Saturday, 26 April 2014

Norfolk moths: Rockland St. Peter garden, 25 April 2014

The afternoon of 25 April was dull, overcast and misty, so by teatime it was already dark and murky. Although the evening temperature was high (12.5°C at 21h30), the damp air felt chilly as I set out the trap. Overcast in the evening, the skies were clear by first light and the temperature had dropped to 5.2°C by 04h50, when I turned off the trap, causing a heavy dew. There was very little air movement. No sign of the waning crescent moon.

A disappointing night for numbers and diversity, but since I had not employed the trap for two weeks, there were several new species. Oak Hook-tip and Chocolate-tip were new for the trap while Brimstone Moth, Flame Shoulder and Red Twin-spot Carpet firsts for the year. It took me a long time to clinch the identity of the two Twin-spot Carpets, the more worn of which seemed a candidate for Dark-barred Xanthorhoe ferrugata, but Jon Clifton Anglian Lepidopterist Supplies kindly set me straight. Both were males, but the smaller one (upper) showed a much paler, less well-marked underside to the wings.

Oak Hook-tip Watsonalla binaria
Red Twin-spot Carpet Xanthorhoe spadicearia  
Red Twin-spot Carpet Xanthorhoe spadicearia      
Red Twin-spot Carpet Xanthorhoe spadicearia showing the well-marked underside.

Chocolate-tip Clostera curtula
Powdered Quaker Orthosia gracilis - 2nd of the year   

Macro-moths (25 moths of 10 spp.); no micros:-

Watsonalla binaria Oak Hook-tip 1
Xanthorhoe spadicearia Red Twin-spot Carpet 2
Anticlea badiata Shoulder Stripe 1
Anticlea derivata Streamer 1
Opisthograptis luteolata Brimstone Moth 1
Clostera curtula Chocolate-tip 1
Diaphora mendica Muslin Moth 2
Ochropleura plecta Flame Shoulder 1
Orthosia gracilis Powdered Quaker 1
Orthosia gothica Hebrew Character 14

Monday, 21 April 2014

Knettishall Heath

Quick picnic lunch at Knettishall Heath, just over the border in Suffolk. This is a 175 ha Suffolk Wildlife Trust Reserve (purchased in 2012) and 91.7 ha SSSI. Four long-distanced paths Angles Way, Icknield Way, Iceni Way and Peddars Way – converge on the site. The Little Ouse runs W-E along the N edge of the heath.

The couple of hours we spent there were surprisingly productive.

The first things that caught our eyes were a dozen or so Green Tiger Beetles Cicindela campestris staking out territories in wheel ruts as we entered the heath.

Green Tiger Beetles Cicindela campestris
Green Tiger Beetles Cicindela campestris
Then, in the same place, the first Small Copper of the year...

Small Copper Lycaena phlaeas
Higher up and further away from the road, the heather is more luxuriant. As we walked through it, we came across two moths that can often be seen in the daytime: Ruby Tiger Phragmatobia fuliginosa  and Double-striped Pug Gymnoscelis rufifasciata.

Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs sang from mixed woodland. Right at the edge of the wood, we came across an egg that I have not been able to identify. 30 mm long. Could it be Red-legged Partridge?

Unidentified egg - Red-legged Partridge?
We had been carefully checking the sunlit border between heath and woodland, but it was not until we let down our guard that we came across what we had been hoping to find: an Adder darting quickly into cover.

Underneath the pines, Climbing Cordyalis...

Climbing Corydalis Ceratocapnos claviculata

During lunch along the Little Ouse, a Great Diving Beetle larva swam by...

 Great Diving Beetle Dytiscus marginalis larva
An impressive beast with a formidable set of jaws...

 Great Diving Beetle Dytiscus marginalis larva

After the Diving Beetle, a leech swam into view. About 3-4 cm long, it looked very much like the Medicinal Leeches I have encountered (!) in the Lake District.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Táchira Antpitta Grallaria chthonia on the EDGE: evolutionarily distinct and globally endangered

Táchira Antpitta Grallaria chthonia (Mercedes Madriz)
Last week, a team of UK and US scientists published a paper identifying the conservation priorities for the world's 9,993 bird species based on evolutionary distinctness, a measure of a species’ contribution to the total evolutionary history of its clade[...], expected to capture uniquely divergent genomes and functions (Jetz et al. 2014). In parallel, the Zoological Society of London compiled a list of the world's 100 most Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) bird species. The findings were widely publicised by the media.

The ZSL's EDGE list includes one Venezuelan bird, Táchira Antpitta Grallaria chthonia, ranked 89th. This Venezuelan endemic is one of the very few of the world's birds that remain unknown in life: there are no photographs, no sound recordings and no living person has ever encountered one. The species is only known from four specimens collected at a single locality nearly 60 years ago. In short, it is an avian enigma. Its curious specific epithet derives from the Greek khthonios, meaning "in the earth" – and it might as well be.

The only evidence that the bird really exists are the four museum specimens languishing in the drawers of the Colección Ornitológica Phelps in Caracas and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. All of them were obtained from the same tiny spot: Hacienda La Providencia (c.7°38'N 72°15'W; Paynter 1982), along the río Chiquito in southwestern Táchira state, on the eastern slopes of the Páramo de Tamá in the Andes of western Venezuela. The holotype (COP 61.055, on deposit at USNM, now NMNH) was taken at 1,800 m by the Phelps Collection's intrepid collector Ramón Urbano on 10 February 1955, together with a paratype. Two further skins – both males like the previous type specimens – were obtained at 2,100 m the following March and the species was described later that year by Wetmore and Phelps (1956). The female has never been encountered.

That is the last time that the bird was seen in life. A three-day search specifically for the species in September 1990 was unsuccessful, but there was no reason to fear for its future, since the type locality still held pristine forest above 1600 m (Collar et al. 1992). By December 1996 however, coffee plantations in the río Chiquito Valley had advanced up to 1600 m, and much forest at 1900–2200 m (including the type locality) had been converted to agriculture; although the species was not found at this time, it may have been present in neighbouring valleys, which were apparently less disturbed (BirdLife International 2000).

The type locality for Grallaria chthonia and the forests that surround it lie within Venezuela's El Tamá National Park, an IUCN Category II protected area which extends over 1,390 km² and is designated as an Important Bird Area (Lentino & Esclasans 2005), part of the Colombian East Andes Endemic Bird Area. In addition, the known and potential range falls within one of the highest priority bioregions for the conservation of Venezuela's birds (Rodríguez et al. 2004). This region is also recognised as one of the most threatened in Venezuela, with at least 17% of the habitat within the National Park affected by deforestation for agriculture (principally coffee cultivation) and to create livestock pasture (Sharpe & Lentino 2008).

For the above reasons, Táchira Antpitta is considered Critically Endangered both nationally and internationally (Sharpe 2008, BirdLife International 2014). Its population is now estimated to consist of fewer than 50 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2014).

Basic field surveys are urgently needed in order to determine the true status of this virtually unknown antpitta; seasonality of vocalisation should be taken into account, with surveys to be carried out in May–June (BirdLife International 2014). In addition, there are questions over its true taxonomic status. On plumage characters, Grallaria chthonia appears to be most closely related to G. guatimalensis and Hilty (2003) suggests that it may be a higher elevation subspecies of the latter. On the other hand, Ridgely & Tudor (1994) and Krabbe & Schulenberg (2003) believe that chthonia is probably more more similar to (or even conspecific with) alleni. Until the species is better known, with molecular and vocal evidence considered, the true affinities of this evolutionarily distinct and globally endangered species will remain uncertain. 

Further information on this species – and all the world's birds – can be found at HBW Alive.


BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Lynx Edicions & BirdLife International: Barcelona & Cambridge. 852 pp.

BirdLife International (2014) Species factsheet: Grallaria chthonia. Downloaded from on 17/04/2014.

Collar, N.J., Gonzaga, L.P., Krabbe, N., Madroño, A., Naranjo, L.G., Parker, T.A. & Wege, D.C. (1992) Threatened birds of the Americas. The ICBP/IUCN Red Data Book. 3rd edition, part 2. ICBP: Cambridge. 1,150 pp.

Hilty, S. L. (2003) Birds of Venezuela. Princeton University Press: Princeton NJ. 928 pp.

Jetz, W., Thomas, G.H., Joy, J.B., Redding, D.W., Hartmann, K., Mooers, A.O. (2014) Global distribution and conservation of evolutionary distinctness in birds. Current Biology

Krabbe, N.K. & Schulenberg, T.S. (2003) Family Formicariidae (ground-antbirds). Pp. 682-731 in del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) Handbook of the birds of the world. Volume 8. Lynx Edicions: Barcelona. 845 pp.

Krabbe, N.K., Schulenberg, T.S. & Sharpe, C.J. (2013) Tachira Antpitta (Grallaria chthonia). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) Handbook of the birds of the world alive. Lynx Edicions: Barcelona. Retrieved from on 17 April 2014.

Lentino, M. & Esclasans, D. (2005) Áreas importantes para la conservación de las aves en Venezuela. Pp. 621-769 in: BirdLife International and Conservation International (eds.) Áreas importantes para la conservación de las aves en los Andes Tropicales (Serie de Conservación de BirdLife, No. 14). BirdLife International: Quito, Ecuador.

Paynter, R.A. (1982) Ornithological gazetteer of Venezuela. Harvard University, Museum of Comparative Zoology: Cambridge, Mass. 245 pp.

Ridgely, R.S. & Tudor, G. (1994)  The birds of South America. Volume II: the suboscine passerines. University of Texas Press: Austin. 814pp.

Rodríguez, J.P., Rojas-Suárez, F. & Sharpe, C.J. (2004) Setting priorities for the conservation of Venezuela's threatened birds. Oryx 38(4): 373-382.

Sharpe, C.J. (2008) Aves. Pp. 116-157 in: Rodríguez, J.P. & Rojas-Suárez, F. eds. Libro Rojo de la fauna venezolana, 3rd edition. Provita & Shell Venezuela, S.A., Caracas, Venezuela. 364 pp. 

Sharpe, C.J. & Lentino, M. (2008) Hormiguero tororoi tachirense Grallaria chthonia. P. 144 in: Rodríguez, J.P. & Rojas-Suárez, F. eds. Libro Rojo de la fauna venezolana, 3rd edition. Provita & Shell Venezuela, S.A., Caracas, Venezuela. Available online as: Sharpe, C.J. & Lentino, M. (2013) Hormiguero tororoi tachirense Grallaria chthonia. WikiEVA: Especies Venezolanas Amenazadas.

Wetmore, A. & Phelps, W.H. (1956) Further additions to the list of birds of Venezuela. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 69: 1-10.

Recommended citation:-

Sharpe, C.J. (2014) Táchira Antpitta Grallaria chthonia on the EDGE: evolutionarily distinct and globally endangered. The Curious Naturalist. Downloaded from on .

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Norfolk moths: Rockland St. Peter garden, 11 April 2014

A very quiet night for the trap, despite an apparently favourable forecast. Largely cloudy skies were forecast, but I could see only one or two patches. The temperature dropped rapidly down to 7.3°C at 20h50 and was about the same at dawn (6.7°C by 05h35) when I turned off the trap. A waxing gibbous moon shone brightly in the evening and there was vety little movement of air.
Numbers were well down on previous nights and there were no new species.  

Macro-moths (15 moths of 6 spp.); no micros:-

Anticlea derivata Streamer 1
Orthosia cerasi Common Quaker 1
Orthosia incerta Clouded Drab 2
Orthosia gothica Hebrew Character 9
Xylocampa areola Early Grey 1
Abrostola tripartita Spectacle 1

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Norfolk moths: Rockland St. Peter garden, 9 April 2014

After a cool, but cloudless and sunny day, there was a think layer of high cloud overnight, which covered a half moon. The temperature was 12.1°C at 22h45, falling to 7.5°C by 05h50 when I turned off the trap, although it felt cooler. There was a barely noticeable movement of air.

A Blackcap sang, moving in an arc around me and finally showing itself in our tall birch tree, as I unloaded the trap in the half-light.

A good night, with eight species new for the trap. Oaks are the larval foodplant of the Frosted Green and it is usually found in woodland, so is presumably not a common species around here. Scorched Carpet larvae feed on Spindle Euonymus europaeus, a plant that occurs at low frequency in hedges and which I have planted in the garden; the moth's UK range mirrors that of the foodplant, which is largely restricted to southern England. The Streamer is a striking and distinctive carpet, while Brindled Pug – another species whose larvae feed on Oak is a bit more subtle and something of an identification challenge (expert Great Ellingham mothman Chris Knott confirmed this one). The smaller Double-striped Pug is easier to identify and shows that pugs are worth a second look: this one really was rufous-banded (rufifasciata). And at last: an Oak Nycteoline. A single male Brindled Beauty and a couple of male Muslin Moths were the pick of the trap.

Frosted Green Polyploca ridens, showiing the merest hint of colour.   
Streamer Anticlea derivata   
Brindled Eupithecia abbreviata (l) & Double-striped Pugs Gymnoscelis rufifasciata
This Double-striped Pug Gymnoscelis rufifasciata lives up to its scientific name. 
Brindled Pug Eupithecia abbreviata
Scorched Carpet Ligdia adustata
Brindled Beauty Lycia hirtaria    
Muslin Moth Diaphora mendica, from above and below

Macro-moths (43 moths of 18 spp.); no micros:- 

Polyploca ridens Frosted Green 1
Anticlea badiata Shoulder Stripe 3
Anticlea derivata Streamer 1
Lampropteryx suffumata Water Carpet 1
Eupithecia abbreviata Brindled Pug 1
Gymnoscelis rufifasciata Double-striped Pug 1
Ligdia adustata Scorched Carpet 1
Selenia dentaria Early Thorn 1
Lycia hirtaria Brindled Beauty 1
Biston strataria Oak Beauty 1
Diaphora mendica Muslin Moth 2
Panolis flammea Pine Beauty 2
Orthosia cruda Small Quaker 1
Orthosia cerasi Common Quaker 7
Orthosia incerta Clouded Drab 2
Orthosia gothica Hebrew Character 12
Xylocampa areola Early Grey 4
Nycteola revayana Oak Nycteoline 1

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Norfolk moths: Rockland St. Peter garden, 5 April 2014

After a warm, sunny day, a good SW breeze picked up in the early evening, bringing dark clouds, the feel of rain and a chill in the air even though the night temperature never dropped below 13°C. There was markedly less moth activity after dark and a few spots of rain fell around 22h30. A sharp shower at 04h00 got me out of bed to turn off the trap.

Despite low numbers, three species were new for the trap: a fresh looking Water Carpet and  Nut-tree Tussock (f. medionigra) were resting on walls at 22h00, but had gone by dawn, while a male Waved Umber was inside the trap.

Waved Umber Menophra abruptaria

Macro-moths (11 moths of 7 spp.); no micros:-

Lampropteryx suffumata Water Carpet 1
Menophra abruptaria Waved Umber 1
Orthosia cruda Small Quaker 1
Orthosia cerasi Common Quaker 1
Orthosia gothica Hebrew Character 5
Xylocampa areola Early Grey 1
Colocasia coryli Nut-tree Tussock 1

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Early spring flowers at Wayland Wood

I always find Wayland Wood to be ominously quiet, not just in terms of its unusually low bird activity, but for the general subdued feeling of the place. This contrasts markedly with the sense of richness, diversity and burgeoning life that characterises almost any other wild natural area, including the other ancient woodlands I know, such as Cambridgeshire's Hayley Wood. Perhaps the dense, almost monocultural stands of Bird Cherry Prunus avium contribute to this. The only time I really feel that the wood feels vibrant is in late spring, when its Bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scripta are in flower, at which time the wood has a truly joyous feel. Despite its small size (34 ha), the labyrinthine path system leads the unwary walker far from where he or she had expected to be. Not for nothing that this is credited as the site of the Babes in the Wood story.

Ancient twin coppice stool of Ash Fraxinus excelsior and Hornbeam Carpinus betula.
There are records of Wayland Wood (Old Norse = "sacred grove") from the tenth century and, of course, it is mentioned in the Domesday Book. Signs of medieval boundaries are obvious in the obvious banks and ditches within the present day wood, together with ancient coppice stools of Ash Fraxinus excelsior and Hornbeam Carpinus betula.

Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa
Nevertheless, a quick, late afternoon visit to Wayland Wood last Saturday repaid the effort. True enough, there was next to no bird activity. However, this was compensated by a suite of early spring flowers typical of the site. Lesser Celandine Ranunculus ficaria and Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa were the most obvious: swathes of the densely-shaded forest floor beneath the large coppice trees were covered in the white blooms of the latter. The Bluebells that will soon turn this carpet lilac were only just coming into flower.

The sunlit rides between the coppice blocks harboured Barren Strawberry Potentilla sterilis and spikes of Bugle Ajuga reptans not yet in flower. Common Viola riviniana and Early Dog-violet V. reichenbachiana grew at the darker edges of these rides, the latter preferring the darker areas under the canopy where Primroses Primula vulgaris flourished.

Early Dog-violet Viola reichenbachiana

Primroses Primula vulgaris

Thick on the woodland floor
Gay company shall be,
Primrose and Hyacinth
And frail Anemone,
Perennial Strawberry-bloom,
Woodsorrel’s pencilled veil,
Dishevel’d Willow-weed
And Orchis purple and pale.

Robert Bridges—Idle Flowers

Returning after school for an hour today, we were delighted to find an Early Purple Orchid Orchis mascula just coming into flower within sight of the car park. In the ancient coppice plots, we were able to locate the oval leaves of Common Twayblade Neottia ovata, patches of Moschatel Adoxa moschatellina and the coveted Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem Gagea lutea, for which Wayland Wood is the only site in Norfolk.

Moschatel Adoxa moschatellina
Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem Gagea lutea
As if to refute my impressions of the site, three male Blackcaps were singing in the western part of the wood, one of which was kind enough to show itself in the top of an old oak these were not vocalising last Saturday and are the first I have heard this year. 

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Norfolk moths: Rockland St. Peter garden, 1 April 2014

The day was fairly warm perhaps 15°C but the sun has been obscured over the past several days by a kind of smog, both local air pollution from the UK Midlands and dust blown in from the Sahara. The night began overcast with high, white cloud and a temperature of 9.6°C at 21h00 (an hour after I turned on the trap). There was a thin, waxing crescent moon and a very light E wind. By 05h00 it was calm and there appeared to be a mist in the air, much of which proved to be particulate. The temperature on turning off the trap at 06h00 was 6.4°C.

The catch was about half that of the previous night, the only new moth for the year being a fresh Spectacle, flying a couple of months ahead of schedule: "this moth is out in June, sometimes late May" (South 1908). A single Pale Pinion a different individual to the one caught at the weekend  rested on a nearby wall.

An early Spectacle Abrostola tripartita   

Macro-moths (69 moths of 10 spp.); no micros:-

Alsophila aescularia March Moth 1
Selenia dentaria Early Thorn 3
Biston strataria Oak Beauty 1
Orthosia cruda Small Quaker 23
Orthosia cerasi Common Quaker 14
Orthosia incerta Clouded Drab 13
Orthosia gothica Hebrew Character 11
Lithophane hepatica Pale Pinion 1
Xylocampa areola Early Grey 1
Abrostola tripartita Spectacle 1


South, R. (1908) The moths of the British Isles, second series. Frederick Warne & Co.: London. 388 pp.