an 18 mile round trip so it's good for the old fitness training. Of course as luck would have it the weather had broken and I was met with grey skies and a strongish wind from the north. My cycle in was easy, what with the wind being well and truly behind me. Coming home was a different story, the wind had not abated and it had been joined by a cold mist. Still, i didn't mind, it was great! Despite the wind direction there seemed to quite a few birds around, including a couple of Green Woodpecker, several Mistle Thrushes and a fair few Goldfinches, some of which may have been on passage I guess. Roll on the weekend.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Kestrel 3

Another lunchtime walk, in what can only be described as fantastic early spring weather. The kestrel was there once again, but interestingly now joined by a female, clearly a pair. I know they have bred nearby in previous years, I once saw a female with 4 immature birds. Let's hope they breed nearby once again. Also of interest were the skylarks. I saw 4 today, flying close together, in a similar fluttering way to the normal song flight, but staying near the ground, not doing the usual lofty song flight. They appeared to be displaying to one another, so I assume they were 2 pairs that were sorting out their territories. I'd never seen that behavior before. Let's hope they all stay and breed. A Grey Heron and a Green Woodpecker rounded off my walk. Very nice.