Saturday, 31 August 2013

Scarlet ladies (or gentlemen)

Back to the trap from our treacling adventures in Bradford, to a fine welcome from no fewer than five Red Underwings. Here are three of them, posing briefly on a couple of twigs while warming up for take-off which happened shortly afterwards.

This is a great process to watch, with the wings whirring faster and faster as the dozy insect works up enough energy to fly. Then they launch themselves into the air and flitter away into the safety of our apple tree while the local cock robin tuts and chirrups in frustration.

I must try to get a film of it some time because that is the best way to show the vivid scarlet colouring of the top hindwing which normally the moths keep chastely concealed. This morning, luckily, the last to go sat in the trap after a brief panic with her skirts (or his kilt) nicely spread out.

A last Red Underwing glimpse, with the halo of the trap top behind

The quintet are an illustration of the micro-geography of our garden. I last had a Red Underwing visit when I balanced the trap precariously on the roof of our dilapidated shed. Two Old Lady moths were in the eggboxes with it and last night, when I placed the lamp a few feet from the shed at ground level,  there was one fast asleep - shown above with a Burnished Brass to illustrate the bigger moth's V-bomber looks.  In the same way, Poplar Hawks are to be found in a separate, wooded part of the garden and there are other distinctly local species populations.

I've got nice petticoats too. One of several yellow underwings in last night's trap

I must map them. Meanwhile, by way of contrast in size, here is a pair of small but beautifully patterned Carpet moths, Broken-barred left and Common right (I think). Update: no, the BB is a Garden Carpet - many thanks to Richard in Comments.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Drinkers at the Treacle Bar

Second time lucky. Success! Everything comes to he who waits and last night, which was much warmer than Wednesday's, the rum-and-treacling came up trumps. We daubed our gloopy mixture on three trees and a log at 8pm and within an hour the nice, fresh Copper Underwing above was absorbed.

It was so keen on the treacle, or so quickly affected by the rum, that it took not the slightest notice of clumsy manoeuvres as the tricky task of night photography with a torch got under way. Apologies that the pictures are a bit blurry; like treacling compared with a light trap, I felt back in the dark ages of pre-digital snapping and my old Brownie 127.

Still, here's my best effort at the moth from the side, showing its feeding under way, followed by a worse one which maybe has the saving grace of capturing the greedy flickering of the proboscis.

Then we have a series of other creatures propping up the bar, including slugs as in the Victorian reference in yesterday's post. No bats, toads or bank voles, though, but another moth, pictured at the end of the post, which decided to flit to the rival Buddleia Bar where I only got this over-flashed study of its rear end.

A caterpillar - whose?

An earwig

Two (of half-a-dozen) slugs

A spider - any arachnophiles around? Update: Yes, see Comments and heap
praise on Banished who points out that this is a Harvestman
Update: an early morning wasp

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Yo, ho, ho!

It's a long time since I've been rum-and-treacling for moths but last night we had a go, in company with my sister, brother-in-law and their characterful rug-like dogs, Kipper and Badger. The experience reminds me to be thankful every day for the invention of the light trap. Treacling or 'sugaring' as it is also known is seldom the exciting experience described by an entomological vicar in this extract from the Victorian Girl's Own Paper.

'Slugs of the most portentous dimensions descend from their hiding places in the trees and absorb the treacle as if they were so many hungry leeches fastening on a plump and thin-skinned patient. Toads sit in a circle round the trunk of the tree, waiting to snap up any moth that falls. The bats soon learn the value of a treacled tree, swooping by it, whipping up the pre-occupied moths as they pass by.'

None of this drama happened to us, or if it did, it was past our bedtime. We attracted no moths even though one of our sites, below, was almost in the middle of a buddleia, and this morning there was only a curious wasp. Sadly, I recall similar disappointments as a boy and never over-encourage enthusiasm for treacling among children who have yet to become proud owners of a light trap. But we will try again tonight.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

In glorious Technicolour

Like most people who have moved house, we are getting to know our new surroundings and nosing out the local attractions of which there are many. Here are pictures from a couple we've just visited while the moths have a rest: Brimstone butterflies on the 70-year-old dahlia bed at Rousham, one of the best William Kent and Charles Bridgeman landscapes in the UK; and wasps at that magnificent pile, Blenheim Palace.

Both are very well run in different ways: Rousham a quietly uncommercial haven with a stupendous walled garden as well as the Arcadia on the steep banks above the river Cherwell; Blenheim a huge tourist attraction but with easily enough room (indoors as well as in the great Capability Brown park) not to feel crowded.  There is a particularly good animated history starring that sturdy character Sarah, first Duchess of Marlborough, who called the place 'mad Vanburgh's lurid dream'.  She had to look after it for years after the death of her husband, mind.

Rousham has an interesting rule of no visitors under 15 which must deny it a lot of custom, including our pending grandchild who won't be able to go until 2028. It is well worth waiting for; the gardens are open every day of the year, with every inch of the grounds available - not a morsel reserved for the resident family's use - and the pleasant instruction when you arrive: 'Bring a picnic, wear comfortable shoes and it is yours for the day.'

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Moth Boy

Most moths sleep profoundly in the trap and we had a good example here yesterday. Among the golden stars of the catch featured in the previous post, there were five Poplar Hawks snoozing away and on previous form, I was pretty confident that most of them would stay all day if left undisturbed.

So I tucked them away, because we had family coming including a young cousin who knows about moths because one of his grandfathers is an expert trapper and recorder. When we went to have a look after lunch, three of the big moths were duly there, sound asleep and safe from our inquisitive robins and blackbirds in the darkness of a shed.

The good ship Herbidacious - see below

Docilely, they allowed 'Moth Boy', as he kindly signed our visitors' book, to carry them on one hand, and one of them has gone off with him and his family to London, still asleep. With luck, it may be a female which will lay eggs down there and so spread the Poplar Hawk population even more widely. If male, perhaps it will meet a London mate when released and do the same.

By happy coincidence, we found the book above on the excellent Herb Boat Herbidacious which was moored by the towpath when we went for a sunny walk along the canal. Maybe we have a trapper of the future here. Meanwhile I am wondering: do moths sleep as soundly in the wild? Or is it an effect of the attraction/disorientation of the light?

Monday, 26 August 2013

Golden morning

I nearly didn't put the trap out last night after a busy day, but I'm glad I did. As so often in the past, I was rewarded this morning by a large and interesting collection of arrivals, including some  vividly-coloured newcomers.

The first and subject of my picture bonanza is a Gold Spot or Lempke's Gold Spot (the differences require minute examination to sort out), a small but splendidly attired moth which likes canals and damp places and has therefore chosen wisely in seeking us out. Its gold spots are so rich that they look painted-on and as with the Burnished Brass and other moths with complicated reflector scales on their wings, they catch the light at different angles in a satisfactory way.

Then comes a Bordered Beauty, another bewitching combination of pattern and colour, and the season's first Frosted Orange, a moth found in areas of disturbed weeds which again makes our garden highly suitable. Following them up below, here's a Small Waved Umber and a Snout with its Pinocchio nose.

And to end up with, one of the first examples of piggyback sleeping I've encountered in the trap, with a Mother of Pearl perced lightly on a slightly puzzled-looking brown relative on the transparent hood.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Slow, slow, quick-quick, sloe

Things are slow and so here is an appropriate fruit: sloe berries bulging along our favourite walk which we plan to raid before anyone else gets to them. Then you prick them with a pin and have a session making sloe gin, after which moth identification becomes harder still.

Everyone is enjoying fruit at the moment, viz these wasps. When I was a boy we used to stamp on dozens of them as they lay gorged or drunk on rotting apples in the cider orchards of Herefordshire. I've just replied to GF's comment on yesterday's post about the wonderful honey scents currently wafting over the North York Moors. I can still smell the apple-y air below the Malvern Hills too.

Nothing much to report from the trap in the cooler, duller and damper weather but here are a few of its inhabitants, plus a Speckled Wood butterfly encountered on the sloe march and a lovely little beetle which my trembly hands and the breeze have turned into an Andrew Marvell-like green thought in a green shade. Update: inspired by Ray in Comments I have nailed this as the Green Dock Beetle (and it was on a dock plant), Gastrophysa viridula.  I also mentioned in yesterday's Comment slot that I am pondering a way of lifting the trap into a tree without risking the bulb. Above is the sort of apparatus I have in mind with thanks to the incomparable W.Heath Robinson.

Garden Carpet

Shaded Broad-bar

A female of the Orange Swift's dark version. The male gets the bright colour

Red Twin-spot Carpet according to my lights

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Boldly going

In my restless quest for knowledge, I boldly decided to hoist the trap on to our flat roof last night, a nerve-wracking experience for anyone in their sixties. 'Be careful on ladders' is one of the essential rules of life by the time you get to our age. 'Make sure that you are attached at three points' is another. My long experience of building tree houses means that I am hard-wired to respect the latter, but it's easier said than done when you are climbing with the various components of a trap on your person. Inspecting the moths this morning was equally bracing. To have carried down the trap would have disturbed them, so the camera and I perched on the uppermost rungs to take pictures. Altogether, I felt like one of the angels on the facade of Bath Abbey which I got to know well during my three-and-a-half idyllic years on the Bath Evening Chronicle, learning my trade.

Anyway, pausing only to show you a picture of the said facade courtesy of the excellent Piccalilli Pie blog, here are some of the moths which fly that much higher than the usual, sea-level position of the trap. The first is an interesting one which I got in my later years in Leeds but had not yet seen here: a Dark Sword-grass, a powerfully-flying immigrant species which features in large numbers at the traps which dot the coast like wartime radar stations, whose lists of incomers are very well-recorded on the Atropos website.  Just to keep up my supply of interesting if marginally relevant pictures, here before the moths, is one from Wikipedia of a coastal 'listening ear' which looked out for enemy aeroplanes rather than immigrant moths.

And now the rooftop moths which also included four Poplar Hawks, a handsome Angle Shades, several Spectacles and lots and lots of Flame Shoulders, Setaceous Hebrew Characters and other familiar species, well over 250 in all. Once again, we have a nice (human) guest coming to stay, so IDs will be completed later (or sooner, should any of my beloved experts be passing this way, hem hem). Update: and behold their unfailing helpfulness in the amended captions. Many thanks as always.

The Dark Sword-grass

A very handsome and typically lively Copper (or Svensson's Copper) Underwing's the one on the right I need to nail. And Dave in Comments
 obliges as always: a Ringed China-mark micro - new here

Feathered Gothic, very stylish moth

I think that this is a rather worn Flame Carpet

Mmm... once more. Always dodgy to photograph when they perch in the bowl
 It's a worn Willow Beauty - many thanks to Dave again

Brown China-mark micro

That makes it three Mmm...s But thanks to GF, we now know that it's a Yellow Straw