Nightingale song

Ken White recorded this Nightingale at Brimpton on 12 May 2015. If you listen carefully, you can hear another bird in the background.

Click here to listen to the Nightingale recording

Slow-worms doing well at Cholsey

Despite the terribly cold weather this year slow-worms seem to be doing well because Tony Rayner has informed me that during one of his recent surveys he counted 115 individuals under the tin sheets in his meadow! This is a record for Tony so perhaps the population has been boosted by the wet weather creating ideal conditions for slugs, snails and worms?

Watch out for the Wasp Spider

Jan Haseler recently told me that she had seen the Wasp Spider (Argiope bruennichi) in Moor Copse and that this was the second record for the site. I was quite surprised because this is a relatively new species for the UK and has been spreading up from the south coast but I wasn’t aware that they had virtually reached my doorstep.

This means that we, as a Society, should be on the look-out for more in our area. They are highly distinctive with a “2 legs at each corner” stance and a pattern of white zig-zags on the web above and below where the spider sits. If you get close to them they often wobble the web to and fro to scare off attackers but they are quite harmless, like most UK spiders.

If anyone does see one in the RDNHS area then do let me know before the end of the year so that I can include the records in the invertebrate recorder’s report for 2012 🙂


(photo (c) copyright Jan Haseler)

Fresh water sponges in the Thames at Reading

I just received the following correspondence that I felt was worth including here as-is:

Dear Chris,

I thought Reading Naturalists might be interested in my observation (see the attached photos, I took this Saturday and Sunday) of freshwater sponge (Porifera, family Spongillidae) right under the bridge of Reading – red arrow points to the place in the attached image. It seems that there are at least 2 species under the bridge and these probably are Ephydatia muelleri (the massive ones as in IMG_2649s.jpg) and Spongilla lacustris (the ones shaped like fingers as in IMG_2662s.jpg). One of the colonies grows on submerged Tesco cart under the small bridge construction below the Reading bridge.

Anyway, their presence should probably indicate the quality of Thames water is not so bad :-).

Best wishes,

Viktor Didziulis

A Slow-worm Spring

Tony Rayner seems to have been having amazing success with his slow-worms over at Cholsey, if his most recent transect is anything to go by. On the walk around the edge of his meadow last week, and under tin sheets that he has laid out to attract reptiles, he found a grand total of 99 slow-worms!!

Tony has spent years making his meadow and garden a real haven for wildlife and he does a regular transect looking for reptiles and butterflies. But I think this was possibly the largest number of slow-worms he has ever recorded in one visit. Well done Tony – see if you can break the 100 barrier next time! 🙂


We occasionally see Noctule bats in Cholsey either visiting the area briefly or an individual just passing through. So when two were observed circling around just after sunset on August 30th we were in little doubt about identification. Their size and height of flight is remarkably similar to that of Swallows flying in the evening, and many could easily mistake them for Hirundines. The bat detector set for 25kHz immediately picked up their delicious calls. These are amazingly varied reflecting their acrobatic flight as they twist and turn and periodically dive dramatically to catch prey. To our suprise this first observation was to be repeated nightly for the next three weeks, noticeably earlier each evening as the daylight hours reduce. The bats stay around for up to 15 minutes and then must either return to a roost or roam further afield in search of food. It is difficult to estimate numbers since the bats are in the habit of flying well apart from each other and flying in wide circuits. We know there to be at least four. All of this strongly suggests that for the first time we have a roost quite close, possibly in a group of mature tall willows.

Meanwhile Rod D’Ayala reports something similar in his local patch in Didcot. Can it be that Noctules are faring particularly well this year? It would be interesting to know if anyone else is seeing these bats.

Tony Rayner

Spurge Hawks

Spurge Hawkmoth (male)

Spurge Hawkmoth (male)

When opening a moth trap that has run the previous night you can never be sure what lies within. There are mornings when you know immediately that the catch will be poor. Otherwise there is always a sense of anticipation, maybe this will be the day you find something totally unexpected. Maybe there will be a spectacular moth in mint condition. Maybe there will be an extreme rarity lurking below. Is it just possible there will be a moth that is all these things?

Imagine the Cholsey scene, it is early morning on 17th August. I stare in disbelief at what sits on the egg boxes. It is very early, maybe I imagine the whole thing. No it is true – there really are two pristine Spurge Hawkmoths staring up at me! I need an expert authoritive witness, so closing the trap quickly I await the arrival of Richard Lewington.

Many photographs later we wade through the rest of the trap but find nothing else of special note. Berkshire County Moth Recorder, Martin Harvey confirms that we have a first ever record for the county.

The three of us are searching for an explanation, no other records seem to be coming in nationwide. Then we recall that somewhere in the village lives an entomologist who specialises in hawkmoths. Richard contacts him and back comes the explanation that he accidentally released three Spurge Hawkmoths on August 16th. What a shame that the county’s non record for this species remains intact.
The following night I very unusually put out TWO traps and urge Alan Strange, a villager new to moth-ing to put out his trap. Maybe we will catch something special. To my disappointment my traps contain nothing of note. Then just after mid-day there is a very excited Alan on the phone. He has belatedly opened up his trap and found – yes a Spurge Hawkmoth. Photographs are examined later and Richard pronounces the latest specimen to be a different individual and not one of those caught previously. Not a great surprise given that Alan lives over a third of a mile away from Red Cow Cottage where my traps are. We mark Alan’s specimen before release with nail varnish so we can recognise it again.

Remarkable that we appear to have caught all the releases despite being some distance from the entomologist’s patch.
The stop press news is that on opening my trap on the morning of August 21st there was another Spurge Hawkmoth! Close examination suggests this was one of those seen on the 17th. This time the moth was marked, and now we have three moth-ers dotted around the village watching their traps very carefully for further developments.

Who says moths are dull!


Tony Rayner

Hummingbird Hawks at Cholsey

hummingbird-hawk-august-2010-webThese amazing moths first appeared in numbers on 30th July. Thereafter we have seen at least one daily. It soon became apparent that not only were the potted geraniums outside the cottage being visited on a regular basis, but that one could be found quite easily at rest on our barn wall. In overcast conditions one moth could be found during the day, looking incidentally nothing like the hummingbird we all know when nectaring on flowers. It seems too that this day-flying jewel probably goes to roost at night, certainly on one occasion it was found at dawn in exactly the same position as it was seen the previous dusk.

From all this it appears that one individual has adopted our site as its base. This makes some sense considering that its larval food plant is Ladies Bedstraw and Hedge Bedstraw. Sufficient to say that our three acre meadow is full of Ladies Bedstraw and there is plenty of Hedge Bedstraw too.

Tony & Ro Rayner 7/8/2010

Bombus hypnorum – 26th April 2010

Graham Saunders reports seeing Bombus hypnorum on Blackcurrant in his Pamber Heath garden on 26th April.

One Swallow does not a summer make…

This morning Tony Rayner stepped outside his house in Cholsey and caught a glimpse of something that looked familiar. Then from around a roof top a Swallow shot over his head, moving north! He phoned Brian Shaw at Withymead and apparently he had seen 3 Swallows yesteday, so it isn’t a one-off … they really are starting to arrive! This is much earlier than in previous years.

Other than that, signs of Spring seem to be few and far between around my area of Tilehurst. The Snowdrops are still in flower in some places (quite late), male Brimstones have been cropping up and last week on a sunny walk along the river near the Madjeski statium I saw a rather cold looking Small Tortoishell. Queen bumblebees are relatively frequent on sunny days in my garden but the big question is – what are they finding to eat? Because there are very few flowers out at the moment and, for the birds, there are even fewer insects.