Friday, 23 May 2014

Moth jam

I have been busier than ever with the moths this year, but there have been plenty of enjoyable butterfly encounters in the sunny weather too. This year's tally consists of Brimstone, Orange Tip, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Comma, Holly Blue and the Green-veined White, above, which accompanied a group of us along a wooded ride above the river Cherwell yesterday.

Headlines about butterfly numbers bat too and fro in the media, and in a somewhat calmer way among enthusiasts, with all sorts of things blamed or praised for their supposed rise and fall. I am insufficiently scientific to join the debate with any credibility but actually seeing butterflies in the UK comes down to one thing in my experience: the sun. If it shines, out they come. If it doesn't, in they stay.

The rest of this post is going to resemble our weekly shopping list, I fear, since overnight rain has at last given me a chance to catch up on my mothy backlog. First, here's the Figure 80, above, with its distinctive wing mark shown close-up. It's much like those scrambled numbers you have to puzzle over online when proving to a suspicious website that you're not a robot spammer.

Next comes the Barred Hook-tip, an unusual moth for this part of the world and one of a trio which I mentioned briefly on the excellent Upper Thames Moths blog where my errors are regularly corrected in a kindly fashion by experts. The value of this process was shown by a prolonged debate over my next moth below: was it a Pale-shouldered Brocade (common) or a Dog's Tooth (rarer here)? After admirably careful scrutiny and a flurry of emails, the experts - including my very own corrector here, Ben Sale of Essex Moths - declared in favour of the PSB. But Update: one of them, however, had his doubts which you can read about in the fascinating (to moth enthusiasts) comment thread on my UTM post here. So the jury is actually out. But the moth has flown.

A palely pretty visitor now, the Clouded Silver with its sooty wingpatches, 

followed by two of the slightly larger regulars, a Buff Tip and an Angle Shades, the first resembling one of Sir Winston Churchill's cigar stubs and the second a jet fighter.

Talking of aircraft metaphors, the next moth, a Common Marbled Carpet, is one of the occasional visitors to the trap which crash-land and dislocate their wings. Most seem to recover, I'm glad to say.

Another Carpet next, the delicate Silver-ground, followed by a Lime-speck Pug, well-named and a rival to the blob-like Chinese Character in resembling a bird dropping on the trap. There are several genuine droppings, mostly from a dangerously inquisitive robin, a type of bird known to have entered moth traps with mayhem ensuing.

Now for The Flame, a regular visitor but this year's first, with a way of tightly hunching its wings so that it resembles a chip of wood. 

And here are the beautifully-patterned and -coloured Small Phoenix and the remarkable Scorched Wing whose variant of dazzle camouflage has my eyes adjusting focus in vain. Both of these would be post-topping picture stars in quieter circumstances and the fact that they are so far downpage underlines again the sheer quantity of moths flying in.

The next moth has also been the subject of debate on Upper Thames Moths with several of us mistaking it for the very similar Campion when it is in fact a Lychnis. We voted in the district and European elections yesterday and it might be considered my Election Moth with the X-shape on its wings resembling our crude and disproportionate voting system.

I have tested your patience and will stop soon although there are plenty more moths to come - all of them from last Tuesday night. Here for now is a Marbled Minor with its delicate pattern including a curious pink blob - was God a bit clumsy with his paintbrush while painting an Elephant Hawk? I ask, in the manner of a 19th century vicar.

So, to conclude, the latest arrival from the very handsome Prominent family: a Swallow Prominent seen a little unusually from above with its veins of white forming the sort of curious geometry which can also be seen from above if you fly over the Andes' Nazca lines.


Bennyboymothman said...

Huge selection of moths there Martin, well done.
It certainly is picking up each time we trap :)
Take care and look forward to some more rarities!
ps. I have never seen a Pale-shouldered Brocade, not overly common here in East Herts.


Martin Wainwright said...

Thanks very much Ben - and for your wisdom on the UTM blog. If it's not a pain, I may ask for your invaluable help on a few macros in a forthcoming post - to clear my backlog! May's moths already well exceed the 51 species I'd recorded up to the end of April. Your catches are amazing too

all warmest M