Autumn moth report

Mike Halsey writes: 

Mid-October, with the first frost of Autumn yesterday.  Still plenty to see and do in the moth world, but fast approaching that time of the year when the microscope comes out in order to identify some of the (often tiny) specimens that were unidentified when they were seen over summer months.  There are a number of features and organs not normally visible to the naked eye – or which can only be seen by dissecting the specimen – which can help in determining which family and genus a specimen belongs to.  In fact there are a number of cases where two or more species are so similar that the identity of an individual can only be confirmed by dissection.

In the meantime, while there are still leaves on the trees, there’s lots to see around the pond, as many species leave signs of feeding that are effectively signatures.  A colleague in Australia runs an Alpine ecology course for Uni students, and for 30 years has started each new course with a challenge to the students to find a mature Eucalyptus leaf without evidence of insect damage.  He’s offered a case of beer to anyone who could bring an undamaged leaf, and still has the same case of beer he first offered 30 years ago!

Oaks in the UK are fairly similar, with undamaged leaves hard to find at this time of year.  And the leaves of many other trees – birch, rowan, sallow and others – are covered in the evidence of insect use; mainly feeding, but also shelter.  Caterpillars of larger moths will generally consume whole leaves or chunks of leaves, with the caterpillar itself remaining visible.  Caterpillars of the smaller moths often feed internally, eating the tissue between the upper and lower epidermis of the leaf; by this time of year, some of these tiny caterpillars have finished eating, completed their development and left the shelter of the leaf, leaving a trail (‘mine’).  In other cases, the caterpillar can still be seen inside the mine, by holding it up to a light source. Below are some leaves showing signs of moth larvae from around Fleet pond at the moment:


Leaf of Alder-Buckthorn with two larval mines of the tiny moth Bucculatrix frangutella

Leaves of Beech with larval mines of Phyllonorycter maestingella

Hornbeam leaf with a mine of Stigmella sp, probably S.microtheriella

Common reed (Phragmites) leaf with mines of Cosmopterix scribaiella, the lower picture showing the larva in the mine


Pictured below are what the adults of these 4 tiny, very beautiful moths look like:

Bucculatrix frangutella Phyllonorycter maestingella Stigmella microtheriella Cosmopterix scribaiella

And larvae (caterpillars) don’t only eat leaves; practically all parts of growing plants are used (and a whole range of other things, including other insects, fungi and animal dung) and below is pictured a larva of Grapholita tenebrosana feeding on a rose hip.

In the light traps over the past few months, one of the exciting highlights among the larger moths has been the discovery of what seems to be a local colony of the False Mocha moth (pictured below), a species in serious decline and rarely seen nowadays.  Two specimens were seen in Coldstream Marsh in August (the larva, pictured right, feeds on pedunculate oak, common around the edges of the marsh).

Finally, late summer and Autumn months are when large numbers of moths arrive in the UK having migrated from continental Europe, Africa and – sometimes – further afield.  The large majority of these are observed on the South coast, but when particularly large numbers migrate, they can often wander further inland; and in times of climate change, with increasingly warm winters, some of these species are able to survive the UK winter and start to colonise.  Two such species are the Cypress carpet (below left), first seen in North Hampshire in 2001 and Clancy’s rustic (below right), new to the far North of Hampshire this year.

If you’re keen to get involved with the ongoing survey and study of the moths of Fleet Pond, please contact the Society Secretary at

Photo credits: Bucculatrix frangutella adult© John Cloyne; Phyllonorycter maestingella and Stigmella microtheriella adults © Mike Wall; Cosmopterix scribaiella adult © David Green; all other photos – Mike Halsey.


Late summer and early autumn birding highlights

William Legge writes:

Following a glorious June, hopes of another fine summer were short lived as the Jetstream moved south resulting in a very unsettled July. As a procession of strong weather systems swept in off the Atlantic it was colder and wetter than we have seen in years. August wasn’t much better, but thankfully summer resumed in September when high pressure took hold and at times it was outright hot.

While large mats of algae developed over much of the Pond during the summer months, it appears that the lower temperatures, ample summer rainfall and better water quality prevented any serious blue-green algae blooms. Encouragingly there was a repeat of last year’s abundant growth of Lesser Pondweed, Potamogeton pusillus, which again attracted record numbers of wildfowl as the autumn progressed.

Autumn Migration

Picking up from my last report, early southbound waders continued to be seen with a Common Sandpiper on July 3rd (concerningly the only one reported this autumn), an overflying Curlew heard during a scheduled moth session at 00:12 hours on July 8th and the fifth Common Redshank of the autumn on the evening of July 16th.

Other early autumn migrants included several large gatherings of Common Swifts and Sand Martins feeding over the Pond, brought in by heavy rain showers, including 200 Swifts on 3rd and 13th July and 200 Sand Martins on 14th. Up to three Common Terns were regular visitors in late July into the first week of August and a lone Ring-necked Parakeet was sighted on July 3rd at the station car park trees, leaving southwest low over Chestnut Grove.

Egrets were well represented, with up to six Little Egrets roosting throughout the period. A single Great White Egret was logged on July 3rd (a flyover heading NE) and with others present on September 1st and 25th (single pictured above). However, ‘egret top honours’ go to a Cattle Egret that was sighted preening on Cormorant Island on August 16th. It was subsequently sighted roosting in the evenings with Little Egrets up until at least August 19th, representing the second record for the reserve (illustrated below).

Passerine migrants were few, with the most notable coming from the MoD Fields adjoining the eastern boundary of the reserve, with a Tree Pipit on August 14th, a Spotted Flycatcher on August 20th and four Willow Warblers also on the 20th. High counts of local breeders, perhaps swelled by newly arrived migrants, included 27 Whitethroat on August 14th and up to 13 Stonechat in early September.  One or two Raven were a regular feature around the MoD Fields between mid-August and early September. After an apparent absence of a few months, a Cetti’s Warbler was heard singing on September 9th and up to three located by the end of the month scattered in the reedbeds between Wellington Avenue and Lions’ View.

Wildfowl success

It was an excellent few months for wildfowl, attracted by abundant growth of Lesser Pondweed and several record counts were logged. Gadwall numbers were the first to peak with 88 counted on July 28th rising to 116 on August 9th (including 12 locally raised young). Numbers remained elevated into early October with 103 counted on October 10th. Shoveler numbers were slower to increase with low single digit counts in July rising to 20 by August 20th, 55 by September 26th and a new reserve record count of 86 on October 9th. Other notable wildfowl high counts included 20 Teal on September 17th, 55 Tufted Duck on October 10th, five Pochard on September 23rd and three Mandarin Duck between August 24th-26th.

The second Garganey of the autumn, a male was sighted on August 5th and what is presumed the same individual was sighted again August 18th and September 2nd. The first Eurasian Wigeon (illustrated above) of the autumn was logged on September 11th and was followed by a series of sightings in early October including a flock of eight on October 10th.

The Pink-footed Goose (last goose in group pictured above) returned on July 31st for its third autumn in a row, roosting nightly, accompanying Greylag Geese and was seen up until at least August 26th. However, geese numbers were down on 2022 levels with early morning roost counts peaking at 254 Greylag Geese and 184 Canada Geese on August 26th. Coot numbers were again elevated, gorging on Lesser Pondweed with another reserve record broken when 263 were logged on September 2nd.

A juvenile Little Grebe (illustrated above) was sighted on July 13th and reports were regular thereafter with two sighted on August 6th, and three on August 17th. Great Crested Grebes numbers were subdued with the highest count reported being ten on October 10th.

Further interesting sightings

Other notable autumn sightings included an immature female Marsh Harrier briefly tussling with a local Red Kite over the Pond, before leaving northeast on August 19th. A Peregrine Falcon briefly on October 2nd and several sightings of Hobby including two juveniles feeding on dragonflies on September 29th.  Visible migration counts were limited this autumn but did include movements of 571 House Martin over southwest between September 23rd-26th and the first Redwing of the autumn heading over southwest on September 26th. Notable early autumn roosts included 23 Cormorants on September 24th and 365 Jackdaws on September 25th.

As the days grow shorter and the weather colder, expect higher roost numbers as we head into the winter months.  Good birding!

Contributing Observers: TS AuYeung, David Buckler, John Clark, William Legge, Spike Millington, Sue Potter, A Robjohns, Graham Stephenson, Geth Tillin and CH Wan.

Photograph credits:  Great Egret, Pink Footed Goose—William Legge

Bird illustrations —RSPB


Early Summer Moth Report

Mike Halsey and his team have been monitoring the moths found on the Reserve.  Here he writes on their progress.

After a successful 2022, there were high expectations of further exciting finds at the reserve in spring and early summer 2023.

Sadly, the late spring weather made it hard to get out much, but things improved in the second half of May with some warmth and dry evenings and nights. Late May to early July is generally a highly productive part of the year for moths, and this year we’ve had some very exciting finds over this period.

One of the hoped-for species since starting the current survey was the Alder Kitten which, before 2023, had only been seen once in Hampshire, and that was back in 1945! Despite the site seemingly ticking all the right boxes in terms of appropriate habitat, we didn’t encounter it last year. On 10th June 2023, however, it was exciting finally to see a specimen at the pond (pictured below).

On the same evening, we saw a specimen of the Silver-Barred moth (pictured below), known as a UK resident only from the Cambridge fens and a coastal Kentish Marsh. More work is needed to confirm its status here in Fleet, but exciting to think it’s almost certainly resident here.

From late May to late June, the Broad-bordered Bee Hawk moth flies by day, feeding at various flowers (including honeysuckle, buddleia and rhododendron), the female laying eggs on honeysuckle leaves. The adult moth is a bee mimic and not often seen; however when the eggs hatch, the small larvae leave unmistakable signs of their presence by nibbling a series of tiny holes in leaves. These feeding signs (pictured left below), and some of the larvae themselves (pictured right below), have been found this year at many places across the reserve, it’s great to see a moth like this have such a stronghold here.

Another family of day-flying moths is the ‘clearwings’, all of which are exceptional wasp or hornet mimics. The UK has 16 resident species in this family, we’ve now seen nine at the reserve.  One of the species newly seen this year is the six-belted clearwing (pictured below), the larvae of which feed on the roots of Bird’s-foot trefoil.

Also feeding Bird’s-foot trefoil – the leaves this time – is a tiny silver moth (wingspan 5-6mm!) going by the name of Leucoptera lotella. Rarely seen in this part of the county (or at all really – no doubt overlooked on account of its size) it was lovely to come across this in mid-July; sadly I don’t have a good photo of this to share. Between this, the Silver-barred, the Dotted fan-foot (Nationally scarce but with a strong base here in Fleet) and many others, Fugelmere Marsh – with its array of rare marsh plants – is turning out to be a critically important reserve for Lepidoptera (and no doubt other invertebrate orders).

A lot has been written about the impact of climate change on invertebrate populations and we really do see this on a practical level with moths, with continental species gradually moving north and establishing populations in the UK.

The Gypsy Moth is a recent example of this; adults can often now be seen around the pond (the darkly coloured male is another day-flying species, often mistaken for a quick-flying butterfly) – pictured below is a female reared from a caterpillar found at the end of April, proving that the moth is breeding at the reserve.

Finally, to dispel the thought that moths are all drab, brown or grey, a final grab bag of photos from this year below include: (pictured below) a Purple-bordered gold, a Nationally Scarce insect which relies on Marsh Cinquefoil.

(Pictured above) a female Ghost swift – these large moths with a wingspan of up to nearly 5cm can be seen flying slowly over grassy areas around dusk in June. They are one of very few moths to ‘spray’ their eggs while in flight, as opposed to fixing them to the larval food plant.

Pictured above a Knotgrass larva feeding on Yellow Loosestrife, one of the valuable marsh plants that supports a wide range of insects.

The ‘Underwing season’ is now firmly with us (crimson underwing, pictured above, photographed on 13th July), and if you’re keen to join in one evening to look for these magnificent insects, please contact the Society Secretary at


Photo credits: Six-belted clearwing, cropped from an image taken by Ana Piero; all other photos – Mike Halsey.


Spring & early summer birding highlights – March to June

William Legge reports on sightings over this period:

The weather was rather mixed throughout April and into the first weeks of May. Settled and warmer conditions developed in late May and ramped up into a gloriously sunny and hot June. In fact it turned out to be the warmest June on record, perforated by the odd thundery shower when the mercury spiked. Cooler and more changeable conditions returned at the end of the month and continued into July.

Birding-wise it was an active few months, with spring migration followed by a productive breeding season only clouded by a serious outbreak of Avian flu within the Black-headed Gull colony (more on that later).


April and early May are probably the best time of the year to connect with some of the scarcer migrants that can pass-through Fleet Pond. If you are lucky, they may even stay around for a few hours, a day or longer.

This year didn’t disappoint with an abundance of migrants appearing on April 10th. An adult Little Gull, an Arctic Tern and an Oystercatcher all dropped in, along with the first of many spring records of Common Tern, up to 70 Sand Martins and an impressive tally of 19 Red Kites passed through.

A Northern Wheatear, a local scarcity, was present  on the MoD Common on April 11th. A Sandwich Tern, primarily a coastal species, circled the Pond early on April 13th before drifting off east. This coincided with the year’s first sighting of Hobby and Reed Warbler, with two of the latter in song at the Wellington Avenue reedbed, matching’s 2022’s first arrival date.

Fly-through migrants included a Woodlark over northwest on April 15th and a Raven on April 16th.  A late Brambling, a Yellow Wagtail and the first Common Swift of the spring, all headed over northeast on April 20th, (the latter seven days earlier than 2022’s first sighting). The only Cuckoo of the spring ‘tree-hopped’ its way through the reserve on April 22nd, calling as it went.

Early May contributed an adult Kittiwake, another unexpected coastal species, which circled the pond before leaving southwest on May 2nd. This was followed by the discovery of a Wood Sandpiper standing on a post off Lions’ View mid-morning on May 3rd, (pictured above) perhaps the highlight of the spring. Representing only the seventh record for Fleet Pond, it coincided with an influx of over 25+ Wood Sandpipers across the UK that day and it remained into the early afternoon enabling several local birders to catch-up with it.

The first Common Sandpiper of the spring appeared that day, with another logged on May 20th. A Little Gull, the second of the spring, was present at the reserve on May 8th, this one a 2nd calendar year (2nd CY) and it remained faithful to the reserve until at least May 19th, regularly commuting between Fleet Pond and Edenbrook Country Park during its twelve day stay. The spring finale came in the form of a fine Black Tern gracing the Pond on the late date of June 1st, the fourth species of tern to be logged this spring.

The Breeding Season

With continued better water quality and plenty of aquatic plant growth within the main pond, it is turning out to be another good year for breeding wildfowl, particularly for Tufted Duck. A record count of 107 adults was logged on May 9th with 80-90 still present into June. At the time of writing 13 broods of Tufted Duck have been logged, with others expected in the coming weeks, ensuring Fleet Pond will retain its 1st place rank with the highest breeding density of the species in Hampshire.

Mallard and Gadwall logged 18 and three broods respectively, the latter down from 2022’s six pairs, with only five young surviving. Better news concerned Common Pochard (illustrated below), with three pairs present which raised five young from two broods, up from just the one young raised in 2022. A pair of Shoveler were present between May 18th to June 4th, but did not nest.

Four pairs of Great Crested Grebes were in residence. Only one pair successfully hatched two young, and at the time of writing, only one of these young surviving. However, there is still plenty of time for the other pairs to have a second breeding attempt.

Two pairs of Mute Swans bred (one on the Little Pond) and at least one pair of Greylag Geese raised one young. Other breeding successes included eight pairs of Grey Heron which raised 14 young (up from seven nests in 2022) and 23 broods of Coot, another reserve record.

Intriguingly, up to five Little Egrets were present throughout the season, with mating seen in early June and a pair briefly occupying a nest, which they sadly abandoned. Next year perhaps!

Breeding passerine territories included at least two Sedge Warblers, four Cetti’s Warblers, 15-20 Blackcaps, 18 Whitethroats (with three territories on the reserve), and 13+ Common Chiffchaffs. A Firecrest was singing near Kenilworth Road on April 13th but there were no further reports. Breeding success on land adjoining the reserve included three pairs of Stonechats, two on the MoD Common and one at Pondtail Heath. The latter also hosted two pairs of Dartford Warblers with at least one fledging young.

Sad news came from the reserve’s Black-headed Gull colony which was severely impacted by an outbreak of Avian flu in early May. Dozens of dead adult Black-headed Gulls (illustrated above) started to wash-up at the Pond’s shoreline. The outbreak was devastating, with the initial 120 pairs present in late April reduced to just 25 breeding pairs by June, and only five young were raised. The Black-headed Gull colony at Moor Green Lakes at Eversley was also impacted. Nationally, early reports suggest a minimum of 10,000 Black-headed Gulls have succumbed to Avian flu since March 2023, representing 4% of the total UK population.  Thankfully, it seems the outbreak has been restricted to just the Pond’s Black-headed Gull colony at this time, but we will be keeping an eye on the health of other species over the summer.  Fingers crossed!

Post Breeding and Early Autumn Migrants

Mid-to-late June heralds a change of seasons in the birding calendar as failed and early breeders begin their southbound migration, and other species disperse widely from their breeding sites. Activity started early this year with an unseasonal record of a Common Gull (2nd CY) on June 12th. The first real pulse of migrants occurred on June 21st with a Common Redshank (illustrated above) dropping in briefly early that morning, with another two arriving that evening. Also newly arrived that day was a Teal and three Shovelers, with the tally of the latter rising to seven by June 26th.

June 23rd saw the arrival of an elusive male Garganey (illustrated below) which remained into 24th as well as another Common Redshank and a Little Ringed Plover. As the autumn migration starts to build steam in July and August, the next few months will ensure there is plenty to find and see at Fleet Pond.  Good Birding!

Contributing Observers: TS Au Yeung, Harry Boorman, Arun Bose, Ed Butler, John Clark, KP Duncan, Lalizar Harrison, Axel Kirby, Rowena Robinson, Benedict Roose, Dhruba Saikia, Sarah Slingo, Graham Stephenson, Sarah-Jayne Van Greune, C H Wan and Keith Wills. 

Photograph and illustration credits:
Wood Sandpiper — Ed Butler


Winter to early spring bird report

William Legge writes:

It was a changeable few months with a bitter freeze at the end of January, a slightly warmer but exceptionally dry February and a very wet and dull March. As I put pen to paper in this first week of April, it seems we have the first real semblance of spring with a string of fine days and warmer temperatures – long may it last!

With Fleet Pond largely frozen for the second half of January, there were few reports of note. However, for those brave enough to venture out there were goodies to be found, with the best sighting of the month coming in the form of a Firecrest feeding in holly near the picnic tables on the north side of the reserve on January 21st. (illustrated below)

This was followed by a Common Chiffchaff on January 30th, a very scarce visitor to the reserve in winter. (illustrated below)

With a thaw setting-in on the last few days of the month the focus returned to wildfowl and encouragingly Tufted Ducks returned to the Pond in full force with a count of 45 logged on 11th February steadily rising to 80 on March 17th. This was the highest count at the reserve this century with good numbers remaining into early April.

Pochard put in a good showing, with a flock of six logged on 11th February, rising to 18 later in the month, with up to eight still present in early April.  Gadwall numbers peaked at 26 on March 17th, but Shoveler numbers were well down on this time last year. They were generally scarce with a peak count of only three on March 17th. The fact that all four of these species of duck remain in residence as of early April provides a good omen for the upcoming breeding season.

Great Crested Grebes reappeared too. One braved it out during January’s freeze, but by mid-February was joined by another six with numbers rising to 18 in late-March, the latter no doubt supplemented by an influx of migrants.

Other notables in February included a Peregrine heading over northeast and a Woodlark at the MoD Fields, both on February 11th.

March heralds the start of spring migration, but this year’s soggy weather reduced reports from the reserve until mid-month by which time there was already a flurry of activity.

The first migrant wader of the spring appeared on March 17th, a mobile and vocal Oystercatcher circling the Pond several times. The two below were photographed by John Sutton in a previous year at the Pond.

Other notable waders on that date included 19 Common Snipe and a Woodcock, the latter located at the Dry Heath and a likely migrant too. (illustrated below)

Summer migrants also started to appear on March 17th with the first Sand Martin of the year zipping through north, and a mass arrival of Common Chiffchaffs with seven in song, rising to ten by March 30th.  Other first of season arrivals included a Willow Warbler on March 26th, Blackcap on March 29th, with five of the latter in song by April 3rd.

Persistent rain on March 29th brought an influx of 100 Sand Martins feeding over the Pond, along with the first (Barn) Swallows (five) of the spring.

Sights of single Mediterranean Gulls on March 26th and April 3rd were the only gulls of note during the period.

Winter migrants included up to four Brambling and a flock of 36 Siskin at the Brookly Stream corner between March 17th to 20th and a flock of eight Redwing heading over east on April 2nd.

Other reports included further sightings of Peregrine on March 24th, 25th and April 3rd. The first migrant Green Sandpiper of the year and a Dartford Warbler on the Dry Heath, both on April 3rd. The latter is particularly pleasing given the restoration work that has taken place at the Dry Heath, so fingers crossed this protected species will hang around.  (see illustration below)

Cetti’s Warbler, another Schedule One species, finally seems to be colonizing the Reserve with up to four males logged in song in the latter half of March, compared to just the single territory over the last few years.  (illustrated below)

Water Rails (illustrated below) were also heard from two locations in the last weeks of March, which bodes well for the breeding season and there are eight active Grey Heron nests (up from seven in 2022) and a pair of Mute Swans on nest as I write.

Two Little Egrets were present for most of March with three roosting on March 26th. Will this be the year they finally take the plunge and attempt to nest at the Reserve?  Good birding!

Contributing Observers: John Clark, Kevin Duncan, Cathy Holden, Russell Hunt, Charlotte Nash, Dave Palmer, Jeremy Soane, Graham Stephenson, John Sutton and C H Wan