Heading to the Isle of Mull

Friday, June 24, 2011 Adam Tilt 3 Comments


8192 - The Isle of Mull Ferry

It's finally time to make our annual trip up to the Isle of Mull, and I absolutely can't wait. My parents have arrived to stay in our house for the duration (a nice free holiday for them), and all that's left is for us to do some packing and start the 531 mile car journey north. In no time at all we will be back in the land of Eagles and legends with the stresses of work and daily life left far behind. My main aim is to simply enjoy myself, but I would love to see some Basking Sharks up close and have high hopes of spotting a Minke Whale. This latter relies on the individual that has been sighted from the boat trip we plan to take sticking around in the area for the next few days. I am also very intrigued to see if our Golden Eagle pair has nested in the same location for a third year running, and if the Short Eared Owl nest by the house has been successful.

We have no internet access at the house so I will be relying on free wi-fi connections in Tobermory to update this blog, and even that isn't guaranteed. So if you don't hear from me for the next couple of weeks then never fear, there will be an absolute deluge coming once I am back.

3 comments:

Pembrokeshire Minibeasts

Thursday, June 23, 2011 Adam Tilt 4 Comments


I haven't had the chance to get out anywhere this week which has given me the opportunity to return to a collection of images from my recent long weekend away in Pembrokeshire. I have already covered the fantastic birds on Skomer here as well as the Lackey Moth caterpillars, but we also saw plenty of other wildlife that I have yet to share.

Lets start with spiders. Walking around the coast from Abereiddy Bay we noticed a couple of balls of what at first glance looked to be caterpillars, but upon closer inspection turned out to be closely knit groups of young spiders. There were several of these suspended in the lower branches of the Gorse where they were well protected from the worst of the weather. Moving in for this shot I was distinctly aware that one wrong movement could have sent hundreds of mini spiders scattering in all directions, something which as you can imagine I wanted to avoid at all costs.

24410 - Young Spider, Pembrokeshire

Further south and again on the coast we came across the following spider that was busy building itself a web. If anyone knows what species it is I would love to know as it looks very similar to the youngsters above.

24415 - Spider, Pembrokeshire

The coast at Abereiddy also had a good selection of butterflies including several Common Blues and the following Wall Brown. The strong winds were keeping it well grounded and fortunately it had chosen a perfect Bluebell upon which to rest.

24412 - Wall Brown, Pembrokeshire

As I think I mentioned previously we were struck by how many different sorts of caterpillar we saw on our travels, with these two being the most impressive.

24423 - Narrow Bordered Five Spot Burnet Caterpillar, Pembrokeshire

24431 - Depressaria daucella larva, Pembrokeshire

The first is a Narrow Bordered Five Spot Burnet caterpillar, whilst the second is of a Depressaria Daucella larva. Both of these are species of moths, with the latter being a micro-moth having no English name. It is shown here feeding on water-dropwort which is its preferred food source. The roadsides leading to Whitesands Beach were covered in this plant which in turn held hundreds of these larvae. Photographing them proved to be a bit of a challenge though as apart from their small size the plants were waving around in the wind which made getting a sharp picture difficult. Fortunately I was able to get this one cracker.

4 comments:

New Arrivals and an Old Friend

Saturday, June 18, 2011 Adam Tilt 14 Comments


This afternoon we spent a couple of hours at the WWT site on the outskirts of Llanelli and found ourselves surrounded by hordes of new arrivals. It wasn't hard to miss the hundred strong flock of Jackdaws that were hanging around the entrance making an almighty racket, the majority of which was emanating from the many recent fledglings that were dotted throughout the group. At the first pond we encountered surely one of the duck worlds cutest offspring in the shape of ten floating humbugs, or should that be Shellduck ducklings. My attention though was drawn to the far less attractive family of Moorhens who were nearby. The progression of a Moorhen from birth to its final form fascinates me. They start off looking almost prehistoric and despite initial impressions they contain an amazing amount of detail and colour when viewed up close. I was fortunate to find several individuals around the site that were more than happy to pose for me, although I did get a bit of a surprise when one of the adults walked right up to me and gave my knee a good peck. It would appear that despite their size they aren't to be messed with!

24499 - Moorhen Fledgling, WWT Llanelli

24497 - Moorhen Fledgling, WWT Llanelli

24488 - Moorhen Fledgling, WWT Llanelli

Not all of the Moorhens were as young as those above. There were several individuals that were far more advanced having been born from earlier broods.

24501 - Moorhen Fledgling, WWT Llanelli

Other fledglings seen during our wanderings included Tufted Duck, Mallard, Coot, Greylag Goose, Black Headed Gull (in their droves) and a couple of Wood Pigeons that had not yet mastered the art of escaping in a flurry of flapping wings at the first sight of people.

24493 - Woodpigeon, WWT Llanelli

The most surprising sighting of the day was a young Fox cub that was patrolling the perimeter of the pool in front of the Michael Powell Hide. It was taking great interest in the thickets of reeds that lined the waters edge and would often pull its head from them with a mouth full of something that was soon wolfed down. I imagine the most likely candidates for meeting their maker would have been eggs or small birds still in the nest. Even a flock of Crows that arrived from nowhere with seemingly the sole ambition of harassing the Fox couldn't put it off. We waited a good while to see if it would come any closer but it always stayed well away from the hide. I did however manage to get a record shot which is more than I have managed to do with my locals Foxes to date.

24490  - Fox, WWT Llanelli

And what of the old friend I hear you ask? Well I can't be sure that it is the exact same bird that we have seen at the reserve in the past, but for the last couple of days a stunning Spoonbill has been hanging out on the lagoons. This species is a fairly regular visitor to the area now but I will never get tired of seeing them or their fantastic bills. Amazingly we caught up with it just as a break in the clouds coincided with a bit of preening on the part of the Spoonbill. So often I have been forced to just watch these birds sleeping, but this time we were treated to a superb display.

24505 - Spoonbill, WWT Llanelli

24504 - Spoonbill, WWT Llanelli

The only negative to all this was that the Spoonbill did appear to have a limp in one of its legs. Although the bird looks in good shape at the moment it did stumble on occasion during its preening. Hopefully it is just something that it can shake off, but if not it probably couldn't be in a better place than where it is at the moment.

14 comments:

A Sunset and Some Birds

Monday, June 13, 2011 Adam Tilt 6 Comments


It's been a pretty quiet weekend for me with atrocious weather and work commitments limiting any outings. I did manage to squeeze in a couple of forays out to my local patch however on Friday and Saturday, both times during late evening. The Friday trip was quite productive with some lovely light giving superb views from Gopa Hill across the Loughor Estuary and over the surrounding hills.

24478 - View from Gopa Hill

The air was quite damp and after a relatively warm day the temperature was dropping off rapidly. As a result the ground was visibly steaming in places, producing pockets of mist that hung in the valleys until they were finally pushed out by the strengthening wind. When combined with the setting sun the climatic conditions produced one of the best sunsets that I have seen from this location.

24479 - View from Gopa Hill

As on previous nights I was surprised to see the Swallows out hunting right up until it was almost dark, but they were clearly still finding things to eat. The Whitethroat nest that I had located a few weeks previously looked as if it had successfully fledged a couple of chicks who were noisily calling to each other from atop the Bracken. Stonechat fledglings were also visible on Bryn-bach-Common.

By Saturday the Whitethroats were nowhere to be seen which is a shame as I had hoped that they would stick around for a while longer. The Stonechats on the other hand were being much more showy with at least four individuals (presumably a family group) mixing it up with the ever territorial Meadow Pipits. The Yellowhammer pair were also in fine voice with the male singing from one of its favourite perches.

Back in the garden the feeders have been restocked after our supplies were completely depleted. Trust me when I say it's a bit of a shock when you have to buy the various seed varieties, nuts and fat-balls all at once. I am sure that bird food is getting more expensive! A brief stint sat in the garden afterwards had the following Blue Tit and Robin at close quarters. It's hard to believe how sunny it is in these photographs considering the weather that rolled in a few hours later.

24480 - Blue Tit

24482 - Robin

Throughout the first part of the year we have been keeping a casual count of which bird species have been visiting the garden and in what numbers. As we are now rushing head first into summer it seemed like an appropriate time to wipe the slate clean and to start the process over, hopefully enabling us to see any seasonal variations. For instance I can already state that one of our most numerous winter visitors, the Starling, is now completely absent. Our entire list for the past four months or so is as follows: Blue Tit (8), Great Tit (2), Coal Tit (2), Chaffinch (7), Greenfinch (2), House Sparrow (5), Dunnock (2), Robin (2), Starling (70+), Collared Dove (2), Long Tailed Tit (2), Goldfinch (10), Siskin (3), Bullfinch (2), Jackdaw (5), Song Thrush (1), Blackbird (2), Red Kite (3), Buzzard (4), Raven (2), Wood Pigeon (1), Carrion Crow (1), Lesser Black Backed Gull (1), Sparrowhawk (1), Black Headed Gull (1), Herring Gull (3), Magpie (2), Grey Heron (1). Now although those counts seem pretty accurate, with species such as the House Sparrow it is very hard to judge if we are getting the same birds at all times or if there are many different groups that pass through the garden throughout the day. Steve Wait has written an interesting post here after ringing the birds in his garden and finding out that there are often many more individuals than we may at first think. It's well worth a read.

6 comments:

More of those Mumbles Kittiwakes

Saturday, June 11, 2011 Adam Tilt 4 Comments


It seems that the Mumbles pier Kittiwakes always get a good response on here whenever I write about them, so I thought I'd share a few more of my favourite photos from our recent visit. As I mentioned in my last post there are now at least 275 individuals on the pier which means that almost all of the available nesting sites have now been taken. As you can imagine with so many birds breeding in such close proximity to each other, squabbles and disagreements are a regular occurrence. Trust me when I say that you can hear this colony long before you see it.

24468 - Kittiwake, Mumbles Pier

24472 - Kittiwake, Mumbles Pier

When visiting the Kittiwakes I like to focus in on a particular bird or a pair as this often gives you the best chance to observe specific behaviours that otherwise get lost when watching the colony as a whole. This was well demonstrated by the pair below. The bird on the right, which I presume is a female, adopted this very submissive pose every time that the male returned to her. The crouching with head upturned was often accompanied with a short, high pitched call, that if I was to place a human interpretation on it sounded almost like the bird was begging. Now if the female was sitting on eggs I would have expected this behaviour to result in its partner regurgitating some food, but we are not yet at that stage of the cycle and I saw no meal forthcoming. Instead I wonder if this is all part of the courtship ritual, with the female bird showing that she is ready to be mated.

24455 - Kittiwake, Mumbles Pier

The next photo is of a Kittiwake that I really enjoyed watching. As you can see its chosen nest site is right on top of a deep crack in the wooden beam where no other nest has been built previously. I watched this birds partner bring in a beak full of fresh nesting material and drop it into the crack where, as you can probably imagine, it disappeared out of sight. The birds looked at each other with an expression that seemed to say "I told you this wasn't a good spot to build on" before the returning bird headed off on another sortie. This little scene was a perfect example of why being an early arrival at a colony is an advantage, as it saves the extra effort that this pair are having to go through with a less than optimal nesting position.

24470 - Kittiwake, Mumbles Pier

Other Kittiwakes had nests that were virtually complete other than for some final adjustments. In the past I have seen these birds use everything from seaweed to fishing wire as construction materials, but they seemed to be sticking to grass from the two islands off Mumbles head during my visit.

24453 - Kittiwake, Mumbles Pier

Amongst all the noise and chaos it is possible to catch these birds in slightly more intimate moments, and it is with a couple of these that I shall leave you.

24449 - Kittiwake, Mumbles Pier

24466 - Kittiwake, Mumbles Pier

4 comments:

Fox Encounter

Thursday, June 09, 2011 Adam Tilt 3 Comments


I was feeling somewhat inspired after last nights BBC Springwatch episode and had a sudden urge to get outside and see what was about. The sun had already set behind the hills and I found myself in that time that isn't light but is equally not yet dark. The evening chorus was in full flow with Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers and Robins calling from what seemed to be every direction. They were often outdone however by the numerous Song Thrushes and Blackbirds, the latter of which seemed to delight in erupting from the undergrowth just as I approached. I often wonder if they realise that just sitting tight would be a far more effective tactic at concealing their presence, but thus far any attempt at broaching the subject has been met with blank looks or a rapidly retreating black missile. But I digress.

A screeching call from down the valley had me scanning the area intently for any sign of an owl, a bird that I am sure must hunt this area and one which I have so far been wholly unsuccessful in finding. This night was to be no different. I turned around intending to continue along the path and was forced to stop dead in my tracks. There, standing out in the open about twenty meters further up the hill, was a magnificent Red Fox. It's full attention was focused on me but it was clearly relaxed and seemed to be more curious at my unexpected presence than in fear of any perceived threat. We studied each other for what seemed like minutes but must have been only seconds, time slowing down in that way it does when experiencing one of those intimate encounters with nature. I was able to take in minute details such as the depth and sheen of the Fox's coat, the slight dampness to its nose and the way it held it's surprisingly bushy tail clear of the ground. After taking its fill the Fox took a few more steps across the path, stopped once more for another lingering look, and then disappeared into the bracken blanket that covers the valley sides.

I remained where I stood for a few minutes, hoping that the Fox would return or that another may be somewhere in the vicinity. When it was clear that I was once more alone I approached the place where the Fox had taken its leave. Here I found a clearly discernible path through the undergrowth, presumably indicating that this a regular route. I always find it amazing that chance encounters like this ever take place. The Fox probably walks that way once, maybe twice an evening so the probability of me being there at that exact moment must be incredibly remote. Whatever the odds I am always glad when they are soundly beaten.

One of my local bloggers Jeremy also had an encounter with a Fox this week, and his excellent photos can be seen here. Foxes have had a bit of bad press here in the UK over the last year (much of which has been scaremongering or plainly incorrect), and this is a great shame as they are fantastic animals. I have heard Foxes around our house on occasion and even been fortunate to see one once in the garden late at night. I am sorely tempted to purchase a camera trap and to place it around the local area to see if I can calculate the size of the Fox population and map where they range. Sorely tempted indeed.

3 comments:

Mumbles Pier Redevelopment

Tuesday, June 07, 2011 Adam Tilt 19 Comments


I made a quick visit to Mumbles Pier a couple of weeks ago to check on the breeding Kittiwake colony and was very pleased to see that their numbers have swelled to at least 275 individuals, many of which are now paired up and in the last throws of nest building. As far as I could see there are as yet no eggs, but several birds were busy mating so it can only be a matter of time.

24457 - Kittiwake, Mumbles Pier

24459 - Kittiwake, Mumbles Pier

24462 - Kittiwake, Mumbles Pier

While watching the Kittiwakes I remembered the comments I had made in my last post from the colony regarding the piers planned regeneration and how this could be the last opportunity that we have to see these birds at their current home. At the time I had very little information to hand regarding what the future held for them and so embarked on a mini fact finding mission. I have been in contact with the developers and also had a good read through all of the various planning applications and environmental studies that have been submitted to Swansea council and which have recently received planning approval. The picture is now a lot clearer so I thought I would provide an overview for those, like myself, who are interested in the future of the colony.

First a little history. Mumbles Pier was originally constructed in 1892 and has been a grade 2 listed building since 1992. It underwent extensive restoration after the second world war but since then has been steadily falling into disrepair. The result of decades of exposure to sea air and recent fire damage has left the deck and underlying structure of the pier in an extremely poor state, large sections of which have been fenced off for public safety.

24475 - Mumbles Pier

As the popularity of the pier faded and visitor numbers fell the Kittiwakes started to move in. Originally there were at least three separate Kittiwake colonies around the Gower peninsular, but in recent years these have all virtually ceased to exist with birds that previously nested in them presumably moving onto the pier. As a result its importance locally is extremely high. When taking into account the species long term decline in the UK and the presence of only two other colonies along the South Wales coast its importance on a national level can also not be underestimated.

So what effect will the redevelopment have? The proposal is for a wholesale replacement of the upper deck of the pier including much of the underlying structure. This will almost completely remove the existing ledges that the Kittiwakes build their nests upon. I have received contradicting reports that the replacement steel will be specially widened to accommodate new nests, and also that it will be designed with sloping edges to prevent nesting in the future. I am tempted to believe that the latter option is the chosen approach as the various planning documents are very focused on a colony migration scheme rather than encouraging the Kittiwakes to return to the refurbished pier.

The migration scheme involves the erection of purpose built ledges on the existing lifeboat station that adjoins the pier and on the supporting legs that hold up the walkway between the two structures. Three sections of these ledges are currently in place as a trial but on my visit they were being completely ignored. In my opinion this is most likely as a result of an abundant supply of adequate nesting sites on the pier itself, rendering the new ledges surplus to requirements. If the trial is successful (though it's hard to see how this will be judged when the birds currently have no incentive to use them), the pier will be completely netted off at the completion of this years breeding activities to prevent the birds from nesting there again next season. Given that Kittiwakes are known to be very adaptive birds it is expected that on their return they will use the new artificial ledges or start to use the two islands located just off Mumbles Head instead. This approach is backed by the Countryside Council for Wales and its success is a key condition to the planning application receiving approval.

24444 - Lifeboat Station, Mumbles Pier
The new artificial ledges (above and below)
24476 - Artificial Ledges, Mumbles Pier

Now for my thoughts on the scheme. Firstly I am fully in agreement that the redevelopment of the pier is necessary and should go ahead. The current structure is at risk of being lost altogether which will provide no benefit to Kittiwakes or to the local tourist industry. Therefore action needs to be taken but it needs to be done in harmony between the needs of locals and the wildlife. On this basis the provision of artificial ledges does seem to be the best option available to the pier owners in terms of providing adequate nesting sites for those lost during the redevelopment. However I have concerns with the limited time frame in which trials of the ledges are to be carried out. As I have mentioned above the trial currently taking place has little chance of meaningful success as the Kittiwakes have no incentive to use the new ledges with the full extent of their usual nest sites still available. A better approach may have been to net off half of the pier for a season and then to see if any of the new ledges are used. I also have reservations about the new ledges themselves. As you can see from the photos above they are very basic in construction. Has any consideration been given to ledge width, the materials used or if different designs should be trialled at the same time to judge which the birds prefer? Also I would hope that there is a commitment on the pier owners to ensure that these ledges are maintained and are not left to deteriorate into nothingness as the years progress.

In summing up I hope that the Kittiwakes are as adaptive as it is hoped and that the planning conditions attached to the work are adhered to closely and not brushed under the carpet once work starts in earnest. It is inevitable that there will be quite major disruption to the colony over the next couple of years but hopefully the Kittiwakes will continue to return to the bay and embrace their new conditions.

I'll be following the development closely and will report back any significant milestones on here. Although the plans for the pier have been approved they are conditional on the owners also receiving permission for a hotel on the land at the pier head. Without this no work will start, but assuming that it is forthcoming preparatory work will begin in September. As a result if you want to see these birds at close quarters in their current location then I'd pay a visit over the next couple of months. Even if the colony remains at its present size it is unlikely that we will ever experience such fantastic views of these Kittiwakes again.

19 comments:

Flycatching in Mid Wales

Sunday, June 05, 2011 Adam Tilt 8 Comments


It was while watching the new series of the BBC's Springwatch (which is turning out to be one of the best yet in my opinion), that I had the dawning realisation that I was rapidly running out of time to go and watch Pied Flycatchers at their best. These summer visitors are at their most accommodating when they are busy feeding young in the nest, whether than be a natural nest site or one in a man-made box (the latter seems remarkably popular). I have a couple of favourite sites that offer the perfect combination of a decent numbers of birds, a nice walk and stunning scenery and they were exactly where we headed yesterday.

The first of these is the RSPB Dinas reserve near Llandovery, which regular readers will have seen me visit on a number of occasions over the last couple of years. Yesterday even my high expectations for this locality were exceeded as within a minute of leaving the car we had already seen our first male Pied Flycatcher as well as a red flash from the rapidly retreating rump of a female Redstart. This was a pattern that was to be repeated throughout our time there, with seemingly every turn revealing another pair of Flycatchers busy attending a nest or a couple of Redstarts (including the stunning males) flitting through the trees. In all we saw at least seven pairs of Pied Flycatchers and six pairs of Redstarts, though numbers were hard to gauge accurately. We were also fortunate to see recent fledglings of both species being fed by parents, so it looks like we timed things just about perfectly. The highlight was probably watching a pair of Pied Flycatchers  near the start of the walk who had chosen a nest box right next to the path and who were popping in with food for the noisy youngsters inside every couple of minutes. We stood and watched them happily go about their business for a good while and as a result can certainly vouch for the quantity of insects that were in the air, most of which thankfully didn't have too much of a taste for humans.

Unfortunately my best efforts at photographing the pair resulted in nothing more than a few grainy shots, the inevitable outcome of a very shady woodland. Fortunately we have another excellent spot for Flycatchers a few miles further north on the steep sides of the Elan Valley. Here we were once again tripping over ourselves with nesting pairs, and I just about managed to get a couple of photos before we lost the lighting for the day. The male is the black and white bird whilst the female is the duller brown one.

24438 - Pied Flycatcher, Elan Valley

24441 - Pied Flycatcher, Elan Valley

24440 - Pied Flycatcher, Elan Valley

Both locations gave us other great sightings when we weren't focusing on the Pied Flycatchers. At the Dinas reserve a family of five Spotted Flycatchers was also present, a first for me at this location and a bird that made a couple of visitors very happy when we pointed them out. There were also several family parties of Nuthatch, Great Tit and Blue Tit, as well as a couple of very vocal Wood Warblers and even a Garden Warbler that seemed to be in the process of building a nest.

Back at the Elan Valley Redstarts and Wood Warblers were also present though in lower numbers, but we did see a pair of Redpoll with a recent fledgling, a Treecreeper and what may have been a roosting Tawny Owl in a nest-box. The light wasn't quite good enough to see into the boxes shadows to say for certain but there was definitely a shape in there. We saw a pair of well developed checks in the same box two years ago, a photo of which can be seen in this post, so the possibility of it being an Owl are high. We'll have to make a return visit in a couple of weeks to see if the box is indeed being used again.

8 comments:

A Summers Evening at Rhossili

Friday, June 03, 2011 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


It seems that the ever present wind has finally abated just in time for the arrival of some warmer weather. Yesterday evening we had blue sky from horizon to horizon so decided to pack a picnic and head to Rhossili on Gower to enjoy the sunset. On the way out through the garden it was hard to miss the incessant calling from the resident House Sparrows who have various broods of youngsters secreted away in bushes and under roof tiles. We have seen a few being fed by their parents out in the open but thus far I have not managed to capture them on camera. I did however manage to get one of the Dad's as he proudly defended his territory in the neighbours Apple tree.

24434 - House Sparrow

I also got to answer one of life's great unanswered questions; just how many Collared Doves is it possible to squeeze on to the top of a washing line pole? It seems that two is about the limit.

24435 - Collared Dove

Down at Rhossili a fantastic Kestrel was hovering above the path near the coastguard hut, while the Swallows and House Martins were busy hunting around the Worms Head pub. The sea was as calm as a mill pond (something I haven't been able to say for well over a month) but the hoped for Porpoise or Dolphin failed to materialise. We did bump into a family of six Stonechats though who happily gave me the run-around as I tried to photograph them against the rapidly setting sun. In the end one of the youngsters perched perfectly for a few minutes allowing me to get some very pleasing shots.

24436 - Stonechat, Rhossili, Gower

24437 - Stonechat, Rhossili, Gower

The sunset itself was very nice to watch but I didn't bother with any photographs as there were no clouds to catch the last rays of light. I was happy just to sit there and watch the scene unfold before me whilst listening to the birds sing. Sometimes there is nothing better than to just absorb a place and appreciate it for what it is. I look forward to many similar evenings this summer.

1 comments:

Lackey Moth Caterpillar (Malacosoma neustria)

Wednesday, June 01, 2011 Adam Tilt 8 Comments


24422 - Lackey moth caterpillar (Malacosoma neustria)

Lackey Moth caterpillars (Malacosoma neustria) were present in great numbers along the Pembrokeshire coast both north and south of St Davids last weekend. This species belongs to a family of tent caterpillars, so called because of the distinctive silk 'tents' that the newly emerged caterpillars build. These tents are positioned to intercept the early morning sun so that the caterpillars contained within can elevate their body temperature as quickly as possible during early spring. The tents are constructed from distinct layers of silk separated by air gaps to form separate compartments, the temperatures of which can vary widely. By moving between these compartments the caterpillars can regulate their body temperatures as necessary throughout the day. The sections of the coast path that we walked were lined with huge quantities of these tents, many of them still containing masses of newly emerged caterpillars.

24416 - Lackey moth caterpillar (Malacosoma neustria)

As Lackey Moth caterpillars develop they go through several growth stages, shedding their exoskeleton during each transformation. Their initial form is shown in the photo above, while their final and more colourful form is shown in the photo at the top of this post. Many of the exoskeletons were still hanging around the tents as shown in the left of the photo below.

24420 - Lackey moth caterpillar (Malacosoma neustria)

As you can probably imagine, this quantity of caterpillars in one place can have a massive impact on the surrounding vegetation. New tent locations were easy to spot as typically the surrounding bushes had been stripped completely bare of all their leaves. This probably explains why we saw several of the caterpillars travelling across the path at various points, no doubt in search of fresh food sources. The photos below show the results of their huge appetite.

24418 - Lackey moth caterpillar (Malacosoma neustria)

24417 - Lackey moth caterpillar (Malacosoma neustria)

I have never seen these caterpillars or their tents before so I'm not sure if we were particularly lucky this time around or if they have had a bumper year. Wikipedia mentions that these species often exhibit a boom or bust breeding mentality so it is quite likely that this year has seen a population explosion. I'd be interested to hear from anyone else who has seen these creatures on their travels.

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