Tag Archive: Murlough

Pink-barred Sallow, Murlough NNR, 20 Oct 2012

The fantastic Pink-barred Sallow, nectaring on ragwort at Murlough.


A Smiley Caterpillar

Coxcomb Prominent caterpillar "Smiley", 6 Sep 2012

The spectacular Coxcomb Prominent caterpillar

After all the mad leafmining caterpillars I adopted over the summer, with varying success, it was nice to get back to the much simpler macro caterpillars. This is a Coxcomb Prominent caterpillar, which I collected from Murlough less than a month ago. It’s grown very fast since then (compare 10 Aug, below, with 6 Sep, above), moulting at least twice, and is probably still munching his hawthorn leaf as I type.

I called him Smiley as soon as I saw him. Why?

Coxcomb Prominent caterpillar "Smiley", 10 Aug 2012


That’s why. 🙂

[Project 31A: Coxcomb Prominent]

How to Catch a Grayling

Frollicking with one of Northern Ireland’s most entertaining butterflies, in good old Murlough NNR! Do turn the quality up (gear symbol on toolbar).

This is what happened when I decided to stand for two minutes on a Grayling butterfly’s territory. We had fun.

Where was I?

In July – too busy with work to have any energy for blogging… in August – at a caravan with basically no internet access. But now I’m at the library at good ol’ Newcastle, County Down, and I’m in the mood for bloggingood!!! (well, I had to make it rhyme somehow)

I’ll start off with a bang…

Lesser Swallow Prominent; Murlough NNR; 5 August 2012


This, my dear readers, is a Lesser Swallow Prominent moth. Over the past week I’ve been joining a friend of mine, Andrew Crory, a volunteer who regularly puts out UV light traps at Murlough NNR near Newcastle. The light traps attract moths by the dozen (and flies by the million as well as ichneumons, bees and beetles) and in the morning – bingo, you get a box full of beauuuuuuuuuuuutiful moths like this one.

My moth year list is over 240 now and my life list must be approaching 270. It’s getting ridiculous now!

A few more nice pics from the traps before I start typing again:

Antler Moth; Murlough NNR; 6 Aug 2012

Antler Moth

Scallop Shell; Murlough NNR; 6 Aug 2012

Scallop Shell

That’s just a taste – there were loads more and once I get home Flickr will be duly bombarded with all the photos.

A technique that’s also been very useful for finding new stuff is looking for leaf mines. These are distinctive squiggles/blotches/blisters made on the leaves of many different plant species by many different insect species. One of the most common leafminers has to be Stigmella aurella, which I mentioned at the start of the year:

Stigmella aurella larvae mining Rubus sp.; Murlough NNR; 5 Aug 2012

Stigmella aurella larvae, mining some kind of Rubus (Blackberry/Raspberry) cultivar

Well, we knew THAT one was in Murlough, but Andrew and I think we’ve found about 6 new moth species for the reserve in the space of about three days. Noooooo joke.

So you can see the attraction.

Incidentally, I’ve collected some of the tenanted mines (ones with the larvae still in them, as opposed to vacated mines that the larvae have left) and am rearing them. Those three caterpillars above have now all exited their mines and are pupating in tiny brown cocoons on the leaves.

I also have 1 Phyllonorycter coryli (pupated), 1 Ectoedemia minimella (which has left the mine but might not pupate – it’ll be a difficult one as it has to overwinter) and 3 Apple Leaf Miners, Lyonetia clerkella (all pupated). Bringing them into the warmth seems to make them go into pupation mode pretty much immediately. They must know to take advantage of warmf.

The Apple Leaf miner has the coolest pupation technique – it doesn’t make a cocoon. It makes a hammock.

Apple Leaf Miner (Lyonetia clerkella) larva in pupation 'hammock'; Slidderyford, Newcastle; 1 Aug 2012


Well, brethren, my time is short so I must fly. But at some point… I’ll get round to talking about those cute tern chicks I think I mentioned. If I can bring myself to. Working during the summer holidays, even paid work, even for the RSPB… really demands motivation. But it’s been very good and I’ve loads of photos, which mostly look the same from a distance.

You’ll see what I mean.

EDIT 04.01.2013: I should have said, actually, to do him justice, that Mr Crory is a volunteer warden at the reserve, and its principal moth recorder.

EDIT 28.03.2013: In fact, he has now been appointed Macro-moth Recorder for Northern Ireland!

Absolutely extraordinary

This photo will take some explaining.

Ruby Tiger male and Cinnabar female; Murlough NNR; 9 June 2012

A Ruby Tiger… and a Cinnabar. WHAT???!!!

The good news is – both my Cinnabar moths emerged from their pupae on the 4th (“Cindy”) and 8th (“Cecelia”) of June!

The bad news is that when the first one emerged I didn’t realise the critical importance of giving the moth peace and quiet to pump up its wings. The wings of butterflies and moths begin as small sacs which have to be pumped up to full size, flattened and dried over the course of some hours before the moth can fly.  And if you make them feel threatened, which I probably did by coaxing it onto a stick, they stop concentrating on their wings and go into survival mode, staying still or running away.



And so Cindy never pumped up her wings. It may not have been completely my fault – she struggled to get the exuvium (chrysalis case) off her wing, the abdomen seemed to be lacking most of its black scales and there seemed to be dents on the thorax, suggesting she was deformed anyway. Nevertheless, a wakeup call.

What a depressing story. But you’ll be pleased to know that four mornings later it was a perfectly-formed Cinnabar that emerged from the second pupa!



On 9 June, I returned to the spot where I had collected the original four caterpillars last July, to release Cindy and Cecelia. And this is the part where I explain the photo above.

I had released Cindy and was just about to release Cecelia when a male Ruby Tiger moth came whizzing into the vicinity. Never ceasing to buzz his wings, he landed on my hand started crawling over my sleeve. The strange thing was that his genitals were extruded… obviously he was very excited indeed! Then he began crawling over ragwort plants near where Cindy was, before flying off over the hill and away – just as I managed to clear space on my SD card!

A bit galled at not getting any good photos, I went on with releasing Cecelia… and then the Ruby Tiger returned! This time I caught it to get some photos. When I released it, it got very excited again… and mounted the crippled Cinnabar moth!!!

Ruby Tiger (male) mounting crippled Cinnabar (female), 9 June 2012

Male Ruby Tiger (left) and female Cinnabar (right)

Two moths of different species shouldn’t be doing this. The only explanation for this behaviour is a chemical one. The Ruby Tiger detected a pheremone given off by the female Cinnabar moth, which must have been changed by the moth’s deformity (or the honey water it had been drinking) to be similar to the scent of a female Ruby Tiger moth.

Weird or what?

This is just a selection…

1. Discoveries

(Specifically, discoveries of the Moth Kind.)

Especially this teeny-tiny moth called Elachista rufocinerea which, my sources tell me, has never been recorded in Murlough before. You see, it’s worth bringing a camera and a magnifying glass on a walk. You never know what new things you might discover.

Elachista rufocinerea, Murlough, 6 May 2012

Proof that even micro-moths can be beautiful.
Oh wait, I still have to convince my friends that INSECTS IN GENERAL can be beautiful… 🙂

This from my Sunday morning walk in Murlough National Nature Reserve, County Down.

Elachista rufocinerea (Red-brindled Dwarf) brings my moth lists to
2012 MOTHS: 10

UPDATE 22 May: Turns out our regional Micro-moth Recorder John beat me to it by a week – he added this along with 3 others to the Murlough List on the night of 29 Apr, bringing the List to 460 species! Well done John! 

Posted on NIBirding.

After confirming my suspicions that Stigmella aurella is pretty much as common as muck…

Sigmella aurella vacated leaf mine, Slidderyford, Newcastle

Vacated Stigmella aurella leaf mine at Slidderyford

… I headed into Murlough yesterday to see what the Marsh Fritillary caterpillars were up to. As I did I heard the chuck of my first Stonechat of the year.

The last brood (2010-11) saw healthy numbers of caterpillars at the entrance to the No Dogs area at J398338. This time round I only found two webs where there had been six or seven before. And only one of those was up and about yesterday:

Marsh Fritillary caterpillars, Murlough, 25 Feb 2012

They're back!

Marsh Fritillary caterpillars feeding on devilsbit scabious, Murlough, 25 Feb 2012

Eat! Eat!

There were about 40 caterpillars here – mostly clustered together for warmth, but a few were getting tucked in to some devilsbit leaves, as you can see.

After a fruitless check for any other webs nearby, I walked north to J405343 – the main Marsh Fritillary colony in the reserve. It was cold, overcast, and there seemed to be dead rabbits around every corner. When I reached the south-facing bank where I had seen a web last brood, it didn’t take me too long to find another mass of black caterpillars like spilt caviare on the slope.

Pretty soon my camera ran out of battery, which mercifully stopped me filling my SD card with dozens of caterpillar photos! They really were common. I wasn’t sure whether to count individual masses as ‘groups’ of larvae, so I decided to count a group as any caterpillars within 1m of each other. To be sure I was giving an accurate idea of their abundance, however,  I basically counted them caterpillar by caterpillar. They amounted to 470 in total.

Finally I left the little caterpillars and dead rabbits and headed back to the caravan for lunch. The sight of a Kestrel hovering over the golf course greeted me when I arrived back.



On a general note…

Here in Belfast the sun’s coming out.

At last.

I arrived back home from Newcastle on Friday and am getting caught up on blogging. It’s been a cracker holiday – plenty of sunshine and of course plenty of butterflies, moths and birds.

There’s a LOT to catch up on as regards my rearing projects. If you remember, at the end of June, I picked up:

  • 1 Ruby Tiger caterpillar
  • 2 Garden Tiger caterpillars
  • 26 Cinnabar eggs

And there’s good news and bad news.

  • The Ruby Tiger (“Ron”) spun a cocoon on the day I collected him, pupated a few days later, and emerged as a healthy adult on 13 July. I released him where I found him, back in Murlough.
  • I fed the Garden Tigers (Ferrari and Maclaren) on hawks-beard, sorrel, dock and dandelion for a week, after which Ferrari escaped and hasn’t been seen since. (I hope he got out through a window.) Mac spun a cocoon and pupated for 17 days before emerging as an absolutely magnificent moth on 18 July. I released him the next day.
  • Between 22 and 25 Cinnabars hatched out but as I was away in Scotland I was unable to muck out the jar (and hadn’t the heart to lay the task upon my sister) and in the filthy conditions I suspect a bacterial infection started. As they grew (devouring Ragwort leaves) they got sick and died one by one (I won’t go into graphic details) until I only had 3 left. At this point I released them back into Murlough to give them a fighting chance, although I expect it was too late and they were already infected. So I tried again, collecting just four caterpillars from Murlough and this time there isn’t a sick caterpillar in sight. All four have completed their feeding; two have pupated and two are about to. They’ll hibernate as pupae over the winter and emerge next June. One thing’s for sure, I’m never collecting a batch of eggs again!

And here they are (hover over pics to see info):

13JUL11 Ruby Tiger

18JUL11 Garden Tiger

19JUL11 Garden Tiger

28JUL11 Cinnabar caterpillars

28JUL11 Cinnabar pupa

So what of the month ahead? Well, I’m starting to warm to the world of birdwatching, and I’m hoping to see the winter waders arrive at Dundrum Bay and Belfast Harbour, as well as seeing the terns before they leave. On the butterfly front, I’m trying to slow down and focus on butterfly behaviour rather than just running around recording which, although necessary, runs the risk of turning a beautiful creature into a number on a page. I’m hoping to go on a BCNI outing on 20 August to see the Wall butterfly at Sheepland  near Ardglass, and of course I’ll be keeping an eye out for rare migrants like the Clouded Yellow (only one seen here so far this year) and Comma. Plus, the moths are continuing to dazzle: last night in the garden I had 6 Mother of Pearl, a Burnished Brass, a Marbled Beauty (new) and a Swallowtailed Moth.

All the photos I’ve posted on this website are available at 12 or 14MP resolution – just drop me an email: periodicsam@hotmail.co.uk

Species study 2, project B: Ruby Tiger (Phragmatobia fuliginosa)
Species study 5, project B: Garden Tiger (Arctia caja)
Species study 15, project A: Cinnabar (Tyria jacobaeae)

The Grayling

Butterfly hunting in Murlough with local recorders Ann McComb and Pauline McNulty last year taught me something about the character of lepidopterists, and in my experience it’s true: Every new or long-unseen butterfly becomes our favourite until the next new or long-unseen butterfly appears.

So here it is, my latest favourite butterfly.

12JUL11 Grayling

The 12th of July as I know it is the day when a large minority of Nornians deliberately drag their country through the mud. So it was nice to be as far away from it as possible, high on the sandy dunes of Murlough, stalking Hipparchia semele.

The Grayling is a butterfly worth writing about – it’s this big brown satyr that vigorously defends its territory against anything airborne: other males, other butterflies, and even swallows. It characteristically glides with its wings held in a V, unlike the more bouncy flight of the Meadow Brown. When at rest it basks with wings closed and forewings hidden – in this position its grey hindwings camouflage it against the rocks (if there are any – against the sand in Murlough it’s easier to see). I managed to catch one in my net (it requires slow, low movements – neither of which my knees appreciated), and after a lot of flapping (in which it revealed its lovely brown and orange upperwings for a blurry photo) it settled down and concentrated on angling its wings towards the sun, carefully adjusting ats position as I turned the container. At close range (and it shows on the photo above) you can see a blue sheen on the hindwings and a green sheen on the edge of the upper forewing. Finally I was able to get it onto my hand for the photo above before it took flight down the dune and away over the heath. Evidently (and I don’t blame it) it wanted to get as far away from me as possible!

Further north and east I discovered what seemed to be the main Grayling colony, on a row of large dunes where I counted 8. (Grid reference on request, for anyone who’s interested!)

So that’s the marvellous Grayling, number 22 of this year.

           Ireland: 20

19JUN11 Small Elephant Hawkmoth

Apologies for the image quality – but isn’t that a beautiful moth?

It was certainly worth getting up at 3:15 am for! This Small Elephant Hawkmoth was feeding on honeysuckle in Murlough yesterday morning.

My camera is playing up at the moment and the photos come out covered in white lines. Must be a fault with the CCD chip. The videos were fine until I shook the camera a bit too hard and now it looks like I’ve disconnected the CCD completely! Hopefully a bit more shaking will re-connect it!

And I also saw my 14th butterfly species of the year yesterday – 3 jazzy new Dark Green Fritillaries zooming around Murlough. Here’s a photo from last year.

26JUN10 Dark Green Fritillaries

The other thing that happened yesterday was that I collected 3 caterpillars to rear: two Garden Tigers (“Ferrari” and “Maclaren”) and a Ruby Tiger (“Ron”). The GTs have been eating like crazy while Ron has spun himself a cocoon to pupate in. I suspect that they all might have parasites as they are leaving pupation very late (a sign of parasitisation) but I’m hoping they’re all OK and they’ll turn into three beautiful moths!

I didn’t realise it at the time but I also collected 26 little yellow eggs which had been laid on the Ragwort which the caterpillars were eating. They’re probably Cinnabar moths.

What – a – time for my camera to go wibbly.


Species study 2, project B: Ruby Tiger (Phragmatobia fuliginosa)
Species study 5, project B: Garden Tiger (Arctia caja)
Species study 15, project A: Cinnabar (Tyria jacobaeae)