It’s Moth Time!

Saturday night promised to be hot and still – a perfect opportunity to haul out the moth trap out and see what’s about.

The spectacular Privet Hawkmoth on the left and Poplar Hawkmoth on the right

This year I am taking things more seriously and submitting my records to the county recorder. However, this weekend there was such an overwhelming number of moths in the trap that I was forced to resort to my old bad habits of cherry picking the interesting and extraordinary ones and there were plenty of those:

Privet Hawkmoth
Poplar Hawkmoth
Poplar Hawkmoth
Elephant Hawkmoth
Privet Hawkmoth, Pine Hawkmoth (centre) and Poplar Hawkmoth
So surprised to pull this egg box out of the moth trap and see the black-and-white Leopard Moth. Never had one of these beauties before
Leopard Moth
Swallow-tailed Moth (and Riband Wave)

I am continually astounded by the beauty and variety of what is flying round the meadows at night but I do need to get better and faster at identifying them so that, when there are large numbers, it doesn’t take all day.

Patches of yellow flowering Ladies Bedstraw have given the second meadow a painterly look that is most wonderful. I have tried to take photos of it but they don’t really do the meadow justice:

One of the Slow Worm refugia in the second meadow


In the next photo, you can see the bird ringer’s mobile hide. A pair of ground-nesting Skylark were feeding young and, a few days previously, he had worked out the approximate position of the nest. Always interested in developing ways to catch and ring all types of different birds, he came back today in attempt to ring these juveniles. I think the idea was that he would discover exactly where the nest was from the cover of his hide and then pop out to ring them while the adults were away. However, it seems that he was too late and the young have already fledged. Better luck next time.


With all these flowers, the meadows are billowing with Butterflies at the moment. So many Marbled Whites, they seem to be having a very good year:



A mating pair.
Another view of the mating pair. It is the female on the right with the browny underwings.

There are also a lot of Painted Ladies. This is a migratory Butterfly, coming to our shores from Africa. However, it is a multigenerational migration, a bit like a relay team and it is incredible to think how that works. In fact, I have so many questions about it.

Painted Lady on Knapweed.

Skippers also seem to be having a fantastic year. So many more around than normal of all three of the species that we get here: Large, Essex and Small.

Large Skipper on Dogwood.
Essex Skipper.

Ringlets are also around:

Ringlet with open wings – the bulls eyes are just visible from the top.

Meadow Browns and Small Heaths are also still here:

Meadow Brown.

But the Blues are largely gone for now.

Holly Blue on Bramble.

But what has happened to the Brimstones this year? For the last two summers our Alder Buckthorn saplings have been covered in Brimstone caterpillars and I was having to move caterpillars from tree to tree to ensure they had enough leafage to get them to a point that they could pupate. Alder Buckthorn is the sole larval food plant for Brimstones and, by July, all our trees were stripped of leaves. Here is one from last year with two big caterpillars but not enough leaf to keep them going:

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This year I cannot find a single caterpillar on any of the trees and the leaves are untouched:

Alder Buckthorn with leaves not nibbled.

But if we have learnt anything these past few years, it is that every year is so completely different from the one before. Things have good years and bad years and then good years again and I will be certainly hoping to see Brimstone caterpillars in 2020.

I did a trip round the meadows looking for Small Blue caterpillars on their larval food plants, Kidney Vetch. I found some:

Can you see it?
A bit more obvious here
This one was slightly out of the flower and so more obvious still.

The spring-flying Red Mason Bee season is now over for another year. A look in the Mason Bee observation box shows that the eggs have hatched and the larvae are eating the pollen piles as they grow through the summer.


These boxes are now wrapped in tights to protect them from predators whilst still allowing air movement and sitting under the stairs until the cocoons form in the autumn. Meanwhile, two new Summer Bee boxes, with tunnels of varying diameters,  are now out in the meadows to see what nests in them.

Talking of Bee predators, here is a very attractive one hanging round the observation boxes, seeking an opportunity to lay its eggs within:

Chrysis ignita.

I spoke of a successful fledging of Skylarks and there is also a recently-fledged family of Mistle Thrushes. Here is one of the adult Mistle Thrushes with a cherry.

Trail camera

We were wondering who was eating all the cherries and had given the Wood Pigeons all the blame. Here is a Woodpigeon, now with a newly polished halo:

Trail camera

We also have a recently-fledged family of Magpies appearing on several of the cameras:

Trail camera

Trail camera

Trail camera

The House Sparrows that were nesting in the House Martin nest box also seem to have now fledged. But look what we photographed inspecting the box a couple of days ago:


It’s a Swift. This House Martin box is near the Swift box and we have been playing Swift calls near these boxes since the Swifts started arriving this summer which has resulted in so much Swift action. In terms of attracting Swifts to the area so that they notice the nest box, the whole thing has been a huge success. However, this is the first time that we have noticed one of them actually stopping off to properly investigate. The big question is, why are they looking in the House Martin box rather than the especially-built-for-them Swift box?

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Swift box with passing Swift, attracted by Swift calls playing.

It is too late for them to nest in the box this year but I feel quietly confident that some of these Swifts will return next year and remember this box when searching for a nest site.

Before moving from the meadows, there are some more photos that I wanted to include:

A magnificent Jay
Trail camera
A moulting and less than magnificent Jay
Trail camera
One of the juvenile Badgers
Trail camera
About to go to bed at dawn.
Corizus hyoscyami - mating pair.
Corizus hyoscyami – mating pair.
Fox with tick.
Seven-spot Ladybird going in for the kill. Three spots on each wing and a larger central seventh spot just behind the head.
Trail camera
Mistle Thrush with May Bug
Found two more Pyramidal Orchids – but total count this year is a dismal four.
Trail camera
Nice arrangement of three Fox cubs

At the wood, there has been a Sparrowhawk drinking from the pond:

Trail camera

There was an Owl pellet on one of the reptile sampling squares. I had a prod of it and it was full of small bones and fur:


As part of trying to think positively about all the nettles in the wood, I looked to see if there were signs of them being used as a resource by other things. I found several of these bugs:

Grypocoris stysi
Grypocoris stysi

When I looked them up in the book, the description of their habitat said ‘woodlands, often on nettles’ which was satisfyingly exactly where I found them.

My last photos for today are of a particular kind of spider web of which there are many at the moment both in the wood and the meadows

In the wood, covered in some dew.
In the meadows.

The black ball in the centre of the web is a mass of spiderlings. As soon as they notice you getting close, they immediately and extremely quickly disperse throughout the whole web. I presume that this is an anti-predator adaptation – the mass of spiderlings might represent a tasty mouthful whereas individual tiny spiderlings are probably not worth pursuing. I am currently unsure of the species of spider but hope to investigate further and be able to report back next time.






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