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Thursday, 11 September 2014

Cool caterpillars, hoverfly mating dances and a duck casualty

Despite heavy rain at the end of August, it didn't take long for the sunny parts of the garden to dry out so it was time to get out the hose pipes again. However this time I refuse to use any more mains water as I spend a fortune watering each year - gardening is not a cheap hobby! And I didn't have to use mains because guess who has a full 4,000 litre water tank now which used to be the old septic tank.... it was time to make good use of it. So out came the pump and off I went with the watering.... oh but my god, it reeked! Ugh! So it's a good thing if I can empty it as much as possible before more rain is due to fill it, as I think it's going to take a while before that smell and any residual yukkiness clears. Needless to say I kept my hands well away from my face during the time I was hosing and gave my hands and arms a very good wash afterwards! Hopefully the plants will appreciate any extra nutrient in the water but I won't be watering any edibles with it! 

As far as butterflies seen at home this last week, the only ones of note are the ones I don't have photos of. I completely missed a photo of the first Hairstreak I've seen in my garden, a Purple Hairstreak. It was a lifer and was in my veg patch on one of the rare occasions that I'd popped out without my camera. I could have kicked myself and spent the rest of the day in a sulk. However the next day I did have my camera in my veg patch when I spotted a Mallow Skipper - but as I can't garden clutching a camera 100% of the time I still had to go about four paces away to grab the camera and when I got back to it, it had gone, so at least it made me feel better about the Hairstreak. And I also saw something small and interesting in the Blue department out of the living room window, but I was on the phone to my mum at the time.

Over the last week my bug spotter extraordinaire aka my OH spotted the following three insects. The first is a Buff Tip moth larva - I have seen them before but I had never seen one rear up in a defensive position like this before. It was on a dried out seed head beside the pond and well camouflaged from a distance before it reared up.

Buff Tip moth (Phalera bucephala) larva.

The second caterpillar was far more exciting as although I did see one of these last year just as it was wandering off to pupate, I hadn't seen an earlier instar looking like this before. This is a Lime Hawkmoth larva and it had fallen out of a lime tree. When they are fully grown and ready to pupate they change colour to a rather dull grey brown and look less than attractive. In fact the one last year had been spotted by either my OH or brother and was reported to me as "come and see this large ugly slug". :-) This one was just a youngster and after our photo shoot I put it down at the base of the tree trunk and watched it climb back up the trunk. I could have given it a helping hand but I wanted to be 100% sure that's where it wanted to be!

Lime Hawkmoth (Mimas tiliae) larva.

Lime Hawkmoth (Mimas tiliae) larva having a little walk about my wrist.

Stomping back up the tree trunk -
I used my flash here as it was evening and too dark under the tree canopy.

A caterpillar on a mission - to get back to those juicy lime leaves!
Mimas tiliae larva.

The last thing in the mothy department this week was a "Quick, come and see this large moth in the cellier/mudroom" for which I managed one shot before it flew off. Now if only those underwings had been blue, it would have made my year. It's a Rosy Underwing, one of the Catacala species which includes the (blue) Clifden Nonpareil - sigh. One day I will see one. Maybe when I finally get a moth trap. Next year! 

Rosy Underwing (Catocala electa) moth on a box of kindling.

A crop of the same photo of the Rosy Underwing (Catocala electa).

Changing the subject completely I've been witnessing what I think is some hoverfly foreplay! I first noticed it because I could hear a high pitched whining/buzzing noise and wondered why one hoverfly seemed to be hovering above another. I got the first pic on the left and after that the hovering one buzzed off. Then the next day I saw this display again and eventually the male seemed to dive down, touch the female then fly up over her again, and then repeated the action. I wondered whether that was it, i.e. a nanosecond of sex and maybe it was specific to this species. But I've googled and apparently it's a mating dance. Obviously in both instances here Madame was more interested in eating than what Monsieur had in mind. ;-)

Eristalis sp., possibly interrupta, in mating dance.

I was glad to learn that they do still mate in the way that I've seen other kinds of flies do it, but maybe hoverflies are just more fussy about their mates.

Here's a couple of Robber Flies doing the biz on a fennel plant.
I'm not sure if feet on eyeballs is normal during fly sex.

And now some bad news. Doris the Saxony duck is no longer with us. Doris was acting a bit strange and could possibly have been egg bound - although I am unsure about that as I don't think either of the girls were still laying. But she was standing about at the water's edge rather wobbly and looked like she may have been straining a bit although she seemed fine when swimming about on the water. With the ducks having gone 'wild' it is impossible to get anywhere near them so we could hardly shut a potentially sick duck in the not used in a long time duck shed. 

The next day Doris seemed to have disappeared so we searched for her and eventually my OH followed a trail of feathers into a wild patch in the woodland...... and found the remains of Doris. What we think happened is that she died and then her body was dragged off by a Stone Marten (Martes foina, also known as Beech Marten or 'Fouine' in France). We think that for two reasons: one, my OH had seen one in broad daylight recently, quite an unusual thing to see as they are mostly nocturnal, and two, (and here comes the gruesome bit) her head and neck had been removed completely! No doubt hanging up in a marten larder somewhere. There was no blood at the scene so that's why we are hoping that she died first and then was taken by an opportunist marten, in which case it's not so bad. I don't think one would go for a living duck as they are rather large! And the headless bit reminds us of the time long ago when we found a bunch of headless corpses in our garage, which turned out to be baby hares. We never did find the heads.  

Doris 2nd from right, with Dirk the male Saxony on the far left.

Taken about a month ago, the ducks had been going through moults but the two
Saxony ducks were still in their pale summer plumage.

Please don't be sorry for me as these ducks are not exactly pets (with the exception of Freckles the old white duck who we've had since March 2007, back when our original ducks were quite friendly) and they've always been so timid we couldn't get near them, so never formed any kind of bond with them. Bit of a shame really. 


  1. You had me at "Lime Hawkmoth" :-) What a stunner! A very enjoyable read, as always.

    R. I. P. Doris.

    1. Thanks Marianne - I was really pleased to see the hawkmoth cat. I have stared up into the tree looking at leaves many times but never seen a sign of one! And it is a shame about Doris.

  2. Large, ugly slug???!!!! Wash their mouths out with soap! What a beauty. Never seen one here. I feel for you about the Purple HS - never seen one of those either, although my mate Dave did, standing next to me in a wood this summer. I was too busy staring the other way looking for Purple Emps! Hopefully yours will return. x

    1. lol CT - they are quite ugly when they are ready to pupate, compared to how they look when they are younger! Thanks for the commiserations as I know that you know exactly how it feels when you missed seeing a butterfly, or saw it but didn't get a photo as a memento/record/something to share your excitement. Hey ho let's hope we both get to see one WITH CAMERAS in hand one day. :-)

  3. Hi Mandy,
    We too have had to start watering the garden again due to the change in weather, cool on a evening though. The Lime Hawkmoth caterpillar is stunning, have found two very hairy cat's in the garden, still trying to I.D them, and I have had lots of Red Admiral Butterflies. All great photos....
    Amanda xx

    1. Hi Amanda - yes it's a bit chilly at night now! Lots of rain forecast for next week so need to make the most of the sunny weather now. I look forward to seeing your hairy cats and thank you for your nice comment! :-)

  4. As always some interesting finds and stories comprise this blog entry...about the Hairstreak then? What is a 'lifer' Mandy? Just wonderin' ;-)
    Those Buff-tip are impressive caterpillars, especially when seen together, which they quite often are. The Lime is one I haven't seen for myself yet but, that blue tip is something though isn't it.

    The Robberflies are very well captured and getting the two is a real bonus-afraid I don't know anything about their sexual proclivities though ;-)

    The hoverflies mating dance is again something I have yet to witness but these are great images and really interesting to see.

    Lastly, so sorry to hear of your duck losing her head ;-(

    1. Hi JJ and thank you - a lifer is birding talk and means a species that you have never seen before. So I use it for butterflies too as I keep lists of species seen of both. New species of butterfly are probably more exciting to me now than birds are! :-)

      I haven't seen young Buff Tips but did read that they grouped together when younger. I learned something about robber flies from a comment on facebook - some of them mate in this position, and some mate end to end! That seems unusual to me but if you google robber flies mating you'll see what I mean.

      And thanks for the comment about Doris - I didn't want to sound callous and it is a shame but I don't feel sad about it. I only care that she didn't suffer.