Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Satanic struggle

I cycled over to Bernwood Forest today although the weather was cloudy and dull which never promises well for Purple Emperor-spotting. As soon as I arrived at the slightly grim entrance with its car park and dog-poo bin, which is one of the best places for seeing the butterflies swoop down from the oak tree canopy (often to investigate dog poo, which they like), I saw something pretty majestic gliding powerfully, low over the tarmac forest road.

I am sure that it was either an Emperor or a White Admiral but it disappeared as quickly as it had arrived and I had no further luck during the couple of hours I spent in the forest and in Bernwood Meadows next door. Still, I had a happy time pottering around on the bike and on foot and got the top photo of a female Silver-washed Fritillary, a blurry one of the shining russet male, left, and the ones below of a couple of lusty Ringlets. Those (like me) who believe that married couples are as one will be pleased with the first.

The 25-mile round trip was worth it for the sheer number of butterflies, even with sun so reluctant to shine. Along the main track, almost every thistle flower had a Marbled White perched on it, along with several kinds of Skipper - the ones in the photo below are Large - Ringlets, Meadow and Hedge Browns and assorted Whites.

I was also lucky to get this extremely sinister photo below of a Devil's Coach Horse Beetle under attack - I think - by a Red Fire Ant. The beetle was scuttling about so fast that all I could see with my eyes and specs is that it was dragging something. It was only when I looked at my photos during a rest on the ride home that I saw what was actually going on. This episode between two Dark-looking Forces accounts for my exciting headline.

Bernwood Meadows were looking lovely with masses of yellow and purple wildflowers, but the butterflies were mostly taking shelter as the clouds thickened, the temperature fell and there was the occasional drop of rain. I thought a flutter of white was a Large, Small or Green-veined White but it turned out to be this White Satin moth, which I've only ever seen previously among the eggboxes in the trap here at home.

Monday, 6 July 2020

Beetle orgy

The moth trap produced pretty routine fare last night but a wander round our local fields and woodland during the day was another matter. My first two pictures make it clear that whatever the woes of the world at the moment, there is going to be no shortage of Common Red Soldier Beetles.

While they were partying away, Penny and I also disturbed a whole series of Shaded Broad-bar moths , some of them flirting with Deadly Nightshade - the poison Belladonna - and, back in the garden, a brand new Comma butterfly, swooping around in all its russet glory, and a lovely Gatekeeper or Hedge Brown:

As you can see from the last picture above, I was cutting our hawthorn hedge - a multi-storey flats complex for wildlife, and in the process, I found large numbers of Ladybird pupae, a stage in their life cycle which lasts about a week.

As brightly-coloured as the adults, they are fastened to the leaves by a glue which they secrete. I have brought these three indoors and hope that we may coincide and get a short video clip of when they emerge.

Our last butterfly today is the Essex Skipper which is around in  large numbers, weaving in and out of the long grass stalks with tremendous aeronautical skill:

In the moth trap, we had the most handsome form of the Large Yellow Underwing (Update: Broad-bordered YU, sorry for lapse in concentration and thanks to Edward in Comments)  with its cappuccino colouring topped by a greenish tinge. Tomorrow, I hope to cycle over to Bernwood forest to see if I can photograph a Purple Emperor.

Sunday, 5 July 2020

Come and get me

After my grumblings yesterday about the excessive modesty of Ruby Tigers, I have been rewarded by a rare sight of the opposite: a Yellow-tail showing off her (I think) pride and joy in a way which is unusual. I have seen this before but seldom; normally it is tricky to photograph the moth in a way which  makes it look anything other than plain white with a couple of browney-black dots.

I've had to tilt and twist eggboxes to get the lens beneath the tent-like canopy of the insect's wings or try to goad it into giving a glimpse of its tail, a tactic which normally annoys it enough to fly off. This one, by contrast, was obliging to a fault. The wind which blew throughout the night was still quite fresh and buffeted the moth as I examined it. The yellow tail remained resolutely upright.

Today's newcomer was this Copper Underwing - or it may be the very slightly different Svensson's Copper Underwing. Certainty can only be gained by examining the underside of the hindwing pattern closely - see here and especially here - and guess what? Yes, these big but nervy, constantly dark-seeking moths fall firmly into the Ruby Tiger rather than Yellow-tail camp.

Also visiting: a Poplar Grey whose patterning with two little 'eyes' and jagged cross-bands much resembles that of the Copper Underwing (and quite a few other UK moths), and a handsome Light Arches. To finish up with, the trap attracted at least ten delicate Lacewings, beautiful little creatures and well-named.

Saturday, 4 July 2020

Petticoat blush

If you're given something fine to wear, you might as well sport it, or at least give a flash occasionally as in the case of a petticoat. The Ruby Tiger moth is having none of this. It is extraordinary reluctant to show the lovely hindwings which give it its name.

I managed to get that small glimpse of the lefthand wing in the moth at the bottom right, above. The one at the right top is also showing a little of the species' marvellously exotic body - bright red with large black spots, but this too is generally kept concealed. I wonder why, when the accepted theory goes that these hidden surprises are useful as a 'scare' defence, as in the case of the sudden appearance of the 'eyes' on the hindwings of a surprised or alarmed Eyed Hawk. I will Google some time; but now we press on to other arrivals
Below, travelling clockwise from the top left, we have a Scalloped Oak, a Common or Lesser Common Rustic, a rather quietly coloured Coronet and a Light Emerald.

Next, looking very different in the two types of lighting conditions experienced by my iPhone, is a July Highflyer, my first this year, a moth with a tremendous number of variations on a basic theme of greeny-streaked-with-black, but always identifiable by its size and shape - a broad isosceles triangle with gently curving sides. Unlike other moths with months in their names, which often promiscuously fly at other times of the year, this one is pretty loyal to July, in my experience.

Another newcomer is this Dun-bar, below, another very varied moth in colouring terms but always with the same basic pattern.  Then we move on to different curious beasties of the night.

I have asked the expert on iRecord whether these two caddis-flies are a happy couple, long-connected and content in one another's company, or just coincidentally resting side by side. Below them, I was interested to find a Maybug or cockchafer at what to me seems a late stage in their season, given that they start appearing earlyish in May.

Room for one more moth - just. This Large Yellow Underwing found an extremely tight fit in an eggbox cone, a feature of the moth trap which often entices arrivals who want privacy or somewhere really good to hide. I peeled it gently open and he or she seemed quite happy to be out.

Oh and we have a guest moth from Walthamstow - this very nice Least Carpet found by older son whose large and lively family are happily great explorers and discoverers of the natural world.

Friday, 3 July 2020

Which is the twig - and which the moth?

Although the hawk moths are the runaway favourite with visitors here who are unfamiliar with moths, several less dramatic species also find fans. The jet-plane shape of the Angle Shades never fails to attract admiration while the White Ermine hits a soft spot in pretty much everyone.

Another is today's lead moth, the Buff-tip, because of its party trick shown in my first two photos. It really does look like a broken twig, down to its own version of lichen as well as the snapped-off ends.  Which of these two is the moth and which the twig?  I think that you will get it right after a close look, but I'm equally sure that the moth almost always hides successfully from passers-by.  It's a bit of a puzzle to me, though, why natural selection has led to such a close match. Birds are moths' greatest predators (along with bats) and their eyes see things differently from ours. I've always understood movement to be crucial in giving the game away, but I must read more and see if an unfamiliar outline arouses suspicion - which would be a sound argument for moths melting into their surroundings as much as they can.
I witnessed two attempts at predation yesterday when a couple of Elephant Hawks - the glorious pink moth below - decided to fly off from the trap while I was doing my photos. One of our many blackbirds zoomed in at high speed and gave chase, but the moths - both of them - put on an excellent display of aerial strategy, jinking sideways so that the bird overshot and took ages to circle back and have another go. Exactly the same thing then happened before the moths reached safety in the leafy branches of our big oak.

I have set myself a bit of a task today by showing you a series of micros, moths which are far from easy to ID. I am guessing that the one with the Elephant and the less battered one below are both members of the Cnephasia family whose separate identities - and there are quite a few of them, with only marginally different wing patterns - cannot be identified precisely without dissection of the genitalia. Not my field.

The beautiful micro above is an easier task; it has to be Catoptria pinella. But then we move on to another big family of lookalikes, the Scoparids. I go for Scoparia pyralella for the first two and Eudonia lacustrata for the third  but I will check with the gurus of the Upper Thames Moths blog.

Next we have two examples of the Marbled Orchard Tortrix, Hedya nubiferana, followed by Agriphila straminella alongside a Scarce Footman macro. Don't they have long names for such little specks?

And now for this apparently distinctive chap in the middle of the first picture below and on its own in the second, which has given me trouble. The closest I can get in the Micro Moth Bible is Spatalistis bifascina but that is only locally common so, again, I will have to check with UTM.

Next, I believe we have a very long-standing regular, albeit rather battered, Archips podana, and then we're back in Macro Mothland with a Muslin Footman cosying up to a Swallowtail followed by a Common or Lesser Common Rustic in a rustier shade than the ones I've shown already this year. A rusty Rustic.

To end with, another photo of our many Red Admiral butterflies about at the moment. Glorious creatures which would get on well, I imagine, with Scarlet Tiger moths. I like giving space here to both.