Visiting Royalty

Like all responsible people, unless key workers of course, I have mostly been at home, looking for wildlife in the garden and keeping lists of all the birds that visit or fly over. I even saw my first hedgehog in the garden last night. I have found the odd dropping before so knew they visited occasionally, but last night I was out with the bat detector and there was one snuffling around the mini-meadow.

Last year I caught a female emperor moth in the trap and collected some of the eggs she laid, I reared the caterpillars and now the moths are emerging. The first one out was a female. In this species the females emerge and then wait until they attract a male to mate with, the males fly in sunshine and can come in from hundreds of metres away drawn in by the female’s pheromones. So I decided to put the freshly emerged female in the garden and see who came to call. The answer on the first afternoon was nobody, but yesterday that changed, the male flew in fluttered around to locate exactly where she was and then mated.

emperor moth pair 4x3

Emperor moth pair, the brighter male in front

The males do not generally fly at night and rest up to wait for the sunshine. The females after emerging and mating wait until dark and then fly off to lay their eggs, although they usually lay a few at the mating site first. This is presumably a good way to ensure dispersal and maximise the chance of a new generation surviving.

So far my lockdown bird list for the garden stands at 46 species, not bad and I have several usually regular species that have gone unaccountably absent, so I feel 50 is well in reach. Highlight so far has been a roding woodcock over the garden and two red kite which flew low overhead the other day. The  last not a rare site for many these days, but still quite unusual in my part of the county.

Today I am going to take part in the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) survey of garden plants, they are seeking all records of native or naturalised species found in gardens, including ones you have established yourself (so long as you tell them you did so). You can find details on their website, it should show how important gardens are fro wild plants and so, by extension insects and much more.

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.