Friday, 25 June 2010


There was already quite a bit of light at 4 am when this Gardner moth trap was checked in the overflow car park field at the country park, early on Friday 25th. It had turned quite muggy by dusk the previous evening, which seemed quite promising for moth activity, so this Gardner trap photographed above and a Skinner trap were left to operate through the short night.
Unfortunately the skies cleared just after midnight revealing plenty of moon-light.

Conditions were perfect just after dusk with masses of flies, mosquitoes, caddis flies and moths coming into the lights. Interesting beetles noted were 2 great silver diving beetles, lesser stag beetle and a few summer chafers. Several pipistrelle bats were also swooping low over the traps and close-by, five of them were showing interest in a roost site they used last summer, behind weatherboarding on the toilet building in the car park.

Checking the traps just after daylight broke had to be done reasonably promptly before some of the moths flew off with the increasing daylight and also before blackbirds and crows helped themselves to the easy pickings.
Just over 200 moths of nearly 50 species of macro moth were noted, making it a worthwhile session.

Amongst all the usual familiar moths, was this delicate small orange moth fluttering about which looked interesting and one I didn't recognise. This is the rare vagrant Rannoch looper moth, which will have arrived here from the continent with the recent warm winds. It had been very rare in Essex until last June when at least five were recorded just in the one month, involving 3 at Maldon, one at nearby Old Hall Marshes and a fifth in the west of the county. I'm sure the moth has already been recorded this month from other sites in Essex.

The picture below shows the Rannoch looper in typical pose with the wings held vertically, although after a while it lowered the wings down. Luckily it's not a flighty moth like some of the small ones and this one was happy to pose for photos.

Some of the ther moths noted included figure of 80, common emerald, blood vein, riband wave, single-dotted wave, barred straw, barred yellow, small yellow wave, scorched wing, mottled beauty, bordered white, pebble prominent, buff-tip, double square-spot, shark, poplar grey, small angle shades, dark arches, light arches, green silver-lines, middle-barred minor and lots of marbled minors.

A few hawkmoths were also noted with the first pine hawkmoth of the summer, pictured above, found resting on the grass a few metres from the trap. Also seen were a couple of elephant hawks, privet hawk and an eyed hawkmoth.

This sand dart stood out from the other moths because of its almost whitish colour and the finely traced markings. It was the other notable moth for the night as it's a nationally rare moth, restricted to coastal sites, where the larval foodplant are a number of strandline plants. It has been recorded here before but not for about four years, so it was good to see it is still present.

The aptly named and distinctive leopard moth with it's black spots, was found resting on some grass nearby. One or two are often seen during the summer trapping sessions here.

This blotched emerald hasn't been recorded from the park before although it's quite a widespread moth elsewhere.

On Thursday evening I visited Adrian Amos' garden in East Road in the middle of West Mersea, as he'd just seen 4 turtle doves coming to the birdseed in his back garden. Needless to say I didn't catch up with them but I did see several mullein moth caterpillars, photo above, feeding on his mullein plants. Earlier in the day the Bromans Lane turtle dove was heard singing near the park.

A male marsh harrier was hunting low over the fields near the East Mersea Pick Your Own early on Thursdy evening. A Mediterranean gull flew over the park in the morning and Neil Mortimer also reported seeing one recently at the Youth Camp.

During a late afternoon walk along the Strood seawall on Friday, I was surprised to get so close to this corn bunting. Normally they are quite wary but this one allowed me to get within 5 metres and point the camera at it. I think it was probably a female with some food in it's bill as the jangling song of the male could be heard close-by.

A male marsh harrier quartered the fields inside the Strood seawall, flying low along ditches and occasionally dropping down to rest. At one point it swooped down and was lunged at by a hen pheasant, presumably trying to protect her chicks. The harrier must have got something as it flew off and after landing briefly on a nearby track to pluck at it's feet, it climbed into the air, spiralling higher and higher heading off to the south-west - probably taking some food to its family at Old Hall.

There was no sign of the yellow-legged gull that has been seen recently from the Strood. Other birds noted included sparrowhawk, kestrel, yellow wagtail, reed buntings and a few reed warblers. Despite it being low tide, there were few waders to see other than 12 redshank and a few curlew, oystercatchers and lapwings.

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