We always get asked an amazing array of questions working here at Newport Wetlands, and last week I had a good one from a budding entomologist at our minibeast event. She asked “What’s the difference between a moth and a butterfly,” as we were busy observing an abundance of cinnabar moth caterpillars and unsuccessfully chasing after meadow browns and large whites! Phew, where to start on that one! In fact, there is no particular scientific basis for the division between butterflies and moths, as they both belong to the same order - Lepidoptera. However, in Britain most moth antennae lack a club end, whereas butterflies generally have thin antennae with small balls or clubs at the end. The majority of moths also have hairlike or feathery antennae. Another interesting difference is that most moths rest with their wings folded back against their body, whereas few butterflies can do this. There are over 2,000 species recorded in the UK, and of these only 56 are butterflies.
Whilst minibeasting a magpie flew overhead, and another interesting question was posed: “why do magpies have such long tails?” Unlike other members of the corvid family such as the crows, ravens, rooks, jackdaws and jays, as well as lesser recognized members like choughs and nutcrackers, the magpie has a tail almost equal in length to its body. It’s thought that this might enable the magpie to make swift turns in flight to avoid predation, to compensate for its rather average flying ability!
The interesting end to this story is that there is actually such a thing as a magpie moth! This was found recently by a colleague not too far away from the nature reserve. If you have any questions or would like to find out about magpies, moths or more, pop in on Saturday 12th September and see what we have caught in our moth trap. (Please note that the bat and moth event mentioned in last week’s blog is now going to be held on Friday 11th September, followed by more moths on the Saturday morning)!
Magpie moth by Robert Magee
Recent Sightings from 12/08 to 18/08
Bearded tit, Black-headed gull, Blackbird, Blackcap, Black-tailed godwit, Blue tit, Buzzard, Carrion crow, Cetti's warbler, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff, Common sandpiper, Common whitethroat, Coot, Cormorant, Curlew, Dunlin, Dunnock, Gadwall, Goldcrest, Goldfinch, Goshawk, Great spotted woodpecker, Great tit, Greater black-backed gull, Green woodpecker, Greenfinch, Greenshank, Grey heron, Hobby, House martin, House sparrow, Jay, Kestrel, Kingfisher, Lapwing, Lesser whitethroat, Linnet, Little egret, Little grebe, Little ringed plover, Long-tailed tit, Magpie, Mallard, Moorhen, Mute swan, Oystercatcher, Peregrine, Pheasant, Pied wagtail, Pochard, Redshank, Reed bunting, Reed warbler, Robin, Sand martin, Sedge warbler, Shelduck, Sparrowhawk, Swallow, Teal, Tufted duck, Water rail, Wigeon, Woodpigeon and Wren.
Other species from 12/08 to 18/08
Black tailed skimmer, Common blue damselfly, Common blue, Common darter, Emperor dragonfly, Gatekeeper, Large white, Meadow brown, Otter, Rabbit, Red admiral, Small copper, Small white, Speckled wood, Stoat and Weasel.
Please note that we take our recent sightings list from the visitor sightings board that anyone can contribute to. This is great as everyone can get involved, but obviously can lead to potential errors too as they aren’t always verified! We try to keep this list as accurate as possible but if you see something unusual feel free to comment here!
It’s common to hear at this time of year that ‘not much is going on out there.’ However, after having spent 24 hours here for the Big Wild Sleepout I can guarantee that this is not true at all. It might be that many garden birds are having some welcome catch up time after a busy breeding and nesting season. At this time of year they are moulting and therefore keep themselves tucked out of harms way, which is why the feeders are not so busy. However, out on the scrape there is still plenty of action. One of my favourite sights last weekend was the young Water rail that kept popping out from the reedbed at the far edge of the scrape. Although not uncommon, their secretive nature makes them harder to spot, unlike other more gregarious members of the rail family such as the Coot and Moorhen. The young Water rails are generally similar in appearance to the adults, but the blue-grey in the plumage is buff instead. You might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the Water rail through the binoculars set up in the cafe.
Water rail by Mike Richards
Another wonderful sighting on the scrape was the Grey heron patiently fishing. Surprisingly fish is not the only item on a heron’s menu. They are quite partial to amphibians such as frogs and newts, small mammals including shrews, voles and moles, and even feast on an occasional Grass snake or small water bird.
Grey heron by Mike Richards
The benefit of being at the reserve at dusk was that we had the opportunity to see what happened as the sun started to set. As dusk drew in, a flurry of activity happened next to the Visitor Centre as a group of Common pipistrelles emerged from their summer roost to hunt amongst the swarms of midges and mosquitoes. They can polish off up to 3,000 insects a night! We then set off to see if we could find any of the other 5 recorded species on site, including the Daunbenton’s bat which we discovered skimming over the lagoon on the way to the lighthouse. If you want to find out more about the bats here at Newport Wetlands join us on September 19th for a bat and moth walk.
Recent sightings 6th August to 12th August
Avocet, Bar-tailed godwit, Bearded tit, Black headed gull, Blackbird, Blackcap, Black-tailed godwit, Blue tit, Bullfinch, Buzzard, Cetti's warbler, Chiffchaff, Common sandpiper, Common whitethroat, Coot, Cormorant, Curlew, Dunlin, Dunnock, Gadwall, Goldcrest, Grasshopper warbler, Great spotted woodpecker, Great tit, Green sandpiper, Greenfinch, Greenshank, Grey heron, Hobby, House sparrow, Jay, Linnet, Little egret, Little grebe, Little ringed plover, Long-tailed tit, Magpie, Mallard, Marsh harrier, Moorhen, Mute swan, Oystercatcher, Pheasant, Redshank, Redstart, Reed bunting, Reed warbler, Ringed plover, Robin, Sand martin, Sedge warbler, Shoveler, Snipe, Song thrush, Stonechat, Swallow, Teal, Tufted duck, Water rail, Wheatear, Wren and Yellow wagtail.
4 species of Carder bee, Blue emperor dragonfly, Cinnabar moth caterpillar, Clouded yellow, Comma, Common blue damselfly, Common darter, Common pipistrelle, Cuckoo bee, Emperor dragonfly, Gatekeeper, Grasshopper, Large white, Meadow brown, Peacock, Red admiral, Shaded broad-bar moth, Slug, Small skipper, Small tortoiseshell, Small white, Soldier beetle, Water shrew and Weasel.
Wow, what an amazing night it was at Newport Wetlands on our Big Wild Sleepout last night! We started off by doing some pond dipping - the first thing we caught was a great specimen of a water scorpion. Many sticklebacks later the sun was starting to set, we'd had our dinner and were ready for the night's adventures! A dusk walk took in some spectacular views across the estuary, and we saw many birds heading off to roost for the night. The favourite sighting of the walk has to be the big group of cormorants all hanging out on the pylon by the Visitor Centre. We then had a whirlwind introduction to the night skies in the indoor planetarium and meteorite show. Many thanks to Usk Astronomical Society for all the amazing equipment and knowledge they brought with them - it really made the evening special.
Cormorants roosting by Martha Okon
Newport Wetlands Big Wild Sleepout by Martha Okon
Suddenly the sun had set and Common pipistrelle bats were starting to emerge from their summer roosts and flit around the Visitor Centre - catching insects with gusto! We took out the bat detectors and heard a symphony of echolocations as we made our way up to the lagoons to see if we could catch sight of any Daubenton's skimming the surface of the water on their nightly hunting expedition. As dusk turned into night-time we then got to look through the massive astronomical telescopes that Usk Astronomical Society had bought along. We saw Saturn glowing in the far distance, and a globular cluster of 500 million stars sparkling in the depths of the universe. But best of all we saw masses of shooting stars! And the best night for seeing the Perseid meteor shower is apparently on Wednesday, so I would definitely recommend popping out in your garden and checking it out for yourself on 12th Aug!
The night finished with toasted marshmallows around the campfire, and a last glimpse in the night sky to see that final shooting star! Tired but happy we all hopped into our sleeping bags and managed to get a few hours sleep before sunrise. The fun then continued with a lovely hot breakfast from the cafe whilst we viewed the local activity on the scrape. We were really excited to see a young Water rail wading between the reeds on the edge of the scrape, and a Grey heron patiently fishing with a good degree of success. We then tentatively opened the moth trap to see what we had caught overnight, and were not disappointed by the lovely array of creatures we had captured. We finished the morning off with a lovely stroll to the lighthouse, armed with telescopes and binoculars, and were rewarded for our efforts with a brief glimpse of the Bearded tits enjoying the peace and quiet of an early summers morning.
Many thanks to all the volunteers, staff and organisations who came to help out on the night, including Jon Lee from Cardiff Bat Group, and Nick Busby, Dave Thomas and team from Usk Astronomical Society. Thanks also to all the adventurers who came on the Big Wild Sleepout and made it such a fantastic evening!