Welcome to the LDV NNR ringing blog, this blog is designed to share the experiences, findings and tales from a group of dedicated ringers. We specialise in conservation orientated research projects, largely focusing on wildfowl, waders, owls and birds of conservation concern, in and around the Vale of York NNR's.

NB - Whilst the purpose of this blog was initially designed to cover our nationally important wildfowl ringing activities, regular readers may have noticed the increase in posts detailing wildlife found across the valley (ranging from plants, fungi, butterflies, dragonflies & other invertebrates). Ringing posts will resume over the winter months, and will run alongside wildlife and work posts.

Monday, 2 July 2018

20/06/18 - Moth trapping on the NNR

Over the last few weeks we’ve been continuing to run our moth trap at the NNR base at Bank Island on as many suitable nights as possible. The moths are attracted to a mercury vapour bulb, before dropping down into a collecting bucket, and then into egg boxes where they will then spend the night before being released, unharmed, in the morning. This long-term monitoring of our local moth populations is invaluable data which helps build up a national picture, when combined with the records of thousands of other moth recorders in the country. We’ve had some really attractive and wonderfully named moths in the trap recently – Burnished Brass (pictured below), Small Magpie and Beautiful Golden Y, along with Flame, Mother of Pearl, Heart and Dart, Bright-line Brown-eye and Treble Lines. 

Whilst some species are much rarer than they were, several species have also arrived and become widespread and common over that time. As mentioned in an earlier post, you don’t need a proper or expensive trap to survey moths in your garden – just a light source and white sheet on the ground will do, and don’t forgot to let us know what you find or send your records into the county moth recorder to help monitor population trends going forward. It’s been a good year so far for many species, including the various hawk-moths that have been frequenting our light traps on the reserve. The Poplar Hawk-moth is perhaps the commonest of our hawk-moths in the UK, and has a distinct posture when seen at rest, with the hindwings held forward of the forewings and the abdomen curved upwards at the rear. If disturbed it can flash the hindwings, which have a contrasting rufous red patch, normally hidden to alarm and discourage potential predators. The adult moths don’t feed during their relatively short time on the wing, and the caterpillars feed not only on Poplar as their name suggests but also Aspen and Willow. Interestingly the females are attracted to light earlier in the night, often before midnight, with the males later, after midnight, and in greater numbers. 

An equally stunning species, although much less caught, is the Eyed Hawk-Moth, pictured below. Having overwintered as shiny black/brown pupae, either below or near Willow or Apple Trees (the larval foodplant), the adults, which do not feed, can be seen on the wing from May to July. The pink hindwings are decorated with black and blue ‘eyes’, making them look rather striking and beautiful, however they are in fact a really clever disguise used to flash at and put off would be predators like birds. 

The Poplar Hawk-moth might be more common, but the most caught hawk-moth in our trap this year has been the fantastic Elephant Hawk-moth, with 38 recently in just a single catch. This stunning pink and olive-green moth (pictured below), is on the wing from May to early August and gets its name from the caterpillar, which is said to look like an elephant’s trunk. That, combined with the two large ‘eye-like’ markings behind the head also give the caterpillar, which can reach up to 85mm in size, an even larger ‘animal-like’ appearance to startle potential predators. The larvae of the moth can be found wherever Rosebay Willowherb is found, and as such the moth can be attracted to light in a range of habitats such as rough grassland, waste ground, hedgerows, heathland, woodland rides and gardens. Although looking like some exotic rarity, it is in fact a rather common moth, well distributed throughout England and Wales, and is yet another species slowly spreading northwards. Let us know if you come across any adults, or more likely caterpillars wandering in your garden, and feel free to post any sightings and photographs on our page, thank you.

Perhaps a much 'duller' species compared with the stunning beauty of the hawk-moths above, another species caught recently is the Chinese Character which is beautiful in its own way (pictured below). Chinese Characters use visual mimicry to avoid being eaten when at rest - during the day they will sit with their wings held over their body, and combined with a white, brown and grey wing pattern they are well camouflaged and closely resemble a bird dropping! The caterpillars feed on Hawthorn, Blackthorn and Crab Apples, and they can be found in a range of habitats where those occur - hedgerows, scrub and open woodland as well as gardens. They will be on the wing from now onwards until September (with generations in April-June and July-September) – so get checking all those bird droppings – they might not be what they first appear!

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