Friday, 28 July 2017

July 27th Mousehold Heath

The Moon
Its moth night at Mousehold once again. There was a concern that it wasn't going ahead as less than an hour before the gear was set up, a thunderstorm appeared out of nowhere. The rain fell so heavily that I was sure the event was going to be cancelled. Thankfully, it passed over as quickly as it arrived, which meant the event was given the go ahead. It turned out to be a clear night after the storm and the moths were soon arriving as if the storm never happened. Here's a few we've caught before in previous moth evenings this year before I talk you through the new ones as part of my attempt in improving my moth ID skills.
Rosy Footman
Spectacled Moth
Canary-shouldered Thorn
Perhaps the most colourful moth of the night, without a doubt, was this canary-shouldered thorn. Only the thorax and 'shoulders' are bright yellow. The wings are more of an orange-brown with a wavy edging and are always held in the manner you can see here when at rest. This a common species that you can find in gardens, parks and woodlands from late July to October.

Black Arches
Another rather beautiful moth that we caught tonight is this black arches. Its easier enough to identify as it is white with black markings. Most of these markings form little arches.

Grey Daggers

  My next moth is also named after it's appearance and markings. This is either a grey dagger or a dark dagger. Both are virtually identical to one another as they are both grey with black markings that look like little daggers. If I have to say which one this individual is, then I would go with grey daggers as it is slightly pale in colour. But in truth, I am just guessing. I am sure an expert will correct me.

Scalloped Oak

This striking species is a scalloped oak. It is similar to the scalloped hazel moth, but it is smaller and it is much brighter in colour. It is orange-brown with a chestnut brown stripe across the middle that has a black spot within it on each wing. This moth also emerges later on in the year compared to the scalloped hazel, emerging from July to August.

Lesser Yellow Underwing

There are several species of yellow underwing moth in the UK. Each vary in size and markings in their underwings. This one is a lesser yellow underwing. It is brown with kidney-shaped markings and a wavy line on it's upper wings, which you can see when it is at rest. However, if this moth was to open it's wings, you would see those bright yellow lower wings which has a small black line and a black dot. 

Scarce Footman

Now we are getting into the moths I am not 100% sure on. This is apparently a scarce footman, a slimmer version of it's relative the common footman. Many of the footman species are silvery grey with creamy-orange underwings and look very similar to one another. They look much bigger when they are flying, but when they land, they all look small and thin.

Coxcomb Prominent?

This next one is also baffling me a bit. The shape and it's humpy appearance suggests it is a member of the prominent family. The lack of striking markings does make me think that it is a coxcomb prominent. But if it is, it would mean it is an early specimen of the second brood that emerges from August to September. That is why I am doubting myself.

Pearl Grass Veneer

If these macro moths (biggish-sized moths) are causing me a few headaches as an amateur moth person, I can not begin to imagine tackling the micro moths (the really small ones). There's a few in the trap that some of the more enthusiastic members of our group were mulling over with and thumbing through the pages of the ID books and sheets. They've narrowed some of them down as veneers of some description. I can't really remember the exact names off the top of my head, but at least one stood out, the pearl grass veneer, and was rather beautiful with tiny white markings on it's wings like minute pearls.   

Some other Veneer (I think)
Yet another Veneer

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

July 26th Strumpshaw Fen & A Secret Location

Ruddy Darter
It started like a typical Wednesday morning for me. I arrived early for my walk, this time searching for willow emerald damselflies (which I failed in seeing) and swallowtail caterpillars (finding just the one) at the other end of the reserve. I even found one of my hoverfly targets, at least I hope I have. However, after my walk, my schedule was a bit different today. For one day only, I have swapped my Reception Hide shift for a very special survey.

Azure Damselfly
Swallowtail Caterpillar
Great Pied Hoverfly (one of my targets - I think)
A large Hoverfly (not sure which though)
Fen Raft Spider surveying
Back in 2012, I remember a day when I was on duty at the Reception Hide, when journalists and local news crews suddenly started flooded in as well as zookeepers from London Zoo and The Deep (an aquarium from Hull) all asking where to meet up. It became a bit of a media circus and I had no idea what was going on. Later that night, I watched the local news and found out that they were reintroducing fen raft spiders to a secret location elsewhere in the Yare Valley. The staff at Strumpshaw have been keeping a close eye on their progress ever since with summer surveys. Today, I was lucky enough to go on one of these surveys and see these rare spiders for the first time.

Fen Raft Spider (right) with nursery web
The fen raft spider is not only one of Britain's rarest spiders, its also one of Britain's largest too. The females, especially, can grow between 13-22mm! And that is what we are looking for during our survey today, large females and any nursery webs we can find within a network of water soldier-covered ditches at a location that I have to keep a secret. It took a while to get my eye in on the spiders themselves (some carrying egg sacs!), but the nursery webs were easy enough to spot. These spiders do not make webs to catch prey, instead make large silken structures amongst the water soldiers to protect the balls of baby spiders (thousands of them clumped together) for a few days. These nursery webs were everywhere, though not all of them were active. A good sign that it might be time to move some of them elsewhere in the near future, maybe even Strumpshaw Fen, who knows.
A Fen Raft Spider's nursery web
The clump you can see is a ball of baby spiders!

Female Fen Raft Spider carrying an egg sac

The largest female spider I saw today!

Once I was able to get my eye in, I was seeing spiders hiding here, there and everywhere. Many of them were male fen raft spiders, which are half the size of the larger females, but they are still ferocious predators capable of tackling prey as big as damselflies and even fish the size of sticklebacks. These spiders can float and dive underwater with special hairs that trap air like a special oxygen tank! There are other similar looking species of spider here too, but I'm not sure which exactly, especially when there are younger stages of fen raft spiders to add to the confusion as well. Fen raft spiders have striking white and yellow stripes down its body, but these stripes can vary from one individual to another, making it even more confusion. Luckily, their size helps a lot.
A male Fen Raft Spider

This one is eating an emerald damselfly!

A small Fen Raft Spider (left) with a larger one (right)
A pale Fen Raft Spider (I think)
A different species of spider that I'm not sure of yet
And another one
A smaller species with an egg sac
Common Darter freshly emerged from it's exuviae case!
As well as spiders, there were also a lot of dragonflies and damselflies, including common and ruddy darters, migrant and brown hawkers and common emerald damselflies. I even found a few dragonflies that were only just emerging from their exuviae cases! We also found a large water beetle, which I think is a great silver diving beetle, one of my other targets this year. Unfortunately, I was on the wrong side of the ditch to really get a clear view of it without the vegetation distorting my shot. Oh well, at least I saw it, though it could never upstage the fen raft spiders which were worth the aching feet and the walk across a thin plank over the ditch at one stage in the end. It was one for the memories for sure.

Dragonfly nymph climbing up to become a dragonfly!
Emerald Damselfly
Brown Hawker
Migrant Hawker
Great Silver Diving Beetle (I think - though not a great photo)