Saturday 7 June 2014

Week 20: Old Crone & Woodland Fairies

I have about as much mental acuity as a feather duster this week. Penning prose is hard going, so, you’ll have to bare with me. Thursday, the sunshine battled its way through the clouds and it was a warm and sunny day, albeit very blustery. I spent a couple of hours around Dellfield where a dozen Swallows, House Martins and Swifts were hunting for insects low over the meadow. I love hearing their chirpy little contact calls and seeing them swooping this way and that over the rippling grasses. This one (below) was taking a break from the hunting, but not the calling, perched on the roof of the Old Barn.

One of the first insects to catch my eye was a huge, green dragonfly. Unfortunately, it apparently came with its own cloaking device because every time I arrived at the spot where it had landed, it was nowhere to be found. I spent a good hour trying to relocate it without any luck. Not time wasted though, I rustled up a couple of new moths instead. First, the wonderfully named Mother Shipton moth (Callistege mi) with the mirror images, one on each wing, of the old 16th century Yorkshire crone (or witch!). It’s a day-flying moth, fairly common in England and Wales, favouring open grassy sites, such as wild flower meadows like Dellfield. This fella fed on the nectar of a Dandelion whilst I was watching it (notice the yellow pollen still on/around its proboscis (below)) but it also likes Creeping Buttercup and White Clover (of which, there is an abundance!).

    Mother Shipton
    Mother Shipton (head on)

The second moth to flutter up into my path was a beautiful Yellow Shell (Camptogramma bilineata). I think I found one of these earlier in the week up at College Lake, Buckinghamshire, but it disappeared before I could get a good look or a photograph. It made Thursday's find especially satisfying. This is another common moth that likes wild flower meadows. It isn’t a day-flier as such but is “easily disturbed” and then “flies from dusk onwards”.

I returned to the area on Friday, mostly just for a wander and to take this week’s Oak photograph. I also wanted to walk up through Ramacre Wood with my eyes peeled for Spotted Flycatchers. This is a migrant bird species, forging its way from Africa and arriving in the UK during May. Unfortunately it is becoming increasingly scarce and it would make my summer to find one on Box Moor Trust land. No luck today but I did come across this brilliant Black-headed Cardinal Beetle (Pyrochroa coccinea) (below). It’s obvious black head and deep, blood red tones distinguish it from the more common Red-headed Cardinal Beetle (Pyrochroa serraticornis). It’s 2cm long and a predator, feeding on smaller insects that happen to land where it’s perched. According to one website, it “is an uncommon and specialised ancient woodland indicator species”. That’s good news for the Box Moor Trust land management team.

In this same area was a cloud of fluttering fairies, dancing in the air. Oh ok, not actual fairies. They, of course, keep their tiny wings, their powers and their existence carefully hidden from humans. No, this was a wonderful swirling haze of perhaps 50 Yellow-barred Longhorn moths (Nemophora degeerella). A species which is part of the Adelidae or “fairy longhorn” family of moths (and featured in last week's post). It was the second time I’d experienced this sight this week (the first being in my garden). I’m not entirely sure what's going on but I’d guess it’s some kind of courtship behaviour. I could only find one female in the group (with very obvious, short antennae). The males seemed to take it in turns to go up into the displaying cloud before coming back down to land on a leaf. There didn’t appear to be any obvious hostility. It seemed to simply be a mass flying event. As an afterthought, I grabbed some video footage but really didn’t think it through (mental acuity of a feather duster, remember). The dimly light woodland made focusing tricky but hopefully you'll get the idea!

This week's Oak photograph

Whilst walking through Bovingdon Reach
  • Moths of note: 7 Yellow Shells, 1 Silver Y, 1 Straw Dot. 
  • Butterflies: 2 Small tortoiseshell, Speckled Wood, 2 Peacock, 4 Common Blue. 
Dellfield is bustling with Burnet Companion moths. There’s got to be at least 30, probably more.

Finally, in other mothing news, Ben and the team had an excellent evening trapping on Monday at Roughdown Common. Amongst the catch was a rare Pammene albuginana. For more details, take a peek at Ben’s Blog.


Martin Parr said...

Excellent Mother shipton pics, and love the longhorn footage - saw these at the Lodge last week. You are doing well on the moths!

Lucy @ A Natural Interlude said...

Thank you for your encouraging comments, Martin. Really appreciated.

Bennyboymothman said...

Brilliant! Only just got round to watching the vid.
They are lovely aren't they.
Not on the same scale as that, I had two males in the garden yesterday, and a female this afternoon in the alleyway.


Lucy @ A Natural Interlude said...

Hi Ben, thank you! Yes, the little fairy longhorns are just lovely. Glad you've been getting them too.