Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Oleander Hawk-moth - a rare migrant discovered close to Castle Hill LNR, Newhaven

As a Lepidopterist, yesterday's news will be hard to beat... very hard. Yesterday could prove to be as good as it gets.

I received a report at work yesterday that a hawk-moth had been found by the Custodian of Newhaven Fort, Steve Watkins. There was a suggestion that it might be an Oleander Hawk-moth. It was lunchtime, so my colleague (the Lewes District Council Ranger, Thyone Outram) and I dropped everything and drove straight from Lewes to Newhaven. It was indeed an Oleander Hawk-moth, and here it is:

The Oleander Hawk-moth (Daphnis nerii) is a rare immigrant which is resident in northern Africa and some Mediterranean islands including Sicily, Crete and Cyprus (Waring & Townsend, 2009). In its native lands it feeds as a larva on Oleander and Lesser Periwinkle. The British climate is too cool for it to survive here. This specimen is likely to have been the progeny of an African moth which laid its eggs somewhere in southern Europe

Its wingspan measures up to 130mm and this large size and its impressive markings mean is one of the most spectacular insects to be found in the UK. It has been suggested that about one hundred British records exist in the national database, but the Sussex dataset has not yet been uploaded to national level, so a further 26 records need to be added to this total.

The 26 Sussex records date back to 1852. It has been recorded only once in West Sussex and the rest from East Sussex. The last time the moth was recorded here was 1995, so the Newhaven Oleander is the first record in Sussex for nearly 20 years (Pratt, 2010). It is the first time it has been recorded in Newhaven itself - the 27th all-Sussex record.

When Steve Watkins first saw the moth on 14th November it was at rest on a wall near some lights in the entrance tunnel to the Fort. It remained there for about a week and was then found on the ground close to where it had been at rest. Sadly, it had perished, but Steve collected the moth and passed it to Simon, who informed Thyone, who informed me. A few days prior to 14th November I commented to our other colleague, Dan Fagan, that the Oleander was at the top of my moth bucket list, but that I did not expect to ever see one. I'm so glad I was proven wrong so soon.

The staff at Newhaven Fort have very kindly offered the moth to the Booth Museum of Natural History in Brighton and their bequeath has been accepted. It will now be properly pinned and cared for so that future generations can see the Newhaven Oleander.

As an aside, as Thyone and I left the Fort yesterday we naturally checked the area in which the moth had been found. There on the wall we saw another rarity, the Bloxworth Snout. This is another rare migrant which hibernates overwinter. It's a shame that it has been somewhat eclipsed by the excitement generated by the Oleander. To put that right, here's a photo of the Bloxworth. What a day!

Monday, 29 September 2014

Halcombe Farm, Piddinghoe - final fieldtrip of the season

Cochylis molliculana (the Ox-tongue Conch) is a relatively new species in Sussex - we saw two on the night

Last Friday night was my final field-trip of the season. My good friend Dave Harris has been carrying out daytime surveys for a few years at Halcombe Farm, which is an area of chalk grassland on the north eastern edge of Peacehaven, close to Piddinghoe. The farm is less active now than it was in the past, but it is clearly an historical area and the 17th-century farmhouse, one of several historic buildings in the area, is testament to this.

Valley Road, which runs eastwards from north Peacehaven until it meets the C7 Lewes to Newhaven road, traces the line of one of the many dry valleys which cut through the Sussex chalk downs. The alluvial silts which line these valleys provide a narrow ribbon of lower pH habitat for some species which are not otherwise present on the chalk. The Common Heath (Ematurga atomaria) moth is a good example. When Dave approached me with an opportunity to run some light traps on the private land there, I was really happy to accept his offer.

Three of us - Dave, my mate Jim McHugh and I - arrived at 7pm and we received a friendly welcome from the landowner Colin Appleton and his son Paul. We selected an elevated spot on the northern bank of the dry valley and carried the gear up to a convenient plateau (it is best to avoid valley bottoms in September because the cold air collects and stills the moths). The equipment we used was a 125W mercury vapour light and twin 30W actinic light, both set on Robinson traps.

We ran the traps from 7.45pm until half past midnight. Tawny and Barn owls made their presence known and, as the sky cleared, the expected fog rolled in. We ate chocolate, enjoyed good conversation, stood with the bright light to our backs and made glorious Brocken Spectres against the sky. We also saw some good moth species.

There were more moths than expected - double the number that we saw the previous week just to the south at the Valley Ponds in Newhaven. Thirty nine species and 122 moths made up the list as follows:

Barred Sallow (Xanthia aurago)
Diamond-back Moth (Plutella xylostella)  1
Long-horned flat-body (Carcina quercana)  4
Parsnip Moth (Depressaria heraclei)  3
Ruddy Flat-body (Agonopterix subpropinquella)  1
London Dowd (Blastobasis lacticolella)  1
Ox-tongue Conch (Cochylis molliculana)  2
Carnation Tortrix (Cacoecimorpha pronubana)  1
Privet Twist (Clepsis consimilana)  3
Light Brown Apple Moth (Epiphyas postvittana)  3
Common Plume (Emmelina monodactyla)  1
Common Marbled Carpet (Chloroclysta truncata)  1
Pretty Chalk Carpet (Melanthia procellata)  1
Lesser Treble-bar (Aplocera efformata)  1
Brimstone Moth (Opisthograptis luteolata)  9
Canary-shouldered Thorn (Ennomos alniaria)  2
Dusky Thorn (Ennomos fuscantaria)  4
Willow Beauty (Peribatodes rhomboidaria)  7
Light Emerald (Campaea margaritata)  3
Shuttle-shaped Dart (Agrotis puta)  2
Large Yellow Underwing (Noctua pronuba)  5
Lesser Yellow Underwing (Noctua comes)  3
Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing (Noctua fimbriata) 1
Small Square-spot (Diarsia rubi)  1
Setaceous Hebrew Character (Xestia c-nigrum)  10
Square-spot Rustic (Xestia xanthographa)  16
Clay (Mythimna ferrago)  1
White-point (Mythimna albipuncta)  1
Common Wainscot (Mythimna pallens)  5
L-album Wainscot (Mythimna l-album)  1
Green-brindled Crescent (Allophyes oxyacanthae)  1
Brick (Agrochola circellaris)  1
Lunar Underwing (Omphaloscelis lunosa)  9
Barred Sallow (Xanthia aurago)  1
Marbled Green (Cryphia muralis)  1
Flounced Rustic (Luperina testacea)  1
Rosy Rustic (Hydraecia micacea)  1
Frosted Orange (Gortyna flavago)  2
Straw Dot (Rivula sericealis)  3
Snout (Hypena proboscidalis)  8

Other insects seen:
Orange Ladybird (Halyzia sedecimguttata)  1
Tarnished Plantbug (Lygus rugulipennis)  1
Red-legged Shieldbug (Pentatoma rufipes)  1

Cacoecimorpha pronubana - the Carnation Tortrix

Saturday, 20 September 2014

An enjoyable night at Valley Ponds, Newhaven

On Friday 19th my Lewes District Council colleague (Dan Fagan) and I put on a moth survey for local residents of the Valley Ponds open space in Newhaven and to begin recording some of the species which are present around the ponds and gardens. This is a lovely little reserve and, I think, a perfect example of the archetypal open space: surrounded by, visited by and valued by lots of local residents.

Brimstone Moth
Rhomboid Tortrix
Willow Beauty
We ran two light traps from 7.45pm until 11.15pm. It was a beautiful clear, calm and warm night and an electrical storm somewhere off to the east provided additional interest. A really pleasing number of people (maybe 40 to 50) joined us to see which species were on the wing. Some good friends from the Castle Hill nature reserve also joined us. It was a pleasure to spend a few hours with such a friendly bunch and to see such enthusiasm in the many children who wowed at the moths as they flew in. This makes the effort worthwhile and I would happily visit again in the future.


The moths regrettably didn't exceed the number of people by very many (29 species, 59 individuals), but the very last moth of the night proved to be a nationally scarce species: the Scarce Water-veneer. Here is a list of what we saw:

Apple Leaf Skeletoniser (Choreutis pariana) 1
Dingy Dowd (Blastobasis adustella) 1
Garden cosmet (Mompha subbistrigella) 1
Privet Twist (Clepsis consimilana) 2
Light Brown Apple Moth (Epiphyas postvittana) 5
Red-barred Tortrix (Ditula angustiorana) 1
Rhomboid Tortrix (Acleris rhombana) 1
Smoky-barred Marble (Lobesia abscisana) 2
Codling Moth (Cydia pomonella) 1
Scarce Water-veneer (Donacaula mucronellus) 1
Narrow-winged Grey (Eudonia angustea) 2
Wax Moth (Galleria mellonella) 1
Common Plume (Emmelina monodactyla) 2
Common Marbled Carpet (Chloroclysta truncata) 1
Brimstone Moth (Opisthograptis luteolata) 5
Dusky Thorn (Ennomos fuscantaria) 3
Willow Beauty (Peribatodes rhomboidaria) 1
Yellow-tail (Euproctis similis) 1
Shuttle-shaped Dart (Agrotis puta) 1
Large Yellow Underwing (Noctua pronuba) 2
Lesser Yellow Underwing (Noctua comes) 2
Setaceous Hebrew Character (Xestia c-nigrum) 3
Square-spot Rustic (Xestia xanthographa) 12
Common Wainscot (Mythimna pallens) 1
L-album Wainscot (Mythimna l-album) 1
Centre-barred Sallow (Atethmia centrago) 1
Lunar Underwing (Omphaloscelis lunosa) 2
Straw Dot (Rivula sericealis) 1
Snout (Hypena proboscidalis) 1

The late and highly respected lepidopterist (and WW1 veteran) Guy Botwright lived very close to the Valley Ponds. He recorded moths and butterflies in this area (and farther afield) for decades until a few years before his passing at 102 years of age in 2000. The rich legacy of amateurs such as Guy cannot be overestimated and, for me, this added an additional layer of interest to our little list compiled on Friday night. I hope the locals are inspired to continue where Guy left off and I hope Dan and I have provided a helping hand...

Common Wainscot

The Snout
Lunar Underwing

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Castle Hill LNR, Newhaven: transect walk, week 24

Friday 12th September 2014 - a lovely afternoon spent walking along the transect route. Sunny (90%), warm (20°C), a bit of an easterly breeze but very warm in the more sheltered spots. Crickets and grasshoppers were buzzing in the grass and scrub, shieldbugs basking in the sun - but if you are looking at those then you are not focusing on the butterflies and moths!

Peacock (Inachis io)
White Bryony (Bryonia dioica)
Coreus marginatus Dock Bug
Field Bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis)
Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) berries


Butterflies (12 species, 330 adults)
Clouded Yellow (Colias croceus)  9
Large White (Pieris brassicae)  59
Small White (Pieris rapae)  190
Green-veined White (Pieris napi)  3
Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas)  5
Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus)  14
Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)  8
Peacock (Inachis io)  5
Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)  26
Wall (Lasiommata megera)  4
Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina)  3
Small Heath (Coenonympha pamphilus)  4

Moths (6 species, 27 adults)

Elbow-stripe Grass-veneer (Agriphila geniculea)  22
Yellow Belle (Semiaspilates ochrearia)  2
Vapourer (Orgyia antiqua)  1
Brown-tail (Euproctis chrysorrhoea)  216 larval webs
Ruby Tiger (Phragmatobia fuliginosa)  1
Silver Y (Autographa gamma)  1

Sphaerophoria scripta hoverfly

Other observations
The area of vegetated shingle to the west of the slumps beneath the cliffs is becoming more established. I wonder whether this will develop to emulate the flora along the coast at Shoreham Beach?

The area of vegetated shingle looking east and west below the cliffs, plus Sea Rocket (Cakile maritima).

Weekly transect walks at Castle Hill LNR, Newhaven

7-spot Ladybird seen during the week 24 transect walk on 12th September.

A friend of mine has suggested that I include an explanation of what a transect walk is, alongside the latest list of recordings.

Here goes - and this is a personal and non-exhaustive list of what a transect walk is. It is:
  1. a weekly survey of certain wildlife recorded along a set route performed in a robust scientific way;
  2. a means of creating a database over space and time which aids the understanding of the species which are present at a given location;
  3. a means of understanding how to manage an area of land in order to protect and enhance the flora and fauna within it;
  4. a very useful contributory factor when developing a management plan for a given site;
  5. a way of measuring the fluctuations in numbers and locations of species across the reserve over time (e.g. 5 years, 30 years, etc.); and 
  6. a half-day of priceless escapism once every fortnight (or once each week if you don't share the transect walk with a good friend).
People will think of other things to add to the list, but I hope the above will provide an insight into why Dave and I do the walk. One could be forgiven for thinking it is strange for a grown man to wander along the clifftop muttering Latin into a voice recorder, but I promise it is for a worthy cause.

The UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS) describes its dataset as being "one of the most important resources for understanding changes in insect populations". See http://www.ukbms.org/about.aspx for further information.

Castle Hill LNR has been the subject of a weekly butterfly and moth transect walk for four years, so it is still in its infancy. During that time we have demonstrated that there are a lot of Common Blue butterflies, but no Adonis or Chalkhill Blues; very high numbers of Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown and Marbled White, yet rarely any Ringlets; very good numbers of Brown-tail Moth caterpillars, yet only rarely any Common Heath - which are locally common a little to the west near Peacehaven; and a pretty good site for some of the rarer maritime species as well as immigrants from continental Europe. It is hoped the data we collect from the fifteen sections which form the walk will become a valuable resource in the years ahead, particularly so for resident species reproducing on the reserve. I hope to remain fit enough to continue the walk for many years to come.

Part of section 8 of the CHLNR transect walk.

Special delivery

I'm not much of a pan-species recorder, but I get a buzz when I add a new species to my so-called 'life-list', and especially so when it is a chance discovery - a bonus when you are least expecting it. My favourite is possibly a Bloxworth Snout which flew into my face in the car park at work a few winters ago, or maybe my first Woodcock, which I rescued in the snow on two consecutive days from some fruit cloches when I was twelve years old. I still have a feather it dropped when I picked it up.

On 3rd September this year I spotted a small Het bug on my letterbox on my arrival home from work. It turned out to be Coriomeris denticulatus (Denticulate Leatherbug), a common species - but a new entry in my list of recorded Heteroptera. The Het bug list is a modest 48 species, but it's growing.
Coriomeris denticulatus (Denticulate Leatherbug), found on the front door (TQ457021) #1a.jpg

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Late August at Castle Hill LNR, Newhaven

Newhaven is blessed with open spaces. Looking west from Denton and Mount Pleasant one can see three chalk heathland 'peaks' running roughly north to south: to the north is Bollen's Bush, which includes the last remaining segment of ancient woodland in the town; to the south is Castle Hill Local Nature Reserve, a magnificent site for naturalists, geologists and active types; in between is Meeching Down SNCI - known as the Union field to old timers and the place where, many years ago, I learned to ride a bicycle. The latter, sadly, has been rather neglected over the years, but I'm hoping that will change sometime soon.

Back to the southern-most location: Castle Hill LNR. I share a weekly transect walk with my mate Dave at this beautiful maritime reserve. the purpose is to record butterflies and day-flying moths along with some of the other invertebrates. We sometimes have to share the space with adventure-seekers and beach-goers with BBQs, but it pleases me that so many are attracted to the clifftops. Check out the webcams at the National Coastguard Institution Lookout to see what's going on: http://www.newhavenwebcams.co.uk/.

There is plenty of wildlife to see around the reserve. Here is a list of my sightings made on week 22 of this years transect walks. Some photographs are included below.

Butterflies (14) and moths (10 species)

Clouded Yellow (Colias croceus)  22

Large White (Pieris brassicae)  2

Green-veined White (Pieris napi)  2

Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas)  3

Small White (Pieris rapae)  52

Brown Argus (Aricia agestis)  1

Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus)  1

Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus)  25

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)  24

Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)  1

Comma (Polygonia c-album)  1

Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)  19

Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina)  5

Small Heath (Coenonympha pamphilus)  5

Bordered Carl (Emmetia marginea)  leaf-mines

Common Marble (Celypha lacunana)  6

Common Grass-veneer (Agriphila tristella)  7

Elbow-stripe Grass-veneer (Agriphila geniculea)  1

Small Purple & Gold (Pyrausta aurata)  1

Common Purple & Gold (Pyrausta despicata)  3

Fox Moth (Macrothylacia rubi)  1 larva

Yellow Belle (Semiaspilates ochrearia)  2

Humming-bird Hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum)  1

Silver Y (Autographa gamma)  1

Crickets and grasshoppers

Roesel's Bush Cricket (Metrioptera roeselii)  4

Long-winged Conehead (Conocephalus discolor)  50

Common Field Grasshopper (Chorthippus brunneus)  present in 000s

Meadow Grasshopper (Chorthippus parallelus)  present in 000s

Other invertebrates

24-spot Ladybird (Subcoccinella vigintiquattuorpunctata)  1

Dock Bug (Coreus marginatus)  7

Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea)  4

Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator)  1

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum)  2

Eristalis tenax hoverfly  1

Volucella zonaria hoverfly  1

gall wasp: Rose bedeguar causer (Diplolepis rosae)  (causes Robin’s Pincusion gall) many seen

gall wasp: Cystiphora sonchi  35 galls

Argiope bruennichi wasp spider  1

Misumena vatia white flower spider  1