Tim Melling – Northern Eggar

Tim writes: Northern Eggar (Lasciocampa quercus callunae) is a large day-flying moth that is currently considered to be the northern form of the Oak Eggar (L. quercus).  Northern Eggar is darker with distinct wing marking differences (eg paler shoulders and an S-shaped cross band), it has a two year life cycle (not one year like Oak Eggar) and it appears on the wing about a month earlier than Oak Eggar.  But the situation does seem rather complicated with some lowland and southern populations appearing like Northern Eggars.   In the Peak District they appear in late May flying non-stop over the moors, and falling prey to both Hobbies and Merlins.  This is a male identified by his dark brown colouration and his feathered antennae which he uses to locate females that release pheromones.

I was out for a walk on the Peak District moors in late July and saw hundreds, but every single one was flying unphotographably fast.  Then after several hours I  spotted one flapping in the heather.  Although it was perched it still flapped its wings rapidly and incessantly so I had to use a fast shutter speed to freeze them (1/2000) and this is the result.

The caterpillars are huge (c8cm long) and hairy, and the generic name Lasciocampa comes from the Greek meaning hairy caterpillar.  The names quercus and callunae translate as Oak and Heather, the former one of many foodplants of Oak Eggar, whereas Northern Eggar usually only feeds on Heather or Bilberry.  The name Eggar incidentally refers to the large egg-shaped silk cocoon which houses the pupa.  The reason why males are so difficult to photograph is because they don’t feed on flowers like normal moths and butterflies.  In fact, they don’t feed at all, instead using the fat reserves built up as a caterpillar.  So they spend their entire life patrolling for females and being extremely difficult to photograph.  Only really settling to mate, or I suppose to rest in cold weather.  The books say that the females are active at night (coming to light traps, unlike males) but it seems odd that males would not be active nocturnally too, even if they don’t come to light.

Taken with Nikon D500 with Nikkor 300mm f4 lens plus 1.4x converter at f7.1  1/2000 second  ISO 5600

 

Here is the paler female which lacks the feathered antennae.  They sit around in the heather waiting for males to arrive so are much easier to photograph.

Taken with Nikon D500 with Nikkor 300mm f4 lens plus 1.4x converter at f5.6  1/1600 second  ISO 400

 

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Dr Coffey’s reading list (6)

Therese Coffey

Dr Therese Coffey is the junior minister at Defra. When Gavin Gamble’s e-petition in favour of banning driven grouse shooting passes 10,000 signatures (and it stands at over 9300) then Dr Coffey will need to sign off a government response.

In order that she does not make Defra look even more foolish than they do already I am providing a reading list for the minister to inform her response.

Please sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting and put Dr Coffey on the spot.

Dr Coffey, you ought really to have a look at this,

 

Please sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting and put Dr Coffey on the spot.

 

The government response should:

  • be published within 2 weeks of Gavin Gamble’s e-petition reaching 10,000 signatures
  • announce that vicarious liability for wildlife crimes will be introduced in England because of the unacceptably high levels of wildlife crime
  • announce that Defra will ask the RSPB to come forward with proposals for licensing of shooting estates within a month and that Defra will respond to them by Christmas
  • acknowledge the level of concern about driven grouse shooting which led to 123,077 signatures being gained last year for an absolute ban on this hobby (I’m not expecting Dr Coffey to say anything nicer than that about a ban)
  • confirm that Defra is looking at removal of farming subsidies from grouse moors in its post-Brexit agricultural strategy
  • confirm that the evidence for wider environmental damage of heather burning has increased recently and that this is an issue that government will address and that this will require widespread changes to grouse moor management (burning and draining)
  • mention where the government is with dealing with the RSPB complaint to the EU over unsustainable moorland management due to grouse shooting practices
  • acknowledge that the plight of the Hen Harrier has not improved in two breeding seasons since the Defra Hen Harrier plan was launched and that the grouse shooting industry has not cleaned up its act and is on a last warning
  • announce that the details of the 15-year Natural England Hen Harrier study will be published by Christmas 2017 in a government report with further recommendations for Hen Harrier conservation
  • acknowledge that wildlife crime applies to many other protected species other than the Hen Harrier
  • announce that the National Capital Committee has been asked to compile a report on ecosystem services and grouse moor management
  • announce a review of the economic costs and benefits of intensive grouse moor management will be carried out by independent academics and published by Christmas 2018.

 

 

The government response should not:

  • say that funding of the NWCU is a sufficient response to combatting bird of prey persecution in the uplands (because nobody who knows has ever suggested such a thing)
  • say or suggest that grouse shooting provides a nett economic benefit to the nation (because there are no such figures)
  • suggest that the current Hen Harrier Action Plan is remotely fit for purpose
  • praise gamekeepers
  • conflate benefits of all shooting (economic or environmental) with benefits of grouse shooting (because it makes the government department and/or its ministers look either stupid or biased)
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An Unreliable History of Birdwatching (30) by Paul Thomas

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Wild Food (8) – Sloe Gin by Ian Carter

I do admire people who manage to produce their own wine from flowers, fruits or leaves, gleaned from the countryside. It seems to require lots of faffing about with all sorts of different ingredients, and endless decanting of fluids from one vessel to another – followed by a long, nerve-wracking wait to see if it has worked. I’m sure it’s easier than it appears once you get the hang of it. But in case you never do, I’d recommend sloe gin (or even sloe vodka) as an altogether simpler alternative.

Despite what you might read, making sloe gin really is as easy as picking the sloes in the autumn, adding them to a jar or bottle and tipping some gin on top. Unlike wine making there is very little to go wrong.

At the risk of contradicting myself I’ll add a couple of very quick caveats. You can add sugar and almond essence to the mix when you start, to sweeten the end product, something that does greatly improve the taste to my mind. If the sloes are still quite hard when picked then it’s worth pricking them to help allow the flavour to seep out. Some people apparently spike them with one of the defensive thorns, handily provided by the Blackthorn bushes, as they are picked. But if that seems like a lot of hassle you can avoid it; just leave the picking until after the first significant frost has done the work for you by softening the fruits – mid-October is often the perfect time of year.

Ideally, sloe gin needs to be left for a few months at least and the longer you resist temptation, the more the flavour intensifies and the better it gets. Making it in October for Christmas is fine if the holiday spirit means you can’t wait any longer, or there is a house full of thirsty guests to satisfy. But maybe try leaving at least one bottle for a full 6 months – or even until the following Christmas, just to experience the difference. If you’ve ever tasted the devilishly sour fruits straight from the tree you’ll be amazed that such a pleasant flavour could possibly be lurking within them.

 

Previous ‘Wild food’ posts by Ian Carter:

Chanterelles

Mackerel

Hazel Nuts

Penny Buns

Parasols

Puffins

Blackberries

 

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This blog started in April 2011 and this week we passed the 50,000 comments milestone.

 

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