Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Lunar Hornet Moth

I've always been fascinated by moths, and a number of years ago now, I bought myself a light trap for my garden so I could trap and record them. Since then, my effort mothing has varied and I have been a dedicated moth-er, part time moth-er, sometimes moth-er, occasional moth-er, and anywhere in between. I have recorded a fair few species in my garden, but I have never totalled up how many species I have recorded; a job to do over lock-down at some point perhaps!

I've recorded some beautiful moths, including several species of the amazing Hawkmoths, but one of the most stunning moths I have recorded in my garden was a Lunar Hornet Moth in 2018. And I didn't record it via my light trap.

I have blogged about this stunning moth before, but I think it's worth a recap. I went into my garage during the day to get something, and as I walked past my tool bag (funnily enough my tool bag is black and yellow like the Lunar Hornet Moth) out of the corner of my eye I noticed what I thought was at the time a Hornet on it. My first thought was how was I going to get a Hornet off my tool bag, and out of the garage without upsetting it. The plan I came up with was to pick my tool bag up, carry it out of the garage and if the Hornet decided to fly, I would drop the bag and leg it. I know I'm a coward!

As I was walking out of the garage carrying my tool bag with it's black and yellow passenger, I mused on how calm it was, and I looked a litle closer at it. Why I hadn't noticed this before I don't know, but the Hornet had feathered moth antennae! Then came the light-bulb moment, when I realised I was looking at a Hornet Moth, and a Lunar Hornet Moth at that! To say I was chuffed was an under statement, and the rest is history as they say!

It was quiet in my moth trap this morning with just a single Early Grey and two Hebrew Characters. I actually completed a bird survey this morning on a remote farm in Bowland, one of my client's two farms that I do regular bird surveys on. This is the only work I have on at the moment because of the Covid-19 outbreak, and I was very careful to follow the government guidelines and that of my professional body, to make sure that it was possible to do the work safely.

It was very cold up there, and quiet in more ways than one, with just me on 2,500,000 square metres (250 ha) of farmland, and very few birds! I recorded two summer migrants; a Common Sandpiper on the wetland complex and two singing Willow Warblers. Other migrants were a flock of six Redwings, and Lesser Redpolls and Siskins going over in the stratosphere. I had displaying Curlews, Lapwings and Oystercatchers which was nice, and about a dozen Brown Hares was good to record as well. A female Stonechat I think was a first for the site, and two singing Song Thrushes, a pair of Tufted Ducks, a Mute Swan on eggs and two Nuthatches were best of the rest.

It's back in the office again tomorrow, and the only birding I'll do is lockdown garden birding. But my moth trap is on, so maybe there will be something interesting for tomorrow!

Saturday, 4 April 2020

Common Scoters

Over the past few nights, the birding community has been buzzing about a huge overland passage of Common Scoters. The first large numbers occurred overnight on 1st-2nd April, with the epicentre of this thrilling movement situated in the northern half of England.

 Common Scoters (honest!)

This event is an annual phenomenon, albeit varying in date and intensity each year depending on prevailing weather conditions and other factors, but the number of reports received overnight on 1st/2nd April perhaps unrivals anything recorded before in the UK. According to Birdguides at least 60 sites, with the vast majority here in Lancashire, as well as Yorkshire and Northumberland, logged the species, with some localities reporting that multiple flocks were passing over on a near-constant basis for extended periods of time during the night.

"The geographical distribution of records during the night suggests that the vast majority of birds were moving between the northern Irish Sea and North Sea coast of northern England; with two clear 'flyways' emerging: the first, perhaps involving birds that had wintered off the North Wales coast, moving inland over the Mersey and Wirral area, cutting across the Peak District to the Humber and out to sea over Spurn; the second, involving birds using the Solway Firth to cross into Northumberland before reaching the coast. A third route between the Severn Estuary and The Wash is apparent, but nonetheless significantly less pronounced due to the much lighter scattering of records from the southern half of England".

I didn't pick up on this until the night of 2nd/3rd April and I headed out into my garden, beer in hand, to have a listen. I wasn't going to spend hours listening, but at 9:00 pm, only a few minutes after I had sat outside, I heard a flock going over. Incredible! They were constantly calling and moving from west to east! Needless to say, this was a first for my garden, and hot on the heels of another night time mover that I recorded recently, Coot.

The quote from Birdguides in italics above details the direction of the movement over the UK, and these birds will have undoubtedly been heading to their Arctic breeding grounds in northern Scandinavia.  

It's highly likely that the current UK-wide lockdown has contributed to the spectacular results seen, with many housebound birders refocusing their spring birding efforts on recording migration over their homes and gardens. Also, a reduction in noise from roads in particular will have definitely helped to make the calling Scoters more audible. I suspect that if we weren't in lockdown, I personally wouldn't have heard the Common Scoters over my garden because of background road noise.

Talking of lockdown garden birding I have entered Steve's friendly garden birding competition for the period of the lockdown over at North Downs and Beyond, so take a look HERE

The garden moth trap is still quiet with a Clouded Drab and six Hebrew Characters when I checked it yesterday morning. I didn't run it last night because of rain, but I am hoping to run it tonight.

This morning I took my daily well-being walk on the coastal fields at the southern end of the Obs recording area, which is literally just a few minutes from home.

Even though the wind had turned southerly it was still cold and the vis was very slow with just five Carrion Crows, eight Meadow Pipits, two Alba Wags, 18 Woodpigeons, six Curlews, 41 Pink-footed Geese and a Chaffinch.

 Pink-footed Geese

The sea was quiet too, but it was nice to catch up with some Gannets (one of my favourite birds) and I had nine head south. Other birds at sea were 131 Common Scoters, four Auk sp., 35 Sandwich Terns, 80 Knot, 17 Eiders, and singles of Red-throated Diver and Red-breasted Merganser.

A walk round the hedges and fields revealed zero grounded migrants, and three male Reed Buntings were all that made it in to my notebook. It was then back home for more garden-based lockdown birding!

 Reed Bunting

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

The Solway

I know, you don't need to tell me, I've missed another day! Perhaps I need to set myself a more realistic target of posting every other day during the Covid 19 lock-down, and if I manage a run of a few days of posting every day, then it will be a bonus.

Also, I thought I would post a few pictures of one of our (Gail and Me) favourite places in the UK, the Solway in southwest Scotland. Under the Solway bracket I have also posted some landscape pictures of one of my favourite RSPB reserves, Mersehead, which unsurprisingly is on the Solway!

So, without further ado, click on the pics for a more expansive view, and enjoy.

 Balcary Point

The shore at Mersehead

Hestan Island

Mersehead RSPB

The Solway from Browhouses

Looking across the Solway from near Caldbeck in Cumbria

Another view of the Solway from Browhouses

It was quiet in my moth trap again this morning (still too cold) with just two Early Greys and a Double-striped Pug. I'll be switching it on again in a minute, so fingers crossed for tomorrow. It's going to be overcast with a slightly higher minimum temperature, so who knows!

Monday, 30 March 2020

Thinking Of Summer

I've done it again, missed a day. My wrist has been duly self-slapped! No excuse other than Gail and I were social distancing in 19.2 ha of semi-natural broad-leaved woodland, that's 192,000 square metres without another soul. The safest place to be I suspect at the moment, other than on an island!

To try and cheer myself up I have been thinking of summer, and some of the more common butterflies that will hopefully lift our spirits and fill our hearts with joy in the months to come. And I've posted pictures of just a few of them below.

Common Blue

Large Skipper

 Painted Lady


 Red Admiral

 Small Tortoiseshell


In case you were wondering it was queit again on the moth front last night, just a single Hebrew Character and a Common Quaker. Now if you'll please excuse me, I need to go and switch my moth trap on. 

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Dung Roundhead

I find fungi fascinating, neither a plant or an animal, and they have such fantastic and very often descriptive names; Dung Roundhead, Common Stump Brittlestern, Twig Parachute and Bloodred Webcap etc, etc, etc tens of thousands of times!

The picture below is of a Dung Roundhead, I think (maybe somebody will tell me differently), that I took at one of my bird ringing sites in 2013. In fact, I am rubbish at identifying fungi, mainly because I don't spend enough time doing it, and every year I always say to myself that I must spend some more time looking at fungi, and sadly I never do. One of these days.....

 click to enlarge

It was another quiet night for the moth trap last night, and in my garden trap this morning I only had three Hebrew Characters, an Early Grey and a Common Quaker. It is early in the season and it was cold last night.

I might have something nest box related to post tomorrow, but we'll see. 

Friday, 27 March 2020


Well, only a few days in of my daily posting attempt and yesterday was a no show! I apologise for that and a note to myself is that I must try harder.

Today's picture is of the Mull of Galloway lighthouse, which of course is situated on Scotland's most southerly point, the Mull of Galloway! In fact, the Mull of Galloway is further south than Carlisle, and is at a similar latitude to Penrith or Whitehaven.

Why am I posting a picture of a lighthouse I can hear you ask? I have always been interested in lighthouses, and as a boy I wanted to be a Lighthouse Keeper when I grew up! That never happened, but my interest and fascination in them has always remained. I think part of that is the geographic locations of lighthouses, and by nature of what they are, they overlook some of the most dramatic stretches of our coast. And with these isolated locations, on islands or headlands, comes birds, and more to the point, bird migration!

If like me you have a love of lighthouses, and perhaps the wildlife found at lighthouses, I can recommend two books. Firstly, is the book that I am reading at the moment A Natural History of Lighthouses by John A. Lowe, and secondly A Lighthouse Notebook by Norman McCanch. Both are very different, but equally excellent.

In my garden moth trap this morning were singles of Common Quaker, Hebrew Character and Clouded Drab. Other invertebrates in my garden during the day were Buff-tailed Bumblebees, and Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock butterflies.

There was a steady passage of Meadow Pipits north during the morning, and a flock of eleven Pink-footed Geese heading south, was an interesting direction for Spring!

It's more garden watching tomorrow as Coronavirus keeps us at home, and I just wanted to thank the NHS for all the hard work they do during these difficult times. And of course, other front-line workers that try and keep things as normal as possible for us all during these far from normal times; thank you!

Wednesday, 25 March 2020


My alarm went off at 3 o'clock this morning as I had to drive to Berwick to complete the last wintering bird survey I had to do up there. Driving there and back I had plenty of time to think about the picture I was going to post today, and I had a few ideas from Scottish castles, to butterflies, to flowers and anywhere in between!

As I was unloading my car in the dark at about eight o'clock this evening, I heard a call that sounded familiar, but yet wasn't familiar at the same time. It sounded a bit like a Coot in terms of the pitch of the call, but it was more of a trumpeting or bugling sound. A quick listen to a few Coot flight calls on-line, and bingo it was a Coot flying over in the dark, and my house is a long way from any Coot habitat.

Of course, Coots do move, and Kane Brides at the Wetland and WiIldfowl Trust (WWT) has done a lot of research into Coot movements through a programme of colour ringing, and a few members of Fylde Ringing Group helped with this locally. Through colour ringing Coots, Kane demonstrated how much Coots do move, with sightings of Coots ringed in the northwest of England from all over the UK.

One good example was a Coot that Kane ringed in Greater Manchester in December 2010, and it wintered in Greater Manchester in 2011, but in February 2012 it was sighted 260 km north at Straiton in Mid Lothian, Scotland. By December 2012, this bird was back in Greater Manchester.

The story doesn't end there. This bird was observed at its Greater Manchester wintering site in January 2013, but a month later (Feb 2013) it was at Gunknowe Loch, Tweedbank, Scotland 229 km north. Amazing!

Coots aren't the best of flyers, although they can't be too bad to move such distances, and as such they move at night to avoid being detected by predators. In fact, one of the Marsh Harriers' favourite prey items is the Coot, but of course these predators aren't active at night, so night migration is safer.

Below is the only photo I have in my archives of Coot, and it isn't the best of shots, but it very obviously is a Coot!

 click to enlarge

I didn't have too much of interest on my survey in the northeast this morning other than eleven Eiders, three Shags, 25 Redshanks, eleven Curlews, a Red-throated Diver, twelve Turnstones and a pair of Goldeneyes.

I didn't run my garden moth trap last night, but it's on tonight, so I'll let you know what I catch tomorrow.