Canary-shouldered, Purple and Early, a Thorny Moth Trap!

When I checked the moth trap on the morning of August the 2nd, there weren’t as many moths as there usually is. However, there were many species I’ve never seen before, including three species of Thorns. Thorns can be identified by the way they hold their wings – not flat like most moths but angled upwards.

The first species of Thorn I found by the trap was the Purple Thorn, which was resting on the sheet. It’s a pretty large moth, the individual I caught had a wingspan of 34mm. However that’s not the species’ maximum wingspan. The Purple Thorn has two broods (generations) each year, the first flying in April and May and the second flying in July and August. The first brood has a larger wingspan, whereas the second has a smaller wingspan, and the moth we caught was from the second brood. The species is fairly common in the south, and prefers habitats like woodland and heathland. However, it gets scarcer as you move northwards. It is patchily distributed in Scotland, with the main stronghold being around the Moray Firth. It’s common in Wales, but practically absent from Ireland.

Purple Thorn

Purple Thorn, above view

Purple Thorn

Purple Thorn, side view

The second species found, the Canary-shouldered Thorn, was perched on the metal bit which holds up the bulb. It’s the prettiest species we caught, with a bright canary-yellow thorax and yellowy-orange wings. It is also the largest species, even larger than the Purple Thorn, and it also only has one generation. It’s widespread throughout the UK, from Cornwall to Orkney, although like the Purple Thorn, it’s scarcer in Scotland. However, this might be because there are fewer recorders up in the highlands, and there are many concentrated around the South-East (like me). The Canary-shouldered Thorn can also be found in Northern Ireland and even the Isle of Man.

Canary-shouldered Thorn

Canary-shouldered Thorn

The last Thorn species is called the Early Thorn. It’s by far the smallest species and, like the Purple Thorn, has two broods each year. We caught an individual from the second brood which flies from August-September. The first flies from April-May. Even though it might be the smallest, it’s the most widely distributed, being found on Scilly as well as England, Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland (including Orkney) and the Isle of Man. It’s identifiable by the way it holds its wings, flat above the body like a butterfly. A melanic (dark) form of this species is fairly common in Northern England, but rare down here in the South.

Early Thorn

Early Thorn

The reason we put the moth trap out was because I had an event planned for the following morning. I thought that as I lived in a small, quiet village it would be nice to teach the people who live in my village a little bit about the moths found in their area. I invited all the people I knew from the village and was pleasantly surprised that quite a few people decided to come! I even got a few to sign up to my monthly natural history newsletter, which I will be writing for the residents.

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March Wildlife

The beginning of March has been a very busy one, with some creatures coming out of hibernation and some early wild flowers starting to bloom. One of the most interesting plants that have emerged now are the Dutch Crocuses in our front garden. They are very pretty, with the colours purple, pink, white and one orange one which mysteriously disappeared. They are great for photography and I have taken many photos of them, these are a few of them.

Just today I saw the first blooming daffodil in our garden, one of many that are sure to come!

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Last weekend I had a nice surprise as a male Ring Necked Pheasant strutted into our garden, only the second I’ve seen in our garden! This one was also a very interesting variation, as well as the white neck ring, it had white eyebrows! I’ve never seen a Ring Necked Pheasant with white eyebrows before, so that made it very interesting!

Phasianus colchicus

Phasianus colchicus

The highlight of March so far though has to be the vole that peeped out of the patch of  Hedera near the bird feeder on the first of March, we thought it had just come out of hibernation. From the photo I took of it, we suspected either Bank Vole or Field Vole because of the overall colouration and shape. The one distinguishing feature between the Bank and the Field Voles is the length of their tails, the Bank Vole has a much longer tail than the one of the Field Vole. The thing is, the tail seems to be invisible in the photo!

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One the way back from Ardingly a few days ago when I was driving through the small village, My dad spotted a young Roe Deer on the road. It was trying to jump the fence between the road and the spinney in between two houses, but it was too small. I haven’t seen a Roe Deer in our village for quite a while, the last sighting was probably before Christmas, but that was an injured female with a fawn. This deer was a fawn too and I’m wondering if the female had died, because on the way back from Ardingly today, I saw the leg of a Roe Deer on the road!

The Redpoll action in our back garden has increased for two reasons, one being that I found the place the flock go when they are not on the feeder and two being that there has been numerous visits by the local Goldfinch. I found the place where the Redpolls go when I was lichen hunting (or lichening!) in the back garden. I was checking for lichens on the pile of logs by the bush border when I heard a very unimpressive call coming from the Hedera covered Oak. I looked around and I saw a little brown job hopping from twig to twig. Then I saw another one and another one, until there were a total of seven Redpolls gathering around me! The Goldfinch first visited when I wasn’t at home but at Ardingly, though my dad saw it and told me when I got home. The first time I actually saw it was earlier in February, when it flew to the Nyger feeder briefly, scaring all the Redpolls already there. I have also seen it today, it made a brief occurrence then flew off.

This year I have started to learn about Moss. Yes, Moss. When I found out that there was a key for all the different types of common woodland mosses on iSpot (I will talk more about iSpot later), I immediately went out into the garden to find mosses. These are the different types of mosses I’ve found so far in our garden:

  • Hypnum andoi
  • Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus
  • Pseudoscleropodium purum
  • Polytrichum formosum
  • Polytrichum commune var. commune

Now I would like to advertise iSpot, a brilliant website to share nature or to identify your wildlife observations. iSpot is a great website to post your identifications of wildlife, with photos and descriptions.  When you post an observation other people on iSpot can confirm the identification for you or add a revised identification. Using iSpot has definitely boosted my knowledge of the natural world.

You can also post forum topics on iSpot and there are keys to identifying wildlife there, so I suggest you get on there straight away.

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 25-26 January 2014

Loads of people even at this moment are recording birds for the Big Garden Birdwatch, run by the RSPB. Citizens were asked to record the highest number of a species of bird in their garden for one hour, then send in their results on the RSPB’s website or on a paper form. The most interesting sighting of my hour was when a small flock of five Redpolls came and fed from my Goldfinch feeder. The most frequent time that Redpolls come to a garden feeding station like mine is when the damp and rainy conditions force the pine trees to close their cones, therefore prompting finches such as Siskins and Redpolls to come and feed on smaller seeds on our bird tables and in our feeders, such as the nyjer seeds in my Goldfinch feeder. I called my dad over for the Big Garden Birdwatch and I got a good video and he got a good photo. This is his photo:

Redpolls on the Goldfinch Feeder

Redpolls on the Goldfinch Feeder

I hope many of you will take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch and I will be delighted if you shared your results via comment.

Slimbridge WWT

I was lucky enough to spend the weekend of the 26th and 27th October at Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetland Trust.
This post is split over both the days:
Day 1:
Even before I arrived at Slimbridge and I was still on the road, I saw some brilliant birds. I spotted 2 Red Kites soaring above the motorway and 2 Buzzards eating worms in a newly ploughed field. A magnificent male Common Pheasant was perched on a log in a roadside spinney and a couple of cormorants fished while perched on a buoy.
When we finally got to Slimbridge after a 2 hour 44 minute journey, I was extremely excited to get to the WWT centre. I didn’t expect it, but the first bird I saw there was one of the birds we came to see, a migratory Bewick’s Swan! I only glimpsed its head through a tiny window on my way to the café (it was nearly lunch), but the size and the yellow based beak was enough to make an identification.

Bewick's Swan

Bewick’s Swan


The view from the lunch room was excellent, it looked straight over the picturesque area for greater Flamingos.
Flamingo

Flamingo


When I had finished my lunch, there was a chance to look and photograph the Bewick’s swans. I got a shock when I got outside, because there in front of me was an expanse of water (bisected by a walkway) of a couple of hundred Mute Swans, Bewick’s Swans, Black-headed gulls, Tufted Ducks, Shelduck, Coots, Moorhens and mallards. A bulk of that number were swans, but the commonest waterfowl was easily the tufted ducks. When we arrived at the opposite end of the waterfowl bonanza, we walked through a place called the conservation area, although we didn’t see more than mallards and moorhens. Walking along that path did however, make me think that some birds were already getting ready for the breeding season, as I noticed some fighting woodpigeons and mallards, one woodpigeon I think took a very tactical approach!
Woodpigeons

Woodpigeons

Moorhens

Moorhens


We then came to a lake that was filled with mostly captive foreign ducks, but I did get some close up shots of a Pochard.
Pochard

Pochard


It was nearing 2pm so we had to start to head back for a decoy demonstration. For the demonstration, a bunch of people met up in the visitor centre, where a man led us to a hide called the decoy hide that looked out over a lake full of mallards, Shovelers and Teal. The man talked to us a bit about using the decoy trap, then we had a demonstration of the ancient art. It was quite a big lake and around the lake there were four tunnels made of strong iron and a nylon net. It would work like this:
There are about a dozen fences made of reed (that doesn’t let any light through) that are 2 metres long slanting towards the end of the tunnel (the tunnel would get smaller and smaller until it was duck sized). A dog that looked like a fox would then weave in and out of the fences making the ducks go into the end of the tunnel. They would go into the tunnel because they think it is safer if they don’t let the predator out of sight, so they follow it. The man would then be waiting at the end of the tunnel with a crate to trap the ducks. This trap used to be for getting ducks to eat, but now it is used for ringing the ducks. He finished up with seven ducks, 2 in one crate, 5 in the other. We were lucky because we were able to watch the ringing, measuring and releasing of the ducks! First he would check if the duck had a ring, if not he would ring it, if it did he would go straight onto measuring it to see how it was doing. First he would measure the wing, then the head.
Measuring the wing

Measuring the wing


When he finished with a duck he would then release it and at the very end I was even allowed to release a duck!
The tunnel

The tunnel


Day 2:
Today was going to be a full day at Slimbridge, but our trip was cut short due to the hurricane called St Jude that was forecast to hit our area at about midnight. That only left us from 9:30 to midday to see all the species we wanted to see. We decided to head straight to the hides and we were so quick that we were the first visitors out there! The first hide we went to was the kingfisher hide that (due to the tides) overlooked a flooded field and a bank that kingfishers nest in. In the field there was a wide variety of birds, such as Rook, Barnacle Geese, Canada Geese, Ruff, Lapwings, Pochard, Wigeon and a Cormorant that flew over. There was a medium sized flock of Starlings in the neighbouring trees, as were Jackdaws. In the lake in front of the kingfisher bank, there were mallards, Coots, Shovelers and one Gadwall. In the next hide there was roughly the same layout as the kingfisher hide, except there was no kingfisher nest bank. We saw some Teal dabbling in a tyre track that was filled with water and a family of mergansers were fishing at the back of the lake near to the estuary. The best bird there was clearly the Common Crane (also called the Eurasian Crane) that I spotted flying over the estuary. Only one of those cranes is actually wild, the others are ringed and part of a special breeding programme.
The last hide we went to was the Zeiss hide, where the Bittern and the Baird’s Sandpiper were seen the other day. Close to that hide there is brilliant habitat for Bitterns, but all that we could see there today was a feeding Shoveler and a Moorhen. Further out however, we could see tonnes of ducks and waders with the help of a terrific telescope. Among the Wigeon, I could see some Black Tailed Godwits and Greenshank, and also my first views of Redshank, Dunlin, Golden Plover and my favourite, a Spotted Redshank! In the estuary we saw the Common Cranes again, feeding with a group of Great Black Backed Gulls. We also saw a Snipe fly overhead and a Peregrine Falcon keeping a look out on a fence post. One of the most interesting sights of they day though, was when a man drove behind all the waterfowl in a Quad bike and made them all fly up into the air! Before we knew it though it was time to leave, but I can say that it was a truly memorable experience!
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