Thursday, 19 July 2018

Carefully does it

I am always cautious when I turn over the eggboxes while inspecting the trap, in case my pudgy fingers squash a little micro. But at the moment I am operating even more gingerly, after discovering the characters in my first two photographs.

They are hornets, insects of fearsome repute although these were too sleepy and light-dazed to pay me any attention. As with almost all animals, it is usually the case that they will not molest you unless they see you as a threat. This understandable concern may be a misreading of your intentions, however, for example if you trod on an adder which you had failed to see (and ten years ago, while photographing a Peacock butterfly in a Yorkshire fir plantation, I very nearly did put my hand on an adder - link here and photo, left). Hornets have an 'attack pheromone which mobilises all in a nest if a major attack is feared. So do treat them with caution.

Other arrivals included the Canary-shouldered Thorn, above and in my composite picture at the bottom of the post. At least even I can recognise this member of the family; but I must check my other recent Thorns with the experts at the Upper Thames Moths blog as they are notoriously easy for twerps such as myself to confuse. And below a very pretty male Small Scallop, I think, with below it the lovely micro Anania coronata (right) and a handsome Sallow Kitten.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Sleepy time

A curious insect flew directly over our house last week - the sinister-looking Trumpocopter carrying its bizarre occupant to supper at Blenheim Palace. A neighbour got the excellent snap of it, above. Much more welcome was the successful chrysalisation of our granddaughter's White Ermine caterpillars, hatched from the eggs laid by an adult female which she carefully took home with her after staying here two months ago.

So ends an epic of domestic care, a tribute to my son and daughter-in-law's entire family, neighbours and other relatives who scoured Walthamstow in east London for dandelions. Many lessons were learned by the experience, especially how much small caterpillars (a) eat and (b) poo. I hope that the timing of the next stage is such that the children see an emergence, although the granddaughter has already had the good fortune to watch a hatching at the Natural History Museum. "And do you know the first thing it did, Grandpa?" she said. "A huge poo!" Thus does one of the wonders of Nature appear to the eyes of a small, eager and very realistic child!

When we got back from London, we were greeted by this lovely Brimstone on our doormat, one of the newly-emerged brood who are flying here in great numbers. For various reasons, it has been extremely busy here but I must find time for a butterfly walk as there are hundreds of them around in the glorious and continuing sunshine.

The moth trap continues busy with a nice Coxcomb Prominent calling a couple of nights ago along with these visitors, below: from the top left, clockwise: a freshly-emerged Campiopn I think - the pinky-purple distinguishing it from the very similar Lychnis; a Brimstone (moth as opposed to butterfly), an Early Thorn and a lovely, metalically-jewelled Gold Spot.

Last night brought, inter many alia, a Pale Prominent, Nut-tree Tussock, Dusky Thorn (I think) and the delicately pretty Marbled Beauty.

Less happily, a hedgehog came to grief in the garden, below. A sad sight and one we have seen before when another got snared in our badminton net. But they are pretty abundant here so we  expect to hear their scurrying and snuffling on another of these warm evenings soon.

Sunday, 15 July 2018


This wonderful Summer has settled down into an agreeable mixture of torpor, with aged gents like me happily flattened by the heat, and frenzy, as the usual round of picnics, weekend visitors, general social mayhem, reaches new heights. At least the country seems to have shaken off that panicky feeling in a normal English summer - that if you don't make the most of a sunny day, you'll miss summer altogether. We now expect tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow to be blissfully warm.

long may it continue! In between times, I have been operating the moth trap but have only now dragged myself to the computer to show you some of the results. The moth in the top two pictures accounts for my title. It's the Oak Hook-tip, an attractive and relatively infrequent visitor. With it in the second picture is that very big micro-moth the Mother of Pearl. There are dozens of those in the trap every morning but each is beautiful with its opalescent sheen, like the lining of a mussel shell.

Some other visitors, clockwise from top left in the composite pic above: Light Emerald, Ruby Tiger, Frosted Orange, Marbled Coronet. And in the same order below: two July Highflyers with their different patterns, and a Silver Y from above and aside. I have a great expert on the Silver Y and whether or not it is an immigrant species, David Duthie, coming to inspect the catch this Friday, so I hope to have some expert information for you shortly thereafter.

Next, we have a Bordered Beauty, a truly lovely moth though most of them have a darker, purplish tone at the lower edge of the wings. And below it, left a Small Fan-footed Wave (I think) and (I also think, a Dun-bar, though I have awful difficulty in sporting out this type of moth).

More soon on the progress of my granddaughter's White Ermin caterpillars.

Friday, 6 July 2018

Hawkish haul

The hawk moths are proving wonderfully long-lived this blissful summer, as indeed are moths of all sorts (not to mention the caterpillars both at our central nursery and at its franchise outlets. The little Emperors kindly fostered into plump little fellows by a kind neighbour and her excellently naturalist children have all formed cocoons and should now sleep peacefully until March when they will emerge to start their brief lives as adult insects.

My first picture shows last night's hawk moth party - Pine, Privet, Poplar and Elephant. I was specially pleased to see the Pine Hawk, a favourite because of its sleek and purposeful look, and this one was a notable exception to the species' usual tendency to get very jittery soon after being disturbed of a morning. It clung tenaciously to me after the photo session and took quite some decanting into the depths of a protective hedge.

Here are more individual pics of the hawks, the Poplar with a nice Miller moth and the Pine beside a type of beetle which was in the trap in vast numbers, scrambling chaotically all over the place, regardless of whether moths were in their path. This set the whole place into a spin but there were too many moths for me to manage anyway, so goodness knows what I have missed. I know that a Blackneck got away without being photographed the other morning and I think also a Purple Bar.

Lovely, however, to see that strange insect the Leopard Moth with its partly translucent wings, a fresh Common or Lesser Common Rustic and what I think is a rather battered Nut-tree Tussock but am not sure about that (and in too much of a rush to complete checks now; help appreciated, as always).

Here's a Poplar Grey, that lovely moth the Coronet, a Least Carpet, a Single-dotted Wave (how mis-named, as I have often remarked!) and a Clay with its mean-looking Eye. Finally, here are those pesky beetles again, making a beetle-line for my mystery moth.

Monday, 2 July 2018


There are SO many moths about in this wonderfully warm weather which coincides with the annual high noon for the insects very satisfactorily. The only downside is that the hordes are beyond my feeble powers of concentration and patience; it would take a sounder entomologist than me to tell you with absolute accuracy how many Mother of Pearls, Small Magpies, Muslin Footman etc there were in the eggboxes this morning. Fifty of each? Sixty MoPs? I regret that I cannot say for certain. But there were certainly LOTS.

My favourite was the Scarlet Tiger in my top picture, a familiar day-flying moth around here in high Summer. You think that a Small Tortoiseshell or even some kind of fritillary has paid you a call, then realise from its jinking flight that the bright splash of flying colour is a Scarlet Tiger. In my naive enthusiasm for its size and brightness, I resemble my granddaughter whose weekend visited coincided happily with some good example of the hawk moths which she specially - and fearlessly - loves.

I was pleased, too, to show her the reason for the Yellowtail moth's name. We found this apparently white moth crouched on the trap's transparent cowl and photographed it from both above and below. Then I got her to tickle its forelegs and, hey presto! - see below -  That's why it got its name.

Usefully, in my role as natural history encourager, I found a White Satin moth in the trap as well, a species which is similar to the Yellowtip but a little larger and with no yellow. What it is does have, which the Yellowtip does not, is magpie legs - as in the picture left - a fact which the granddaughter brightly spotted straight away. 

Here below is a quartet of pictures showing, I hope, how busy the trap was; and, below it, four of the more interesting of the many, many overnighters.

They are, clockwise from top left: a Herald, a Lappet, a Small Elephant Hawk (this year's first for me) and the cheerfully distinctive micro Acleris holmiana.