Thursday, 19 January 2017

Bring out the feeders

During the summer, birds should be finding their food  - seeds, insects, fruit - in the environment, thereby teaching their young to do likewise.
So we put the feeders away until times get harder.
With regular frosts overnight in our frost-pocket of a valley bottom from late November, by early December we feel that times are hard enough.
And with the current freeze, they come into their own....

We have two sets of feeders.
One set is under the cherry tree outside the sitting room windows, where three feeders are suspended from a naturally twisty pole.
Tim has attached the pole to the wall using a carabiner, so that the entire set can be released and swung towards you, making restocking much easier.
The cherry, elder, hawthorn and alder provide plenty of perches for incoming birds to size up the situation, and for outgoing birds to eat their plunder.
A chicken-wire partition segregates the cats from the birds, giving the ground-feeders a safe area for themselves where the cats can't rush them.
The chickens haunt this area too, when they are allowed, picking up dropped morsels.


Late for lunch

These four feeders are stocked with:
  • peanuts (guaranteed no fungal infection)
  • a fat block "aux insectes" (dried mealworms) from the UK via the RSPB Amazon store
  • fat balls "aux graines" also from Gamm Vert but probably in the future from the LPO
  • mixed grains for "les oiseaux du ciel" from E. Leclerc or Super U
  • insect rich suet pellets... new last year... and share the same feeder as the peanuts
The peanuts are going down well with the bluetits and great tits.

If I just twist it that way a bit, it'll come out
I think I'll have that one
The fat block took a little while to catch on last year, but once the tits worked out what it was, they went at it with jack hammers, after the dried larvae. On sunny days for most of the winter so far, however, there have been plenty of insects around, and the insectivores were well supplied with fresh meat. Long-tailed tits swirl past, picking insects off the cherry bark, and are gone in an instant. An agile team of Chiffchaffs kept us entertained last year with their acrobatics. They snatch flies off the wall, off the windows and out of the air. Every so often there is a bang as a chiffchaff hits a window, and several times one of us comes eye to eye with a fluttering bird not two feet away on the other side of the glass. They even land on the windowsill as we stand watching them.

Chiffchaff
[photo transformed into a watercolour by Tim using Photoshop and a Redfield plugin]
Where they are this year... who knows??

Normally, the seed eaters still find much food in the wild at this time of the year and the grain feeder hardly goes down at all. That changed this weekend when the seed started to vanish rapidly.

Also, normally, big flocks of assorted finches work the field edges further along the road to Le Petit Pressigny. Since October we have only seen half a dozen goldfinches in our meadow, no quarrelsome greenfinches, and no siskins. This is a repeat almost of last year... except we had greenfinches... this year, one pair... and that was last week. The first bramblings (charcoal grey hood, orange breast, white underneath) are yet to be spotted.

A male Brambling on the sunflower feeder we've just replaced.
This held a good bucket load...
and we'd blocked up two of the holes to slow the flow of seed...
but was a devil to fill!!


We rely on the greed of the goldfinches to knock down seed for the ground feeders. We give the seed feeder a shake every so often to make sure the dunnock, the sparrows, the blackbirds, the moorhens, the chaffinches and the pheasants can find something to eat on the ground.

Sometimes the block inside its holder....
gets to the "tits only" stage!

We introduced the sunflower seeds in January 2015, when the goldfinches finished gleaning the crumbling sunflower heads that remain in those tricky corners of fields where the man with the seed drill will go but the man with the combine harvester won't.The pheasants like sunflower seeds too. We have seen up to nine females and one splendid male who spent his time herding the females and posing about rather than eating.



Last year the cherry tree had a visit from a woodpigeon which behaved rather oddly. It gave the impression it was hiding from something, possibly the hunters making a racket on the hillside opposite. It did not seem concerned to be so close to the house, or that it could see us through the windows. When Tim went out to check that it was OK, it merely stood up. Well feathered and plump, it looked healthy enough, and we could see no signs of injury. It flew in to the lowest branch of the cherry tree, sat there peering across the meadow for half an hour, then flew away.

But the self-appointed king of the cherry tree feeders is the robin.
He bullies everyone else, squaring up to the great tits as they come in for some tucker.
He emulates the tits in hanging from the peanut feeder to mine for cacahuetes.
His favourite is the fat balls, and he stands on the topmost ball to hammer down on it.
Ever watchful, ever busy, he keeps us entertained for hours - but there's so much to do!
Can't sit and watch birds all day! Just another five minutes.....

New for this year is the GRAND feeder... 

This is how grand...


six ports for the birds to feed from...
it was destined for the meadow set-up to be filled with sunflower seed...
but, has proved far too long... so long in fact....
that the pheasants would have been able to stuff themselves out of the bottom two ports!!

It has its own hanger!!
Fixed to the tree!!

So, it is hung, filled with 1.5 kilos of grain, in the cherry tree...
outside the lounge window.
Because of the size, we have also bought a large tray that fits underneath...
to save some of the inevitable spillage onto the grass beneath the whole assembly.
It will be interesting to see which birds eat from the tray.


Our first Greenfinch of this Winter!!
Bully boy Robin... with the pointy tongue....

The final food type we introduced last year was suet pellets with insect minced into them....
these are mixed in layers with the peanuts... and are proving immensely popular with the Blue and Great Tits.

BUT, despite the entertainment we get from them...
the biggest problem with all these feeders is...
stocking them up...

"Tim off to the feeders with a wheelbarrow of tubs!"
BUT...has he got everything....?
The destination.... the meadow feeders!!


Now... just another few minutes... watching the Lapwings in the field next door........


Monday, 16 January 2017

Moth Mondays - The Convolvulus Hawkmoth

MOTH MONDAYS


The Convolvulus Hawkmoth
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Superfamily: Noctuoidea
Family: Sphingidae
Genus: Agrius
Species: A. convolvuli
Binomial name
Agrius convolvuli

A migrant species, the Convolvulus Hawkmoth [Agrius convolvuli] le Sphinx du liseron is a very large Hawkmoth... and, as you can see above, very well camouflaged at rest!
I call it The Cloaked Alien because it has a very '90s sc-fi alien head on its thorax.

Can you see the face?
The one we caught here had slightly damaged wings... but the wing area is so big, I doubt if it harmed its ability to fly easily. According to the literature they fly extremely strongly.

This one was about 7cm head to tip of wings... seen below against a convolvulus flower... as it stood out like a sore thumb, I did not leave it there but placed it on a Crack Willow trunk... [top picture]... where it almost vanished.
The forewings are pale grey with somewhat irregular darker markings.... the hindwings are pale brown with darker horizontal stripes.... the antennae are thin in both sexes... the female's being shorter... and they have huge dark eyes.


The huge eye... this picture closer... showing spines on the front leg...
something I hadn't noticed earlier.
The top of these two pictures shows wear on the wings...
this is an old girl... I hope she laid in the meadow...
although there is little or no chance of survivors!!


The abdomen looks very similar to our more common Privet Hawkmoth with alternate brown, grey and pink horizontal stripes, not the pink and black stripes of the Privet, with a fine black line on a broader grey background, rather than a brown background.

This is the faded abdomen of an elderly Privet Hawkmoth....
to give some indication of colour of the Convolvulus abdomen...
The black line extends across all segments....
and the grey of the last two segments extends all the way either side of the black line.
A fresh Privet Hawk is much richer in colour.
Susan, of Loire Valley Nature, blogged about a Convolvulus Hawkmoth....
that they had found in 2008... the abdomen is very clearly visible.
The females are larger than the males... and, going on size and shape of the abdomen, this was the female of the species. and probably had a wingspan of around 100 to 110mm.
It has an exceptionally long tongue which can reach the bottom of some of the deepest sources of nectar in flowers like convolvulus and tobacco [Nicotinia]


There are two flight periods... May>June and mid-August > mid-October and the migration usually occurs in the second one... which ties in with this capture at the end of September. They very rarely breed this far north... and the pupae do not survive the winters.
From looking this up, I discover that the caterpillars are some of the most variable I have ever seen... both in colour and pattern!!
The caterpillars on the German site are some of the best as are the Leps.it pictures.... and the latter also shows the enormous tongue on seven of the pictures pictures.


Next Monday... a... er... er.... a surprise.... I haven't decided yet!
(I've close on 200 to choose from....)

NB: The information from the other sources is now placed at the bottom of the post.
________________________________________________________
Sources
Other than Wikipedia.... and personal observations!
Moths and Butterflies of Europe and North Africa [ also known as Leps.it]
A superbly illustrated site.... marvellous on the Micromoths...
but difficult to use on a tablet/iPad.... an awful lot of scrolling needed.

Lepidoptera.eu   An excellent resource... with distribution maps

UK Moths This is quite a simple site... but nicely put together.

The German site Lepiforum.de - For really good samples of photos...
including museum specimens: to use....
Enter the Latin name and then select the Latin name from the list of pages found.
There is probably a lot more on this site... but I don't read [or speak] German!!

________________________________________________________
From the Wiki:

The Convolvulus Hawk-moth, Agrius convolvuli, is a large  hawk-moth. It is common throughout Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia, partly as a migrant.

Description and habits
The wingspan is 80–105 mm. This hawkmoth's basic coloration is in grayish tones, but the abdomen has a broad gray dorsal stripe and pink and black bands edged with white on the sides. The hindwings are light gray with darker broad crosslines.

Its favourite time is around sunset and during the twilight, when it is seen in gardens hovering over the flowers. This moth is very attracted to light, so it is often killed by cars on highways. Its caterpillars eat the leaves of the Convolvulus, hence its Latin name "convolvuli". Other recorded foodplants include a wide range of plants in the Araceae, Convolvulaceae, Leguminosae and Malvaceae families. It can be a pest of cultivated Ipomoea. It feeds on the wing and has a very long proboscis (longer than its body) that enables it to feed on long trumpet-like flowers such as Nicotiana sylvestris.

The caterpillars can be in a number of different colours. As well as brown (pictured on the Wiki page) they have been seen in bright green and black.

Similar species
A. convulvuli is unmistakable in the eastern area of distribution, in the western area of distribution it can be mistaken for Agrius cingulatus. This species, found mainly in South and Central America is repeatedly detected on the western shores of Europe. Agrius cingulatus can be distinguished on the basis of the clearly stronger pink colouring of the abdominal segments and a similarly coloured rear wing base. In addition, Agrius convolvuli forma pseudoconvolvuli [Schaufuss, 1870] has some resemblance with North American species in the genus Manduca, for instance Manduca sexta.

________________________________________________________
From UK Moths

Convolvulus Hawk-moth Agrius convolvuli
(Linnaeus, 1758)
Wingspan 80-120 mm.

A large species, with a wingspan of over 10cm, this is a migrant in Britain, appearing sometimes in fairly good numbers.

It most often occurs in late summer and autumn, usually with influxes of other migrant species, when it turns up in light traps and feeding at garden flowers, especially those of the tobacco plant (Nicotiana)

Although larvae are sometimes found in Britain, usually on bindweed (Convolvulus), it does not regularly breed.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Moth Mondays - The Herald

MOTH MONDAYS



The Herald
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Family:  Erebidae
Genus:  Scoliopteryx
Species: S. libatrix
Binomial name
Scoliopteryx libatrix


This rather beautiful, medium sized moth...
The Herald [Scoliopteryx libatrix] la Découpure....
I saw for the first time in a cave near here...
covered in moisture as it hibernated in the company of bats...
bats being surveyed by Susan [29/12/2010].

You can see the moisture droplets all over this one!

It is known to hibernate in caves, woodpiles, sheds, attics, etc....
and is renown for being seen at any time of the year.
It flies March to November... the early ones being the ones from hibernation...
the later ones being the newly hatched. These can be spotted feeding on sugars from ripe or over-ripe blackberries... and later, nectaring on Ivy blossom.

From our wood store!!


They are an attractive moth... the French name being particularly apt in my opinion....
the overall shield shape  giving it the English name, along with the copper-hued pattern.
The underwing is drab grey-brown with a paler outer edge.

This shows the underwing... it was in such torpor that I did this without it moving!

The underside is mid-grey-brown... lightly patterned... with an abdomen of the same colour.
It has largely white legs with some brown bands... the legs contrast strongly with the underside... the best selection of pictures to see the underside and the underwing is on the German site mentioned below.[This opens in a new window]

This is a different specimen... one month later, on our trailer cover.
Near some piled wood and leaves... it is sunning itself!
This is another view of the moth sunbathing.
The caterpillars feed on willow, aspen and poplar... all of which we have around here in plenty!! They are however, difficult to spot.... as their long, green spindle-like shape can easily be missed as "part of the leaf"! They pupate between two leaves, stuck together by their silk.

It is a leaf mimic, like the famous Lappet moth... so my presumption is that it hibernates most in piles of leaf litter... its association with caves, woodpiles, etcetera being because that is where it is most easily spotted!


Next Monday... The Convolvulus Hawkmoth!

NB: The information from the other sources is now placed at the bottom of the post.

________________________________________________________
Sources
Other than Wikipedia.... and personal observations!
Moths and Butterflies of Europe and North Africa [ also known as Leps.it]
A superbly illustrated site.... marvellous on the Micromoths...
but difficult to use on a tablet/iPad.... an awful lot of scrolling needed.

Lepidoptera.eu   An excellent resource... with distribution maps

UK Moths This is quite a simple site... but nicely put together.

The German site Lepiforum.de - For really good samples of photos...
including museum specimens: to use....
Enter the Latin name and then select the Latin name from the list of pages found.
There is probably a lot more on this site... but I don't read [or speak] German!!

________________________________________________________
From the Wiki:


The herald (Scoliopteryx libatrix) is a moth of the family Noctuidae. It is found throughout the Palearctic and Nearctic (Holarctic).

Wingspan of about 44 mm.[1] Wings ample; the forewing angled in middle of termen, concave between the angle and the acute apex. Forewing grey mixed with ochreous, with fuscous striae, posteriorly with a rosy tinge: the veins terminally whitish; an irregular median suffusion reaching from base to middle, orange red more or less mixed with yellow; inner and outer lines pale with dark edges; a white spot at base on median vein; a white dot represents the orbicular stigma; reniform formed of two black dots; hindwing fuscous, paler at base.

The Herald's flight period is between June and November, in one or two broods. During the winter the herald moth hibernates in dark, cool structures (e.g. cellars, barns and caves), returning to take wing again from March to June. Its habitat is woodland parks and gardens, and (perhaps consequently) the resting wing pattern resembles a dead, shrivelled leaf.

Herald caterpillars are long, and of a bright green shade common to many caterpillars. They are distinguished by the thin yellow lines running across the body between segments. When maturity is reached, they pupate between two leaves, in a white cocoon made of silk.

Food plants:
As larvae:    Willow    Aspen    Poplar

As adults:    Ivy blossom    Ripe blackberries

________________________________________________________
From UK Moths

The Herald  Scoliopteryx libatrix
(Linnaeus, 1758)
Wingspan 40-45 mm.

Quite a spectacular species, this colourful moth overwinters as an adult, and as a result, can be one of the last species to be seen in one year, and one of the first in the next. It is also sometimes found hibernating inside barns and outbuildings.

The adults are attracted to both light and sugar, and the species is fairly common and well distributed over much of Britain, though it is less common in Scotland.

The larvae feed on willow (Salix) and poplar (Populus).

Monday, 2 January 2017

Moth Mondays - The Orange Footman

MOTH MONDAYS


The Orange Footman
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Superfamily: Noctuoidea
Family: Arctiidae
Genus:     Wittia [formerly Eilema]
Species:     W. sororcula
Binomial name
Wittia sororcula
[formerly... and in most books...
and all the sites linked below..
Eilema sororcula]

We've only had an Orange Footman [Wittia sororcula] le Manteau jaune here the once...
it was caught in the moth trap on the 21st July 2016....
now it will be interesting to see if we get them this year.

They are a distinctive moth.... certainly a Footman by shape... but with the hind section of the apricot orange forewings more convex than the other footmen... and it has black legs.

The books show orangey-cream hindwings and a yellow-grey, yellow-tipped abdomen.
The spikily hairy caterpillar has a black lump at each end and in the middle...
joined by a black line...and the sides are marbled with orange dots at regular intervals.
Again, like other Footman caterpillars, it feeds on lichens.


Next Monday... a change from the Footmen.... I haven't decided yet!

NB: The information from the other sources is now placed at the bottom of the post.

________________________________________________________
Sources
Other than Wikipedia.... and personal observations!
Moths and Butterflies of Europe and North Africa [ also known as Leps.it]
A superbly illustrated site.... marvellous on the Micromoths...
but difficult to use on a tablet/iPad.... an awful lot of scrolling needed.

Lepidoptera.eu   An excellent resource... with distribution maps

UK Moths This is quite a simple site... but nicely put together.

The German site Lepiforum.de - For really good samples of photos...
including museum specimens: to use....
Enter the Latin name and then select the Latin name from the list of pages found.
There is probably a lot more on this site... but I don't read [or speak] German!!

________________________________________________________
From the Wiki:

Wittia sororcula, the orange footman, is a moth of the family Arctiidae. It is found in Europe, Anatolia and further east across the Palearctic to southern Siberia and the Amur basin to China.

The wingspan is 27–30 mm. Forewing with the costa strongly convex and therefore the apical portion of the forewing considerably broader than in the forms of the luterella -group. Head, thorax, end of abdomen and the forewing bright golden yellow, the hindwing of male but little paler; in the female both wings slightly paler orange yellow. In contradistinction to lutarella, the costal area of the hindwing above and beneath is never black.
Subspecies

    Wittia sororcula sororcula
    Wittia sororcula orientis (Daniel, 1954)

Biology
The moth flies from April to June depending on the location. Larva blackish, with two yellow dorsal stripes with red dots and white spots. The larvae feed on lichen on trees, both on conifers  and on deciduous trees. Can be obtained by beating saplings, also in bushes and in the grass, sometimes feeding at flowers in the daytime.

________________________________________________________
From UK Moths

Orange Footman Eilema sororcula
(Hufnagel, 1766)
Wingspan 27-30 mm.

A woodland species, this moth is distributed in the southern half of Britain, rarely reaching further north than East Anglia.

The single brood flies in May and June, when it can be attracted to light.

The caterpillars live on lichens growing on the trunks of oak (Quercus) and beech (Fagus) trees.

Monday, 26 December 2016

Moth Mondays - The Red-necked Footman

MOTH MONDAYS


The Red-necked Footman
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Superfamily: Noctuoidea
Family: Arctiidae
Subfamily: Lithosiinae
Genus: Atolmis
Species: Atolmis rubricollis


A chorister for Boxing Day... albeit dressed in black with a red ruff...
all these pictures are of the same small moth... we've only seen it the once!!
[Early July 2014]
It is a woodland species and may well have arrived by accident?

This little moth, another footman, is the Red-necked Footman [Atolmis rubricollis] la Veuve, and is normally found in the forested regions of Europe and Northern Asia during the summer.
As mentioned, this is a black thorax with a collar of red, as on most pictures...
but you can clearly see red near the BACK of the thorax...
this is visible on other pictures on other sites.
We do have large woods very close to us, though, and the amount of woodland on our patch is increasing year on year.

Not the best photograph, but it also shows the red near the back of the thorax.


The caterpillars are found on Oak and Beech trees.. and feed on lichens...
here, they are equally likely to be found on Hornbeam... or probably any other broadleaf tree with tasty lichens!

From Wiki... [with reservations in red]:
The red-necked footman is a small moth that is mostly charcoal grey or deep dark brown (fresh specimens almost black), but has a conspicuous orange thorax, part of which is visible behind the black head as an orange-red collar. [I haven't found ONE picture that shows this... they all show a black thorax with a red or orange collar] The hindwings are a brownish-grey colour. The antennae and legs are black and the end of the abdomen is yellowish-orange or golden yellow. The wings are tightly folded together around the body and have pleated, squared-off ends.[again I haven't found ONE picture that shows this] The wingspan is 25 to 35 mm (1.0 to 1.4 in) and the length of the forewings is 15 to 18 mm (0.6 to 0.7 in).

The white eggs of the red-necked footman are laid in small groups in crevices in the branches of trees, especially those of old firs.[not according to all the other references]. They grow to a length of about 27 mm (1.1 in). Their head is black with a bold diagonal white stripe on either side. Their main colour is dark greenish-grey marbled with cream. Each segment bears six tiny reddish yellow warts which bear black hairs. [in fact, they are so lichen-like, that in one photograph on lepidoptera.eu... the caterpillar mid picture is almost invisible!] The caterpillars feed on lichens growing on the trunks and branches of trees, and can be found between August and October. They pupate before winter sets in and overwinter as glossy brownish red pupae, in a loose cocoon buried among moss and leaf litter. The moths fly between May and July depending on their location. They are mostly nocturnal, being attracted to lights, but also sometimes fly by day. Sometimes the moths feed at Scabious and other flowers in the sunshine, but usually rest in day-time on the long branches of firs [read trees] overhanging paths in woods, where they maybe obtained by beating.
Shown here on the first part of my index finger, this shows how small it is.
The red-necked footman is found in Europe South to the Mediterranean and East across the Palearctic to temperate Asia, including Siberia as far east as the Amur River and China. It is found in parts of Ireland, and in the United Kingdom is present in the south-westerly counties of England and Wales. Records from other parts of the United Kingdom probably represent accidentals and not breeding populations. It is a woodland species found in deciduous and coniferous woodland, especially on spruce trees, but also on pine, oak and beech. It likes to be near streams in cool wooded valleys in upland regions.

For interest... on the German site, a Red-necked Footman is pictured mating with an Orange Footman [Eilema sorocula]... whether or not anything came of this relationship in 2015 we are not told????

From UK Moths:

Red-necked Footman Atolmis rubricollis
(Linnaeus, 1758)
Wingspan 25-35 mm.

A primarily woodland species, which is distributed locally in the south and west of England and Wales, and parts of Ireland. Occasional records from elsewhere [in the UK] are considered to be probable migrants.

The single generation flies in June and July, when it can sometimes be found flying in the daytime. It is also nocturnal, coming to light.

Feeding on lichens and algae growing on tree-trunks, the larvae live in autumn, and the species overwinters as a pupa.

Next Monday... The Orange Footman....



________________________________________________________
Sources
Other than Wikipedia.... and personal observations!
Moths and Butterflies of Europe and North Africa [ also known as Leps.it]
A superbly illustrated site.... marvellous on the Micromoths...
but difficult to use on a tablet/iPad.... an awful lot of scrolling needed.

Lepidoptera.eu   An excellent resource... with distribution maps

UK Moths This is quite a simple site... but nicely put together...
and if you wait for them to come up... UK distribution maps

The German site Lepiforum.de - For really good samples of photos...
including museum specimens: to use....
Enter the Latin name and then select the Latin name from the list of pages found.
There is probably a lot more on this site... but I don't read [or speak] German!!