Monday, 12 August 2013

It wasn't just the moths sleeping out

Colin Wilkinson of the RSPB plus happy campers - and moth

Yesterday morning saw me scrambling off early on the unlikely mission of helping an RSPB Big Wild Sleepout to identify moths caught in three traps in Wytham Woods. Regular readers may hoot at this, given my inability to spot Common Rustics etc, but luckily there was a very nice moth enthusiast from Wolvercote there, Steve Goddard, plus some other knowledgable types. So I think I got away with it.

A clever way of showing off the catch; each jar has a lens-lid

As you can see, we had to include the odd question mark

A sight to thrill British Wildlife Publishing. Steve Goddard and a friend from
Wolvercote Wildlife Watch consult their Moth Bibles (as I was doing too)

It was an excellent event, full of lively families and their mums and dads, plus some visitors from China and several grandparents. Most of them had bivouacked overnight in the woods, a very special place given to Oxford University in by the ffennel family (see this excellent link for the origins of ff in English surnames) in 1942 after the death of their only daughter, Hazel. The touching story is well-told here.

The moths in the traps were interesting but familiar: a Nut-tree Tussock above, Mother of Pearls, assorted yellow underwings, Hearts and Darts, various Footmen and the like. But the undoubted star of the day was the Black Arches, below. Wytham Woods appear to be infested with them.

This was handy because the op-art colouring of the moth is a marvellous example of camouflage of a particularly interesting kind. Thus I was able, I hope not boringly, to describe how the Op Art (Optical Art) movement of the 1960s and Seventies used the same disorientating effect, notably in the work of Bridget Riley whose Blaze 4 is below. Somewhere I have a once-treasured possession, an Op Art tie.

The other great example, which I always enjoy passing on, is the dazzle camouflage used on warships, especially in the First World War. In the same way that Riley's work teases and unfocuses the human eye, the weird patterns of dazzle break up the stark lines of ships. No wonder all these Wytham Black Arches have survived.

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