It was a beautiful warm evening for a local walk, taking in the northern part of Barton parish around the rifle range and some farmland and ponds. With quiet roads, no wind and clear skies, my senses were enhanced, but sadly there was no sight or sound of any owls. The area I visited has sometimes got tawny, little and barn owls but not this time – wildlife is never guaranteed, and it’s always nice is seeing something unexpected instead! On this occasion, we were treated to a brief glimpse of a woodcock, a strange wading bird that lives in woodland and only comes out at night. This one flew out of its bramble patch hiding place just after sunset, and flew towards the ponds where no doubt there is some soft ground for it to look for worms and the like. Most of the woodcock in Britain are winter visitors, and this one is most likely waiting to head back to northern Europe or Russia once the spring spreads that far north.

Being so warm, there were plenty of insects flying around at dusk, and sure enough the bats were out taking advantage of this feeding opportunity. At least four common pipistrelles were skimming around the edges of the trees, and I got the bat detector out for the first time this year to check the species identification.

Moth gatheringWe set up a moth trap in the back garden so first thing this morning was a chance to see what was flying around during the night. The UV light attracts moths which then dive into the box and hide among the egg boxes, from where they can be identified and released. This morning there were 11 moths, of six different species, not a bad catch but sometimes we can get a lot more; a bright moon can diminish the power of the light trap to lure moths in from a distance, and there was very little cloud cover and a nearly full moon. Cold clear nights are never good for moth trapping, but we are now moving into a spell of milder weather which should be good for the moths.

Moth recording is a great activity that anyone can do in the garden, and there is a scheme where you can add your records to the national database http://www.gardenmoths.org.uk/ - the website gives help on identification as well, or check out http://www.ukmoths.org.uk/. If you don’t have a moth trap, you can still look for moths after dark. Use a torch to look in areas of flowering plants or shrubs (especially pussy willow or blackthorn and fruit trees at this time of year), or create a sweet mix of sugar, black treacle and beer, boil it down to a syrup, add a tot of rum and paint this onto fence posts or tree trunks – moths will be lured to the smell and the alcohol will make them less likely to fly off when you point your torch at them! You can also set up an improvised light trap by using an anglepoise lamp and point it at a white surface or hanging sheet. Most domestic bulbs have low UV light so are not as attractive but they will work to a certain extent. You need to watch the white surface and catch the moths in small pots as they come in, then pop them in the fridge for half an hour to calm down before you take a look at them.Dotted chestnut

One of our moths was a dotted chestnut; this is a clear climate change winner, as there were virtually no records of this species north of London in the 20th Century. It is now found throughout East Anglia, the southern Midlands and south-east Wales. Recording moths and other wildlife like this is a really useful way to see the changes our environmental impacts are causing.

Dr Vince Lea
Head of Wildlife Monitoring 

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