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Micropterix tunbergella

B&F: 0001

ABH: 1.001

Status:  Resident

Distribution/Abundance:  Rare

Primary Habitat:  Woodland

Wingspan:  8-11mm

Flight Period:  May to June

Observations: Adults feed on pollen, sometimes seen swarming around flowers of trees. There are only three old records for this moth, all dating to 1907, credited to Eustace Wallis. In 2013, Mark Hammond netted a single specimen in Grafton Park Wood (SP98) in the afternoon, flying around Beech trees on 07.v.2013, and another in Bedford Purlieus (TL09) on 26.v.2013.

Confusion Species: 

L.O.N.:  1907. Many localities. Rather common.

First Record:  1907, Wallis.

Mottled Umber Erannis defoliaria

Status:  Resident.

Distribution and Abundance:  Common.

Primary Habitat:  Woodland.

Flight Period:  Single brooded from October extending into January the following year.

Observations: Although always variable in abundance the species seems to be less plentiful recently. In the 1980’s high numbers were often attracted to m.v. lights at Geddington Chase with a full range of colour forms.  In the 1990’s numbers have been well down in this locality to the extent that in 1999 no moths at all were recorded, despite light trapping sessions in the flight period. Since then numbers have recovered somewhat but are still low; returns from other sites support this view. The Fineshade Rothamsted light trap shows an average of four moths annually for the seven years to 1999 and the two Pitsford Reservoir static light traps average twenty-one moths for the years 1999 to 2003. The caterpillars of this species are one of the most important food sources for young birds in the spring.  Moths were noted in March in 1932, 1938, 1945 and 1953.

L.O.N.:  1907. Many localities. Common.

First Record:  1882, Hull & Tomalin.

Birds of The Western Palearctic

Forms not Species

Whilst travelling abroad I have made efforts to see every form that a species occurs in, so that I could do some armchair ticking in future years. With the continual flux created by several taxonomic authorities who seem to be pulling in different directions, I have been able to add many new species, but have also lost some. It has become apparent that there is no systematic plan to the work of these authorities. Their efforts are not spread evenly throughout the range of families or zoogeographic regions.

We live in hope that one day all will become clear and the list of species that we base our interest upon will become stable. This, sadly, is a forlorn hope and the situation is likely to become more fluid. In the future there will be many new species that are split on the grounds of genetics or distribution. As the scientific world uses ever more complex ways of defining species, e.g. DNA testing, then our world of field ornithology becomes less well defined. There will be many species that we cannot identify in the field, but that should not be viewed with dismay, but more as an opportunity to expand our knowledge and ability.

I have never understood the terminology ‘showing the characteristics of’ when applied to subspecies. This wording for me confers uncertainty to records purely because a form does not stand up to the current tenuous definition of a species. I clearly remember when a Water Pipit was ‘supposedly’ identified one year, when it was a subspecies, and then was a ‘clear cut’ record of a full species the next year. I have often heard people referring to birds as only a subspecies and I wonder how many of us have not entered a record in our notebooks just because this was so.

With the unstable nature of species definition in mind, I formulated a list for travelling abroad so that I looked for everything ‘of interest’. I suggest that as field ornithologists we should use a similar list of birds that incorporates all ‘Forms of the World’. A form would simply be a type of bird that can be distinguished from any other type of bird and not defined necessarily at species/ subspecies levels.

There must have been purpose behind the evolution of such forms, so as birdwatchers, we should value these evolutionary efforts equally. I am sure that every individual bird cannot be attributed to a specific form, but that will be a catalyst to improving the ability of birdwatchers and the quality of literature in the future. If the improvements of the last 25 years can be continued then who knows what skills the birdwatcher in the mid 21st century will have. It might also impress upon birders that birdwatching is not a black and white art and that you cannot identify everything!

What effects would this have: the efforts of the amateur ornithologists spaced slightly further from the scientific world? This would offer much scope for furtherance of ornithology – the more information that could be collected the better. Filtering this information to incorporate the currently accepted structure being used by the scientific world would be extremely simple. All bird data will be held on computer databases where complex searches are easily executed. Then when the next advances are made in avian systematics, data would already exist in the appropriate form for new species that might otherwise have been under observed.

This list of the Forms of the Western Palearctic is suppose to be a discussion list and is not a difinitive list. The list on which this database is based was just for my own use and originally was not intended for distribution. I would appreciate suggested improvements to the list (e.g. more appropriate names, more up-to-date information) and I shall attempt to expand and update the database regularly.

The database contains 16 fields:

  • Form name:- Form names. Latin name:- Latin names.
  • Species/Subspecies:- Current taxonomic status.
  • Status:- Currently accepted or not by relevant authority.
  • Records:- Accidental or feral.
  • Location:- Country data relates to records field.
  • Other name:- Other names.
  • Taxonomy:- Group details of more complex species.
  • Extras:- Migration details etc..
  • SMf:- Sibley & Monroe family number.
  • SMs:- Sibley & Monroe species number.
  • HMf:- Howard & Moore family number.
  • HMs:- Howard & Moore species order.
  • Distribution:- Occurances on island groups can be searched for(to be improved).
  • Ref:- References(to be improved) w=BWP.

References

The database has been compiled from sources including: The Handbook of British Birds – Witherby, Sibley & Monroe – Checklist of the Birds of the World, Howard & Moore – Checklist of the Birds of the World, Clements – Checklist of the Birds of the World, The Birds of the Western Palearctic – Cramp, List of the Birds of the Western Palearctic – Birding World.

Peppered Moth Biston betularia

Status: Resident.

Distribution and Abundance: Common.

Primary Habitat: General occurrence.

Flight Period: Single brooded from May to July.

Observations: The melanic form carbonaria and the intermediate form insularia appear to have spread into Northamptonshire around 1890 with the melanic eventually replacing the typical as the dominant form. Wellingborough light trap records from the 1950’s clearly show this dominance with the representative season of 1955 producing the following results:-
Total Peppered Moth records 84.
Type – 11, f. carbonaria – 66, f. insularia – 7, (79 males and 5 females, all females carbonaria). These figures contrast sharply with the 2001 Pitsford Reservoir results of:- Total recorded 41,
Type – 35, f. carbonaria – 5, f. insularia – 1, showing a 72% swing back to the typical form. The increase in the typical form has been generally noticed in the county.

L.O.N.: 1907. Many localities. Rather common.

First Record: 1842, Clark.

Angle-striped Sallow Enargia paleacea

B&F: 2313

ABH: 73.211

Status: Former resident.

Distribution and Abundance: Rare – no modern records

Primary Habitat: Woodland.

Localities: Castor Hanglands and Bedford Purlieus between 1940 and 1960. Last dates of records from these sites are unknown.

Observations: Regarding the Castor Hanglands records, R. E. M. Pilcher described the moth as rare in his list “The Lepidoptera of Castor Hanglands and Ailsworth Heath 1911-1960.” The later Bedford Purlieus records derive from H. Tebbs, a Peterborough recorder. There is an Invertebrate Site Register report entry for 1970 giving Collyweston Quarry as a further locality. I have been unable to establish any further detail on this entry. Over the years a number of unsuccessful attempts have been made to update the records for this moth in the county.

First Record: 1936, (10 August 1936), Bedford Purlieus and Easton Hornstocks, Pooles.

Looking Back on the Butterflies and Moths of an Old Northamptonshire Woodland

Prior to the middle ages much of the countryside between Stamford and Oxford was covered by continuous woodland. As time went by, large areas were gradually cleared to form villages, farmland and parkland. The remaining woodlands eventually became sufficiently separated to be accorded their own identities and those that were included in an area of some 200 square miles in north east Northamptonshire were designated a Royal Hunting Forest by William the Conqueror; this became known as the Rockingham Forest. Some of these constituent native woodland remnants still exist and are called ancient woodlands that abound with wildlife. One such woodland, Weekley Hall Wood, situated less than a mile north of Kettering at grid reference SP875821, is owned and commercially managed for timber and pheasant rearing by Boughton Estates. The wood originally occupied an area of about 200 acres and was a typical Rockingham Forest damp wood lying on clay, primarily of ash, field maple, hazel and oak.

Map of Kettering and District

Due to its proximity to Kettering it was a favourite wood for local naturalists particularly of the Kettering and District Natural History Society (K. & D. N. H. S. see references). Although privately owned, special permits for access were granted and it was extensively recorded for butterflies and moths from around the middle of the 19th century until the early 1950’s when recording activity gradually decreased. The wood is specifically mentioned in the Northamptonshire Victoria County History (Published in 1902) and described along with Geddington Chase as the great oak woods in the neighbourhood of Kettering. The earliest records that I hold date from the 1850’s and seem to give rise to some of the V.C.H. butterfly and moth entries. These early records were published in the Entomologists Weekly Intelligencer in the late 1850’s in several articles by William Sturgess of Kettering. They detailed his captures of woodland species near to and in the neighbourhood of Kettering. Although Weekley Hall Wood is not specifically mentioned there are sufficient clues to remove any doubts that this is the wood that he was visiting. The wood is much nearer to Kettering than Geddington Chase, which usually seems to be identified in earlier reports, and I do hold other literature where “near Kettering,” has a manuscript note, “Weekley Hall Wood,” or the record can be traced back to this source. In the times of almost a century and a half ago, there would undoubtedly have been access restrictions that may have made it undiplomatic to be too specific as to the locality, even if concessionary access had been granted. A managed wood within easy walking distance of the town must have been a Mecca for unwelcome visitors and would have been heavily policed by keepers with high penalties for trespass. I have included a copy of the 1 inch to 1 mile Ordinance Survey map dated 1913 showing how the area was around the turn of the last century.

In later years much effort went into seeking out the more elusive insects. Weekly meetings were arranged and in some years the wood was surveyed almost continuously from early spring to late winter. Specific trips were made by day for particular butterflies and at night mothing was conducted by sugaring and with acetylene and paraffin lamps. A variety of other forms of fieldwork were employed, beating for larvae, pupa digging and the systematic working of tree trunks by day for resting moths. All of this concerted effort translated itself into a butterfly and moth list that compared well in its day with any local and most national woodlands.

In the Kettering Society s report and summary of recording for 1945, the wood was regarded as being, “Not the happy hunting ground that it has been.” It was said that although the ridings had been nicely cleared there were insufficient trees left to sustain the insect populations of former years. It was also felt that the area would not remain a wood for much longer. In common with other former Rockingham Forest woodlands the ground was rich in iron ore and in about 1950 permission was granted to Stewarts and Lloyds of Corby for opencast quarrying of the wood and surrounding fields. This work was started in 1951 in the fields surrounding the wood and the old keepers cottage on the outskirts of the wood became derelict by the end of 1952. By this time access had become more difficult and the wood was visited less frequently by recorders. The quarrying of the woodland commenced in 1956 and continued until 1978 with limestone forming much of the later extraction (Tonks 1989). After quarrying, the remaining semi natural ancient woodland had been depleted to some 12 acres. Northamptonshire has lost approximately two thirds of its ancient woodland since the last war (Colston et al 1996). Clearly this woodland features in the loss, but to put things into perspective, it only represents a small part of the area that has been lost over the whole county.

The old documented records and information that I hold provide a real insight as to how Weekley Hall Wood used to be for butterflies and moths and I have quoted selectively from these below. The dates that I have quoted for the last record held are not necessarily when the species ceased to be present, but often when people stopped going to the site or did not visit when the insects were on the wing. In general I have restricted my comments to the species that have disappeared from other sites locally and where possible I have given dates of the last grid square record held from the localities visited by the old Society members. Many of the lost species are now regarded as of national conservation priority or concern.

Some Lost Butterflies

Chequered Skipper – Carterocephalus palaemon. Present in Northamptonshire at Castor Hanglands in 1823 (South 1906), and near to Towcester in 1842 (Clark 1842), it was stated as having been taken very freely in the neighbourhood of Kettering in 1857 (Sturgess 1857). By the mid 1890’s the butterfly was still regarded as very local (Wallis 1880-), but by 1907 it was to be found in many woods from Yardley Chase to Farming Woods and was described as locally abundant (Wallis1908-10). The indications are that it increased its range around the turn of the 20th century but that it had colonized Weekley Hall Wood by about 1850. The first specific record that I hold for the wood was in 1917; it was then well recorded there until the 1960’s, the last record that I have being in 1964. As in other local woods its presence was taken for granted and due to its rapid demise it was hardly missed before it was gone. Of all the butterflies and moths that have been lost to the county this is probably the most significant. By the turn of the 20th century the English populations of the butterfly were confined to a few counties in the east Midlands with the highest in the north eastern parts of Northamptonshire (Emmet & Heath 1990). It was a positive enhancement to our local woodland scene with its distinctive behaviour and colouring, this is very well portrayed by a comment in an article on the butterfly by R. E. M. Pilcher in which he says, “Castor Hanglands in the old days, when almost every sunny patch seemed to be alive with this insect, flying rapidly from flower to flower (generally Ajuga reptans, Bugle), or alighting on a blade of grass with its wings expanded to the sun; dashing off to drive away an intruder or making mock battles with a rival, and settling again for a brief sun-bathe; a fussy little insect, always busy about something, a flash of chocolate and gold against the sun-lit backcloth of green.” In this article written in the 1960’s Mr. Pilcher says that “An insect in no apparent danger of extinction, but well worth some trouble to maintain in good numbers.” (Pilcher 1961-)

Other last dated society records:- Collyweston (TF00) 1958, Castor Hanglands (TF10) 1974, Gretton (SP89) 1941, Bangrave Wood (SP99) 1958, Bedford Purlieus (TL09) 1957, Hermitage Wood (SP78) 1947, Geddington Chase (SP98) 1964, Barnwell Wold (TL08) 1947, Gib Wood (SP87) 1944, Cranford Wood (SP97) 1960 and Sywell Wood (SP86) 1964.

Brown Hairstreak – Thecla betulae. This always seems to have been the least common of the five hairstreaks that have occurred in the wood and for that matter also locally. The only record that I have been able to trace is from 1923.

Other last dated society records:- Helpston Heath (TF10) 1956, Bedford Purlieus (TL09) 1942, Geddington Chase (SP98) 1921, Barnwell Wold (TL08) 1956, Hazel Beech Wood (SP77) 1940 and Thrapston (SP97) 1947.

Black Hairstreak – Satyrium pruni featured in a report in the Intelligencer of 1858. “On the 19th inst I captured three dozen Pruni, flying round the flowers of the Wayfaring tree, Viburnum lantana.” (Sturgess 1858). There was a tendency to suppress the localities of this species due to popularity with collectors, but it was certainly recorded again in the wood in 1947. This butterfly is of course still present locally.

Duke of Burgundy Fritillary – Hamearis lucina. Local with poor powers of dispersal forming small discreet colonies, this butterfly was present at Geddington Chase around the turn of the 20th century (Wallis 1908-10). It was not found at Weekley Hall Wood until 1944 where it occurred for a few years before it disappeared from the wood. It is still hanging on in one Rockingham Forest locality.

Other last dated society records:- Collyweston (TF00) 1958, Helpston Heath (TF10) 1957, Wakerley Wood (SP99) 1952, Brickhill Wood (SP98) 1940, Barnwell Wold (TL08) 1947, Broughton (SP87) 1946 and Sywell Wood (SP86) 1964.

Purple Emperor – Apatura iris. This species is mentioned in an article by W. Sturgess in the Entomologist’s Weekly Intelligencer of 1859 detailing captures of a variety of the butterfly in 1857 and 1858 (Sturgess 1859). In 1857 he also visits a larger wood near to Kettering and in the July of that year captures no less than 80 Purple Emperor butterflies by attracting them to carrion (Sturgess 1857). Although he does not name the wood, it is clear that this is Geddington Chase. In the year 1859 it was said that the species had been exceedingly rare, only seven having been netted in this neighbourhood (Sturgess 1859). By the turn of the 20th century it was described as being of frequent occurrence in most large woods (Wallis 1880-). There is a record of a butterfly being seen in Weekley Hall Wood near a dead mole in 1887 and a further record a few days later (Wallis 1880-). I have been unable to find any subsequent records for the wood. Generally speaking the species became extinct in the Rockingham Forest over 60 years ago, but some stock from Bernwood Forest was then successfully reintroduced to Fermyn Wood where it has spread to other suitable nearby woodland.

Large Tortoishell – Nymphalis polychlorus. Included in the Weekly Intelligencer of 1859 in the list of captures near Kettering (Sturgess 1859). Around the turn of the 20th century it was regarded as not common but generally distributed (Wallis 1880-). There is a 1943 record of the butterfly at Weekley Hall Wood that was observed over a number of days. The record is endorsed, “First time really identified since 1903.” There are indications that this earlier butterfly was also seen at Weekley Hall Wood.

Other last dated society record:- Geddington Chase (SP98) 1903 (Wallis 1908-10).

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary – Bolaria selene. Always seen as more local than its congener and mainly southern in its distribution within the county, the butterfly was found in a number of places in this wood in 1934. It was then recorded over the next decade or so before dying out.

Other last dated society records:- Wakerley Wood (SP99) 1952 and Gib Wood (SP87) 1944.

Pearl-bordered Fritillary – Bolaria euphrosyne. First mentioned in the Intelligencer of 1859 (Sturgess 1859), by the early part of the 20th century it was still regarded as common in most large woods (Wallis 1908-10). The first specific mention that I have for Weekley Hall Wood is in 1917. There are qualifying notes on its abundance over subsequent years. In a 1920 report there is a note that, “during the last two or three years several members have interested themselves in endeavouring to reinstate the butterfly in the wood where it had become extinct.” This reintroduction was a success and it was then seen in the wood over the next three decades or so, albeit in small numbers in some years.

Other last dated society records:- Helpston Heath (TF10) 1949, Gretton (SP89) 1939, Wakerley Wood (SP99) 1952, Bedford Purlieus (TL09) 1956, Titchmarsh Wood (SP98) 1947, Broughton (SP87) 1942 and Sywell Wood (SP86) 1946.

High Brown Fritillary – Argynnis adippe. The only record that I have been able to trace from Weekley Hall Wood is from 1935. Of the five violet feeding fritillaries that have occurred in the wood, this was the first species to contract its range locally.

Other last dated society records:- Helpston Heath (TF10) 1943, Wakerley Wood (SP99) 1942, Bedford Purlieus (TL09) 1955, Lady Wood (SP98) 1939 and Barnwell Wold (TL08) 1942.

Dark Green Fritillary – Argynnis aglaja. Although in this area much less of a wood loving insect than the other fritillaries it was recorded in the wood in the 1940’s. There are still infrequent sightings of butterflies locally, but the species is highly mobile and sometimes covers a large area away from its breeding site.

Silver-washed Fritillary – Argynnis paphia. Another species mentioned in the 1859 Intelligencer report (Sturgess 1859). By the turn of the 20th century it was regarded as common in most large woods (Wallis 1908-10). The occurrence of the butterfly in Weekley Hall Wood varies between absent in some years in the 1920’s to abundant in some years in the 1940’s. In 1920 it was regarded as nearly extinct in the wood and efforts were made to, “rehabilitate it.” This was regarded as successful as very fair numbers were seen in 1921. It then declined again only being recorded as singletons in 1922 and 1923; by 1927 the situation had worsened even further in that there was a great scarcity of fritillaries with no Silver-washed recorded in the county. The butterfly was seen again in the wood in 1929 and then became more plentiful in the 1930’s; a dozen were seen between 9th July and the 22nd July in 1934. The butterfly was then present in the wood until at least the late 1940’s, ultimately this population forming part of the decline of the species in the east Midlands.

Other last dated society records:- Helpston Heath (TF10) 1958, Wakerley Wood (SP99) 1942, Bedford Purlieus (TL09) 1947, Geddington Chase (SP98) 1945, Barnwell Wold (TL08) 1945, Mawsley Wood (SP77) 1948, Hardwick Wood (SP87) 1943 and Sywell Wood (SP86) 1943.

The table below compares the overall butterfly species recorded from some of the better worked sites:-

Comparative Record Totals of Butterflies Recorded from Local Sites
Site and National Grid Reference Record Totals of Butterflies Notes
Bedford Purlieus (TL09) 44 (Heath 1975) and (K.& D.N.H.S.).
Castor Hanglands (TF10) 46 (Collier 1966), (Whitwell 1845)( B.R.C.).
Geddington Chase (SP98) 40 (K.& D.N.H.S.) and own field records.
Wakerley Wood (SP99) 41 (K.& D.N.H.S.).
Weekley Hall Wood (SP88) 45 (K.& D.N.H.S.) and own field records.

Some Lost Moths

The Mocha– Cyclophora annulata. Present at Geddington Chase in the early 1880’s- (Wallis 1880-) and regarded as rather common around the turn of the 20th century (Wallis 1908-10). The first record that I hold for Weekley Hall Wood is dated 1917. It used to be seen during the day by jarring the bushes and continued to be recorded until the 1940’s. This is a nationally declining species that has not been seen in the county for many years.

Other last dated society records:- Gretton (SP89) 1945 and Geddington Chase (SP98) 1934.

Striped Twin-spot Carpet – Nebula salicata. Although regarded as more of a northern moth, this species was present locally until the 1940’s. It was recorded in the wood in 1938 and 1940.

Autumn Green Carpet – Chloroclysta miata. Described as common at gas lamps in the 1890’s (Wallis 1880-), and regarded as rather common in the county during the early part of the 20th century (Wallis 1908-10), it was first specifically recorded in Weekley Hall Wood in 1925 and then again in the 1930’s. The species has not been seen in Northamptonshire for almost thirty years, however the closely related Red Green Carpet – Chloroclysta siterata that was historically the scarcer moth in the county has increased its range recently so there is hope the miata may recolonise.

Other last dated society records:- Sutton Bassett (SP79) 1946, Gretton (SP89) 1937 and Bedford Purlieus (TL09) 1932.

Cloaked Carpet – Euphyia biangulata. Another species with very few Northamptonshire records, it was recorded in the wood in 1922 and 1932.

Other last dated society records:- Kettering (SP88) 1941 and Geddington Chase (SP98) 1907 (Wallis 1908-10).

Lunar Thorn – Selenia lunularia. Always a rare moth in the county with less than a dozen records over the years; it was recorded in the wood in 1919.

Great Oak Beauty – Hypomecis roboraria. This moth was something of a speciality of the wood and seems to have been searched for annually. It used to be found sitting on tree trunks, although in 1919 one was taken at sugar. The first record that I have is for 1887 when one was noted at rest on the trunk of a chestnut tree (Wallis 1880-). In the 1890’s it was described as occasional on tree trunks in the wood (Wallis 1880-). It was stated to have had a good year in the wood in 1917 and continued to be recorded there until 1925. Despite notes of subsequent searches for it, there are no further records. This was also the year of the last record from Geddington Chase that had a similar record history for the moth.
Other last dated society record:- Barnwell Wold (TL08) 1907 (Wallis 1908-10).

Broad-bordered Bee Hawk-moth – Hemaris fuciformis. There is an entry in the Intelligencer for 1858 reporting the capture of half a dozen specimens of this moth flying around the flowers of Ragged-robin Lychnis flos-cuculi (Sturgess 1858). Apart from a repeat record in 1859 (Sturgess 1859), there are no further records of the moth in the wood.

Other last dated society records:- Wakerley Wood (SP99) 1955 and Geddington Chase (SP98) 1907 (Wallis 1908-10).

Double Line – Mythimna turca. There are three Northamptonshire records of this woodland species; the last of these was in Weekley Hall Wood in 1951. There is no doubt that it was breeding in the wood as the moth that was found was at rest, expanding its wings.

Other last dated society records:- Geddington Chase (SP98) 1906 (Wallis 1908-10) and Sywell Wood (SP86) 1946.

Orange Upperwing – Jodia croceago. This only Northamptonshire record of the moth was of a singleton taken at sugar in 1906 by E. F. Wallis. The record is mentioned in his Lepidoptera of Northamptonshire and noted, “near Kettering Oct. 3. 1906. Once only.” There is a manuscript addition, “Weekley Hall Wood.” in my copy by F. A. Adams who must have obtained this further detail from Wallis. This is confirmed in Wallis s early manuscript records where the locality is specifically given as Weekley Hall Wood. The moth having been taken along with other autumn species including the rather similar Orange Sallow Xanthia citrago on a sugaring trip to the wood. This has always been an uncommon moth and currently is a cause of great conservation concern nationally. The unquestionable expertise of the recorder coupled with the fact that it was taken alongside the only possible moth that it can be confused with to my mind precludes any question of misidentification.

Heart Moth – Dicycla oo. Described as local but occasionally plentiful in 1907, with a dozen having been taken mostly at sugar in Geddington Chase ( Wallis 1908-10). The species does not seem to have been seen again locally until the 1950’s when it came to M.V. light at localities around Kettering including the outskirts of Weekley Hall Wood. The moth is particularly subject to cyclical abundance and decline. For well over half a century it was regarded amongst entomologists as the great prize of Castor Hanglands, but it has not been seen there since 1963. The last Northamptonshire record was of a singleton at Yardley Chase in 1987.

Other last dated society records:- Bedford Purlieus (TL09) c1900 (Wallis 1880-) and Geddington Chase (SP98) 1907 (Wallis 1908-10).

White-spotted Pinion – Cosmia diffinis. The first record that I have for this species is of a pupa having been dug up near the wood in 1887 (Wallis 1880-). There are subsequent records from the wood itself from the 1890’s (Wallis 1880-) to the 1930’s. The species favours well grown elms and would have found the mature English elm avenues that ran up to the wood an ideal habitat. These avenues were set out by John, the 2nd Duke of Montagu, known as Planter John, around 1721 (Bellamy 1986) and were devastated in recent times by Dutch elm disease. The decline of the large elms mirrors the decline of the moth both locally and nationally.

Other last dated society record:- Stanion (SP98) 1907 (Wallis 1908-10).

Present State

Although I have visited the wood for much of my life and can well remember going into the keepers cottage, for almost all of this time it has been in its reduced state. Nowadays, in my opinion it would not compare entomologically with the larger nearby Geddington Chase, I have therefore recorded more at the Chase. Conditional upon the granting of the original permission for quarrying there was a land restoration clause. Currently much of the land has been levelled and restored and the change in the composition of the habitat has produced some important new colonizers that reflect in my own field records. New species have moved into the area and there has been an increase in some of the existing populations. The planting of Lucerne Medicago sativa for its soil enriching properties along with an abundance of vetches and clovers seems to act as a Mecca for any Clouded Yellows Colias croceus that are in the area. There is a good colony of the Green Hairstreak Callophrys rubi and both Purple Hairstreak Neozephyrus quercus and White Letter Hairstreak Strymonidia w-album have been seen. The five species of skipper that now occur, Small Thymelicus sylvestris, Essex Thymelicus lineola, Large Ochlodes venata, Dingy Erynnis tages and Grizzled Pyrgus malvae are usually plentiful. A single Marbled White Melanargia galathea has been seen, although the species are not known to be breeding on the site. All the more common butterflies occur and with a tally of around thirty species a season the area remains above average. The site is particularly good for day flying moths, the large plants of trefoils and vetches support Northamptonshire s largest known colony of Six-belted Clearwing Bembecia scopigera. The closely related Yellow-legged Clearwing Synanthedon vespiformis is present in the felled oak stumps. The more common diurnal moths are all present in good numbers and I have seen less common species such as the Grass Rivulet Perizoma albulata and Barred Rivulet Perizoma bifaciata associated with the Yellow Rattle Rhinanthus minor and the Red Bartsia Odontites verna respectively. The Orange Underwing Archiearis parthenias can be seen flying around the birch trees in the spring. The Light Feathered Rustic Agrotis cinerea a nationally uncommon moth that occurs on quarried land locally has colonised the area and I have also seen the local White Marked Moth Cerastis leucographa on Sallow bloom inside the woodland.

It is pleasing to see, that although many of the notable butterflies and moths are no longer present there are at least some compensating species. Overall however, on reviewing the extensive records for Weekley Hall Wood it is apparent to me that although there were always cycles of abundance and scarcity, most of these lost species have been absent for so many years that they will probably never return. Despite its physical demise the species loss from the wood is only similar to the losses that have occurred in other local woodlands that have not changed anywhere near as much in the last half century. In view of this, it is apparent that habitat loss and change can only be contributory factors in the species losses. Other causes such as fragmentation of colonies, build-up of parasites and climatic change giving rise to extreme conditions have also played their part. This is well illustrated by Miriam Rothschild in an article in 1975 in which the Chequered Skipper – Carterocephalus palaemon, having previously been common is shown as absent at Ashton Wold in 1964 with a comment, “Now possibly extinct in England. This is inexplicable at Ashton where both the food plant and the bugle on which the imago feeds are doing well, and the appropriate clearings maintained” (Rothschild 1975). A further illustration is perhaps being provided by the current rarity and absence of The Concolorous moth in south and mid Northants in woodlands where it was sometimes abundant but a few years ago. The large stands of the food plant Calamagrostis still remain. It follows that habitat conservation and management, although the only part of the remedy that can be effectively tackled, is by itself insufficient to halt and reverse species loss.

For whatever reason, I am sure that the old recorders would simply not have believed that so many of the insects that they used to see year after year would have permanently disappeared as a feature of the local countryside.

Acknowledgements

It is difficult for me to know where to start with so many people and so much expertise involved in the assembling of this large record base. It is apparent however, that in the diligent assembly and meticulous maintenance of the records for over forty years, Arthur Cooper was a major force in this section. He has a reputation as a fine entomologist and field worker and as a founder member of the society was still attending meetings well into his eighties. Unlike Eustace Wallis, who had similar knowledge and experience, almost all of Arthur Cooper s material does not seem to have been published. There were of course other excellent field workers and some of their contributions speak for themselves. The sheer volume of records submitted by Frank Adams over the years, the finding of the larvae of the Kentish Glory Endromis versicolora in 1919 at Wakerley Wood by Tommy Mobbs and Frank Thompson s almost 100% rearing of the Heart Moth Dicycla oo from eggs found in crevices in the bark of an oak tree at Little Billing in 1950 to name but a few. There are so many obvious achievements and items of interest amongst these records that space precludes my covering them all in this article. Finally, I would like to thank Brian Adams, Gerry Haggett and Martin Payne for their advice on this paper and my wife Brenda, for her constructive suggestions and for doing the computer work involved.

References

Asher, J., Warren, M., Fox, R., Harding, P., Jeffcoate, G & S., 2001. The Millennium Atlas of Butterflies in Britain and Ireland. Oxford University Press.

For the English and scientific names of the butterflies.

Bellamy, B., 1986. Geddington Chase, the History of a Wood. Nene Litho.

B.R.C. Biological Records Centre. Butterfly records provided by The Institute of Terrestial Ecology Biological Records Centre.

Clark, H., 1842. Captures near Towcester. Entomologist 1: 409-410.

Collier, R. V., 1966. Status of Butterflies on Castor Hanglands, N. N. R. 1961-1965 inclusive. The Journal of the NorthamptonshireNatural History Society and Field Club 35: 249 and 451-456.

Colston, A. et al 1996. Northamptonshire s Red Data Book. The Wildlife Trust for Northamptonshire.

Emmet, A. M., Heath, J., 1990. The Moths and Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland. Volume 7, part 1. Harley Books. Also for the sequence of the butterflies.

Heath, J., 1975. Lepidoptera. In: Peterken, G. F. & Welsh, R. C. (Eds). Bedford Purlieus: its history, ecology and management, pp. 152-153. Monks Wood Experimental Station Symposium no. 7.

K. & D. N. H. S., Kettering and District Natural History Society. The society was formed in 1905 and the entomological section was formed in 1907. Record cards and associated archive material were started in 1917 and continued until 1958 and then updated by personal communication with members. All subsequent quoted records are from these sources unless otherwise stated.

Pilcher, R. E. M., 1961-. Unpublished paper, The Lepidoptera of Castor Hanglands and Ailsworth Heath 1911-1960.

Rothschild, M., 1975. The Swallowtail butterfly Papilio machaon britannicus Seitz in Northamptonshire (and status of some butterflies at Ashton Wold). Entomologist s Rec. J. Var. 87: 177-179.

Skinner, B., 1998. Colour Identification Guide to Moths of the British Isles (second edition). Viking.

For the sequence, English and scientific names of the moths.

South, R., 1906. The Butterflies of the British Isles. F.Warne.

Sturgess, W., 1857. Steropes paniscus. Entomologist s Weekly Intelligencer 2: 124 and 155.

Sturgess, W., 1858. Captures at Kettering. Entomologist s Weekly Intelligencer 4: 111.

Sturgess, W., 1859. Variety of Apature Iris. Entomologist s Weekly Intelligencer 6: 155.

Tonks, E., 1989. Ironstone Quarries of the Midlands. Runpast Publications.

Wallis, E. F., 1880-. Unpublished records and papers.

Wallis, E. F., 1908-1910. The Lepidoptera of Northamptonshire. The Journal of the Northamptonshire Natural History Society 15: 74, 72, 71, 23 and 26. 14: 281, 280, 238 and 276.

Whitwell, J., 1845. Captures of lepidopterous insects near Peterborough. Zoologist 845-846.

Forest of the Sifaka

Forest of the Sifaka Birding in North-western Madagascar

Waking slowly, stretching languidly and reaching out their arms to take in the warmth of the early morning rays of sun, beautiful with their clean white fur contrasting with deep russet arms and thighs and ridiculously cute black “teddy-bear” faces with bright, burning amber, eyes. The Coquerel’s subspecies of Verreaux’s Sifaka is truly a beautiful animal and a wonderful vision with which to start any day. Daybreak in a new land is always exciting for the species hungry foreign birder, to wake a dawn in such a wonderfully bizarre location totally exhilarating. So it passed on August 4th, 1995 that Jeff Blincow, Nigel Goodgame and Mark Piper emerged from their tents amongst the western deciduous forest of Ampijoroa reserve, Northern Madagascar.

Madagascar is an island continent that broke away from Africa more than 120 million years ago with the result that it’s flora and fauna has developed in isolation to achieve an incredible level of endemism. It is a huge island 994 miles long by 360 miles broad at it’s widest point with a moist eastern escarpment rising to 2800 metres. Flora and fauna statistics are breathtaking, no fewer than ninety percent of it’s forest species are endemic, out of a total of 200000 living species no fewer than 150000 are unique to this island. There are 8 species of Baobab tree as opposed to only one in Africa, 450 species of frog, 260 species of reptile, 180 species of lizard, the figures go on and on. No fewer than 105 species of bird are endemic to the island with another 25 species endemic to the Malagasy region ( Madagascar, the Comoros, Mauritius, Reunion and their satellite islands ), more impressively no fewer than six endemic families occur – mesites, couas, ground rollers, cuckoo rollers, asities and vangas. The total figure of 256 species recorded on the island is poor not only in comparison with African bird diversity at the same latitude but when compared with other large tropical islands such as Borneo. However the level of endemism is very high and the island is a must for birders keen to sample as much of the planet’s bird diversity as possible.

Ampijoroa forestry station lies 71 miles south of Mahajanga in the north of the island. This station covers 49,500 acres of western domain deciduous forest on sandy soils at altitudes of 75-390 metres. Conservation of this forest is vital not only in the protection of it’s unique flora and fauna but also as a water-catchment area, it’s destruction would ruin productive rice growing areas downstream. Habitat consists of western deciduous forest, dense but with a low canopy, with sparse ground cover. We were present in the dry season so most of the trees had shed their leaves enabling relatively easy bird and mammal watching. This site can only boast a list of 103 species, as all Madagascar sites the avifauna is impoverished when compared with nearby East Africa, nevertheless what it lacks in quantity it more than matches in quality. Key target species at this site, species restricted to western domain forest, are Madagascar fish-eagle, White-breasted Mesite, and Van Dam’s Vanga. Needless to say we were extremely keen to encounter these birds and it was three very enthusiastic birders who had arrived the previous evening with just enough daylight to secure views of Madagascar Fish-eagle.

Ampijoroa forestry station lies 71 miles south of Mahajanga in the north of the island. This station covers 49,500 acres of western domain deciduous forest on sandy soils at altitudes of 75-390 metres. Conservation of this forest is vital not only in the protection of it’s unique flora and fauna but also as a water-catchment area, it’s destruction would ruin productive rice growing areas downstream. Habitat consists of western deciduous forest, dense but with a low canopy, with sparse ground cover. We were present in the dry season so most of the trees had shed their leaves enabling relatively easy bird and mammal watching. This site can only boast a list of 103 species, as all Madagascar sites the avifauna is impoverished when compared with nearby East Africa, nevertheless what it lacks in quantity it more than matches in quality. Key target species at this site, species restricted to western domain forest, are Madagascar fish-eagle, White-breasted Mesite, and Van Dam’s Vanga. Needless to say we were extremely keen to encounter these birds and it was three very enthusiastic birders who had arrived the previous evening with just enough daylight to secure views of Madagascar Fish-eagle.

Initial exploration of a nearby lake, a known site for the Eagle, had quickly delivered views of an adult perched and in flight. Follow-up visits to the lake over the next two days gave excellent studies of this imperious raptor, similar to it’s African cousin but with a dingier brown plumage and grey head. Direct persecution and habitat alteration has reduced the population of this proud bird to just 40 pairs restricted to the lakes, rivers and shorelines of the north west corner of the island, not surprisingly this species has an I.U.C.N. status of critical. Other birds around the lake included good numbers of Madagascar Bee-eater hawking insects and what was to become a regular Malagasy Kingfisher, almost identical to Malachite Kingfisher but for it’s dark bill and greener crest. As you can already see not much imagination was employed in naming many of these endemic birds!! Lazing Crocodiles in the shallows and busy Kittlitz and Three-banded Plovers evoked memories of Africa, Common Sandpipers and Greenshanks a particularly good day at Hollowell Reservoir in Northamptonshire!!

Back at the campsite we began to familiarise ourselves with the commoner endemic species – cheeky Grey-headed Lovebirds , rather dull Long-billed green sunbirds, beautiful Madagascar paradise flycatchers and bold Crested Drongos with their “punk” forehead feather tufts. All these species, like most of Madagascar’s, have Afro-tropical affinities, not surprising with the island only some 186 miles off the coast of Mozambique. However another common species around the campsite, the Madagascar Bulbul, has affinities with the Oriental region illustrating the complexity of colonisation, evolution and isolation in the formation of any island avian community. That evening we observed our first Vanga of the trip, Chabert’s Vanga, a beautiful little pied bird with bright blue orbital eye ring.

Spotlighting for lemurs is a must on any visit to Madagascar and a brief foray into the darkness revealed several Milne-Edwards Sportive Lemurs and a Western Grey Mouse Lemur. The sportive lemurs are smallish grey-brown creatures with a small round head, flattish face, sticky-out round ears and a long bushy tail. It has large goggling eyes giving what has cruelly been described in various books as a “vacant expression”. The mouse lemurs are amongst the smallest primates in the world, sensitive pointed noses, large eyes, long thin tails and a body slightly larger than a mouse, both these lemurs are nocturnal. The lemurs are a fascinating group of mammals and the most famous feature of this island, for most eco-tourists Madagascar means lemurs. Many millions of years ago there were lemur-type creatures all over the world, evidently some individuals managed to cross a young and still narrow Mozambique channel to the island where lack of competition and a variety of habitats lead to a flourishing diversity of forms. Back on the major landmasses, some 30 million years ago, monkeys evolved and, with their greater intelligence and physical attributes, they quickly upstaged the lemur-like primates. Thankfully no monkeys made it across the by then wide Mozambique channel so lemurs were left unhindered in their own evolution. Today some 30 species, depending on which taxonomy you choose to use, survive with incredibly 3 species discovered in the last 10 years. Alas some 12 species have become extinct, we can only imagine what the gorilla-sized Megaladapis looked like.

Dawn next morning found us stumbling in the halflight, eyes strained, ears trying to make sense of every unfamiliar sound. Busy little Common Newtonias, grey above with a rosy tint below, probing the canopies with companion yellow-green Common Jeries. These two species were very much the mainstay of mixed feeding flocks in the forest, so unfamiliar before but destined rapidly to be exclaimed as “just another ……”. A beautiful song, linked phrases of melodic trills, and out pops a Madagascar Magpie-Robin. This is a common and widespread forest bird and yet another species with affinities to the Oriental region. “Wa-ahh, wa-ahh, wa-ahh””, a choir of babies screaming from the treetops, what the hell!! Wow, look at that, unbelievable!! One of our most eagerly anticipated birds, a flock of excited Sickle-billed Vangas. A foot in length, white head and underparts, dark upperparts and a preposterously long and decurved bill. One second they are in view howling from the canopy, the next gone and just a memory. Magical moments like this explain the lure of birding, precious segments of time, unexpected chance encounters of pure magic. Family groups of Coquerel’s Sifaka watched us from the safety of the treetops, we encountered good numbers of this extraordinary animal. Slow methodical scanning of the forest floor eventually gave views of Red-capped Coua moving slowly and deliberately through the dry leaf litter. The couas are a subfamily within the cuckoo family with a total of nine species endemic to the island. All are medium-sized birds ranging from 38 cms to 62 cms in length with short rounded wings, long, stiff tail, and fleshy skin around the eyes. The majority of species are terrestrial. Red-capped Coua is a typically smart coua with rufous head, ultramarine blue skin around the eye, pale throat, maroon neck, light brown upperparts and rufous-tan underparts with maroon chest. Yet another stunner with an unfamiliar family name, how exciting to be proclaiming birds such as “Vanga”, “Coua”,”Newtonia” and “Jery”!

Slowly we headed towards the low plateau area of forest, a known area for White-breasted Mesite and Van Dam’s Vanga. With each step the avifauna jigsaw of this site is slowly pieced together, Madagascar Turtle Doves preening on exposed branches, Namaqua Doves flushed from sandy trails, lumbering Madagascar Coucals in the thickets, gregarious Long-billed Greenbuls and active little Souimanga Sunbirds. Binoculars are kept busy with encounters with yet more Madagascar Paradise Flycatchers including some dazzling white morph males, lots of Madagascar Bulbuls and Common Newtonias and a smattering of Crested Drongos and Long-billed Green Sunbirds. As we started our ascent of the plateau an unfamiliar shape in a low bush betrayed itself to be a Coquerel’s Coua, similar to Red-capped Coua but with an olive-green crown, much richer coloured underparts and a pink spot on the bare blue eye-patch. A good spot this as this species is restricted to the dry forests of the north-west. Onwards we trod until we reached the higher plateau, a strange low-canopied forest of eerie silence. In hushed silence we stood, waited and watched, ever vigilant. And then they appeared, two birds, almost mechanical in motion, crossing the leaf litter of the forest floor and traversing the trail right in front of us, White-breasted Mesites!! Absolutely superb birds, one of an endemic family of three species, primitive terrestrial rail-like birds. The White-breasted Mesite is a particularly handsome bird, white head with rufous cap, eye stripe and moustache, white throat, black spotted breast , chestnut underparts and grey mantle. Secretive in it’s habits, quietly probing the leaf litter and almost comical in it’s motion – body held horizontal with an emphasised to and fro motion of it’s head. A rare species restricted to just four sites and listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. A repeat second performance by these birds gave unbelievable views, I can not find enough superlatives to describe these birds.

We methodically worked the grid pattern of trails within this higher forest until we chanced upon an Ashy Cuckoo-shrike, a species indicative of mixed feeding flocks. Mixed multispecies feeding flocks are a feature of most tropical forests around the world and Madagascar is no exception, when you find one you need to keep with it. Sure enough the cuckoo-shrike was part of a tiny flock, only five birds of three species but what wonderful species – two Rufous Vangas  and two Van Dam’s Vangas!! Rufous Vanga, a beautiful Vanga with black head and throat, white underparts and rich rufous upperparts and tail. Van Dam’s Vanga with black head, white underparts, grey upperparts and stout grey bill, our other target species known from only two sites and an IUCN Red List status of vulnerable. Excellent birding in superb surroundings, more excitement with two Crested Ibis flushed from the trail, prehistoric birds with bare red face patch, head and neck greenish, rufous upperparts and conspicuous white wing patches. Refused to fly choosing to run down the trail instead, every twist in the track revealed the birds just disappearing around the next corner, how bizarre these birds are, a forest-loving Ibis. Elated at the ease at which the plateau forest had revealed it’s rewards we descended back towards the campsite.

Crested Couas were spied in the treetops, arboreal couas unlike most of their relatives. Attractive with grey head and crest, light blue skin around eyes, grey upperparts, white underparts with orange breast and blue tail, a little reminiscent of a Turaco. Something scurrying around in the leaf litter, a plump little Madagascar Button-Quail showed briefly. Yet another Vanga, a stunning flash of bright blue head and upperparts against clean white underparts revealed the aptly named Blue Vanga and one of my personal favourites. The Vangas comprise 14 species which display a radical variety of bill shapes and sizes, a similar result of evolution as demonstrated by the more famous finches of the Galapagos Islands, Darwin would surely have developed similar theories on evolution had he landed on these shores. Back at the campsite we came across a group of Brown Lemurs, these of the fulvus subspecies, a brown creature with a black foxy face.

Afternoon now and the forest was very quiet, exploration of the lake area revealed a number of interesting raptors. More views of the Fish Eagle, a couple of Madagascar Buzzards and a group of Mascarene Martins, brown and streaky hirundines, mobbing a Madagascar Kestrel. A large grey bird revealed itself to be a Madagascar Harrier-Hawk, a species very similar in appearance to it’s African cousin. Out of a personal trip list total of 13 species of raptor no fewer than 11 species are endemic to this region, rich pickings for the raptor connoisseur and sufficient to send Blocker Blincow into a raptor-glut delirium. Examination of an area of marshy grazing land produced lots of kids, a sprinkling of zebu cattle and quality views of three Madagascar Sandgrouse. The existence of an endemic savannah species indicates that the island formerly had natural savannah zones and was not totally covered in forests, the vast majority of endemic species are forest birds. Two tiny Madagascar Mannakins were flushed from weedy vegetation whilst lots of Madagascar Bee-eaters were entertaining. Other denizens of the lake included Squacco Herons, Black Herons employing their umbrella method of fishing, Great White Egrets, Purple Heron, White-Faced Whistling Ducks, loitering Black Kites and a variety of waders. Evening approached and with an increase in bird activity we inspected forest either side of the main road dissecting the reserve. Views of Madagascar Cuckoo were well received, this species is supposed to spend the austral winter in East Africa and we did not expect to see it. Big and ugly Lesser Vaza Parrots croaked from the treetops, all-dark plumage with pale bills and a bare eye-patch. With the advent of dusk the nightbirds appeared, Madagascar Nightjars hawking in the half-light above the forest and a Madagascar Scops Owl tape-lured at the campsite proved a fitting finale to a wonderful day.

First light next morning found us in an area of deciduous forest close to the lake, slightly different in character to forest types explored the previous day with a taller canopy. Birds were extremely scarce with just a few sightings of the commoner species – Common Newtonias, Crested Drongos, Souimanga Sunbirds, etc. Unconcerned we continued, we were looking for one very special bird, a rare and localised species that we did not expect to see. Diligent scanning of the canopy eventually gave it’s reward, necks aching, eyes straining and bodies contorted in order to get a reasonable view of the jewel in the treetops. Schlegel’s Asity, first an immature male quickly followed by a full-plumaged male. These were brilliant birds, small Greenfinch-sized, the adult exhibiting a black head with a bright blue and green wattle, bright yellow underparts and green upperparts. This species has a scattered distribution in the dry western forests of the island and has only been recorded from a total of twelve sites. The asities were until recently considered an endemic family, some authorities now believe them to be a subfamily within the Broadbill family. All possible target species for this site had now been observed and we ambled back towards the road in a relaxed state of mind. Two more Madagascar Crested Ibis were a bonus, yet again intent on “legging it” as a means of escape, this species can be hard to catch-up with so two sightings in as many days was good going. A brief daylight sighting of a Milne-Edward’s Sportive Lemur sitting outside it’s sleeping quarters in a hollow tree was a memorable mammal record. Excellent studies were made on more Crested and Red-capped Couas whilst back on the road we observed a single Madagascar White-Eye in a mixed feeding flock. A last look at the lake gave much the same species as seen previously, the glorious Madagascar Fish-Eagle, the regular Madagascar Harrier-Hawk, another Madagascar Sandgrouse and lots of herons and waders.

One of the most important conservation projects at Ampijoroa is the Angonoka tortoise programme managed jointly by the Department des Eaux et Forets of the Malagasy Government and Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust, we were lucky enough to be invited into the breeding compound close to the forestry station. The Angonoka Geochelone yniphora is the rarest tortoise in the world being confined to fragments of bamboo forest along the coast 120 kms south-west of Mahajanga, as a species it’s greatest threat comes from habitat destruction although it is also collected as a pet. A peculiar species in appearance with the adults displaying a long upturned projection from the front lower base of the shell, hence it’s popular English name of the ploughshare tortoise. We were shown several of the large adults and were allowed to handle a couple of the tiny offspring. The Malagasy man who invited us in and gave us a tour of the compound spoke no English but you could sense his genuine pride and excitement in the project, the breeding programme was proving successful and this coupled with local education, study of the ecology need of the tortoise and consideration of the needs of the local people encouraged one that this was one species that could be pulled back from the brink. The Jersey Wildlife Trust are very evident when it comes to conservation throughout the island and almost all the locals we spoke to seemed to know of the late Gerald Durrell. We purchased several t-shirts and with a lot of hand gestures bid our farewell.

Attention during the afternoon switched to the plateau forest, sightings of a Madagascar Sparrowhawk were welcome as this species is surprisingly scarce. A roosting Madagascar Nightjar was discovered amongst low scrub beside a wide sandy trail, typically cryptic camouflage. The forest itself, as one would expect this time of day, was very quiet but an unfamiliar but distinctive liquid “ dree-oo, dree-oo, dree-oo ” call revealed brief views of an adult male Cuckoo-Roller circling

And so passed our time at the first site on our grand tour of the island, next day was to find us on the long drive back to the capital with the even longer name, Antananarivo. Boneshaking “Indian Jones-style” flights would take us to the rainforests of the remote Masoala Peninsular where their avian prizes such as the totally awesome Helmet Vanga with it’s huge hornbill-like bill. And we would travel on to other sites, so many wonderful places, so many wonderful memories – breaching Humpback Whales just offshore and bizarre Striped Tenrecs running around our feet, beautiful Red-tailed Tropicbirds above our heads as we stood on an island of gleaming white sand, the unearthly dry spiny forest of the south-west with it’s equally bizarre Subdesert Mesites and Long-tailed Ground Rollers, the ultra-rare Yellow-Bellied Sunbird-Asity in the flowering tree at Ranomafana, so many stunning orchids, chameleons of all sizes and shapes at the entrance to Perinet, the large black and white “teddybear” Indri lemurs of Perinet with their amazing trumpeting calls, a whale-song from the trees. I could write and write about our encounters in this magical land but a million words could never convey the sense of wonderment at the complexity of the flora and fauna we observed. So many memories, such a multitude of images fill the mind, let us hope such memories may be shared by future generations as the wildlife of Madagascar is under serious threat from overpopulation and habitat destruction. The loss of any species, no matter how humble, is the ultimate crime humanity can commit, we must prize diversity of life as the greatest gift.

 

Ecuador – A Little Gem

A month in Ecuador would give any birdwatcher a real flavour of the ornithology of the whole of the Neotropics. The variety of habitats is amazing if you only consider travelling in a straight line from the west coast to the eastern border with Peru. The arid coastal zone soon gives way to lowland tropical forests followed by the huge diversity of the west Andean Slope. Two parallel chains of mountains make up the backbone of the Andes with a high and relatively dry valley in between. Then down the east Andean slope to the Amazon Basin in the Oriente. More than 80% of the families endemic to the Neotropics occur here and nearly 1600 species have been recorded making this a must for all Neotropical birders and an ideal starting country for the new comer.

Ecuador is situated on the west side of South America on the equator after which the country is named. In relative terms for South America, this is a very small country with a stable and well-developed infrastructure. The small size of this country cuts down the amount of travelling required which greatly enhances the amount of birdwatching that can be fitted in. One fifth of the road network is paved and although the road system is improving much is still poorly maintained making for interesting and entertaining driving at times, not to mention the buses and lorries that appear to have their own agendas. A two-wheeled drive would be fine for the sites described here but for the more adventurous birders a four-wheel drive would be important. A cheap, fast and exciting bus network caters well for the budget traveller and a fairly extensive air network can help travellers with restricted time.

A wide range of budget accommodation is available with many cheap hosterias, while better quality hotels can be found in most large towns. Food is available at or near all of the following sites, but some of the more remote areas require a bit of planning and stocking up with essentials before-hand is necessary.

Ecotourism is expanding all of the time on mainland Ecuador and has been in full swing for years on Galapagos. The normal range of tropical diseases occur and have to be treated with great respect. Several of the good birdwatching sites are at high altitude and so avoiding altitude sickness needs to be considered. A well-organised trip to any of the Andean countries would start in the lowlands and gradually move uphill giving time to acclimatise. The first time travellers to these altitudes will find this an interesting experience.

During two month-long trips with other British Birders I have travelled widely in Ecuador, but still there is much to see. Most of the major habitat zones can be covered in a few weeks and my choice of the top 6 sites attempts to do this. Four weeks visiting these six sites would notch up 5-600 species. With a more frantic effort, adding a few more sites but spending less time at each, a total of over 700 is possible.

The West Andean Slope – Mindo

Quito, the capital of Ecuador is within easy reach of one of the best areas for birdwatching in South America. A one hour drive on tarmac roads will take you down the west Andean slope to an area of subtropical and temperate forest around the town of Mindo.

There is sufficient accommodation and food in Mindo and good birding is to be found in all directions from the town including the road in. Travel on some of the tracks in this area is time consuming, especially for us on one occasion when we had punctures in three tyres at the same time: one inner-tube alone required eight patches. The birding habitats are situated between 5000ft and 7500ft and the scenery is not unlike mid-Wales with all but the valleys covered in forest. A snapshot of the area can be had in four-five days although two-three weeks would be needed to do the wide range of habitats justice. More than 400 species have been recorded in the Mindo area which is a good cross-section of all of the birds that can be found on the west slope. The list is phenomenal and ever expanding, but just a few of the stars are Plate-billed Mountain-toucan, Toucan-barbet, Booted Rackettail and of course Andean Cock-of the-Rock.

Toucan barbet

The High Andes – Cotopaxi NP

On a good day Cotopaxi is clearly visible from Quito. This elegant snow-topped and cone-shaped volcano is still active and is the centre piece of the Cotopaxi NP. This is an ideal site for an introduction to paramo species and can reasonably be covered in a long day out from Quito. The long entrance track gradually rises through conifers, then paramo and it is possible to drive up to a car park just beneath the snowline at 15500ft. Good birding can be had around the visitors centre, the campsites, the plateau and lake at 12500ft and the track to the high car park. The plateau and lake at 12500ft have a selection of high-altitude species giving a true flavour of what the paramo has to offer.

Andean Gull, Andean Lapwing, Carunculated Caracara, Puna Hawk are regulars and several hummingbirds can be seen the finest of which is Chimborazo Hillstar. Ground-tyrants, cinclodes and canasteros all add to the picture for birders new to the Neotropics. Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe can be seen from the track to the high car park although searching at this altitude can be very strenuous. Food is left out for Andean Condor by the park authorities making Cotopaxi the best chance to see Andean Condor in Ecuador. Be warned – harsh weather can severely reduce the number of species seen and care should be taken when planning a visit for conditions can change dramatically in minutes.

Amazonas – Sacha Lodge

A trip to the Amazon Basin is not cheap but well worth it for the experience and the tremendous variety of birds. Packages to Sacha Lodge include flights to the town of Coca and transfers by canoe down the Rio Napo to the lodge.

This rainforest lodge is well organised, ideally situated and knowledgeable guides cater for individual requirements. The surrounding variance of lowland rainforest habitats hold upwards of 500 species although less than half of these will be seen during a week long trip. Despite the large diversity of species, the birds are in very low densities and dawn and dusk birding brings forth the greatest treasures. Large numbers of parrots, antbirds, and tanagers abound in the humid conditions. One evening we were lucky to locate a feeding flock of more than fifty individuals from nineteen species. Such flocks are a true test of memory and time-management. As the flock moves by do you make notes and miss birds or try to remember the features of as many species as possible? This is where experience helps because the commoner species can be quickly identified so that the elusive speciality cannot slip by. It is possible to see more than ten cotingas including Amazonian Umbrellabird and other much sought after birds on offer are Hoatzin, Harpy Eagle and a selection of owls.

The East Andean Slope – Guacamoyos Ridge via the Papallacta Pass

A two hour car journey east from Quito rises up to the Papallacta pass and then drops down the east slope to Baeza.

The pass itself is host to several interesting species, not least the Giant Conebill that can be found in the Polylepis forests near the top. Paramo habitats similar to that at Cotopaxi are worth birding as are the remnant tracts of forest beside the road beyond the pass; Sword-billed Hummingbird and Grey-breasted Mountain-toucan should be looked for here. The south road from Baeza to Tena climbs over the Guacamoyos Ridge. Either town has sufficient accommodation and food and is well situated for access to the superb subtropical forests that bathe the slopes of this ridge. These forests are home to many species that are difficult to see elsewhere in Ecuador. Birding is from the road and just a few tracks into the forest. Several antpittas can be seen including the rare Moustached Antpitta. Tanagers and hummingbirds abound in the canopy and several other specialities like Barred Antthrush, Solitary Eagle, Dusky Piha, Black-billed Mountain-toucan and Andean Potoo are present. On a clear day the views of the Volcan Sumaco and the Upper Amazon Basin are awe-inspiring.

The South – Podocarpus NP

Podocarpus is one of the three richest National Parks for avifauna in the world because of its huge size and habitat diversity. It is situated in the south-east of the country south of the towns of Loja and Zamora. Both towns have suitable accommodation and food and both have National Park offices from which to obtain the necessary permits. Loja is close to the temperate and elfin forests at Cajanuma where one should expect to bird in the wet. On our first visit we stayed here for four days and suffered precipitation in various forms for over 90% of the time. The vehicle track up to the ranger station and several tracks beyond provide good birding. Calling antpittas bounce around the floor as hummingbirds and tanagers abound in the moss covered canopies. The bamboo is a good place to look for the mystical Ocellated Tapaculo and Bearded Guan, Imperial Snipe and Masked Saltator are other specialities nearby. Zamora is ideal for access to Bombuscara which is upper tropical forest with an Amazonian influence. Torrent Duck and Coppery-chested Jacamar are to be found near the entrance, specialities like Striped Manakin and Shrike-like Cotinga need a bit more time. Both sites allow access to the rich interior of the park although expedition planning would be required for this.

The Galapagos

Week long budget packages, including flights to and from the mainland, can be organised from Britain or travellers with more time can organise a tour in Quito.

Trips are based on-board boats and although most of the weather is generally moderate, some journeys can be rough. My first views of the nocturnal feeding Swallow-tailed Gull were gained as I chummed over the railings during my first night at sea. On such a trip it is possible to see 20 of the 25 endemics in a week plus much of the other wildlife that Galapagos is famous for. To see all the endemics, then more time and money are required on a trip offered by specialist bird companies. Charles Mockingbird is a difficult bird to see because no-one can visit the islands on which it occurs, even weighing anchor nearby is forbidden. It took considerable friendly bargaining to persuade our captain to sail slowly around one of the islands close enough to scan with binoculars. We only had ten minutes but we scored – two birds bounded across the beach to see what was going on! A total of 50 species in a week sounds incredibly low but this is truly one of the natural wonders of the world and should not be missed.

These are just six of the more well known birdwatching areas although I have not included my favourite site in Ecuador. In the south-west is a small area of remnant tropical forest known as Buenaventura. The area has just a few stands of trees either side of a track, but it attracts a stunning array of species. In one day I have seen Long-wattled Umbrellabird, Black Hawk-eagle, El Oro Parakeet and Club-winged Manakin. True to form for such enigmatic sites, during my next visit I saw a completely new set of birds including Spotted Nightingale-thrush, Golden-winged Manakin, White-tipped Sicklebill and the endemic Grey-backed Hawk.

Grey-backed Hawk

The mind boggles at what this site holds in store for my next visit. Many such sites must exist, but as yet do not have such a high profile as this one. So, when you visit Ecuador, remember, you will marvel at an unbelievable selection of birds, the diversity of forests, the aura of the high Andes and of course, you will get WET!!!

 

Galapagos

The Galapagos Islands straddle the equator 600 miles west of Ecuador. There are five inhabited islands and many other smaller ones all of which are volcanic in origin and have been formed recently. The archipelago is well spread out with even some of the larger islands not visible from any of the others. Visitors travel to the islands on regular flights that take one and a half hours to cross the vast expanses of the Pacific Ocean. There are few other places in the world that are as much as 600 miles from any other land and the large distance from the mainland has helped in the creation of the unusual flora and fauna.

Underwater topography shows the origin and development of the archipelago. The islands are tips of volcanoes coalesced to form a platform at 400 metres beneath sea level, 2-3000 metres above the ocean floor. Each island is formed by a single volcano apart from Isabela which has six major volcanoes. All Galapagos’ volcanoes are smooth and rounded in a shield shape; their basalt lava flows are hot which allow the gases to escape and the lava to flow smoothly producing shield-shaped volcanoes. On the mainland volcanoes are shaped like elegant cones, indicative of more violent eruptions. Espanola in the south-east is the oldest island at about 5 million years old, Fernandina in the west is the youngest at about 0.7 million years.

The flora and fauna show close affinities with those of South and Central America, but the difficulties in crossing 600 miles of ocean account for the paucity of animal life. There are no amphibians, few reptiles and only nine land mammals: seven rodents and two bats. The islands have a great interest to ecologists because of the high percentage of endemic forms that live in the harsh conditions; of 700 species of higher plants, 40% are endemic. Isolation is the most important feature in the formation of new species. Colonisation has been essentially by accident and many species or potential colonisers have not made it (pollinating plants and insects). Invaders find new environments, few competitors, few predators and few food plants or insects.

On arrival at San Cristobal air terminal the tameness of the avifauna was immediately apparent as a YELLOW WARBLER and a DARWIN’S FINCH were feeding inside the terminal as I collected my ruck sack. My travels around Galapagos were aboard an eight berth ocean going bath tub called the Albatros. We boarded in the late evening to the accompaniment of BROWN PELICANS, BLUE-FOOTED BOOBIES and the ever present MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRDS. We weighed anchor at 2.00 am and set off for Espanola some five hours away. The weather was, to say the least, decidedly variable and the Albatros cut through the waves with the grace and eloquence of a dead whale. When the engine failed, the boat began to wallow in the ocean swell. My stomach finally lost control and the rest of the night was spent bent over the side rails studying the krill that lit up as the boat surged past. To cheer me up, at 5.00am I glimpsed my first views of two SWALLOW-TAILED GULLS as they flew around the rigging and the navigation lights. These are the only nocturnal gulls in the world and look like a large Sabine’s Gull.

As it got light I made a dramatic recovery from my night time vigil, chuntering over the side; for the first bird I focused on was a WAVED ALBATROSS flying close to the boat. Several more of these albatrosses were seen as we anchored close to Espanola within view of the seabird colonies.

This island’s most important ornithological feature is a colony of 12000 pairs of WAVED ALBATROSS which is nearly the whole world population, with just a few pairs nesting on islands near to mainland South America. My visit in mid-January coincided with the two month period when all of the albatrosses depart to the Humbolt Current off Peru, returning to breed in mid-March. During our walk across the island, we were fortunate to see the single juvenile albatross that had not left. Stepping on to the island we were greeted by HOOD MOCKINGBIRD; a tame, inquisitive bird endemic to this small island and one of four mockingbird species to be found on Galapagos. With only four other land-birds to be seen on Espanola it was the seabird colonies that took centre stage. BLUE-FOOTED and MASKED BOOBIES in their thousands were sitting around, apparently in no hurry, as the breeding season could last all year if necessary in the consistent climatic conditions. RED-BILLED TROPICBIRDS were breeding here in small numbers and each time they flew by their sleek,

distinctive plumage caught the eye. Of the other seabirds SWALLOW-TAILED GULLS were to be found standing around in good numbers, BROWN NODDIES were scattered along the rocky shoreline and just for a change the ever-watching eyes-in-the-sky, were contributed by a colony of GREATER FRIGATEBIRDS.

We left Espanola in the early afternoon for a seven hour cruise to Santa Fe, an island with a safe overnight anchorage. Then, next day, a short early morning journey took us to South Plaza, a small, low, flat island formed by an uplifting of the sea bed rather than an eruption. Here with the introduced predators all having been eradicated, Land Iguanas have been reintroduced and are thriving. A cliff face, 20 metres high, runs the length of the island’s southern side. Much of the life of the island is concentrated around the cliff including sealions, Marine Iguanas and a host of

seabirds. AUDUBON’S SHEARWATERS are constantly in view either entering their nests or just sitting around on the water. With no natural predators they are much more visible on their breeding grounds here, being able to visit their nests, at will, without fear of harassment. The ‘blue-riband’ species, RED-BILLED TROPICBIRD nests on South Plaza and obligingly gives views as good as the Fulmars at Hunstanton Cliffs. They fly back and forth showing off their superb plumage to it’s best, with the long tail streamers continually being buffeted by the updraft.

The climate in Galapagos is unusually dry for the equator, with low rainfall, low humidity and relatively low air and water temperatures. Generally conditions are unpredictable and often very severe in the lowlands – this is responsible for so few species surviving. There is much variability of rainfall between years, so occasional drought years place strong natural selective pressures on plants and animals. The special mix of tropical and temperate environments allowing penguins and fur seals to live side by side with cacti and tortoises.

Like most islands, Espanola and South Plaza are very inhospitable with very little rainfall leaving a dry, arid landscape. There are exceptions to this and the next island we visited, Santa Cruz, has an upland area of lush, green, tropical vegetation. A few of the islands have volcanoes that break through the cloud base over the Pacific that is constantly around 300 metres and this high land consequently enjoys climatic conditions similar to the cloud forests on the mainland. Although not the capital of the Galapagos, Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz is home to the Darwin Research Centre that is the base for all environmental research on and around the islands. They also offer their knowledge and assistance to the National Park Service and direct research in ways that may benefit the Park Service. A walk around the Darwin Centre looking at the Giant Tortoise breeding pens also produces the opportunity to see many land birds that are attracted to the drinking pools. It is possible to see up to eight of the thirteen species of DARWIN’S FINCH at these pools. All of the DARWIN’S FINCHES have drab brown, grey or black plumages and their names are little more exciting than their looks. At one pool I was able to see VEGETARIAN FINCH, CACTUS FINCH, LARGE TREE FINCH, SMALL GROUND FINCH and LARGE GROUND FINCH all drinking together; hardly electrifying but five ticks in a minute isn’t all bad. The whole archipelago has been designated a National Park with strict controls on the movement of the approximately 1000 tourists each week. The only free movement is on the five inhabited islands, including Santa Cruz, that have sizeable areas of farmland and many introduced predators that essentially exclude much of the natural flora and fauna from them. Many uninhabited islands also have introduced plants, insects and animals that have affected many of the islands’ natural environments in the 170 years since Charles Darwin’s visit in 1832. Much of the National Park Service’s time appears to be taken up by controlling the populations of introduced predators in the form of cats, rats, dogs and goats and rearing programs to ensure the survival of endangered reptiles.

Travelling further north-west through the archipelago, there were always new species to view on or near the coast line. LAVA GULL and LAVA HERON were regularly seen although in world terms their range is very restricted and their numbers are low. We reached another safe anchorage at a small island called Sombrero Chino late one afternoon. The beach was made of one inch pieces of white coral that proved to be very uncomfortable for a wet landing in bare feet. Two species that may have eluded me were to be found on this small island and fortunately both were close to where we anchored. GALAPAGOS PENGUIN breeds in the cold waters of the western islands of the archipelago, but a few non-breeders can be seen elsewhere. A group of six were to be found roosting in the sheltered waters between Sombrero Chino and the larger island of Santiago, only 100 metres away. The boat crew showed little interest in going to see them, but after a mutiny amongst the passengers had been organised, we were able to get very close views from a dingy. A pair of GALAPAGOS HAWKS from Santiago used this small island for peace and quiet to devour their food and dismantled a rat in full view of our boat as we ate our evening meal.

Sullivan Bay on Santiago is visited for its’ geological features; a vast lava field only put down 100 years ago which still has only a couple of pioneering plants taking hold on what is an otherwise barren but interesting landscape. Birds were virtually non-existant, with only AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER and WANDERING TATTLER feeding on the shoreline and of course the FRIGATEBIRDS watching from the air. Off-shore of Sullivan bay, Bartholomew Island was hardly blessed with more birds, but did have a small party of Pacific Green Turtles on the beach.

This was an unusual sight, for although there are many turtles in these waters and many pairs are seen mating just off shore, normally they only haul themselves onto the beach to lay their eggs at night.

During journeys between the islands it was always worth watching off the front of the boat for dolphins, rays and sharks. Of the seabirds to be seen, GALAPAGOS, ELLIOT’S and MADEIRAN STORM-PETRELS were regular, AUDUBON’S SHEARWATER was common and I was fortunate to see half a dozen HAWAIIAN PETREL, which is now the most endangered species of bird to be found on the Galapagos. Only a hundred years ago, HAWAIIAN or DARK-RUMPED PETREL was not uncommon in Pacific waters, but due to human disturbance and introduced predators there is only a small population left on the Galapagos and an even smaller number on the Hawaiian Islands. The Park Service spend much time and effort trying to conserve the nesting colonies in the highlands and to an extent they have been able to stabilise the small population.

My last morning was spent walking from sea-level to the highlands on San Cristobal. As one climbs through the lowlands there is virtually a Darwin’s Finch in view all the time. Many of them are high up above the vegetation and flying with purpose and vigour, although you could hardly describe the LARGE GROUND-FINCHES or LARGE TREE-FINCHES as elegant. DARK-BILLED CUCKOO, GALAPAGOS DOVE and LARGE-BILLED FLYCATCHER put in an occasional appearance, then as you reach the wet highlands, VERMILLION FLYCATCHER and the famous WOODPECKER FINCH become common. From the roadside verge I flushed a PAINT-BILLED CRAKE which then watched me very warily from some dense vegetation, this bird is probably the most recent natural arrival on the Galapagos having first been recorded in 1953. Being a recent arrival it has not acquired the lack of fear that all of the other birds have.

My strongest memories of Galapagos will undoubtedly be the effortless FRIGATEBIRDS that were always on patrol and seemingly over see everything that goes on. I had recorded 55 species of bird in a week, including most, but not all of the endemics. Perhaps I might go back some day to see the Flightless Cormorant that unfortunately only frequents the most western islands.

Convolvulus Hawk-moth Agrius convolvuli

B&F: 1972

ABH: 69.001

Status: Migrant.

Distribution and Abundance: Irregular.

Primary Habitat: General occurrence.

Flight Period: Most records are in September.

Records: 21 & 24 September 2003 Farthingstone (P. Egerton), 25 September 2003 Yardley Chase (S. Brayshaw), 25 September 2000 Pitsford Water (P. Horsnail) and 18 July 1993  Nassington (J. Ward).

Observations: Recorded annually in the Kettering area in the 1940’s, peaking in 1945 with moths reported on 8 April 1945 and from 4 September 1945 to 1 October 1945. Unfortunately actual numbers of moths were not given, but it looks as if more than ten moths were seen. I have been unable to find any records of the larva being found in the county, but as a boy can remember having been shown one of the dark form that was found locally feeding on bindweed. In 2003 six moths were recorded from 23 August to 25 September. In the high migration year of 2006 twenty-two examples of this species were recorded in the county greatly increasing the mapped distribution. At this stage it is not known to what extent this is a pattern for the future and the overall effect on the scarcity of the moth. No moths were reported as being seen in 2007 with small numbers in 2008 and 2009.

L.O.N.: 1904. Castle Ashby, Kettering, Woodford. Not common but quite a number of records.

First Record: 1880, Hull & Tomalin.