Tuesday, 17 September 2013

The fat lady hasn't sung

It's easy to bring the curtain down prematurely on the moth-trapping season and I got a welcome rebuke on that score this morning. For the first time here (although they were regulars in Leeds) a pair of Black Rustics graced the eggboxes. The moth is one of the best of early Autumn's visitors.

Most Rustics score badly with me, as a tribe of confusingly similar grey and brownish moths. This darkly handsome character with its golden wing crescents is a major exception.

He or she also has brightly contrasting white underwings, but it isn't easy to get a Black Rustic to pose like a Calvin Klein model. Above is the best I can do. Below are some other nice visitors to the trap on a cold but dry night.

 Lunar Underwing, beige version

Is this the micro Pammene aurita? Update: Yes, Ben agrees in comments. Yo!

Dark Swordgrass - a sturdy immigrant built for long flights Update: Ben keeps me on the
straight and narrow once again: apologies, although long and slender like the Dark Swordgrass, this is actually a Turnip moth - prosaic but new to my trap in Oxfordshire

Lunar Underwing, usual grey version

And I think this is yet another take on the Lunar Underwing. Confusing, eh?
Update: confused is the word. Sagacious Ben in comments corrects me. It's
a Lesser Yellow Underwing. Second time in a week I've missed that one. Oh dear.

And a Snout which paid a late-night visit to our kitchen

Meanwhile in Witney, lair of David Cameron and fewer than ten miles from here, there has been a magnificent moth episode, recorded on the outstanding website of Upper Thames Butterfly Conservation.  With grateful acknowledgments to them and the fervent hope that it may also happen to me, I reproduce it verbatim:

Mary Elford passed on this exciting report from Adrian State in Witney, Oxon: "On Thursday 22nd August I was working late on my computer. I always keep the study window open to welcome any interesting moths that may be flying past but on this evening I got a real surprise. At approximately 1.45am something large and dark flew in through the window and for a few seconds I thought that a pipistrelle bat had lost its bearings, but as it settled next to the ceiling light I was amazed to see that it was a huge moth and what was more it had a clearly defined skull shape on the thorax. It could only be a Death's Head Hawk-moth which I had never before seen in the living form. What really impressed me was its size; I often get Poplar Hawk-moths flying in and although they are large this was clearly quite a bit larger still. I typed "Deaths Head moth" into my computer's browser and on finding the Natural History Museum page on this moth I read that it squeaked when touched. Well, nothing ventured.... I gently pushed it with the tip of a wooden ruler and was immediately rewarded by a very loud and distinct squeak! Whilst I marvelled at this, the moth decided it had had quite enough of satisfying my curiosity and flew back out through the open window. At this point I was extremely cross with myself as my camera had been on my desktop beside me throughout the visit. Ah well, next time."


Countryside Tales said...

How thrilling! I'd love to see a Death's Head. And If I do I shall listen out for the squeak!
I wondered whether your middle lunar underwing might be one of the Gothics? It seemed very stripy?

Bennyboymothman said...

Nice, not had one yet this year, first one I had last year was on the 9th of October! So may have to wait for mine.
Your Lunar Underwing variation is a Lesser Yellow Underwing.
Agree on P.aurita.
And sorry to say that the suspected Dark Sword-grass is a Turnip Moth. I have been getting a few of these lately.
All the very best and keep running that trap! Someone got a Vestal last night more inland than me!

MartinWainwright said...

Hi both!

Oh for a Death's Head to visit my trap... I dream on. Yes CT, that's what I thought initially but the Lunar Underwing is very like the various Gothics.

Ben, thanks as always. You gave me the Cabbage recently and now it's the Turnip. I'm very pleased cos it's new for me here and I'm almost in reach of a modest 200 this season.

all warm wishes both, and all


Katie (Nature ID) said...

Hey, Martin. I'm thinking of doing white sheet lighting during a camping trip next week. Do you have anywhere on your blog how you set up your trapping? I never figured out why you use egg cartons. Actually my biggest hurdle is figuring out how to light a sheet with no electrical outlets - will have to be battery, generator, or other.

Countryside Tales said...

I have learnt something new this week- thank you. Will now be armed with knowledge in case I get any here! :-)

MartinWainwright said...

Hi Katie

Thanks for the message and all the very best for your camping trip.

Light is the key thing. If you have access to a generator to power a good bright one, that would be best. A battery lamp might produce disappointing results, but here's hoping.

Laying out white sheets round the trap is an excellent idea. I tend not to do it myself because the birds get up earlier than I do, and would probably have a major moth breakfast. But you'll probably be up with the lark if camping.

My trap is shown here - http://www.watdon.co.uk/the-naturalists/acatalog/Moth_traps.html - and I'm sorry not to have explained the eggboxes whose different colours and slogans fascinate me so much. They are simply for the moths to hide in, inside the trap's bowl. You can then take them out one at a time to check the different species.

Moths tend to snuggle into the cones and can only be reached by ripping the eggbox; hence my gratitude to penny and neighbours who keep me well-supplied. mind you, you can tap out moths on to a sheet or some other surface as most are very doze; but this method risks livelier ones flying away.

Good luck on your expedition. Be prepared for disappointment if your light isn't very strong, though. Maybe you are going to rum-and-treacle - the process of mixing syrup or treacle with a little tasty alcohol and painting strips on trees etc. On warm nights, this can work, though a powerful light trap is far, far more rewarding.

Hope this helps. If you link to my incredibly valued expert commentors Ben Sale, Dave Shenton or Ray Walton, they will be able to give any further advice you may need.

all warmest


Katie (Nature ID) said...

Oh, yours is a mercury lamp. That's gotta be really bright. I ended up borrowing a UV light and batteries from a university museum a couple hours north from home. I must be serious about this, because I'm not a big fan of driving in the car for hours. I plan to hang the white sheet vertically for the moths to land on. I find it interesting there are so many different methods to trap moths. I've heard of the rum and syrup mixture - take a bottle of rum, mix a tablespoon with a cup of syrup, drink the rest of the bottle while you wait for moths. I also borrowed a new local moth bible, so I'll have half a chance at IDing what I find. Stayed tuned, in about 10 days I should have a fabulous moth blog post.