Monday, 7 August 2017

Simple pleasures

It is a handy rule in life to find pleasure in small things, and here is an example. Ever since I started light-trapping in 2005, I have wanted to see a Magpie Moth in the eggboxes. This is a humble ambition since the moth is not uncommon; indeed, in some areas, including my schoolboy haunts, it reaches almost pest proportions, especially for those who grow currants. I have also read about it at length in the works of Sir Geoffrey Keynes, a famous surgeon and brother of Lord Keynes the economist, who was also an expert on moths.

It hasn't eluded me entirely. On just one occasion in Leeds, there was a Magpie in the trap but it fluttered away before I could heave myself and my camera into action. This proved to be an ill-advised move on the part of the moth; as it zig-zagged across the lawn, the robin which always watched me in the morning as I inspected the moths, streaked in like a Spitfire and...bye-bye, Magpie. Update: I mentioned this incident on the Upper Thames Moths blog and fellow-member Andy King made the interesting point that the Magpie's striking colouring is in part a warning to birds that it is at best distasteful to them and at worst, poisonous. Perhaps the robin learned a lesson, though if so, it wasn't a lasting one as the bird continued to try to snatch my catches when it could.
Now, at last, I have found one which consented to stay docilely and be photographed, so I can add another species to my record list. The Magpie is an extremely attractive creature with its op-art speckling enhanced by the yellow blotches. I have often thought of it when looking at the Small Magpie micro-moths which are very common here. How pleasant to be able to rest happily now, knowing that I can return whenever I like to these pictures of the real thing.

I've just had an encounter, too, with another favourite. We took our Estonian friends to Stonor Park, an ancient Catholic stronghold in an exquisitely beautiful Chiltern valley - above with classically English/Arcadian deer and cricket - and the sunshine which blessed us also attracted two Hummingbird Hawk moths to one of the garden's buddleias (which was all aflutter with butterflies - Red Admirals, Tortoiseshells and various Whites and Browns). The Hummingbird Hawks tended to keep to the high fronds and never rested for a moment, but I managed to get this one half-decent picture, below.

I was also delighted to get a close-up picture of that butterfly aristocrat the Silver-washed Fritillary. Two of these were swooping about in their magnificent, powerful style along the flower borders and one of them occasionally stopped for a rest. I was astonished to find how battered it was, like a wartime aircraft peppered with enemy fire and flak. Amazingly, this seemed to have no effect on its flying prowess.

Back at home, the eggboxes also yielded the visitors below: 

A Flounced Rustic, very elegantly patterned
Marbled Beauty
Yellow-barred Brindle (though in truth, at least in freshly emerged examples such as this one, the 'yellow' is green, a rare and very appealing colour in UK moths).
One of those weirdly-shaped characters, the Pale Prominent, looking slightly less weird as it prepares to taxi down the garden table runway
A Common Plume with its rolled-up wings
The pretty micro Anania coronata, a welcome change from the innumerable Mother of Pearls amid whom it was snoozing
An Oblique Carpet, a comparatively rare visitor here
A pretty Brimstone Moth which met our young Estonian visitor's demands for something to yellow to go with her Canary-shouldered Thorn, Leonie.
And a delicate little Single-dotted Wave, that misnamed moth of many dots, looking as though it has just chewed a Big Smile-shaped hole in the eggbox before drifting off to sleep


AlexW said...

Many insects tend to cluster in specific microhabitats, from my personal experience. This means that one can go for years without seeing a beetle species near lights, fancy capture mechanisms, or around the yard, only to find that there are handfuls and handfuls on a single fungus cluster you didn't look closely enough at (because they were nocturnal).

As lepidopterans tend to be more well-known than most insects (judging by the fact that so many have a fancy non-latin name), researching their habits and life history could prove extremely effective. By the way, I've favorited your blog.


Martin Wainwright said...

Hi again - that's great; thanks very much and I'm very pleased that you find it interesting. Excellent points you make. I feel that the steady increase in the number of people taking an interest in all forms of wildlife, especially the more obscure ones such as moths or beetles, the more knowledgable we will become - with good results for humanity as well as for the wild world.

All warm wishes


AlexW said...

It is certainly amazing how little we know in some areas. Discovering something unknown to science is not easy with physics, medicine, and the like. However, you can easily be the first person to ever observe, document, and photograph the larva/pupa of an obscure but common insect found in your own yard if the adult deposits a lump of eggs for you. Although moths are relatively well known compared to many arthropods, for which not even the diet is known, there is probably still much to learn. For this reason, do you mind including more behavioral observations of the moths in your future posts? It might be a good way to keep the blog interesting, because information is scarcer in this area.

Martin Wainwright said...

Excellent thoughts, Alex, and I will aim to do that - all warm wishes, Martin