Saturday, 23 May 2020

A New Hawkmoth Season Begins

Like many moth enthusiasts, I am always thrilled when the first Hawkmoths of the season appear in the moth trap. So far this year, I have seen four Poplar Hawkmoths but earlier this week I was really thrilled to see a Privet Hawkmoth resting amongst the egg boxes.

 Not only is this early in its flight season but it is the first Privet Hawkmoth to appear at my garden light trap since 2008.

Privet Hawkmoth (Sphinx ligustri)

Poplar Hawkmoth (Laothoe populi)

Green Carpet (Colostygia pectinataria)

Alder Moth (Acronicta alni)


Thursday, 14 May 2020

Nocturnal Visitors and Heavenly Bodies

During the last week, the moth-trap has continued to attract an ever increasing variety of species although the overall number of moths is still fairly low.

 One of my favourite moth families are the Prominents. They get their name from the protruding tufts on the trailing edge of their forewings which help break up their outline when they are at rest.

Lesser Swallow Prominent (Pheosia gnoma)

Coxcomb Prominent (Ptilodon capucina)

Buff-tip (Phalera bucephala)

Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) (male)

Treble Lines (Charanyca trigrammica)

One surprise visitor to the moth-trap last week was a male Palmate Newt (Lissotriton helveticus) which was resting in the grass next to the light. The male is distinguished from the female by a dark stripe through the eye and webbed hind feet during the breeding season.

Palmate Newt (Lissotriton helveticus) (male)

A few days ago, we had our first dragonfly of the year to visit the garden.

Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa) (immature male)

On the 26th April, I looked up into the night sky and noticed how brightly Venus was shining. It was quite near the Moon (as viewed from Earth) and both were just above the horns of the constellation of Taurus.

My mind is continually boggled by the dimensions of the Solar System (never mind trying to get my head around the dimensions of the Universe).

 I am one human who likes to know where the boundaries are!

Although Venus is about 40 million kilometres from Earth, I managed to get the following, rather abstract image of Venus by hand holding my bridge camera on full zoom.

As I say, mind boggling. 

Friday, 8 May 2020

Pearl-bordered Fritillary

Earlier this week I took the short drive to one of my local Wealden woods for my daily exercise walk, happy that I was in compliance with government lockdown guidelines.

 I was keen to see Pearl-bordered Fritillaries (Boloria euphrosyne) patrolling the bluebell clearings and to hear a singing Nightingale at least once this year.

On this warm and breezy day, Blackcaps, Chiff-chaffs, Willow Warblers and Nightingales were singing and I was pleased to happen upon a mating pair of Pearl-bordered Fritillary clinging to a birch stem.

Pearl-bordered Fritillary (Boloria euphrosyne)

 (mating pair with female uppermost)

Sunday, 26 April 2020

My First Cuckoo of the Year

Yes, I did hear my first Cuckoo of the year yesterday morning whilst I was sitting in the garden. 

However, the 'cuckoo' that I am referring to is my first Cuckoo Wasp of the year.

 When you take a close look at these tiny wasps, it is clear to see why they are also known as Jewel Wasps as they sport a sparkling blue, green and pink livery. I delight in watching them patrolling my house wall every year. 

They are parasitic wasps that specialise in laying their eggs in the nest holes of solitary wasp and bee species.

Ruby-tailed Wasp (Chrysis ignita

After removing the old crazy-paving outside my back door a couple of years ago to redesign the area, I decided to allow a newly created flower bed to re-wild itself. The intention is to selectively weed out the vigorous 'monster' weeds and allow the more delicate wild flowers to thrive. Garlic mustard is a food plant for Large, Small and Green-veined Whites as well as the Orange-tip and it is flourishing. I am eager to see what other butterfly foodplants might appear during the course of the summer.

A couple of days ago, a female Large White stopped off at the scrub meadow to lay her eggs under a garlic mustard leaf.

Large White (Pieris brassicae) (ovipositing female)

The resulting batch of ova.

A few more moths from the moth-trap this week.

Mullein (Shargacucullia verbasci)

Angle Shades (Phlogophora meticulosa

Frosted Green (Polyploca ridens)

Friday, 17 April 2020

More Views from the Terrace

Judging by the numbers of Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus) that have been flying through the garden over the last week, they seem to be having a good year. Over the Easter weekend I noticed a Holly Blue fluttering back and forth along our holly hedge and it had the look of a female looking for suitable egg laying sites. I grabbed my camera and watched her at close quarters for 20 minutes or so.

It was indeed a female laying eggs on the holly flower buds. Females of the spring brood mainly lay their eggs on holly buds but females of the summer brood tend to lay their eggs on ivy buds. I have also occasionally seen them use alder buckthorn and spindle as a food plant.

I managed to get the following images. 

Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus) (ovipositing female)

The ovum is a pale blue mini urchin and is laid at the base of a holly flower bud.

The Dark-edged Beefly is fairly common in our garden and I noticed this mating pair. 

Dark-edged Beefly (Bombylius major) (mating)

A greater variety of species are now starting to turn up at the moth-trap.

Brindled Beauty (Lycia hirtaria) (male)

Brindled Pug (Eupithecia abbreviata)

Brimstone Moth (Opisthograptis luteolata)

Swallow Prominent (Pheosia tremula)

Thursday, 9 April 2020

View from the Terrace

My garden shed had been suffering from the ravages of time for a few years and finally, during the gales of late winter, it succumbed and had to be dismantled. Apart from a couple of bikes and folding chairs, most of what it contained was junk and so I decided that we didn't really need to replace it. After some rearranging of potted plants, the shed base was quickly converted into my new, rather grandly named sun terrace.

As the coronavirus lock-down has become the new norm, I have taken to spending time sitting on 'the terrace' with my binoculars and copious cups of tea to watch for insects in the garden.

Since last weekend, I have seen several of our spring emerging species pass through. Small Whites and Holly Blues have been numerous and I have seen one each of Large White and Speckled Wood.

Only a Small White stopped for a photograph.

Small White (Pieris rapae) (female)

I have also been watching the Mason Bees patrolling my south-facing house wall. Half-a-dozen continually checked every hole and crevice in the brickwork but never seemed to make any decision as to which ones they liked. If they land, it is only for a brief second or two before they are off again but later in the day they are partial to basking on some drying bay leaves that I have got hanging on the wall.

 I think that the white hairs on their faces identify them as Red Mason Bees.

Red Mason Bee (Osmia bicornis)

And a few more moths from the moth-trap during the last week.

Streamer (Anticlea derivata)

Early Grey (Xylocampa areola)

Chestnut (Conistra vaccinii)