/ in Challenges by Marek

My first encounter with the General was rather an innocuous affair although a little surprising as he was the first house sparrow I had seen for some considerable time.

He sat very much as the picture shows watching my early morning exploits with interest.

A Eurasian House Sparrow resting on a fence
The General

After a while he seemed to get bored and flew off into the trees and wasn’t seen again until several days later when he returned this time with a friend.

With sparrows being in serious decline I was quite pleased to see that we had a visiting pair in our garden and even more so when they started to nest.

They had found a tear in the ageing felt exposed under the eaves of the house and had set up camp there.

It wasn’t long before I realised that our location had in fact been picked by the pair with great care and thought.

Although adult sparrows are predominantly seed eaters their young find moths rather tasty and a good source of protein. So instead of watching me from the fence harmlessly, they now waited until my back was turned to select their children’s breakfast.

I soon got wise to this fact and made efforts to shoo them away at least until I had time to record photograph and release my subjects.

The real trouble came several months later as one nesting pair became three or four nesting pairs forming the general’s army.

He now took a vantage point on the apex of my neighbour’s roof where he a clear sight of me the moth house and surrounding garden.

It was from this vantage point that he controlled the tactics of his troops using tweeted signals like a bird form of morse code.

His army worked tirelessly as a team on instruction, using diversion tactics which enabled comrades to sneak in behind my back to find their prey.

Some were sent in as decoys in an elaborate pincer movement which they carried out with precision and remarkable skill.

It was obvious that I would need to take steps to delay the inevitable if I was to complete my tasks, the methods I employed being the subject of a future post.

Sparrows are not however the only moth predator as they provide an integral element to the food chain.

Spiders are quite partial to a moth supper and care must be taken in the moth house and surrounding area to remove any webs which I do using the brush illustrated in a previous post.

Robins also on occasion show some interest but not sufficient to cause too much of an issue.

During one of our mothing trips to Ireland we found that bats are also quite pleased to be provided with an easy meal.

If the bats stayed longer and the robins appeared earlier, I suppose together we would be able to form the caped crusaders.

One of my biggest surprises was when we had the opportunity to trap whilst on a short stay in Spain with friend.

On the last morning I found the bottom of the trap covered with hundreds of ants which were carrying their food away in procession style to some hidden location.

If we ever get the opportunity to trap there in the future I will try placing the trap on some sort of island surrounded by water to see if this prevents it from happening.

Sometimes the wings of smaller moths can stick to the condensation of the Perspex roof of the moth house but with care I am able release these and it doesn’t happen very often as there is sufficient air flow to prevent it.

A close-up picture of a Cross Orb Weaver spider
Come into my parlour!