Birds, Leps, Observations & Generalities - the images and ramblings of Mark Skevington. Sometimes.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Overdue - Chamomile Shark

I started an occasional thread a while back looking at moth species that I'd recorded in the garden, but hadn't seen here for over 10 years. Of course as time has gone on, a few of these have re-appeared (Sprawler, Garden Tiger, Seraphim, Small Phoenix, December Moth off the top of my head) whilst a few more have slipped into the overdue category.

One that is now overdue is Chamomile Shark. I have two garden records of singles, 26/04/2004 and 28/04/2007. The larvae feed on the flowers of Chamomile, Corn Chamomile, Stinking Chamomile, Feverfew and Scentless Mayweed. I guess my garden records could related to whatever someone on the estate is growing, though Scentless Mayweed is surely present locally.

Chamomile Shark - Whetstone 26/04/2004

Same individual showing fore and hindwing cilia detail

Chamomile Shark - 28/04/2007

Whilst I'm rehashing old themes, here's another. This week I have mainly been listening to classic pre-Dare Human League. Reproduction and Travelogue are both great albums. Don't get me wrong, there are some great tracks on Dare - it's just that 'Don't You Want Me' is not one of them.

I'm in for surgery tomorrow, so all being well there will be short interlude in blogging. If you've not heard from me by this time next week it didn't all go well .......

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Ripping off the Olive Branch

Yesterday I nipped into one of our garden centers in south Leics. Whilst mooching about with Nichola, I noticed some olive trees and had a moment of de ja vu. I looked them over and sure enough found clear evidence of larval feeding with spinnings and frass. It was then that I remembered that I'd seen the same feeding damage in the same place last year and completely forgot to follow up in any way. When I got home, a quick check online and a browse through photos on my phone and I got a bit closer.

Here's a snap from yesterday:

Larval feeding signs on Olive Tree (Olea europaea)

This feeding damage was actually quite high up on a well established (and very expensive) tree. There was no way I could serruptitiously rip off the olive branch. At least not on this visit! The older photos I found were from 14/07/2018. These were on smaller and more accessible plants, but given that I wasn't sure what to look for I didn't acquire any samples. Here's a selection:

I'm absolutely convinced that this feeding damage is lepidopteran. There's really not much that is likely to be feeding on olive in this country, and the two prime contenders are both adventive species recently added to the UK list. Neither has been recorded in VC55: Prays oleae (new to UK in 2009) and Zelleria oleastrella (new to UK in 2006). There is a chance that it could be from a native polyphageous species, but what is more likely!

Either way, I am now better clued up on olive-feeding species and will be watching this place over the coming weeks to nail the ID.

Earlier in the week I had another look at local Holm Oaks, with the specific aim of finding mines of Stigmella suberivora. I found some, all vacated, on a couple of trees:

This leaf has a vacated S. suberivora mine, and two tenanted Ectoedemia heringella mines. They are similar except that the heringella mines are more convoluted at the start and around half the size (this E. heringella mine is about finished).

What I also found was that of three trees checked, one was so heavily infested with E. heringella that it was hard to find anything else at all and there were barely any 'clear' leaves. Another was infested but no quite so heavily, and there were S. suberivora mines including the one above. The third tree appeared completely clear of E. heringella, with S. suberivora mines evident. But, the clear tree is virtually in the middle of the other two:

Tree A heavily infested, tree B clear, tree C infested. Doubtfully any Holm Oak inbetween.

Here's a couple from the garden last night to close:

Early Grey - 15/03/2019

Small Quaker - 15/03/2019

Friday, 15 March 2019

2019 Garden Moth Catchup

The garden traps have been out quite a bit more than I usually manage/bother in the first couple of months of the year, helped by being at home and February weather being generally excellent. Things have dropped off markedly over the last couple of windy wet weeks though. Mostly expected stuff, some a little earlier than usual, with one completely unexpected arrival ....

Rush Veneer - 28/02/2019

This turned up on the back of a pretty strong period of immigration into the UK, though far from the excitement that Crimson Speckled must have brought to a couple of recorders up and down the country. This is the earliest arrival on record for VC55.

So far the yearlist is up to 17 species, +4 in the larval stage and 2 leaf-mines. Here's all the macros:

Oak Beauty - 19/02/2019
Good to see this is now annual here.

Dotted Border - 14/02/2019
This has had a remarkably good year here.

Early Moth - 03/01/2019
15 of these to an outdoor light fitting with a 12W blacklight LED bulb up to mid-Feb.

Pale Brindled Beauty - 15/02/2019

March Moth - 12/02/2019

Red-green Carpet - 19/02/2019

Chestnut - 22/02/2019

Common Quaker - 17/02/2019

Clouded Drab - 22/02/2019

Satellite - 17/02/2019

Satellite - 16/02/2019

Dark Chestnut - 01/03/2019

Hebrew Character - 27/02/2019

Twin-spotted Quaker - 01/03/2019

Thursday, 14 March 2019

To Blog or not to Blog

I had this here blog up since late 2007. As you can see over on the right there, I quickly got into a groove of posting all sorts of stuff; lots of updates on garden mothing, a few birdy interjections, stuff that I'd seen whilst out and about, references to music, the odd joke and a bit of irreverent (slanderous verging on criminal) nonsense about politics, royalty and religion. I blogged quite regularly for around five years. During 2013 I had a surge of activity that lead to me contributing to the 1000 in 1km Square and Garden Moth Challenge blogs. Also around that time, other social media was becoming more prominent for me, particularly Facebook and Twitter. I did set up an Instagram account but never used it and still haven't got round to figuring out how to delete it. I've never used Snapchat (Snatchflash), though I do use Whatsapp for work, family and phone friends. I have just about packed up using Twitter, and Facebook is starting to seriously get on my nerves with the targeted adverts and stuff - but both platforms are useful for particular interest groups and news so I doubt they'll be disappearing from my phone screen.

So over the last five or six years this blog has wavered between bouts of enthusiasm and prolonged periods of neglect. I did consider sacking it off completely, but actually I find it interesting to look back at stuff I've posted and it would be foolish to just delete it until or unless Google demand their space back or charge a fee .... like happened on Flickr.

In fact, it has been a very useful resource over the last couple of weeks. I've been at home for a long while so far this year in recovery from illness and hospitalisation in Jan and early Feb, and next week I've got some surgery coming. So to help fill the time and keep me busy, I've got around to doing something that I've ignored for years. My photographic library is a mess. I'm finally getting it more organised and moving everything from various archives and annual backups into structured folders by group/family/species/site and date. It will be worthwhile in the end, but it is a bit labourious and means cross checking to my Mapmate records, old e-mails  and - thankfully - for a lot of it I also have the blog to help. I've also found a couple of ID errors from years ago so it's also good from that perspective (like a dodgy Shaded Pug, and finding a new earliest VC55 record of Strophedra weirana). Cross-referencing the blog will be particularly helpful for non-lepidopteran orders.

Oddly, in the past I have also found the blog to be a useful motivator to get out and see stuff that I can post about. So the blog stays. I will continue to irregularly post whatever I like when I like, and I'm sure it will wax and wane.

Whilst I think about it, it's inevitable that over the 12 calendar years that this blog has existed that things change. I will have posted lots of links to Youtube videos and other websites/blogs that are no longer working. I also went through a spell of linking to my Flickr account, but as I'd stopped using Flickr and they wanted money to keep what I had on there, I deleted everything so there are a lot of blog posts from around 2011/2012 that have big grey boxes instead of photos. Soz.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Pirates of the Caribbean

Back in late Nov 2018 and early Dec 2018, we enjoyed a great couple of weeks cruising around the Lesser Antilles in the west Caribbean - as you do when you've turned 50. It was strictly leisure, sun and relaxation. Except when I pointed the camera at anything alive with feathers or scales.

One of the birds I was really hoping to see, but without expectation, was Magnificent Frigatebird. A huge hulking pirate somehow managing to carry the grace of a Red Kite. Anyway, I didn't need to hope too much, they were on just about every island we visited and often the first bird I saw as we approached the dock. Not that I got any particularly good shots with my point and shoot bridge.

Frigatebird. Magnificent.

Without really trying, I managed to point the camera at quite a few birds and think I've identified them all correctly ...... here's a small selection in no particular order.

Carib Grackle


Green Heron

Black-crowned Night-heron

Lesser Antillean Flycatcher

Grey Kingbird

Tropical Mockingbird

Solitary Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

Purple-throated Carib

Shiny Cowbird

Brown Pelican

Masked Booby

Laughing Gull

Common Ground-dove

Sunset behind the Barbados sugar loaders

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Puss Moth Farming

Back on 28/05/2018, I had a great big spanking female Puss Moth in the garden trap.

Given that it was so big and fresh, I had hoped that it was 'virginal' and so I put it in a large box with a funnel over a hole and left it out the next night in the hope of assembling a male. By the morning, there was no sign of a male, the female was still in the box and there was an inch of rain water in the bottom of it. Worse, the female had promptly laid masses of eggs in and around the box, with at least half of them in the water.

I let her go, drained the container, gently patted everything with kitchen towel and left the eggs in the box in the shed to dry out whilst I headed off to Devon. I had no idea if they were viable, and even of they were I feared that the watery start to their development would not help.

When I got back on 02/06/2018, I was keen to get the garden trap out again. Just like busses, another Puss Moth - this one a male.

A day or so later, I carefully transferred the eggs from the large box into a smaller tub. I checked it every day, not knowing if anything would emerge. Then on the evening of 11/06/2017, I checked again and bugger me there were loads of black squiggles mooching about the tub.

It looked like all the eggs had hatched, and I quickly under-guestimated c50 larvae. I spilt them very roughly into two larger tubs with some sallow - it was as arbitrary as the smaller lid went into one and the smaller tub into the other larger tub.

On Tuesday after work I was amazed at how quickly they had part-skeletonized the sallow. I also had a better go at counting them (and found that there were at least a hundred) and I grabbed some 1st instar shots. They were around 10mm, and already waggling about their 'tail' filaments when disturbed.

Today was day 3 after hatching, and they're a little bigger at c12mm. A few have changed to 2nd instar and are showing the distinctive pattern, albeit with completely different colouration to later instars. I've split them into five tubs, and each has c25 larvae.

Rearing all of these is not going to be tenable! From 3rd instar onwards I will be gradually releasing batches into the local area. I will rear a few through to final instar and pupation, as these really are quite funky larvae to see!