Tales from the Shack – July 2020 – it’s back!!

Posted by CDoyle on 31/07/2020

Over the last month you may have noticed me wandering around the marsh and other places, with Ian Sims (moth night and Bioblitz chappy), putting up odd looking pots in trees, only to be expected from an odd bunch, but we were on the trail of a group of elusive moths, called collectively, the Clearwings.

There are 14 resident clearwings in the UK and one of uncertain status.

They are wasp mimics, conferring protecting from predators, but they are easily distinguishable by body shape and wing markings. Most are active during the day, especially in sunny weather, but are probably overlooked because of their fast flight and wasp like appearance.

The job of the clearwing hunter has been made easier of late with the development of synthetic sex pheromones mimicking the natural pheromones produced by the female moth to attract a suitor. These ‘scents’ are picked up by the antennae of the male moths, a structure akin to a chemical radar dish. The strange looking pots I mentioned earlier are live traps, we put various pheromone lures in them with the hope of attracting these males.

To date we’ve recorded six species, the Hornet Moth (see above) on the poplars in the car park, the Red-tipped, Red-belted and Sallow on willows in the marsh, the Six-belted (see below) on Guelder Rose in Tookie wood and the Orange-tailed on Bird’s-foot Trefoil, again, in Tookie Wood. There is the potential to record a further four species, but as we are coming to the end of the breeding season, they will await the oddball clearwing catchers next year.

Natures Calendar in August

August can produce the hottest days of the year but can sometimes be cooler and wetter than June and July. It is usually the time we migrate to the coast and we are not alone, the Swift, Spotted-flycatcher and Nightingale are some of our summer residents already heading to their wintering grounds. Some, coming the other way, are at their peak, notably the Hummingbird Hawk-moth and Painted Lady Butterfly, look out for them on buddleia bushes. If you are coast bound, Covid permitting, this is the best time to spot Basking Sharks and the Barrel Jellyfish which is often seen washed up on the shoreline in large numbers.

Ragwort is in full flower, so look out for the resplendent caterpillars of the Cinnabar Moth in their ‘Jesterish’ yellow and black coats. Grass Snake babies will be hatching this month from eggs laid in warm, damp, decaying vegetation including compost heaps. Adder and Slow Worm babies are also arriving but these are viviparous species giving birth to live young. Young hedgehogs are weaning, so look out for, and after, these little bundles of prickly fun.

August is the time for ‘flying ant days’, when the Queens and Drones of the Black Garden Ant (Lasius niger) swarm in their thousands with one purpose on their minds. It is not fully understood what triggers this event but warm, still days, possibly following summer rain, seem to be perfect for them.

You may have wondered where the Mallard drakes have gone. Well, at this time of year they are in the moult, and, having lost their flight feathers are more vulnerable to predation, especially if they held onto the rich colours of the breeding season. This is known as ‘eclipse plumage’, a sort of dressing down, although to the females it might seem like dressing up, you might say ducks in drag. Finally, the Robins will start singing again after their summer recess, a sure sign that the seasons are moving on.