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Beech midget

Spring again – a second Fall
when beech leaves long-attached now fly,
released at last, as bronzèd spears
of new growth stud the branches.

Interspersed, in hedges trim,
the hawthorn offers a million jagged hands,
inviting all who will to enter and
partake of paper-thin and succulent mesophyll.

Unnoticed in the bramble tangle
a golden pigmy clings, tiny bejewelled wings
braced against the April wind, scented.
Waiting for union.

Past the bursting hawthorn and the bramble floats
a brown beech leaf, scarred with kiss-mark
of midget. Still there? An alien doll,
flying before it’s flown in all its tiny tiger-striped glory.

130808S3549b Phyllonorycter maestingella

After releasing the Hebrew Character and spending the morning on some very worthwhile physics revision, and after soup, cheese, wheaten and a quarter of a mars bar…

… I went to Glencairn Park.

Those who’ve been following my gallavantings for a while will be somewhat familiar with Glencairn Park by name. I posted a few photos recently that hopefully gave a sense of the place. But I thought I’d do a bit of writing as well.

First, to break up the text, an artistically-messed-up photo of a lesser celandine flower, photographed there.

Bang!

Bang!

At the very western edge of Belfast where housing estates abruptly meet steep muddy fields, Glencairn Park is an area of mixed woodland, recreational grassland and grazing meadows which has provided me with some nice wildlife moments over the past few years (since I got the courage to go there alone. Muddy tracks leading to bottlecap-littered areas hint at the nighttime goings-on, and quash any desire I have to go dusking there!)

I squeezed through the overgrown galvanised access gate into the central grazing meadow. “Well, what have you got for me this time?” Last year, the meadow introduced me to such characters as Grapholita jungiella and Glyphipterix thrasonella. Today, nothing much seemed to be happening – just not enough sun yet. I picked out blackcaps and a chiffchaff from the auditory fauna for the first time this year as I descended down into Forth River’s valley, into an area pockmarked with deep hoof-sized holes from far muddier days.

I followed the cattle tracks into an area I hadn’t previously explored – an open bit of ground with swathes of bramble flattened from the winter’s heavy snows.

And there, powerfully fluttering through the air and alighting on a bare bine-stem, was my first butterfly of the year.

Surprise!!!

Well, there’s a first. And a very nice surprise indeed. For the past three years since I turned into a lepidopterist my first butterfly of the year has always been a Small Tortoiseshell. But a Peacock! Does this tell of a different type of year to come?

Patrick Barkham, in The Butterfly Isles, anticipating his first butterfly of the year in 2009, writes about the characters of the Moomin world of Tove Jansson, discussing the significance of the first butterfly of the year. A black or brown butterfly is sad. A yellow butterfly foretells a happy summer, while a white butterfly heralds a quiet summer. But a golden butterfly is the best of all!

The Small Tort probably goes under “golden”. And, not that I make it my business to read into signs, indeed I’ve had three great summers, even if they left me a bit burnt out.

But a crimson red butterfly? What can that mean? :)

It has probably something to do with the gigajassive adventure of going to uni. I just hope its black-brown underside isn’t significant…

The beautifully, cryptically patterned underside of the splendid Peacock.

Turning around and poising its wings, it settled to bask in the intermittent sun.

Peacock

Up close and beautiful

Then, as I was creeping up with the camera, it was up again – chasing off another Rhopaloceran, smaller and flashing orange as it retreated into the treetops, only to sneak in around the corner a few seconds later to take advantage of some lesser celandine nectar. Well Luke Hewitt Iz, a Small Tortoiseshell.

The smiling butterfly

As the sun went in for the last time, the butterflies disappeared and I explored for a while. The bumblebee population seems to be thriving, which is very encouraging. I spotted Bombus lucorum, terrestris, lapidarius, pratorum and pascuorum, all foraging on a pink-flowering shrub which looked a bit non-native but is certainly welcomed by these members of the ecological community.

Ah, spring.

Sallow catkins, on a tree broken by the winter's snows but still alive

Sallow catkins, on a tree broken down by the winter’s snows but still alive

Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell get the year list off the ground
2013 BUTTERFLIES: 2

And the bees get their list too!
2013 BEES: 5

Moffs!

Common Quaker

Hebrew Character

Two wee beauties from Sunday night’s and last night’s trappings respectively, my first two successful trappings of the year.

The WB100 is earning its stripes! Click on the photos to view them in high-res on Flickr.

More about them on the Log.

Common Quaker and Hebrew Character bring the year list to…
2013 MOTHS: 10

Sunrise at Glencairn Park

The sun peeks through the yew trees

The sun peeks through the yew trees

Black Mountain

Black Mountain

Wooden mitt

Wooden mitt

The snow gradually melts

The snow gradually melts

 

New camera… and new blog!!!

Samsung WB-100  Sam's Lepidoptera Log - preview

I’m excited!

I’d been gradually becoming aware that, just as it used to happen with shoes, I was growing out of my Olympus X-44 and could use something a bit more powerful. I realised that, as it had turned out, I’d been getting a new camera every two calendar years, and was “due” one this year. So I left the world of compact digital photography behind, and reserved a Samsung WB-100 at Argos at an affordable price.

At home in my bedroom, as I was getting to grips with the camera, a beautiful goldfinch appeared at the garden feeders, the perfect subject to try out my 26x zoom on, and incidentally the first goldfinch that we have ever seen stay in our garden for any substantial length of time. (God likes to show off!)

Goldfinch

I am very much looking forward to using the camera on my trip to Switzerland, God willing.

Now, this new blog. First, I’ll tell you what it isn’t – it isn’t the replacement of “The Caterpillar”!!! The “Lepidoptera Log” is going to be pure moth mayhem: I’ll be posting moth and butterfly records from moth trapping, leafmine searches, dusking and hopefully much more!  On Blogger I can post moth sightings with much less hassle than on WordPress, and it will mean that “The Caterpillar” isn’t flooded with moth lists!  Blogger is much easier to use and I can apply a theme I really like. It’s also where most moth-ers blog, so I’ll be much more connected.

Whereas on WordPress, I’ll stay connected to you readers with a general interest in nature and photography! And now that I have the capability of photographing birds at long distance, there’ll be more of them around here all being well.

You can follow the Log at http://angleshades.blogspot.co.uk/.

Angle Shades

Angle Shades, icon of the Log!

 

Angle Shades larva "Angie", 29 March 2013

And hopefully I’ll be a good steward as I feed her up to mothhood!

Merry Easter!

The retreating snow unburdens the lawn

The retreating snow unburdens the lawn

Merry Easter everybody!

It may be the last week of March, but in the UK and particularly here in Nornia and in Scotland, the white dragon of winter has mounted a late attack, making it more like Christmas than Easter, and even then not very festive for the hundreds of families suffering power outages, 16ft snowdrifts and huge losses of livestock.

The snow fell about half a foot to a foot in my garden but a few days of sunshine is thawing it well. The daffodils got a bit flattened by the weight but are mostly OK, with the petals pushing through and not far off blooming. Leafburst has been well underway on the elder and the roses for weeks, and are both now awaiting the onslaught of aphids. The black aphids which came to the elder last year provided a good amount of honeydew which the moths went mad over, including a Peach Blossom, so I’m hoping this year is a repeat!

There’s a bit to catch up on from this past month, and this will probably be my longest post for a while – or should be, since it’s That Time Of Year again, when exams take over and lepidoptery takes a hit. Most of my major exams are over by the second week of June, but anyone who follows this blog knows how hollow some of my promises to write-buckets-when-I-have-the-time have been! So we’ll see how things go.

Big changes are happening in my life this year, most notably I’m moving to St Andrews in September to take a four-year biology degree (with a bit of physics and chemistry on the side). Before that, I’m going to Switzerland. For a two-week mountaineering expedition. In July, when it could well be total lepidopteran overload. It hasn’t quite sunk in yet…

Back a bit… my first macro of the year

A few weekends ago I was in Ballintoy at our school Christian Union weekend. As we were leaving the hostel on the Sunday morning our guest speaker Sam Scott called me over to see something on the wall…

Pale Brindled Beauty

Pale Brindled Beauty

Here's lukin at ye

Here’s lookin at ye!

It was a moth!! My first macro moth of the year, and one I had never seen before – a beautifully-marked Pale Brindled Beauty!

Another pretty special mothy moment.

Back a bit further… Projects 29A and 31A

In one of my posts last year, “Where was I?“, I gave a short taste of what I was doing for about a week in August – going out early to inspect moth traps with recorder Andrew Crory in Murlough, then spending a few hours looking around bushes for leaf mines and larger caterpillars. It was the maddest, mothiest time of my life and I made 351 records in August alone! Only a few found their way onto The Caterpillar. But there were two caterpillars in particular that got much less attention on the blog than they should have.

After helping inspectthe traps one morning, I started out on my walk. I found two little Stigmella confusella caterpillars in a birch leaf, which I collected (but in the end had no success rearing), and then further up the path I dislodged a tiny caterpillar from a hawthorn bush:

Funky

Funky!!!

On closer inspection, it was not only tiny but very funky indeed. So that’s what I called him.

Later on in my walk, I dislodged another tiny caterpillar from another hawthorn bush…

Coxcomb Prominent caterpillar "Smiley", 10 Aug 2012

Smiley!!!!

On closer inspection, it was not only tiny but very smiley indeed. So that’s what I called him!

It took me a while to figure out what they were, but Funky turned out to be a Brimstone Moth while Smiley was a Coxcomb Prominent. Safely in a pot, they ate a lot of hawthorn and by September had turned into…

Funky... and big!

Funky… and big!

Coxcomb Prominent caterpillar "Smiley", 6 Sep 2012

Smiley, and big… but lost his eyespots!

These very impressive caterpillars then pupated for the winter, and here they are now, in the insect cage I borrowed from school (and will have to leave back at some point because I’m leaving in under 3 months…)

Funky and Smiley!

Funky and Smiley!

Funky (the Brimstone Moth) spun a cocoon under a leaf above soil level in the jar, while Smiley (the Coxcomb Prominent) burrowed into the compost and made a cocoon there. And there they pupated. You can just see Smiley’s red-brown abdomen showing through where I opened the cocoon.

Of course, I’ll need to re-bury Smiley’s cocoon as the moth will probably need a good struggle on his way out to get the haemolymph flowing. Hopefully the weather will warm up soon and they’ll be out! Whether they’ll make it back to Murlough is another matter.

And back to the present

Today, I went into the back garden primarily to take that photo of the cocoons, but also to have a look for any lepidopteran life on the rose bushes. And whaddya know?

Who is it? Who is it?

Who is it? Who is it?

The unmistakable bright banded green of a caterpillar peeked out from behind a newly-unfurled rose leaf. It was déja vu, an Angle Shades caterpillar on the same plant on which I had found my very first Angle Shades caterpillar (“Rosebud”, project 3A) three springs ago.

So what’s this one going to get called? Well, quite simply, “Angie”.

Say hi to Angie! Angle Shades ~ Phlogophora meticulosa

Say hi to Angie! Angle Shades (Phlogophora meticulosa).

The first project of 2013 begins.

Ongoing projects:
Project 29A: Brimstone Moth in pupation stage
Project 31A: Coxcomb Prominent in pupation stage
Project 3B (New!): Angle Shades in larval stage

Pale Brindled Beauty and Angle Shades caterpillar bring the year list to…
2013 MOTHS: 2, 2e, 1t 

And finally, a shout out: huge congratulations to Alastair Herron (a friend of mine from right here in Nornia) who just got offers from Harvard and Princeton. Some of you American folks mighta heard of them… :D

Mompha subbistrigella (Garden Cosmet), at home, 20 Feb 2013

The Garden Cosmet (Mompha subbistrigella) – only 6mm long, a very welcome harbringer of spring, in our upstairs loo!

Omitting details of my activity when I discovered it (in the upstairs toilet), I will say that I was very, very pleased to see this little chap.

A Garden Cosmet, Mompha subbistrigella, my first adult moth of 2013!

Hey, it is the year of release (relief?)! (Wee inside joke for the DP team :))

Mompha subbistrigella (Garden Cosmet), at home, 20 Feb 2013

Blending in with the sparkling reflections from the obscured-glass

After a tricky (but successful) photo shoot involving a torch – and a magnifying glass blu-tacked to my camera lens – I released him in the back yard.

Going to a talk by Don Hodgers on the insect life of County Louth and further afield, tomorrow night on the Malone Road, Belfast, at 7:15 pm. For anyone interested, check out the Butterfly Conservation Northern Ireland facebook page or their website - anyone is welcome to come along!

Mompha subbistrigella makes the year list…
2013 MOTHS: 1, 1e, 1t 

(that’s 1 as adult [M. subbistrigella], 1 in early stage [S. aurella], 1 as trace [S. anomalella])

Hawthorn flowers, Glencairn Park, 19 Feb 2013

This kind of may! The hawthorn bushes begin to bud and bloom

A fresh, sunny, hazy afternoon walk in Glencairn Park yesterday left me feeling a bit more springish. A lot of trees and shrubs were putting out leaves, and some flowers, like this hawthorn. [Update: no, it’s blackthorn.] May [Update: not May], but no nuts to collect for quite a while. (Not that I generally go collecting nuts, but still…)

Daffodilism was well underway…

Woodland daffodils, Glencairn Park, 19 Feb 2013

Daffodils spring up in the woodland, catching the afternoon sun

…and moss was beginning its conquest of every nook and cranny…

Moss shoots on tree, Glencairn Park, 19 Feb 2013

Moss begins to spring from the nook of a tree

…purple, white and yellow crocuses were adding a splash of brillig…

Crocuses, Glencairn Park, 19 Feb 2013

The perfect waxy petals of crocuses start to colour Glencairn Park

…and I noticed some strange features on one of the more permanent woodland residents.

Interesting tree, Glencairn Park

A warty, weird bit of woodland woodwork

The chaffinches were singing, greenfinches were once again garnishing the auditory experience with their reassuring zhewwwwwwwwwww, their numbers evidently recovering from the “tricks” epidemic. Even a treecreeper, which doesn’t usually draw attention to itself, was singing a high-pitched, wavering trill from a yew tree while blue tits pipped and chuckled and a dog walker explained to his friend that he didn’t [expletive] owe John ten quid.

And a song thrush sung its pick-and-mix, completely unpredictable, mockingbird warble.

That, folks, is the dawning of spring in Belfast. :)

Treecreeper and song thrush make the year list…
2013 BIRDS: 48

They’re back!

A lot of people watch for the first signs of spring.

The first daffodil in flower…
the first butterfly…
the first bumblebee…
the first leaves bursting on a particular tree…

I look out for the first lesser black-backed gulls arriving in Belfast city centre. I don’t know where they go all winter, the dump maybe, but they always arrive back in February to terrorise the city. I love them.

Happy printemps everyone!

Lesser black-backed gulls, Springmartin, 26 March 2011

“Blackbacks”, Larus fuscus, photographed here in March 2011. (I know, I know, they’re not the ones I saw today – but as I generally don’t bring my camera to school, these’ll have to make do.)

2013 BIRDS: 46

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