North Norfolk New Year

rs Sciencebase and myself often run away to the north Norfolk coast, originally it was just the quickest route to the beach for us, but then we started looking out for aves and this part of the country is so rich in birdlife you can’t help but visit again and again. On our short trip to Morston Quay between Xmas and New Year, we “ticked” more than 60 bird species, not counting the dozen or so extras on Blakeney Duck Pond. Here are a few scenic shots and some of the birds.

Morston Quay
On the way to Blakeney
Morston Quay
Morston Quay at dawn
Morston Quay
Wells-next-the-Sea
Morston Quay
Morston Quay at dusk
Morston Quay
Male Pintail, Blakeney Duck Pond
Female Goldeneye, Blakeney Duck Pond
Barnacle Goose, Blakeney Duck Pond
Cormorants, Blakeney
Male Goldeneye, Blakeney Duck Pond
One of 100 or so Curlew we saw, this one in Blakeney
Male Goldeneye, Blakeney Duck Pond
Grey Seal, Wells-next-the-Sea
70+ Snow Buntings, Holkham Gap (not all of them pictured!)
One of four Shore Larks at Holkham Gap, first time we’ve seen this species
1000s of Pink-footed Geese over Morston Quay (not all of them pictured!)

1. Bar-tailed Godwit
2. Barn Owl
3. Black-headed Gull
4. Black-tailed Godwit
5. Blackbird
6. Black Brant Goose
7. Blue Tit
8. Brent Goose
9. Buzzard
10. Canada Goose
11. Cetti’s Warbler (call)
12. Collared Dove
13. Common Gull
14. Coot
15. Cormorant
16. Curlew
17. Dunlin
18. Dunnock
19. Goldcrest (call)
20. Great Black-backed Gull
21. Great Tit
22. Greylag Goose
23. Herring Gull
24. House Sparrow
25. Jackdaw
26. Kestrel
27. Knot
28. Lapwing
29. Linnet
30. Little Egret
31. Little Grebe
32. Long-tailed Tit
33. Magpie
34. Mallard
35. Marsh Harrier
36. Meadow Pipit
37. Mute Swan
38. Oystercatcher
39. Pheasant
40. Pied Wagtail
41. Pink-footed Goose
42. Red Kite
43. Red-throated Diver
44. Redshank
45. Reed Bunting (call)
46. Robin
47. Sanderling
48. Shelduck
49. Shorelark
50. Shoveler
51. Skylark
52. Snow Bunting
53. Sparrowhawk
54. Starling
55. Teal
56. Tufted Duck
57. Water Pipit
58. Whooper Swan
59. Wigeon
60. Wood Pigeon
61. Wren

Sunny Suffolk – Lackford Lakes

Paid just our second visit of the year to Lackford Lakes Nature Reserve in the hope of seeing the Siskins that had been reported there this week. We stopped off at the ringing hut where two of the Suffolk Wildlife Trust team had netted various birds (Treecreeper, Blue, Great and Marsh Tits, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Robin, and others) and were carefully recording the recatches and ringing any new catches for their conservation efforts.

So, what did we see on the day? 46 species not in order of sighting but loosely grouped:

  1. Siskin
  2. Goldfinch
  3. Redpoll
  4. Great Tit
  5. Blue Tit
  6. Long-tailed Tit
  7. Coal Tit
  8. Marsh Tit
  9. Dunnock
  10. Chaffinch
  11. Robin
  12. Nuthatch
  13. Wren
  14. Treecreeper
  15. Blackbird
  16. Song Thrush
  17. Starling
  18. Lapwing
  19. Green Woodpecker
  20. Sparrowhawk
  21. Common Buzzard
  22. Kestrel
  23. Cormorant
  24. Goldeneye
  25. Mallard
  26. Tufted Duck
  27. Gadwall
  28. Wigeon
  29. Pochard
  30. Shelduck
  31. Shoveller
  32. Little Grebe
  33. Moorhen
  34. Coot
  35. Greylag Goose
  36. Canada Goose
  37. Egyptian Goose
  38. Grey Heron
  39. Black-headed Gull
  40. Lesser Black-backed Gull
  41. Great Black-backed Gull
  42. Jay
  43. Rook
  44. Jackdaw
  45. Wood Pigeon
  46. Collared Dove
Treecreeper being ringed
Treecreeper being ringed
Treecreeper
Treecreeper
Robin
Robin
Blue Tit
Blue Tit
Marsh Tit
Marsh Tit
Male Siskin (left) and what looks like two Redpolls)
Male Siskin (left) and what looks like two Redpolls). There were a couple of dozen Siskins around.

Check out the autumnal moth named after a stargazer and a mythical beast

The Sprawler moth seems to spread its forelegs wide when it’s at rest on a chunk of wood. Its delicate patterning gives it something of a resemblance of a bark surface, perhaps. But, it is its scientific name that is a little curious and needs further explanation.

Sprawler Moth - Asteroscopus sphinx
The Sprawler, new to my Cambridgeshire garden 8th November 2021

Lepidopterists originally referred to The Sprawler as Cassinia after the Italian astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini who lived from 1625—1712. It was first cited by Hufnagel in 1766. But, why was it named after an astronomer? The answer lies in the behaviour of the moth’s larva, its caterpillar. When startled the little green beast rears up its spine-covered head as if gazing heavenwards. Why it does this is something of a mystery, but then much about insects remains mysterious. Perhaps the behaviour is enough to fool a predator into thinking the larva might bite back.

The Cassinia genus was dropped in recent times for the term Asteroscopus, which is a more generic term for a star gazer, one might say. The astero part from the Greek for star and scopus from the word for watching (see also telescope). So, the full scientific binomial for The Sprawler is Asteroscopus sphinx (Hufnagel, 1766).

2021 is the year I discovered 35 new species of moth in our back garden

UPDATE: The Sprawler turned up in early November, bringing the total up to 36 new for the garden in 2021. No December moth yet, at the time of writing, sadly.

These Lepidoptera were all new for my back garden in Cottenham drawn to a 40 Watt ultraviolet “actinic” lamp on the night noted. Any of dubious ID I had confirmed from a photo by Sean Foote better known on Twitter as @MothIDUK to whom I am very grateful for the assistance and have put a tip in his tip jar.

The 35 species new for the garden in 2021 are as follows

7/3/21 – The Satellite
20/4/21 – Agonopterix purpurea* (To Myo lure)
10/5/21 – Esperia sulphurella
31/5/21 – Mottled Pug
2/6/21 – Brown Silver-line
4/6/21 – Hypena rostralis
4/6/21 – Buttoned Snout
6/6/21 – Aethes tesserana
6/6/21 – Red-belted Clearwing*
12/6/21 – Currant Clearwing*
13/6/21 – Yellow-legged Clearwing*
13/6/21 – Argyresthia curvella
14/6/21 – Red-tipped Clearwing*
16/6/21 – Orange-tailed Clearwing
24/6/21 – Hedya salicella
25/6/21 – Mompha ochraceella
4/7/21 – Aleimma loeflingiana
4/7/21 – Cnephasia agg.
11/7/21 – Plain Pug
15/7/21 – Dark Umber
19/7/21 – Raspberry Clearwing*
24/7/21 – Leek Moth
24/7/21 – Scarce Silver-lines
2/8/21 – Dewick’s Plusia (I’d only seen this moth previously in Greece)
4/8/21 – Helcystogramma rufescens
9/8/21 – Toadflax Brocade (Had larva in the garden in 2019)
19/8/21 – Yellow Belle
21/8/21 – Tawny-barred Angle
22/8/21 – Common Wave
23/8/21 – Udea lutealis
24/8/21 – Square-spot Rustic
1/9/21 – Aethes smeathmanniana
5/9/21 – Swammerdamia pyrella
19/9/21 – Beet Moth
10/10/21 – Acleris schalleriana
9/11/21 – The Sprawler

*Drawn to pheromone lure during the day, rather than actinic light at night. If non-target then pheromone is named

Numbers were very much down on my previous three seasons of trapping, never getting to more than a couple of hundred moths on any given lighting-up night and usually of 30-40 species on such nights. When I last counted (2/9/21) I’d seen about 4760 moths of 260 species. In 2019, I counted 12000 specimens and hadn’t lit up anywhere near as frequently in that year as I have during 2021. Early to mid-September got quite busy with a lot of Large Yellow Underwings and Setaceous Hebrew Characters etc.

The spring was cold and wet, summer was a bit of a washout too, but we had two or three warm spells in September.

Dewick’s Plusia
Common Wave
Scarce Silver-lines
Yellow-legged Clearwing

Birds spread their wings

A Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) flew into Berry Fen when we visited a couple of days ago to settle among the eight Little Egrets feeding there. In so doing it spooked two of the six Glossy Ibis that were feeding on the edge of a flooded area and they flew off to join four others of that species.

Cattle Egret over Berry Fen near Earith, Cambridgeshire, October 2021. Sixteen of this species seen there, the following day (county record)

Apparently, there were fifteen additional Cattle Egret in a flock on the same patch the day after we visited, which is the largest recorded gathering of this species in Cambridgeshire. A county record, in other words. The bird is ostensibly an African species that has been extending its range over the last decade or two because of habitat opportunity and climate change.

UPDATE: There were a record 57 Cattle Egret at this site at the beginning of November. I have also now seen four at RSPB Ouse Fen on the Reedbed Trail side close to Over.

Spoonbill

UPDATE: Four Spoonbills at Kingfisher Bridge Nature Reserve during November 2021.

Great White Egret, one of half a dozen seen at RSPB Fen Drayton, December 2020

Back in the early 1990s when we visited Botswana and Zimbabwe we saw lots of egrets and then were very surprised to see one or two on the North Norfolk coast in subsequent years. Little Egrets are, almost 30 years later rather commonplace. Similarly, the Great White Egret is seen in many parts now and a sighting is no longer considered particularly notable. I heard that part of the reason is that there is an abundance of red swamp crayfish in the lakes of northern France which have provided a food source and hopping off point for this species. The presence of at least a couple of dozen Glossy Ibis on our patch during the last year or so, may similarly be due to individuals spreading their wings from a known breeding colony in Southern Spain. The experts may know more, but I don’t think anyone knows for sure.

Glossy Ibis feeding on farmland adjacent to the River Cam at Chesterton, just outside Cambridge, Spring 2021

At the height of summer you will find plenty of Lepidoptera at the almost legendary Fleam Dyke

Mrs Sciencebase and myself visited the July Racecourse end of Devil’s Dyke near Newmarket back in July and saw literally hundreds of Chalkhill Blue butterflies and dozens of Marbled White as well as a couple of Dark Green Fritillary.

It was tip-off from a couple I met by chance in a woodland who were “twitching” a White Letter Hairstreak at Overhall Grove (Nick & Stella). All of this was mentioned in my Woodwalton NNR blog post at the time. The same couple pointed me in the direction of the Cambs and Essex branch of Butterfly Conservation website, to which members add their sightings on a very timely basis.

Treble-bar

I’d missed seeing Clouded Yellow on the wildflower margin at Waresley Wood up the hill from Browns’ Piece this year, not surprising given the farmer had ploughed it for some reason and put a load of signs up warning off walkers from venturing anywhere near his land.

Chalkhill Blues courting

Anyway, the C&E branch had an update regarding another dyke, Fleam Dyke, near the one I mentioned earlier. Chalkhill Blues there and Clouded Yellow. So I took a trip there on the first sunny morning for a few weeks. I was perhaps too late for the Clouded Yellow. Although their season does extend into the autumn, they’re a rare migrant anyway, so you have to be lucky.

However, parking up at the Fulbourn Fen car park and walking from there to Fleam Dyke and to the far end of the ridge Mutlow Hill, I was rewarded with a fair few Lepidoptera – Common Blue, Brown Argus, Brimstone butterfly, Red Admiral, Painted Lady, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Speckled Wood, Small Tortoiseshell, European Peacock, Chalkhill Blue, Large and Small White. There were numerous moths around – Silver Y, Yponomeuta sp., Garden Carpet, Treble-bar.

I had planned to head to Devil’s Dyke after walking Fleam Dyke for more “Chalks”, but changed my mind as it clouded over. I learned later from the Cambs & Essex page that someone had spotted a solitary Adonis Blue there, which would’ve been a new species to me. Ah well.

Social sensitivities could make us cancel the Gypsy Moth

In the US and elsewhere, there’s been a call to give many plants and animals new vernacular names because their well-known common names contain terms and words considered inappropriate. The Gypsy Moth, Lymantria dispar, is a case in point.

L. dispar was, according to the UK Moths website, “a common species in the East Anglian and southern fens” in the early 1800s, a century later it was extinct as a breeding species here. Meanwhile, having been introduced to North America in 1869 it has spread there and become a larval pest of deciduous trees. It is already more properly known as the LDD Moth in North America, for the extant sub-species there Lymantria dispar dispar.

Back in Old Blighty, the species had somewhat recovered in London by 1995 and has spread across its old stamping grounds. I saw my first male L. dispar to the actinic light on the night of the 5th August 2020, only my third season of mothing. On the almost balmy night of 22nd August 2021, there were three males in the garden. Incidentally, the females are larger and bulkier than the males and mostly white. The larvae are tiny and can disperse readily on a breath of wind.

The term “Gypsy” (more commonly Gipsy in English until recently) originated in the early 17th Century and derives from gypcian, a Middle English dialectic word meaning “Egyptian“. Of course, the Roma to whom the term has pejoratively and inappropriately been applied were of Indian ancestry rather than North African. The term is generally considered offensive when referring to itinerant ethnic groups and so there is a pressing need to find new names for a range of plants and animals – Gypsy Wort, Gypsy Ant, and, of course, the Gypsy Moth.

I wonder whether the entomologists would consider calling L. dispar the “Dusky Underwing”. I don’t think that name has been used for another member of the Lepidoptera. The male of the species has a passing resemblance to the Catocala species, such as the Red Underwing and the Dark Crimson Underwing at least while their hindwings are not exposed. And, there are many other unrelated “underwing” moths, such as the various and diverse yellow underwings, orange underwing, straw underwing and the black underwing (now usually known as the Old Lady and previously the Grave Brocade). #TeamMoth #MothsMatter

Forgive me, I thought I was writing a new blog article but when I looked at the one I did when I saw L. dispar in the garden for the first time in 2020, I seem to have repeated myself.

Wheatears have nothing to do with ears of wheat, they just have a white rump

The Wheatears are on the move, there were a couple of females that took a pitstop along the Cottenham Lode on the outskirts of our village while on passage south. They were first spotted on 18th August by friend Josh C, and Mrs Sciencebase and myself saw them on the 21st, although it was drizzly so I wasn’t carrying my camera. Here’s a male I snapped in May 2017 in Aldeburgh. Suffolk, Le Cul-blanc.

By the way, the name Wheatear has nothing to do with wheat, ears, nor ears of wheat, even. It’s from the 16th Century name meaning “white arse” as the bird famously has a white rump. The French call it the Cul-blanc. They used to be caught and roasted as seaside snacks on the South Coast in the 1700s. Apparently, half a million every year. I think I’ve seen fewer than a dozen in my whole life…but imagine a time when a bird that seems fairly rare was so abundant…makes you wonder where they all went…ah.

Find out what new moths I have mostly been discovering in my garden this year

I have been mothing in earnest since the summer of 2018 and have seen and photographed almost 400 species in that time. It feels like a lot, but there are some 1800 or so species we might see in The British Isles, although not all of them will be present in a Cambridgeshire garden.

Buff Arches was new in the garden in 2019

I keep a detailed record of what I see and report into the County Moth Recorder at the end of the season. Usually, there are a few new species to add to the growing list each year. 2021 does not feel like the numbers nor diversity have been as high as they were in the previous three seasons, but I have noted several new and interesting species attracted to the actinic light of the scientific moth trap and to pheromone lures (previously, I used a lure for the Emperor moth, but this year, bought a set of lures for Clearwing moths and the Hornet moth, and was successful with several of those species.

      1. Agonopterix purpurea (Haworth, 1811) (MYO lure)
      2. Argyresthia curvella (Linnaeus, 1761)
      3. Yellow Belle (Aspitates ochrearia, Rossi, 1794)
      4. Toadflax Brocade (Calophasia lunula, Hufnagel, 1766)
      5. Brown Silver-line (Petrophora chlorosata, Scopoli, 1763)
      6. Yellow Oak Button (Aleimma loeflingiana, Linnaeus, 1758)
      7. Currant Clearwing (Synanthedon tipuliformis, Clerck, 1759)
      8. Orange-tailed Clearwing (Synanthedon andrenaeformis)
      9. Raspberry Clearwing (Pennisetia hylaeiformis, Laspeyres, 1801)
      10. Red-belted Clearwing (Synanthedon myopaeformis, Borkhausen, 1789)
      11. Red-tipped Clearwing (Synanthedon formicaeformis, Esper, 1782)
      12. Yellow-legged Clearwing (Synanthedon vespiformis,  Linnaeus, 1761)
      13. Downland Conch (Aethes tesserana, Denis & Schiffermüller, 1775)
      14. Buff Cosmet (Mompha ochraceella, Curtis, 1839)
      15. Ephestia sp.
      16. Four-dotted Footman (Cybosia mesomella) – Monk’s Wood
      17. Helcystogramma rufescens (Haworth, 1828)
      18. Rosy-striped Knot-horn (Oncocera semirubella) – Cherry Hinton
      19. Leek Moth (Acrolepiopsis assectella, Zeller, 1839)
      20. White-backed Marble (Hedya salicella, Linnaeus, 1758)
      21. Dewick’s Plusia (Macdunnoughia confusa, Stephens, 1850)
      22. Mottled Pug (Eupithecia exiguata, Hübner, 1813)
      23. Plain Pug (Eupithecia simpliciata, Haworth, 1809)
      24. The Satellite (Eupsilia transversa, Hufnagel, 1766)
      25. Scarce Silver-lines (Bena bicolorana, Fuessly, 1775)
      26. Buttoned Snout (Hypena rostralis, Linnaeus, 1758)
      27. Grey Tortrix (Cnephasia stephensiana, Doubleday,[1849)
      28. Dark Umber (Philereme transversata, Hufnagel, 1767)
      29. Tawny-barred Angle (Macaria liturata, Clerck, 1759)
      30. Small Square-spot (Diarsia rubi, Vieweg, 1790)

Take a look at the unexpected beauty of moths

Regular readers will hopefully be well aware by now that I got bitten by the mothing bug three years ago. Mrs Sciencebase spotted an enormous Copper Underwing in the garden and we were both fascinated by its size and its markings.

Poplar Hawk-moth

A friend in the village had previously offered to lend me his scientific moth trap with its UV tube and so I gave him a call and he said he would set it up that night in his garden. I could come to see what had turned up the next morning (24th July 2018). There were lots of moths in there with some weird and wonderful names – Angle Shades, Poplar Hawk-moth, Willow Beauty, Dark Arches, Burnished Brass, Ruby Tiger, Buff Ermine…the list goes on.

Elephant Hawk-moth

I was hooked and took the trap home and have been “lighting up” ever since. My “tick list” is fast approaching 400 moth species. I’ve photographed them all at least once and some of them several times. You can see my latest moth photos on the Sciencebase Instagram along with my other nature photos and other stuff. My ticklist is on my Imaging Storm website along with an archive of the Lepidoptera photos.

Six-spot Burnet

They do say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but you cannot deny that the insect world is beautiful and nowhere more so, in my opinion than in the realm of the Lepidoptera. Incidentally, butterflies are just one group within Lepidoptera, on the same branch of the family tree as the so-called micro moths, in fact.

Eyed Hawk-moth
Buff Arches
Chinese Character
Yellow-legged Clearwing
Emperor Moth
Gypsy Moth
Clifden Non-pareil