Category Archives: Members’ News

Members’ News – Please send your news items to webeditor@mknhs.org.uk

How did you become interested in nature? – Julie Lane

What were the sparks that ignited your interest in Natural History?

Whether you have a lifetime passion for wildlife and the natural world or have only recently discovered its beauty and diversity, those of us who belong to MKNHS have varied reasons for joining the Society. We would really like to know a bit more about what turned you on to nature in the first place.

In my case, my love of all things wild was ignited as a small child during visits to my grandparent’s thatched cottage in the New Forest. There was always a magic about arriving in the dark after a long journey to this beautiful topsy-turvy cottage which smelt of furniture polish, had wonky floors and walls and winding spiral staircases, and where you were at all times accompanied by the quiet ticks and chimes of the grandfather clock. But it was waking up the next morning to see roe deer in the enclosure just behind the fence and great spotted woodpeckers and nuthatches taking food from the feeder just outside the kitchen window when the real excitement began. Walks in the forest, feeding wild horses on the common outside the gate, making dens in the woods behind the cottage, it was just a magical place to visit. I was a very lucky little girl!

No-one in my family was particularly knowledgeable or interested in wild life. It was always me who pointed out some bird or deer out of the car window, but I was exposed to so much nature when I was growing up that I just soaked it up like a sponge and still do to this day. Ask me anything about literature or history or music and I am sadly lacking in knowledge but if it’s wildlife-related then I am interested.

My parents were great walkers and we spent our holidays in wild places, the North York Moors, the Lake District, Scotland. I was dragged protesting up many a mountain but I love these places now and seek them out for my own holidays. I also loved rock pooling as a young girl and that has left me with a fascination for the oceans of the world – I have been swimming, snorkelling and diving in them whenever I have been given the chance ever since.

I could go on, but it would be great to hear from others as to what it was that opened your eyes to the delights of the natural world. Please send in your thoughts – in just a few sentences or a longer article – anything would be very gratefully received.

Please send articles to webeditor@mknhs.org.uk

Julie Lane
July 2022

Life as a Practical Conservation Trainee at Spurn – Harry Appleyard

In October 2021, I was given the chance to join the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust as a Practical Conservation Trainee at Spurn National Nature Reserve. With my boots firmly in the ground as a watcher of my local patch in Milton Keynes, recording birds, odonata and carrying out yearly butterfly transects, the idea of travelling 200 miles to spend most of a year in a totally new environment was initially very daunting but after some lengthy consideration, I decided it was an opportunity that was too good to miss for my career aspirations.

Spurn is located at the tip of the east Yorkshire coast, about 45 minutes’ drive from the city of Hull. One of the country’s most renowned sites for birding, it delivers scarcities and rarities on a regular basis. The sea and the Reserve’s habitats are closely monitored by a dedicated band of local birders and recorders. Located just outside the reserve is the Spurn Bird Observatory, working in association with The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust for a wide variety of projects across Spurn and its neighbouring reserve Kilnsea Wetlands.

While it may be as close to the sea as you can get, Spurn’s traineeships are tailored to develop highly transferrable knowledge and practical skills that can be taken to a wide variety of landscapes. Whether you are already familiar with coastal areas or coming from a more inland setting, it’s an ideal place to kickstart a career in conservation. Trainees are quickly given hands-on experience with a variety of tasks including livestock management, site maintenance and use of reserve vehicles.

Some of Spurn’s livestock include Hebridean Sheep and the popular Highland Cattle, which are frequently checked and moved across the site between autumn and early spring. Their grazing helps to prepare the reserve’s wildflower meadows for spring and summer, protecting root systems which could be damaged by machinery and supporting ground-nesting bird species including Meadow Pipits and Skylarks.


Snow Bunting, Spurn 10 January 2022 (Photo © Harry Appleyard)

A large portion of the autumn and winter work involves site maintenance, trimming vegetation near the footpaths and increasing access to the Reserve’s features. There is also the Population Control of Brown-tailed Moths, a species that has had a strong foothold on the Reserve for many years. With their highly irritant hairs they are rarely eaten by birds, prevent the growth of berries and present a health risk to the general public as their caterpillars emerge in early spring. Thought to have arrived from Lincolnshire, the parasitic wasps that typically prey on the species are unfortunately yet to colonise the area, meaning controlled human intervention is currently the best way forward on this SSSI.

A more exclusive task for Spurn over the past few months has been Eelgrass Restoration. Now present in just a small portion of the Humber after a significant decline many years ago, the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Marine Team have been hard at work to get this unique species. Some of the rainier days of the autumn were spent making Sea Grass bags, small sacks of Hessian with the tiny seeds and sediment wrapped inside, ready to be planted at the edge of the Humber at low tide.

The everchanging washover is a good place to practise off-road driving. Once holding a road connecting the northern half of the reserve to the southern half, it is now only accessible by the Spurn reserve team and the RNLI, based at The Point. On some days it can be largely flat and smooth with a thin layer of shingle, on others it can be more rocky but negotiable with the Reserve’s 4×4 vehicle.

A more recent task has been installing electric fencing on the Reserve’s thinnest section of beach, the washover, protecting Ringed Plovers and Oystercatchers from ground-based predators and preventing human disturbance. Carrying out beach patrols in this area has been a good way of interacting with visitors, raising awareness of ground-nesting shorebirds, talking about other recent finds on-site with the bonus of possibly seeing a seal, porpoise or even a dolphin!


Green Hairstreak, Spurn 30 April 2022 (Photo © Harry Appleyard)

 

As I write this in early June, just over halfway through the traineeship, I can happily say this was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It’s already given me so much knowledge and new skills that I never initially saw myself gaining! With thanks to on-site LANTRA training and practice with Spurn’s Reserve team, I recently passed my Brushcutter training, meaning I and the other volunteers who participated will be gaining a license for using them across other parks and reserves nationally.

It’s also been a massive eyeopener to the everyday running of a nature reserve throughout the year in so many ways – seeing how tasks are co-ordinated around weather and tide times, how events are planned and promoted and the interactions between regional teams within The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. It’s an access-all-areas opportunity, so trainees are at the forefront of the fieldwork and behind-the-scenes projects at the Reserve and heavily integrated with the rest of the team. There’s also the opportunity to partake in external training hosted by The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust at other Reserves in the county.

On days off you are free to your own devices but there is so much to explore and do across Spurn and its neighbouring reserve, Kilnsea Wetlands. For birding the possibilities are nearly endless here, with scarcities and rarities being found on a near daily basis especially around the peaks of spring and autumn migration. Some of my favourite “firsts” from here have included Brown Shrike, Red-backed Shrike, Temminck’s Stint, Glaucous Gull, Red-rumped Swallow, and just days after I started in October, Britain’s 10th Two-barred Greenish Warbler which lingered for several days by the Discovery Centre.

I cannot thank the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust enough for giving me this amazing opportunity. It’s been well worth while for gaining confidence in travelling further afield and working in new and exciting parts of the country. The ride isn’t over yet though and I can’t wait to see what the next few months bring!

Harry Appleyard
July 2022

Top photo: Sunrise, Spurn 11 December 2021 (Photo © Harry Appleyard)

Visiting Pilch Field on a sunny May afternoon – Jenny Mercer

Photo above: Green-winged orchid (Photo © Julian Lambley)
An early May Visit on a sunny Sunday afternoon had extensive stands of Green-winged Orchid Anacamptis morio and Cowslip Primula veris.
Green-winged orchid, from above, showing characteristic fine, green, parallel lines  (Photo © Jenny Mercer)
The deep purple of the orchids and strong yellow of the Cowslips showed along the ridges of this unimproved grassland  with the adjacent damper furrows, in particular –  showing sedges and Adders Tongue Ophioglossum vulgatum, with some pink Cuckooflower Cardamine pratensis (also known as Ladies-smock).

Adders Tongue (Photo © Jenny Mercer)
For me this year, the Marsh Valerian Valeriana dioica, with its presentation of male and female flowers on separate plants, was a highlight.  They seem to be expanding in any damper areas, especially along the damp slopes to the north west of the highest part of the large field.
Marsh Valerian flowers (Photo©Jenny Mercer)
Above: female – pink/ whitish, showing very clearly rounded form of the inflorescence
Below: male – pure white and flattish
Below that slope the large marshy area had glorious stands of King Cup, May flower or Marsh Marigold – alternative names for Calthis palustris – more than I’ve ever seen there.
Marsh Marigold (Photo©Jenny Mercer)
Do visit, as every month has its treasures.
Jenny Mercer
9 May 2022

 

International Dawn Chorus Day at Linford Lakes – Peter Barnes

On Sunday 1st May I went on the North Bucks RSPB dawn chorus walk at Linford Lakes – a 5.45 a.m start.  Chris Coppock was the leader, very ably assisted by Martin Kincaid.

We heard eight varieties of warbler: blackcap, chifchaff, common whitethroat, Cetti’s, garden, reed, sedge, willow and all bar Cetti’s were seen too. Two cuckoos were heard (thanks to Martin’s stereophonic ears) and one of them was spotted (by me) high up in a tree on the eastern side of the lake. 

There were several other welcome sightings – common tern, gadwall, great spotted woodpecker, greenfinch, jay, and lapwing, as well as the usual wildfowl.  An enjoyable two hours plus.

Peter Barnes
1st May 2022

Opportunity for Wildlife watching in Scotland

MKNHS member Chris Coppock has just had to withdraw for health reasons from a Scottish wildlife holiday run by Naturetrek for members of North Bucks RSPB.  The dates are 25th May to 1st June, and the cost was £1335 per person based on sharing a room: £155 single supplement.  He had a single room booked, and the outstanding balance is £1192 (he’s paid the £299 deposit).  See the holiday description below and the contacts if you’d like to follow this up.

“The wild landscapes around the River Spey in the Scottish Highlands are amongst the most unspoilt in the UK. The area inland of Inverness and the Moray Firth embodies much of what people love about Scotland, encompassing the high peaks of the Cairngorms, peaceful forests and scenic river valleys, all within a relatively small area. These alpine uplands, windswept moorlands, remote lochs and ancient Caledonian pinewoods also support some of the country’s rarest and most exciting creatures. Speyside is technically just the area around the River Spey, although many use the term more generically to refer to the ‘whiskey triangle’. Our tour will visit Speyside as well as Strathspey, Badenoch, the Cairngorms and Moray, taking in the ancient Caledonian Pine Forest, hidden lochans, beautiful coastline and high passes in search of the region’s wildlife. We’ll stay for 7 nights in the area, searching for iconic birds and mammals such as Golden Eagle, Red and Black Grouse, Red Squirrel, Crested Tit and Crossbill. Spring is a particularly rewarding time to visit, when the forests resound with the calls of songbirds and summer visitors have arrived to breed, while the occasional passage migrant or lingering winter visitor can still be found.

Click here for full itinerary.  If you want to know more, contact Paul Tucker ptucker3@sky.com , 01908-563006 or barney@naturetrek.co.uk  01962-733051”

Winter in the New Forest – Julie Lane

On the first weekend in March I joined a Naturetrek group for a short trip to the New Forest.

I am very fond of this area as my Grandparents had a thatched cottage and beautiful garden backing on to the forest enclosure in a village called Woodgreen. I have many happy memories from my childhood spent in this area so it was a real joy to go back and be shown some of the special areas for wildlife down there.

We visited areas in the forest itself and also spent a morning down at Keyhaven marshes, situated next to Hurst Castle spit on the Solent, with fine views across to the Needles on the Isle of Wight.

At Keyhaven we saw lots of beautiful ducks in their breeding finery including pintails (lots), teal, gadwall, wigeon and quite a few nice waders. We were hoping for a glimpse of a stray white-tailed eagle ranging across from the island but it was not to be J

The first place we visited in the forest was Acre Wood where we were very excited to see distant but good views of displaying Goshawk. We then went on to several other sites.

But the highlight of the weekend was the next morning when few of us got up early and went back to Acre Wood and much to our delight were treated to a duet by a pair of beautiful lesser spotted woodpeckers (a first for me). We had very good views of both the male and female and came away on a real high – it was difficult to wipe the smiles off our faces when we met the rest of the group for breakfast.

I don’t have a good camera for photographing birds at the moment so didn’t get any good photos but I did take an audio recording of them both drumming which I hope will be of interest:

Julie Lane

Edward O Wilson, Naturalist 1929-2021 – Mike LeRoy

On Boxing Day, a great naturalist came to the end of his days aged 92. He was Edward Osborne Wilson. He was often known simply as EO Wilson.

EO was not just a scientist. He was: a biologist, a botanist, an ecologist, an entomologist, a close observer of life with plenty of fieldwork skills. Some compared him to Charles Darwin because of his ability as a synthesiser and as a close observer of living things. His respect for Darwin is evident from his introduction to his compilation of Darwin’s writings in From So Simple a Beginning: Darwin’s Four Great Books (2005).

EO was also an assiduous writer who wrote science in ways that anyone can understand, but also an environmentalist alerting others to the loss of species. He wrote more than 35 books and was still writing them through his eighties. Here is a selection of them. Most are readily available second-hand:

  • The Theory of Island Biogeography (1967) with Robert H MacArthur
  • The Insect Societies (1971)
  • Biophilia (1984)
  • The Ants (1990) with Bert Hölldobler
  • The Diversity of Life (1992)
  • Journey to The Ants: a story of scientific exploration’ (1994) with Bert Hölldobler
  • Naturalist (1994, new edition 2006) his autobiography
  • In Search of Nature (1996)
  • Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1998)
  • The Future of Life (2002)
  • The Creation: an appeal to save life on earth (2006).

In his 80s EO wrote a trilogy of books:

  • The Social Conquest of Earth (2012)
  • The Meaning of Human Existence (2014)
  • Half-Earth (2016).

EO carried out field studies in: New Guinea, the South Pacific, the Amazon and Florida Keys, though he cut his entomological teeth as a child in Alabama where he discovered all 42 species of ants and produced a report about them, then told the authorities about the arrival of the invasive fire ant.

EO was brilliant at identifying insects, at observing them and understanding their behaviour. One reason he concentrated on ants was because at age seven he blinded himself in a fishing accident. But he retained his vision in the other eye and this led to him focusing on little things as he lost his stereoscopic vision but could still see fine details on insects.  His book The Ants written jointly with Bert Hölldobler led the field in understanding the complex world of social insects.

EO worked on studies of how new species evolved. He was also a clever and deep-thinking scientist, and developed several new theories not just about insects but also about ecology and the future.

While a Director of WWF, EO met Tom Loveday who worked for WWF. They both went on explorations to major wildlife areas such as the Brazilian rain forests and began to realise the scale at which species were being lost. In the 1970s they discussed the need for new terminology to describe what they were studying and came up with the term ‘Biological Diversity’ which they later abbreviated to ‘Biodiversity’.

EO’s book The Diversity of Life (1992) shows the immense span of his understanding of the origins of life, its evolution, and the amazing range of living things in our own times. EO also developed controversial ideas about Sociobiology and human nature, so controversial that a protester poured a jug of ice-cold water over his head when he was a speaker at a major scientific conference. Less controversial were EO’s ideas about Biophilia, how we as humans feel an intimate connection with nature and animals.

EO was involved in launching the Encyclopaedia of Life to create a global database of all the 1.9 million species recognised by science and information about each of them. EO set up an experiment in the Amazon known as the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project, which increased understanding of how habitat fragmentation was accelerating the loss of species. He said: “Destroying a tropical rainforest for profit is like burning all the paintings of the Louvre to cook dinner.”

EO became increasingly disturbed about climate change caused by humankind and our burning of fuels and consumption of materials. About this he said: “Only in the last moment in history has the delusion arisen that people can flourish apart from the rest of the living world.”

He also became more and more troubled by the extinction of species and said: “The one process now going on that will take millions of years to correct is the loss of genetic and species diversity by the destruction of natural habitats. This is the folly our descendants are least likely to forgive us.”

Mike LeRoy
January 2022

Curlew by Peter Hassett, Draycote Water 1 March 2017

Local Curlew reporting in 2021

Photo: Curlew by Peter Hassett, Draycote Water 1 March 2017

Jenny Mercer has been trying to get reports together of local curlew sightings but as they are sadly few and far between it has not been an easy task.  However, she has produced this report below and I have added information provided by Martin Kincaid, Kenny Cramer and Linda Murphy. Thank you for all of you who contributed and keep the information coming in for 2022 and hopefully we can give an update at the end of the year.
Julie Lane

Jenny Mercer (11 January 2022)
It has been a disappointment to me that so few reports of Curlew reached me in North Bucks in 2021.  However, thanks to my interest being rekindled by Mary Colwell’s book Curlew Moon– which I reviewed for the April 2020 edition of the Magpie, I have found my way onto web-based events on Waders and have kept updated nationally from the charity Curlew Action website https://www.curlewaction.org founded by Mary Colwell.

Locally within Milton Keynes reports reached me of one curlew which called in at Willen Lake for a few days and another curlew was heard then briefly seen by Julie Lane at Olney.  Both thought to be on migration. Bucks Bird Club may have recorded other sightings.

Two nature reserve sites, not too far from Milton Keynes, have had curlew attempting to breed in 2021.  They are located in the Upper Ray river valley, a tributary of the Thames river system:  BBOWT’s Gallows Bridge reserve and the RSPB’s Otmoor reserve

The update from Gallows Bridge is of failure to breed in 2021, though there was one nest which was predated this year. There is a proposal to protect any nests next year with some kind of security system. One of our members saw three curlews at Gallows Bridge, lucky man! I hope to get over there at the end of February/early March this year when the curlews return and start displaying.

 Martin Kincaid (24th November 2021)
I haven’t seen or heard a curlew in MK for quite some time. They were semi-regular at Manor Farm/FPF when it was being excavated and I saw 2 or 3 not long after it was opened as a nature reserve, but none for about 4 years. I think Willen is the only other local site where I have seen them.

Kenny Cramer (23rd November 2021)
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a curlew in Milton Keynes!   Looking at goingbirding.co.uk, I found two reports from Willen Lake in the last year, on 11th March and 13th July.

Linda Murphy – updates from volunteers meetings, RSPB Otmoor:

Curlew Update 2019
The curlew project continued to monitor breeding birds in the core areas of the Upper Thames Tributaries. Where breeding pairs were identified attempts were made to locate their nests. In total 15 nests were found, of which 11 were on the Otmoor basin. On the Otmoor Basin 5 nests hatched, two nests were predated by badger and the other 4 failed. Two of the nests were successfully protected with electric fencing. Five fledged birds were recorded on the Otmoor basin which was then the most ever recorded.

Curlew update 2021
13 nests were located altogether (3 were probably re-lays after initial failure)
8 nests were fenced to keep out predators (6 hatched)
5 nests were unfenced (2 hatched)

9 curlew chicks fledged compared to 6 in 2020 and 5 in 2019. So considered a good level of success this year.  This improving result has attracted interest from reserves in other parts of the country.

The volunteers managed to ring three chicks (apparently it is extremely hard to catch them…) and the rings have small ‘flags’ attached with letters, HP, HY, HA, nicknamed after plants on the moor – Pepper (after Pepper Saxifrage); Yarrow; Angelica.

Pepper has already been sighted on the west coast of Ireland in Co Kerry. They had not expected that the chicks dispersed so far.

As birds tend to return to and favour similar breeding places, they hope the numbers breeding in the area will gradually increase.

Curlew are a major focus for land management work being carried out on the land tenancy the RSPB have taken over from the MOD, and will be a focus for the land they hope to buy through the Otmoor appeal.

https://www.rspb.org.uk/join-and-donate/donate/appeals/Otmoor-Land-Purchase-Appeal/
and
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8AawqFGEk6M

 

 

 

News from Little Willow Lake, Newton Leys – Colin Docketty

For several weeks now, a fully mature adult Great White Egret with green lores [1] has been feeding daily on Little Willow Lake (behind Asda). He is a very expert fisher and is catching plenty of food. The other day he pulled out a very large bit of weed with a very small fish attached to it. He was determined not to lose the fish and preserved, eventually getting his reward.

Also on the lake is a pair of swans with their three now well-grown young. The male swan will not tolerate the presence of another adult swan on the lake. As soon as the intruder lands, he water-skis across the surface of the water, wings flapping at top speed, to send the intruder on its way. I have never seen a swan move so fast. The male is nevertheless quite happy with the presence of the egret, which is giving many local people much pleasure on their daily walks. In 2020 this pair of swans raised eight cygnets to full adulthood.

Also note that there are several hundred gulls at Newton Leys on the large lake in Guernsey Road (no cars) by the waste-processing facility. There is also a large additional group on the playing fields of the Sir Herbert Leon Academy (Lakes Estate- Drayton Road/Fern Grove) just across the other side of the railway line.

Colin Docketty
November 2021

[1] ‘lores’ – the area between the eye and the beak

Glistening webs – Julie Lane

This morning was one of those mornings when you wake up to a misty fog and feel like staying tucked up in bed (a heavy cold makes this idea even more appealing!). But our dog needs to be walked so I set off to a world of magic.

The local field is cloaked in a blanket of silken spider’s web. In the past I have seen this gossamer bathed in the morning sun which sets it afire in rainbow colours – one of the most beautiful sights in nature.


(All photos by Julie Lane)

I meet a man with a dog who says ‘I don’t like spiders ugh!’ – how sad. I meet another man who says ‘yes, the webs are amazing but watch out for the false widow spider!’ Human beings have such a deep ingrained fear of these creatures.

I wander up to the Barn field above Olney where the whole place is adorned with dew-covered silken web. This phenomenon allows me to see the different structures of the webs in great clarity. There are the classic orb webs strung across gaps between the bushes with large beads of dew weighing them down. There are the hammocks of funnel web spiders nearer to the ground with their occupants hiding down the funnels waiting to pounce. But also the dew highlights the incredible cloaking of the bushes and ground with what I think are the webs of what we call money spiders.

I remember reading a beautiful article by John Lister-Kaye in which he describes these tiny beings climbing up the stalks of grasses in their billions, lifting their abdomens and releasing their silken lines from their spinnerets – when the weight of this arc of silk becomes greater then their own weight they are whisked up into the atmosphere to be dispersed by the winds to other realms.

As I walk through the field and down to the river Ouse I marvel at the sheer volume of silk and number of spiders that are revealed on this Autumn morning. How on earth does any other insect avoid being tangled and consumed?  It makes me wonder if nature has timed this glut of spiders to perfection. Spiders are most evident in the Autumn although there are many around in the summer. Is it possible that the insect world is allowed to get on with its living and reproducing in relative peace earlier on in the season but later on when they are coming to the end of their reproductive lives the spiders and other predators like wasps use this bonanza of protein to reproduce and produce their own progeny – wouldn’t that be neat!!

Some of us are not spider fans but if these predators didn’t exist in such huge numbers we might be overrun by other insects. Perhaps it’s all part of the wonderful balance that has evolved over the millennia.

Disclaimer J Any comments made in this article come from my own rather sparse knowledge and musings so may not be factually correct!

Julie Lane
Olney  9th October 2021

Postscript:

The Sneaky, Greedy Spider

The sneaky greedy spider
creeps on eight hairy legs
She spins a web of silk
and fills a sack of eggs

She catches a tired fly
and wraps him like a mummy
Dinner is served
Her feast is rather yummy

Nicolette Lennert (courtesy of theclassroomcreative.com)

Audrey Prince

Many members will have heard the sad news that Audrey Prince passed away on 27th August at the age of 94. Audrey and John (our nonagenarian member and dormouse expert) were married for 73 years! She led a very full and active life over all those years and will be greatly missed by all who knew her, but especially by John and her family. John has asked me to pass on his thanks to everyone who has been in touch, or sent cards or letters. He really appreciates your thoughts, support and sympathy. He has also said that if anyone wants to make a donation in memory of Audrey, she suggested Willen Hospice. Her family have emphasised the tremendous support they received from Willen Hospice during the final months of Audrey’s life following her cancer diagnosis, enabling her to stay at home as she wished.

Donations can be made online at https://www.willen-hospice.org.uk/donate

Linda Murphy

Moth Night 8-10 July 2021 – A tribute to Gordon Redford

As we know, Gordon Redford was a passionate moth-er. The following is a request from his daughter Rachel, with her personal tribute to her father available through this link.

Moth Night 2021 runs through 8th, 9th and 10th July, this year (see https://www.mothnight.info/). In Gordon’s memory, and so he can appreciate all those moth lights up in the heaven-sent sky, if you do moth, have mothed with him, or want to give it a go, please set up your moth traps over these dates (one or all three dates) and light them in his memory.

Raise a glass and take a few photos of your lit moth trap, of you, along with a few photos (maybe 3-5 photos) of your favourite most beautiful of moths that you get in the traps that night or the next morning … you know the ones, that you just know have been sent to you by Dad/Gordon/Nodrog/Gordon the Warden to make you marvel and smile … then, please send your photos over to me. (Please send any you have of him or with you together from past ventures.)

I’d like to collect them all and arrange a collage or mosaic using all the photos that is both mothical and mythical and magical in his honour and as part of our follow-on tribute to an absolute moth legend and green guardian angel!

*** We will be arranging a gathering in his memory (a true celebration of his life, to show love and respect, and a send off and goodbye) and can let you know more in time – date and place and time to be arranged in the future … ***

Thank you
Rachel Redford
rachelredford007@gmail.com

 

 

Spring 2021: Wildlife in the local area – Tony Wood

Hairy-footed Bee seen in April (Photo © Rebecca Hiorns)

During the first three months of this year we, and of course our wildlife, have experienced a vast change in weather conditions. In January there was another “Beast from the East” causing floods locally and just a sprinkle of snow. In February “Storm Darcy” was followed by warm weather; March gave us clear blue skies and long periods of frosty nights; ending with April being recorded the driest and frostiest for 50 years.

Mammals – Otters were reported at Shenley Brook End, Linford Lakes Reserve and Simpson and in March three Roe Deer were observed near Little Linford Wood. There was also a report from a non-member that whilst travelling around the local country roads in April she counted over 20 roadkill Badgers. The Mammal Survey Group, under the direction of Carla Boswell from the Parks Trust, installed over 50 footprint tunnels around Linford Lakes Reserve to investigate the possibility of Dormice on the site. Carla took a walk around Furzton Lake and Tattenhoe Brook mid-May in the evening and recorded four species of bat; Common Pipistrelle, Soprano Pipistrelle, Noctule and Daubenton`s. Whilst checking mammal nest boxes at Little Linford Wood at the end of March, I found a single Brown Long-eared Bat. Normally they are not discovered in the boxes at that wood until May. Finally, a mink was observed at Caldecotte in April.

Butterflies and Moths- Whilst the warm, sunny days were ideal for butterflies, with Brimstone as early as February, the cold nights deterred the moths, although a Red-green Carpet Moth was reported by Andy Harding in February, a species not usually recorded until March. Owing to the continuous stretch of frosty nights in April, for the first time for many years I did not record any moths in my garden during that month.

Birds- During the first four months of this year there was a multitude of observations locally submitted to the Society`s website. Migrants such as warblers, hirundinidae and waders. For that reason, I will restrict this account to the more unusual species reported locally.

During January Great White Egrets and an Iceland Gull visited the Forest Floodplain, Caspian Gull and a Peregrine at Willen Lake, a Dartford Warbler at Hazeley Wood, a Black Redstart at Newport Pagnell, Common Crossbill and an Iceland Gull in flight over Tattenhoe, and a Great Northern Diver and Pink-footed Goose at Caldecotte.

February species included a Mandarin Duck at Willen, a possible juvenile Marsh Harrier at Linford Lakes Reserve, two Whooper Swans in flight at Gayhurst, a Caspian Gull at Caldecotte, and two Ring-necked Parakeets at Wolverton.

Unusual birds recorded locally in March included a Mediterranean Gull at the Forest Floodplain and Willen, an Osprey also at Willen, and a Brent Goose at Linford Lakes Reserve.

April produced a Siberian Chiffchaff and a Kittiwake in flight at Tattenhoe, a Hoopoe near Willen Lake, another Marsh Harrier at Linford Lakes Reserve, and a surprising Spoonbill seen in flight over Wymbush Industrial Site in Milton Keynes.

During 2019 six White-tailed Sea Eagles were released on the Isle of Wight, three remained around that area, one hit overhead cables and died, one disappeared, and one took flight. This last one was monitored with a tracking device and in 17 months covered 4900 kms. It was confirmed that during March this year that it visited Linford Lakes Reserve. Now that is a major tick!!!!!

Summer will soon be with us and I have a task for you. It would appear there are 240 species of dandelion in the UK – how many can you find?

Tony Wood
21st May 2021

Roy’s Reminiscences – Roy Maycock, MKNHS President

I have been asked by several committee members if I would write an article for the website about the paths my life has taken and the people I met along the way who influenced me to become such a keen botanist. I hope that you will find it interesting.

Privet was the first plant whose name I remembered. I was in a pushchair at the time on the way to visit my Grandma and had to pass a privet hedge. My father was there and was able to break a twig for her. Next I remember daisies and it was, as before, my father who picked several and made a daisy chain – again for my Grandma!

Then there is a long gap before I remember the name of another plant. In my teens I attended a youth club with a brilliant leader. In the summer he occasionally set us a ‘scavenger hunt’ which meant going outside to find various items and one year this included the plant Oxford Ragwort. At the time I was in the sixth form at school doing Biology as an A-level so not knowing a plant was unacceptable. I was told what it was and still remember it!

I kept in touch with my Biology teacher and she became a close friend until she died. She too was keen on the native flora and that set me going – I learnt the names of flowering plants and their latin names from her. There was a small pond in the school grounds which we sometimes visited and one plant that grew there was Cardamine pratensis (cuckoo flower). I was told ‘learn the latin name and that will never change’ – how untrue! – but that one has not changed. More recently there have been huge changes as DNA has uncovered true relationships between plants, but that was not the case when I started at Durham university in 1952 – not so long ago!

Going to Durham was the biggest change in my life so far, especially taking Botany with a professor who was a taxonomist who encouraged me greatly. One day in my first term, in the Science library, one journal took my eye, published by the BSBI (now the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland). I joined the society and am still a member 68 years later with 34 of those years as the Bucks County Recorder.

In the last term of my third year at Durham I was lucky to be introduced to a person studying for a doctorate. I offered to help and spent many hours sat in grassy fields in Upper Teesdale acting as a scribe – I learnt a lot.

Then national service for the next two years in the RAF. Looking back they were probably the most different and ‘sort of’ enjoyable years of my life. After ‘square-bashing’ came a course to be a nursing attendant and then for a few months I working in a ‘sick quarters’ before returning to the camp where I had done my course. This was brilliant as it was here that I learnt how to teach ’RAF fashion’ and this skill I used for all my following years spent teaching in schools (my actual university teacher training course was hardly any use!). De-mob from the RAF was on August bank holiday which meant I had the rest of the month to get used to ‘civvy street’ before, in early September, I started as a teacher of Biology at the Royal Latin School, Buckingham which became my ‘proper’ job for the next 30 years including time spent as Head of Science.

Having retired early I spent the next year looking for another job before finding one with the local Wildlife Trust (BBOWT). The job involved teaching new graduates how to do field work as part of a new government scheme. The scheme came to an end a year later but the Trust kept me on for a few more years – but then what next?

At this point the BSBI thought up a national project which involved selecting and surveying 10% of the best churchyards for each county. But how to select the best 10%? Buckinghamshire had 260 churchyards and all of these had to be visited at least twice to find the best 10%!!

The Natural History Society summer outings were ideal for this project and I suggested visiting a few, including one at Wing. We visited on the same evening as the bell ringers’ practice and one ringer was sent down from the tower to find out what we were doing. Satisfied he went back up and ringing resumed!

The next problem was what to do with all the lists of plants I had made? I knew one of the members of staff at Buckingham University and having mentioned my dilemma to him, we got together and drew up a plan for using the data. After lots of writing and producing graphs etc. it finally morphed into a dissertation worth a Master of Science Degree at Durham University. Since then I have been asked to supply lists of plants in Buckinghamshire churchyards on several occasions, but one day in 2020 I had two requests in a single day!

In 1989 I met a 13-year-old lad called Aaron Woods who was already a competent botanist. We became good friends and for the next ten years we surveyed lots of sites together in Buckinghamshire and elsewhere especially Oxfordshire churchyards. We had holidays together in the UK and with other botanists abroad. In 1999 he moved to London and later Herefordshire but we still keep in close contact.

Up until that date the only published ‘Flora of Buckinghamshire’ was by G.C. Druce in 1926! To fill this gap we decided we could produce not a complete flora but ‘A checklist of all the plants of Buckinghamshire’ including Milton Keynes and Slough. The Society published it for us in 2005.

What have I done for the Society over the years? – quite a lot, I like to think! At the start there were only four of us and numbers increased slowly at first with every single member on the committee! As the membership expanded we had to move our meeting place several times to locations that could accommodate us but now our numbers are more stable the Cruck Barn at the City Discovery Centre is ideal.


Cutting from the local MK Press in 1989, about the 21st anniversary of MKNHS

Over time I had many roles within the committee starting as Secretary, then Chairman for 2 years, Treasurer for 8 years and now President since 1992. I was most pleased to accept the office but I know I don’t do as much as I used to. One of my duties as President is to say something at the end of the indoor talks and I am always waiting in slight trepidation for inspiration from the speaker which nearly always has been provided! The tables were turned at our 50th Anniversary event when I was so pleased to be presented with the badger picture, a reminder of all the time I spent writing up Bernard Frewin’s reports of his hours spent monitoring translocated badgers in the field. I was also delighted to become an honorary member of the Society.

I hope that now my active botanising days are behind me there will be other botanists and much recording of flora within the Society in the years to come.

Roy Maycock
April 2021

A moth in the porch: Part 2 – Andy Harding

(Photo above of a – but not the – Red-Green Carpet. © Andy Harding)

In early March 2018 I ‘penned’ a short note to Magpie1 about a moth, a Pale Brindled Beauty Phigalia pilosaria, which stayed in and around our porch from February 16th to March 3rd, sometimes exposed to inclement weather, but ignoring better days to fly off, until a definite thaw precipitated its departure.

This interesting (to me at least!) sequence of events has been paralleled in recent days by a different species, which stayed for 15 nights.  The specific identity of this moth may give a clue to the reason for apparent inactivity, even if conditions seemed conducive to night time flight.

This year’s moth was first seen on the morning of February 21st: a Red-green Carpet Chloroclysta siterata, again adjacent to the outside porch light at around head height.  Despite its strikingly vibrant green colour, I didn’t photograph it, since I have plenty of photos of the species.  Had I known I was going to write this note, I would have done so!!

This individual, we can be sure, was a female.  Males of this species do not survive beyond autumn, but females hibernate and expect to mate with males emerging from mid-March onwards.  However this one was three weeks earlier than any I have encountered in Old Stratford in the last 12 years.  So early, in fact, that when I entered the record in the 2020/2021 winter Garden Moth Survey spreadsheet, it gave me a warning that it was outside the normal flight period and the record should be checked again before confirmation.

The moth seemed not to have moved at all from night 1 to night 2, but for the next 4 nights moved a few centimetres in different directions and ended up in different attitudes on the same area of brickwork.  A bright sunny afternoon then was presumed to force it inside the small porch, where it again moved nightly to different pieces of the brickwork and then to the glass on the front door.  Then on March 2nd it moved to the solid (PVC) part of the front door and as far as I could tell it remained in precisely the same spot for 4 nights.  After a single night back on the brickwork inside the porch, it disappeared.  A check of the porch confirmed it had not simply succumbed in the porch.

The inside of the porch has a light on all night to accompany the exterior light to which it was first attracted.  Maximum daytime temperatures varied from 9C to 13C and night-time minima from 5C to 0C, with frosts on three nights.  During the period a very modest number of moths visited the two moth traps in the back garden (max of 4) so conditions were not entirely inimical to night-time moth flight.

So why didn’t she move any real distance.  Of course, I don’t know, but here is my sixpennyworth, and this may be rubbish.  Well, there are two lights very close to her position, so these might be so attractive as to ensure she did not go very far.  However moths frequently pitch up adjacent to the lights in and around the porch but usually stay for just one or two nights.  So I prefer the idea that this female moth instinctively ‘felt’ she had to move very little.  Flight takes up energy which can be better used for egg production, so she may have been pumping our pheromones waiting to attract males, which sadly this early in the year were not likely to have emerged, or so I assume.  As I complete this on March 12th we are not quite at mid-month, but soon male Red-green Carpets will be emerging.  I like to think she can hang on somewhere for a few more days!

If anyone has more sensible ideas about what was going on here, please send those ideas in to webeditor@mknhs.org.uk.

Footnote: you may wonder why, although I did not photograph this moth when it first arrived, I didn’t do so when putting this little note together.  While a brilliant bright green on arrival, it had lost much of its lustre in latter days, as is the way with all green moths!

Andy Harding

1 Andy’s earlier article about the Pale Brindled Beauty can be found in The Magpie April 2018

Name these Tracks – Julie Lane

The 4 photos in this post were taken at RSPB Haweswater in Cumbria in the snowy conditions last week.

I thought people might enjoy trying to identify them. {If you click on a photo, you should be able to enlarge it.)

We can have a discussion at one of our zoom meetings in a few weeks’ time.

Tracks 1 (above) and 2 (below) were made by medium-sized creatures and we think we know who made them.

Track 2

Tracks 3 and 4 are smaller and although we have ideas we are not sure who left them in the snow.

Track 3

Track 4

Julie Lane
15 April 2021

The joy of allotments and how I make mine wildlife friendly – Jenny Mercer

(All photos © Jenny Mercer)

I have loved having my allotment over the past 10 years or so since I retired at 60, and during lockdown it’s been my space for respite and recovery.  It’s a place for me to get away from the dreariness and despondency of lockdown, long days with long patches of thinking “how can I fill my time?”. Actually I’ve always used my allotment to boost my mood; the only thing that changed during lockdown was that I decided not to plant up my greenhouse in 2020, just in case we were required to abandon visiting our plots (by government edict).

Also in my retirement I have always used my plot for ongoing exercise, in preference to housework, and in addition it has the advantage of being more productive! It’s also an opportunity to be sociable and to be as creative as I can to help wildflowers and wild animals. For me that includes wildlife-friendly veg and flower growing – I mix them together.

When I visit my allotment I generally take a book or magazine with me and a flask of tea. If I need to go shopping in Stony I often buy a newspaper and walk home to my house, by a slightly longer route … visiting my allotment on the way, pausing to read the paper whilst I am there. So as you can see, I’ve used my plot for recreation for a long time before the Coronavirus pandemic.

Usually I have a designated allotment bag by my front door with stuff to take to the plot on my next visit, e.g. vegetable waste for the compost bin, seedlings or seeds and sometimes a tool or two that’s usually kept at home. I frequently push a full wheelbarrow to and fro with potting compost, seedtrays and pots!

I operate a ‘no chemicals’ plot and have developed my own ‘no dig’ allotment project using green manure (especially phacelia) all the year round, and generally after clearing a crop. It stops the weeds and the insects love it. Some would say that the way I treat self-sown Swiss chard and Lambs lettuce are just like a green manure … but hey! they are deliciously edible and free too.

I always have a ‘fallow area’ for wildlife around raspberry canes and/or my strawberry bed with its mulch of straw from last year. I also generally leave just the last few of last year’s un-harvested parsnips and onions which have lovely flower heads and enhance insect life in spring.

Couch grass is a nuisance but I treat it as my rotation task each year; there is always a newly established area that it has invaded. I might put down cardboard to suppress it a bit and then I do have to dig or find a friend to help, as my back can’t stand the strain.

I usually put early potatoes in the former couch grass/newly dug over areas. Then I choose an area for legumes and plant climbing French beans, a few runners and token peas (usually sugar snap, as my grandsons love them for eating on plot). I try sowing roots – just a few carrots and parsnips, plus a few salad crops and most years I grow maize/sweet corn and buy in tomato plants and aubergines if I’m using the greenhouse.  In mid-summer I search for brassicas and plant-out purple sprouting broccoli and most years I plant broad beans in the autumn for an early spring crop.

Flowers that I grow on the allotment to attract in the pollinators are self-sown chamomile and feverfew, borage (which grows like the plague but is wonderful for insects), sweet peas, dahlias, gladioli, verbena bonariensis, California poppy and nasturtiums. Oh and cardoons, a giant thistle-like plant that I grow in a dust bin!

I aim to dead head the ‘weed’ flowers before they set seed to keep my neighbours happy. I use hedge clippers and sometimes a high cut with my strimmer to do this but I am very careful if I use the strimmer and often use a rake to clear a bit first to give any small mammals due warning.

Last summer Andy Harding used pheromone traps in amongst the fruit bushes to lure in male clearwings with some good success (see previous article on this website). He says he will be back next year to hunt for more moths in the area of our old apple trees.

I often come across toads when I am working on the allotment and a young hedgehog was found on the site last year. Overhead we often see red kites and buzzards riding the thermals and we had a sighting of two ring-necked parakeets flying across the allotments this January.

During the first lockdown I donated quite a few plants to the Freebies table, near the Orchard. As my plot is so close to the table I often get first pick when other plot holders come over to donate and often they have a socially-distanced chat with me.

So my allotment helps me to keep positive at this difficult time, provides me with physical exercise, lovely organic food, company and the joy of knowing that it benefits wildlife as well.

Jenny Mercer

Duke of Burgundy Butterfly and Blue Lagoon LNR – Martin Kincaid

(Photo: Duke of Burgundy at Blue Lagoon Local Nature Reserve © Martin Kincaid)

The Duke of Burgundy Hamearis Lucina is the only European member of a large family of butterflies known as metalmarks – the Riodininae. In South America, these butterflies can be found in great diversity and numbers and species typically have iridescent, metallic colouring or patches on their upper wings. By contrast, the Duke of Burgundy is a rather modest insect with its chequered brown and black wings.

In England, this is an insect of sheltered, sunny hillsides and woodland clearings with abundant primrose or cowslip, which are its two larval foodplants. It has suffered a serious decline in Britain and is now considered a very rare species thinly distributed across southern England. However, a strong population is present at Totternhoe Knolls and Totternhoe Quarry and there are several populations in the Chiltern Hills. The species was lost at BBOWT’s Dancersend reserve but a re-introduction project, led by Mick Jones, is underway.

In early Summer 2018, a local naturalist told me that he had seen several Dukes (the popular shorthand) at Blue Lagoon LNR. Although I know Kevin to be knowledgeable about butterflies, I was sceptical at first and failed to find any when I visited Blue Lagoon in good weather. I did find the Latticed Heath moth, which is quite similar in appearance from a distance. I didn’t forget though and was delighted to find 3 Duke of Burgundy here on 26th May 2019 (rather late in their short flight season). One of these was clearly a male, typically aggressive towards any other passing butterflies and insects. They are pugnacious little creatures and will defend their favourite perch from anything that flies past. I was able to photograph both male and female Duke of Burgundy on this visit. The flight season in 2020 coincided with the first national Covid lockdown and although the weather was good throughout April I did not visit. Eventually, I did get to Blue Lagoon on 21st May. I did wonder if I might be too late given the high temperatures last spring, but fortunately I was able to locate two butterflies quite quickly. The area favoured by the Dukes seems to be the scrubby grassland to the south-east of the main pit.

Sadly, much of the habitat at Blue Lagoon has suffered in recent years from a lack of management. Several plant species have declined or been lost and with them some of the butterflies for which the site was known. The Green Hairstreak is still present but hard to find, the Small Blue much less frequent than in the past and the Grizzled Skipper has possibly disappeared. The discovery of the rare Duke of Burgundy is at least some compensation for these declines but it is crucial that management of the scrub resumes in the near future if one of Milton Keynes’ best spots for Lepidtoptera is to recover.

There are no records for Duke of Burgundy for Milton Keynes before 2018. It is possible that the species found its way here naturally from Totterhoe but we can’t rule out an unlicensed release.

Martin Kincaid
February 1st 2021

Mistletoe – a Seasonal Favourite?

(Photo above: Mistletoe in Central Milton Keynes © Mary Sarre)

My interest in this curious plant has been stimulated in the last couple of years, by coming across several occurrences locally, in Milton Keynes. This seemed to me quite odd, as I associate mistletoe with the apple orchards of the south-west, the orchards of Normandy, and poplar trees festooned with it in France (seen from the Autoroute).

So here is a little contribution to the botany of mistletoe, its distribution and association with certain birds, traditional beliefs and folklore, and some sightings here in MK.

Viscum album, to give it its Latin name, is a good indicator of its characteristics – it has the well-known white berries, which are viscous (sticky), in winter, giving rise to its traditional association with mid-winter festivities.  White-berried plants are unusual except in MK where the ‘snowberry’ (symphoricarpus) is used massively in grid-road plantings. Whether the snowberries are consumed by birds I don’t know, but the flowers do attract pollinating insects. Mistletoe is dioecious, i.e. having male and female parts on different plants. The leaves and stems are light green, typically branched at each node, producing a new ‘fork’ each year.


Viscum album by Stella Ross-Craig, 1969 (see references below)

Mistletoe is semi-parasitic on a range of trees, but the main ones are Apple (Malus), Lime (Tilia), Pear (Pyrus), Hawthorn (Crataegus) and Poplar (Populus), occurring in orchards, hedgerows, parks and gardens. It is not generally found in dense woodland (Simon Harrap, 2013).

Mistletoe occurs chiefly in the south of England and Wales, in lowland areas. It is spreading from the old orchards of its Herefordshire heartland to different species of trees in parks and gardens in Hereford, Ledbury, Bridgnorth and Westbury-on-Trym (Mabey, Flora Britannica). South Bucks and Hampshire are also ‘hot spots’.

Dispersal

In medieval times mistletoe seemed ‘magical’ in its appearance high in the host trees, evergreen and of a curious growth habit, appearing to spontaneously sprout from the tree. For centuries, mistletoe retained its magical, folkloric associations (see Richard Mabey for a wide-ranging account), and today its medicinal properties are still under investigation.

It was Philip Miller, curator of the Chelsea Physic Garden, who discovered that mistletoe could be established by smearing the sticky seed onto a suitable branch.

However, it is famously resistant to propagation by human hands (“none of the seeds placed on 14 different apple species in Kew Gardens in 1996 ‘took’ but one grew on an adjacent Hawthorn”. (Dr Ken Thompson, Gardening Which?, December 2020).

For long it has been assumed that the Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) was the primary disperser of the berries, as it attempts to remove the mucilaginous outer coat of the berry, raking its beak along a branch of the tree, and leaving its droppings in the tree.


Mistle Thrush ‘guarding’ his patch (Photo courtesy of The Woodland Trust)

To quote Dr Ken Thompson again, it appears that the Blackcap may now be a more effective distributor of mistletoe. He notes that the mistle thrush swallows the berries whole, and ejects the seeds randomly in its droppings. The Blackcap however eats only the skin and pulp of the seeds, wiping the sticky seeds off their beaks onto a branch. Once the seed is attached to a suitable branch, it sends out a ‘root’, a ’haustorium’ which penetrates the xylem of its host. The seeds are photosynthetic, so they need to be in the light.

Blackcaps, formerly mostly a summer visitor, are now frequently spotted in UK in winter (MKNHS sightings, November 2020). According to an article by Helen MacDonald, in Vesper Flights, German Blackcaps that have started spending winters here rather than in Africa may be directly responsible for spreading mistletoe to new areas of the British Isles. Which brings us back to our local area.

Local distribution

My notes cannot claim to be exclusive, and I would welcome any sightings from members. The first time I saw any mistletoe was in Great Linford Manor Park, a couple of years ago, in the venerable old lime tree near the canal. There are two balls/orbs high in the tree, obviously more visible in winter time (the park is open all year round). Julian Lambley drew my attention to another occurrence – in Simpson village – several orbs in two old Lime trees.  This made me wonder if the canal and the Ouzel valley could be the ‘corridor’ for extending the range of the Blackcap or Mistle Thrush.

A last sighting, in Central Milton Keynes, possibly on a young lime tree gave me pause – perhaps the mistletoe was ‘injected’ on a limb before planting, or a human hand was involved?

Mary Sarre
January 2021

Sources
Dr Ken Thompson, Plant ecologist, (Gardening Which?, Dec 2020 / Jan 2021)
Richard Mabey, Flora Britannica (Sinclair-Stevenson, 1996)
Stella Ross-Craig, Drawings of British Plants, Vol XXVI (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 1969)
Helen Macdonald, Vesper Flights  (Jonathan Cape, 2020)
Simon Harrap, Harrap’s Wild Flowers (Bloomsbury, 2013)

Linford Lakes NR Moth Report for December, 2020 and Year End Summary – Gordon Redford

Above: December Moth. All photos © Gordon Redford

During the 10 years that I have been recording moths at Linford Lake Nature Reserve (LLNR), I have usually not run traps in November and December because the effort in setting traps up on late afternoons, transportation on foot of 12V batteries, then checking traps daily early mornings during the wet and windy months of the year when fewer moths are around anyway was not really worth it.  The installation on site of the permanent moth trap running off the mains electricity in August 2019 though has changed the efforts in/returns out balance.  December 2019 records of 52 moths counted and 10 species recorded was a good start and had me thinking that perhaps I should have made more effort in the previous 8 years.  December 2020, with the trap running 30 of the 31 days, was a disappointment with just 14 moths and 5 species recorded and has had me thinking that maybe I was right in the first place.

The 5 were December Moth, Winter Moth, Pale Brindled Beauty, Mottled Umber and Dark Chestnut.  Interestingly, all were singletons except the December Moth for whom 10 were counted.  Last year, December Moth numbered just 6.  The weather was pretty dire in December with more water on the site than I have ever seen in the 25 years that I have been visiting the site.  The photographs below taken on Christmas Eve shows the boardwalk from the car park on to the field at the back of the visitor centre and the field behind the centre.


Boardwalk from car park on to field at back of Centre


Field at back of Centre

It will be interesting to see what effect this extensive flooding will have on moth numbers next year.

Summary Of The Moths Recorded At Linford Lakes Nature Reserve 2020

Moth traps were run at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve on almost all of the 366 nights of 2020.  The traps were the large box on legs with a 125W Mercury Vapour bulb powered by mains electricity, a Robinson trap with a 125W Mercury vapour Bulb powered by a generator and three Skinner type traps, 2 with 40W actinic tubes and one with 2 x 2W LED lights powered by batteries.  The large box on legs was used almost consistently, the Robinson for about half of the year and the Skinners occasionally.

The total number of moths counted in 2020 was 18,059 and is the highest number recorded there in the ten years that I have been keeping regular records.  387 species were recorded which is just 2 less than the highest number of species recorded which was in 2019 from a total moth count of 17, 935.

The 387 species recorded in 2020 comprised 133 micro moths and 254 macro moths.  33 species were new to the site so that the total number of species now recorded at LLNR is now 560.  Excluding Acentria ephemerella, a micro moth which swarms on warm nights and are often too numerous to count, the most common species recorded were Common Wainscot with 1,703 moths counted followed by Large Yellow Underwing with 927.


Common Wainscot

The Common Wainscot numbers were a great surprise.  Moth numbers are known to have peaks and troughs, good years and poor years, but this number, some 5 times more than the previous best year,  had me checking to make sure that I had not double- or treble-pressed a number when entering the records but no, there were no errors on my part.  188 recorded on 18th August was the most in one night.  The caterpillars feed on grasses including Common Couch and Cock’s-foot which are abundant at LLNR.

Poplar Hawk-moths had their best year ever with 321 counted.  The previous best was 235 in 2017.  Elephant Hawk-moths too had their best year ever with 50 being counted between 23rd May to 29th July.


Poplar Hawk-moth

The Poplar Hawk-moth season in 2020 began on 3rd May and the last was caught on 11th September.  At LLNR over the ten years of recording, the species has consistently produced 2 generations of moths during the summer.

At the other end of the scale, species whose numbers had dropped significantly this year were July Highflier and Old Lady.


July Highflier

The July Highflier is one of three moths with the name highflier.  The others are the May Highflier and the Ruddy Highflier and, yes, they fly high around trees and bushes.  The July Highflier is very variable and often catches me out.  It is also quite skittish, taking off readily.  Caterpillars feed on sallows and willows amongst others so LLNR is well suited to their needs. 12 were recorded in 2020 whereas in the previous 6 years their numbers have been in the 30’s and 40’s.


Old Lady

The Old Lady was absent in 2020 having been present in the previous 6 years.  Her numbers have never been high, mostly in single figures.  The moth is known to come to sugar more readily than to light.  Sugaring is when a sweet concoction is prepared and painted on to tree trunks, wooden gates,  posts and was used in the past before light traps to attract moths.  I have sugared at LLNR in previous years but did not do so last year.

Of the 33 new moths recorded at LLNR in 2020, 20 were micro moths and 13 macro moths. There is  evidence that due to climate change some species are expanding their ranges and three of the macro moths could be among that group.  Dotted Fan-foot, Dark Crimson Underwing and Dewick’s Plusia form  the trio.

Dotted Fan-foot has been restricted to the wetlands of East Anglia, Essex and the Thames Estuary but 3 turned up, 2 on the 8th July and another on the 17th.


Dotted Fan-foot

The caterpillars feed on rushes and sedges and the habitat at LLNR is just right for this moth. My hopes are high that it might find a (6) foothold there.

The Dark Crimson Underwing is described in The Atlas of Britain and Ireland’s Larger Moths as “a resident and scarce immigrant confined to the New Forest and a few woods in Hampshire and south Wiltshire with signs of a recent increase in range”.  It appeared on 24th July and the photograph below, taken on the day, shows a rather worn and travelled specimen,


Dark Crimson Underwing

Its preferred habitat is large tracts of mature Oak woodland but nonetheless a good moth to have called in.

The third newcomer was Dewick’s Plusia.  I recorded 2 of these at home for the first time in September 2019.  The Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland lists the moth as an immigrant and possible recent colonist.


Dewick’s Plusia

It goes on to say the moth has been recorded in May and July-October and the flight season in mainland Europe, April-November.  My records for LLNR in 2020 are 26th April and 29th July and I have wondered whether the earlier record may be evidence of breeding locally.  It will be interesting to see if and when they turn up in 2021.

2020 was a good year for moths at LLNR.  If anyone would like a list of the moths recorded last year or, indeed, all my records for LLNR or would like to join me in opening up the traps early morning in 2021 (Covid permitting) , please contact me on gordonredford@hotmail.com.

Gordon Redford
20 January 2021

Identifying a mystery fungus – Julie Lane

On 11th December whilst walking in Salcey Forest I saw a toadstool that was a bit different to others I had seen around the place. On closer inspection I realised that it was attracting large numbers of gnats (probably a type of fungus gnat). I took some photos and sent them to a very helpful lady at Bucks Fungus Group.

Penny Cullington very kindly had a go at identifying several fungi that I have photographed but she always makes it clear that she cannot identify a fungus from a photo and would need the actual specimen to make a definite identification. I am always rather loath to uproot anything as even a toadstool, which is only the fruiting body of the fungal mycelia underground, is still providing a habitat for something even if it’s only a tiny gnat!

Penny was interested in the darker spots around the rim of the cap and thought that it might be something rather rare, as there have been quite a few unusual fungi around this year, but she needed to know when the photo was taken, what trees were nearby, did it have gills or spores and if gills what colour they were, etc. After providing her with this information, she was still only guessing so on our next visit to Salcey I finally relented, uprooted it and took it home.

Once I had harvested the toadstool you could see the white spores actually tucked inside the gills of the cap (see below).  Interestingly, I also noticed two little parasitic wasps on the cap which I assume were parasites of the gnat larvae (?) – another link in the chain of woodland life.

On Penny’s advice I carried out the following two procedures.

Sporeprint: Cut off the cap from the stem at the top. Set the cap gills-down on a piece of dark paper and cover it with a pot / bowl/ whatever to keep air currents out and leave it overnight somewhere cool (not in the fridge!). Next day, check to see if you have a thick deposit (we’re guessing it’s going to be pale cream to white, hence putting it on dark paper otherwise you won’t be able to see it!)

Drying: Now cut the cap into quarters and, together with the stem, put it spread out a bit gills up in the airing cupboard over the top of the hot water tank is ideal. The air needs to circulate around it so it’s best put on wire mesh – something like a cake-cooling rack as long as it’s not going to fall through! Then forget about it till after Christmas!

I managed to get a lovely sporeprint. I then cut it all up and dried it as requested and sent it to Penny.

Disappointingly, on receiving the sporeprint with its white spores and the dried material Penny now thinks it is most likely to be Clitocybe geotropa, the very common Trooping Funnel, and not the Clitocybe alexandri (now Clitopaxillus alexandri) which has only been recorded a few times in the country. She still says that she might send it off for DNA sequencing which is the next step for a definite diagnosis but I doubt that will change anything.

To be honest, it was what I suspected all along so I wasn’t surprised but I did find the whole process fascinating, from seeing the gnats swarming round the toadstool, to the process of getting a sporeprint and the final drying of the toadstool in my partner’s airing cupboard!! I will definitely try the sporeprints again in the future but still baulk at harvesting too many toadstools as they look so fabulous nestled amongst the leaf litter where they should be.

With many thanks for the help and advice from Penny Cullington of the Bucks Fungus Group. She’s the Secretary of the group and also the county recorder for fungi, so if you’d like more information about the group and its activities visit their website at www.bucksfungusgroup.org.uk/index.html.

Julie Lane
January 2021

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Local wildlife summary – Autumn 2020

(Photo above: Goosander at Wolverton Mill © Julian Lambley)

Autumn has been generally mild locally but with heavy rain and floods in October and December. However, this has not discouraged members of our Society from exploring the local countryside and enjoying and recording the local wildlife.

This is a summary of members` observations noted mainly on the Society`s website from September to December.

Insects:  Autumn is not normally associated with an abundance of insects, particularly bees, but in September Martin Kincaid observed the Ivy Bee feeding, appropriately, on ivy flowers in his garden at Oldbrook. This bee was only first recorded in the south of the country in 2001, and since then has spread further north. This encouraged members to search around this area and we had further reports from Olney and Stony Stratford. In October, Martin discovered a nest of the Ivy bee in the ground at Stonepit Field.

It is not uncommon to find 7-spot Ladybirds in groups in winter but a cluster of over 150 16-spot ladybirds was recorded at Wolverton Mill in December. Gordon Redford regularly provides monthly reports of the moths found at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve and even in November he still recorded a total of130 moths of 21 species.

Mammals:  Otters have been regularly observed in local lakes this autumn, particularly Willen Lake, Linford Lakes Nature Reserve and in the River Ouzel in the Ouzel Valley Park, During October there was a report of an otter beside the canal at New Bradwell, then heading towards the balancing lake at Blue Bridge. In the middle of November there was also a report of a dead otter beside Childs Way, which passes beside Willen South Lake. During September there was a mink observed by Willen North Lake and 10 Chinese Water Deer seen at Magna Park.

Earlier in the year the group that record different species of mammal at Linford Lakes NR installed some more mammal nest boxes {the hole at the back not at the front as with bird nest boxes}. During late September there was a suspected dormouse nest in one of the newly installed boxes. In October Martin Kincaid inspected the box only to record what was believed to be a dormouse escaping.

Reptiles:  There have been several reports of grassnake found this autumn and a young slow-worm was recorded in September at Linford Lakes NR. Whilst we are still waiting for the adder to be confirmed in the Milton Keynes boundaries, they were recorded last October in Stockwell Park.

Fungi:  Autumn is a great time of the year for recording fungi and the Bucks Fungus Group (BFG) undertook a species count project during this period. It was encouraging to learn that they recorded 500 species, 32 species new to the county and at least 2 new to the UK {see the BFG’s article on the Society`s website}.

Birds:  Autumn is also the time of the year for observing an abundance of bird species; and this was no exception. Several special birds such as goosander, short-eared owls, large white egrets {4 seen at once at Linford Lakes Reserve in November}, a cattle egret and even a pair of ring-necked parakeet have been observed in several areas during this time around Milton Keynes.

During September wood sandpiper, ruff and a redstart were recorded at Willen together with hawfinch and common crossbill at Tattenhoe. October attracted a ruddy duck at the Floodplain Forest NR, Old Wolverton; a mandarin duck and Egyptian goose at Linford Lakes NR, and a lesser spotted woodpecker and a yellow-browed warbler at Tattenhoe.

Highlights during November also included two ravens at Newport Pagnell, a common scoter at the Blackhorse Lake (next to the Linford Lakes reserve), and a great northern diver and an escapee Ross`s goose at Caldecotte Lake. The lesser spotted woodpecker was again recorded at Little Linford Wood. During this month Kenny Cramer, whilst bird ringing at Linford Lakes, recorded a long-eared owl. Records in December included a bittern at Linford Lakes, white-fronted geese and a possible Bewick’s swan at the Floodplain Forest reserve, and bearded tit at both Willen and Walton Lakes.

These records, collected mostly by members of the Society, are proof that during these present restrictions there is plenty of wildlife to enjoy. So, wrap up, exercise those legs, and enjoy the abundance of wildlife locally. Spring is not far away.

Tony Wood

Evolving your garden for wildlife – Joe Clinch

Some 41 years ago my wife Hilary and I had the opportunity to plan our garden from scratch: the area was an arable field growing barley immediately before development took place in the south west quadrant of Stony Stratford. The soil is a heavy loam over clay and is slightly alkaline. The original plan was not strongly influenced by the needs of wildlife but fortuitously it did include flower- and fruit-producing shrubs and trees (cotoneaster, pyracanthus, crab apple, holly, bird cherry, apple and plum) as well as buddleia and sycamores on one boundary (the last courtesy of MK Development Corporation). For the rest, it was planned as a conventional lawn with small flower beds and vegetable plot. The shrubs and trees are mostly still extant and have proven to be a good investment for wildlife providing cover and attracting winter bird species such as resident and winter visiting thrushes, tits, sparrows, finches, an occasional redpoll, and for one memorable period in spring 2017 a small flock of Waxwings. In spring and early summer, the blossom is also good for insects of all sorts particularly bees and bumble bees: the trees are visited by other common woodland garden birds all year round.


Waxwings (Photo © John Clinch)

Gardens evolve over time and ivy has established itself as an important additional species for wildlife. Planned changes have seen the vegetable plot added to the lawn and the flower beds reduce in area as the shrubs and trees become dominant. It is the lawn itself which has taken my main garden attention over the past 20 years.

From lawn to mini ‘meadow’

Garden lawns grown from seed are usually made up of a limited range of the coarser grass species. My aim in converting to a meadow ecosystem was to increase the biodiversity of the area with more species of flowering plants, which in turn would attract more invertebrates (butterflies, moths, bees, beetles, grasshoppers, spiders, snails, slugs, and more), and again in turn more vertebrates (frogs, toads, and newts), and their predators (I do not have a pond so I must thank two of my neighbours for the semi-aquatic species). The main top predators to date have been birds, bats, Grass Snake (just once), and the occasional Hedgehog – a mini food chain.  ‘Meadow’ is not a precise term but mine now provides some succession of flowering plants alongside the grasses over the early spring to September period: one area is in semi shade under fruit trees and the other in full sun with a mown lawn path between them.


Grass Snake (Photo © Joe Clinch)

Which new plants to introduce and how?

It is an option to just let nature take its course and see what happens once you stop mowing and fertilising the lawn.  My first venture into creating a meadow area was driven by a wish to include Snakeshead Lily (Fritillaries) which were purchased in flower and put into the ground during April. Some ten plants in flower were dug into the lawn in semi shade and these have multiplied very successfully from their seed since then. I have had similar successes with planting flowering Cowslips and Primrose; less so with Ragged Robin and Meadow Cranesbill,  but I keep trying. In other cases. I have introduced wild seed either in the autumn or early spring having first scraped the lawn with a rake. The one ‘must have’ species is Yellow Rattle which will help to control the dominance of the existing grasses on which it is semi-parasitic.


Snakeshead Fritillaries (Photo © Joe Clinch)

I have been surprised by the variety of what appears on its own account. For example, Ox-eye Daisy, Sweet Violet, Germander Speedwell, Bulbous Buttercup, Self-Heal, Black Meddick, Cut-Leaved Cranesbill, Common Vetch, Marjoram, Knapweed and Wild Carrot have all established themselves without intervention. Others have appeared and, disappointingly so far, then disappeared including Bee Orchid, Pyramidal Orchid, Twayblade and Lady’s Bedstraw.

The succession with overlaps between them starts in early spring with Sweet Violet and Primrose; April, Snakeshead Fritillary; Cowslip in May; Ox Eye Daisy, Bulbous Buttercup, Yellow Rattle, Self-Heal and grasses through late May, June to early July; and finally, Wild Carrot and Knapweed through to September.

Pyramidal Orchid (Photo © Joe Clinch)

Management

Depending on the weather I usually mow over the meadow areas not later than early March on a high setting.  During the growing season I try to balance the need for ‘weeds’ to be controlled while at the same time avoiding trampling on the species I am trying to encourage! So, what is a ‘weed’ in a garden meadow?  Since the primary objective is biodiversity I consider as a weed any species that will dominate if not controlled. This includes some of the coarse grasses even with Yellow Rattle well established (e.g. Rye Grass and Cocksfoot), Ragwort, Common Cleavers, Dandelion, and tree seedlings. In fact the plant which has proved most difficult to control is a highly invasive garden geranium species!

I cut the meadow after the seeds have set. For early flowering plants like the fritillaries this may be mid-July but for others it will be from mid-August to early September. Before cutting I collect the seed of those plants which I want to spread elsewhere. As to cutting, my preferred method is with shears on hands and knees. This has a number of advantages: you can control the height at which you cut; there is less ‘collateral’ damage to wildlife in the meadow (e.g. resident frogs); and it also allows selective removal of the ‘weeds’ that I have been unable deal with during the growing period. I let the cut material dry off for further seed fall and then compost. I do a high cut mow over the area during September and October before winter sets in.

Find out more and give it a try

Julie Lane offered some very helpful generic advice on Gardening for Wildlife on the website as a follow up to the 17th November Members’ evening on this topic. There is also much published material about gardening for wildlife and if you are interested in creating your own mini meadow you may want to follow one of these up (e.g. https://rspb.org.uk/get-involved/startawildlfowermeadow or just put ‘RSPB start a wildflower meadow’ in your search engine). It really can make a difference to your garden’s biodiversity and whilst it is not maintenance-free, it is for no better cause!

Joe Clinch
January 2021

Occupation in my swift box! – Sue Hetherington

Obviously not a swift (they will be somewhere over central African airspace) but a blue tit! We have a nestcam fitted which in the swift season we monitor constantly but have never had a sniff of a swift. However, this little fella comes at dusk and leaves at daybreak. Pay no attention to the timestamp on the picture, it isn’t right but we can’t figure how to change it. This pic was grabbed a couple of mornings ago at daybreak, just before it flew.

Sue Hetherington

Linford Lakes NR Moth Report: November 2020 – Gordon Redford

Above: Angle Shades (All photos © Gordon Redford)

It is only in the past 2 years that I have continued recording moths regularly in November because there is much less moth activity in the winter months and the weather is often not that good for those that are on the wing.  130 moths of 21 species, were attracted to lights and there were 4 of the 30 evenings  when none were recorded.  I do have some records going back to 2014 though, so that at the beginning of November 2020, the November list for LLNR stood at 23 species.  By the end of November that number had increased by 4.  The additions were not new to the site and were a Diamond-back Moth, Rusty-dot Pearl, Turnip Moth and a Large Yellow Underwing.  The first 2 are micro-moths and immigrants.  The Turnip may also have been an immigrant and the Large Yellow Underwing likely to have been a resident making a rather late showing in November.

The Diamond-back moth is one of a group of seven moths from the Plutellidae family who rest with the wings held roof-like at a steep angle with the antennae pointing forward as in the photograph.  The moth has world-wide distribution and has even been recorded in numbers within the Arctic Circle.  The caterpillars feed on Cabbage and are a pest in some parts of the world.


Diamond-back Moth

The Rusty-dot Pearl has been recorded in Great Britain in every month of the year and migrates from Central and Southern Europe.  It has a wingspan of 18-22mm and is thought to raise 3 broods per year.  The caterpillars feed on a variety of plants including Burdocks and Mints.


Rusty-dot Pearl

Exactly half of the 130 moths counted were from 2 species, the December Moth with 45 appearances and the Feathered Thorn with 20.  Both of these species were featured in the report for October.  9 of the species recorded in October were also recorded in November.  These were December Moth, Feathered Thorn, Red-green Carpet, Angle Shades, Large Wainscot, Red-line Quaker, Yellow Line Quaker, Brick and Lesser Yellow Underwing.  Curiously, there were no Epirrita species recorded during the month.  These include the November Moth, the Pale November Moth and Autumnal Moth.

The Mottled and Scarce Umbers made their first appearances of the year. The Umbers are interesting because their females are flightless. The Latin name for the Mottled Umber is  Erannis defoliaria  which translates as a ‘Lovely to behold defoliator’.  The defoliator part is reference to the caterpillars that can be so numerous as to strip trees bare of foliage.  The males can be very variable.

Mottled Umber

The Scarce Umber is not really a scarce moth and there were more of them than Mottled Umbers in November at LLNR this year.  Like the Mottled Umber, the caterpillars feed on a wide variety of broadleaved trees and shrubs and overwinter as eggs.


Scarce Umber

The Satellite was recorded on 3 occasions. The 2 small dots, the satellites, either side of the small kidney mark, are diagnostic.  It overwinters as an adult becoming active in mild weather.  The caterpillars unusually are omnivorous, feeding on plants initially and later, when larger, preying on other moth larvae.

Satellite

The Angle Shades turned up for the second year in a row in November at LLNR.  The crinkle in the wing gives the moth a look of a withered leaf.  It has been recorded nationally in every month of the year but mainly April to early July and late July to November in 2 generations with the second bolstered by immigrants.

Angle Shades

Gordon Redford
4th December 2020

Autumn Jewels: Salcey Forest – Julie Lane

Over the past few years we have developed the routine of walking the 4.6 mile circuit around Salcey Forest twice a week. This has been great for our fitness but has also meant that we get to see the forest in all its seasons.

Last winter was a bit devastating as they took 4000 tonnes of timber (a lot of it oak) out of the forest. The huge machines they use for this operation create so much damage and destruction and it was heart-breaking to witness.  However, nature is so good at recovering and the extra light allowed into the canopy seemed to have provided opportunities for quite a lot of insects, especially butterflies, to thrive this summer. There were good numbers of silver-washed fritillaries, skippers, whites and speckled woods around and I saw a clouded yellow down one of the rides at the same time as a veritable swarm of hornets!

But I thought I would share with you a few of the autumn highlights in picture format as follows:

  • the trooping funnel toadstool which get its name as it tends to pop up in lines around the wood
  • a very large pumpkin dumped in the wood to feed the wild creatures 🙂
  • the red necklace beads of black bryony
  • the stunning pink berries of spindle with their bright orange seeds
  • a fallen oak leaf with its droplets of water
  • and finally, a harbinger of the Spring and happier times to come – the first hazel catkins

 

Julie Lane
December 2020

A Praying Mantis in Freiburg – Corinna Spellerberg

Dear all
I was quite surprised to find this insect on the pavement of my street in Freiburg. It’s a Praying Mantis! My son Chris (who kept one as a pet a while ago) declares it an “adult, because it has wings”. Unfortunately it’s dead, but then I know they only live one short season anyway.
Freiburg is in southern Germany, and we are close to the vineyards at  Baden-Württemberg where these insects are quite common. But I had never seen one here before. Will definitely look out for them next summer!
Corinna Spellerberg

Publication by MKNHS member Bob Stott

Long-standing MKNHS member Bob Stott has just produced a book, ‘Lines and Rhymes, and Signs of the Times’. It’s an anthology of poems, anecdotes and short stories, including a brief history of Howe Park Wood, and even a story written by an old Oak Tree!

The book is available from Amazon in either Kindle E-book format or as a paperback. Bob’s author name is William Stott.

Bob is also producing a selection of extracts from the book to be sold in aid of Willen Hospice.

 

Moths at Linford Lakes NR: October 2020 – Gordon Redford

(Photos © Gordon Redford. Above: Gold-spot)

October, 2020 was a very poor month indeed for moths at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve (LLNR) with just 136 moths of 28 species visiting the traps there.  In recent years, when similar traps have been in use, there have been on average 450 moths of 40 species for the October counts.  The wet and windy weather will have played a part not least because they caused the level in the lake to rise and make the electricity supply to one trap inoperative.  On another trap, the 125W Mercury vapour bulb blew presumably because of contact with rain as the bulb was covered.  It was a particularly windy night so rain may have been blown onto the bulb, causing it to blow.

These things notwithstanding, 4 of the 28 species recorded were new to the October moths list for LLNR which has been compiled over the past 8 years and which now stands at 84.  None though were new to the site.

The ‘new to the month’ moths were 2 micro moths and 2 macro moths although the micro moths were far from small in size.  The micros were Palpita vitrealis and the Boxworm Moth.  P.vitrealis featured in the previous report for September where there is a photograph and some information.  The Boxworm Moth has a forewing length of 18mm!


Boxworm Moth

The Boxworm moth is an interesting one because it is a native of East Asia and is thought to have been introduced to this country on imported Box plants which the caterpillars feed on.  The moth was first recorded in Kent in 2007 and is now increasing in frequency.  I have 8 records on my data base with 4 from my garden in Newport Pagnell (2018, 2019 and 2020), 1 from Westbury Farm (2020) and 3 from LLNR (all 2020).  It is a pest species on Box.

The Macro moths new to the October list were Gold Spot and December Moth and one was making a late appearance and the other an early one.  The Gold Spot is the one turning up later than usual and was recorded on 20th October.  I do have another October record for this moth, in my garden in 2018 on 2nd October.


Gold Spot

The Gold Spot is a moth of the wetlands and has 2 broods in the south of England with the moth on the wing late May-June and late July-September.  There are a scattering of records in the new Atlas of Britain and Ireland’s Larger Moths for October.  The caterpillars also feed on sedges, Yellow Iris, Branched Bur-reed and Water-plantain.  It will be interesting to see if these occasional October records continue.

The December Moth which was recorded on 29th October.  All other records for this moth for me have been in November or December.


December Moth

The name December Moth was hinted at 300 years ago when Eleazar Albin, a painter engraver of moths and butterflies, wrote that it “came at the latter end of December”.   Perhaps then it only made appearances in December.  It is a chunky moth that does not feed in the winged state.  The caterpillars feed on a number of broadleaved trees including oak, birches, elms, hawthorns, blackthorns, poplars and sallows.  It overwinters as an egg.

Another moth that does not feed in the winged adult state and made some appearances in October is the Sprawler.


Sprawler

Although it does not feed as an adult, the pupa has a full-size proboscis case which remains empty during development.  The proboscis is used to sup nectar.  This indicates that the loss is possibly recent in evolutionary terms. It is things like this that make moths so intriguing for me.  The caterpillars feed on a number of broadleaved trees and the winter is spent as an egg.

Another immigrant that paid a visit to the trap in October was the Dark Sword-grass.  (I find I want to write Dark Sward-grass and not Dark Sword-grass).


Dark Sword-grass

As an immigrant, it has been recorded every month of the year but most numerous July-October.  Individuals that arrive in the Spring are thought to give rise to summer larvae with the resulting adults supplementing the autumn immigrants.  The caterpillars feed on the leaves and roots of low growing plants and have taken dandelion when reared in captivity.

The Red-green Carpet was recorded on 22nd October and also on 12th and 17th April.  The April records will have been females who hibernate as adults through the winter.


Red-green Carpet

The Red-green Carpet is one of three British species (Brindled Ochre and Autumn Green Carpet are the others) in which mating takes place in the Autumn after which all the males die.  No sexual equality here.  The caterpillars feed on various broadleaved trees including Oak, Blackthorn, Cherries and birches.

Another often showing some green is the Green-brindled Crescent.  16 were recorded in the month.


Green-brindled Crescent

This species, unlike the Sprawler, does feed in the adult state and sometimes can be found on Ivy blossom and blackberries this time of year.  It overwinters as an egg laid singly on twigs of the food plants which include Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Crab Apple and Dog-rose.

My final moth for October is one resplendent in Autumn colour which is the Feathered Thorn.


Feathered Thorn

There were 8 records for the month.  The Thorns are a group of moths who owe the thorn part of their name to their caterpillars because they sport a sharp projection on their backs.  The spike improves the camouflage of the stick-like caterpillars allowing them to merge better into the undergrowth. The caterpillars feed on a range of broadleaved trees.  The males, who come more frequently to light than the females, have feathery antennae as in the photograph. The feathery antennae offer a wide surface area to trap the pheromones of the female.

Gordon Redford
5 November 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Long-eared Owl ringing at Linford Lakes

(Photos © Amy Jerome / The Parks Trust)

We had a super haul at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve today (4th November) with Kenny Cramer. Nets were positioned around the top half of the reserve, near the boundary walk entrance and “The Beast” which caught this beauty was raised near the barn owl boxes.

This is the first ever long-eared owl to be ringed at LLNR, and in fact Kenny’s first ever ring of an LEO. Martin Kincaid had mentioned that there used to be a healthy population at LLNR, but sightings have not been recorded for quite some time.

Amy Jerome
The Parks Trust

Ivy Bees in Milton Keynes: an update – Martin Kincaid

In late September, I wrote a piece about the discovery of the Ivy Bee Colletes hederae in our Oldbrook garden. I asked for fellow members to let me know if they had found this bee in their local patch and have since continued to look for it elsewhere in Milton Keynes.

Shortly after the article appeared on our website, Julie Lane contacted me to say that she too had found the ivy bee, at home in Olney. This is exciting news and suggests that this insect is already found widely across this area.

On 17th October, Helen and I went for a walk along the canal at Old Wolverton. I have known the towpath walk since childhood and was aware of the great masses of ivy which grow along the embankment – always a good place to look for insects in the autumn. Sure enough, not more than 50 meters from the Iron Trunk, there were several specimens of C.hederae nectaring on the ivy right next to the path. They were in the company of honey bees and it was useful to be able to compare these two species, so similar in appearance at first glance.

Better still was to come – last Tuesday (20th October) I stopped off at Stonepit Field in Great Linford in late morning. I wanted to see the scarlet wax caps that Martin Ferns had reported and was pleased to find plenty of these colourful fungi on the limestone scrape. As I crouched down to photograph one, I saw an ivy bee emerging from a small burrow. I looked closer and was pleased to see at least twenty or more ivy bees going in and out of their neat little burrows. One or two were killed by common wasps but I measured the length of the colony as around 31 meters. I was delighted to find a thriving colony of ivy bee – the first I have ever seen outside of Dorset.

Given a reasonably warm, sunny day, it should still be possible to see these bees between now and mid-November.

Martin Kincaid

(Photo © Martin Kincaid)

 

Linford Lakes Nature Reserve Moth Report, September 2020 – Gordon Redford

Autumn colours frequently feature in September moths as this Sallow above shows. (All photos © Gordon Redford)

Moths were recorded at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve (LLNR) every evening during the month of September using 2 Robinson traps, each with a 125W Mercury Vapour bulb.  2,367 moths visited the traps which was slightly less than the best September there (2,429 in 2019).  81 species were recorded which is down on the previous 2 years (94 species in 2018, 86 species in 2019).  11 species were new to the September list compiled over the period 2011-present) and 4 species were new to the site.  The total number of species recorded in the month of September now stands at 163.

The 4 new species to the site were all to be found in the Field Guide to the Micro Moths of Great Britain and Ireland although, as mentioned in previous reports, being a micro moth does not necessarily mean being small as the photographs below showing 2 of the new species will testify.

Lyonetia clerkella, the Apple Leaf Miner, is a very smart moth indeed with a forewing length of 4.0mm-4.5mm.


Lyonetia clerkella

The food plants of the caterpillars, that live inside the upper and lower surfaces of leaves, includes Hawthorns, Birches, Pears, Plums, Cherries, Sallows and Blackthorn as well as Apple.  They may have 3 generations in a year and the adults of the autumn brood hibernate until Spring.

The second new species is Palpita vitrealis  and it has a forewing length of 13mm-15mm.  It is an immigrant from Southern Europe.


Palpita vitrealis

Egg-laying of Palpita vitrealis has been observed on Garden Privet but the moth is not known to have bred in the wild in this country.

2 species of moth recorded accounted for 41% of the monthly total and these were the 520 Square-spot Rustics and 466 Lunar Underwings.  There are various forms of Square-spot Rustic but most have a rather square kidney mark.


Square-spot rustic

The foodplants of the caterpillars are mostly grasses but they have been seen on Cleavers and Plantains.  They overwinter as larvae and the adults fly in late July to early October.

Lunar Underwings are so named because of a blurred central crescent moon marking on the pale underwing.


Lunar Underwing

Their caterpillars feed on grasses and overwinter as small larvae. The adults are on the wing from Late August to mid October.

Other species that fared well in September this year Light Emerald, Snout, Brimstone Moth and Bordered Beauty.

Light Emeralds have 2 generations in the south of England, late May to early August and early August to late October.  The second generation are often smaller than the first.  64 were counted in September, some 20 more than the previous high September number of 43 in 2019.


Light Emerald

Their caterpillars feed on a wide range trees and shrubs including Pedunculate Oak, Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Birches, Sallows to name but a few.

Snouts are a group of 6 moths that have long palps that rather stick out like noses and thus the vernacular name.  87 were counted in September.


Snout

Snout has a very long up turned palps.  It too has 2 generations in a year, June to early August and late August to October.  The foodplant of the caterpillars is Common Nettle.

Brimstone Moth has 2 or 3 generations between April to October.  They often settle outside the trap on the underside of a leaf and show just a little of the wing so always worth a good search outside the trap before opening up.


Brimstone Moth

The Bordered Beauty also fared well this September with 7 counted.  The moth is never seen in large numbers at LLNR and often not at all.


Bordered Beauty

The colours of Bordered Beauty seem just right for Autumn although the moth is on the wing from July.   The foodplants of the caterpillars are Sallow, Grey Willow, Black Poplar and Hazel.

Gordon Redford

 

Bats in Churches:  news from Newton Blossomville – Julie Lane

I recently attended a meeting at Newton Blossomville’s St Nicholas Church with two ladies from the Bats in Churches organisation. The church does not have a major problem with bats but there are some droppings and evidence of staining from urine on some of the brass plaques in the church. The main problem seems to be the bad PR that bats have and people in the village are rather negative towards them.

The Bats in Churches people have therefore offered to organise a post-Covid bat walk from the church and down to the river nearby, which we think would be well received by the locals and schoolchildren in particular. They are going to provide some bat boxes for us to put up in the churchyard as there are some nice mature trees (although apparently they don’t like yew trees as they don’t provide an easy flight way into the box). Also they have offered to source some hay rattle seed for the new wild flower patch in the church yard which has been left unmown this year – this should improve the meadow flowers and  attract the all-important insects for the bats to eat.

All in all a very positive meeting and hopefully a brighter future for the local bats!

The following link takes you to the Newton Blossomville entry on the Bats in Churches website www.batsinchurches.org.uk/projects/newton-blossomville-st-nicholas/

The Bats in Churches team are also running a couple of free online training workshops on the 13th and 20th October at 7pm. You can sign up to these at https://batsinchurches.org.uk/get-involved/events/

The first is for anyone looking to create public facing interpretation materials for their church (or any other organisations you may be involved with); examples include information boards, posters and leaflets. The second session will cover running and planning a successful event for your community including pricing, paperwork and practicalities

Julie Lane

The Bats in Churches project – get involved!

Sue Hetherington recently posted an item about her involvement with the Bats in Churches project: https://mknhs.org.uk/bats-in-churches-sue-hetherington/. She writes now with more information, and a new video link about the project.

The Bats in Churches survey season is closed for this year but it will open up again next summer and I am keen to encourage Society members to survey a church or two themselves.  The project team has been very proactive during the Covid-19 blighted 2020 season and has kept in touch with lots of zoom sessions.  There was a particularly useful one on 11th September of Bats in Churches’ first ever ‘virtual bat night’ from Heydon’s Holy Trinity Church in Cambridgeshire with talks from expert bat ecologist Phil Parker, Bats in Churches heritage advisor Rachel Arnold, and the clerk at Holy Trinity, Angela Bucksey.

The session was recorded, and can be accessed free (on YouTube) from Bats in Churches’ web page https://batsinchurches.org.uk/events/virtual-bat-nights/  – just scroll down to the box labelled “Watch it Here” and click on it.  The video is quite long at an hour and a quarter but you can fast forward over bits that you don’t find interesting.  The zoom covers a lot of ground:

  • Some basics about bats
  • An explanation of what the project is all about
  • A look at the church itself which is Holy Trinity located in Heydon, Cambridgeshire
  • Input from an ecologist (Phil Parker’s presentation begins 13 minutes in.)
  • Input from the churchwarden

The video explains about the project really clearly and why it would be such a good thing to sign up.  To emphasise, volunteers don’t need to be experts or have any special equipment.  It’s quite easy to do.  The project needs lots of people to help as there are 16,000 churches in England to survey – including some little gems of churches in Milton Keynes which would be great to monitor.

The season won’t open again until June 2021 so everyone has a few months to think about it.

Sue Hetherington
September 2020

Ivy Bee in Oldbrook – Martin Kincaid

Many of us have been enjoying wildlife in our own gardens this year with the restrictions that have been imposed on us. Perhaps you have found something unusual or uncommon in your garden that you were not aware of until now. We have been blessed with fantastic, settled weather in spring at the height of the Covid lockdown and again recently in September. For me, it was a sighting on 22nd September which has really caught my imagination.

We have a generous covering of ivy along our garden fence, and when it is in flower, as now, it attracts a wealth of bees, hoverflies, moths and other insects. Whilst having a tea break in the garden, once again in glorious autumn sunshine, a bee caught my eye as it busied itself on ivy flowers. A closer look allowed me to confirm it was the Ivy Bee (or Ivy Plasterer Bee) Colletes hederae a species which has colonised the UK in the past few years. A second one soon appeared which I netted, and chilled in the fridge to allow closer inspection! I quickly added my sightings to the database of BWARS (Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society).

C. hederae was first recorded in this country in 2001 in the Dorset village of Langton Matravers. Since then it has spread, initially along the coast but in the past 4-5 years it has colonised many inland counties, as far north as Merseyside. I first saw these attractive bees, in good numbers, at Durlston Country Park, Swanage in October 2016. For those of you who know Durlston, the clifftop ivy thickets beneath the Globe sculpture are the best place to look. It has just about the latest flight season of any British bee species, flying between September and early November. Superficially, this species and others in the genus Colletes do resemble the Honey Bee Apis mellifera and they are similar in size. However, a close look shows that it is brighter than a honey bee and the yellow and black bands are cleaner and more defined. Honey bees generally have darker bodies and the bands are somewhat indistinct. Fresh specimens of C. hederae show a bright orange, furry thorax. If you can distinguish this species from honey bee you can be fairly confident it is hederae as the other species in this genus are much smaller and generally confined to heathland and sandy habitats.

This mining bee can live in huge colonies of many tens of thousands and their mating behaviour can be quite alarming to behold, with many males mobbing unmated females in a frenzied attempt to mate with her. I have witnessed this in Dorset and it is quite a sight – and sound.

The specimens I found in our garden are the first I have seen in Milton Keynes and it is good to know that this species in now in our area. It may already be common. If you have flowering ivy in your garden or your local patch, do have a closer look at any honey bee sized insects buzzing around. They are not aggressive and are a welcome addition to any garden. Do let me know if you find it in our area.

Martin Kincaid

Summer wildlife around the area – Tony Wood

(Photo above: Black Hairstreak, LIttle Linford Wood 14th June, Julian Lambley)

The weather conditions this summer have been unpredictable, varying with spring being the sunniest for 100 years, the end of July and beginning of August presenting temperatures in excess of 30 degrees centigrade, and the month ending with strong winds from Storm Francis. But it did not deter our Society’s members recording highlights of the local wildlife.

Mammals Paul Lund was fortunate in May to find a vixen fox and 2 cubs in his Bancroft garden, and a few days later photographed one inquisitive cub that had entered his house. In June John Prince created a box type platform with a trail camera installed and, with the help of two volunteers, this was lifted high into an oak tree in Little Linford Wood to see if it would attract any dormice. In June it was a success, with several images of a dormouse seeking the food provided. This is the first recording of a dormouse in the wood since 2015. During the May box survey beside the M1 Motorway near Gayhurst one dormouse was recorded and, to our surprise, a weasel inside a box with a nest of Great Tit chicks, sadly dead and partly eaten.

A species that tends to stay under the radar is the Harvest Mouse. Volunteers managed to find several old nests at Linford Lakes Reserve in 2018 -19. and this year Harvest Mice have been found on the nature reserve. Nests have also been found while clearing reeds at Stony Stratford Nature Reserve and Walton Lake this year, and it appears that the species remains widespread, if elusive, in Milton Keynes.

Other records of mammals include a Water Deer at Magna Park, a Roe Deer at Little Linford Wood and a possible sighting of a Polecat in Bury Field, Newport Pagnell (?)

ButterfliesIn May a Duke of Burgundy was seen at Blue Lagoon for the third year running. How it arrived there remains a mystery. Harry Appleyard found a Black Hairstreak near the bottle dump, Tattenhoe – a new location for this very rare butterfly, so it is encouraging to hear of two other records at Little Linford Wood and the North Bucks Way. The hairstreaks did well this year with both Purple and White-letter Hairstreak being recorded locally. A Chalkhill Blue was seen at Stonepit Field in late July and later on the same day a Clouded Yellow {variety helice, a pale form of the female} was discovered.

Moths If you have been following Gordon Redford’s monthly reports on the Society’s website you will discover information on a variety of species caught in his two light traps at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve. In one month nearly 6700 moths were recorded and 236 species identified. Other members reported their findings and included unusual species such as the Blackneck, Jersey Tiger, Tree-lichen Beauty, Clifden Nonpareil, and a Raspberry Clearwing at Olney, only the 2nd or 3rd sighting in Bucks.

One new species I had this year was the Lobster Moth which when released was caught in mid-flight by a House Sparrow – I felt very guilty!!

After several years of recording hoverflies in my garden, I have found a paucity of both species and numbers the past two years. Have you experienced the same?

BirdsIt has been a very good year for breeding birds at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve. During lockdown, a nest of Teal was found on the bund. This species was last recorded as breeding in Bucks in 1989 {although it did breed regularly at the Linford Reserve in the 1970s/80s}. As if this wasn’t exciting enough, a pair of Great White Egrets also nested in the heronry this spring with at least one young fledged. Three adult birds had been present during the winter and courtship was observed in March. This makes Linford Reserve only the third known location for nesting Great White Egrets in the UK.

More recently, 2 juvenile Yellow Wagtails have been ringed on the bund and it is likely that this declining species has also bred. Cuckoos have had a fantastic year at the Linford Reserve with 11 birds ringed. Country-wide, over 100 calling cuckoos were recorded – an exceptional year for this species.

Over the local area the following birds were recorded. In June a Nightingale and a Goosander with 5 chicks were seen at Olney, and a pair of Peregrines reared three chicks at the MK Stadium. During July a female Mandarin Duck was recorded at Willen Lakes, a Redstart and 9 Crossbills seen at Tattenhoe, and in August a Black-tailed Godwit and Peregrine at the Forest Floodplain Reserve, and the month finished off with an Osprey seen and photographed at Linford Reserve.

Can I thank Martin Kincaid and Gordon Redford for their contribution to this article.

I’d also like to congratulate Harry Appleyard on his discovery of a Lesser Emperor dragonfly in Tattenhoe Park, a first sighting in Milton Keynes, although present in other areas of Bucks for several years.

Autumn is upon us soon so please get outside, binoculars and cameras at the ready to watch, record, but most of all, enjoy our local wildlife.

Tony Wood
9 Sept 2020

Bats in Churches – Sue Hetherington

I’ve been working as a Bats in Churches volunteer, monitoring bat activity in 4 churches: – Gawcott, Hillesden, Tingewick and Wotton Underwood.  Bats in Churches exists in large part “to address issues that bats can cause in churches while continuing to protect their roosts.” See https://batsinchurches.org.uk/

I gave a short presentation about this by Zoom at the Members’ evening on 1st September, and have since recorded a 15-minute version of this, which you can access through the following link:

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/AilVFluXePGZr9iN4UgNfN_t4pWjPVCIHuR65zZ6FQjPC0_sh8VM1pyCWDxF1ihL.1eC9hL4m5BM94TqB

You will need to enter the Passcode: j0?AW8Y?

It’s too late for anyone to get involved as a volunteer now (the project was HUGELY disrupted by Covid-19 as you’d expect plus this year’s surveys end on 31st August.  BUT the project continues in 2021 and 2022 – something to think about for next year.

Sue Hetherington
September 2020

Autumn Trees – Alan Birkett

What’s the most striking thing about trees in autumn? It is not that they shed their leaves. It’s the fact that the leaves on some trees change their colour before they fall. Why does this happen – the leaves have been green all spring and summer? Why don’t the green leaves just drop off without changing colour and why on some trees do the leaves turn red.

After reading recently published papers on the subject it became clear that, although it has been discussed for many years, it is still a source of debate. At least 10 hypotheses were reported in a paper published in 2009. Eventually I found that there are now two main evolutionary explanations – autumn colours could have evolved in plants to protect them against the physical damage induced by intense light at low temperatures (photoprotection hypothesis) or to avoid parasites by signalling the defensive commitment of the tree (coevolution hypothesis).

A leaf is the main photosynthetic organ of a tree.  Photosynthesis a process in which carbon dioxide from the air is combined with water in the presence of light to produce sugars and oxygen. The molecule that carries this out is called chlorophyll. It absorbs red and blue wavelengths of light and reflects green so that the leaf appears green to us. It is a complex molecule with a ring of nitrogen at its centre surrounding an atom of magnesium. Shorter days and lower temperatures trigger leaf fall but this is a multi-step controlled shutdown process. Instead of the green leaves just being discarded, the chlorophyll and proteins in the leaf are broken down and essential nutrients, such as nitrogen, re-absorbed and stored in the shoots and roots until spring. Plants generally re-absorb half their total leaf nitrogen.

As the chlorophyll breaks down, the leaf loses its green colour and other pigments can be seen. Carotenoids are yellow and orange and are already present. Anthocyanins, which give the leaf a red colour, are newly made. Carotenoids are needed to keep the cells going during the re-absorption stage so most trees have yellow leaves in autumn but 14% have red leaves. Why then do some trees go to the expense of making Anthocyanins before the leaves fall? This is where the 2 main hypotheses compete.

Anthocyanins protect the leaf from light damage during the period of re-absorption. This is the basis for the photoprotection hypothesis – it extends the leaf life during shut-down and enables it to send more nutrients back to the tree before the leaf drops. If this is true, trees with yellow leaves should drop their leaves earlier.

Another idea is that the red coloration may be a signal to parasites, such as aphids, that have a strong preference for green leaves, to not lay their eggs on red leaves in autumn. This avoids future damage and is the basis for the co-evolution hypothesis. Red colour may be correlated with the level of herbivore defence in the tree, and therefore plants investing more in defences show more autumn colours. If insects adapt to avoid red leaves in autumn, this will lead to a co-evolutionary process in which both preference for green in aphids and intensity (or duration) of red in trees increase.

I have no idea which theory is correct but when you go out this autumn look out for yellow leaves and red leaves, admire their beauty and think how complicated life can be!

Here are some trees to watch out for in Milton Keynes.

First, two species that go yellow in autumn


1: Norway Maple (photo Alan Birkett)

Photo 1 The Norway Maple Acer platanoides is native to Europe, from Scandinavia to the Caucasus. It was introduced to Britain in 1683 and is now commonly found in gardens, streets and parks. It is one of the first trees to look green in spring, when its green flowers open before the leaves. It has the 5-lobed leaf typical of the Maple family but differs from the Field Maple and Sycamore in that its lobes and teeth have finely pointed tips. It has a winged fruit like all maples but the wings hang down at an angle whereas on the Field Maple they are flat. This tree is at the south end of Furzton Lake in Milton Keynes


2: Aspen (photo Alan Birkett)

Photo 2 The Aspen Populus tremula is a Poplar that tolerates cold conditions. It is a smaller tree than most Poplars. It is a species that grows in cool regions across the whole of Europe and west Asia. (The American Aspen is a different species). It is more likely to be found in the north and west of Britain and is common in the Scottish Highlands. It is typically found in oak or birch woodland. It can spread by sending suckers up from its roots. Male and female flowers are on separate trees. Flowers are in the form of catkins. Aspens are quite common in Milton Keynes; these are on the east side of Furzton Lake.

Here are 2 trees with red leaves in autumn


3: Persian Ironwood (photo Alan Birkett)

Photo 3 The Persian Ironwood Parrotia persica is a small deciduous tree native to northern Iran. It was introduced to Britain in 1841. It is related to the Witch-Hazel. Its wood is extremely hard, hence the name ironwood. It has red flowers which appear before the leaves in late winter and the leaves turn bright red in autumn. There is a huge tree in the Cambridge Botanical Garden and a small tree on the east side of Furzton Lake in Milton Keynes.


4: Sweet Gum (photo Alan Birkett)

Photo 4 The Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua) is a deciduous tree native to south-eastern USA and the cloud-forest mountains of Mexico and Central America. It was introduced to Britain in 1681. It is an ornamental tree planted in many parks and gardens in warmer areas. It has red autumn foliage and unusual fruit, similar to that of the London Plane. In its native habitat the tree was grown commercially for its aromatic gum, originally known as ‘liquid amber’, hence its scientific name. This tree is in the Emerson Valley of Milton Keynes.

Other trees you may come across, that have red leaves in autumn, include the Sugar Maple, Red Maple and Red Oak from Eastern North America and the Japanese Maple variety ‘Osakazuki’ which is spectacular in autumn in the Cambridge Botanic Garden.

To find out more about trees and how to identify them go to my website: https://www.treeguideuk.co.uk/
and if you have any comments or observations about trees my e-mail is alan@treeguideuk.co.uk.

Alan Birkett
4 September 2020

Linford Lakes Nature Reserve Moth Report, August 2020 – Gordon Redford

Recording moths is never a lonely business.  This little feller in his red jacket (above) joins me most mornings and is the reason that I now have to net all the moths in the trap before he/she has them for breakfast.
(All photos: Gordon Redford)

What a strange month this has been for weather conditions and consequent moth turnout.  The catches, which are all released unharmed, began with around 250 or so each evening rising to 450 when the temperatures soared and then the wind and rain which sent numbers visiting the traps plummeting so that on the 30th August just 27 moths dared to show their faces.  It was just our bad luck that we had arranged for 25th to be the day for the Society to video the opening of some traps at the Reserve. (See separate news item: Emptying the moth traps at LLNR.)
I think 58 moths and 19 species was our haul for that evening. Nationally it was not too good either as 27th-29th August was designated this year’s National Moth Night.  All 3 nights were wet, cold and windy.

That said all the records for the month of August have been entered in the data base and the numbers show that 6,695 moths visited the traps and that is the best August total ever at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve (LLNR).  This is almost 1,000 moths more than the previous high total for August which was in 2019.  The number of species recorded was 178 and curiously that number is 12 less than the 190 species that were recorded last year.  12 species were added to August list for LLNR of which 1 was new to the site.  The other 11 species had been recorded on site before.  The new one for the site was a micro moth named Golden Argent.


Golden Argent

There are 25 species in the Argent genus with the largest having a forewing of 6.5mm.  Most rest in a declining posture with head close to the surface and abdomen raised.  The caterpillars feed on Birches and Alders of which there are many at LLNR.

The macro/micro division among moths can be confusing because some micro moths are very large indeed and some macro moths are very tiny.  One such tiny macro is the Pinion-streaked Snout.


Pinion-streaked Snout

The forewing is between 9 and 11mm and 13 were recorded during August this year.  It has 2 generations in the south and this, the second generation, was good to see because only 1 was recorded in the first generation.  It overwinters as a caterpillar and remarkably, its food plant in the wild is unknown.

The most abundant moth in the month of August this year was the Common Wainscot with 1,394 appearances.


Common Wainscot

Michael McCarthy in his very readable The Moth Snowstorm describes how 60-70 years ago driving at night in summer sometimes was just like driving through a snowstorm because of the large numbers of moths.  The Common Wainscot would almost certainly have been a major constituent.  They have 2 overlapping generations in a year and their caterpillars are grass feeders.

There are around 40 species of wainscot moths arranged in 2 groups and their colours help to conceal them in their marshy habitats and, if I have done my sums right, 19 have been recorded at LLNR.  Webb’s Wainscot has been recorded every August in each of the past 10 years and the 145 counted this year is the best ever.


Webb’s Wainscot

The Twin-spotted Wainscot was recorded in August, 2016 for the first time and then not again till this year when 9 were recorded.


Twin-spotted Wainscot

The caterpillars feed on Common Reed and the moth overwinters in the egg state.  The adults do not feed.

August, 2020 was a good one for the Blood-vein with 29 being counted.  The previous highest number was 16.  The moth is well named.


Blood-vein

The Blood-vein enjoys 2 generations usually and the caterpillars feed on Docks, Orache, Sorrel and Knotgrass.

It was good on the 11th August to record a Jersey Tiger.  This is the 3rd year in a row that this moth has been recorded at LLNR.


Jersey Tiger

It has undergone/is undergoing a huge increase in range and has been seen regularly in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire in recent years.  The food plants of the caterpillars include Nettles, Plantains, Ground-ivy and Brambles and are abundant at LLNR so who knows.

My final August moth is the magnificent Clifden Nonpareil which made an appearance on the 24th .  This is the third record for LLNR, the other 2 being last year.


Clifden Nonpareil

The Clifden part of the name is in recognition of the moth’s discovery at what is now Cliveden House by the Thames near Maidenhead in the 1740s.  It became extinct in the UK in 1964 but recolonised southern England from about 2007.  Evidence suggests that it is slowly spreading north from that coastal base.

Gordon Redford

Emptying the moth traps at Linford Lakes NR, 26th August 2020

Above: The purpose-built trap at LLNR (Photo: Gordon Redford)

The evening of Tuesday 25th August was originally scheduled for a Society BBQ and Moth Night at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve. This was cancelled along with the rest of the summer walks due to Covid 19, but in turns out that it would have been cancelled anyway as 25th August saw the arrival of heavy rain followed by strong gales as storm Francis swept through.

Gordon Redford nevertheless ran the two traps there as usual and as a better forecast was scheduled for 26th, I joined Gordon and Ayla Webb in the early morning to video them emptying the traps and recording the night’s catch. Weather conditions meant this was not very large, but represents a selection of what is flying at this time of year at Linford Lakes. Any deficiencies in the videos are down to me!

The first trap is situated between a reedbed and the lake; the second is a fixed, purpose-built trap against the wall adjacent to the main building at the reserve.

The video of the emptying of the first trap is in two parts:

Video 1:  Emptying of first moth trap, Part 1

Video 2:  Emptying of first moth trap, Part 2

The video of the emptying of the second trap is here:

Video 3: Linford Lakes Moth Trapping

At the start of this third video, where we look at the contents of the fixed, purpose-built trap at LLNR, there is mention of the shed that Gordon would like – but somehow we never came back to explain …  This refers to the moth trapping arrangements of Mr Plusia (who gave his name to the moth called Dewick’s Plusia) in the 1950s on the Essex coast. He had a shed with a similar style moth trap built into the roof. Photos show him in the shed, with the shed’s walls covered in moths. He could examine them at leisure without any danger of them flying away, or any problems with wind and rain! Maybe one day, Gordon …

Linda Murphy

Elephant hawk moth Caterpillar, Deilephilia Elpenor by Julian Lambley, Old Wolverton Mill, 11 September 2016

A Lakeside Reflection – Chris Coppock

Yesterday my partner and I were sitting by Caldecotte Lake, when she pointed out a “huge caterpillar” on willow-herb a few feet away over tangled waterside vegetation.  With close-focused bins I quickly confirmed it as an Elephant hawkmoth, and was pleased she’d spotted it as she’d been wowed finding an adult in her garden a few years ago.  Though dark, it was lighter and more strikingly marked than the typical velvety black – sadly an exact match for tarmac – seen by most who encounter these larvae when roving pre-pupation.

I then launched into some “mansplaining”: eyespots, head, mandibles, horned tail – that sort of thing.  However, her responses – in particular her efforts to describe its markings – made little sense to me.  If there is a goddess of effective communication she was clearly struggling, but disagreement would only have spoiled the moment.  I wanted to share the pleasure – my sense that in some small corner all’s well with the world – which I have always had seeing a caterpillar peaceably munching its food-plant.  A Kingfisher shot past, a Heron settled in a dead tree.

Eventually:
She:  “What’s that dark thing a bit above it?  Is it a dead leaf or something?”
Me:   “What dark thing?  The only dark thing is the caterpillar.”
She:  “My caterpillar’s not dark at all”.

Her caterpillar was in fact about six inches lower, bright apple-green and equally large, though I’d entirely failed to see it (I plead intervening foliage and a slightly different sightline).  It was of course a second Elephant hawk.  Though the adult is pretty constant, the larvae have a wide spectrum of colour variation, and this was clearly “extreme green”—more like an Emperor or Privet hawk, in fact.

Yet it’s likely both larvae were from eggs laid by one female, and mated by a single male.  A genetic conundrum almost as interesting as how two people can spend twenty minutes thinking they are discussing the same object when they’re not.

Chris Coppock, 27 August 2020

[Photo of Elephant Hawkmoth caterpillar, Deilephilia Elpenor, by Julian Lambley, Old Wolverton Mill, 11 September 2016]

Birds by Night: Recording Nocturnal Migration in South MK – Harry Appleyard

Above: Carrion Crow, Tattenhoe, April 2017 (All photos, images and recordings © Harry Appleyard)

Getting Started

One of my long-term missions in my local birding has been to record as many species as possible from within the Tattenhoe area in the south of Milton Keynes. While there are many places I could visit across the rest of the city to generate a much longer species list, I prefer to base mine on a lower-carbon approach, through what I see and or hear close to home. Currently, my list of species for Tattenhoe and the surrounding areas since 2008 sits at 128.

Having already listed the resident species, as well as frequent annual migrants, new additions come at a much slower pace now, but an increasingly talked-about area of birding that I’m hoping will help me, is ‘nocmig’, the recording of nocturnal bird migration. After some research with the aid of other birders on Twitter, I invested in the Tascam DR-05 last year. While I can’t say it has added anything new to the list yet, it has been well worth getting into, having recorded several species I’ve never previously observed from my garden before, some of which have been rare or only occasional on my walks in this corner of MK in the past.


Tascam DR-05 recorder and tripod

The recorder is placed into a bucket coated in bubble-wrap, to suppress background noise. The AA batteries for the recorder usually just about make it through a 6-7 hour recording, however they will run out of power much sooner on cold or windy nights. Its minimum operating temperature according to the product manual is 6 degrees Celsius, so ideally not one to leave out in the open in winter. WAV format is usually one of the better formats to choose for recording, as MP3 audio may not be quite as clear for distant sounds and more vulnerable to compression.

After I’ve finished the recording, I scan through the audio using Audacity. Amplifying the audio by around 20-24 decibels has been key in picking out the bird vocals, as unless they are perched close to the bucket or calling as they fly directly over the garden, not only are they harder to hear, but also harder to see in the spectrogram, where visual signatures of their vocalizations can be found among the other sounds of the night.

Once the audio is amplified, the next stage is scrolling through the spectrogram, which can be expanded and magnified to make finding the often-fleeting calls of nocturnal migrants much easier. Most vocals from passing birds on the audio are thin dots and streaks, though the louder they are and the more they are magnified, the more unique and recognisable they become. Sudden knocks or movements of objects nearby and typical urban sounds like car horns or distant alarms, may look like vocals on first inspection.

Below: Spectogram and recording of Little Ringed Plover, 15th July 2020.
Photo taken Forest Floodplain NR, April 2015


 

The dawn chorus is often a mess of streaks and lines all over the spectrogram from typical garden visitors like the Wren, Robin and Crow, even more so earlier in the summer when warblers and other birds are in the mix. When the display starts to get crowded, it’s worth listening closely for early morning flyovers, or birds you might not usually see in your garden, like the Bullfinch.

Findings from 2019 to Present

Since I started the recordings, the Moorhen has been one of the more frequent night-time flyovers, interestingly regarded as a common nocturnal migrant across the UK but it’s hard to be sure whether I have caught true migrants travelling long distances or resident birds disturbed from their territories nearby, perhaps flushed from their roosts by foxes or cats in the early hours of the morning.


Above: Moorhen, Tattenhoe Valley Park, March 2016
Below: Recording of Moorhen, 11th April 2020

 

Having seen them only once in the garden before, Tawny Owls have also been a pleasant surprise, occasionally perched and calling nearby. From the night of 23rd October and into the morning of 24th October 2019, the recording picked up at least a dozen flight calls from Redwings and a Blackbird. 2020 has been much more productive in variety of species so far, largely thanks to already having the recorder ready for use through the peak migration period in spring.

Recording of Tawny Owl, 10th September 2019

Of the 59 bird species I’ve recorded from the garden so far this year, 5 of them have been picked up exclusively on the overnight recordings. 26th March produced a Coot at around 2.54am, an infrequent visitor to Tattenhoe’s waterways rather than established resident like its close relative the Moorhen. 5th April produced my first garden record of Oystercatcher, an occasional flyover here in recent years, calling as it passed over at 00.50 am, with another a few weeks later at around 1.13 am on 15th June.

By far the most exciting bird I’ve recorded since starting this and the least expected one for my suburban garden was a male Nightjar, churring for a few minutes somewhere nearby at 3.55am on 31st May, just as the dawn chorus was starting to kick off. Surrounded by houses with a few deciduous thickets nearby, this isn’t the sort of place where I would have actively been looking out for them initially, however in research and speaking to other birders online, I found out that they have been known to travel several kilometres away from their heathland- and woodland-based breeding grounds while hunting. He could have also been a passing migrant, albeit a late arrival, like the one I found hawking around an oak tree further along the Tattenhoe valley on 2nd October last year.

Below: Spectogram and recording of Nightjar churring among Robin song, 31st May 2020

 

Two other firsts for my garden since the Nightjar have been the Little Grebe, calling at around 1.16 am on 11th June and 3 am on 21st July and another rare flyover for the Tattenhoe area, the Little Ringed Plover, making two calls at 1.34am on 15th July. Small passerines have also made brief callouts in the dead of night, with single bursts of song from a Blackcap at 23.49 on 14th April and a Lesser Whitethroat just after midnight on 21st May.

Below: LIttle Grebe, recorded 11th June 2020

 

Below: Blackcap, photographed Howe Park Wood, April 2017; Recording of male Blackcap, Tattenhoe, 14th May 2020


Conclusions

A typical night usually starts with traffic noise, with the last two hours ending with a gradual build-up of garden birds. The fleeting flight calls of passing migrants have been few and far between so far but nonetheless, it’s a small project that has proven well worthwhile, helping to record several species I’ve rarely come across within this locality in the daytime, plus more locally common species that I haven’t previously heard at night.

This is a field of birding I would love to hear about more people in Milton Keynes getting into. With such a diverse range of habitats across the city, there are near countless possibilities for what might get recorded along the way. It has proven to be a great way of picking up rarities and local scarcities across the UK, such as the Ortolan Bunting, Bittern and Quail.

Do not feel pressured into having to know all the vocalizations of British birds before you get started. There are plenty of guides online that can help you along the way, plus websites such as Xeno-canta which are packed with thousands of bird songs and calls, many of which are labelled as nocturnal recordings. Searching ‘#nocmig’ on Twitter has usually been my way of keeping an eye on what other people have found on their recordings across the country, which has been useful for finding out about unprecedented night-time movements of species like the Common Scoters, plus positively identifying flight calls during the height of migration through spring. With Autumn migration starting to kick off, now is a great time to get started, the sooner the better!

I am still a beginner with this and have much to learn about the technicalities of audio enhancement and recording, but I am pleased with the results so far. A website I would highly recommend checking out, should you wish to get stuck in is: https://nocmig.com/.

Harry Appleyard
August 2020

Linford Lakes NR Moth Report for July 2020 – Gordon Redford

Photos by Gordon Redford. Above: a Crescent moth

If someone had asked me on the 31st July how I thought the past month had been for mothing at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve (LLNR) I would have replied by saying that, apart from a couple of highlights, it had not been especially great.  It did not feel to me that it had been a good month. Now, having fed all the records into Mapmate, it is clear that my answer would have been incorrect.  The facts are that July, 2020 has been the best July since recording regularly at LLNR began in 2011.  The best not only in the numbers of moths attracted to the moth traps there but also in the numbers of species recorded.

4,746 moths was the July, 2020 total and this exceeded by some 400 moths the previous highest July figure of 4,339 in 2017.  The 236 moth species recorded in 2020 also exceeded the previous highest July figure, also in 2017, of 200 species. 36 of the 236 species recorded in July, 2020 were new to July records and 15 species were new to the site.  The other 21 new species to July but not new to the site had been recorded in other months. Good quality biological records are vital so that effective nature conservation decisions can be made and they can also confirm, and in my case, disprove a “feeling” that the month had not been that good. As alluded to above, there were some highlights and probably the brightest of these was the appearance on the 24th July of a Dark Crimson Underwing.


Dark Crimson Underwing (Photo: Gordon Redford)

This is a moth on the move.  The Atlas of Britain and Ireland’s Larger Moths states that it is ”A rare moth confined to the New Forest and a few woods in north Hampshire and south Wiltshire with signs of a recent increase in range”.  The Buckinghamshire County Moth Recorder told me that it was only the 3rd record for Bucks in modern times with the other 2 being in the last 2 years.  The caterpillars feed on Oak.

Highlights numbers 2 and 3 are also moths on the move. On 8th July 2 Dotted Fan-foots (or should it be feet?) were found in the trap.


Dotted Fan-foot (Photo: Gordon Redford)

The Atlas again has this moth expanding its range from the wetlands of East Anglia, Essex and the Thames Estuary westwards. The County Moth Recorder has this record as 25 km further north than any of the 40 or so records he has for the county.  Let us hope that the moth takes to the wetlands of Milton Keynes.

Highlight number 3 is a Tree Lichen Beauty which appeared on 27th July.  I have to say that I do so like those moths wearing green and it is good to have this one join the list.  The green seems to wear pretty quickly so it is especially good to see a freshly emerged specimen.


Tree Lichen Beauty (Photo: Gordon Redford)

After three 19th century records, there were no sightings in Britain until 1991.  Immigration became more frequent and by the early 2000s, the moth was established in south-east England and it is now steadily spreading.  The moth was not in the trap but on the wall behind it which is covered in lichen.

Having owned up to liking my greens, there now follow 2 moths that made appearances in July sporting some green.  On 17th of the month on the last egg box to be checked I found this Large Emerald.


Large Emerald (Photo: Gordon Redford)

It was the third record for LLNR and was last seen in 2015.  Caterpillars feed on Birches and some other trees too.  Its legs are tucked away in the photograph but they are brown and white in colour.

The final “green” moth is one of a group of LLNR specialists in that their favoured habitat is wetland.  It is the Cream-bordered Green Pea.  It is about 10mm in length and rests with its wings at a steep angle.


Cream-bordered Green Pea (Photo: Gordon Redford)

It is resident at LLNR and 3 were recorded in July on 12th, 29th and 30th.  Its caterpillars feed on the terminal shoots of sallows and willows.  A good friend of mine once remarked that a name like Cream-bordered Green Pea sounds like something that should be on a menu rather than be that of a moth.

Another wetland specialist is the Crescent and there were 9 records for this month in July. The food plant of the caterpillars is Yellow Iris and Great Fen and other sedges and Bulrushes.   It overwinters as an egg.


Crescent (Photo: Gordon Redford)

Gordon Redford

New Dragonfly Species for MK: Lesser Emperor (Anax parthenope) – Harry Appleyard

While inspecting one of the ponds in Tattenhoe yesterday (31st July) I spotted an Emperor that stood out from the rest nearby. With green eyes and a largely brown abdomen with a blue segment beneath the wings, it was almost immediately clear this was a male Lesser Emperor. Getting sharp, detailed pictures was a bit of a challenge as he spent several minutes patrolling the pond, occasionally getting into fights with the other male Emperors before disappearing over a meadow nearby. Fortunately, the few I did get, while blurry and a little distant, were clear enough to show the distinctive features.


Lesser Emperor Anax parthenope (Photos: Harry Appleyard)

After its first appearance in the UK in 1996, this species has slowly appeared throughout England and Wales, breeding across an increasing range of sites, becoming less of a vagrant and more established coloniser. They have already been present in Buckinghamshire for several years but this is the first one to have ever been recorded in Milton Keynes, verified by the British Dragonfly Society’s Bucks County Recorder Alan Nelson.

Having skimmed past them in my odonata books over the past few years, it was amazing to finally see one, out the blue and virtually on my doorstep!

Unfortunately there was no sign of him today, 1st August 2020, in the same location or around any of the other ponds nearby. There is a good chance he may have just been passing by, especially with the strong southerly breeze from yesterday afternoon onwards. Still, with recent sightings of them at Tring and Wilstone Reservoirs over multiple days recently, it is worth keeping an eye out for them around MK’s large ponds and lakes. If you find any in MK or any other part of Bucks, be sure to report them via The British Dragonfly Society: https://british-dragonflies.org.uk/recording/submit-your-records/

Harry Appleyard

 

Clearwing capers – Andy Harding

Currant Clearwing moths ….no!…but….

A few weeks ago I put in an appeal here to see if there were any extensive black or red currant bush plantings in or near MK, which I could access.  The objective was to place a synthetic lure in prospective sites to see if Currant Clearwing moths Synanthedon tipuliformis were present.  This was always a rare species, but as the growing of currant bushes in gardens has declined, it is presumed it has also decreased in numbers.

I received two very positive responses.

The first was very local to me, where Jenny Mercer obtained permission for me to place a lure in Stony Stratford, Wolverton Road, allotments, under her supervision, only for that to be withdrawn by a ‘jobsworth’ at the last minute.

Undaunted, on Tuesday 23rd June, I decided to recce the allotments to see if the currant bushes were close enough to the fence to make it worthwhile to put up a lure outside.  I decided to try, but was taken by the proximity of some old apple trees.  So I first put up a Red-belted Clearwing Synanthedon myopaeformis lure (another nationally rare species) on a sapling outside the allotment fence, with no expectation at all.  By the time I had put up the Currant Clearwing lure on another sapling and turned round, there were two male Red-Belted Clearwings at the first lure.  Once photographed, that lure was returned to its sealed and cold container in a ‘cool bag’, so that they would not be attracted again.  They need to be attracted to real females.

 
Red-belted Clearwing Synanthedon myopaeformis, Stony Stratford 23 June 2020 (Photos: Andy Harding)

My second lead for the Currant Clearwings was provided by Julie Lane, who arranged for me to contact Mike Totton, the Chairman of the Olney allotment association.  He was perfectly happy to allow me access, but finding a mutually convenient date with the appropriate weather conditions of sunshine and a light breeze was not easy.

In the period before we actually met, I discovered two relevant things.  Firstly the Currant Clearwing ‘season’ in other areas had started early and could easily be ‘over’.  Secondly, during a Zoom meeting of the Beds moth group, I noted that Raspberry Clearwing Pennisetia hylaeformis had been found in north Bedfordshire.  This is a fairly recent colonist which appears to be spreading west from Cambridgeshire, where it was first discovered in 2007.

By now the continuing inappropriate weather was making our lack of a rendezvous embarrassing.  Therefore, despite poor conditions, I visited Mike on his allotment to explain what I wanted to do and why.  I put up lures for both aforementioned species … but not for very long as conditions worsened.  However, Mike did give me carte blanche to visit whenever I wanted. In the next week only Friday 17th July seemed at all likely. So I gave it a go, placing a Currant Clearwing lure invitingly adjacent to a nice crop of currants.  There were a few scattered raspberry bushes I could see, but placing a lure close to any of them meant watching with binoculars while attending the currant bushes.  Given this tricky situation I simply hung the Raspberry Clearwing lure on a pole close to where I was standing.  To my amazement, ten minutes later a male Raspberry Clearwing turned up, and I was able to take a few pictures.  After a couple of minutes, I took the lure down for reasons noted above.  Needless to say, no Currant Clearwings appeared in the next half an hour, but I think I got a great deal, since Raspberry Clearwing has only been formally recorded in Buckinghamshire on one occasion in 2012, with, possibly, a not yet submitted sighting in 2019.

 
Raspberry Clearwing Pennisetia hylaeformis, Olney 17 July 2020 (Photos: Andy Harding)

Currant Clearwings will have to wait until next year.

Andy Harding
July 2020

Garden Wildlife – Sue Hetherington invites nature in

I live in a 2-year-old new-build in Gawcott.  The front was a horrible desert – completely block-paved.  We ripped up the block paving, re-laying just enough to serve as a driveway, and returned the rest back to nature as far as we could. We chose to put a rowan tree in – to be honest, in the very ambitious hope that we might get waxwings in winter one day.  It flowered like mad this spring and the berries are coming on well.

I was amazed to do a bit of “washing-up time” birding from the kitchen window today and see a blackbird already setting about the berries.  It might not be my target bird but I was still very pleased to see that when you invite nature in, it will come.

(Not a great photo but not bad, given I was up to my elbows in washing up suds the minute before!)

Sue Hetherington
July 2020

Stag-gered! – Matt Andrews

In late May and then throughout June and into the first few weeks of July, we are privileged to enjoy the emergence and spectacular appearance of male Stag Beetles (Lucanus Cervus). Happily for us, one of the best places in the UK to see these wonderful insects is Totternhoe in Bedfordshire, just a few miles south of Milton Keynes, the topography of which means one can see them both flying and settled without too much difficulty.

Totternhoe Knolls  is located on the north-east side of Totternhoe village, and the woodland spilling down from the Knolls meets the beetles’ requirements with undisturbed dells and hollows full of dead trees and rotted oak stumps, home to the inch-and-a-half long, curved beetle larvae.  Emergence into the adult state takes between four and seven years. Dependent upon available nourishment for the larval stage, the adult male beetle may be anything from one to three inches long, possessing ‘antlers’ (the male beetle’s jaw appendages) upwards of half-an-inch to over an inch long. And yes, they can pinch unwary fingers to draw blood, which I can attest to from my first ever Stag Beetle encounter in southern France, despite literature assuring you to the contrary. So, best not to touch!

(Photos: Matt Andrews)

With their wing cases stuck outwards and upwards at ninety degrees to their body line, sepia wings frantically buzzing and legs akimbo with those spectacular jaws jutting out to the front, these insects present a unique sight and sound on balmy June evenings.  The Elm hedge lining the opposite side of the road makes ideal landing spots and with care, you can hear the male beetles rustling about in the crisp bunches of Elm leaves.

Female beetles are difficult to find but by wandering – carefully! – with a good torch, along the rather busy Castle Hill Road from the ideal starting point of the Cross Keys pub, a great refreshment spot in better times, from around 9.45pm through until 10.30pm, you should both see (and hear) male Stag Beetles flying like miniature lunar-landers above you along the tree-line right down to head-height!

Enjoying the sight and sound of Europe’s largest beetle has become a much looked-forward to experience every summer and really is to be recommended as something not to be missed.

Matt Andrews
July 2020

New Wildflower Habitats at Stanton Low – Martin Kincaid

For those of you who know and enjoy Stonepit Field at Great Linford, in particular the species-rich limestone scrape which gives the site its name, you may also like to visit Stanton Low this summer.

Two new scrapes have been created at Stanton Low using a similar seed mix to that used at Stonepit over 20 years ago – and already wildlife is flourishing. There are several hollows near the canal which are the relics of the nineteenth century limestone quarrying which took place here. Early in 2019, the topsoil was removed and subsequently Parks Trust staff and volunteers sowed the seed mix. Dominant in the seed mix is kidney vetch Anthyllis vulneraria which is the larval foodplant of Small Blue butterfly. The butterfly should be able to make the short hop across from Stonepit and colonise this new habitat. You will also find Common Bird’s-foot Trefoil Lotus corniculatus, Salad Burnet Sanguisorba minor, Field Poppy Papaver rhoeas and Sainfoin Onobrychis viciifolia in these hollows. Also of note is Viper’s Bugloss Echium vulgare, a plant which is cropping up more and more in Milton Keynes of late.


Wildflowers at one of the Stanton Low scrapes, June 2020 (Photo: Martin Kincaid)

When Helen and I visited one evening recently, we saw plenty of Small Tortoiseshell, Meadow Brown, Ringlet and Marbled White butterflies and a fantastic number of bumblebees enjoying these nectar rich plants. Spoil from the two scrapes was mounded up close by and these mounds are now covered in thistles and teasels, which are another great resource for pollinating insects. The scrubby grassland surrounding the scrapes now regularly hosts breeding Grasshopper Warblers as well as the more abundant Common Whitethroat. Lesser Whitethroat has also been present.

I thoroughly recommend a visit to this new habitat. If visiting by car, park in the large car park off Wolverton Road near Asda (SP837417). From here, follow the mown path alongside the canal until you reach the two scrapes. There are seats and picnic tables right next to the scrapes.

Martin Kincaid

Linford Lakes Nature Reserve Moth Report, June 2020 – Gordon Redford

Main photo: Burnished Brass. All photos taken by Gordon Redford

At the beginning of June 2020, the number of species recorded in June at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve (LLNR) stood at 293 accumulated over the 9 years that records have been consistently collected there.  By the end of June 2020, the number of species recorded in that month now stands at 310, an increase of 17 species. Of those 17 newly recorded June species, 3 were new records for the site and the remainder were all species that had made early appearances as they have been recorded in July up till now.  This appearance of some moths earlier than previously recorded continues the trend noted in the report for the month of May.

The month began with the appearance of the Beautiful China-mark some 10 days earlier than previous earliest date.  The moth is very well named as the photograph below shows.  There are 4 species of china-mark moth which remarkably have aquatic or subaquatic caterpillars.  The china-marks are named from the resemblance of their wing patterns to makers’ marks pressed into Chinese porcelain.


Beautiful China-mark 

The first week of June, the 4th to be precise, saw the appearance in the trap of the Burnished Brass.  21 were recorded during the month which is bettered only once in the 10 years of records.  The caterpillars feed most often on Common Nettle of which there is plenty at LLNR.  The adults, when fresh, are a delight to move when the sun is shining as the “brass” really comes into play.


Burnished Brass

One of the 3 moths recorded as new to the site in June was the Burnet Companion.  It is a day-flying moth and has probably been there all the time that this recording programme has been in place and before that too. Why it is so named is a bit of a mystery: although they occur in the same habitat as other Burnet moths they are seldom seen together, as the Burnet Companion flight season is over by the time the Six-spot Burnet appears.


Burnet Companion

The number of moths to visit the trap in June was 1,851 with 149 species recorded.  This compares with 2,824 moths and 170 species last year.  A Hornet was found on an egg box in the trap in mid-June so it may be that the Hornets are affecting numbers.  The Heart and Dart was the most numerous of the moths in June numbering 239.  Often the most abundant moths are also the most variable and the Heart and Dart is no exception.  However, all show the pair of pegs or darts on the top of the wing and the rough heart shape mark about half way down.


Heart and Dart

At the other end of the scale, it was good to report records for Iron Prominent and Leopard Moth, just one for each.  Neither appear in large numbers nor every year.  There are 9  Prominents in the UK and all have a tuft of scales which sticks up like a little pyramid.  The Iron Prominent is so named because the dark grey wings are edged with flecks of red-brown or rusty iron. Leopard Moths spend at least 3 years as caterpillars as they feed inside the trunks, stems and branches of trees where large volumes of wood have to be eaten to provide enough food for the caterpillar to develop.

                 
(l) Iron Prominent; (r) Leopard Moth

It is very good to report that 9 Scarlet Tigers were recorded during the month of June 2020.  I can recall the great excitement caused about 10 years ago when a couple were found at Shenley Brook End so for 9 to be counted is something special.


Scarlet Tiger

On the last day of the month it was lovely to see a Maple Prominent on an egg box in the trap.  Only the third time to be recorded there in the 10 year period and a very fine moth too.


Maple Prominent

Gordon Redford, June 2020

A glowing Covid story

A friend of mine, Michele Pudsey, who lives in Newton Blossomville has regularly seen glow worms (Lampyris noctiluca) along a local country road;  this year she recorded 12 on one evening including two mating glow worms. This road is very quiet and the verge is wonderful for all sorts of wild flowers but as Michele says the fact that the council haven’t been out cutting the verges this year has probably been to the advantage of the glow worms (and all the other wildlife that live there). She has submitted this sighting and the attached photos to The UK Glow Worm Survey www.glowworms.org.uk which is a site dedicated to all things to do with glow worms.

Mating glow worms, Newton Blossomville (Photos: Michele Pudsey)
Now is the time to look out for these fascinating insects so if you are out in the evenings in the countryside keep an eye out for that telltale green glow. If you want to find out more about them check out the site mentioned above and don’t forget to submit your sightings.  (Records can also be submitted via iRecord.)
 
Julie Lane

A peregrine in Aylesbury – Sue Hetherington

On Sunday 21/6/20 afternoon and I very cautiously ventured out from pandemic purdah!
I wanted to see what was happening with the County Hall peregrines and I saw this juvenile two sets of windows down from the breeding platform.  It was very vocal, occasionally flying in pursuit of the adult.  I only have patchy information about this year’s Aylesbury story – essential building work enabled the County bird recorder a sneak peek in early May when one tiny chick and 3 eggs were briefly glimpsed (a longer look of course being prohibited by law because peregrines are category 1 protected) There was a recent report of a faller being found by the nearby railway yard, taken to Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital at Haddenham, then placed back on the roof of County Hall.  I don’t know if that’s the one in the photograph nor do I know what happened about the rest of the clutch of eggs.   A piece of information did pop up on Twitter a while back to say that an Aylesbury ringed bird from 4 years ago (identified from the lettering on the orange darvic ring on its leg) was paired but non-breeding on a building in Kettering.

In case there are any more ‘urban peregrine’ fans out there, I have a little more Buckinghamshire news.  There are now FOUR such sites in Bucks – Aylesbury and the MK Dons stadium and also the parish churches at each of High Wycombe and Marlow.  The latter two are also young pairs and not believed to be breeding yet.  Now the pandemic infection rates are falling a little, I may cautiously attempt to venture out to see if I can observe anything at these sites.

Sue Hetherington

Cuckoo ringing at Linford Lakes – June 2020

2020 has been a fabulous year for European Cuckoo in Milton Keynes and Bucks. At the time of writing, the number of calling cuckoos in our county is well over one hundred, and no doubt other records will come to light. Quite why the cuckoo has had such a successful year, set against many years of decline, is as yet unknown.

Local bird ringer and friend of MKNHS, Kenny Cramer, was aware that there were a number of male birds calling at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve this year and was determined to try and get some of them ringed. Even he could not have anticipated how successful he would be! What follows is Kenny’s own entertaining account of trapping and ringing cuckoos in early June:

“After successfully catching and ringing two new cuckoos in mid-May (our first since 2017), we decided to try our luck with a few sessions specifically aimed at cuckoos.

On Monday evening, a single 60′ net was set in the same position on the bund which had proved successful in the past. For this I chose to use a 45mm gauge net to reduce the chances of these larger birds bouncing out as they frequently do with standard 16mm nets used for catching small passerines. With Colin the decoy (a stuffed cuckoo!) in position, I retreated to the edge of the bund where I set up camp. I was joined by Martin Kincaid on this occasion (at an appropriate social distance of course..) and it wasn’t long before we were being treated to incredible sights and sounds of as many as four cuckoos singing and occasionally squabbling in the tree tops above us.

The first net round produced nothing but the frustratingly familiar sight of a cuckoo perched on top of one of the net poles and another flying overhead. We waited patiently for another few minutes, enjoying the strange grunting and chuckling sounds the male cuckoos make between songs. I spotted one bird flying low towards the net and went to investigate. This time we were successful and our third cuckoo of 2020 was in the bag! Despite at least 3 other birds being present, the only other captures were two blackbirds and eventually we decided we had had enough mozzie bites for one evening and furled the net.

I returned early Tuesday morning and quickly had the net open. There seemed to be less activity in general but it wasn’t too long before another new cuckoo was being ringed. This was followed by a re-trap of the first cuckoo we had ringed back in May.

I packed up the net and headed back to the car with various schemes and plans drifting in my head. I decided that it was time to dust off “the beast” (this is a rig consisting of 8m poles with nets being raised/lowered on a system of pulleys) and enlisted Sarah’s help to get it set up on Tuesday evening. I chose a position on the boundary path near which had been successful in the past and this time used two nets facing each other with Colin in the middle, one net on standard poles, and one net raised up on the beast. Once everything was set, we switched on the magical mix of cuckoo noises and hid by the car.

We hadn’t heard much cuckoo song while setting up, so I was utterly gobsmacked to return to the nets to find not one but *three* cuckoos in the nets (2 in the standard net, and 1 in the beast). I got them safely extracted and into bags while still in somewhat of a state of shock and disbelief. One of the birds turned out to be a re-trap of the same bird we had caught in May, and another posed an interesting aging challenge.


(Photo: Kenny Cramer)

This bird had retained one of its juvenile chestnut barred primary coverts on each wing (see attached pics.)  This would normally suggest it was a second year bird (or a 5 in ringing terminology), however within the wing there were multiple generations of adult type feathers and the iris was a striking bright yellow rather than a dull yellow, so in the end we aged it as a 6 (meaning a bird hatched 2 or more years ago.) Thinking that there was no way we could top that, we closed the nets and I returned on Wednesday morning for a final flourish.


(Photo: Kenny Cramer)

The final flourish turned out to be more of a damp squib with intermittent showers forcing me to stop catching for a time. One cuckoo did hit the net but didn’t stick (this first time I have seen one get out of the 45mm netting.)

So while it might seem like a lot of effort to go to for a relatively small number of birds, the privilege of getting to see these beautiful and secretive birds up close more than made up for it. I also learned a lot, proved that 2017 was not a fluke, and made the possibility of looking into starting a tracking project a more realistic proposition.”

Since writing this Kenny has caught and ringed a further three cuckoos bringing the total for this year to nine!

Martin Kincaid and Kenny Cramer
June 2020

 

The George Higgs Willen Collection – Postscript from Frances Higgs

Sue Hetherington’s article in the Magpie April 2020, mentioning her interest in seeing George’s moth collection, has prompted me to add more information.

Years ago it was known that George was making a collection of Lepidoptera solely from the Parish of Willen. He was asked if he would consider leaving it to Aylesbury Museum in his Will as a One Parish Collection would be a unique acquisition. This was duly granted and carried out after his death in 2012.

Our County Recorder for Moths, Martin Albertini, undertook the transfer of specimens from the original cabinet to the stackable Hill’s Units required for the Museum. As the transfer was made an Acquisition Number had to be added to the data on each pin. Entomological pins become very fine for tiny specimens, so it was specialised and delicate work. Martin carried it out with great dexterity and just one micro moth crumbled. In all, 1889 specimens were handled.

It was not a job that I could have done. My sole input was cutting up sheets of numbers and handing over the correct ones for the specimens as they were transferred. Two brass plates were suitably inscribed to be fixed to each cabinet.

Nothing stands still in the natural world and already several new species are in our county. George made his collection between 1967 and 2012. It remains a snapshot of Lepidoptera in Willen at that time.

Frances Higgs
June 2020

Dormice in Little Linford Wood – an update

Joyce Taylor Moore writes: With great perseverance (or, in his own words, being an awkward old ***) John Prince has rediscovered dormice in Little Linford Wood after an absence of over four years. The 300+ nest boxes and more recent footprint tunnels have yielded nothing but John, with great energy and technical expertise from https://www.ramblingsalamander.co.uk/, has found a dormouse high in the oak canopy on the first outing of his infrared camera trap. This has great implications for other projects where dormice appear to have dwindled away. John may have rewritten what we know about dormice – again!

Julie Lane adds an appeal on John’s behalf:  I have spoken to John Prince at length and he is going to write a longer article for us on his findings and plans for the future of the Dormouse project. He has been working on this project for over 20 years with the support of others along the way, but he is struggling to get out and about these days and yet he is still full of enthusiasm to find out more about these beautiful and fascinating creatures. He has asked if there is anyone within the society who would be happy to join the team and volunteer with some of the work involved so that the project can carry forward into the future. If you are interested please get in touch with me, Julie Lane or Martin Ferns at webeditor@mknhs.org.uk and we will put you in touch with John.

A moth with stickability: the Buff-tip – Andy Harding

During the fairly recent spell of unseasonably warm weather with clear blue sunny skies every day, a Buff-tip moth was with us for a few days exhibiting what I think is very odd behaviour.

Around 10pm on May 24th, my wife Mairi and I went outside to look for a couple of hedgehogs which had recently appeared in our garden and to check the walls and fence next to my moth trap.

Mairi noticed a large moth fly in and alight on the unopened bud of an ornamental Poppy about 3m from the light of the moth trap.  I was surprised it had not flown to the trap so photographed it with flash.

I was even more surprised to see it still on the bud at around 5.30 am the next morning.  The sun was continuously on the bud and moth for at least the next seven hours.  Thereafter it was in shade until the last couple of hours of sunshine on that day.

The night time temperature was ideal for moths to take flight, and the attractions of the moth trap were still available, but the next morning (May 26th) it was still there!  So I took a photo showing its exposed position and another of the bud starting to open.

 

I took the following photo later that day as the bud continued to open.

With only a very small adjustment of position it remained on the Poppy head until it was fully in flower:

and still remained when the petals started to fall.  When all petals had disappeared, it finally left the seed head…

…on the night of May  28th/29th to the fence adjacent to the moth trap!

It then never moved until the night of May 30th/ 31st when it finally disappeared.

The Buff-tip is an exclusively nocturnal species and generally such species abhor direct sunlight, but this moth was in direct sunlight for much of several days.  That, and its unwillingness to fly on a series of warm nights seems extremely peculiar.

My knowledge of moth behaviour is very weak, so I have no likely explanation, but Buff-tip is notable for its confidence in the effectiveness of its well- camouflaged appearance, so that it does tend sit in very exposed situations around moth traps, rather than hiding away…..but for four days on the Poppy head and two days on the fence!!!

Moths are so great!  Get a moth trap, or put out a sheet with a light behind it on a warm sultry evening, while enjoying a glass of vino.

Andy Harding

Linford Lakes NR Moth Report, May 2020 – Gordon Redford

All photos: Gordon Redford. Above: May Highflyer

May 2020 is my tenth year of recording moths at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve (LLNR). A variety of moth traps have been used over that time but over the past 3 years access to mains electricity has allowed the use of stronger light sources. Prior to that, lower strength bulbs were used and they were powered by 12V car batteries. From August, 2019 a purpose built moth trap fed from the mains electricity has been in use and has provided most of the May records this year. The moths are attracted to the light source overnight which is over a box which readily permits access and less so egress. The moths settle in the box which is lined with cardboard egg boxes and there they stay until the trap is opened early in the morning when the moths are identified and released unharmed.

   
Trap built and provided by the Parks Trust for use at LLNR

In May 2020 the trap attracted 1255 moths of 101 species. This is the highest species number ever recorded there in May over the ten years of recording. 99 was the previous highest number of species recorded in May,  in 2017 when 1597 were attracted to the light. To confuse matters further, last year 2,917 moths were attracted to the light in May, more than doubling this year’s total, yet the total number of species recorded then was just 82.

A comparison of the species recorded over the years is interesting too. Of the 101 species recorded this year, 21 were new to the month of May and of these two, Shark and Least Black Arches were new to the site too. Most of the other new ones recorded for May were making early appearances as they have been recorded in June up till now. These records are confirmation of a trend towards earlier emergence by some species due to climate change.


2 new moths to LLNR recorded in May 2020. (L) Shark (R) Least Black Arches

It is well known that the numbers of individual moth species fluctuate over time with peaks and troughs. The May 2020 records have produced the highest May numbers at LLNR for Common Swift (162 – previous recorded high 112 in 2019), Poplar Hawk-moth (87 – previous recorded high 68 in 2017), White Ermine (179 – previous recorded high 92 in 2017), Treble Lines (87 – previous recorded high 52 in 2019) and Common Wainscot (82 – previous recorded high 8 in 2019).

Below: Moths recording their best May numbers this year

 
(L) Common Swift;  (R) Poplar Hawk-moth

 
(L) White Ermine;  (R) Common Wainscot

At the other end of the scale, the 2020 May records have produced low numbers for some species such as Small Square-spot (3 – from a high of 216 in 2017) and Green Carpet (59 – from a high of 300 in 2017).

Moths recording significant low numbers this year
 
(L) Green Carpet; (R)  Small Square-spot

In summary then, May 2020 at LLNR has been good for species recorded despite the numbers of moths attracted to the light being lower than in some previous years. It appears that some species are appearing noticeably earlier than in the past. Some species are clearly enjoying a very good May while some others not so.

Gordon Redford

A new pond – Simon Bunker

We did the garden last year and we installed a pond, so I have been staking it out, looking carefully and pond dipping.  At first I thought it was devoid of life, but after being told to be patient things started to appear.

First up were pond skaters, so had a play taking their photo while they were skating on the pond.

Above: (l) Pond Skater; (r) Young Pond Skater

While pond dipping found back swimmers, water boatman, Mayfly nymphs, damselfly larva possibly common blue. Later confirmed when a green form emerged from the pond. Darter larva, plus 2 different diving beetles.

 

Above: (l) Back Swimmer; (r) Mayfly Nymph

Above: (l) Lesser Water Boatman; (r) Diving Beetle

Also we saw our first frog last week, but no frog spawn, hopefully next year.

While watching the pond I found the exuvia of the dragonfly and damselfly which I have collected and put onto microscope slides.

 

Above: (l) Common Blue damselfly larva; (r) Darter larva, poss. Common

   

Above: (l and r) Common Blue damselfly – green form

In between pond watching and working I also have been taking pictures of Myriapods and Isopods. Plus anything else that stayed still long enough!

 

Above: (l) Millipede; (r) Millipede – Polydesmus species

 

Above: (l and r) Woodlice-Philoscia-muscorum

Simon Bunker
(who took all the photos)

The Secret Bee Bush – Ann and Mark Strutton

News of a busy Cotoneaster in Willen

One of the joys of late spring in our garden is the blooming of the Cotoneaster horizontalis.  This plant produces small pink flowers which, unless you inspect closely just seem to be buds that never open.

Even on a day like today, when the air temperature is around 10 C, the plant is alive with bees.  On a hot day, their humming is almost louder than the traffic on the M1.  All cotoneasters are good for nectar but this species is the best.  This plant is not more than 2 feet in height but about 5 feet across and, in a quick count today, there were at least two dozen bees on it.  The majority were the workers of the tree bumble bee, Bombus hypnorum and the spring bumble bee, Bombus pratorem.  Also present, a single honey bee – well it is a cold day.

The small flowers of the plant are well suited to the short tongued bumble bees.  It is well known that bees do not bother to visit a flower that has been recently visited by another individual bee. I read in Dave Goulson’s book, A Sting in the Tail, that it has been shown, by clever research which involved washing the feet of bees, that each bee leaves a smelly footprint on the flower which can be detected by another bee.  The smell declines over time so the insect can determine when the flower was last visited.  Different plants refill their nectaries at different rates, borage being a notable plant that refills very quickly, in about two minutes, compared with comfrey which takes upwards of forty minutes.  So out I go with my stopwatch and observe a single flower.  I took three readings all under ten minutes, the average time between visits being 6 minutes.  Considering that this single plant must be covered in thousands of flowers, it explains why it is such a good nectar source.

Our plant is one of a large family of cotoneasters which originate in India, Tibet or China. Horizontalis is the one that is most recognisable and has acquired a common name, the Fishbone or Herringbone cotoneaster.  Originally found in China, it was brought to the west in the 19th century by that saviour of deer, Pere David.  Considered by some to be too invasive, our plant arrived by chance about 20 years ago and established itself on the edge of our north-facing patio where, apart from when we trip over it, it has become most welcome.

As the year progresses, other species make the most of this shrub.  This week, when the song thrush chicks fledged, their parent took them right under the branches into its heart to hunt for snails.  Throughout the rest of the year, the wren is most active in it and the dunnock uses it as a hidey hole to escape from the aggressive robin.  We often see glimpses of bank voles rushing into cover under it and frogs and toads live under it as well.  Occasionally, a grass snake makes an appearance.  On one memorable occasion, many years ago, a mink appeared from under it.

Once the berries form in the autumn, it becomes of great interest to other species.  In the past, this would have been blackbirds, thrushes, sometimes redwings in the depths of winter but these days, the resident wood pigeon gobbles them up quite early in the autumn, a bird so fat it seems to waddle.

Ann and Mark Strutton
May 2020

Meadow saxifrage by Jenny Mercer, Stony Stratford NR 23 April 2017

Meadow saxifrage in Stony Stratford NR – Jenny Mercer

Jenny Mercer has sent in the video clip linked below about a patch of Meadow Saxifrage (saxifrage granulata) situated in Stony Stratford Nature Reserve. We usually visit it on our summer walks. This year it seems to be much less prevalent – but it’s there! Jenny’s commentary explains all.

Dawn Chorus walks, Olney – Julie Lane

I decided that in this time of lockdown it was about time I made the effort to get up early and go out into the local countryside to listen to the dawn chorus.

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