The Sprawler

The Sprawler (Asteroscopus sphinx) is a species of resident macro-moth found throughout most of England and Wales, although it is more common in the South. It can be found in broadleaved woodlands, and other well-wooded ares, including some gardens.

It is one of the later-flying species to be found in Britain, with adults being on the wing from mid-October to early December. The species frequently comes to light, with males usually arriving from midnight onwards, and females arriving earlier.

This species only has one generation each year and survives the winter by overwintering as eggs, which are laid in small crevices on the trunks of trees. The eggs hatch in April and the larvae feed nocturnally on a variety of tree species, including Pedunculate Oak, Blackthorn and Small-leaved Elm until early-June when they pupate in a cocoon beneath the soil surface.

The Sprawler (Asteroscopus sphinx)
The larvae have a habit of throwing their head back as a defence mechanism, and this behaviour is where the English name 'Sprawler' comes from.

It is classed as a UK Biodiversity Action Plan species in England due to an 83% decline in its UK population over a 35 year period (1968-2002) and its use as an indicator species for the winder environment.

Over the last two weeks I have been helping run a few moth traps on campus. Considering the time of year we have done quite well for variety, and in 3 nights of trapping with both an actinic and MV bulb a total of 87 individuals of 16 species have been caught. So far, seven of the species caught have been new to me which is very nice, taking my moth list up to 597 and PSL total to 1186. I'm hoping to reach 600 moths and 1200 overall by the end of 2017 so I have my work cut out a bit, but hopefully a few outings around Norfolk and Hampshire over Christmas will easily take me up to my targets.

Relative frequency of species on three trapping dates at the same site.
Cumulative totals of individuals from both an actinic robinson
trap and an MV robinson trap run simultaneously.

If you want to find out any more information about The Sprawler, or moths in general, these websites are a mine of information:

http://www.ukmoths.org.uk/species/asteroscopus-sphinx/adult/
http://www.hantsmoths.org.uk/species/2227.php
https://www.norfolkmoths.co.uk/index.php?bf=22270
http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/_speciespages/2067.pdf

2017 catch up

Well, since it's been almost 9 months since my last blog post, I figured it was about time I got round to writing an update... 2017 has so far seen me complete my A Levels via distance learning...an 'interesting' experience, and begin studying BSc Ecology at the University of East Anglia.

In the last few months I have also been trying to broaden my natural history knowledge away from just birds, so I have been doing a lot of moth trapping, started trying to ID hover flies and have also begun delving into the botanical world too... it's slow progress but at least it's a start! Getting much more involved in Pan-species Listing has really helped drive my curiosity and interest in the lesser-known taxa, as every species is equal when it comes to PSL. I would really urge any aspiring naturalist to sign up and start delving into taxa outside of your comfort zone... the sheer variety of wildlife on your doorstep will no doubt amaze you!


Over August and September I was fortunate enough to spend five weeks volunteering with the Bardsey Island Bird Observatory. Throughout my five weeks there I assisted with a wide variety of tasks, from the organised chaos of changeover days, to helping check Manx Shearwater productivity burrows, and co-leading the annual Next Generation Birders week. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and was brilliant to get an insight into the huge array of daily tasks that enable the Bird Observatory's high standards to be maintained. My thanks must go to Steve Stansfield (Warden), Emma Stansfield (Steve's wife), Ephraim Perfect (Assistant Warden), Liam Curson (Assistant Warden) and many others for having me, and for making my time on the Island so memorable.


As part of my Ecology course I am required to keep an Electronic Journal, with a weekly post about a new species I have encountered on campus. This means that there should be many more posts here over the coming weeks and months; I hope to get that off to a start in the next few days, once I've had a chance to spend some more time wandering around the greener areas of the UEA Campus.


Monfragüe National Park, Extremadura: PART 2

Monfragüe National Park PART 2 ~ 17-19th October 2016 ~ 

Carrying on from PART 1...

Day 4 (18th): After breakfast we made our way to Serradilla. From there we took 'La Ruta de la Garganta del Fraile', aka Friar's Gorge Route. It was a stunning walk, with some amazing scenery and great birding along the way with highlights of Serin, Hoopoe, Iberian Magpie and Rock Sparrow! After a coffee stop in Serradilla, we headed to Mirabel Castle for lunch and some birding. The best of the bunch here was Black Vulture, Woodlark and Cirl Bunting. After lunch we went to a cork oak forest to see "Padre Santo", one of the oldest Cork Oaks in the region. In this area we also saw Nuthatch, Great-spotted Woodpecker and Short-toed Treecreeper. Before heading back to our accommodation in Plasencia, we met with the Mayor of Mirabel to talk about ecotourism in the local area, as well as how undiscovered the National Park and Biosphere Reserve are, despite their fantastic array of wildlife.
Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus)
"Padre Santo" 

Day 5 (19th): Some members of the group left mid-morning, leaving the rest of us to explore Trujillo, our final destination of the trip. The municipality of Trujillo is full of history, with many medieval and renaissance buildings. We explored the old town for a few hours, learning a lot about the local history. In Plaza Mayor the Red-rumped Swallows and Crag Martins kept me suitably occupied, while we also saw Merlin, Hawfinch, Serin and Black Redstarts on our wanderings around the town. At about 12.30 I began the 3 hour journey back to the airport where I then flew back to the UK. The drive to the airport was not without birds, of course, with more Griffon Vultures, Spotless Starlings, an Iberian Grey Shrike or two and our one and only White Stork of the trip.
Cospsoptera jourdanaria
Trujillo
View from Trujillo Castle
All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable few days spent exploring an incredibly biodiverse environment with excellent company and seeing a plethora of new species (26 birds and lots else besides). A huge thank you once again to David Lindo and the Diputación de Cáceres for making the trip possible and for the invite!

I would highly recommend a visit for the birds, the history and the culture and I hope it's not too long before I return to Extremadura to explore it some more...

Monfragüe National Park, Extremadura: PART 1

Monfragüe National Park PART 1 ~ 15-17th October 2016 ~ 

Back in October I was lucky enough to spend 5 days in the Monfragüe National Park in Extremadura. I had never been to Spain before, nor had I really birded Europe outside of the UK, so there were plenty of new experiences to be had!

Before I go any further I must say a massive thanks to David Lindo (@urbanbirder) for inviting me on the press trip, the good folks at Diputación de Cáceres (@Turismo_DipCC) for making the trip possible, Martin Kelsey (@casaelrecuerdo) for all his local knowledge and to the other trip participants, Sorrel Lyall, Emma-louise Cole, Niki Bloom and Miriam Darlington, for their great company! It really was a brilliant trip and I hope it won't be too long before I get to return to Extremadura to explore it some more...

Day 1 (15th): I arrived at Madrid Airport where I met David, Martin and Niki and had a beer or two to chill out while we waited for the others to arrive. A little while later Sorrel, Emma and Miriam arrived and we soon began the 3 hour drive to our accommodation. On the drive we saw 19 species, including a rather incredible juvenile Spanish Imperial Eagle (the first of so many lifers)! On arrival at the accommodation it wasn't long before bins were donned and scopes unpacked. We were soon treated to brilliant scope views of hundreds of Griffon Vultures swirling around on the thermals and some Crag Martins whizzed over. A short walk with Sorrel produced Hoopoe, Zitting Cisticola, Grey Wagtail, Great White Egret, Crested Lark and a large roost of House Sparrows. The day ended with our first taste of traditional Spanish cuisine.
Beautiful Gothic (Leucochlaena oditis)

Day 2 (16th): After a traditional Spanish breakfast of meats, cheese and pastries we made our way to Castillo de Monfragüe. On the way we stopped to look at some geology where you could see ripples in a rock which used to form the seabed near Australia - pretty neat indeed! At Castillo de Monfragüe we saw lots more Vultures, both Griffon and Black, a Red-billed Chough, some Crag Martins and a stunning Hawfinch! The views were spectacular out over the River Tagus and the surrounding dehesa.

View from Monfragüe Castle overlooking the River Tagus
View from Monfragüe Castle overlooking dehesa
We then headed to Peña Falcón (aka Falcon Rock) where we were greeted with more vultures, some stunning Black Redstarts, Rock Bunting and the amazing Blue Rock Thrush! Blue Rock Thrush is a bird I have long admired in my Collins guide so to actually see one was awesome and it totally exceeded my expectations! For lunch, we headed to Villareal de San Carlos and added Red-rumped Swallow to our list. We also saw numerous butterflies and a Large Psammodromus Lizard which posed for photos. The afternoon was spent at Portilla del Tietar where we got insane views of a Spanish Imperial Eagle coming down to drink and rounded the day off with the eerie sounds of Eagle Owl!
Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius)
Large Psammodromus Lizard (Psammodromus algirus)
Griffon Vultures (Gyps fulvus)
Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus)
Spanish Imperial Eagle (Aquila adalberti)
Day 3 (17th): After another delicious breakfast we headed to Arrocampo Reservoir, an impressive wetland site with a number of elevated bird hides for improved viewing. We spent most of the morning at the reservoir and saw an impressive array of species. The highlights for me were Squacco Heron, Bluethroat, Sardinian Warbler and hearing Penduline Tits. A local coffee shop in Almaraz beckoned, after which we headed to the Orchydarium for a special tour and introduction to the great work they do on Orchids. After the tour, we headed back to Arrocampo to explore a different part of the reserve. The species list was much the same as the morning except for an Iberian Grey Shrike, a small flock of Corn Buntings and a Dartford Warbler. To finish the day we headed to Toril, where we visited an information centre and learnt a lot more about the local area, its history and the environment.
View from the hide at Arrocampo
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)
My Swarovski ATS 65HD and 25-50W eyepiece are an epic combo for birding!
Moorhen and Purple Swamphen
Inside the Orchydarium
Iberian Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis
The information centre in Toril


I have written about the rest of the trip in PART 2.

Australia: The Birds

Australia: The Birds ~ December 2016 ~ 

Over Christmas I spent 2 weeks in Australia visiting a friend and birding. In this post I will focus solely on the birds we saw and will write about the other wildlife encountered in another post (or two). As well as the birds illustrated below, we also saw loads of other species, including some particularly cool species such as Crested Shrike-tit, Australasian Bittern, Noisy Friarbird, Chestnut Quail-thrush, Mulga Parrot and Golden Whistler!

Red-capped Robin (Petroica goodenovii)
Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater (Acanthagenys rufogularis)
Apostlebird (Struthidea cinerea)
White-winged Fairy-wren (Malurus leucopterus)
Jack Winter (Microeca fascinans)
Rufous Whistler (Pachycephalu rufiventris)
Spotted Pardalote (Pardalotus punctatus)
Red-kneed Dotterel (Erythrogonys cinctus)
Magpie Goose (Anseranas semipalmata)
Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)
Variegated Fairy-wren (Malurus lamberti)
Little Pied Cormorant (Microcarbo melanoleucos)
White-faced Heron (Egretta novaehollandiae)
Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybrida)
Yellow-tufted Honeyeater (Lichenostomus melanops)
White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike (Coracina papuensis)
Rock Warbler (Origma solitaria)
Olive-backed Oriole (Oriolus sagittatus)
Dusky Woodswallow (Artamus cyanopterus)
Eastern Yellow Robin (Eopsaltria australis)
Brown Falcon (Falco berigora)
Emerald Dove (Chalcophaps indica)
Rainbow Bee-eater (Merops ornatus)
Lewin's Honeyeater (Meliphaga lewinii)
Flame Robin (Petroica phoenicea)
Bassian Thrush (Zoothera lunulata)
White-cheeked Honeyeater (Phylidonyris niger)
White-throated Needletail (Hirundapus caudacutus)