30 November 2012

Short-eared Owls at the moor

An excellent dawn to dusk session at the patch today. Temperatures dipped below freezing last night leading to a heavy frost and all the pools on the moor covered in a thin layer of ice, and the mainly sunny and calm conditions (with barely perceptible westerlies) made for a cold day. The highlight was 3 Short-eared Owl showing well hunting around the eastern side of the moor from mid afternoon until dusk. Unfortunately they kept their distance and often landed for long periods, maybe because of the frequent mobbing by Carrion Crows. It's looking likely that they might be wintering on the moor this year.

The owls were persistently harassed by Carrion Crows and even the odd
Black-headed Gull had a go

When they weren't being mobbed by Carrion Crows they'd harass each other

Short-eared Owl with the M25 and Wraysbury Reservoir in the distance

The cold weather produced a little movement overhead throughout the day: 2 Brent Geese E, 24 Lapwing N, 1 Little Egret W, 40 Fieldfare S, 2 Redwing S, 1 Skylark S, small groups of Cormorant W, and 1 Common Snipe E and a Peregrine N at dusk. 1 Red Kite, presumably a wandering bird from the Chilterns, flew low east, dropping down to the ground briefly to grab a food item.

2 Dark-bellied Brents over east at 13:07 - probably the same 2 birds seen by
Dave Harris at QE2 Reservoir an hour later - see Dave's excellent photo here

Red Kite

Several flocks of Cormorant went high over west, possibly displaced by
frozen water bodies

On the ground: 3-4 Common Snipe, 4 (2m, 2f) Stonechat, another 36 Fieldfare, 5 Song Thrush, lots of Blackbirds and Robins, 15+ Pied Wagtails (a good site count) and 46 Meadow Pipit feeding on the icy pools, 1 Chiffchaff, 2 Reed Bunting, 7 Greenfinch, 17 Goldfinch, another Skylark, 2-3 Little Egret, 30 Starling, 1-2 Grey Heron amd 4 Little Grebe on the Colne. 3 Stock Dove over, 1-2 Kestrel and a Red Fox were also noted.

Much of Staines Moor is flooded after the large quantity of rain we've been having, but all pools were iced over today. Hopefully these pools will attract some waders in the spring.

The first day this winter with largely frozen water bodies

The flood at the south end

These pools are usually dry, even in winter.

Stanwell Moor added 2 Little Owl (in the willows along the Colne Valley Way footpath to Staines Moor), an additional 40 Lapwing, 1 Redpoll sp. over, 3+ Reed Bunting, 12+ Blackbird, 2 Song Thrush, 5+ Fieldfare, 15 Stock Dove, 30 Goldfinch and 3 Skylark.

28 November 2012

Hawkmoth mimics?

Back in September in Brazil's Atlantic Forest, we trapped a couple of unfamiliar moths at REGUA that look superficially like Ambulycini hawkmoths, but smaller and without the brightly coloured underwings and/or thorax typical of these hawkmoths. Both moths adopted a head-down posture at rest and had large 'flares' on their legs. We had no idea which family they belonged to, but back in the UK I've worked out that they are both moths of the Apatelodidae family (superfamily: Bombycidae) - known as American Silkworm Moths, Lappet Moths, or head-standers, which comprises around 250 species. Despite their common name they are not closely related to the saturniids at all.

Several specimens of Apatelodes princeps (top pic.) were trapped - a widespread species throughout the Neotropics. However, the moth below (bottom pic.) has both me and Alexandre Soares, an entomologist at the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro, completely baffled as to its identity!

Apatelodes princeps, Guapi Assu Bird Lodge, 21 September 2012

Apatelodes sp., Guapi Assu Bird Lodge, 22 September 2012

25 November 2012

A quiet afternoon at the London Wetland Centre

A few hours at the London Wetland Centre this afternoon produced 1m Pintail, 1 Shelduck, 50 Wigeon, 40 Gadwall, lots of Teal, and small numbers of Northern Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Mallard and Pochard, c30 Lapwing, 2 (1m, 1f) Stonechat, 1 Goldcrest, 1m Sparrowhawk, 1 redpoll sp. over, 2 Cetti's Warbler H, 1 Grey Wagtail H, and this tame Robin that had no problem whatsoever perching on my hand and taking pieces of my Nature Valley Crunch bar. The kids walking past loved it and even had a go feeding the bird (using up the rest of my snack!). It's always great to see kids connecting with nature.

Check out these photos of a Japanese Robin that turned up in Beijing, China yesterday. What an awesome bird!

22 November 2012

Neotropical silkmoths at REGUA

Yet another moth post from REGUA in south-east Brazil, this time focusing on the incredibly beautiful and diverse silkmoths. Silkmoths, family Saturniidae, include the largest moths as well as some of the largest of all insects. Distributed throughout the world and numbering around 2,300 species, they are most diverse in the Neotropics.

Here's a few of the silkmoths that we caught at REGUA's Guapi Assu Bird Lodge back in September.

Genus: Eacles

Imperial Moth Eacles imperialis, Guapi Assu Bird Lodge, 20 September 2012

Genus: Adeloneivaia

Adeloneivaia boisduvali, Guapi Assu Bird Lodge, 14 September 2012

Genus: Syssphinx

Male Syssphinx molina, Guapi Assu Bird Lodge, 12 September 2012

Female Syssphinx molina, Guapi Assu Bird Lodge, 20 September 2012

Genus: Automeris

Male Automeris annulata, Guapi Assu Bird Lodge, 14 September 2012. When
disturbed this moth would face towards me, tilt forward slightly and open it's
wings to reveal the eye-like markings on the hindwings.

Male Automeris annulata, Guapi Assu Bird Lodge, 14 September 2012. Close
up of the head. The eyes are below the antennae.

An old Automeris cinctistriga, Guapi Assu Bird Lodge, 21 September 2012

Genus: Copaxa

Male Copaxa decrescens, Guapi Assu Bird Lodge, 20 September 2012. I should
have placed a scale next to this moth. It was the same size as my hand!

Some invaluable images to help with silkmoth identification can be found here.

Note, the commercially bred Domesticated Silkmoth Bombyx mori, the caterpillar of which has been used to produce commercial silk for over 5,000 years, is not a saturniid but actually a domesticated form of the Wild Silkmoth Bombyx mandarina, from the Bombycidae family.

20 November 2012

Budleigh Salteron: 18 November

A report of a drake Steller's Eider flying west past Portland Bill this morning saw Jaffa and me scoping the sea of Budleigh seafront within 30 minutes of the news. A drake Common Eider (a scarce bird here) teased us, and 77 Common Scoter was a good count, but other than that, a few Gannet and Shag and 2 Great Crested Grebe was about it.

An early afternoon walk along the coast path west of Budleigh produced more Blackbirds, a few Redwings, 2 Goldcrest and a small flock of Chaffinch, but little else. Then at dusk, Rachel, Helen, Jaffa and I found ourselves standing on a ridge on overlooking an area of lowland heath taking part in a Hawk and Owl Trust harrier Survey, organised by Jaffa a couple of years ago after he and Helen found a Hen Harrier roost. No harriers this evening, but a male Merlin was a nice bonus and few Fieldfare dropped into roost.

After dark another search for Woodcock found no sign of any this evening and the sight of a Badgers arse legging it through the grass was poor compensation. However, night-birding is unpredictable at the best of times and the drive back to Budleigh produced another Badger and fantastic views of a Tawny Owl in the spotlight beside the road. No photos today though.

18 November 2012

Migrant Woodcock

With clear signs over the last week or so of an arrival of Woodcock into the UK from the Continent, Jaffa and I decided to search the south-east Devon heaths this evening to see if we could find any. Jaffa had some some success last Thursday evening with a couple of birds on one of the heathland tracks, and with the weather remaining settled we set off with high hopes, but nothing could have prepared us for what happened. In just 15 minutes we had a total of 6 birds on the deck (including 2 flushed), all along a single 100 metre stretch of trail passing through an area of wet grass. Four showed well but only one hung around long enough to grab a couple of record shots (well, at least it did for those of us with camera at the ready!!!).

Eurasian Woodcock, 1 of 5 seen (6 recorded in total) this evening

These birds are almost certainly Continental migrants. Over 90% of Woodcock breed in Fennoscandia and Russia and move south and west for the winter, arriving in force in the UK from October to December. The Birds of Devon Bird (Tyler 2010) describes Woodcock as a "locally common winter visitor and passage migrant, has bred", and the 2010 Devon Bird Report shows the mean average number of birds recorded in the county between 2005 and 2009 being just <1 or 0 between May and September, rising to 5 in October, and then increasing sharply to 25 in November. By midwinter, the Migration Atlas (2002) estimates that Continental Woodcocks outnumber local residents by 13:1.

Also this evening, 3 Roe Deer were seen and 1+ Tawny Owl and a few Redwing were heard.

1st year male Blackbird. One of 30-40 Blackbirds seen in just a small area around
the Otter Estuary today

This morning, a large number of Blackbirds (30-40), presumably also mainly continental birds, were evident around the Otter Estuary, with several groups feeding on berries. Also logged were 3 Kingfishers, 2m Bullfinch, 1 Goldcrest, 1 Chiffchaff (H), 1 Cetti's Warbler (H), 1+ Water Rail (H). The scrapes are looking brilliant and held 2 Black-tailed Godwits, 1 Curlew, 1 Redshank, 2 Lapwing, 95 Wigeon, c40 Teal, 1 Shelduck and 20 Pied Wagtail. On the estuary itself, 5 more Wigeon, 1 Redshank, 3 Little Grebe, several Rock Pipit and 2 Little Egret were noted, and 5 Ringed Plover dropped onto Budleigh Salterton beach.

Kingfisher, Otter Estuary. At least 3 were seen today.

14 November 2012

More skippers at REGUA

I really like skippers! Species in this large butterfly family (Hesperiidae) are frequently difficult to identify, very flighty, and often inhabit the dark rainforest understorey which makes getting a half decent photo darn difficult, but this is all part of their appeal. Here's a few species I managed to photograph at REGUA back in September.

Pyrginae (Spreadwings)

Falcate Skipper Spathilepia clonius, Onofre Cunha, REGUA,
20 September 2012 - the second record for REGUA.

Glassy-winged Skipper Xenophanes tryxus, Onofre Cunha, REGUA,
20 September 2012

A very old Bifasciata or Blue-studded Skipper Sostrata bifasciata bifasciata,
Onofre Cunha, REGUA, 20 September 2012 - the first September record for

Pyrginae (Spreadwings): Longtails

Teleus Longtail Urbanus teleus, Guapi Assu Bird Lodge, REGUA,
19 September 2012 - the first September record for REGUA.

Teleus Longtail Urbanus teleus, Guapi Assu Bird Lodge, REGUA,
19 September 2012

Dorantes Longtail Urbanus dorantes, Light Blue Trail, REGUA,
22 September 2012

For more skippers photographed at REGUA this year see here. If you are interested in Neotropical skipper identification then take a look Kim Garwood's excellent Neotropical Butterflies website.

9 November 2012

Early winter at Staines Moor

Light south-westerlies and overcast conditions at the moor this morning. Quite a lot of thrushes around, either feeding on hawthorn berries or flying over, with 104 Fieldfare, 70 Redwing, 15 Blackbird, and a Mistle Thrush over S. 13 Mute Swan (3 on the Colne and 10 over) is my highest site count and 1m Stonechat (feeding along the Colne), 2 Goldcrest, 1-2 Grey Wagtail along the Colne, 6 redpoll sp. over (mainly N), 20 Linnet, 1 Skylark S, 5 Meadow Pipit, 1 Sparrowhawk, 1 Kestrel and several Black-headed Gull around the Colne were also noted.

Male Stonechat along the Colne

Stanwell Moor produced 6 Blackbird, several Redwing, 1-2 Goldcrest, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 redpoll sp. over, 3-4 Reed Bunting, 1f Wigeon, 4m Teal, 12 Goldfinch and 1m Pheasant.

5 November 2012

Lunch time at the moor

A quick visit to Staines Moor in my lunch break revealed not an awful lot in calm sunny conditions: 1 Common Buzzard low W mobbed by Carrion Crows, 3 Linnet N, just 1 Goldfinch over S were the only birds moving overhead. 1m & 1f Stonechat were still present at the north end, and 3 Fieldfare, 12 Redwing, 1+ Song Thrush, 4 Blackbird, 3 Reed Bunting, 9 Meadow Pipit and c80 Starling were noted. Still no Water Pipits, and despite the widespread flooding, no wildfowl either. Stanwell Moor added 1 Goldcrest, 1 Kestrel, a few more Redwing and 1m Pheasant.

Spread a 12.75kg sack of Gardman No Mess Mixed Seed at the north end. At £20 a go this better bring in more than just Woodpigeons!

4 November 2012

Review: A Guide to the Hawkmoths of the Serra dos Orgaos, South-eastern Brazil, by Alan Martin et al.

It's been over a year and a half since A Guide to the Hawkmoths of the Serra dos Orgaos, South-eastern Brazil, REGUA's first book, was published. Although hawkmoths (Sphingidae) are amongst the most popular of moth families, this guide, written by Alan Martin and co-authors Alexandre Soares and Jorge Bizarro, is the first identification guide to the Sphingidae of south-east Brazil. Back in September I spent a couple of weeks at REGUA in Brazil's Atlantic Forest, where I did a lot of mothing and was able to put the book to the test.

The Serra dos Órgãos mountains of Brazil's Rio de Janeiro state form part of the larger 1,500 km Serra do Mar - a mountain range that follows the Atlantic coastline in south-east Brazil within the Atlantic Forest biome. The Serra dos Órgãos still retain much of their forest cover and this guide covers the identification of 110 hawkmoth species recorded here.

The nomenclature of the species accounts follows Kitching and Cadiou (2000) but takes in changes made on the website CATE Sphingidae. Each species account, written in English only, includes information on key identification features (comparing differences to similar species) as well as distribution and size (forewing length). I would have preferred the guide to be laid out with the text and plate for each species on facing pages, but this is a minor point.

The majority of the book is comprised of the species accounts and colour identification plates. The plates were painstakingly created from photographs taken of pinned specimens housed at the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro. The dorsal and ventral views of both male and female of each species are included, each with the wings opened showing the hindwing (essential for the identification of many species). The plates are excellent, although perhaps unsurprisingly, some of the colours are a little faded compared to those on live specimens. Novices to Neotropical hawkmoths, like me, would find the addition of annotations on the plates that highlight the key ID features very useful.

My main criticism of using photos of pinned specimens for the plates is that no species are depicted as they appear at rest. As a result, when faced with an unidentified moth, I often found myself consulting the superb photos of live adults near the back of the book, which do show species at rest, before using the plates to separate similar species (see below). It's a real shame that photos for all species are not included, however, in practice I found the book easy to use and successfully identified all 21 species seen during my trip.

Images above from top left: Manduca hannibal hamilcar photographed at REGUA on 21 September 2012, species account, pinned specimen plate, and photo plate of Manduca hannibal hamilcar (click to enlarge).

Alan Martin has recently launching a new website to compliment the book (www.brazilhawkmoths.com). The website includes the same species accounts and plates as the book as well as a lot more photographs (although not of every species as yet) and an updated lists of the species recorded in the Serra dos Órgãos and at REGUA (the later with flight times), both lists being appendices in the book.

At the beginning of the book, written in both English and Portuguese, includes a history of the Atlantic Forest and its exploitation, an introduction to the Serra dos Órgãos region, hawkmoth taxonomy, life cycle, and a checklist of species found in the Serra dos Órgãos. Appendices provide additional information such as a short biography of the late pioneering entomologist Henry Pearson - one of the first to study the Lepidoptera of the region and whose data and specimens form the basis of this guide, as well as a short introduction to REGUA, where most of the photos for the book were taken.

Many of the hawkmoths found in the Serra dos Órgãos also occur in other parts of South America, and so the guide will also be of some use in other countries and regions. This book has certainly helped develop my interest in Neotropical Sphingidae and for anyone visiting the Atlantic Forest and interested in hawkmoths this guide is simply a must. It is now available direct from the authors at a reduced price of £15 plus postage (for details click here), and therefore an even bigger bargain than it was originally.