Sunday 26 November 2023

Bulgaria Project Moths Update

 Latest update on this: the project moth list is now on 316 species I-Naturalist Project Here and thanks to Steve and the Bulgaria I-Naturalist Moth Group the highlights identified include the species below. These records have been selected for inclusion in a Data Paper for the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences so very pleased that the project is yielding regionally important moth records as we hoped.  

Candlestick Dart, Dichagyris candelisequa
Black and White Dart, Dichagyris melanura
Cervyna cervago
Willowherb Yellow Underwing, Epilecta linogrisea
Schmidt's Quaker, Dioszeghyana schmidtii 
Agrochola gratiosa
Agrochola nitida
Atethmia ambusta
Aegle kaekeritziana
Eublemma suava
Euclidia triquetra
Garella musculana 
The Uncertain, Hoplodrina octogenaria
Luperina rubella 
Langmaid's Yellow Underwing, Noctua janthina
Xestia cohaesa
Acronicta geographica 

Saturday 25 November 2023

Winter moths?

Not sure what season it is. Had a few moths this week at the Old Vic with night temperatures near 10 C again on a couple of nights. December moths, Chestnuts, Sprawler, Ashy Button,  Light Brown Apple Moth and Scarce Umber is what I'd expect for late November but also had Merveille du Jour and Cypress Carpet this week. Moth year list for the garden now on 469. 

Quite a few Fieldfares around at the moment. 

A late November Merveille du Jour 
Scarce Umber 
A late Cypress Carpet
Sprawler - another hardy species that is typical for this time of year 

Friday 24 November 2023

Burying your head in the sandpipers

Not sure if I'm the only one who has noticed an attack on neutrality recently and this push for the populace to take a particular side on various or any issues, the latest one obviously being the Israeli-Palestine issue. Seems to be a drive to frame everything into an oppressor-victim narrative driven by the mobocracy of social media. No centralised authoritarian state could have ever dreamed of the effectiveness of democratised self-censorship and oppression (cancel culture) or democratised propaganda. Tik-tokers and Youtubers etc are falling over themselves to become self-appointed propaganda agents. Democratised tyranny is a very special brand of dictatorship, the mob dictating their own oppression- presumably with oligarchs behind the curtains, the hidden hands casting the spell.

I don't fancy being herded into a pen, I don't want to be driven into whatever enclosure they've got because presumably this polarisation and herding is some kind of domesticating process, de-wilding human consciousness into tamed conditioned selected narratives, binary and simple, dehumanised and easily manipulated. So apparently refusing to take a side is siding with the oppressor, a logic which is flawed as both sides in most of these binary narratives see each other as the oppressor. So as ever and always, staying wild and free thinking and connecting to wildness and the freedom of nature is a constant game of cat and mouse, with human domesticators and their ever growing intensive human farms of super systems, corporations and institutions are always trying to trap and hunt wild humans and free thinkers. So the pressure is on to take a side whether it be right wing or left wing, or pro-Israel or Free Palestine, or anti-Putin or Standing with Ukraine and to display that by changing your social media profile picture to reflect that. Apparently not taking a side is burying your head in the sand and not caring about the world's problems and being part of a majority that stand by and watch evil happening. Apparently watching birds and connecting to nature and burying your head in Sandpiper identification instead of joining a war, becoming a self appointed propaganda agent and lynch mobbing people with different opinions is the problem. 

Just fuck off.             

Tuesday 21 November 2023

American Moorhen versus European Moorhen, First-winters

Spent the day at Tring today having a look at the Moorhen skins. Here's a few notes on separating American Moorhen and European Moorhen in first-winter plumages in a vagrant context. There is no currently acceptable way of separating these in the field in first-winter so hopefully there are a few ideas/observations here that may be useful and in the right direction. David Sibley has written a couple of articles on separating adults and there is an account in Martin Garner's original Birding Frontiers on the identification of Laughing Moorhen which form the foundation of some of the notes here.  Towards the end of this post we have a look at the two Moorhens that we recorded on the Azores this October to see if we can make a call before the DNA results come in.


First-winter American Moorhen features: Warm brown upperparts (mantle and scapulars) contrastingly strongly with a plumbeous (lead grey) head and neck. The underparts are also grey (and white) lacking the brown tones (mainly in the breast) of European Moorhen. American Moorhen tend to show limited white on the head and throat as opposed to European Moorhen which sometimes has a buff/pale throat set against a brown breast and neck. The bill is longer in American and the frontal shield is more extensive, reaching the top of the eye and is often squared off. The bill colouration on American tends to show less yellow and restricted to a triangle on the bill tip. The tarsus is longer on American Moorhen and overall the bird appears more gallinule like.

First-winter European Moorhen features: Olive-brown upperparts (mantle and scapulars) contrastingly weakly with a brown neck and head. The underparts tend to have brown particularly  in the upper breast and overall lack the strongly contrasting and grey underparts and head and neck of American. The bill and frontal shield are smaller, the frontal shield often reaches below the eye and is often rounded unlike the squared off shield of American. Yellow in the bill is often more extensive. The tarsus is shorter and overall the bird is more crake like as opposed to the more gallinule like structure of American Moorhen. 


First-winter American Moorhens (top row) showing warm upperparts contrasting with grey neck and head compared to first-winter European Moorhen (bottom row) with more olive-brown upperparts contrasting less with the browner neck and head 
First-winter American Moorhen on right showing strong contrast between upperparts and head and neck compared to less contrasting first-winter European Moorhen on left 
As always there are exceptions to the rule- here is a European Moorhen with a contrasting back and neck and head, in this case it looks like an older bird

First-winter American Moorhens (top three birds) showing grey and white underparts compared to European Moorhen (lower three birds) with brown tones on underparts particularly concentrated on the upper breast

First-winter European Moorhens on left, showing brown and buff tones compared to the more grey first-winter American Moorhens on right with more limited pale on throat and head 


First-winter European Moorhens showing frontal shield size and shape which tends to be restricted and tapers into a rounded top
First-winter American Moorhens showing frontal shields which are more extensive and squared off on top edge
Again there are exceptions to the rule, here is a European Moorhen with an American Moorhen like frontal shield 


Overall the bill is longer on American Moorhen but there is much overlap. Also there tends to be less yellow in the bill of adult American Moorhen (often confined to a triangle tip) but this is less helpful in young birds which show more yellow in bills when young.  First-winter American Moorhens on left and Europeans on right. Also note the overall greyer tones of the American birds and the brown tones on the European birds 


Bird one- the warm brown back contrasting with the head and neck, grey tones on the underparts, restricted white to flecking around the face, lack of extensive white on throat, heavy yellow tipped bill already developing and large frontal shield with squared off top (below) all indicate an American Moorhen. If the features suggested in this post can hold under scrutiny it could be possible to identify this bird in the field as an American Moorhen- a first for the Western Palearctic

Bird 2- the olive grey back and lack of strong contrast with the neck and head, the small bill, small rounded shield and white throat all indicate a European bird. We are waiting DNA result on this bird to confirm the identification. It would be strange if an exhausted migrant amidst a huge influx of American vagrants turns out to be a European bird but there is nothing about the plumage or structure of this bird that suggests an American Moorhen. 090124 update- the DNA results have been returned and as suspected was a European bird- results below (thanks to Martin Collinson's lab)

While we are at it......

Couldn't resist having a look at the other species of Moorhen in the collection- here's Dusky Moorhen 
Lesser Moorhen 

Gough Moorhen 
and found the 2007 Portland Allen's Gallinule hiding in the trays too 

Sunday 19 November 2023

Old Vic end of autumn moths

The night temperatures have been around 8 to 10 degrees over the last couple of nights so I lit up again, the first time in a while. Had an Olive-tree Pearl, Palpita vitrealis today which is a NFY and always a welcome migrant visitor here and very good to get a migrant this late in the year.  The full list of other moths recorded include Sprawler, December moth, Feathered Thorn, Brick, Red-line Quaker, Common Flat-body, Agonopterix hericliana and Light Brown Apple Moth. Moth garden year list is now 469 (633 all time).  

In other news our offer on the Selsey property has been accepted and we are moving towards the memorandum of sale and getting the surveys done. Here at the Old Vic, exchange contracts have been signed and the completion date is in early December so things are suddenly moving very fast on this. There will be a few months in rental between moving out of here and moving into the new house so still a long way to go.  On reflection it was great to get another year here at the Old Vic- I suspect I won't find a better moth trapping garden again, considering I'm not here half the time, getting nearly 500 species a year must indicate a special place. I feel like I certainly made the most out of it, even at the expense of birding time but these inner landlocked counties seem to be better for ecology overall rather than 'birding' so it seemed to make sense to focus on that as a better 'investment'. The learning curve has been steep and very enjoyable and I'm indebted to all the help from Dave Wilton and the Upper Thames Moths Community who incidentally have an upgraded website (now includes micro records) HERE. I've absolutely loved our time here. 

However, I'm not gonna lie, if all goes to plan and we end up on the coast, I will finally, after decades of being landlocked, at last live next to a decent local patch to go birding on, which I'm very much looking forward to. When at the Old Vic, doing the mini-farming and wildlife garden and local exploring etc I often thought, just imagine this.... on the coast! So that's the plan to recreate here, there. The Selsey property will be walking distance from Pagham harbour and a couple of miles from Medmerry and Selsey Bill for sea watching and also to the north we will have access to the South Downs to do more ecology stuff too. The local schools are good, the commute to London is about the same as from here and the whole family already know and love the area as it's our regular holiday spot.  I'm also hoping will get more moth migrant activity down there too especially if we create some decent habitat in the garden. Fingers crossed it comes off! 

Olive-tree Pearl 
December moth 
Feathered Thorn 

Thursday 16 November 2023

Corvo 2023- a record-breaking season

Here's a Birdguides article on the epic season on Corvo this year: CORVO 2023

Mourning Warbler, Corvo 2023- a first for the Western Palearctic (Vincent Legrand) 

Sunday 12 November 2023

The Old Vic update

Last update I did from the Old Vic was on 21st October, since then I've either been on Corvo or since getting back catching up with work and doing the post trip write ups etc. I did my first Ebird list this morning in a while HERE which is one of my best days garden birding with nearly 1000 individuals of 34 species including a garden tick- a Merlin that presumably has strayed from the nearby airfield where I've seen them several times before. Woodpigeons and Stock Doves were on the move as were Redwings and Fieldfares and there was also a flock of Siskin and a couple of Redpoll. 

Other news from here is that in preparation to move we have re-homed the chickens with Isaac's child minder and if all goes to plan we should be moving out of here in early December and moving into a temporary rental property in Brill, a hilltop location where I've done some vis-migging from in the past. Longer term we have found a homestead on the Selsey Peninsula which if all goes well we should be ready to move into during the Spring. Fingers crossed! If it actually comes off it will be brilliant but this whole thing has been a rollercoaster ride with lots of ups and downs and twists and turns so will hope for the best and hang on.  

I've had the moth trap out a couple of times but literally nothing during these cold and wet nights that I've come back to. 

The logistics of moving our '100 species of pets' is dawning on me (or rather haunting me). We've lost control of the reef tank after taking our eye off the ball while travelling and had a tank crash (lost our three reef fish, the starfish and some corals) and now out of control algae which we can't get control of yet. A bit of a lesson in biochemistry and one we hope to crack this week.  

In the mini-farm I've been dismantling the chicken infrastructure and we harvested some brussel sprouts and cabbages this week too. All rather sad winding all this down but excited about starting again with all the lessons we've learnt in what we are optimistically and hopefully calling our 'forever' home in the Spring. 

Firework night. So finally looks like the night is falling on our time here and getting ready for the next adventure. 

Friday 10 November 2023

Off to the Lab

Fingers crossed on this, sent off the DNA sample today to Martin Collinson's lab in Aberdeen for the results of the putative American Moorhen found dead on Corvo last month. 


Monday 6 November 2023

Saturday 4 November 2023

Azores Moths 2023

Despite trapping nearly every night while on Corvo there wasn't much to show for it. I could only transport the LED trap which generally works better in areas of high moth density. I've been bringing a trap to Corvo for several years now but still no sign of any American migrants. I suspect we would need MVs and generators as it appears that it will be quite a challenge. Despite there being multiple American Painted Ladies and Green Darners in the UK this autumn,  nothing in the way of Nearctic entomology has been reported from the Azores despite the record breaking american bird migrant autumn.  I didn't even catch one of the American species that have colonised the Azores- White Speck (American Wainscot) or Wedgling which were numerous in previous years that I tried the trap out.

I did see a Painted Lady sp when David and I were looking for the Wood Thrush but didn't see it well enough to conclude whether an American or European. 

Anyway, here's a few of the moths that either turned up in the trap or were flying during the day.  

Azores moths on Lepiforum HERE

Lepidoptera list on Azores Wildlife website HERE

Previous moth trapping on Azores HERE

Chevron Snout 
Maize Moth, Spoladea recurvalis 
Bloxworth Snout 
Rusty-dot Pearl I presume- there were lots of these but there is the Azores endemic Udea Azorensis out on the Azores too which if I understand correctly can only be identified on the pattern on the hind-wing 
Slender Burnished Brass- always nice to see and seemingly quite common on Corvo 
Mediterranean Brocade 
Hawkmoth sp found by David in the toilet block- presumably a Convolvulus which can be common on Corvo 
Small Angle Shades ? See comments. 
Setaceous Hebrew Character 
Bactra sp? If so the two species present on the Azores is lancealana and venosana. See comments. 
Lapastrier’s Piercer , Selania leplastriana 
Grass Webworm Herpetogramma licarsisalis 
Turnip Moth- the most numerous moth in the trap- up to five