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Monday 30 August 2021

Catchup - June, 2021

Before I start on the subject matter of this post, I'd like to mention a problem with Blogger that I am experiencing. For a month or so now, Blogger is only notifying me of about 40% of comments to my blog which are waiting to be 'moderated'. The rest of the comments are just sitting there in the background, unannounced. To find them I have to delve into my Blogger dashboard and actively seek them in the comments section. This means that, occasionally, pending comments go unnoticed for a while. My apologies if I am late accepting your comments. If anyone else has had this problem and knows of a solution, please let me know.

I have been so occupied with material from holidays away from home that I have not done any blog posts about day to day wildlife events at home and its close surrounds after the end of May. This blog post will start the catchup process by covering events in June not previously covered.

Wednesday, 2nd June          Garden

For a change, the pair of Mallards that had been visiting our garden on a regular basis, turned up mid-evening, rather than before dawn, which had been their norm. 

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) (male) - garden on 2nd June, 2021

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) (female) - garden on 2nd June, 2021

Saturday, 5th June          Garden

We have been doing quite well for corvids in the garden this year, with visits from Carrion Crow and Magpie, and occasionally Jackdaw - a species that, hitherto, has only rarely been seen in the garden. Sadly, Jay has, so far, been absent.

Jackdaw (Coloeus monedula) - garden on 5th June, 2021
That evening two moth traps went out - my original and the new portable that Lindsay kindly bought me as a birthday present. The result was not spectacular - only 35 moths of  21 species, with the most interesting for me being Coxcomb Prominent and Poplar Hawkmoth - the former being a 'first' for the garden.

Coxcomb Prominent (Ptilodon capucina) - from garden on 5th June, 2021
Poplar Hawk-moth (Laothoe populi) - from garden on 5th June, 2021

Saturday, 12th June          Saltersford Valley Country Park

I'd not been to Saltersford Valley for a couple of weeks so set off that afternoon to see what the dragonfly situation was like there. It proved to be a worthwhile visit, with two species of dragonfly ID'd (others seen at a distance) and five species of damselfly.

Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) (male) - Saltersford Valley
This Hairy Dragonfly was the first member of the species I'd seen in 2021, and will have been the last too!

Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) (male) - Saltersford Valley

Damselflies were numerous.

Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) (male) - Saltersford Valley
Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) (male+female) - Saltersford Valley
Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) (male+female) - Saltersford Valley
Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (male) - Saltersford Valley
Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) (female) - Saltersford Valley
Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) (male) - Saltersford Valley

I failed to get any shots of Red-eyed Damselfly.

There was non-odonate interest there too. A Common Tern was zooming around for a while and, at one point, caught a small Pike. However, that shot didn't make the grade - this one just scrapes in!

Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) - Saltersford Valley
A little worrying was the discovery of two Moorhen chicks beside the path with no adult in attendance. Given that, although little used, half the users seem to be dog-walkers, I feared for their safety here's one of them.

Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) (chick) - Saltersford Valley
Great Crested Grebe was on the large pool, and into the light as usual!

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) - Saltersford Valley
Other insects were represented too. I think this first one is a Mustard Beetle. If you think I have got it wrong, please let me know.

Mustard Beetle (Phaedon cochleariae) - Saltersford Valley
I also photographed some butterflies.

Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus) (female) - Saltersford Valley
Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus) (female) - Saltersford Valley

It had been a short (just under two hours) but worthwhile visit.

Tuesday, 15th June          Heather Lake

A late morning visit to Heather Lake, three days later, was not as productive photography-wise. Although reasonably warm and sunny, there was a stiff breeze. All was not helped by much of the lake-edge vegetation having been removed, leaving little for damsels and dragons to settle on. Reasonable numbers were seen however, including Emperor (4), Four-spotted Chaser (2), Broad-bodied Chaser (3), Banded Demoiselle (1), Blue-tailed Damselfly (recorded as 6-20), and Common Blue Damselfly (recorded as 101-500!). Most of my photos were not satisfactory.

Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) (male) -Heather Lake
Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) (male) -Heather Lake

I did also photograph this bee in a sheltered position.

Western Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) (worker - pale form) - Heather Lake
Wednesday, 16thJune          Ashby Canal, Snarestone
This day was warmer and more sunny than the previous day, although just as breezy. I had not yet been to the Ashby Canal this year to seek what is probably my favourite damselfly - the White-legged Damselfly, so I made a morning visit there and spent a couple of hours wandering along the canal towpath. The White-legged Damselfly requires relatively lush waterside vegetation, and I was pleased to see that the canal, although well used by narrowboats, had vegetation more lush than I'd ever seen it. However, this vegetation was now so high and dense that it made spotting damsels rather more difficult.
I'm pleased to say that I did find 19 White-legged Damselfly, although sadly all male.
White-legged Damselfly (Platycnemis pennipes) (male) - Ashby Canal, Snarestone
In all there were five species of damselfly, but only one dragonfly (an Emperor, and not photographed).
Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) (male+female) - Ashby Canal, Snaresone
Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) (male+female) - Ashby Canal, Snarestone
Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) (female) - Ashby Canal, Snarestone
Common Blue Damselfly was not photographed. However, I could not resist a shot of the drake Mallard that was glistening in the sun on the canal, and a Small Tortoiseshell on the towpath.
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) (male) -Ashby Canal, Snarestone
Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) - Ashby Canal, Snarestone
Monday, 21st June          Garden
To our delight, we were visited by a juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker. This species is a very infrequent visitor to our garden, and this was our first sighting of the year.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) (juvenile) - garden on 21st June, 2021
Wednesday, 23rd June          Sence Valley Forest Park

A visit to an area of Sence Valley FP that is not open to the public but that I have been granted access to in order to survey the area for odonata, turned out to be a difficult one. Apart from an issue with the heavy steel gate through which I access the area with my car, I found that the vegetation in the area had grown so densely that it was almost impossible to tread carefully and avoid stepping on sapling trees with which the area had been planted. It was also difficult to see where the edge of the ponds started so I kept getting wet feet! Nevertheless, I did manage to see and photograph some dragons and damsels and made a count as best I could under the circumstances. I recorded four species of dragonfly and five of damselfly. Here are a few shots of some of them.

Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum) (female) - Sence Valley FP
Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum) (male) - Sence Valley FP
Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa) (male) - Sence Valley FP
Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) (male) - Sence Valley FP
Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) (male) -Sence Valley FP
Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) (female) -Sence Valley FP
There were a few Small Heath butterflies around also.
Small Heath (Coenonympha pamphilus) - Sence Valley FP 
Thursday, 24th June          Calke Park
In true pandemic style, Lindsay and I celebrated our 49th wedding anniversary with a picnic lunch in Calke Park. I did take the camera with me and took a few shots of the deer there.
Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) (male) - Calke Park
Fallow Deer (Dama dama) - Calke Park
Tuesday, 29th June          Garden
There was quite a lot going on in the garden this day. The Bullfinches seem to have returned to the countryside, but a male did visit this day.
Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (male) - garden on 29th June, 2021
Having landed, this juvenile Starling seemed to lack the confidence to take off again and spent about ten minutes exercising its wings. It was amusing to watch.
Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) (juvenile) - garden on 29th June, 2021
The common Chaffinch is easily dismissed as an 'everyday' bird, but they are quite handsome - especially the male.
Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) (male) - garden on 29th June, 2021
We have done well with visits from juvenile birds this summer, with especially good numbers of House Sparrow, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, and Starling. Blackbirds were not so numerous, however.
Blackbird (Turdus merula) - garden on 29th June, 2021
That brings me to the end of June and the end of this blog post. Blogger started playing silly devils with font size of the image captions for the last part of the post and I have spent time trying to sort it without any success. 
My next blog post will probably return to a 'short monographic' theme, in spite of my previous post on Vapourer moths not receiving many comments, as those persons that did leave comments (thank you!) seemed to enjoy that format. It will, therefore, be somewhat shorter than this one - you'll be relieved to hear, Diane! 

Until then, stay safe, and take good care of nature.

Wednesday 25 August 2021

Fabulous Pheromones

For years now, we have been seeing the larvae of the Vapourer moth on the Tamarix shrub that we have in our front garden. However, my only sighting of the adult moth of this species was a very distant one in Derbyshire 2017. I had never seen the moths of this species in the garden.

Vapourer (Orgyia antiqua) (larva) - our garden
This species of moth is one of the few in UK that feature flightless females. I therefore hatched a plan to harvest three of the larvae and rear them indoors in the hope that, by the law of averages, I'd get to see one of each sex. The larvae are known to have very irritant hairs and so I carefully cut three stems with larvae attached, and with what I hoped would be a sufficient amount of food on, and placed them in a milk bottle full of water (with the neck carefully sealed to prevent them from drowning). This was then placed in a rearing cage.

I regret that I did not have the presence of mind to record the date of this event and the dates on which the three larvae pupated, but it seemed that it all happened over just a couple of weeks. The pupae were contained in cocoons of silk attached to a tamarix twig or, in the case of one, to the netting in the corner of the cage.

Then one warm sunny day, while I was sitting in my study, I found what I first thought was a small orange butterfly (skipper sp. came to mind) rapidly flitting around me. I grabbed a net and, to my surprise, found that it was a male Vapourer.

Vapourer (Orgyia antiqua) (male) -from my study
This discovery caused me to quickly examine the breeding cage in case I'd left the cage open or it had been damaged. Sighting no damage, but an emerged female Vapourer in the cage brought the amazing realisation that this male had detected the pheromones being emitted by the female through the fine mesh of the cage then through my study and the door into the kitchen, and then through the kitchen and kitchen door to the outside and to wherever this male happened to be at the time! Here's the female, still attached to the pupal cocoon which is where, usually, she'll spend the rest of her short life.

Vapourer (Orgyia antiqua) (female on cocoon) -from my study
I quickly put the twig that she was on into a bottle and out into the garden, where I placed the bottle on a bench. Within seconds, rather than minutes, there were four more male Vapourer moths attracted to her and all trying to mate with her. Photography-wise I was not at all prepared for this, and my photos are rubbish but maybe you'll understand the situation better anyway.

This first one briefly settled on the bench beside the bottle before joining the action.To the best of my knowledge, Vapourers usually rest with their wings folded backwards so that the forewings touch or slightly overlap at the rear and the spots are close together - as in the image above. I am wondering if this one had its wings spread due to a state of excitement?!

Vapourer (Orgyia antiqua) (male) - our garden
This next shot depicts an arriving male, with two already in attendance - the female is not visible and is behind the cocoon on the twig.

Vapourer (Orgyia antiqua) (males) - our garden
The next shot depicts at least three males attempting to mate with the female.

Vapourer (Orgyia antiqua) (males + female) - our garden
It seems that, as soon as she has attracted a mate, she stops emitting pheromones and, after mating was finished, the males quickly departed.

She then started ovipositing on the cocoon - which is the norm for this species. The eggs are white when first laid.

Vapourer (Orgyia antiqua) (ova) - our garden
When ovipositing is finished, the female remains in place on the cocoon and by the ova. In this case, within 24 hours, the female had shrivelled to maybe a third of her size and was apparently dead.

The twig with the cocoon and its ova are now taped to a sturdy branch on the Tamarix in the garden.

Just two days later, the next one to emerge was, again, a female. This was the one with the cocoon in the corner of the cage, rather than on a Tamarix twig. The cage was placed outside on the bench and almost immediately attacted a single male. I do not know if this lack of choice of suitors was due to the dull cooler weather or whether her pheromones weren't so attractive.

Vapourer (Orgyia antiqua) (male + female) - our garden

Two days later, I noticed that the female had dropped off the cocoon and was on the floor of the cage. She hadn't shrivelled up like the previous one so I thought I'd get some photos.

Vapourer (Orgyia antiqua) (female) - from the cage
I'd just taken that shot above when I noticed her legs starting to move. I gently righted her and she started to crawl across the bit of green card that I was using as a background. This next shot, and that above, clearly show the vestigial wings of the female Vapourer.

Vapourer (Orgyia antiqua) (female) - from the cage
I then carefully placed her on the Tamarix outside. I don't suspect that she had much of a life ahead of her, however.

The eggs in the cage had taken on a more subdued colour and showed some surface detail.

Vapourer (Orgyia antiqua) (ova) - in the cage
The third Vapourer emerged a few days later, again on a dull day, and again a female! This one also attracted just one male. After ovipositing she shrivelled up to almost nothing and was clearly dead. 

All the ova are now out on the Tamarix and I await next year with interest to see if I have a bumper crop of Vapourer larvae!


This little 'experiment' was prompted by me never having seen an adult Vapourer moth in our garden. Just over a week after that last emergence of a female, I found an adult male sitting on the garden fence - perhaps the word had got out that there were females about!

Vapourer (Orgyia antiqua) (male) - garden on 11th August, 2021
That's it for now. I hope that you have found this interesting. I wonder what I will come up with next!

Look after Nature and Nature will look after you.