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

Saturday 9 August 2014

Lucky heather, but still got blues

Today I've been up to the far north-west of the county in the morning, and then over to the far east and into Cambs this afternoon. I had two key lepidopteran targets in mind, a spanking moth that has recently been confirmed as resident in the county and a relatively common butterfly that I've never made any previous attempts to see.

So, the first site was Newfield Colliery in Moira. As you can no doubt gather, this is a site of one of the collieries around the Moira area - all I've been able to establish is that the colliery was sunk in 1830, but no idea when it ceased production and closed. The site is being left to regenerate and there is a decent coverage of heather on the site with masses of birch scrub around the edges. The substrate is a bit weird, like a concrete/tarmac/compacted mud mixture. Have to say there is more heather here than at either Charnwood Lodge or Warren Hills.

Around this time in August 2012, Steve Woodward visited the site and happened to find a single Beautiful Yellow Underwing. It was new for VC55 and completely unexpected, mainly as none of us had heard of this site and had no idea about the amount of heather there which is the larval foodplant.

In the last week of July, Harry Ball visited the site found another five confirming that the 2012 record was not a one-off. Adrian Russell also visited the site and confirmed that the moth was present in numbers and breeding. Excellent, but unfortunately I was busy around that time and then away on the PSL weekend, so today was my first chance to visit and see if I could find the moth.

It was warm and sunny but there was a very strong breeze, nothing was flying and even if it were I'd struggle to net it. So I set about sweeping the heather. After about and hour of beating the crap out of the heather I'd not seen any adults, but I was finding lots of larvae in various instars from very early to full grown. This was a bit confusing, as I wasn't expecting to find any larvae at all with the adult moths on the wing within the last week or so.

I was also finding a few other larvae, including this which I'm certain is Ling Pug.

I made a quick call to Adrian as the presence of larvae was baffling and I wondered if I was missing something. Seems that the moth is probably double brooded here in VC55, so presumably the larger larvae are the offspring from the end of the first brood whilst the smaller larvae are the offspring from the start of the second brood. Not sure if the all the larvae around at this time will overwinter or if the flight period will go on for a while yet. Anyway, I wasn't missing anything - Adrian had also spent a lot of time sweeping before finding adults.

I set off on another round and almost immediately struck lucky ....

Beautiful Yellow Underwing

What a spanking moth! Only a small thing, but the colouration and markings are superb. A new macro for me, and with c30 larvae recorded whilst I was sweeping it is clearly doing very well at this site.

I potted a few bits up from sweeping, including a nice Agriphila latistria which I've not seen for a while and I have a few hoppers to check. The site looks brilliant, and I'd like to have spent more time there having a more general mooch about but I wanted to get home and grab some lunch before heading off to the east.

After fannying about at home for a while, I set off across to Barnack Hills and Holes in Cambs, near to Stamford and not too far from Ketton Quarry.

This site was again looking excellent, but by the time I got there the sunny spells were becoming more brief with building clouds and the wind was still strong. This site is reknowned for my next target, which happily I managed to see quite quickly without having to beat the crap out of anything .....

Chalkhill Blue

After managing to grab a few shots of a couple of individuals (I have lots of other blurry ones as they were being buffeted by the wind) I decided to head back towards Ketton Quarry before heading home. Just as I arrived at Ketton, a few spots of rain started to hit the windscreen but luckily I ignored it and it stopped when I did. I didn't spend too long there, just focussing on sweeping the herbs and grasses around the entry 'square' and the geology trail.

Just as I walked into the square I remembered that Graham Finch had mentioned a weevil on Vipers Bugloss at this site. A quick swish of the net on the first plant I saw and there it was - Mogulones geographicus! This is a really smart weevil which I'll try to photograph tomorrow along with a load more bugs and hoppers that I swept.

A good few hours in the field - it's just the four hours driving around inbetween I could have done without!

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