Drinker moths and stonechats

The first stonechat I have ever seen on the Chayne

The Chayne is really coming to life. An ever expanding list of birds, mammals and insects seems to be coming out of hiding across the farm, and what during the winter months was a featureless desert is now becoming an oasis of noise and natural industry. Skylarks, meadow pipits and curlews appeared within a few days of one another in mid March, then fox moth caterpillars and midges arrived as if from nowhere around a month ago. Willow trees have produced buds and rowans aren’t far behind them, while tiny green shoots of blaeberry and heather have come to life again even in the last few days. I was delighted when wheatears appeared on the farm, and I was thrilled when I saw a cock stonechat yesterday morning.

I am told that stonechats are common on areas of open moorland, heath and pasture, but they are such unusual and pretty little birds that I am sure I would have seen one before now. According to the RSPB website, stonechats are closely related to wagtails and fly catchers, and they pass their days in idle revelry, pecking at clegs and swallowing down the occasional daddy long legs. They will make no impact on my moorland regeneration project other than bringing a touch of beauty and cheeriness to the farm.

A "drinker moth" caterpillar

Another new species on the scene is equally attractive, but is also potentially threatening. I was worried to find a handful of fox moth caterpillars on the moor last month, particularly because they are known to eat prodigious quantities of heather and blaeberry. I have seen a handful of others, but another species of caterpillar has appeared over the last few days and I have been forced to go back to my “butterfly and moth handbook” to identify it. It turns out that the caterpillars of the drinker moth (euthrix potatoria) are relatively benign, feasting only on grasses and rushes. Their hairy bodies make them immune to attack from almost every British bird species, although they do have a weak link in their armour. Cuckoos have discovered that rubbing any hairy caterpillar on a hard surface will remove most of the irritating bristles, and these birds make quite a respectable living eating all kinds of larvae and caterpillars which would otherwise be safe behind a fuzzy mane.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s