Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Tony Chestnut


Another day, another new arrival for 2017; that's what I like about this time of the year.  The last two newcomers were species which had been hibernation over Winter. This one, the Red Chestnut, spends the cold months as a chrysalis and then hatches when Spring draws near.

It's very far from my favourite kind of moth - one of the small, brown (or grey) ones which give me so much grief when I try to tell them apart. I cheated with this one by asking the kindly experts on Upper Thames Moths what it was. They are the ones who put me right.

Roll out the carpet


Like the Pale Pinion in my last post, the latest newcomer in the trap is a hibernating species newly-woken from its Winter sleep. This (on the right above) is a Red-green Carpet, rather more red than green but certainly with a wing pattern as intricate as one of the Oriental rugs which inspired 18th century moth classifiers to dream up the name.

It will now set about breeding and its caterpillars will enjoy the local blackthorn which is turning the countryside white for miles around as it blossoms to mark the arrival of Spring. They then find leaf debris in which to pupate, another difference from the more energetic Pale Pinion larva which digs itself a little hole underground.


Apart from assorted dull Quakers and Clouded Drabs, like the one shown with the Carpet in my top picture, the eggboxes also played host to a lovely Oak Beauty. Not a newcomer for 2017 but I can't resist posting its picture.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Alone and palely loitering


Nice to have something different in the trap the other night: a Pale Pinion, lured out of hibernation by the warmer weather - though, having said that, the nights are still pretty chilly. I am keeping my fingers crossed against untimely frost which could nip the Spring blossom, magnolias especially, which is cheering the world up so much at the moment.


The Pale and closely related Tawny Pinions are interesting moths in that they resist the urge to mate which is so extraordinarily powerful in most moths - within hours in the case species such as the Emperor moth. Instead, the pinions fly and nectar contentedly in October and November before squirreling themselves into cracks in the bark of trees and going to sleep until March.


Then they re-emerge as this one has done, find a mate and start the cycle all over again. The unfaddy caterpillar feasts on ivy and bramble among many other plants before constructing a stout cocoon underground and beginning the process of changing into an adult moth.


Otherwise, the trap paid host to the brethren usual for this time of the year: the Clouded Drab shown, three Common Quakers and a March moth.



Friday, 17 March 2017

Thatching distraction


The weather has been see-sawing in a typically English way between lovely foretastes of Spring, even Summer, and chilly spells reminiscent of unlamented February. The mixture has distracted my attention from moths somewhat, coupled with the fact that a tower extension to the treehouse has seen me back in my thatching reedbeds.


This time, I'm working on a conical design inspired (needless to say) by Queen Elsa and Princess Anna's castle at Arenedelle. The whole process, getting to the nearest reedbed a couple of miles away, cutting good specimens, trimming them into 'yelms' and finally whacking them into the underthatch with a 'leggatt' or 'biddle' - homemade from that useless stuff for the damp British climate, decking - is extremely enjoyable.


Current moths, meanwhile, are contrastingly dull, although it's perhaps a little mean to say that when my attitude is partly the result of over-familiarity. Here's the range which visited last time I lit the lamp, five nights ago. Oh, and I should record the fact that after nearly two years' faithful service (twice as long as its predecessor), my mercury vapour lamp went phut. Fortunately, I had prudently ordered two from brilliant Watkins & Doncaster last time, so the trap went straight back into action.

Hebrew Character

Clouded Drab

March Moth Update: No, I was careless - this is the well-known micro Diurnea fagella - many thanks to my Commentor below.

Small Quaker

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Quaker meeting



After my slightly disparaging remarks about the Common Quaker two days ago, a whole host of Quaker moths arrived last night, turning the busiest trap of the year into a Friends' meeting house. I can't be dishonest (and thus un-Quakerly) however, so I must stick to my guns and say that I find the Common Q a completely unremarkable moth. Fortunately, there were as many Small Quakers among the dozen or so visitors in the eggboxes and they are prettier altogether.

All the moths in my top picture are SQs except the one at bottom left which is a CQ.  I make up these composite pictures from the very good Layout facility on my Instagram system and here's another one, of four March Moths which were all on the trap's transparent plastic shield this morning.  I was glad that I photographed them at 7am because when I went to get the trap to bring it indoors, to show the contents to my niece and her fiance (wedding in September, can't wait), they had all flown (or possibly been eaten by birds, though this seems a rare occurrence so long as they keep still).



I think that I have another new moth for the year (along with the Small Quaker) below: a Chestnut. And after that, a couple of Dotted Borders, the darker one in the eggboxes and its very attractive, lighter companion out on the shield with the March Moths.




Finally, a wasp of some maevolent-looking kind. Poor thing, it probably does no harm and possibly much good.



Friday, 10 March 2017

Two more





Another pair of new arrivals for the year. Both predictable: I am keeping pace with previous years and comparative scoresheets such as the excellent Hants Moths Flying Tonight.

Above is the Dotted Border; two were snoozing on a wall about ten yards from the trap, one was on the cowl (handy, because I can illustrate its underwing in today's second picture) and two more were in the eggboxes.  You can see how they got their name, especially when seen from below.

Below is a Clouded Drab, a big and very variable moth which had found a niche on the wall behind a stick, left leaning there.  My final picture is of a Hebrew Character, one of the three cosying up with the Dotted Borders in the trap.


It was a mild night but I note from last year's records that we had a heavy frost on 28th April. So don't lower your guard yet.  Having said that, yesterday's lovely and genuinely warm sunshine brought me my first Brimstone butterfly sighting of the year and there was a Vanessid butterfly, either a Red Admiral or a Peacock woken from hibernation, skittering around the garden in the early afternoon.



Thursday, 9 March 2017

A touch of class, plus spider doom



Sorry, I've been hopelessly slow to record the first really nice moth of the year. In addition to my onerous grandparenting duties, I am now madly resuming my sculling career at the age of 66 and also considering whether to try to learn to play the bugle (the latter simply because we have an old one, and it seems sad that it never makes those beautiful calls).


Anyway, here is the said nice moth - an Oak Beauty, one of two which came together on Friday night. Its contrasting bands of russety brown and mottled greys produce a delicately appealing pattern which is also an effective camouflage. As shown in the picture immediately above, it also has terrific antennae. Just for the record - as sadly it is a contrastingly dull-looking species - I should note the year's first arrival of a Common Quaker, below.  Apologies to the late George Fox and the Religious Society of Friends.


On the downside, my final picture shows what I fear is the fate of the March Moth which Penny spotted on our bedroom ceiling. Indoors in our house is no place for frail winged creatures as we are spider tolerant (being relaxed about housekeeping and past readers of Charlotte's Web).


Saturday, 4 March 2017

On cue; a friendly moth



My species list for 2017 has crept up to four, thanks to Paul Hopkins' knowledgable comment on my last post, plus the arrival of a March moth two nights ago.  This was my first trapping session for March so its appearance was timely, and also welcome since we had a friend staying overnight who was interested to see how moth trapping worked.

The familiar isosceles triangle shape of the moth was the only inhabitant of the eggboxes, following a night which turned out to be colder than the temperature suggested at dusk. After examining it and admiring the camouflage effects of its modest colouring and slightly dazzle-y pattern, we released it in the garden and bade it farewell.

Note how the 'Dazzle-y' zigzags break up the wing pattern, specially on the right

Last night, however, eagle-eyed Penny retained her long-standing title as Top-spotter of Indoor Moths by drawing my attention to this - pic below - on the kitchen ceiling.  When we went to bed some hours later, there on the bedroom ceiling was another one (or possibly the same one, if it was of an exploring bent).


I would be very surprised if these indoor March moths, or moth, were the same as the one we released outdoors. So the moral is, that I should look more closely when I examine the contents of the trap (which I had brought into the kitchen so that we could examine its contents out of the rain).

The March moth, incidentally, is another of the species - mostly winter-flying - whose females are flightless and spend their short lives scaling tree trunks while emitting pheremones which invariably attracts mates. And so life goes on.

Many thanks to Montgomery Moths for this pic of a female, which I have never seen

Friday, 24 February 2017

Blow, ye hurricanos!


I've taken my title from King Lear, if my schoolboy-age memory holds good. I plan to light the lamp tonight to see if any moths have been blown this way by recently-departed Storm Doris.

The likelihood is small as she cam in from the vasty Atlantic deep, rather than across the Continent; but you never know.  Meanwhile here's the haul from my last night of trapping - on Monday - when this very small Pale Brindled Border (the little nut provides scale, I hope) and a Hebrew Character came a-calling. Update: but see Comments - and many thanks to Paul for re-identifying the alleged PBB as a Spring Usher (lovely name, and roll on Spring!)


Sunday, 19 February 2017

Hat trick


For my third consecutive night of trapping, I moved the trap again. It has been in one, well-shaded corner of the garden, then on top of the compost heap in an open spot and now in a grassy area with trees nearby but not directly overhead.  For the third time running, the gentleman callers have been Pale Brindled Beauties, two of them this morning, as shown above.

The moth clearly likes to settle on the trap rather than venturing inside, although my visitors have done both. On the first night, there were two outside and one in an eggbox, on the second night, two outside and three inside and last night, two, both outside. Another interesting fact is that the morning birds take no notice of this obvious prey, provided that the insects do not move. Nonetheless, because we have children visiting later to whom I enjoy showing moths, I have decanted this morning's PBBs into the complete security of an eggbox in the trap.

While ruminating on birds' eyesight, we have started experiencing yet again a dim blackbird which attacks his reflection on the glass of our back door. Sipping morning tea, we heard a familiar, intermittent, soft 'whump, whump' and, sure enough, there are the slightly oily, feathery marks on the glass where he has done battle with his non-existent foe.

It is noteworthy that this behaviour, as well as the bird's territory, is apparently inherited, although it may just be that the reflection is irresistible to that species in this place. Passing scientists, please advise.


Update: when the moths were decanted after the children had examined them, this one - above - landed with its petticoats showing - the delicate, silvery hindwings which are not revealed in the PBB's normal resting position.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Warming up


Topside
And from underneath
Hooray! Mild weather at last, birds singing lusty courtship songs and February Fair Maids, aka snowdrops, fully in flower, along with crocuses and dwarf iris.  Who doesn't like the seasons (and the prospect of Feb coming to an end soon)?





Five more Pale Brindled Beauties last night, plus the micro below which is my first head-scratching job of the year. For the first time in a couple of months, I will take my Micro Bible to bed tonight and try to sort out what it is.



Friday, 17 February 2017

Back in action at last



Hello, World of 2017!

For the first time since Christmas, I lit the lamp last night and was rewarded by mothy visitors. Twice in January I had a go, but the weather was dismal, dank and chilly and nothing at all came to stay. It's a time of the year to clean equipment, update records and curl up in front of the fire and go to sleep. Much like a moth when it lands in one of my eggboxes, with the warmth of my mercury vapour bulb just overhead.


I've also been catching up with friends post-Christmas, including one couple whom we're seeing next week after an interlude of 30 years. This is thanks to exchanging cards, through which I learned that they too run a moth trap, and in a truly spectacular place. Do you recognise it from the photo at the head of this post?

It is Lindisfarne or Holy Island in Northumberland, with its spirited little castle atop of a rocky bluff. Coastal moth traps such as this are often extremely interesting as they attract immigrant species just making a landfall. Imagine flying, or being blown on the jetstream, all the way from the Continent or beyond and then spending your first night in an eggbox. A parallel, ironically, to many human migrants who get cooped up on landing.


Last night's visitors to my own trap were not spectacular - three male Pale Brindled Beauties. Male and Pale, a critical term when applied to the inappropriate but tenacious majority of people on powerful bodies of all sorts in the UK. But a compliment in the context of this delicately-patterned night-flyer.


The moth is also interesting because it is one of a small number of species whose females cannot fly. They spend their short lives on tree trunks waiting for a male to alight and do the business, thus starting this modest life cycle off again. Not fair, say I. But I am not in charge of evolution.

Female of the species - courtesy UK Moths