Sunday, 10 November 2013

YES! It's Moth of the Year

So this is it, dear reader. Cold, wet, darkness and the paucity of moths mean the end of full-scale trapping for 2013. Penny will be relieved to have the chance to talk about something else.

It has been as sensational a year as I expected with our move from Leeds to Oxfordshire; not so much in overall numbers or even variety of species, but thanks to the almost daily succession of novelties which are the main fascination for a sadly unscientific but curious amateur such as myself.

This has given my annual (well, since last year, anyway) Moth of the Year competition a dazzling array of finalists. There has been very little which would arouse the scorn of Simon Cowell or the gentle letdowns of his kinder judges on TV. But I have a runaway winner, as assiduous readers will be expecting. Ever since I heard its name, I have longed to see a Merveille du Jour.  Now I have and I am in no way disappointed. (Do you like my specially themed text background colours btw?)

I was lucky. I saw only the one and on one night only. A fellow enthusiast-comments on the Upper Thames Butterfly Conservation website that he has heard 'murmurs' of a merveilleuse annĂ©e for the moth but has not experienced that himself. It may be categorised as 'common' but it rations its appearances and I am grateful that one of them was for me.

Update: I am very chuffed that the writer and general expert Gillian Darley has Tweeted that my moth looks like 'a mad chenille tablecloth' - a very appropriate description what with 'chenille' being the French for caterpillar. I learned that as a boy on family holidays when I enlisted passing Francais in my chenille hunts. The textile etymology is here.

The runner-up is that magnificent creature the Privet Hawk Moth, the largest of the UK tribe that any of us are likely to see. Only the Death's Head and Convolvulus bigger are bigger. I am specially pleased by the circumstances surrounding my first-ever meeting with one: as well as lovely surroundings, we are blessed in our new home with specially nice neighbours and, on learning of my moth mania, one of them dug out an old photo he'd taken of a Privet Hawk, complete with a ruler for scale. The real thing arrived just a few days later.

The bronze medal should in fairness be shared by many lovely moths but I have plumped for one, familiar to me in Leeds but glowingly beautiful here, especially when shown against a background of my famous trap-inspecting pyjamas. Lempke's Gold Spot is a dazzling little creature. Update: sorry - see Dave's comment below; this will be a standard Gold Spot rather than Lempke's. Many thanks D. Only the Gold Spangle beats it in my estimation; and that remains a star of the north, at least for now.

I have gone on long enough - a feature of the blog which has grown in posts from 100 in 2008 to 123, 134, 158, 165 and now 196 so far this year. It will probably reach 200 by New Year's Eve because I will light the lamp in a desultory fashion between now and April. But in the meanwhile, very many thanks to everyone who has dropped in, to those who have kindly commented and especially to my regular experts who try again and again to keep my dodgy IDs on the straight and narrow.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Good Housekeeping in Oxfordshire 3

That's enough apples, dear
Let's look at something
more interesting - like moths
There were no new moths in the trap last night, the first time that this happened this year; just the frail-looking November Moth featured yesterday which had decided to spend a bonus 24 hours in its eggbox cone. It therefore seems a good moment to hold another of my occasional Good Housekeeping exercises and bring my audit of this year's moths up to date.

When I last looked through the blog, on 31 July, the tally was 163 species, 138 of them macro-moths and 25 micros. Now those last two figures have risen to 207 and 54, making an overall total of 261 species during this first season of trapping in Oxfordshire.

This compares with my grand total in Leeds of 205 species, between starting this blog in May 2008 and closing down at the end of last year, although the discrepancy is not as great as might at first appear. Most of both totals, in Oxfordshire as in Leeds, can be expected in the first year with much smaller accretions subsequently.

Happy in Leeds and Oxford: the Ruby Tiger

Both tallies are also modest when compared with others' counts. The excellent moth section of Upper Thames Butterfly Conservation's website has now reached 956 species with an expected boost from micros still to be sorted which could take it above 2011's impressive total of 1058.  I know that I under-report because of my impatience and ignorance regarding small and middle-sized grey and brown macros and all but the most vivid micros; but clearly I have plenty to hope for in the coming years.

So, here are the newcomers since 31 July with the ones not found by me in Leeds in red:

MACROMOTHS: Autumnal, Autumnal Rustic, Barred Sallow, Beaded Chestnut, Black Rustic, Blair's Shoulder-knot, Bordered Beauty, Bordered Sallow, Brick, Brindled Green, Brown-spot Pinion, Cabbage Moth, Canary-shouldered Thorn, Centre-barred Sallow, Chestnut, Common Carpet, Common Rustic, Dark Swordgrass, December Moth, Deep Brown Dart, Double Square-spot, Dusky Sallow, Feathered Gothic, Feathered Thorn, Flounced Rustic, Frosted Orange, Gold Spot or Lempke's Gold Spot, Gothic, Green-brindled Crescent and f.Capucina, Grey Shoulder-knot, Large Ranunculus, Large Wainscot, Lesser Yellow Underwing, Least Yellow Underwing, Lunar Underwing, Lychnis, Maiden's Blush, Marbled Green, Merveille du Jour, November Moth, Old Lady, Pale Mottled Willow, Pebble Hooktip, Pink-barred Sallow, Poplar Kitten, Purple Bar,  Purple Thorn, Red-green Carpet, Red-line Quaker, Red Underwing, Rosy Rustic, Sallow Kitten,  Shaded Broad-bar, Small Waved Umber, Sprawler, Spruce Carpet, Square-spot Rustic, Straw Underwing, Tawny Marbled Minor, Tawny-speckled Pug,  Turnip Moth, Vestal, Vine's Rustic, Willow Beauty, Winter Moth, Yellow-line Quaker, Yellow Straw (69)

MICROS: Acleris aspersana, Acleris ferrugana, Acleris emaigana, Acleris holmiana, Agonopterix alstrumeriana, Agriphila straminella, Agriphila tristella, Anthophila fabriciana (Nettle Tap), Apotomis betuletana, Argyresthia goerdartella, Bastia unitella, Brown China Mark, Brown Plume, Caloptilia elongelia, Carcina quercana, Chequered Fruit Tortrix, Chrysofeuchia culmella, Cydia splendana, Epiphyas postvittana (Large Brown Apple Moth), Evergestis fonficalis, Garden Rose Tortrix, Large Fruit Tree Tortrix, Large Plume, Light Brown Apple, Pammene aurata, Pyrausta purpuralis, Ringed China-mark,  Rush Veneer,Ypsolopha sequella (29)

An Oxfordshire treat: the mighty Puss Moth

Finally, here are my Leeds moths not found in Oxfordshire - yet. Their tally is a score or so down on July but there is a long way to go before I see them all here too:

MACROMOTHS: Alder, Angle-striped Sallow, Antler,  Barred Red, Blackneck, Brown Silver-line, Buff Footman, Campion, Chimney Sweeper, Clouded-bordered Brindle ab Combusta),  Clouded Brindle, Common Wave, Cream Wave, Crescent, Dark-barred, Twin-spot Carpet, Dark Brocade, Dark Dagger, Dark Marbled Carpet, Dark Spectacle,  Dotted Border, Double-lobed, Double-striped Pug, Dusky Brocade, Dusky Thorn, Dwarf Pug, Fan-foot, Figure of 80,  Flame Carpet, Foxglove Pug, Freyer's Pug, Golden-rod Pug, Green Arches,  Green Silver Lines, Grey Arches, Grey Birch, Grey Chi, Grey Pine Carpet,  Grey Scalloped Bar, Ingrailed Clay, Knot Grass, Large Emerald, Lead-coloured Drab, Lime Hawk including Var brunnea, Lunar Marbled Brown, March Moth, May Highflyer, Mottled Rustic, Mottled Umber, Oak Beauty, Oak Hooktip, Ochreous Pug, Orange Sallow, Orange Underwing, Pale Brindled Beauty, Pale-shouldered Brocade, Phoenix, Plain Golden Y, Rufous Minor, Sallow, Satin Beauty, Scalloped Hazel (including var nigra), Scalloped Hook-tip, Scarce Silver Lines, September Thorn, Shoulder-striped Wainscot, Slender Brindle, Small Fanfoot, Small Fan-footed Wave,  Smoky Wainscot, Streamer, Tawny-barred Angle, Treble Bar, True Lover’s Knot, Wormwood Pug,  Yellow Shell. (76)

Temple Mills
MICROS:  Acleris shallerianaAnania coronataAncylis badiana, Argyresthia trifasciata, Barred Fruit-tree Tortrix (Pandemis ceranasa), Bird-cherry Ermine, Blastobasis lacticolella, Bramble-shoot Moth, Brown House Moth, Brown Grey (Scoparia ambigualis), Carnation Tortrix, Catopria margaritella, Cypress Tip,  Dipleurina lacustrata, Emmelina monodactyla, Epiblema cynosbatella,  Eriocranaria subpurpurella, Garden Pebble, Marbled Orchard Tortrix, Meal Moth,  Pyrausta aurata, Spindle Ermine, Tinea trinotella, Twenty-plume, White-shouldered House Moth (25)

Lovely and abundant on both sides of the Trent: the Elephant Hawk

Tomorrow:  Moth of the Year! The Strictly Come Mothing sensations of 2013...

Friday, 8 November 2013

Huddling from the cold

My tentative forecast of moth-rich warmth last night has proved predictably optimistic. We are going through a cycle of mild-and-wet taking turns with clear-but-cold and last night proved the latter. Not that I'm complaining, in the context of today's footage from the Philippines and a fascinating article in the latest National Geographic about Tornado Alley in the States.

The moths were few and deeply huddled into eggbox cones, as with the frail-looking November Moth in the first picture. The second was also snuggled right at the tip of a cone, but I broke its cosy nest gently open because it is the second main form of the Satellite Moth, following the arrival on Monday this week of the first type.

The little alien spaceship on this version is an orangey-brown, as you can see in the close-up. I've also put a small version of Tuesday's white form on the right, for contrast.

Elsewhere in the trap there was only this Yellow-line Quaker - or is it another fading Brick Moth? - on the dewy rim and a slightly less boring micro than Wednesday's pair inside the bulb collar - apologies for the blurring but I couldn't get the camera closer.

It was like a large hotel where no one much is staying. Another indicator that the season is drawing to a close.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Technical interlude and the class of '68

No trap last night because the weather was foul; but now things are boding very well for a warmish 24 hours, warm at least by UK November standards. In the meanwhile, I have been doing the equivalent of a fisherman mending his nets because the plastic canopy of the trap has been getting a bit creaky.

The whole instrument - a Robinson model, king of moth traps - has lasted extraordinarily well for eight years and is a tribute too to its suppliers, Watkins and Doncaster. I must call it the king and queen of traps, though, because it was designed by Mr and Mrs Robinson, a rare intervention by a woman in the moth world of the 1950s and 60s on which I have often remarked approvingly.

Today the trap suffered a second crack, following one at the start of this season which I mended with Sellotape. I have done the same again and let's hope it lasts for a while. So far as the moths go, it may add a welcome bit of distortion and opaqueness to the dazzling mercury vapour lamp; and perhaps an additional bit of camouflage via a broken-up background, as with wartime dazzle.

Those were the days. I'm in the middle of the front row. Spot the moth

Olde version. Sorry, I was kidding
about the moth
My other innovation is that I found an unblurred photo of my university matriculation and how to substitute it for the old one which I've long used as my blogauthor pic. So that's been done. It was way back in 1968 and I was in distinguished company; one of our year turned into Sir Alec Jeffreys, the DNA fingerprinting pioneer. I wonder if he runs a moth trap, or might have a crack at doing so, if not.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013


Morning photography is a bit of a rush at the moment with rain often falling but the open air the only place to get enough light for clear pictures. Hence I've had little time to think of different ways of looking at the slumbering moths, which can prove quite revealing.

This morning, quite by chance, a Sprawler rolled over in its sleep when I tilted its eggbox and revealed this fine yellow colouring to its abdomen. A Lincolnshire Yellowbelly, to be sure. I've added a close-up to show the surrounding fur coat more fully plus the conventional top view, just above.

Red-green Carpet looking for a mate

Ditto from above

Poor weather conditions also account for the hurried nature of some of today's other pictures but since there were so few inhabitants of the trap, I thought that I would nonetheless show you them all. Here they are, with my best guesses at ID at this early stage of the day attached. I am being called to help with breakfast.

Yellow-line Quaker, modest as ever.  Update: Nope. It's a worn Brick - many
thanks to Richard in Comments

Rather a nice caddisfly on the trap rim,
though in my rush I nipped its antennae off

One of its friends in the warmth of the inner trap

The UK's most boring micro

Apart from this one

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Space Invader

Sorry for the blurry effect of going up close. There's nothing wrong with your eyes

Another rainy night but the opposite way round from Sunday with dry, old weather in the evening and a wet, mild morning. Hunkered down in one of my green eggboxes was a welcome visitor, the Satellite, one of the handful of UK moths which spend the winter as an adult.

It must be a lonely life for the gregarious specimens, with only December and Winter moths likely to be abroad in the really cold months. The fomer, incidentally, which starred here yesterday, is doubly hardy for it spends its first winter as an egg, hatches, munches and pupates in a leisurely way over Spring, Summer and Autumn, then emerges in its fur coat just in time for a second crack at the nastiest of our famously capricious weather.

I tend to think of the Satellite as the Space Invaders Moth because its alien spaceship markings remind me of that infuriatingly addictive computer game. Its companions in a sparsely-populated trap were a couple of Sprawlers, the one illustrated defying the rain on the outside of the plastic shield, a very fine Feathered Thorn, a completely comatose Chestnut - below - and the poor bedraggled chap at the end.

I rescued him or her from a pool of water which had dripped past the rainshield and he or she gamely crept on to my life raft, nipped from a piece of eggbox. It's supposed to clear up shortly and I'm hoping that supposition is correct.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Listening post

The trap seemed empty this morning, apart from a solitary earwig, until I spotted this. It's the delicate antenna of a slumbering December moth. At least I think that it was slumbering; it is unusual in my experience for moths to sleep with their antennae outspread. Maybe it was keeping half an eye out although it didn't stir while I took several pics.

The paucity of visitors was no surprise. It started raining shortly after I lit the lamp at 6pm and was going at it cats and dogs when I decided to switch things off at around 10.30pm. We are very close to the end of the season now, although last year in Leeds I had a very nice surprise when the Mottled Umbers arrived in late October and swooped off with the title of My Favourite Moth for 2012.

There were still come good things to be had in November, too, but essentially I'm winding down now and will shortly complete a Good Housekeeping audit of the moths which have flocked here for my first year in Oxfordshire. Then it will be time to clean things down and give the trap, myself and most importantly the moths, a winter's rest.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

The Blandford Fly Guy

No trapping last night because we were far too busy having Guy Fawkes capers, but at least they had an entomological twist. Instead of the traditional guy we topped the bonfire with an effigy of our old enemy the Blandford Fly, one of the nastiest little insects to be found in the UK today.

I am not a fan of the Daily Mail but you can read an excitable article from it here about the evil little black beast which will return to annoy us towards the end of next May. Let the pictures here be a warning: we will show it as little mercy as it shows us.

We toasted its destruction last night with a Dorset beer called Blandford Flyer, named after the creature and the fishing fly based on it. Some good comes from all bad, and this is an example.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Lord of the flies

I put the trap on top of the compost heap last night in the wild hope of attracting a passing Death's Head Hawk Moth like the one which flew into a lighted office in Witney in September. No such luck needless to say; instead, the eggboxes were predictably full of flies.

These varied from the gangly supermodel of a Crane Fly (I think - but Update: Toni in comments thinks differently, and correctly I reckon, that this is an ichneumon fly, a noted predator on caterpillars in which it lays its eggs so that its young can munch their way out, yuck. Toni has an excellent website here with a fascinating pic of a lacewing larva as per the comment below. Many thanks T) at the top via the delicate green lacewing (I also think) to the myriad of the little creatures dwarfed by a rather tatty micro in the third picture. Today is a bit of a fly day here; we are having a bonfire tonight and the guy will be not the brave Yorkshireman, Mr Fawkes, but a model of a Blandford Fly, a very nasty little bug which has spread from Blandford Forum in Dorset to these parts.

It has two characteristics apart from an extremely unpleasant bite: it likes clean river water, hence its spread, and the female needs to have a blood meal before mating. The natural world is overflowing with metaphors for angry columnists and other writers, and here is another one for them.

In the world of moths, I can offer you only this worn but still perky (judging by the gleam in its eye) Common Marbled Carpet and an interesting Black Rustic with a deformed left wing. The Black Rustic which came on Wednesday night had the same feature. I left it sleeping in the luxury pink eggbox by our front door, about 50m from the compost heap, but I think that it must be the same moth. Other overnighters amounted to one Sprawler, two Feathered Thorns and a single November Moth.