Friday, 19 July 2019

Not an Emperor, but purple enough

My cycling expedition to Bernwood Forest in the hope of seeing Purple Emperors was not successful - albeit rewarded by many lovely Silver-washed Fritillaries. But I am content with my own little Purple Emperors on the veg patch here: the tiny but beautifully-uniformed micro moth, Pyrausta purpuralis. Although micros have failed to ignite my passions, being so small and too numerous and often too similar for my ageing brain, my new iPhone camera has kindled a little enthusiasm.

In former days, for example, I would not have attempted a picture of the little scrap above; but the iPhone turns it into an exquisite mini-dragon, eye and 'beak' and all. It also gets close enough for me to hazard an ID - Chrysoteuchia culmella, I'm thinking.

There continue to be plenty of moths in the trap, most of them predictable, as well as a good number which prefer to slumber on neighbouring plants. Here for example are a Common Emerald and an August Thorn on my spuds and a Brimstone tucked away in the long grass.

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Butterfly bush

We've been overnight at the grandchildren's in Walthamstow to celebrate Granny's birthday, and look who joined in the party. Penny was Chief Sub-editor of Cosmopolitan when we met and it's appropriate that 40 years later, our celebrations have been enhanced by a Comma.

It is an unmistakable butterfly in areas from which fritillaries are absent - ie nearly everywhere I regularly go - because it shares with them that almost luminous russet colouring. This distinguishes it from the equally vivid, but in rather different ways, Red Admirals, Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells which also flock to buddleias' honey-scented swags of blossom at this time of the year.

The comma on the underwing looks wonderfully deliberate, as does the marking on the species' American relative, the Question Mark butterfly - see left. I have expatiated on this before and on the other interesting episode from the Comma's history, the intensive collecting and breeding (an releasing and re-introducing) programme carried out in the 19th century by Emma Hutchinson, the wife of the vicar of Kimbolton in Herefordshire. 

The moths meanwhile continue numerous, last night including a further five Poplar Hawks. While hiding them from our very inquisitive robins and blackbirds, I got this unusually comprehensive picture of a Poplar Hawk, flattening itself against our garden wall - very different from their usual, curled-up and batlike position in the trap, as shown right:

On the inside wall of the trap's black plastic bowl - a terribly difficult background for photography because of digital 'reflection', there was a slightly unusual moth. After taking some poor snaps, I enticed it on to an eggbox, after much fluttering, and here it is: the Meal moth, one of the UK's biggest micros and, as its name suggests, a modest threat to Corn Flakes if it gets into your store cupboards. Appropriately, it appears to be reading the ingredients list on the eggbox.

Finally, we have the year's first Dusky Sallow, below, followed by a Slender Brindle , a Rosy Rustic and two little Least Carpets, a tiny, beautiful and only locally common moth. Both favoured the underside of the trap's transparent cowl, peeping upwards at the drizzle-bespattered morning (rain at last; the garden rejoices).

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Crash landing

The hawk moth season is still going strong, especially among the Poplar Hawks and Privets. One of the latter fell drunkenly off its perch on an eggbox - shown left - while I was examining other moths and did a very good impression of a nosedive on to the lawn. It stayed there, apparently not discomfited, until I cleared the whole paraphernalia away about 20 minutes later.
Meanwhile, P and I are about to spend a week celebrating our Ruby Wedding with family and friends. How appropriate that we have just been visited by a Ruby Tiger moth. These little jewels are usually reluctant reveal their lovely, pinky-red hindwings but they will sometimes offer the world a glimpse of their bright red breeches and equally bright, banded body. The sequence below shows one moth gradually allowing us to see more - though not the whole, hidden thing.

Next we have a Crambus micro-moth, perlella I think, and finally a small wave of Waves, those graceful Laura Ashley moths: a Lesser Cream Wave on its own and a Small Fan-footed Wave encountering a Single-dotted Wave.

Monday, 15 July 2019

Enemy No 1

There are many unsolved puzzles in the world of moths as readers of these musings, weary but ever-patient with my fumbling attempts to ID the many tricky species, well know. One of the simplest is illustrated above: in the morning, when I examine the eggboxes in my pyjamas, I am not the only interested party.

Our local birds, especially the robins and blackbirds, know exactly what is going on: they are with yards - inches sometimes in the case of the boldest robins - of the avian breakfast of all time.  I do everything I can to protect the moths - scattering them into a wide range of bushes, up-ending the trap so that moths can exit but birds cannot get in, or putting it in our shed/greenhouse and shutting the door.  This works in one way, by excluding the birds, but also imprisons the moths and risks the liveliest battering themselves silly against the windows as the day warms up.

And, as you can see from this snapshot, there are PLENTY of moths at the moment. It's the height of High Season. There must have been over 300 in the trap last night. So Moth Protection is a system under construction. I would welcome others' experience or bright ideas.

In the meanwhile, some nice arrivals: the year's first White Satin with its zebra stockings. It's very like the Yellowtail, apart from having no yellow tail, a feature which gives a vaguely fried egg appearance to the YT.

Next, a Plume micro; the Brown Plume, I think, though I am far from expert in the tiddlers. And then a nice contrast of Footman moths: first the Scarce Footman with its wings furled tightly like an umbrella. And then the Common Footman, more of the classic capsule shape which distinguishes most of this family.

And finally, a sweet little Small Fan-footed Wave, one of the most delicate of the 'Laura Ashley' Wave moths.

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Macabre end

Sorry to start with rather a grisly picture but, as anyone who studies Nature well knows, she is sticky in web and venomous in sting, as well as being red in tooth and claw. In the sunny weather we've been enjoying for quite a few days now, my eye was caught by an unexpected glint and glimmer in our greenhouse. It turned out to be this spider-captured (and -killed) dragonfly.

Another curiosity was a butterfly in the moth trap, not an unprecedented event but very rare. With the current long Summer evenings, it wasn't fully dark when I lit the lamp, which probably accounts for this Meadow Brown spending the night in unusual company. I've been looking back over past Julys to check various moth arrivals and, lo and behold, I turned up this identical butterfly overnighter (left) three years ago.

Among the moths, it was good to see the Lunar-spotted Pinion, above, with its distinctive crouch. It is a very occasional visitor, so nice to have one back.

This next arrival, above, though quite a handy size, is actually a micro, Hypsopygia glaucinalis by name and one of the largest of the tiddlers' tribe, whose caterpillars have the distinctive habit of eating thatch. I must keep an eye on the children's treehouse which is thatched with reeds collected by myself with much effort from the River  Cherwell.  The catties also eat bits of birds' nests so I will encourage them in that direction. Penny and I keep finding old nests during the endless but enjoyable pruning and cutting-back which comes with trying to manage our garden.

I puzzled over my third moth for ages and eventually gave up and asked the experts on the Upper Thames Moths blog. Their leader Dave Wilton kindly tells me that it is a Green Arches, a lovely moth which doesn't figure on my records list. Actually that is an oversight as I trapped one in Leeds during the first year of this blog, 11 years ago. I need to update the list anyway, as it happens, as previously unrecorded species arrive every now and then.

Here are two of them: a Small Blood-vein, above, which I have got on the list but without a picture to prove it, following a big muddle I got into over this species and the rather similar Small Scallop several years ago. So that's sorted.  And below, a male Dark Umber. In July 2015, I trapped what I am pretty sure was a female (second picture) but never confirmed it with anyone and so did not list it. I will now put both to Upper Thames and hope for double confirmation.

The next moth may be a third new arrival, a possible Galium Carpet which spurned the trap and snoozed on the adjacent wall instead. Because of the species' similarity to the Common Carpet, the latter's variability and the poor photo, I am tacking it on to the presumed Dark Umbers in my UTM blog query.

As for the rest, we have below a Poplar Grey, a Lime-speck Pug (one of the very few pugs I can safely ID), a Carpet and a Small Emerald which scooted off the trap's lid when I opened things up but only as far as this nook in the un-mown grass.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Leopard and Drinker

My title this morning sounds like one of those odd English pub names you come across which are sometimes genuine but sometimes artificially created as deliberately quaint. It refers, however, to two excellently distinctive moths which have graced the trap in the last couple of nights.

The female Drinker is a curious beast indeed, here being admired by Elfrida, our only statue who supervises a corner of our garden with imperturbable calm. I have loved this moth for many years, since pre-teen school days when we found their caterpillars sipping dew from the top of grass stalks, a habit which gives the species its name.  The caterpillars are very fine creatures too, with a coat resembling Little Lord Fauntleroy's blue velvet. The male moth is smaller, like one of the hubbies in Bamforth seaside postcards.

The origin of the Leopard's name is obvious. It is a strange moth, large and flimsy like one of the early biplanes. It has something of the wasp about it too. And on that score, my final picture shows a waspish creature which likes making underground nests in gaps on our patio.

Here are the wasps - the first one definitely has the look of one of those emojis which sprinkle the children and grandchildren's messages these days.