The first event of the day was to open the moth traps. Peter Murphy from Rodley Nature Reserve helped us put names to the each moth as it was taken from the trap. The trap doesn't hurt the moths, it simply uses a bright light to attract them, after which the moths settle down for a rest on the egg boxes placed inside.
Opening the moth trap
One of the first moths out was a fantastic Elephant Hawk-moth! Pink and green - wow! The "Elephant" part of the name comes from the when the insect is still a caterpillar, because it has a trunk-like section just behind its head. The biggest moth we found was the Poplar Hawk-moth - there were three of these in the trap. One of the most striking moths was the White Ermine, which did indeed look as if it was made of a stoat's winter fur (used to trim royal gowns).
Here are just some of the moths we saw:
Common Swift Moth
Silver Ground Carpet Moth
Small Magpie Moth
White Ermine Moth
Buff Tip Moth
Next, mammal experts John and Maxine took around the reserve to open the mammal traps they had set the night before. Most of the traps contained either a Bank Vole or a Wood Mouse (sometimes called a Long-tailed Field Mouse). It was a great opportunity to see the differences between these two mammals: the Bank Vole is large with grey-brown fur, whereas the Wood Mouse is smaller but has bigger eyes and ears and a longer tail, with more chestnut-brown fur.
Opening the mammal traps
Another Wood Mouse
The group then split up as more events happened around the reserve and people went to have picnics. We had a great time at the pond-dipping pool, fishing out tadpoles, caddisfly and damselfly larvae, water boatmen, diving beetles, and small fish.
While eating our picnic, we watched a pair of Common Whitethroat (a small songbird, part of the warbler family) flying to and fro across the dragonfly pools. They were bringing food to their chicks in a nest hidden in the long grass by a pond.
Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly
In one of the dragonfly conservation ponds we spent a fascinating half hour watching newts. We were allowed to get one out with a net to have a closer look at it and we were able to identify it as a smooth newt, which is the commonest UK newt.
Whilst watching the newts, we spotted something large and pale, writhing around in the pond; on closer inspection, we discovered that this was a luckless dragonfly larvae, being devoured by a newt (rather larger than the newt in the photo). The head of the dragonfly larvae was in the newt's mouth but it put up a good fight as dragonfly larvae can be quite aggressive themselves and even eat small fish! But then two more newts came along to join in the feast and, from that point on, the dragonfly larvae didn't really stand a chance! Being a dragonfly is obviously a risky business - we also saw this dragonfly with only three wings, which had probably had a run in with a hungry bird.
Broad-bodied Chaser (female)
A fantastic day out thanks again to everyone who attended, and a big thanks to the staff and volunteers at Rodley Nature Reserve.