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. New entries are not always entered in date order so please check for changes by clicking on 'What's new' on the home page.

19th May 2011

East Kent coast. A walk along the coast produced a very early Fiery Clearwing basking on a dock leaf,  Alabonia geofrella which has a dawn and morning flight period, and a small tortricid moth Cydia microgrammana. The latter moth was new to us. Although not brightly coloured we were fascinated by its unusual wing pattern of wavy lines. The larvae of this moth feed in the flower and seed heads of Restharrow which is abundant in many places along the Kent coast. The adults flight time is from the end of May until July.

The moth is a coastal species found mainly in southern England from Devon round to Norfolk, with other local sites in Northumberland and north-east Wales. The moth we found had a forewing length of 6mm.

Cydia microgrammana   Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Cydia microgrammana.  East Kent coast.

18th May 2011

Ancient woodland, East Sussex. This was a moth trapping session during which we attracted seventy species of moth with a 125W mercury vapour and a 26W high UV compact fluorescent bulb.

There were many attractive species at the light, but arguably the most attractive was a Scarce Merveille du Jour Moma alpium. Like many others this year this moth was flying a couple of weeks earlier than is normal. At first glance it appears similar to the Merveille du Jour, but that species flies in September and October rather than early June until mid-July which is the normal flight time of the Scarce Merveille du Jour.

The moth has a national status of RDB (Red Data Book) as it is found in less than 15 10km squares in Britain. The distribution is within southern England from Kent to east Cornwall (with some large gaps in the west). There are some outlying sites in southern Wiltshire and north Devon.

The larvae feed on oak and are usually (but not always) found in mature woodland. The specimen in the picture had a forewing length of 17mm

Scarce Mervielle du Jour  Moma alpium    Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Scarce Mervielle du Jour  Moma alpium. East Sussex.

Another interesting species that we recorded was Rosy Marbled Elaphria venustula. This is a small moth and at first glance could be mistaken for one of the Epinotia species (micro-moths in the Tortricidae) which are of a similar size and have a blotch across the dorsal. The moth has a national status of Nb (found in 31 to 100 km squares in Britain) and is widespread in the south-east of England from Suffolk to Kent across to the New Forest in Hampshire.

The larvae feed on a variety of low-growing plants in captivity, but Tormentil and Creeping Cinquefoil are thought to be the natural foodplants, which would account for its habitat preferences of open woodland, heathland and occasionally road verges. The specimen in the picture had a forewing length of 9mm.

Rosy Marbled Elaphria venustula    Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Rosy Marbled Elaphria venustula. East Sussex.

16th May 2011

This trip was to the west Midlands so that in the evening we could do some woodland moth trapping. The weather was overcast, with occasional light rain showers, which is ideal for moth trapping as long as the rain stays light. It was a good evening, with well over sixty species arriving before we packed up at 12.50am.

The very first moth that arrived was a Beautiful Snout which was in excellent condition. Other moths came in fast and within half an hour we had about two dozen species.

The moths were mainly common woodland species, but included Ancylis obtusana, Pammene germmana, Little Emerald, Square-spot, Seraphim, Barred Umber,  Devon Carpet,  Northern Spinach,  Grey Birch, Orange Footman, Satin Lutestring, Green Silver-lines and two Common Fan-foot.

We were excited by the first moth being a Beautiful Snout Hypena crassalis, as although  widespread as far north as Yorkshire with a national status of Local, and also found in a handful of counties in Ireland, this is a scarce moth in our home area around Bristol.

The larvae feed on Bilberry and possibly heaths, heathers and other species. The moth normally flies from late May until early-August, but like many other moths in this unusual year, it was a bit early. The specimen we caught had a forewing length of 15mm.

Beautiful Snout Hypena crassalis  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Beautiful Snout Hypena crassalis. West Midlands.

Another species we were pleased to see was the Common Fan-foot Pechipogo strigilata. This moth is not common despite its name and is actually declining in numbers. It has a national status of Na (found in less than thirty 10km squares in Britain).

The adult moth flies from late May until early July (rarely late July). Although the larvae have been reported as feeding on a variety of deciduous trees and even Dandelion. They are now thought to prefer the brown, withered leaves of oaks that are still on the tree. The specimens that came to our light trap had a forewing length of approximately 14mm.

Common Fan-foot Pechipogo strigilata    Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Common Fan-foot Pechipogo strigilata. West Midlands.

9th May 2011

Searching for moths in the Scottish Highlands is always exciting, as the moths and their habitats are so different than those in the Bristol area where Roger and I live. We find these visits are the most difficult to arrange as it takes such a long time to get there and the weather is so changeable.

We usually stay for three or four days and as we are camping in tents, we prefer a few days of dry weather. When we first used to go, we would wait for the weather forecast to predict three days in a row of good weather and then we would set off.

Unfortunately this rarely happens as the mountains cause local changes to the weather, so it is often wet, cold or cloudy when the rest of Scotland is enjoying sunny dry weather. Last year we decided to just 'go for it' as long as no particularly bad weather was forecasted. This worked well and we managed to get most of the moths we wanted between the showers.

On this trip things did not work out so well. Showers were predicted, but what we got for the first of the three days we were there was almost continuous rain with only occasional spells of sunshine lasting about five minutes at a time. As we wanted to be on the mountain tops looking for moths that fly in the sunshine, this was not only impractical, but also unsafe as visibility was very poor during the rain.

On the way up to Speyside we stopped off near Struan where we found (well actually Roger found) three Light Knotgrass Acronicta menyanthids resting on fence posts.  This is mainly a northern moorland species although it is also found very locally in South Wales, Norfolk and Ireland. The larvae feed on low growing woody species such as Bog Myrtle, Heather and sallows. The moths we found varied greatly in size with a forewing length of between 16 and 19mm. They are normally on the wing from later in May until mid-July.

Light Knotgrass Acronicta menyanthids   Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Light Knotgrass Acronicta menyanthids. Struan, Perthshire.

Our next stop was in southern Speyside near Dalwhinnie, but we hardly managed to leave the car because of the rain. We then went north to Grantown on Spey where it was only a little better, so we decided to move to the east Highlands where the weather was supposed to be drier.

We went through Tomintoul and across to the Lecht which has one of the highest roads in Scotland. This meant that we would already be at a good height when we set off across the moorland. Unfortunately there was a strong, cold breeze, and all we found were a few poorly marked Satyr Pugs and some Neofaculta ericitella (a common moorland gelechid moth).

The visit was certainly not a waste of time, because while looking high up across the glen we saw a flock off Common Gulls mobbing a large raptor, which we soon realised was a Golden Eagle. Unlike the Common Buzzards that we normally see being mobbed, the eagle dwarfed the gulls and seemed to be almost oblivious to them. It did not appear to deviate from its flight path at all. We watched it until it disappeared over the horizon with the gulls still in attendance.

After about half an hour of wandering around and not finding anything interesting, we set off back to the car. On the way back we again saw the gulls mobbing a raptor, this time well below us. When we looked through the binoculars we saw that it was a Merlin that they were tormenting. This time the bird sped off with the lead gull in hot pursuit, but it soon left it behind.

We camped in Glenshee overnight. As it got dark we noticed that there were a couple of small herds of Red Deer on the lower slopes of the hills, as well as numerous Red Grouse and Wheatear.

At about three in the morning a strong wind blew up and the tents were constantly buffeted. We were so tired that we managed to get some sleep, despite being regularly woken by the stronger gusts. At least it had stopped raining.

At about 6.30am I had to get up, because the roof of my tent was being buffeted so hard by the wind that it kept tapping me on the head. I wanted to get the tent down as I was worried that it was going to break the tent frame. Roger's tent seemed OK until he unzipped the door, then the same thing happened to his.

The weather that day was similar to the day before. We could not get on the mountain tops due to the rain and despite searches on the lower moors we only found more Satyr Pug and a single Carpatolechia proxima. At the Linn of Dee we spotted another raptor flying along the skyline. This time it was an Osprey. It was obviouslly on a mission, as it  flew directly east and disappeared.

The following night we again camped in Glenshee. By this time the wind had dropped, but it rained in the morning just before we got up, so we had wet tents to sort out before we set off for the day.

I rang my partner Carolyn in Bristol and she gave me the latest Highland weather forecast, which was a few sunny spells in the morning and then cloud and rain for the twenty-four hours after that. By this time we were fed up. Roger suggested that we should go home in the afternoon. Usually one of us manages to keep the others spirits up at times like this, but despite saying that today was the day we would find the moths we wanted to photograph, I was tired of the cold, rain and cloud.

After some breakfast at the Cairnwell Ski Centre we decided to climb a nearby mountain and just sit at the top until the rain stopped and we saw some sunshine. At the ridge near the mountain top the wind was strong and unfortunately just as we reached it we were greeted by a hail storm. In the wind it was painful. At first we crouched behind the posts holding up the snow fence, but that did not help much, so we had to go lower down the other side of the ridge to get out of the wind.

After the hail we found a sheltered slope and while enjoying a brief period of sunshine (none lasted more than about a minute and a half) Roger saw a Broad-bordered White Underwing. This was one of the species we wanted to photograph for our next book, so I did.

In the next sunny spell Roger saw another. This moth flies as soon as the sun comes out and drops into the low Heather and Crowberry when the cloud returns. It flies only a few inches above the ground so that it doesn't get blown away. The larvae feed on Crowberry and other mountain top plants. Rogers secret of success was probably that he was standing in an area of Mountain Azalea that was in full flower and attracting the moth.

We had several other rewards at the top of the mountain as we had close views of Ptarmigan. One was so close that I managed to get the photograph below with my compact camera while it fed next to one of the snow fences. We also saw several Mountain Hare, a couple of Mountain Bumblebee and another Golden Eagle. This time the bird was high above us.

Less than a quarter of an hour later the cloud came in and the showers started again, so we made our way down the slopes. On the way down we found a Globe Flower. It was growing in a wet flush amongst countless Marsh Marigold that were also in flower. We were now feeling pleased with ourselves. Sometimes you just have to 'go for it'.

Ptarmigan - male   Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Ptarmigan - male. Glenshee, Aberdeenshire.

5th May 2011

While on another trip to the New Forest (this time in the Burley area), Roger and I came across a longhorn beetle that we did not recognise. After some research on the internet we realised that this was not a new species to us, but one of the many colour forms of Rhagium bifasciatum. This is a fairly common species on moorland where its larvae live for two to three years in the wood of decaying pine trees and other conifers.

Rhagium bifasciatum - colour form  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Rhagium bifasciatum - form. New Forest.

The adults can be found from April until July. The one we found had a body length of 15mm. The normal form can be seen in the picture below. That one was photographed while it was running across a path near Burg on the Isle of Mull a couple of years ago.

Rhagium bifasciatum - normal form  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Rhagium bifasciatum - normal form. Mull.

27th April 2011

This  trip was to the New Forest to photograph Ringed Carpet. After much searching of tree trunks in open areas of suitable habitat, we did find them at two different sites, but with the recent warm weather it looked as if they had been flying for several weeks and were in poor condition.

On four different trees, at separate sites, we found larval cases of Pachythelia villosella, the largest of the 'bagworms'. At the base of one tree we found more than twenty, which were around 40mm in length and probably females in the pupal stage. They do not usually pupate until May, but again the warm weather has pushed their lifecycle forward.

This species is one of the rarest (RDB2) of this group. It feeds on Heather and is found only on the heaths of Dorset and Hampshire. The females are wingless and almost legless, spending their lifecycle within the case. The shortlived males have full wings which are around 10 or 11mm in length. They fly in June and July.

Pachythelia villosella larval case Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Pachythelia villosella larval case  - New Forest

21st April 2011

While visting the Avon Gorge to the south-west of Bristol, Roger and I searched some Hedge Garlic for the eggs of the Orange-tip butterfly. These are usually fairly easy to find, as they are bright orange and stand out against the green flower stems where they are laid.

While searching, Roger came across a bug about 7mm in length which we recognised as a Brassica Bug Eurydema oleracea. This shieldbug feeds on a variety of cruciferous plants (cabbage family). The species overwinters as an adult and although local is widespread across southern and central England. It appears to be increasing in numbers.

There are several forms. The one that we found is one of the least colourful. The markings can be more widespread and red in colour. The black areas may have a green to violet sheen.

Eurydema oleracea   Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Brassica Bug Eurydema oleracea - Avon Gorge

1st April 2011

During the afternoon, Roger and I visited a deciduous wood near Winchester in Hampshire. We searched tree trunks for moths, but found only Brindled Pug and the males of Diurnea fagella.

We moth trapped during the evening and caught about three dozen moths of fourteen species. Again there was nothing particularly unusual, although it is always nice to see attractive species such as Frosted Green and Scorched Carpet.

Roger searched a few trees near the light trap and found an Oncomera femorata. This slim beetle has long antennae and is often mistaken for a longhorn beetle, but is actually in the family Oedemeridae.

An interesting find was Platystomos albinus, which was found as it poked its white head out from under some bark during the afternoon. This beetle is in the family Anthribidae. The larvae develop in the fungus infected, rotten wood of Beech, Alder and birches.

The species is similar to the larger Platyrhinus resinosus, which is sometimes known as the Cramp Ball Weevil. Cramp Balls or King Alfred's Cakes Daldinia concentrica are fungi that grow on rotting wood. The larvae develop inside of this fungus. There is a picture below for comparison. It was taken a few years ago on the Somerset Levels.

Platystomos albinus   Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Platystomos albinus - Winchester, Hampshire.

Platyrhinus resinosus   Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Platyrhinus resinosus - Shapwick Heath, Somerset.

Although these beetles look similar at first glance, they are quite different. The main differences are listed in the table below.

  Platystomos albinus Platyrhinus resinosus
Length 6 to 12mm. 8 to 15mm.
Face Off white. Pale brown.
Elytra (wing cases) Dark brown with 3 black spots and a white blotch. Rear of elytra off white. Blue-grey with wavy brown bands.                          Rear of elytra pale brown.
Antennae Long with broad white band. Reaching half way along the elytra in the male. Short and dark, only slightly longer in the male.
Eyes Black. Marbled reddish-brown.

22nd March 2011

Roger and I have still not started our longer trips for this year, but we did visit Shapwick Heath in Somerset along with Andy Pym. We went down to see if any Eriocrania spp. had started flying (they had not), but found several other interesting species instead. The first moth we saw was an Orange Underwing flying high over the birch trees. Within a few minutes we had seen a couple more, and by the end of the afternoon at least a dozen.

While looking up at them, we noticed flocks of Sand Martins flying over, and amongst them was a single Swallow.

Roger, who always manages to notice things on the ground that I fail to see, spotted a Slender Groundhopper on the mud of the track and soon after a small moth that I took some time to spot even when it was pointed out to me. The moth was Calybites phasianipennella.

We had found that species in the same area last year. I had hoped it was the dark and white spotted form that I had never photographed before. Unfortunately it was the same colour as the one we had found previously. The larva of this moth feeds on wetland plants such as Yellow Loosestrife, but also on more common species including docks. It emerges in late summer and over winters. As it has a wing length of only 3.5 to 4mm, I think I can be excused for missing it amongst the grass.

Calybites phasianipennella  Copyright MartinEvans@WGUK

Calybites phasianipennella - Shapwick Heath, Somerset.

The next insect was spotted on a gate post by Andy. It was the predatory shieldbug Troilus luridus. This species can be recognised by the  yellow band on the last but one segment of the antennae and the rounded lobes of the pronotum. It is 10 to 12mm long and is mainly a woodland species that preys on the larvae of moths and beetles.

Troilus luridus    Copyright MartinEvans@WGUK

Troilus luridus - Shapwick Heath, Somerset.

26th February 2011

Although Roger Edmondson and I have not started on our travels for this year. I can report seeing the first signs of spring in my Bristol garden. For the last two weeks there have been dozens of Honey Bees Apis mellifera and several Buff-tailed Bumblebees Bombus terrestris visiting the Lonicera fragrantissima that is growing in our front garden.

Early last week while cleaning some floating blanket weed from my garden pond, I found three male Smooth Newts Triturus vulgaris amongst the surface weeds. This was probably the earliest I have found them in the pond.

Yesterday while having a quick glance in the pond to see if the algae was back, I found several clumps of frog spawn and several Common Frogs Rana temporaria with the males riding 'piggy back' on the females. This was not unexpected as Common Frogs are usually the first of the amphibians to start breeding and as the weather is mild at the moment, conditions were just right.

Common Frogs with spawn  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Common Frogs with spawn -  Bristol

This morning while the sun was shining, the water in one corner of the pond looked like it was boiling, with large numbers of frogs fighting for a mate and the best place to spawn.





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