Travel Notes

As we travel widely during the summer looking for insects to photograph, Roger and I have decided to put a record of our more interesting finds on this website. This will be fairly irregular until it warms up, but by June the difficulty will probably be the opposite in that we may not have much time to write anything, but we will try.

29th May 2009

As it was a sunny day we decided to take a trip down to central Dartmoor. After parking we followed the Western Dart River south from Dartmeet. We soon came across some grassland where we found three Marsh Fritillary. We searched for Devil's-bit Scabious which is the larval food plant, but did not find any.

As we walked along the river bank we saw Painted Lady butterflies, but these were not speeding past like those during the main migration a week before, but were gliding around and feeding from the Bluebells and other flowers on the slopes.

Further along the river we came across a seepage which was running from much further up the slope. On investigation we found Devil's-bit Scabious and a small colony of Marsh Fritillary. This time we recorded seven butterflies. We also recorded a Hornet and Glyphipterix haworthana a micro-moth that feeds as a larva on Cotton-grass.

After returning to the car we moved further north where we visited an area of acid marshland where there was another colony of Marsh Fritillary. This time we recorded about twenty. We had hoped to find Narrow-bordered Bee Hawkmoth which also feeds on Devil's-bit Scabious. After nearly an hour we decide to give up searching for it, as although we had found other interesting species such as Silver Hook (a macro-moth) and the hoverfly Sericomya lappona, it was late afternoon and we thought we should start preparing for our return home to Bristol.

Sericomya lappona is similar to Sericomya silentis, but is slightly smaller and has paler and narrower bands on the abdomen. It is often found in damp meadows alongside Sericomya silentis.

Sericomya lappona  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Sericomya lappona. Dartmoor

As we were leaving Roger investigated a large area of Bluebells and soon called me over as he had discovered a Narrow-bordered Bee Hawkmoth feeding. It quickly flew off behind some scrub with him in pursuit. 

Within the next few minutes another three Bee Hawks visited the Bluebells and each time they were caught in the breeze and disappeared over the hedge.

On the way back across the moor we swept some Bilberry in the hope of finding Micropterix aureatella. This small micro-moth has a wing length of only about 4mm. The forewings vary from dark chocolate brown to purple depending on how the light catches them. The moth is often listed as 'larval food plant unknown', but has often been associated with Bilberry. 

We made the first sweep of the Bilberry by the roadside. It was in the breeze and we were not surprised that the sweep net was empty. We then made a second sweep just off the road in the shelter of some conifers. This time we were lucky and the net contained a Micropterix aureatella. The moth must have been fairly abundant in that area, as another sweep caught two more. One of these was in very good condition and was photographed.

Micropterix aureatella  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Micropterix aureatella. Dartmoor.

29th May 2009

A decade ago the Hornet Vespa crabro appeared to be quite scarce, but over the last 10 years they seem to have increased and are now seen more frequently. During the last week we have recorded them at Tidenham Chase in Gloucestershire, Wyndcliff in the Wye Valley, Dartmeet on Dartmoor, and in the window of the dining room where I live in Bristol.

The larger size (30mm length for the one in the picture below) and the red thorax and forward parts of the abdomen make them easy to distinguish from the queens of other wasp species. In flight they can be confused with Britain's largest hoverfly Volucella zonaria which has a similar colour pattern. The larvae of the hoverfly live in wasp nests.

Hornet  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Hornet.  Bristol.

22nd May 2009

Arne RSPB Reserve, Dorset. Unfortunately a strong breeze meant that there were relatively few insects flying out on the open heath, but we did see Common Groundhopper, Field Grasshopper nymphs, a Small Copper, Common Heath and the micro-moth Pleurota bicostella which was fairly common in some areas.

Cydia succedana were so common that we eventually gave up checking moths of that size near the gorse (their foodplant). The only other species of interest was a longhorn beetle Rhagium mordax. This large wood-boring beetle has a wide distribution throughout Britain. It can be separated from the other two British Rhagium species by the black marking on the outer edge of each elytra.

Rhagium mordax  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Rhagium mordax. Arne, Dorset.

Amongst the birch scrub we saw Four-spotted Chaser, Large Red Damselfly and the birch-feeding micro-moth Lobesia reliquana. This small tortrix moth has a wing length of around 6mm and is not only found in birch woodland, but also in a number of other habitats. These include gardens where the larvae feed on a variety of shrubs.

Lobesia reliquana  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Lobesia reliquana.  Arne, Dorset.

There were also a number of hoverflies amongst the birch, including Helophilus pendulus and Sericomya silentis. The latter is a large black and yellow species which was particularly attracted to the flowers of Rhododendron at this site. We have more frequently seen it in damp meadows associated with the flowers of Devil's-bit Scabious. It is similar to the slightly smaller Sericomya lappona and the two species are often found together.

Sericomya silentis  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Sericomya silentis.  Arne, Dorset.

In the nearby fields of Arne Farm there was a herd of about forty Sika Deer. They were very easy to view as they seemed to have little fear of humans as compared to the Roe Deer that we are more used to seeing.

12th May 2009

We had attempted to light trap in some birch woodland at the edge of the moor the previous night, but this was unsuccessful as it was 0oC at 10pm when it started to get dark. As it was so late we decided to set up camp where we were. 

Another cold night. It was again -4oC in the morning and this time the tents were covered in frost. So while I took photographs Roger started packing up camp. He then went off to release the moths we had just photographed while I wiped down the tents as they dried out in the sun. Roger found the Redstart was still singing at the top of the same tree, so it was probably nesting there.

When Roger returned we watched a Stoat cross a rabbit warren in the adjacent field. It dived down several holes, but each time it reappeared in just a few seconds. A couple of rabbits came up and sat by there burrows, but the Stoat ignored them and crossed the field, finally disappearing into some scrub.

We then decided to have a look on Cairngorm for the Broad-bordered White Underwing. It was early in its flight period, but we would not be back again until it was over, so we thought it worth a try.

This rare moth is only found above 650 metres, which happens to be the height just above the base station of the Furnicular Railway. As there is a road up to this point this was an ideal place to start.

We walked vague tracks through the areas of  its foodplants Bearberry and Crowberry rather than the more obvious trails, but did not find the moth. In a few hours we were in sight of the Grouse Station, which is the upper station for the railway. We decide to carry on despite the fact that we were not seeing any moths. Just above the station we saw two Ptarmigan still partly in their white winter plumage. 

When we reached the summit we came across some birders who were watching a couple of Snow Buntings. We then walked across to the weather station where we saw a beautiful female Dotterel. Roger went back to tell the birders so that they could see it.

Birders watching a Snow Bunting

Birders watching a Snow Bunting on the summit of Cairngorm

The views from the top of Cairngorm are stunning and despite the wind we stayed for quite a while taking pictures.

Small Mountain loch near Cairngorm summit  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

View of a small mountain loch from the Cairngorm summit

We then went down to the Grouse Station where we had a coffee and a bun before walking back down the mountain. Walkers have to ring the doorbell to be let in to the station and sign out when they leave. Those who ride up on the railway are not allowed to walk out on to the mountain. This is to control the amount of visitors that would otherwise badly erode the habitat. 

We could have caught the cable car for the return, but we wanted to check out the habitat on another downward route. We were glad we did, as despite a single Beautiful Yellow Underwing being one of the very few moths that we saw, we did see a Ring Ouzel, and two Mountain Hares in partial winter coats on the way down.

Mountain Hare  Copyright Roger Edmondson@WGUK

Mountain Hare. Cairngorm, Highlands

11th May 2009

Camping in the Highlands is cold. In the morning we woke up to a temperature of -4oC. We did manage to turn this to advantage as we had some micro-moths that we had been unable to photograph the previous day due to the heat. At -4oC they stayed still for long enough to photograph them all in a very short time, but the camera was uncomfortably cold! They were all released on the moor a few hours later, when it had warmed up.

Our first wildlife of the day was a Red Squirrel which we saw on the camp site. These are common in this area and in some places are fairly tame due to the amount of tourists they see. The one in the picture below was photographed on a previous visit.

Red Squirrel  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Red Squirrel. Inshriach, Highlands.

Later we visited another area of moorland to the north of Aviemore. Here we found all of the moth species we had seen the day before, plus many others. Roger searched along the fence posts for Small Dark Yellow Underwing and found several Glaucous Shears, including a melanistic specimen. As on the moor the previous day, Incurvaria pectinea were abundant on almost every mature birch that we looked at. We also saw a couple of Emperor Moth, a Broom-tip, about twelve Beautiful Yellow Underwing and after a days searching; two Small Dark Yellow Underwing. Green Hairstreak were common and we also recorded a single Painted Lady.

At the edge of the moor was a small mixed woodland. On the edge of a clearing a male Redstart was singing. Further into the conifers Roger spotted a Crested Tit. We looked for more but only saw the one.

Glaucous Shears Papestra biren was a species that was new to us. This is a moorland species that is rare in the south-west of England where we live. It does have a wide distribution, and can be locally common in Wales, the Midlands, northern England, Scotland and Ireland. In the day it is most usually found resting on fence posts and rocks, although it can be caught using a light trap.

The larvae feed on a variety of moorland plants including Heather, Bilberry, Bog Myrtle and Sallow.

Glaucous Shears  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Glaucous Shears. Speyside.

Another species that was new to us was the Broom-tip Chesias rufata. Again this is a very rare species where Roger and I live as its larvae feed on Broom which grows in acid areas, not the neutral to calcareous soils of most of the Bristol area. This moth is found in southern England, but mainly in the central south and south-east, although there are scattered sites further west, and in Wales and northern England. It may be more common on the moorland in Scotland. The adults can be found from April until July.

Broom-tip  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Broom-tip. Speyside

10th May 2009

After setting out too early in the morning, Roger and I arrived at Newtonmoore in the Highlands at about 3.00pm. We had seen that the weather forecast was sunny for about four days, so after the previous year of cancelling our Scottish trips due to rain, we had decided to go whenever we got the opportunity.

Within the first 200 metres of walking across the moor we had already seen about the same amount of insects, including Common Heath, Netted Mountain Moth, a single Glaucous Shears and a variety of micro-moths. One of the most striking micro's that we found was Olethreutes mygindiana. This species is common on both of the moors that we visited during this trip. Its larvae feed on Bearberry and Cowberry. 

Olethreutes mygindiana normally flies from mid May to early June. It is found on moors and heaths in hill and mountain districts in northern England, north Wales and Scotland. It is also found in parts of Ireland including the Burren. It is easily disturbed if you walk through the heather, and the males fly in the late afternoon on warm sunny days.

Despite visiting Speyside at the same time in 2008. This was a new moth to us southerners. The season in 2009 seems to be nearly a fortnight ahead of last year. Most of the Olethreutes mygindiana that we found were already quite worn, with the red remaining only at the distal edge of the wings and along the costa. This is a common problem with moorland species, after flying amongst the heather for a few days they lose a lot of their scales.

Olethreutes mygindiana  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Olethreutes mygindiana Speyside

3rd May 2009

My partner Carolyn and I took a trip over the Severn Bridge to visit the Forest of Dean. The east end of the forest near Blakeney has literally miles of Bluebell woods. The Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta is a Biodiversity Action Plan species, not because of its rarity, but because up to 50% of the worlds Bluebells are in Britain. Under the Wildlife and Countryside 1981 it is illegal to intentionally uproot a wild plant or offer them for sale.

Bluebells near Blakeney  Copyright Carolyn Lamb@WGUK

Bluebell Wood. Near Blakeney, Forest of Dean

29th April 2009

Roger and I visited a woodland to the south-east of Cirencester in Gloucestershire which turned out to be botanically diverse with species such as Lily of the Valley, Angular Solomon's-seal and Toothwort, as well as the more common Primroses, Cowslips and Bluebells.

Another less common species that we found was the Roman Snail Helix pomatia. This species is the same as the one eaten as Escargot in France, hence its other names of Edible Snail and Burgundy Snail. It is known as the Roman Snail in Britain as it is thought to have been introduced by the Romans when they brought it here as food. This theory is supported by a lack of specimens in the fossil record previous to the Roman occupation.

The species is large as you can see from its size compared with the 5p coin in the picture below. It lives in areas of chalk soil across the south of England. It prefers sites such as woodland where the ground is soft enough for it to bury itself while hibernating. At this time it seals the opening of its shell with a calcareous layer called an epiphragm.

In England (not the rest of the UK) it is a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, making it illegal to kill, injure, collect or sell Roman Snails.

Roman Snail Helix pomatia  Copyright Roger Edmondson@WGUK

Roman Snail. Gloucestershire.

20th April 2009

While travelling down to Shapwick Heath in Somerset, Roger and I saw a a dark furry body on the road at Shipham in the Mendips. After walking back to have a look at it, we found it was a male Polecat Mustela putorius.

It is always difficult to be sure that the animal you have found is not a polecat-coloured Ferret, and that is the case with the specimen at Shipham as it was too badly decayed (it stunk) to take it and have it confirmed. The main difference between the two is apparently the proportions of the skull, but there are also other clues; polecats are darker with dark legs, while Ferrets are paler and sometimes have a pale leg or foot.

Polecats are of conservation concern as they were persecuted by land owners until they became rare and by the early twentieth century were restricted to central Wales. They were at that time thought of as a pest that fed on domestic species such as chickens. If they got in with poultry they could easily kill them, but studies have shown that 87% of their diet is rabbits and the rest is mainly small mammals.

The Polecat has now increased its range right across the Midlands and south at least as far as Somerset. Roger found a road kill in North Somerset a couple of years ago that was confirmed as a Polecat by the Vincent Wildlife Trust.

Polecat - male  Copyright Roger Edmondson@WGUK

Polecat - male. Shipham, Somerset.

16th April 2009

On Monday morning (13th April) I found a Scarlet Tiger Callimorpha dominula larva, low down on the rear wall of the house. I have had the adults come to light on a couple of occasions, but never realised that they were breeding in the garden. I took it in the house for a photograph and put a Meadowsweet and a Bramble leaf in the container. The caterpillar was very lethargic and did not eat, so I thought it was either parasitized or near a skin change. It turned out to be the latter and it has been feeding on the Bramble (but not the Meadowsweet) since yesterday.

This species was rare in the Bristol region, but has become increasingly more common over the last twenty years. The larvae commonly feed on Comfrey as well as a variety of other herbs. I have found them at night in the Avon Gorge, feeding on young Wych Elm.

The adults fly in June and July. Although they will come to light, the brightly coloured moths also fly during the day in sunshine.


Scarlet Tiger - final instar larva.  Copyright Martin Evans

Scarlet Tiger - final instar larva. Stoke Bishop, Bristol.

6th April 2009

While visiting a wood at Bishop's Knoll in Bristol, Roger found a Land Hopper Arcitalitrus sp. in detritus on the top of an old wall. 

There are two species of these crustaceans known to be at large in Britain, Arcitalitrus sylvaticus (Haswell, 1879) and Arcitalitrus dorrieni (Hunt, 1925). Which one this is, is unknown, as searching for information in British books on these alien species drew a blank. They originate from Australia where they are also known as Lawn Hoppers.

They look a lot like the marine Sand Hoppers that you may find hiding under sea weed on the beach, but they are terrestrial. Most of the references to them on the internet appears to be on gardening forums, where people are asking what they are, and whether they will damage their plants.

They feed on dead leaves and other detritus and are found mainly in the south of Britain, especially in South-west England and South Wales. Arcitalitrus dorrieni is also widespread in Ireland.

The females lay up to about 60 or 70 eggs. Juveniles appear throughout the summer, but especially in August and September.


Land Hopper Arcitalitrus sp.  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Land Hopper Arcitalitrus sp. Bishop's Knoll, Bristol.

3rd April 2009

As the weather was forecasted as clear blue skies with a slight breeze, Roger and I decided to travel up to Conwy Bay in North Wales to try and photograph the Belted Beauty Lycia zonaria. There are two subspecies of this moth in Britain, the rare (Nationally Notable A) atlantica which is found in the west of Scotland, and the even rarer (RDB3) britannica which is now known from only three sites in England and one in North Wales.

Unfortunately, although mild (16oC at the site), there was a thin layer of cloud above us, so that when we saw the sun, it was hazy.

The site is not very inspiring. It consists of an eroded coastal path that has been badly polluted by dog walkers, who seem to think that they only have to clean up after their pets when they are on a pavement or in the local park. 

The moths are probably breeding in the private land adjacent to the path, which consists of low grassland with a variety of clovers, Bird's-foot Trefoil (thought to be the main food plant at this site), Ribwort Plantain and other species.

By 4.00pm, after nearly two hours of searching along the fence we had more or less given up any hope of finding the moth. We discussed whether we would return to the site in a week or so, or search elsewhere for it.

It was then that the sun came out for a short spell and we found our first specimen, and then another, and finally a third, giving us a total of two females and one male.


Belted Beauty - male. Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Belted Beauty - male. Conwy Bay, North Wales


Belted Beauty - female. Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Belted Beauty - female. Conwy Bay, North Wales

21st March 2009

Roger has run a moth trap in his central Bristol garden a couple of times in the last week, but so far has only had two species - Early Grey and Hebrew Character.

Perhaps more interesting is the micro-moth he found in his kitchen this morning, which was the tineid Psychoides filicivora. This species has a wing length of around 5mm. The larva feeds on the sporangia on the underside of the leaves of various ferns. It hides under a spinning of the sporangia. The moth was first discovered in Britain in 1909 and is thought to have been imported with ferns. They are continuously brooded throughout the warmer months of the year and fly around the food plant during the day.

Psychoides filicivora  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Psychoides filicivora Bristol

19th March 2009

After several days of clear skies and warm sunny weather (but cold nights) we decided that it was time to get out and see what insects were about. In the early afternoon we visited Shapwick Heath on the Somerset Levels. We saw many queen Buff-tailed Bumblebees Bombus terrestris and an occasional Bombus lappidarius and quite a few specimens of the hoverfly Eristalis pertinax.

None of the birch at Shapwick was in leaf, but we did see several Orange Underwings Archiearis parthenias. The first were flying around the tops of the birches (which is their foodplant) about ten to fifteen metres above the ground, only occasionally flying lower and landing in the tops of birch saplings about four and a half metres high. Later one was seen flying amongst the birch at another Shapwick site. This one was only about three metres above the ground. We have found in the past that they fly lower and even land on the ground during the later part of the afternoon.

Orange Underwing  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Orange Underwing Shapwick Heath, Somerset

25th February 2009

After a cold spell in early February we were finally getting some spring weather, so we decided to look for Tortricodes alternella. This is a common oak feeding species that is under recorded because it flies so early in the year. It is a small moth with a wing length of about 10mm.

We trapped (using a portable 25W UV light) in Sneyd Park, Bristol. The temperature was 8oC which was warm enough to prompt a small bat to be out hunting, probably one of the Pipistrelle species. There was also a Tawny Owl calling from the surrounding woodland.

We ran the light from only 6pm (dusk) until 7.30pm, and luckily, although we only caught two moths and a few mosquitoes, the moths were Tortricodes alternella. These tortrix moths, (also known as the Winter Shade by those who like English names for their micros), came in at about 6.45pm.

Tortricodes alternella  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Tortricodes alternella Sneyd Park, Bristol. 




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