30 Days Wild – Day 6 – Digging no More

On my way to open the Ivy South hide this morning I found a dead mole lying on the path.

dead mole

dead mole

As sad sight but it did offer the opportunity to take a close look at one of these common, but not often seen, little mammals. They are fantastically well adapted to their life underground, with very dense velvety fur and the most amazing front feet shaped like clawed shovels.

mole front foot

mole’s front foot

The claws seem to have serrated edges, I would guess as an aid to grooming the fur the keep it clean. Living underground they have little need for eyesight and instead use their sense of smell and sensitive whiskers to find food.

mole nose

mole’s nose

The end of the nose looks very like that of a pig, as both find food by shovelling their nose along through the soil I imagine we have to assume that this design is the optimal one for this purpose. Moles are fierce predators, although their prey is mostly worms and insects and they are very effective hunters with voracious appetites and extremely sharp teeth. If ever find a live one and pick it up do so with great care as they will bite and can easily break the skin.

This time of year often sees dead moles above ground, especially if the weather is dry, I suspect lack of food forces them to move around more. Competition with other moles, which can be very vigorous and aggressive, probably leaves some without a set of tunnels and lack of food result in death.

Moth trapping both at home and at Blashford produced no surprises this morning, although at home I did have a fine male fox moth, the large antennae are used to smell for the female pheromones on the air and so find them for mating.

fox moth (male)

fox moth (male)

I was mostly catching up on paperwork int he office today so it was good to get out into the garden for a bit when I got home.

What’s in My Meadow Today?

One of the species that I have managed to establish in the meadow is corky-fruited water dropwort, it is an umbellifer and like most of this family of plants very popular with insects. It is typical of grasslands along the south coast and was very common at Farlington Marshes when I worked there and I’m sure still is.

corky-fruited water dropwort

corky-fruited water dropwort

Whilst looking at the dropwort I saw a blue-tailed damselfly resting in the grass, I don’t see them so much in the daytime, so I think they come to the long grass to roost in the evening as there are often several in the meadow at this time.

blue-tailed damselfly (male)

blue-tailed damselfly (male)

Blue-tailed damselflies are one of the most widespread species and can withstand low levels of pollution and some salinity, so can occur where other species cannot survive. There is a very similar but much rarer species, the scarce blue-tailed damselfly, which I have not seen for a few years. It looks almost identical but the blue segment of the abdomen is one segment further towards the tip. It is most often found in acid areas such as the New Forest, but even here is uncommon, I might have to go and see if I can find some this summer.

May bug and an ex-miner

Jim put the light trap out last night, it was its first use for quite a few weeks as we had been having problems with an avian predator. Unfortunately this still seems to be an issue and there were a few unattached wings in the trap, but also a reasonable selection of moths that had managed to avoid being eaten.

One of the first insects seen was this magnificent beetle,  May bug or cockchafer, which I believe can be a bit of an agricultural pest.

May bug or cockchafer

May bug or cockchafer

I have in the past seen up to twenty of theses beasts in the trap. They have been known, historically, to emerge in their thousands, so much so that they have even be considered as a dietary supplement – I quote from Wikipedia:-

“In some areas and times, cockchafers were even served as food.  A 19th century recipe from France for cockchafer soup reads: “roast one pound of cockchafers without wings and legs in sizzling butter, then cook them in a chicken soup, add some veal liver and serve with chives on a toast.” ….delicious!!!

Possibly slightly less nutritious, but more welcome, were some of the other inhabitants of the trap.

Poplar hawkmoth

Poplar Hawkmoth

 

 

Pebble Hook-tip

Pebble Hook-tip

 

Cinnabar

Cinnabar

The depletion of the trap, in terms of numbers of moths might well have been due to the attention of a robin which watched me closely whilst I was checking the moths. A bit later this same robin spent a few minutes flaked out on the decking by the pond, apparently sunbathing,  in an activity which is, I believe, called ‘anting’.

Robin 'anting'

Robin ‘anting’

I think the theory is that they are allowing ants to crawl through their feathers and remove parasites. As there weren’t any obvious ants in the vicinity perhaps the sunbathing has some other beneficial effect – does anyone out there  know???

Saddest encounter today was this dead mole not far from the Tern Hide and quite some way from obvious ‘mole territory’. This is the second dead mole I’ve seen on the reserve in the space of a fortnight and am wondering if this is just coincidence or is some disease affecting them?

Ex-mole

Ex-mole