Thursday, 16 July 2015

July 16th Mousehold Heath

I was at Mousehold Heath today to join a group walk with Will the warden and Peter the wildlife expert. As usual, Peter had brought a collection of moths, in which he had caught at Kelling Heath last night. Here are a few of what he was showing us...

Scarce Silverlines
Mottled Beauty
Rosy Footman laying eggs
Narrow-winged Pug
This was a summer walk around the heath, searching for butterflies, insects, flowers, birds and pretty much anything we find interesting. In the shade of the trees, many speckled woods were fluttering by with a few spiralling in the air as a couple, the males displaying their fitness as a possible mate.

Speckled Wood
Ragwort with Cinnabar caterpillars
At the new pond, we find cinnabar moth caterpillars feeding on the ragwort. These are striking black and yellow caterpillars and when they emerge as adults, they will become a crimson and black day-flying moth. They are common and you can find them in your garden, feeding on nectar producing flowers. Ragwort is the main food plant of the moth's caterpillars, so grow some of them and you will attract the moth.

Cinnabar caterpillar
Small Skipper
Around the areas of open grassland, butterflies were everywhere. We found many meadow browns and skippers. Here at Mousehold, we have three species of skipper butterfly. Large skippers are the biggest out of the three, but like all skippers, they are still quite small. The other two, small and Essex, are tiny in comparison to large skippers and are the hardest to sort out. You need a magnifying glass to find who is who. The tips of the antenae is the key; black tips for an Essex skipper and brown for a small skipper. It is tricky work, no wonder it wasn't until 1889 when someone in Essex seperated them as different species.

Meadow Brown
A Solitary Wasp going down its hole
As we walked along the areas of heathland, Will pointed out some mysterious holes dotted across the path we were walking on. He wanted to know what made them. After a short wait, I soon had the answer. The holes were made by some kind of yellow and black striped solitary wasp. I tried to get a shot of one to ID later, but my camera's focus was playing up and I couldn't get a sharp, clear image. They were also quite fast and would disappear into their holes before I could react. Some kept popping their heads out of the holes, teasing me while I was battling with the autofocus. This was the only shot I managed to get, a rear end shot of a wasp. Oh well!

Field Grasshopper
Bell Heather
Purple Hairstreak
Just as we returned to the car park, we got to an oak tree that often has purple hairstreaks on it. These are tiny purple butterflies that spend most of the time in the high canopy of oak trees and are quite difficult to spot. Fortunately, Will spots a few for us. As hard as tried, a lot of us in the group were lost and were struggling to locate them with the directions given. Half the group gave up. Peter, me and a few others were more determind and we eventually got a good enough view of one despite the height distance. I impressed everyone by somehow getting a photo of it. My camera plays up with an insect close up but succeeds with a tiny insect at quite a distance, how does that work?

Great Mullein
After lunch, we ended the walk with a visit to St James' Hill to see the peregrines using Peter's scope. We found one perched on the side of the Cathedral's spire. While watching the peregrines, a sound coming from the gorse bushes next to us distracted me and I then noticed a female whitethroat feeding one of it's young sitting on top of the closest bush. In fact there was a large family hopping around the gorse and brambles. These young white-throated warblers look almost ready for their long migration to Africa in a couple of months time. It is a big reminder that this year is half way over already! Time just flies by!

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