Wednesday, 19 November 2014

To the lighthouse



We had some friends staying a year or so ago and when I took them their morning tea, they said: "We didn't know you had a lighthouse so nearby."

"Nor did we," I replied. "Where is it?" Could there really be such navigational aids on the Oxford Canal? When darkness fell that evening, we discovered the answer. Their bedroom on the other side of the house looked out over inky darkness which was lit up at eccentric intervals by a vivid flash. It was a neighbour's wonky security light.


I am not one to complain about bright lights at night, for obvious reasons (though luckily I can mask the trap so that nobody has a direct view of the bulb; at worst they get a rather beautiful, faeriland glow). But the curious structure in my top two pictures, which I have erected in the hope of enticing the unusually large number of rare immigrant moths which are around this autumn (see Daily Telegraph cutting. left), does look like a lighthouse. It's actually an enormous fishtank we inherited (does anyone want one because we don't?), stood on its end.

The weather has played pop with my first two nights of experimenting with this device and I have only attracted one arrival, below. It was definitely brown and so in spite of its vestigial if almost non-existent wing band, I am pretty sure it is my first Winter Moth.


These are the little fluttering creatures which get caught in your car's headlights between now and February when, on the whole, few other moths fly. The species is extremely interesting on account of its equivalent of blood having anti-freeze properties which explain its lonely ability to put up with the cold. Even so, it can take half-an-hour for a Winter Moth to 'warm up' enough to fly.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Elephant's end


The weather has largely continued wet and/or cold, I've been busy and the trap has been idle. Hence the peace and quiet which reigns here. I'm interrupting it only to record an extremely late-flying butterfly, a Peacock which soared away above an outbuilding at Blenheim Palace where we spent a happy few hours with American friends.

That was at the weekend; and I've seen a dozen more Peacocks since then, but they were all ones either snoozing or disturbed from hibernation by me during our continuing, very long-term sorting out of all our post-move jumble. A more interesting entomological find during this task was the Large Elephant Hawk, above, which was rolled up in a vast piece of maroon fabric which we've had in store for a good few years. Maybe someone was doing some similar Autumn-cleaning at Blenheim.

Judging by its decaying condition, the beautiful moth been doing posthumous service for other members of the insect world. As the doggerel says: Big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em. Little fleas have lesser fleas and so ad infinitum.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Only the lonely


For the first time this year, the eggboxes were empty yesterday morning following a night which saw temperatures fall almost to freezing point. Empty, that is, unless you count the sad little corpse of a lavishly-antennaed micro which I've placed on a penny in the picture in a rare attempt to give one of my photographs scale. I don't know what it is although I think it's been my way before; initially I thought one of the longhorns - Adelidae - but I don't think its antennae are quite that lavish. Here's its underside, in case a micro expert is calling by. An Acleris bergmanniana perchance? That would be my other bold guess. Update: Martin Townsend of the Moth Bible has kindly identified it as Carcina quercana for which I am very much obliged.

I'm not a social moth-er, in the sense of wanting to gather round the trap in the morning with others, or attend moth-centred discussions with fellow-enthusiasts. But I'm not anti-social either, and it's good to go to a gathering where the enjoyment we get from this hobby is successfully spread to others.


That was the case last night in Kirtlington, where Chris Powles, Martin Townsend and Julian Howe gave an excellent trio of talks with slides on the Great Death's Head Hawk Moth Discovery - see past references here and here. One result next year, I hope, is that I'll be lending my trap to users in both Kirtlington and nearby Bletchingdon to widen its growing tally of eggbox residents. Another nice feature of the evening was that all the animated chatter woke up a hibernating Peacock butterfly which swooped around above our heads and settled on the floor during a very welcome session of coffee, tea and shortbread before we slipped out into the cold and largely moth-less dark.

A male Death's Head hatched from the Kirtlington finds. What better name for a moth?


Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Novelties still come



I've got up early today and the garden is still washed by the blueish light of the moth trap, but I am not expecting great things. The experts on the Upper Thames Moths blog are winding down their activities and settling in their armchairs with their lists of records for the Oxfordshire county organisers. The weather has changed for the colder and there will be many fewer moths about.


We cannot grumble. It has been a glorious season and the moths shown today - all arrivals within the last week - are exemplars of how long the season has gone on. The Sprawler is a special favourite; Leeds was too fizzy and active a place to have sprawlers. And although the Silver Y has been familiar to me since before my teens, that lustrous metallic gamma mark still fills me with excitement.

A Sprawler, front, sprawling alongside that superficially similar old favourite, Blair's Shoulder-knot
The moth shown in my first two pictures is also a late-in-the-year new record for me: the Rusty-dot Pearl micro, known more formally as Udea ferrugalis. A good task for the 21st century, in my opinion, would be the giving of English names to all the country's micros, most of which have to lumber along under Latin or Greek tags (or worst of all, a mixture of the two). However, scientific opinion, influenced by classification and international ease of access, takes the opposite view.

Tiny but tough, the Rusty-dot is an immigrant species, making its own way here from the Continent in the Autumn, abundant in southern England in some years and scarce in others. This year's warm weather and pleasant airstreams from the south have brought plenty of records, and now mine is one of them.

Silver Y, albeit looking more golden to me
I need more time to identify all these precisely (what's new?) but other tasks beckon. Meanwhile I'm looking forward to the talk at St Mary's church in Kirtlington at 7.45pm tonight on the Death's Head Hawk moths discovery which was undoubtedly the sensation of my mothing year.

Straw Dot, one of many very late flyers in the Indian summer
Purely for pleasure: two beautiful Red-green Carpets
Another pair: both Red-line Quakers, I think, though the wing shape seems slightly different and I stand to be corrected
An unusually grey form of the greenish version of the Green-brindled Crescent
And finally, today's tedious mystery: a not very striking micro which I have yet to pin down - Update: Martin Townsend of the Moth Bible goes for a faded Acleris variegana. Many thanks indeed.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Magic Carpet


Debates about carpets are probably most associated with young couples furnishing their first home. In my case,  it's the issue of whether the delicate little visitor above and below is a Spruce or Juniper Carpet moth.

I'd assumed Spruce, as the commoner of the two, but the pattern seems to me to be more Junipery. I've asked my expert colleagues on the Upper Thames Moths blog but if anyone here can beat them to a definitive answer, I will reward them with a crayfish (when I catch one). Update: the award goes to Peter in Comments who opts for Juniper, subsequently confirmed by Martin Townsend of the Moth Bible.


The question got me thinking sideways about trees and the perhaps surprising fact that the Juniper is one of the UK's relatively few native species - 29 in all. As for the Spruce, I had thought that it was named after the famed plant collector and native of Yorkshire (born at Ganthorpe, near Castle Howard), Richard Spruce. But no. The word is a version of 'Prussian' because when they first arrived in Britain in the 17th century, they were thought to come from north Germany. "Whatever's that?" "S'Prusssian."




Saturday, 1 November 2014

Furry gent




Have you met the Feathered Thorns? This sounds like a line from Agatha Christie or one of those society novels of the 1930s. You know, old Colonel Feathered-Thorn of Cheltenham and his rather delightful wife?




The moths of the same name contribute to such fantasies. Look at the furry, bristly male in the top two pictures. All he needs is a monocle. Those antennae would have the same effect as an imperial moustache and sidewhiskers on morale at the Khyber Pass.  He uses them to good effect to track down Miss Feathered-Thorn and turn her into Mrs. She is a fine moth too, but plainer and with very ordinary antennae, as in the three photographs immediately above.


And here they are together, a fine married couple and actually one of the commonest of current visitors to the trap. They are running second only to the Autumnal/November moths whose great variety is shown in the pictures below. I wonder if the pale one is a Pale November Moth. I must try it on my friends at Upper Thames Moths to see if they can tell from a photo.



Thursday, 30 October 2014

Exciting times



The current mild spell is bringing all sorts of exciting moths to the UK on southerly winds from the Continent and we have all been urged to light our lamps to see how far they are reaching inland. Rare treasures already recorded on the South coast include an Oleander Hawk moth and a Tunbridge Wells Gem - now there's a memorable name for a moth. It might mollify even the BBC's legendary protester against anything resembling progress, 'Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells'.

Meanwhile, I've been asked to flag up a talk on Bonfire Night about the amazing Death's Head Hawk moths of Kirtlington which featured at exciting length on the blog last month - you can remind yourself here. Much has happened since, including the hatching of three adult moths and attempts to pair them. All will be revealed on 5 November at 7.45pm in St Mary's church, Kirtlington, near Oxford.


My fellow trapper Julian Howe from Bletchingdon, the next door village, will give a talk about the moth and the Moth Bible's co-author Martin Townsend, who safely bred the Death's Heads from the pupae discovered in Chris Powle's garden at Kirtlington, may also be there. At least one moth trap will be running, possibly two, and it all looks set to be an excellent event.

It's organised by Kirtlington Wildlife and Conservation Society together with Sustainable Kirtlington, of which Chris is a leading light. They'll be showing his film of the first Death's Head to hatch - see YouTube here - and photographs including those here, which he has kindly encouraged me to use on the blog.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Miranda has returned!



Happiness reigns in the Land of Wainwright because my faithful assistant Miranda has come back. As always it was Eagle-Eye Penny who found her, unaccountably hidden in a door pocket of our car. Why on earth did I take her out? I have been combing the house for her ever since we went on holiday in the first week of September.

Look closely and you can see how happy they both are to be reunited
Never mind, she is home. And I hope that this means that my pictures will be a little sharper and have a better chance of very close-up views. Actually, Christmas may see a step change in photography here if P and I carry out our unromantic but practical plan to give one another a really good digital camera. We'll see.

Meanwhile, a further reason for joy is that in the very sunny weather at the weekend, I saw three excellent butterflies: a Speckled Wood, a Small Tortoiseshell and - most satisfying of all - a lovely fresh Brimstone. The weather is most unusual at the moment; they are talking about C21 degrees over the weekend.  Bring it on!

Some moths meanwhile, if only to stay within the rules of the Trades Descriptions Act, so far as the title of this blog is concerned.  Who doesn't love the rakish Angle Shades?


Hats off to the Large Wainscot:


And how nice to see such a late specimen of the Common Marbled Carpet, an amazingly variable moth in terms of colour and patterning.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Brown and green


Years ago when I was a young reporter on the Bath Evening Chronicle, the Queen visited the city and to the consternation of our Fashion Editor turned out to be wearing a dress in blue and green.

"Blue and green should never be seen, unless there's something in between", she commented severely. As a trainee, I absorbed this into my store of life facts and have often repeated it since, usually to derision in view of my own dressing habits.


Whether it still applies or indeed ever did, I do not know; but certainly foxy, russet brown and green go very well in the coat of the Red-green Carpet. It's also a moth whose costume might appeal to women who live in fear of someone at the same party turning up in the same dress (which I did once see happen to the Queen, or very nearly). Red-green Carpets are very variable. Check out the two shown here from the trap last night. - and here's another couple of pictures of the one which chose, appropriately, one of my russety-coloured eggboxes: first from above, second from below.



Another Carpetty moth came calling too, but in a very battered condition - below. Is it a Common Marbled Carpet? Any ideas would be very welcome as always.


Saturday, 25 October 2014

This makes me very cross



We have been telling friends smugly about our Brassica Policy, to whit: allowing 'cabbage white' caterpillars free range in the summer because the crops would recover when autumn arrived and the butterflies' sex drive ebbed. This appeared to working, in that we've had several meals of crinkly cabbage and purple-sprouting broccoli. But now look what's happened - in my special Extra-Large picture above.


Zounds! The otherwise lovely, mild weather has brought forth yet another brood of the rapacious creatures, and I am too ill-organised to Hoover them all away. There's also the not-so-little matter of their many poos - though as you can see in my second picture, this is really just mildly recycled broccoli. Perhaps it would add a little zest to one of my (in)famous home-made and -grown vegetable soups.


Come dine with me! But it's time to go and inspect last night's arrival at the trap, which I have not forgotten, after yesterday's amnesia. I hope you have a lovely weekend and don't forget, UK readers, that we get an extra hour of sleep tonight. Hooray!

Friday, 24 October 2014

Oversleeping


 

Most unusually, I forgot about the moth trap this morning and only realised at 11am that it was running with the light still blazing. Age.

Every cloud has a silver lining, however, and in this case it belongs to the elctricity company. The moths, too, may have slept more soundly with the mercury vapour bulb shining away above them.


There are still a goodly number, including Sprawlers, Blair's Shoulder-knots, Feathered Thorns and other such beauties among the various Chestnutty things which arouse my enthusiasm rather less. I also like the couple of micros pictured here: a Plume moth, one of the flying T-junction sign family, I think the familiar and well-named Common Plume, Emmelina monodactyla, and the Garden Rose Tortrix, Acleris variegana, in the second picture.


My third beast relates to yesterday's conundrum, happily solved in the Comments section yesterday by Countryside Tales. Here, with deft timing, is a lacewing which is not quite yet ready to go to bed until next Spring.