Monday, 24 June 2019

Red petticoats

Another good night for hawk moths which are wonderfully abundant in this part of the world. The Eyed Hawk, above, had chosen a nice warm spot below the trap's bulb, while in the eggboxes was the Poplar Hawk below, along with both Elephants, standard and Small.

After my streaky White Ermine, here's a micro version; the Thistle Ermine, a great burrower into plants stems when a caterpillar.

Next, with its distinctively close wing-furl, comes a Heart and Club - I am fairly sure - and after that, the year's first Buff Arches, a delightful moth with its Arabic calligraphy in lovely swirls.

Now for an unassuming micro, which I will try to ID later, and then one of many Cinnabars which flutter picturesquely around the garden and adjacent fields by day as well as at night. They usually hide their red petticoats but this one was generously prepared to flaunt them.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Striking patterns

It's rare to find something obviously and immediately new in the trap, after the long first flush of exciting novelties when we moved from Leeds to the outskirts of Oxford six years ago. But this morning brought one such happy occasion in the form of my first 'streaky' White Ermine.

The species is a very beautiful one, even when a little battered like this example, and well-named. Its combination of pure white and black spots is reminiscent, as I have often remarked, of the collars of peers' robes in the House of Lords. The number and size of spots can vary and streaks are sufficiently well-known to be mentioned in the Moth Bible. But I have never seen them before.

I also managed to persuade this moth to reveal its colourful back, usually very well-hidden under the folded wings. It led me quite as dance, affording only glimpses which I could not snap while it was rushing around, but finally settled long enough in a cosy nook of my curled hand. Here's one of its flanks, to complete the picture:

Another encouraging novelty was reported to me last night from a friend in Tackley, a village three miles up the Banbury Road, when he and his wife were out in their garden having a drink to mark Midsummer Night.  He emailed this picture of a Cream-spot Tiger - another moth I have never seen - below with the optimistic note: 'I hope it was incredibly rare and unique to our locality but I suspect not....'  I passed it on to the unfailingly excellent Upper Thames Moths blog and their superintendent, the omniscient Dave Wilton, replied exactly as our friend hoped: 'Nice one, Martin. I suspect that'll be a very good record indeed for Oxfordshire (it certainly would be for Bucks!)  I presume you know the recorder and can obtain a grid reference for your County Moth Recorder.'  I do and will. But see Update below 😳

Midsummer Night is an apposite time for such a discovery. You may recall that one of Titania's band of fairies in A Midsummer Night's Dream is called...Moth. Here are some of many efforts by theatrical costume designers to realise the concept, below: 

Update: row back on the Tiger drama, everyone! Our Tackley friend was on holiday in Italy when he saw the moth.  Excitement not entirely over, but subdued as they are not uncommon there. Maybe one will come on holiday here...

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Sharper eye (I hope)

I have got a new camera at last! An iPhone (also at last, in the view of my family who have long derided me for my ancient little £7.50 mobile which couldn't take pictures at all). My first results are as mixed as you might expect from an ageing lensman, but the one above is hearteningly sharper and clearer than I ever managed with the iPad.

So is the one on the left here, designed to show the tinyness of the moth via my famous Thumb Method. But the matching pair on the right is not so successful and I have ditched one or two others where the light and the focus - very much related in digital photography, I find) have led to blurring. My other issue with the generally excellent digital world is the way that light changes colour. You can take two very different pictures, in colour terms, just by touching part of the view on the phone screen in lighter or darker spots.

The moths above are a Dwarf Cream Wave on the left and a Small Fan-footed Wave on the right and they are real tiddlers but immensely delicate. My next moth is quite a lot larger but still modest in size: the Common (but delightful Emerald):

Here is another little Laura Ashley moth resting on the lid of the trap and fortunately undetected by a blackbird which was perching on the rain screen when I rolled up just before 6am. It's a Clouded Silver, very like the Waves but only a distant cousin. And finally, I've included the pic of the Clouded Border on the grass, not for interest in this regular arrival but to show the new camera's sharp focus on the adjacent fly.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Pretty in pink

Oh such a lovely moth this morning, even if my grubby fingers don't exactly live up to its glorious pinks and limes. This is the Small Elephant, not as big as its cousin the Elephant but I think with just an edge in the beauty stakes. Mind you, they are both terrific.

This leaves me with just the Pine and Hummingbird Hawks to complete the usual set here, though I keep putting the lamp by our spuds in the optimistic hope of attracting a Death's Head. After, all they did visit Kirtlington, just a couple of miles away, five years back.

We've got other amazing natural spectacles here at the moment, with an excellent season for the weird and wonderful Lizard Orchid which appeared two years ago - just one, on a roadside verge, where the county council has now protected it against parking with a couple of bollards. We also have the Pyramidal, Common Spotted, Green-winged and Bee - the last, shown in the second picture below, one of my favourite wildflowers.

On our orchid hunt the other day, P and I set up what looks very much like a Large Heath butterfly. I must check with the local butterfly people. It wouldn't open its wings at rest but when flying, it had a vfery definite fawn colour, unlike the Hedge and Meadow Browns. But it is not specially common in this part of the world, so I may be over-hopeful.

As for the other moths: behold a very smart Pale Tussock male on the bulbholder, a handsome Large Twin-Spot Carpet, I think, a Garden Pebble micro, a luscious Green Pug

Even better, a Beautiful Hook-tip - and it is beautiful - and something dark but prettily-patterned which I need to spend more time looking up.

Oh and a couple of other bulbholder fans, maybe because it's near the bulb and therefore warm: the dear little Spectacle and a glinting Burnished Brass.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Big beasts

Lots of moths arrived last night to mark the end of a soaking wet spell which has made trapping impossible for most of the last week. I always feel sorry for people who risk events in June such as weddings or shows. The supposedly 'flaming' month has a treacherous reputation which it deserves so far this year.

Having said that, I am full of good cheer this sunny morning after photographing the trio of Privet Hawks above. This is the most of Britain's third largest moth to have paid me a visit in one go. The lower photograph shows them snoozing in their classic jet-plane pose; the top one reveals their underwings and fine white antennae after I gave their eggboxes a gentle shake.  Here they are again below. I am a sucker for pictures of our big and colourful species.

Having said that, here is a beauty from absolutely the other end of the scale, the tiny but lovely White Plume. This is one of the relatively few moths which you have a good chance of seeing; brush through long grass (when it's dryer!) at this time of the year, and a flutter of fragile white wings will probably be one of these.

Size may matter, but for simple, modest beauty, few UK moths come better than this delicious Marbled Coronet below. And the Gold Spot in the second picture also takes some beating, common though it is.

I am always pleased to see Peppered moths in the trap too, and to study the slight differences in the light and shade of their famously variable pattersn which range from pale salt-and-pepper to completely dark, browny-black in the melanic type.

This Buff Ermine meanwhile got me thinking politically - without any enthusiasm, I have to add:

Finally, it was a pleasure to welcome a Reddish Light Arches, an infrequent visitor, and the season's first Yellow Underwing - Lesser - relatively early in the year.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Black and white

I have sometimes been a bit critical of the lack of bright colours in many (but by no means all) UK moths. But today, I would like to show some examples which illustrate the beauties of simple black-and-white. Admittedly, there is a little flash of welcome yellow in my first example, the familiar and common but nonetheless lovely White Ermine; but its delicacy and grace stem principally from the black and white combo which so resemble the fur from which the moth takes its name.

The same is true of the Small Magpie - a micro-moth - and the Clouded border which follow in this composite photo, plus the three which follow it; about four of each species have visited me over the last three nights. The last picture in the sequence shows a Small Magpie from below, as it obligingly perched on the trap's transparent, if now somewhat battered, cowl.

Then we have a Peppered Moth, below, the original salt-and-pepper version which lost ground heavily to the dark, melanic version which prospered in atmospheric pollution of the heyday of heavy industry in the UK. Now that things are cleaner, it is the melanic which is in decline.

And lastly in this little monochrome catalogue, observe the respective beauties of a Swallow Prominent and a Marbled Minor.

On a whim, I took a photo of the trap in action past night and here it is:

And finally, largely for my records but I hope of some interest, here are some of the other recent residents at the Moth Motel. Nothing unexpected but a decent variety and range:

Shuttle-shape Dart
Angle Shades
And another

Brown Rustic

And another

Buff Tip

A couple of Heart and Darts

Middle-barred Minor

Light Emerald

Burnished Brass

Figure of 80
And another
Light Brocade