Bees …

A lovely warm day today brought more bees out in our garden. Indeed, the whole place felt very much like Spring had truly arrived, with insects buzzing around all over the place.

It may just be my imagination, but there seem to have been lots of queen Buff-tailed Bumblebees (B. terrestris) around this year. Our garden has attracted lots of them, with workers too, busily setting up nest provisions:

40498275923_0d1b81278e_k
Buff-tailed BB worker

Honeybees have been active too, collecting pollen and carrying it home on their hind legs to provision hives:

Today, our kitchen was visited by a slightly less common bumblebee, a queen Garden Bumblebee (B. hortorum). This is similar to the Buff-tailed BB, though the queen is slightly smaller and the yellow stripes are both more lemony and visible on the back of the thorax as well as the abdomen, looking like a ‘split’ stripe. Note, too, the very long face – the mandibles being elongated to create a very distinct shape.

More exciting than these Bumblebees, being new to me and the garden, were two other bees that I’ve come across. First, last week I found these Tawny mining bees (Andrena fulva). The female is larger, and bright orange in the sun, though she sat high up in a bush making it hard to photograph her:

47462292422_8ea45a4f69_k

The males are smaller, but more active, allowing me to ‘pooter’ a couple up and see them first hand:

Note the less-bright colours, but with a pale face and long mandibles.

These are mining bees, solitary-nesting. They ‘mine’ a hole to build their nest, and can often nest in colonies giving the impression of being social bees. A different strategy is taken by the other bee found today. These are ‘mason’ bees – Osmia bicornis, Red Mason Bee – building their nest from mud that is then formed into a chamber in an existing hole, where the eggs are laid and provisioned with food. I put out commercial nesting bricks and also magnificent houses hand-built of bamboo and palm fronds … but they have chosen the air brick in our cavity walling instead!

These bees are medium sized, just smaller than a honeybee, with reddish hair on their abdomens which can seem bright orange in the sun.

To work the mud and press it into the holes, they also have a (unique) pair of ‘horns’ on the head – visible in this photo …

47567413401_735cf159dd_k

As ever, bees are fascinating creatures, and I spent a lovely hour or so watching them go about their work, in and out of the air brick. On a warm Spring day there is not much better way to pass the time.

 

Advertisements

Moths and Bats

I ran the trap for the first time this week and enjoyed catching some moths again after a winter lay-off. Nothing special turned up, however, this Pale Pinion was a nice find – one of the few moths to spend the winter in adult stage, re-emerging in the Spring.

pale-pinion_46728124024_o

Most of the others were Orthosia spp. included Twin-spotted Quaker, Hebrew Character and, best of the bunch, a really smart Clouded Drab:

In addition to these, one of the things I like at this time of year is the subtly of the colours of Spring moths, often in shades that appear drab until you look more closely. Nothing illustrates this better than Early Grey, a moth that looks grey at first sight but which is actually beautifully marked and often tinged with pink, particularly in the early morning light one tends to see it in.

Once the weather improves some more I’ll be getting the trap out regularly. Meanwhile, in October last year I bought a bat meter; one which plugs into my iPhone and gives visible sonograms. Over the last few days, as the bats have started coming out of hibernation, I’ve been enjoying trying it out and getting some good results. Running the sonograms through a piece of software called Kaleidoscope allows you to tidy them up and ‘print’ images from them. The following image was generated at Haven Banks in Exeter on 19.03.2019.

PIPPYG_Standard forage pattern

 

This shows the basic foraging call of a Soprano Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pygmeaus). The vertical axis shows frequency (kHz) and the horizontal axis time (ms). The bat gives a vertical pulse – modulated frequency (FM) in an instant of time – and then extends the call at constant frequency so that the sonogram bends into a comma shape. This provides a balance of bandwidth, to echo back off insects of different sizes effectively, and range (lower frequencies travel further so it makes sense to extend them for distance location). The pulses are regular at about 90-100ms apart and the peak amplitude (where the line bends and flattens out) is about 50kHz.

As the bat ‘hears’ an insect, it heads towards it and speeds up its calls, gaining more information about its whereabouts.

PIPPYG_Pre-Capture calls

Note how the gap between calls shortens to about 60ms, then 50ms and also how it becomes ‘vertical’ as the bat no longer needs the constant frequency element for distance (the prey being nearby now).

Finally, as it homes in, the calls get faster and faster, and more and more localised, as the bat makes its kill.

PIPPYG_Feeding Buzz

This pattern is known as the ‘feeding buzz’ since it sounds like a buzz on the recording.

Finally, this image is interesting because it shows Soprano Pipistrelle at the top (around 50kHz again), but has Nathusius Pipistrelle below it (in the box, peak amplitude at around 39kHz). The latter is a migratory species (unlike Soprano Pip which hibernates here) and, I’m told, shouldn’t be here yet as it’s a week or two early … but it obviously hasn’t read the textbooks! (Thanks to Sarah Butcher from Devon Bat Group, for helping with all this info.)

PIPNAT_With PIPPYG

Apologies if you read this blog looking for moths, but I think the bats are really interesting and, being insect hunters, have some connection at least! Hope you enjoyed them too …

Eastern Black Tabby

Sitting in the garden yesterday with a cop of tea, I was ‘buzzed’ by something next to my right ear. The first hairy-legged flower bee (Anthophora plumipes) male of the year was on the wing, bright ginger in the sun searching for food, and though it gave me a good look-over it soon buzzed off. A while later, a huge queen buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) dashed across the lawn and over the fence; the ‘sumo wrestler’ of the bee world, barging about on the hunt for a nesting site perhaps.

20204173701_c4386853eb_o
Queen Bombus terrestris (taken 2015)

Both of these gave the impression that spring is coming and with the brief appearance of waking bees I thought I ought to raise the blog again after its winter hibernation; not least, because there is one exciting event to report, another great moth find for my garden. Technically, it’s a find for my lounge, because on the evening of February 7th I noticed a small, dark moth on the wall, about the size of my fingernails. I could easily have let it be because it’s not unusual to get moths in the house and they usually turn out to be innocuous. But I always tend to take a look, just in case, and this time I felt that it was unfamiliar.

 

46116582015_642cfbf89f_k

What stood out particularly was the slightly ‘crinkly’ line to the rear of the hind wing. This was a shape I’d not seen before, and a closer look showed the pale fringe to the wings too. Still, there are a lot of micro moths and, numerically speaking, I’ve not seen the majority of them, so I potted it up and started to look at my ID guides. Nothing matched though and so I resorted to UKMoths. This is a great resource, but when you don’t have a starting point it’s a case of browsing the thumbnails. It was clearly from the Crambridae though and it didn’t take too long to discover it: Diplopseustis perieresalis or Eastern Black Tabby.

The text on the UKMoths page gives a clear description of its status:

The first record of this species in Britain was in October 2001 on Tresco, Isles of Scilly. The photograph depicts only the second British record, and the first for mainland Britain, taken at light on 5 November 2007 at Exeter, Devon.
The species has been found in several places around southern Europe, and a number have been taken on the Canary Islands, suggesting a possible source for the British records.
The moth is known from the far East and Australia, and the larval foodplants are thought to be Carex species.

Checking with our county moth recorder, Barry Henwood, this turns out to be only the third Devon record of the moth, so a really exciting find. Since these first records, local moth websites suggest that a scattering of examples have turned up, for example in Norfolk and Bucks.

Diplopseustis perieresalis is a migrant, with no evidence yet of breeding in the UK. Indeed, as UKMoths states, its original range is Asia and Australia, where it is common-enough. A quick Google Scholar search shows a number of scientific articles (see refs below) around 2007 – 2009 (the same period as the specimen in Exeter) which are mapping its spread into Europe, though the suggestion is that these might be coming on plant material. It’s not clear therefore what the origin of my moth is, however we have a new puppy and despite the cool weather the outside door from the lounge into the garden has been open in the evening to let him in and out. There’s a good chance therefore that this is a passing migrant … and, of course, also a chance that with a changing climate and greater and greater global movement of goods, including plant materials, Eastern Black Tabby may be a new British breeding species before too long.

 

Some References:

Muus, T.S. and Wullaert, S., 2008. Diplopseustis perieresalis, a tropical species, new to the Belgian fauna (Lepidoptera: Crambidae). Phegea36, pp.25-27.

Speidel, W., van Nieukerken, E.J., Honey, M.R. and Koster, J.C., 2007. The exotic pyraloid moth Diplopseustis perieresalis (Walker) expanding in the West Palaearctic Region (Crambidae: Spilomelinae).

Muus, T.S.T., 2008. Diplopseustis perieresalis for the second time in The Netherlands (Lepidoptera: Crambidae: Spilomelinae). Entomologische Berichten-Nederlandsche Entomologische Vereenigung68(2), p.69.

A few highlights from 2018

It’s been a rather stop-start year for me in terms of mothing. I had a very, very hectic first few months of 2018 at work and didn’t really start the trap until into April. Then, a house move meant that late July and early August were also slim in terms of numbers trapped. However, the move to the new home, from Exmouth to Budleigh, brought some fantastic moths to the trap. Here, I’ve picked out a few highlights from the year to remember.

The Spring always starts with Orthosia – the quakers – for me; a favourite family. April 12th brought these four together: twin spot, small, common and hebrew character.

010c9089c151a27b54e5c9a79831762ac321fb069f

Ten days later I trapped Pale Pinion, a moth I was pleased to get and also new to the garden in Exmouth.

Shortly after the Pale Pinion, another of the beautiful wood-mimic moths dropped by in the shape of Chamomile Shark, new for the garden again, and a really smart moth:

Perhaps the highlight of May though was the Emperor moth that Matt trapped on a lure – surely the most amazing British moth in terms of its looks. A real stunner and a treat to see.

27370005697_e0c9c36f9b_k

One of my aims for 2019 is to get a few lures and try to trap some of the moths that don’t come to light – the clearwings, for example.

A more mundane highlight for me on the same day that Matt trapped his Emperor, was the return of Treble Brown Spot to the garden. These are scarce, if not rare, but the garden in Exmouth does well for them and I’m always pleased to see one … here, a pair from different May days.

I think this is a beautiful little moth, the perfect woodland edge species, delicate and ideal for flying in dappled shade.

Moth numbers build during the year and explode in June and July. Though there were no rarities, the sheer number of different species is a celebration in its own right. Here are just a few to enjoy …

August saw us moving house, leaving Exmouth for Budleigh. In some ways it was sad to say goodbye to the garden in the old house. I’d started trapping there late in 2015 and so had had two and a half years. In that time I’d trapped 340 different species, of which 113 were micros and 227 were macros. This involved 2727 separate records uploaded to the online moth recording scheme, often of multiple moths, meaning that the total number of moths was much greater than this.

In this sense the old garden was hard to give up, with the feeling that there was still more to find. However, if I was feeling a little bit nostalgic it didn’t last long as the new garden started producing great moths almost immediately.

September began with two Portland Ribbon Wave on the same night, a moth I’d trapped just a couple of times in 2016 in Exmouth.

Then I got the scarce Evergestis limbata (Dark-bordered Pearl), a lovely migrant moth found in small numbers on the south coast.

Evergestis limbata

The next night I caught Box Tree Moth:

4BEAFCE2-3214-4226-AB4C-EF959B9D607F

I believe this was just the second ever record for Devon, the first coming just a few weeks beforehand on the East coast of the county; though with their rapid movement north and colonisation in the south-east, it won’t be the last, I’m sure, and I suspect 2019 will see them popping up all over the UK.

As the Autumn drew in there were other moths new to me, even if not rare in general: L-album wainscott; orange sallow; and dark sword-grass.

But, if all these were exciting, the best was still to come in the shape of a mythical moth – a lifer if ever there was one. Clifden Nonpareil.

44982571851_038dd42095_k

Many moth-ers go a lifetime without seeing this moth – though it is reputedly starting to colonise the south of Devon and I would be surprised if it didn’t become much more common as the climate warms. On the 28th September I was lucky enough to find the one above in my trap – it’s an absolute stunner. Yet, if that wasn’t enough, a few days later my son was playing hockey in Taunton on a cold, still evening, with bright floodlights round the ground, and two more flew over, one even landing on my bag! These moths are so big that you could be forgiven for thinking they were small birds of some sort and were so impressive that they gained the attention of all the watching parents, even those unfamiliar with moths.

After that, there was little that could top it, but the year came to a really good end with several other species that were new, and even one that was rarer than Clifden Nonpareil. First, though, Clancy’s Rustic …

img_2344

Several White-speck, in different shades …

More nice migrants: Palpita vitrealis and Gem …

A moth fairly local to the south/south-west,  Mecyna asinalis …

44552067635_d6e238262e_o

And then, as if all this wasn’t enough, on the 17th November I trapped Oak Rustic – rarely seen in Devon, or elsewhere in the UK, with just a handful of records over the last few years:

img_2529

This was a fitting end to a great year of trapping, full of new species for me, and meaning that I passed the 400 life-time species mark, as well as picking up some real rarities. Of course, with such fabulous habitat and the sea just 10 mins walk away, it’s a great place to be.

45231344404_9d4b95fff5_o

Happy New Year … and I hope you have a productive, moth-ful, 2019.

More Cracking Migrants

I was just about to go to bed last night when I picked up a Tweet noting that the weather looked good for migrant moths. Warm air from Africa was due to wash across Southern Europe and into the SW UK. On the spur of the moment I decided to put out the trap. And what a prize for doing so, come the morning. Though not full of moths, the variety was fabulous and showed off what Autumn mothing is all about.

Best of the bunch was a small, largely innocuous looking moth that I only saw at the end of the emptying process. This was Oak Rustic (Dryobota labecula), a fairly rare migrant which, though establishing itself further along the south coast (40+ caught the other night in Dorset) is still very unusual in Devon.

For each of the last two years there has only been 1 record of this moth in the Devon Moth Record handbooks, with just 2 in 2015. Needless to say I was delighted to get this one, and in quite good condition – a first for me, of course.

Also a first for me, though not quite so uncommon was this Gem (Nycterosea obstipata). Small enough to be a pug of some sort, the black dots, surrounded in white, give this moth away.

Next up in the ‘new garden ticks’ was Satellite (Eupsilia transversa), so called because the kidney mark on each wing has two small ‘satellites’ around it. The marks can be orangey or white – here a mix, with the kidney mark and satellites different colours.

All three of the moths above were lifers for me – showing what a great night it was. However, there were still other interesting Autumn moths which, though not new to me, were welcome nonetheless. I love Merveille du Jour (Griposia aprilina) and even though this one was a bit washed out it was still a thrill to see it by the trap.

The next moth, Palpita vitrealis, (Olive-tree Pearl) is also a super moth, though for different reasons. It’s a migrant again, and where Merveille du Jour shouts ‘look at me’, P. vitrealis is almost ethereal, ghost like.

Its wings are transparent, edged with a subtle orangey-brown along the costal margin. They are reasonably catchable, but today’s haul of four together was a record for me by some way.

Also migratory is this Dark Sword Grass (Agrotis ipsilon), which I’ve caught before but never in such clean, well-marked condition. Where P. vitrealis is angelic, this one has something of the night about it; dark, jagged lines reminding me of bared teeth.

Finally, what would, on another occasion, perhaps merit a post of its own, this beautiful White-speck (Mythimna unipuncta) is a good find. Not a first – I’ve caught several in the last few weeks – but still a great moth.

In addition to these, five or six Rusty-dot Pearls and three Silver-Ys meant that this was a bumper Migrant Night. What Autumnal mothing is all about …

Immigrants

With Brexit burning away in the news media at the moment, it’s an apposite time to talk about immigrants … though these ones are strictly lepidopteran of course. It’s been an excellent week for migrants, with the storm blowing in from the Americas, and though I’ve not been able to get the trap out as much I’d have liked, I’ve had some nice new moths. Here’s a quick run-down …

 

Clancy’s Rustic (l) and White Speck (r), both of which are migrants, the former being new for me, and a really smart moth in my view; the latter more subtle, but equally beautiful.

 

Scarce Bordered Straw (l) and Dark Sword-grass (r). Again, the former is a new one for me, though not uncommon. Like one or two others, I think our recent move from Exmouth to Budleigh has meant that I’m just a bit closer to the sea and to rocky shorelines, helping to bring in different moths.

Not migrants, but I’ve also had some other moths new to my gardens (old and new):

 

On the left here is Grey Shoulder Knot, new to me, and I’ve put it up next to a much more familiar visitor to my old garden, Blair’s Shoulder Knot. They are both lovely; the former have more obvious patterning, but if you look closely at the Blair’s you will see beautiful black lines running through its grey, making it well camouflaged against bark.

Another new one was this Large Wainscot, again, showing very subtle colours:

img_2363

I love the subtlety of the Wainscots, which would be lost entirely in reedy vegetation. And speaking of blending-in, the Sallows must be the masters to Autumnal colours, wonderfully illustrated by these three, with a few Autumn leaves thrown in for comparison.

Across the top are two forms of Barred Sallow (l), with Centre-barred Sallow (r) and (normal) Sallow below next to the leaves.

Finally, back to one more immigrant. The last couple of nights we’ve had a visitor in the back room, seeking out a place to shelter …

img_2372

This is a Western Conifer Seed Bug, an immigrant from America – indeed, from the West Coast originally – but now beginning to be well-established in Europe, including the UK, probably from timber imports; I suspect this one is local. As the name suggests, it likes conifers, and though I’m always wary of insects that are invasive, it’s certainly a smart bug. The insects around us have good reason to shelter though. Having just got my hands on a bat detector, I’ve become aware of just how numerous bats are. I’m planning a separate post on this, but for now I’m hoping you might be able to use the link below to hear the Pipistrelle bat that is a regular hawker round our back door – especially when the moth trap is running!

Click here

New moths in Budleigh

It’s been too windy and wet to do much trapping this week, despite the promise of migrants from the warm air pouring north from Africa. My trap doesn’t work well in the wet – electrics and water don’t mix in my view. Because of this it’s an opportunity to look back at the last few weeks in our new Budleigh home and the moths that have appeared here.

Whilst the recent Clifden Nonpareil has been the highlight there have been some other interesting immigrants. In Exmouth, where I lived previously, I never caught Dark Sword-grass, but here it’s been a regular visitor since we moved in:

44117471625_a6b5540092_k

More exciting still was this Mecyna asinalis which is a fairly scarce migrant tending to favour coastal locations and which came in a pair on Sept 27th:

43213271390_5679c8e383_h

Close cousin to the Dark Sword-grass, Shuttle-shaped Dart, was a common visitor in Exmouth and has turned up regularly in Budleigh too, in both sexes – female on the left and male on the right:

I think both these are the common sub-species Agrotis puta puta, though I have wondered if I might trap a stray A. puts insula which is endemic to the Scillies. I’m not really clear on the difference butthe moth on the right was certainly smaller and brightly marked, with beautiful purple wingtips. Any expert thoughts welcomed.

Also new to me – though Matt has had it regularly, was this L-album Wainscot which I think is a really beautiful moth:

31155934418_51cd473630_k

Lastly, this Sallow – which again was a moth that I didn’t catch in Exmouth – is a real beauty, reflecting the colours of Autumn.

30092627217_f7c5a71c8a_k

You might like to imagine this moth tucked up in the Autumnal leaves, which are certainly now falling. These ones had blown into a pile in Exeter today, where they caught my eye, and I would think a Sallow would be invisible amongst them.

44385102875_dd20b77fe9_o

I’ve also trapped its close neighbours, Centre-barred Sallow (shown below) and Barred Sallow, which are equally stunning:

44644753362_89cf38d935_k

So, it’s been an exciting month with the trap and I hope that, if the rain holds off, I might still manage to trap some of the migrants that have been blown this way by the Southerly winds of late.