Friday 8 September 2023

A Thriving Colony

Yesterday evening was forecast warm and muggy, perfect for Tree Crickets. Excellent, because a visit to West Bexington was long overdue. Having discovered the little colony of Tree Crickets there two years ago (see here) I felt a bit guilty for neglecting them all summer. Were they doing okay? Were they even still present? Only one way to find out...

Parking up, it felt odd not to have been here at all since last autumn. The familiar walk down to the beach was quiet, and once there I spent the time from dusk into darkness looking for moths along the coast path. Plenty of the common migrants, Silver Y and Rusty-dot Pearl, but I didn't spot anything scarcer. Last year I caught a couple of White-points and a Bordered Straw there. Soon it was properly dark and, on cue, a chorus of Tree Crickets fired up.

I recorded a short video to capture the beautiful soundscape - multiple Tree Crickets against a backdrop of lazy surf - then set about searching for the nearest one. I remembered how hard it was to see one last year, so didn't hold out much hope. What a surprise then, not only to find it quickly but to see it was actively in song, despite being in the spotlight of my head torch! I fumbled for the camera. Unfortunately, panic mode took control. 'Quick!' it yelled, 'Get something! ANYthing!' and forgot all about focusing and exposure compensation. Still, I managed a few seconds of video showing a Tree Cricket with its wings raised, stridulating. Also, when it inevitably stopped before the focus kicked in, a few photos...

West Bexington Tree Cricket Oecanthus pellucens.

The light of my head torch was enough to give me ISO400 and pretty decent sharpness.

I noticed that this Tree Cricket's antennae were much shorter than those of the one I photographed last year (see here) but they did seem to be of equal length. So I'm not sure whether this is normal (i.e. some simply have short antennae) or whether it is in fact damage, but neatly symmetrical damage.

So, here is the video. The first 30 seconds set the scene, with that gorgeous soundscape against a black backdrop. The lens cover was off, but the camera couldn't see anything! Following that, footage of a Dorset Tree Cricket...

I could hardly have wished for a better outcome, and it was great to know that the Tree Cricket colony is thriving. I didn't hear any away from the usual spot and the number of audible individuals seemed consistent with previous visits, so I cannot say whether it is growing. Still, at least they are still there, and so is the lovely habitat. Once again it struck me how few know or care about this tiny extralimital population of what is a pretty common insect elsewhere, and how there must be countless similarly under-the-radar scenarios involving other small creatures. We really do not know what we are missing.

Finally, a couple of entries for the Moth Diary...

Tuesday night, 5th September

100 moths of 39 species; two new for year. One of the new ones was Pandemis cinnamomeana, which avoided the camera. The other was this beauty...

Feathered Gothic, definitely high on my 'Aesthetically Pleasing' list. Recorded on three nights last year, and not uncommon locally.

Wednesday night, 6th September

I had high hopes for Wednesday night. It was warm and humid, and brought a lot of Sahara dust. If only it had been as generous with North African vagrants. The trap was certainly busy (173 moths of 55 species) but migrants were few, and absolutely nothing was new for year or garden. Plenty of interest though...

The garden's third Cypress Pug.

With <10 other Bridport area records on the Living Record map, this is another moth we've done well for. Listed as 'local', this is our sixth of 2023, following two last year.

It is extremely unusual to be presented with a spread-wing photo opportunity by a micro of this kind, so I took it.

Prays fraxinella (not 'Prayes' as carelessly annotated in above pic) is another micro with <10 Bridport area records on the Living Record map. We trapped one last year, another in June and two together on Wednesday night. Interestingly, one was a dark form, as referred to three posts back (here) when I wrote about Prays ruficeps and got all soap-boxy about taxonomy. Apparently it is possible to separate a dark P. fraxinella from P. ruficeps due to the presence of 'fraxinella-ish markings' in the former. Now was an opportunity to test the theory...

Well, the theory seems to work in practice, but it would have been nice if our P. ruficeps had been a bit more 'unremittingly black'.

Last night's trap produced another dark fraxinella, so if it behaves I might try getting another photo to share.*

Two more Caloptilia robustella. Nice.

Western Conifer Seed Bug. Not sure we've had one of these in the garden before.

Finally, we caught one of these...

Elachista sp.

The 4mm silver sprite portrayed above is clearly quite a fresh individual in decent nick. However, like those intriguing tripod moths of the Parornix persuasion and myriad Coleophorids, there are loads of look-alikes. Put simply, they cannot reliably be identified to species without recourse to mutilation. I have been given some advice regarding such moths. Basically it is this:

Launch it heavenwards and erase from memory.

Oh, if only it were so easy. Every time I catch one of these things, it irks greatly.

* This blog spoils its readers.


  1. In an interesting (or perhaps not) mothy parallel, I had my first ever Feathered Gothic on Monday/Tuesday this week & my first ever Prays fraxinella in the trap this morning. I have had Prays ruficeps before, but only a couple.

    1. Cheers Mike, I do find it interesting to compare and contrast the mothy demographic of other recorders. Glad to hear you've trapped a Feathered Gothic. Such a smart moth! 😎

  2. I think I'd have sat among the singing crickets all evening, a very relaxing song.

    1. Lovely, isn't it? Would have gone very nicely with a fat glass of red wine. 😊