Showing posts from July, 2018

Fritillary surprise!

Standing by the back door, a cup of tea in hand and idly looking out at the butterflies that were attracted to next door's Buddleia, my alarm bells went off when a large orange butterfly alighted. I had my suspicions as to what it was, but it was just too far away to be certain with the naked eye. After swiftly fetching the binoculars and bridge camera, and grateful that the butterfly was still present, I was able to confirm that it was indeed a Silver-washed Fritillary! Needless to say, a garden first.

Another that I've been expecting.

Oak Processionary. A moth to strike terror into the heart of the general public... In Southern Europe, where the species naturally occurs, the ecosystem is balanced so that the moths have natural predators to keep the numbers under control, but further north - where due to slow expansion and accidental introduction - there is not. This species can take over areas and cause human suffering via irritant hairs that are found on the caterpillars, (which can break off and become airborne, finding their target with ease). Since 2006 an increasing number of records have come from south-west London, and, even with council controls such as spraying infected trees, the expansion creeps on. Until today I had not recorded the moth at the garden MV, but this morning one finally turned up. Along with Box Moth, a garden addition that is not really good news. Back in 1987, when I first switched the Banstead garden moth trap on, I would have laughed out loud with incredulity if someone had

The sound of destruction

A cooler and cloudier morning than of late. I took a very laid back stroll along the minor road that runs down the middle of Canons Farm. Quite a few sluggish butterflies were on the wing, including this Comma (above). In the still air the quiet was punctuated by a small amount of bird song, including three singing Yellowhammers (below). It was altogether restful and the lack of action barely mattered. This peace was, however, soon sullied. Machinery was started up and the noise emanating from it crept closer. I knew what it would be before I saw it, and when it finally appeared around the corner of a mature hedgerow my fears were confirmed - a tractor armed with a hedgerow cutter. This lump of metal was levelled against the sides of the verdant vegetation and the growth torn off, leaving ragged, broken branches and chomped leaves. There is nothing careful about this procedure, it is a rape of the growth. The flora at the base of the hedge was also cruelly destroyed. What of the b

In the footsteps of Darwin

Nestled in the charming Kent countryside, close to the village of Downe, Down House was the private residence of Charles Darwin, between 1842-82 - it is now owned by English Heritage and is open to the public. Today, after too many years of not having visited, this was corrected as together with eldest daughter Rebecca we went on a pilgrimage to pay our respects to the great man. The rooms of the house are mostly accessible, with the first floor largely taken up by a splendid exhibition which charts his life and works. The experience is made all the more intimate by being able to visit several of the family rooms in which he spent so much time with his many children, something which he willingly did in an era when fathers were not predisposed to do so. Best of all was his study, a sizeable room packed out with books, tables, cabinets, jars, specimens and the additional paraphernalia used in the study of the natural world. Apparently his routine was to work at his studies for si

A colonising species

Last year I posted about the first garden records of the micro-moth Blastobasis rebeli . Over the course of July 2017 four individuals were recorded, and these may well have been the first records for Surrey. This morning another two appeared at the MV. It now seems more than likely that they are now resident in the area. It is still a rare moth across most of southern England, with a sprinkling of records in Hampshire and Sussex, and the first for Kent appeared last week. As for Surrey? It would seem unlikely that they are not already elsewhere. I think it's fair to suggest that we will all be seeing a lot more of Blastobasis rebeli ...

Hedya salicella

Micro moths can be, and often are, overlooked. They can be too small, too numerous and too alike. But we are lucky nowadays as there are many sources of reference that are added to each and every day, both in print and particularly on-line. Digital photography has enabled the most modest of budgets to produce crystal-clear and detailed images of the moths, not only to be used as an immediate tool to identify the species but also to add to this reference body. It still takes effort to build up a working knowledge of them and not all are identifiable on external features alone, but most can be. Above is Hedya salicella, which is quite distinctive and fairly straight forward to identify (so I am led to believe!). If it were the size of a Large Yellow Underwing then it would be celebrated, but its modest size relegates it somewhat. This individual appeared in the garden MV trap this morning and, although a common moth, it is the first that I've recorded. I'm rather taken with it

A meandering walk to a book shop

Epsom town centre is but a five minute drive from home, or a twenty minute walk away. When I visit I normally choose 'shank's pony' over the car for several reasons - fitness, boosting my green credentials and the chance to do a bit of nature watching on the way. This morning I wanted to go to Waterstones to buy a bit of summer reading - I'm old fashioned that way, I like to actually pick up objects that I want to buy, to feel them and look at them rather than order them online - and would, by the way, normally choose an independent bookseller over a chain, but Epsom does not have one. But I digress... There are a number of routes to take into Epsom town centre, and the one I took was extremely rambling, taking in a good section of Epsom Downs, then the historical old part of town which is full of Georgian and Victorian architecture, cottage gardens and mature trees. My trusty compact camera came along 'just in case'. I'm glad it did. It was clou

Boys from the brown stuff

Today it was a pleasure to welcome Beddington Sewage Farm stalwarts Peter Alfrey and Kevin Guest onto the chalk for a botanical foray. A start at Epsom Downs provided Cypress Spurge and Round-headed Rampion, with butterflies also highlighting with a second-generation Small Blue and plenty of Chalkhill Blues. We then continued onto Mickleham and a scour of Juniper Bottom. The orchids were largely over, although there were a few Broad-leaved Helleborines in bud. Corn Mint (below) was a pleasant find, along with plenty of Silver-washed and Dark Green Fritillaries, plus one Purple Emperor which flew down the middle of the path and straight through us. The slopes of Box Hill at the zig-zag were a great disappointment, with the parched ground not a great place for much flower or insect activity. We cut our losses and headed to the River Mole at Young Street, where a combination of cool shade and watery aspect cooled us down. Botanical highlights included Small Teasel (below), Arro

The Mocha

With the hot weather continuing so does the incidence of moths wandering away from their 'normal' haunts. After yesterday's two Kent Black Arches I was delighted to find this superb Mocha in the MV - another addition to the back garden list. This often happens, a run of consecutive nights when new species are recorded here in Banstead. It is as if there is a shift in the air above the garden, bringing in a conveyor belt of moths that originate from exotic places.

Kent Black Arches

In the last post I mentioned this as a species that was cropping up in nearby MV traps, and this morning, after 31 years of recording, not one but two individuals finally showed up in the back garden MV.

Recent moths

The garden MV continues to throw up a number of species that are of irregular occurrence here in Banstead, such as Large Emerald, Four-dotted Footman, Waved Black, Grey Arches and Minor Shoulder-knot. There are also a number of species popping up in traps in the wider area - which include Kent Black Arches and Red-necked Footman - that I would only be too pleased to welcome to Banstead. And while we are mentioning 'missing from the garden list' moths, any Oak Processionary moth that might be flying over also has an open invite. Large Emerald - just about annual  Old Lady - as big as your palm The Shark - what a quiff! Yellow-tail. You can see where it gets its name

1976 and all that

1976. Can you remember it? To me, in my advancing and increasingly befuddled state, 1976 was only a handful of years ago, but you will have to be approaching 50 to have any recollection of it at all. 1976 is now 42 years ago - blimey! Even if you were born well after it, you may well have heard of 1976 because of the summer heatwave that was enjoyed/endured. It was 100 degrees F each and every day from May 1st - August 31st, it didn't rain at all, roads melted, rivers ran dry, reservoirs became vast empty bowls, all the grass died, we were all covered in dust, ice cream ran out, beer ran out, there was a hose pipe ban for four months, we had to queue up at standpipes to get our drinking water... OK, it wasn't quite like that, but that isn't far from the truth. For some reason 1976 stands out as the hot summer to be measured against, although I can remember 1975, 1983 and 2003 having pretty special hot and sunny summers. In fact, in the latter year, the UK's record hi

The heat goes on

The grassy fields look more of a burnt caramel in colour than a lush green, and what vegetation is in flower is crisping and looking quite weedy - this heatwave is not doing them any favours at all, and we really could do with some rain. I'm pretty sure that here in Banstead there has been just one wet day in the past five weeks. Anyhow, hot weather normally means something interesting turning up in the garden MV, and the garden's 10th record of Festoon (top) just about creeps into that category. Afterwards I walked the glades of Banstead Woods and, after many years of failure, finally saw a Purple Emperor there. Up until this morning the closest to home that I had recorded the species was Ashtead Common. Also seen were White-letter Hairstreak, Silver-washed Fritillary and Purple Hairstreak (below).