Thursday, 9 April 2015

Back garden safari

The back garden is one of our favourite places to explore and we always seem to find something exciting. As a bit of an Easter holiday treat, we decided to find out what was out and about after dark, so set up the trail camera and the moth trap and waited to see what we'd find...

Our lovely hedgehog put in an appearance. Not sure where he hibernated or where he hangs out during the day, but he seems to be in the garden every night and seems nice and healthy. The bouncy mouse that lives underneath the swing also couldn't resist some peanuts.

The kids love it when we run the moth trap, as it's very exciting opening it in the morning to see what's in there, then letting them all go again. It also gave me a chance to try out my moth Id book that I'd been given for Christmas. It's still quite tricky, so apologies if I've got them wrong!

The first night we only caught 8 moths, 4 Hebrew characters and 4 clouded drabs. It's still quite early in the year and it was a cold that night, so we weren't too surprised there weren't many there. 

Clouded drab - most moth names are really pretty and a bit over the top,
but calling this one drab seems a bit mean!

Hebrew character
The second night was a bit warmer and we opened it up to find 20 moths. There was one moth that stood out from the small brown crowd, a pale orange moth with dark brown spots. According to my book it was a Dotted Chestnut, which was nationally scarce and only two were recorded in Buckinghamshire in 2000, the first in a hundred years. I thought I must have got the Id wrong, so sent it to the lovely Upper Thames branch of Butterfly Conservation and asked them for an Id. They replied that it was indeed a Dotted Chestnut and "it used to be quite a rare moth found along the south coast but since the millennium it seems to have expanded its range, moving northwards through our area.  We now get several records each year in Bucks but it hasn’t yet become 'common or garden' ". They passed the info on to the county moth recorder. How cool is that!

Dotted chestnut
We also caught 5 Hebrew characters, 3 clouded drabs, 4 early greys, 1 plume moth, 3 common quakers and 3 small brown tatty moths (that I couldn't Id).
Early grey

Plume moth

Common quaker
We ran the moth trap again last night and caught 33 moths, so we seem to be getting better! Probably just the lovely warm weather we've had recently. We caught another dotted chestnut (which I'll tell the county moth recorder about), 1 satellite, 1 March moth, a different type of plume moth called Emmelina monodactyla,  9 Hebrew characters, 15 clouded drabs, 1 early grey and a few small brown ones.

Another dotted chestnut

Satellite - named for the gold spot on the wings, with two little satellite spots
either side of them

March moth - interesting how it held it's wings crossed over it's back

Another picture of the March moth

Another type of plume moth called Emmelina monodactyla
We explored the garden yesterday afternoon and found lots of lovely mini-beasts underneath some paving slabs and wood.

 There were some huge worms in the soil, that the kids couldn't resist holding (very gently).

Somebody else was after the worms too!

Bug Mad Girl found what we thought was a wasp, but looked quite unusual with a lovely golden striped body, bronze tinted wings and slightly clubbed antenna. Not sure what it was, we posted the pictures on the NHM forum to see if anybody there could Id it. Somebody suggested a clearwing, which is a type of moth, so I asked the BC person who'd identified the dotted chestnut moth. He said it was a Zaraea lonicerae, a sawfly whose larvae feed on honeysuckle. Then somebody from the NHM forum replied that it was a large cimbicid sawfly. So another mystery solved.  

Sawfly, Zaraea lonicerae

She also found a 7 spot ladybird, which we have recorded on the Natures Calendar website as part of The Big Spring Watch

Then she climbed the tree to clear the ivy away from the entrance to our bat box. We see bats in the garden, but have no idea whether they've ever used the bat box. Better chance of them using it if they can actually get in it though!

Many thanks to all the very clever moth and sawfly experts for helping us identify our discoveries!


  1. That was an impressive haul there. Love the hedgehog shot, much better than mine last night.

  2. Sue

    Your picture of Powdered Quaker is actually a Common Quaker (they can vary quite a bit).
    The two unknowns below Satellite are March moth and the plume below them is Emmelina monodactyla.
    Hope this Helps

    Martin Albertini
    Bucks moth recorder

  3. Thanks for taking a look Martin, I'll update them now.