Hello Crimson Speckled!

The undisputed wildlife highlight of the week has been this very rare immigrant moth that we spotted in the orchard one morning. It is a crimson speckled, a moth common in the Mediterranean and in North Africa but only a very occasional visitor to Britain. It flies both at night and in the day but is toxic to birds and the red coloration is a warning to them of that.

Up until this autumn there have only been two hundred UK records of this moth in the last century. But the weather system currently in place over the UK has plumes of warm air coming up from the south and is thought to have carried them up, resulting in quite a few recent sightings here.

Screenshot of Thursday’s BBC weather forecast

As well as blowing up North African moths, this strangely warm air has brought things unexpectedly into flower around the meadows such as this apple tree in the orchard:

I submitted the crimson speckled sighting to the county macro moth recorder and it felt like a long time since I last reported anything to him. During the lockdown in 2020 I did a lot of moth trapping, but haven’t done any at all since then. The excitement over this moth, however, has fired me up again and I have vowed to restart trapping next spring.

It was a disappointing year for the allotment. We took the decision not to water it (although occasionally I relented for the courgettes) and consequently nothing whatsoever did well. But now our enthusiasm is reinvigorated and preparations have been underway for a brand new growing year. The allotment is weeded and has been given a cosy blanket of garden compost to be dragged down into the soil by the worms over the winter.

Broad beans, garlic, elephant garlic, shallots, onions and unusual varieties of daffodil to be used as cut flowers in the house have all been planted into the ground. Tulip bulbs are waiting in the wings to go in at the end of November once cold weather has had a chance to kill pathogens in the soil.

I adore hyacinths and have planted several different types into pots, including forced bulbs that will reputedly flower for Christmas, if treated correctly. They were potted up in early September and have already just begun to grow. I did try this last year as well but started too late and missed Christmas, although they were flowering in time to cheer up early January with their wonderful fragrance:

Photo from back in January

Wrens often pop into our sheds and greenhouse through open doors and windows, to have a poke around and eat any insects and spiders that they find. But a little wren this week was flying around in a panic when I went into the greenhouse and seemed to have forgotten the way out:

I went away several times to give it time to leave but unfortunately it didn’t and, by then, had gathered a cumbersome ball of cobwebs dangling from its leg. It is pleasing to report that the story ended happily when I managed to catch the bird in my hands and remove the webs before releasing it outside. But it’s a salutary lesson for us to remember to check for wrens before shutting up outhouses.

The wren took a little while to recover before it flew away. I apologise for that hand – I was in the middle of gardening without gloves

There has not been a camera on the feeding cages over the summer and so I haven’t been seeing much of Chuckles, the herring gull who has made the meadows his territory. He is still around, though, now with this year’s chick in attendance.

Chuckles chasing off an interloping juvenile gull. He is such great entertainment

A large flock of house sparrow are once again coming down to the feeding cages and, inbetween times, cheeping loudly and contentedly in the hedgerow behind. They weren’t around so much over the summer and it’s nice to have them back:

There are a lot of blackbirds around, eating the berries in the hedgerows. Our resident birds have no doubt been augmented by birds arriving from the continent for the winter:

Blackbird with rosehip

They love the berries on the female Yew:

I have lots of photos of blackbirds pulling wet leaves out of this water bath, although I don’t know why they are doing this

Slime moulds are strange organisms. At one time previously thought of as fungi, plants and even as animals, they are now in a classification Kingdom of their own. They contribute to the decomposition of dead vegetation, feeding on bacteria and fungi and so are usually found in soil, on lawns and on the woodland floor. We found two different slime moulds here this week. In the grass under the orchard trees were several ten centimetre diameter circles of grey slime mould, Physarum cinereum:

Physarum cinereum
Physarum cinereum

..and some dog sick slime mould, Mucilago crustacea, on the front lawn. There is also dog vomit slime mould, Fuligo septica, although there seems to be much confusion between the two.

In a small part of the wood, there are a lot of clustered groups of these toadstools growing on old tree stumps:

The dark honey fungus, distinguished from other honey fungus by the dark edging to the stem ring

This is the dark honey fungus, Armillaria ostoyae. The name honey fungus strikes fear into the heart of any gardener but it is in fact a very common part of a woodland ecosystem, helping to break wood down into reusable nutrients. There is a famous single dark honey fungus in the USA, of course called the humongous fungus, in the Malheur National Forest in Oregon, that is thought to be the largest living organism on earth, covering 2,400 acres, 2,500 years old and weighing 400,000kg. This leads us to hypothesise that all the clusters of this fungus in the small area of our wood might all be part of only one organism.

The most exciting photo from the wood this week is this:

It is a ringed tawny owl and this is the first time that we have seen one of this years young since they were ringed in early May:

Tawny owl chicks leave their nest when about five weeks old but then stay with their parents for another three months until they are fully fledged. Our two babies were ringed in early May and left the box shortly afterwards which means that that they would have been forced out of their parents territory by mid August. Perhaps they didn’t go that far away.

Even though it is now late October, tawnies are still coming to this pond to bathe every night but this is the first time I have seen a ringed one – and I have been checking:

A non-ringed owl at the pond this week

Buzzards also come to this pond:

Sparrowhawks can turn up at any of the ponds:

Marsh tits have been seen a lot recently at this different pond:

Squirrel carrying a hazelnut

In our daughter’s garden in the North Downs, the news is that their hedgehogs are building a hibernation nest in their hog house:

Hedgehog carrying leaves into the box. I have never seen hedgehogs carrying bedding like this before

With the waves breaking atmospherically over the Goodwin Sands on the horizon, I finish with the Thalassa who sailed past the meadows this week.

She is a Dutch tall ship, available for hire, and she was on a journey from the Netherlands to Tenerife as she motored by – it’s a shame she didn’t have her sails up. I see that she is is planning several whisky cruises up in the Highlands of Scotland next year. Arriving at remote island distilleries by sailing ship does sound romantic but I personally would be so much more interested in seeing the wildlife than drinking the whisky.

One thought on “Hello Crimson Speckled!

  1. I think on the Whisky cruise you would have a good chance of seeing lots of wildlife too. I am not a fan of whisky really either. That moth is a beauty. 🙂

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