Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Nearly but not quite

My heart missed a beat this morning when it seemed for a moment that my hopes of attracting a Clifden Nonpareil, the wonderful moth which is spectacularly on the increase in these parts, had been realised. I am checking the area round the trap extra-carefully in the hope of finding one of these lovely creaturesa whose grey camouflaged forewings hide two delicate mauve-lilac stripes on their hindwings.

From a distance - photo below - this V-bomber of a moth looked just possible. But it also didn't seem to be quite big enough and, as I had suspected after my initial 'Woooo!', it turned out to be another Red Underwing, a glorious moth too but quite common in the early Autumn. This was my second in two nights.

The chillier night reduced numbers in the trap but there was the textbook lesson, below, on why the Square-spot has its name.

Monday, 9 September 2019

Plenty of colour in olde England too

After the vivid colours of Greece, I was prepared for a major change to the duller - if always interesting - hues of UK moths, especially as our first night back was quite chilly.  There was very little in the trap as a result but the following day - yesterday - saw the sun warm everything up and bring out those wonderful regular butterfly visitors, the Red Admiral and Painted Lady.

Their pictures head this post, with their respective underwings flanking these paragraphs. But the moths put on a terrific show this morning too. The night was much warmer than Sat/Sun and the eggboxes were full of yellow underwings, Burnished Brass, Hewbrew Character and loads of other regulars. The real glories though were in what almost amounted to a second trap, the long grass round the spot where I placed the light.

There have been lots of sightings of the wondrous Clifden Nonpareil, a very big moth with a lilac-banded hindwing which I much desire to meet; and because several of them seem to have preferred being near light traps rather than in them, I have been paying extra attention to the lamp's surroundings. When I saw the moth above, I briefly thought - Wooo! Is it a Nonpareil?  No, the little flash of red showed that it was that September regular, the Red Underwing. Not rare, but always extremely welcome.

Other outside-the-trappers included the August Thorn on the underside of the lamp rain-shield - a nice warm place to doze - with a second one below it on the bulb-holder, as well as the two Centre-barred Sallows and - not pictured - a pretty little Brimstone.

The highlight for me, though, was a Pale Eggar, not a rare moth but one which has only visited me once before, almost exactly five years ago to the day.  His fine antennae indicate that he is male.

Sunday, 8 September 2019

In Arcadia Ego

Things have been quiet here for the last week because P and I have been in Arcadia, the central highlands of the Greek Peloponnese whose name has became a byword for rural bliss. Appropriately so, although this is not a land of gentle meadows where nymphs and shepherds play their flutes and dance. The landscape is green but magnificent, with deep gorges where monasteries cling giddily to cliffs and remarkable ancient temples stand in the middle of nowhere.

The butterflies are marvellous too; there were eight Silver-washed Fritillaries on the plant in my first picture Update: thanks to my brilliant commentor, below, I now know this to be Bupleurum fruticosum which is certainly a butterfly magnet, taken below the Monastery of St John the Baptist in the River Lousios Gorge. Flying alongside them were lots of that beautiful creature, the White Admiral, with its magpie top and rusty underwings Update: Thanks to my wonderfully knowledgable commentor, below, I can tell you that this is a Southern White Admiral rather than the version we have here in the UK. Many thanks!

A few days later, we were sitting in the non-stop sunshine watching both major varieties of European Swallowtail playing in the breeze among the ruins of Kyparissia's crag-top castle. The 'English' species, Papilio machaon, (named after the Greeks' doctor at the siege of Troy), agreed to settle for this photograph below, but the Scarce Swallowtails, Iphiclides podalirius, which are striped like pale yellow tigers, swirled around in either mating dances or simply enjoying flight. You could see exactly how important their long tails are to the stability and angling of their aerial manouevres. It was better than seeing them at rest.

The garden of our B&B at Stemnitsa in Arcadia provided the next two butterfly sightings - a Small Copper and some kind of relative of the Englihs 'browns' as well as a number of small moths which were drawn into our room by its lights.

I have started to Google the second butterfly  Update - and have now established to my own satisfaction that it is a Large Wall -  and the moths below to track down their IDs but please don't expect rapid results, certainly in the case of the moths. Greece has so many brilliantly-coloured butterflies, that little room on the various Flckr etc websites for their small, browny-grey nocturnal relatives is limited. Update: it may be a Fern - see Comments again.

Where's the wine gone?

I'm sure there was some in here a moment ago

This last one will, I fear, remain anonymous for ever. You can only see it's slightly scalloped wing edges below the ivy leaf, again in the Lousios Gorge, where the species was common but very unwilling to come out from beneath the shrubbery.

Finally, it was a treat to encounter that bizarrely-shaped creature the Praying Mantis again, after an interval of many years, picking its way unconcernedly across the astounding ruins of the ancient walled city of Messini. Update: actually almost certainly an African Green Mantis, identified by my commentor by the white spot on its wing - thanks yet again.

And the fascinating remains of ancient Olympia afforded a still more curious insect, buzzing furiously but uncomfortable about. It seemed initially to be some fearsome sort of beetle or wasp, alarming to approach, but proved to be two firmly mating dragonflies. Final update from Comments - they are probably Southern Skimmers.

Thursday, 29 August 2019

Nice Shades

The moths continue to be fairly routine and dominated by the brown and somewhat dull - although the various yellow underwings do not really deserve that dismissal. When at rest, they are mostly a little ordinary but as soon as they go whirring off, you get a brief but vivid glimpse of the brightly-coloured underwings which are their secret treasure and give them their name.

They are very reluctant to show this to the photographer, at least to this one. One of the advantages of the old days of keeping and 'setting' moths in cases was that you could examine underwings in all their glory and appreciate the range of oranges and yellows in this particular tribe. But those times have gone.

There have been exceptions to the general run, too, such as the lovely Angle Shades shown in my top photograph with a rather satisfactory background of one of our towels. And the little Marbled Beauty, above, with its beautiful and complex patterning.

The Elephant and Poplar Hawks continue to decorate the eggboxes, though the pair below were actually outside the trap. I took the Poplar to show some of Penny's tennis friends before releasing it and it flew off initially to incpect the court boundary line, like the Hawkeye replay device at Wimbledon. A friend has just been in touch about seeing a hummingbird Hawk, a regular immigrant from the continent at this time of year, and I am on the lookout for one to complete my list of annual hawk moth regulars.

Two slightly different 'Bronte governess' moths follow, the first a male with its impressive antennae. I  get confused between the various, somewhat similar candidates in this field but I think that he is a Willow Beauty and the second moth a Mottled Beauty. They appeared to recognise one another as cousins as they were roosting close together in the same eggbox.

Things are meanwhile very busy in the silkworm nursery where my eggs have hatched and their tiny occupants are munching greedily away. It is surprising that there are any mulberry trees left in China!  Luckily, I have discovered that a friend in the next village has one, so the food supply chain is secure.

Sunday, 25 August 2019

Hawks more

My courteous farewells to those great stars of the annual moth parade, the Hawks, have proved even more premature than I thought. After the persistence of the first generation of these mighty creatures, the last of which came on 13th August in the form of a Poplar Hawk, a vigorous second brood is now out and about. It first showed itself in the form of this pristine Poplar which was in the trap yesterday morning, sound asleep as is always the case with the hawks, except the Pine which seems to have a more nervous disposition than the others. I reported it on the excellent Upper Thames Moths blog whose expert Dave Wilton commented that second generation Poplars were not specially unusual but the only other types he'd had as a visitor were the Elephant Hawk, back in August 2015, and a couple of Small Elephants, in 2010 and 2017. He concluded: "So there's a very slim chance that your Poplar may not be the last."

He was right!  look at my visitors this morning.  There was one Poplar on the outside of the trap bowl, a second inside and two Elephant Hawks in the eggboxes, one of them already quite worn for a second generation moth.

This has been altogether a cheerful experience, and there was a good haul of moths last night when the weather was so delicious that P and I had supper outside and lingered over it until late, serenaded by music from a pub down the road. Plenty of the nocturnal visitors were on a wall and foliage nearby, rather than in the eggboxes, as with this Thorn and Rustic below and the other chap on the spuds; sorry not to have full IDs for these at this relatively early hour. I will update later.

Inside the trap, there were abundant Rustics, Hebrew Chyaracters and Yellow Underwings of various sorts, but also a welcome contingent of delicate and lighter moths including this Wave which I'm not quite sure about - Riband I think, though it seems rather heavily smudged. Then a couple of nice Green Carpets and a Double-striped Pug.

Among the larger and browner/greyer brethren, we have this  Square-spot Rustic, a Silver Y and - in a slightly higher league of both size and patterning - a Pebble Prominent.

And to end with, on the alert on our young beech hedge, a nicely-spotted spider, I think maybe a Garden Orb. The females of this species do most of the trapping and eating while the smaller males lurk nearby and finish off the scraps.