Saturday, 23 July 2016

Cheeky chappy

The cheekiest moth in my ten or so years of moth trapping was snoozing in the eggboxes this morning. A micro, Endotricha flammea, (I think), he allowed me one quick snap (left) but then fluttered off. I thought I had lost him but when I looked at the digital image for my next picture, there was a moth-shaped blur. Carefully, I turned the camera over and it was him, nattily perched on the lens.

The view through the lens

I gave him five gold stars for excellent behaviour because he sat quietly while I tip-toed back inside to get the iPad and take the picture showing him on the camera. In fact, it was quite hard to persuade him to go at all. I ended up like a child trying to blow out an obstinate birthday cake candle, puffing away at him until he fluttered off into the safety of a nearby bush.

My second moth was cited the other day by a nice commentor as the reason he discovered this blog, while looking online for photographs of the startling pink abdomen of the 'dazzle camouflage' star, the Black Arches. This is one of my favourite moths and I had a very enjoyable sesh with the one shown here. It's quite tricky provoking them into giving you a peep of the pink, hence the blurring. He took off shortly afterwards and followed the micro into the bush.

The moth's dazzle camouflage effect
And here's how he looks from head-on
Another moth in motion this morning was this Swallowtail, a common but lovely regular at the moment. I'm occasionally asked to identify moths for other people (a risky request as regular readers well know!) and someone on Twitter sent me a pic just yesterday of a Swallowtail moth on their ceiling.  This one posed for one picture and then clambered off into a slightly gawky take-off using my specs as its runway.

Finally another fine underbelly, this time on a Ruby Tiger. It is tricky to get these moths to show their finery - as well as those lovely russet forewings, they have ruby underwings which they seldom show when at rest. But this one seems less coy than many.

Friday, 22 July 2016


Every day brings a new type of moth at this warm time of the year. Today's is a Shaded Broad-bar, above. It is quite easy to pass over smallish moths such as this, thinking that they are some familiar form of Carpet or similar, especially when you have been going through trap eggboxes for as many years as I have. I nearly did that with the S B-b but fortunately some small, inner voice murmured: 'Just check that one out again. And here it is.

My eye was instantly caught, in contrast, by my second moth: a Brown China-mark micro of the type which I was describing yesterday. It isn't quite as trim as the one I showed then; time and tide have given it a bit of a battering. Moths are lucky to last for even a few weeks with all the hazards they face, from buffeting wind and rain to predatory birds and bats.

They battle on, though, often with their wings in a similar condition to those shot-up aircraft we used to have in our War Picture Library weekly comics as boys. This sturdy Small Elephant has survived a peck or the rip of a bramble bush without any effect on its flying powers. Disturbed by my operations, it flew powerfully off.

What is this, above? Reluctantly, I must add it to my list of unknowns. I am pretty sure that it is a pug moth but there are too many of those and they are sufficiently alike to raise doubt in expert minds. For now, I will guess that it's a Freyer's Pug and hope that someone more knowledgable may decide in due course.

No such problems with my final moth today, a Burnished Brass form aurea, so smart that I think that it must be one of the new generation which hatches around now. I can spend happy ages photographing this moth and trying to do justice to the gleam of its metallic scales. The camera doesn't like them which adds to the challenge of the exercise.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

White China

This fluffy little fellow is a Yellowtail, named for reasons which would have been clear if I had been quicker off the mark. I had emptied the trap and came back to put the bulb and rainshield away, when I noticed the moth on the corner of the bulbholder. I'd overlooked it earlier.

Although otherwise polar bear-white, the Yellowtail has just that, a bright yellow tail which it was cheekily poking up into the air, a device to attract females, don't laugh. Alas, I had to go inside to get my camera and when I returned, the tail was hidden chastely beneath the wings. I tried to goad the moth into showing it again by tickling it with a clover stem; but instead, it took off and sought refuge in the hedge - the backdrop to the top photo.

I was delighted to see the micro, above, in the eggboxes. It is a male Ringed China-mark, a species which has only sent its much drabber female to me previously.  they join the Brown China Mark and the Beautiful China Mark in my records; all very pretty moths which bear out E F Schumacher's legend: 'Small is beautiful'. Here are the rest of the gang, from previous posts:

Wow! The well-named Beautiful China Mark

Also nice: the Brown China Mark

Who drew the short straw? Mrs Ringed China Mark

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Butterfly break (with added moths)

I went on my annual hunt for Purple Emperor butterflies yesterday with the usual result: peeking from the top branches of oak trees in Bernwood Forest, they might have seen me. But I did not see them. As happened last time, a solitary White Admiral was the closest I got. At least it's a relation of theirs.

More on Bernwood in a minute, but the top picture shows a very interesting butterfly spectacle which came my way a day earlier when we took the grandchildren to a little sandy beach on our nearby river. It was Penny who spotted the Green-veined Whites in the picture and told our granddaughter: "Look! The butterflies are mud-pudding." Both sight and word went down well with her, as the word did with P when I brought it back from a work trip on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi 30-odd years ago.

My second two pictures show much larger numbers of more exotic butterflies mud-puddling on the River Toraut in the Dumoga Bone national park; apologies for the quality - they are iPad pictures of photos in an old album of mine. But I hope they give the idea. The butterflies are taking up water and mineral salts with their long probosces, both in the exotic East and here in cosy Oxfordshire.

Notoriously, the Purple Emperors of Bernwood (and elsewhere) apply a similar procedure to such delicious sources of 'nectar' and minerals as animal dung and fermenting fruit. Both are used by enthusiats (and in season, you will never be alone at Bernwood) to lure the majestic butterflies down to ground level to have their pictures taken. No luck for me, but I was more than happy with the beautiful, swooping Silver-washed Fritillaries shown above and below. Quite a few were carrying out their dramatic mating flight rituals which are very well described by the website Learn About Butterflies :

The courtship ritual of the Silver-washed Fritillary is one of the most endearing and familiar sights of the English summer. The female flies in a straight line along woodland tracks at a height of about 2 metres, and as she does so she emits an aphrodisiac scent from the tip of her abdomen. The male responds by following her closely, repeatedly looping under and over her, and showering her with pheromones released from the 4 black bars of androconial scales which run along the veins of his forewings. In many cases this tantalising display fails to entice the female into mating, but if she is receptive she leads the male to a clump of leaves high in an oak tree where copulation takes place. Periodically the pair fly down to settle on bracken or hazel, or to nectar at bramble, but return to the tree tops if disturbed. Copulation lasts about 2 hours and usually takes place in late morning.

Up in the trees , but not copulating
The same view from ground level, showing why Purple Emperor spotting can be a bit frustrating
Here are some more Bernwood insects - a Hedge Brown, a Large Skipper and a Six-spot Burnet moth.

Finally, more from my moth backlog with the usual appeal for help from passing experts. Thanks in anticipation.

Endotricha flammealis from the side

and from above

Heart and Club

Treble Lines and Herald



Bramble-shoot moth and two friends

Monday, 18 July 2016

We can't all be stars

Some of today's post is rather commonplace, as my headline suggests, so I thought I'd start off with a splash of colour. Penny's birthday brought out the moth stars as always, prime among them the fine Garden Tiger above.

The original sleeping position - though flexed antennae show he's waking up

Moth and woolly
 bear from Ernst Kreidorff's
 drawings for the Swiss
 children's book Der
Traumgarten (The Dream Garden)
If a moth can be legendary, in the sense of being a cultural icon, this is the one. My children's books invariably chose it when they needed to illustrate references to moths. It has the colourful beauty of a butterfly, sometimes flies by day and boasts an equally famous caterpillar: the 'woolly bear' which was the bane of parents concerned about skin rashes. (One of my uncles, a kindly dermatologist, took the opposite view as skin irritations caused by plants and wildlife were a constant source of fascination - and skilled detective work - for him).

Transferred to an eggbox and definitely on the qui-vive

Here is my Tiger during various stages of snooziness and waking up, before it winged its way powerfull off to the shelter of some trees. You can see my small assistant in the background. She is a specialist at releasing dozy moths into the wild, with reassuring murmurs of "Don't worry, moth. Don't be frightened, moth."

Getting ready for take-off

And on the runway

Another very agreeable birthday visitor was the Marbled Green below, a moth which has spread rapidly inland after years confined mostly to coastal and chalkland parts of the UK. I can spend ages enjoying its lovely wing patterns. I wonder if William Morris and his school ever came across one of these.

Now it's back log, time - first with a picture of a spider and her egg ball, a stage in the creature's life which in some species follows a charming courtship ritual which culminates in the male offering his inamorata a beautifully-wrapped fly. We are recovering physically from a weekend of childcare. Thank goodness we are not spiders.

The rest of the post explains my headline; below are nice but unexceptional moths which I am in the process of ID-ing, very leisurely. Any assistance appreciated, as always.

Mmmm 1 Update: Nutmeg, I think. Later Update: Or is it, and the one below, a Flounced Rustic? I am checking with Upper Thames Moths

Mmmm 2

Marbled Minor on the right but left is Mmmm 3. Update: I think that it's another Marbled Minor

Shears and Marbled Minor

Mmmm 5 Update: another Nutmeg, I think. Later update: Or Flounced Rustic?

Mmmm 6

Marbled Minor

an another

Mmmm 7

Which Pug?

Just need a spell with the Moth Bible for this one. Update: and I think that it's a Small Square-spot

This one's unfamiliarity interests me a lot and I shall browse with care

Mmmm 8

These next three are Marbled Minors of some sort which I will soon nail

Worn Setaceous Hebrew Character

And that's it. Just one more backlog post to come.