Tag Archive: leaf mines

Glencairn Road, 20 Jan 2013

The snowy Glencairn Road

This year’s snowfall was nay too bad up our way – last weekend a few inches fell and mostly thawed overnight, followed by a few fresh flurries, ice on pavements and a final thaw yesterday as a warm front pushed in.

Up in Glencairn Park (above) last Sunday, the snow crunched deeper underfoot as I gained altitude, listening out for birdsong as I went. At the bottom of the park the piping calls of blue tits and coal tits, and the more strident vocalisations of great tits, filled the trees. A herring gull flew solemnly over while black-headed gulls gallavanted by the housing estate.

On the first hill hooded crows picked through the grass and argued loudly with magpies in their skyscraping conifers. A jackdaw also put in an appearance.

As I climbed the hill, listening out for new finds, the round-winged, long-tailed silhouette of a sparrowhawk swooped across the sky. (I probably could have just watched it rather than trying to focus through a hopeless pair of pocket binoculars!)

Soon enough I heard the robin… and perhaps a goldfinch, but I wasn’t sure and didn’t hear it again. Likewise a rattle from the trees could have been a mistle thrush… but probably just a magpie.

I’d been keeping a beady eye out on the bramble bushes. If you remember, last year I really got into leafmining micro-moths, and one of the most common of those is Stigmella aurella. Its tiny orange caterpillar mines bramble leaves, making brown-white squiggles on them. So far on my walk I’d seen plenty of old vacated leafmines that the caterpillars had already left long ago. But what I was really hoping to see was a tenanted mine – one with a caterpillar in it.

And after a while, I had success!

Stigmella aurella larva in mine, 20 Jan 2013

Literate larva!

Not one, but two little caterpillars huddled in their mines, in the freezing cold.

After a few minutes’ worth of fiddling with my camera and hand lens, my hands were going cryogenic so I put my gloves back on and left the caterpillars to their sleep.

As I was rebooting my hands, a bird started calling very loudly from the tree above me.

“Chick…      chick…      chick…”

I peered up to see what it could be, but before I could get my eye in it was off. I chased the sound down the road a bit… it was father away and still calling. Then it flew back the way it had come, revealing itself to be a thrush of some kind.

Didn’t sound like a blackbird,
or a song thrush,
or a mistle thrush…
fieldfare maybe? That would be quite a find.

But as I later found out on the RSPB’s newly-revamped website, fieldfares chuckle not chick, and the only thrush that it really could have been was a redwing. Quite pleased to find this winter visitor.

Before I headed back down to the urban jungle, I had a close encounter with a friendly robin which perched no more than a metre or two away from me, then flew right past me to the other side of the road and back.

It appeared so interested in me that I raised my arm, thinking there might be a possibility it might even come and perch on me, but as it turned out, he wasn’t quite as tame as that common darter dragonfly!

Descending through the woods, I was arrested by a flash of white, black and pink. It couldn’t be… it was! A jay! It flew silently away from me, from tree to tree.

A clan of bullfinches escorted me down the hill.


Yesterday, while I was at school and the rain was clearing the last of the snow, my parents got quite a treat. Just look who showed up in our garden!

Waxwings in the garden! 25 Jan 2013


The Internet is always awash with waxwing photos at this time of year. They come over to the British Isles from Scandinavia during winter, to feast on berries. And I can tell you they did a pretty good job clearing out our cotoneaster!

Apparently the collective term for waxwings is “a grosbeaks of waxwings”. Some people, like me, prefer “an earful of waxwings”. 🙂

If you haven’t yet seen these fantastic fellows, it’s well worth checking online to see if any have been spotted near you. They are fabulous!

And don’t forget the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend!

Home Garden, 26 Jan 2013

What’s-a-in your garden today?

2013 MOTHS: 1L
2013 BIRDS: 33


The first moth of the year

I recently posted a link to an article about the leaf mines of the micro-moth Stigmella aurella.

Well guess who I found when I went out to photograph the leaf mines on our bramble plant in the front yard!

Stigmella aurella, adult and vacated leaf mine, 15 Feb 2012

Well look who it is, the literate leafminer all grown up!

Yes, it was Stigmella aurella in the flesh!  The first live, wild, adult moth I’ve seen this year.

You can see the leaf mines scribbled all over the leaf behind him – in the foreground, a bit blurred, is the end of a leaf mine where a fully grown larva would be.  I shone a torch through the leaves but didn’t see any caterpillar-shaped shadows, so they were old, vacated leafmines.

The adult looked pretty fresh – probably just emerged from one of those mines.  I really should check them more thoroughly, but I have to stand in the street to look at them and I don’t really want to draw unwanted attention from the neighbours!

I did notice those mines a while ago but assumed it would be too difficult to identify them.  However, they seem to be quite distinctive.  Incidentally, I took some photos of the same species yesterday at the harbour, but didn’t want to detract from the Iceland Gull in my post!

Why doesn’t this moth have an English name?  Well, it does, but there seems to be a bit of disagreement in the mothing community about naming micros.  Some micros already have well-established names, but in recent times attempt/s have been made to name all the rest.  So to a few recorders this is the Golden Pigmy, but more universally, Stigmella aurella.

I think this might be an early record for this moth.  There aren’t any NI records on the National Biological Network Gateway, and only one or two on the Irish NBDC.  This is mainly due to underrecording (seriously, how many people in NI record micros) and possibly problems with CEDaR, our regional database.

life list:  137

Literate leafminers

Unidentified leaf mine in Buttercup species

Unidentified leaf mine in Buttercup. This one is NOT literate.

Several small species of moth and fly spend their larval stage eating their way through the mesophyll (middle layer) of a leaf. This causes a white wiggly line to appear on the leaf which gets progressively larger as the larva grows.

I’ve had the beginnings of an interest in leaf mines since I watched a video made by my fellow Nornian lepidopterist Dave McCormick. Unfortunately my firewall doesn’t like his site at the moment so I can’t get the exact link to the video, but here’s the main page:


I came across this rather cool link on Butterfly Conservation’s Twitter page just now, which is what gave me the excuse to write a post. You’ll see what I mean by ‘literate’…


UPDATE 28 Feb 2012: I managed to find Dave’s leafmine video: