Black and White and Red into Shades of Grey

Another day another damp session working with the Swanwick volunteers. However the weather did not put them of and we were again clearing back the planted trees and shrubs near the Center to improve sight lines. Doing such jobs often turns up something and after last week’s red admiral pupa today’s highlight was a caterpillar. I had a couple of false starts at identifying it but have come to the conclusion that is a knotgrass, quite a flash caterpillar, although the adult moth is just shades of grey (in this case a  commonplace thing of little note).

knotgrass caterpillar

I started out getting interested in moths by collecting caterpillars as in those days I did not have a moth trap. In that I was a bit like the history of moth hunting, the Victorian collectors did not have traps either and so spent lots of time hunting for caterpillars. This is reflected in the names of some species which is derived from the food plant or appearance of the caterpillar rather than the moth. Nowadays caterpillar hunting is a bit of a lost art and almost everyone who looks for moths uses a light trap. One result is that some species are not seen as much as they were because they do not often come to light traps and some species come to light readily but are hard to find as caterpillars, showing it is important to consider the sampling method when assessing if there is population change.

At the end of the day I went to see how the Devon Red cattle were doing, they obviously eat grass but we also want them to eat the regrowth of trees and saplings that are invading the grassland, so I was delighted when I found them eating young birch growth.

Devon Red eating birch regrowth

One of the big advantages of using old breeds of cattle for grazing wildlife sites is that they are much less fussy grazers than modern commercial breeds and will often do a lot of browsing, that is eating trees and shrubs, as well as grazing grasses and herbs.


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