Sunday, 30 August 2015

Smelly moths & a Woodchat Shrike

Painted Lady, Bovingdon Brickworks

Bovingdon Brickworks (BMT): If the weather thinks that by throwing in a reasonable day of sunshine yesterday, I’ll forget the preceding week of grey skies, showers and low temperatures, it’s sadly mistaken. Last week was one of those unremarkable, uninspiring, plodding sort of weeks. Even netting a Vapourer moth (Orgyia antiqua) near a Brickworks Buddleja didn’t return the spring to my step although reading about this day-flying species afterwards was fascinating. Antennae so sensitive that they can sniff out a female more than a mile away! And, whilst the males are blessed with these extraordinary scent detectors, the females are flightless and basically live to “stink” and reproduce. I’m glad I’m not a Vapourer moth!

A very worn and slightly disabled male Vapourer moth (Orgyia antiqua)
The moth requires both antennae to be in tact in order to determine the direction of scent and to navigate accurately. 
The close up shows the antennae are covered with thousands of tiny hairlike olfactory receptors

I had hoped the Painted Lady passage would continue this week but, if there were any around, they weren’t flying or visible: both are possibilities due to the weather and the inaccessibility of the scrub in their favoured area. In spite of that, most visits have included c5 of each fresh Red Admirals, Peacocks and Speckled Woods, 2-3 fresh Brimstones, 2-3 Small Tortoiseshells & Commas, a fresh Small Copper, a few Common Blues, Whites sp, worn Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers and, on Friday, a very tatty Ringlet.

Still plenty of noisy Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers and Blackcaps around or passing through, and there are large family parties of Goldfinches throughout the site and smaller groups of Linnets.

On Friday, during a spell of sunshine, one of the Southern Hawker females perched up for a moment.

Yesterday, I escaped the local and got to see a new bird: a Woodchat Shrike. A juvenile turned up on Friday at Blakehill NR, near Cricklade in Wiltshire, and, much to everyone’s relief, had stayed put overnight. The species’ nearest breeding territory is southern Europe, whilst winters are spent in open bush country in Africa, south of the Sahara. This youngster had obviously found itself blown in the wrong direction and will hopefully get back on a northerly, heading south, in good time. Although not quite where it’s supposed to be, it was feeding very well, flying to the ground, catching grasshoppers and other large insects and returning to a perch to devour them. It remained pretty distant (100+ metres away) but that’s what telescopes are for, I guess.

Blakehill NR, location of Woodchat Shrike plus the worst digiscoped photos ever! Heat haze + distance = cr*p photos.
Still, you can just make out the pale rump, pale scapular patch and pale primary panel on the bird.


  1. Nice work as ever Lucy, never seen an adult vapourer - just the lovely exotic caterpillars. Woodchat is a great UK bird too - only seen these in Europe.

    1. Thanks Martin. Ah yes, would love to see a Vapourer caterpillar - fantastic looking creatures!