Wednesday 28 May 2014

Week 19: Beaming through the Drizzle & a Rare Moth

There’s nothing quite like stumbling across a flower that’s smiling at you, in fuchsia pink, to lift your day. It felt all the more delightful in the face of steady drizzle, leaden skies and gusty breezes.

Yesterday, I decided to embrace the rain, the wet, straggly hair and the soggy socks. I wasn’t disappointed, although I did manage to drop a lens into the sodden grass and temporarily stop my heart in horror. No harm done thankfully. Dellfield continues to be a source of joy-filled surprises. I never know what I’m going to find next. This week, it was the first spikes of the Common Spotted orchids, peering out from the expanse of wild flowers and grasses. It's a fairly common perennial, found in “grassy habitats and open woods”.

The next 3 paragraphs may look a little intimidating but are worth the effort if you fancy hearing about life-sucking, innocent-looking wild flowers; a rare Hertfordshire moth and the all too public consequences of prioritising a cup of tea over getting a decent photograph. Read on, if this appeals.

Another plant which is thriving, in its thousands, on Dellfield, is Yellow Rattle. Apparently, it is uncommon in Hertfordshire but less so on Box Moor Trust land, which is managed to encourage wild flowers and associated insect life. Above ground, it is all "sweetness and light" with its jaunty, rattling seedpods nestled behind dainty, buttercup-yellow flowers. Below ground, it's a thieving toe-rag, sending out parasitic roots into neighbouring grasses to nick their nutrients! But, it is this vampire-like behaviour which makes it such an asset to developing wild flower meadows. Potentially suffocating grasses are weakened and kept in check, allowing wild flowers to compete and establish. Yellow Rattle is also, I have learned, important in the wonderful world of moths.

It’s been nearly 4 weeks since my first mothing experience and so it was about time (not at all!) that I found a county rarity. In fact, it was another of Dellfield’s happy accidents. One of the moths I chanced upon last week, the Grass Rivulet, is, I learned, listed in the moths of Hertfordshire (2006) as “very rare”, with the only known colonies being around Long Marston. Its laval food plant is, you guessed it, Yellow Rattle and so its presence on Dellfield is neither coincidental nor insignificant. It is at this point that I must thank the Box Moor Trust mothing team for their help. In particular, Roger Prue, for providing all the information on the Grass Rivulet; for alerting me to the presence and significance of Yellow Rattle on Dellfield, and for going into the field and re-finding the moth. Hopefully, over the coming weeks, we’ll be able to get an idea of how many there are at the site and see whether the species has a stronghold. Furthermore, Ben and the team had their first ever Grass Rivulet at the Brickworks last week, so, perhaps another colony exists over there.

Although rare, following a string of emails between various knowledgable moth’ers, it transpires that the Grass Rivulet is gaining ground. In the last 3 or 4 years, there have been a number of sightings across Hertfordshire, most of which are in the west [thanks to Colin Plant, county moth recorder, for this information]. Naturally, for my most significant find to date, I pulled out all the stops and managed 2 over-exposed, off focus photographs (it's a relief I haven’t got a reputation to maintain). They may be rare but they are also right little so-and-sos to capture at rest, especially when they are the last thing you find before heading home for a much needed cup of tea! Roger did far better during his visit, but I’m consoling myself with the thought that he wasn’t gasping for a cuppa nor had he been driven to the brink of madness by disappearing Small Coppers!

    Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor)
    [over-exposed & out of focus!] Grass Rivulet (Perizoma albulata)

The very dull, low contrast conditions gave me the opportunity to photograph the Oak with Hay Wood as its backdrop. Normally, in good light, the shadows and/or position of the sun make this composition very tricky. Silver linings and all that.

I still haven’t got used to the change from bare winter trees to lush spring vegetation. Every time I arrive at Dellfield at the moment, I have to drink in the transformation from empty, spiky, brown branches to lavish, green, soft textures of all hues and sizes. Maybe next week it'll be less of a surprise...

Left, 26 February 2014; Right, 27 May 2014


Martin Parr said...

Another great entry Lucy.
Loads of spotted orchids and twayblades up at Bison Hill with the family on Sunday. Also had a couple of green hairstreaks, 4-5 dingy skipper, a grizzled skipper and a Duke of Burgundy.

Lucy @ A Natural Interlude said...

Thanks Martin. I appreciate your comment and glad to hear that Bison Hill was so full of life.