Monday 31 August 2009

Would you like to try the desserts?

This being August Bank Holiday, thoughts naturally turn to large ice creams on the beach or lovely puddings in sunny pub gardens. At my brother-in-law's birthday feast last night, I had rather a wonderful pudding, involving rhubarb (famed Yorkshire product) apple, custard and cream.

So that will all explain why these moth trap visitors last night (a very warm one incidentally) remind me of desserts. A mocha concoction in the case of the Spruce Carpet (top), and something with peaches, lemon, raspberries and ice cream in that of the Riband Wave, topside and underwing below.
Click on the pics to see the wonderfully delicate patterning of what appear to be, on first, blearly-eyed inspection of the trap in the morning, rather routine moths. There were some other attractive arrivals, including both those Cinderella sisters the Plain and Beautiful Golden Y, quite a few wasps and a bumble bee, which did indeed bumble hopelessly round the egg boxes before finally discovering the way to freedom.

Sunday 30 August 2009

Speckles and spots

You can't step into the garden at the moment without setting up several Speckled Woods. It's a far cry from 1998 when I got a letter from the local Butterfly Conservation man, after I reported sighting a Speckled Wood for the first time, saying: "If you can get a photograph of your Speckled Wood, you will be a celebrity! They're suspected to be there, but no proof yet." I duly got a photo, but not until 2003 (we weren't remotely digital then...) Since then, the species has come on by leaps and bounds and is one of the commonest butterflies hearabouts. It would be very interesting to know what lies behind this. If there are naturalists, biology MA students et al looking for a precise and manageable project, here is one. Mind you, it's one with a happy ending (so far) which maybe wouldn't get funding in the current climate change atmosphere of doom.

Our buddleais are also ablaze with butterflies, almost as much as those we enjoyed at Tadpole Bridge in Oxfordshire last month. Painted Ladies, Peacocks, Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshells... they all dine on the nectar and then go an snooze on somewhere light which reflects the sunshine, such as our statue of Buddha (gap years gone by) and the slats of the greenhouse roof. The pics, btw, are Peacock (top), Speckled Wood (right), Red Admiral (left) and Painted Lady (below)

Saturday 29 August 2009

Plain sailing

After all my catty remarks about yellow underwings, I am pleased to salute this one. It looks as if it's discovered a new way of sailboarding. On the downside, it's probably done something disastrous to its wing-folding mechanism, but it managed to fly away after the photograph at the usual jinking pace. Other arrivals set me wondering about whether moths have a secret army. I mean, look at the badges of rank on the pic below. The Silver Y must be a sergeant and the micro moth - is it one of the Crambinae grass moths? - a lance-corporal. The fly is a squaddie and yesterday's Gold Spot recently graduated from Sandhurst, I am sure.

Friday 28 August 2009

Odd goings-on

Bennyboymothman was right when he predicted in his comment a couple of posts back; interesting late summer moths are starting to appear in the trap. In spite of blustery weather last night, there were plenty of visitors tucked in the eggboxes - my supply of the latter has built up again after a soaking in July. We are eggbound in this household.I love the Gold Spot (top picture), or possibly Lempke's Gold Spot. And so, apparently, does this bold fly. It eventually crept under the shelter of the moth's body, disturbing it not at all. Actually, I then disturbed it in case the fly decided to lay eggs in the moth, a hideous practice of some parasites which results in the adoptive 'parent' being eaten alive.

Here's an Angle Shades, too, in its bizarre but characteristic crash-land position. The name makes them sound like some sort of product from a lighting store. When we were children, we were always told not to stand on our heads for too long, or hang upside down from furniture, because the blood would rush into our heads and make us go mad. This clearly isn't a problem for the Angle Shades.

Thursday 27 August 2009

B is for bee (and Buddleia)

It's been all go today, with the Guardian's email The Northerner to be done and then GCSE kids to meet at 8am. They got up early to get their results at John Smeaton community college in Leeds and it was worth it. The ones I interviewed had done really well, continuing the school's steep and successful climb away from near-failing status.

Then there were other bits and bobs so it wasn't until late afternoon that I thought about moths, or rather butterflies. Nature's grand coincidence of Buddleias in bloom and the best of the common British butterflies has brought Peacocks, Painted Ladies, Red Admirals and Tortoiseshells in large numbers for at least a fortnight. Lots of Whites, too, plus Holly Blues, Speckled Woods, Gatekeepers and Meadow Brown. We're alive with bees, too. I went out hoping for butterflies but the sun went in, so I cam back with bees. Here they are, the product of a five-minute stroll during which I saw masses more. I hope that cheers up those who say that they are doomed

Wednesday 26 August 2009

Here's to moths

Last year I was ruminating about pubs named after butterflies. Now I have discovered a moth beer. I was working in the Lake District last week and stopped off at the Swan Inn in Newby Bridge where they serve Barngates beers. These are brewed by the owners of the Drunken Duck Inn near Ambleside and they have a tradition of naming their beers after the pub's pets )check out and Hence this one, Mothbag, I thought the animal on the pump clip was a cow, although I hadn't had even a sip at that stage, so Lucy from the brewery was a bit puzzled when I emailed to ask why. She put me right. I must have been dozy from overwork. As you can see, Mothbag was a cat, who lived at the Duck and acquired her name because she was 'a bit scraggy but well-loved.' So says Lucy. A mothbag also seems to be an American device for preserving clothes on the lines of our mothballs. Foreigners always put everything in bags, eg tea, which is much better when you can crunch the leaves. Anyway Mothbag, the beer, is very pleasant, light and slightly citrus for a summer's day, if we ever get one of those again. It's been pouring here, and windy.

Tuesday 25 August 2009

Pink picture

Here is a Rosy Rustic on my pink thumb. It's a late summer moth, one of a group of August and September flyers which are at last making inroads into the massed ranks of yellow underwings. It was very misty last night with a warm evening after a day of rain. You could almost drink the air. As a result the trap was emptier than it has been since April. The Rosy one took a long time to wake up, in spite of my promptings designed to get it close enough to the camera in a light enough place. But it finally took wing and whirred off into a loquat which was given to me years ago as a seedling by the Guardian's then motoring correspondent, Roy Harry. Now it's a great, spreading tree.

Monday 24 August 2009

Large and little

Penny and I have been on a serendipitous tour of massive Yorkshire homes. Everyone knows one of them - Castle Howard. But the one in my main pic may be less familiar. It's in Rotherham. The mighty Fitzwilliam family built it at Wentworth Woodhouse. The bit in the picture is one house; not content with this, they built a second one directly behind and right up to the back wall. It is therefore both the longest private house in the UK and the biggest back-to-back (the latter by far). Alas, it is not open but you can get very close on a public footpath. Click on the pic for full vastness.
Extremely small, by comparison, is this caterpillar which miraculously survived the transit of the lane from Terrington (fab, fab pub with wondrous food) to Castle Howard. I think it's a White Ermine's, or poss one of the Tigers', but as you can see, I only had my extremely ancient mobile phone to take its pic - at the very moment it reached safety. I got Grade 6 in Elementary Maths O level, so you will be able to do much better than my formula for calculating the chances of a successful crossing like this. But here it is anyway: x= { (w ÷ s) ÷ v} ÷ {w ÷ (t x 4} where x is the caterpillar's life chances, w the width of the Terrington-Castle Howard road, s the time taken by the caterpillar to cross, v the average number of vehicles passing during that time and t the average width of their tyres). QED (although I have accounted for my bicycle wheels which came closer than anything else to squashing the caterpillar).

Sunday 23 August 2009

Barcode browsers

Barcodes continue to fascinate my more discerning moths. While the yellow underwings cram into the eggbox cones, visitors such as this Silver Y head for the black and white stripes which have such an outline-breaking, eye-muddling resemblance to dazzle camouflage. Ages ago, I noted how Peppered Moths in particular went for the codes, which tallies with their famous reputation as pollution indicators; as the north has become less grimy, so its proportion of melanistic - sooty - Peppered Moths has decreased.

The other barcode admirer is some sort of Snout, I think. Is it a Pinion-streaked one? They are described as local in Waring, Townsend and Lewington, meaning only common in certain areas, but they do fly in August, and it has that distinctive, sharpy shape.

Saturday 22 August 2009

Straw dots

Say Hello to one of the smallest moths admitted into the standard class of British insects, maybe to muttering among larger relations which are classified as micro moths. This is a Straw Dot, rather a long-lived one judging by my book which says that they flourish mostly in June and July. There is however a second, August generation which is described as living in southern Britain. Maybe the North is getting warmer. Hope so. It's got nothing to do with Straw Dogs, though maybe there could be a sequel to Peckinpah's film, all about moths.

Here too is a Dark Arches giving you a brackeny V-sign and a Dart or Rustic of some kind showing the correct way to curl up in the shutting slot of an egg box. I'm going to have my late Saturday morning tea before trying to work out exactly what it is. It rained ever so slightly last night, but we are in for a sunny, sunny day.

If you click on the Straw Dot picture, btw, and make it a whole lot bigger, you can have a happy time thinking of alternative names based on its fascinating little wing mark. The Lesser Spectacle? The Optician's Joy? My mother-in-law is a retired optician, so I shall ask her.

Friday 21 August 2009

Getting the bug

The shield bugs are back. I don't get many beetles in the trap, but this one rang a bell when I found it sitting inert among the eggboxes. Sure enough, it figures on August 9 last year, when I surmised that it must be called the Red Spot Beetle and one of my inestimably-valued commentators put me right. It's a Forest, or red-legged, Shield Bug. The Shield bit is obvious, but I would have highlighted that amazing blue and gold fringe in the name myself. Its presence is a sign of good tree cover and we are lucky to have that in the Aire Valley between Leeds and Bradford. It's a precious little band of green, badly damaged in recent years by the effects of rising house prices and selfish people enclosing land used by everyone for years. The recession is welcome on that score, at least.

Thursday 20 August 2009

Scarcely bettered

More from Jessie's camera this morning. She also got these excellent pics of a Scarce Swallowtail over in the foothills of the Pyrneees. It's quite honoured to have an English name since you will be incredibly lucky to see one here. Really, it should be called the Hardly Ever Seen Swallowtail. On the continent, though, they are commoner than our more yellow version, or its slightly larger equivalent, the Southern Swallowtail. It's a lovely insect, like a small flying zebra.

I brought some caterpillars back once, from their rather distinguished home in the gardens at the chateau de Villandry in the Loire. They chrysalised and we managed to release the adults up at the primary school when the boys were there. The children were wide-eyed. I must check the Yorkshire Butterflies some time, to see if any of their members caught sight of these exotic introductions, and were wide-eyed too.

Wednesday 19 August 2009

Mysteries abound

Another nice little Micro this morning, among the usual yellow underwing hordes. You can see how small it is in comparison with the wasp. I've found a good Micro identification website and am going to see if I can sort out what this is (see helpful revelation from Sally of Headingley in Comments), and one or two other mini arrivals that I've featured but not been able to identify in the past. Talking of identification, does anyone have any idea what this thing is - below? I put the trap higher up than usual last night and I'm worried that it might be something from another planet. Actually, I suspect it's more likely to be a dehydrated (and therefore dead) slug. But remember Alien...

Tuesday 18 August 2009


My excellent nieces have been on holiday in France, and hunting with a camera. Look what they found. Jessie is the photographer, and she lay in wait for this lovely Hummingbird Hawk Moth while Annie and Rosie stalked it through the garden, announcing its progress towards the lens. That's a very good way of recording moths. If you try to chase them, they will always win. I first saw a Hummingbird Hawk Moth at Manorbier in Pembrokeshire, where it made up for the fact that the landlady of our B&B had just dumped my collection of caterpillars in the bin.
Probably some obscure revenge for whatever it was we English did to Owain Glyndowr. They are extraordinary insects, actually bigger than the very smallest hummingbirds, and with the same ability to hover while they sip nectar from the flowers. We do get them in Yorkshire but not that I've seen, yet. They are also day flyers and therefore good ambassadors for moths. They should encourage the others to do the same. btw Lord Rothschild used to shoot humming birds with a special ammunition called 'dust shot' so as not to damage their vivid plumage. His vast collection of stuffed birds is a melancholy sight but has contributed a lot to our knowledge. So far as I know, he did not shoot moths, although hundreds of thousands of them were caught by collectors on his behalf.

Monday 17 August 2009

Not for the squeamish

A propos of nothing, I remarked to Penny during Single-handed on TV last night (v good btw, as was Jam & Jerusalem), that when the world ends, slugs will probably survive. What tenacious creatures! Fling blue pellets at them and they come back for more. Inspecting the water butt yesterday, I found three which must have hatched inside and never seen the light. They were pale to the point of being luminous, like something out of the world of Gollum. The main pic today, which I hope Lorry at the Guardian sees only fleetingly, sensitive soul, shows what they do to Yellow Underwings when they come across them sleeping in our garden. Yuk. The other pic is interesting too, though I cocked it up by forgetting to change my camera from digital macro mode. (I hadn't been photographing moths for once, just my beer at the Black Horse in Askwith, cos I was struck by the beauty of the composition, of beer and glass label. see if you are too, left...) Anyway, this is a corner of the beautiful little church down the lane at Weston, near Otley. It was Penny who noticed the silvery line all the way up. The slugs' path to Heaven. Jacob's Ladder for slugs. Lovely in its way, even when incompetently blurred.

Sunday 16 August 2009

Small but perfectly formed

Just a little entry today for just a little moth. It's easy to overlook the real tinies, when sorting through the eggboxes, and I only just noticed this tortrix micro moth while putting the trap away. You do a final check everywhere, just to make sure that nothing is going to have spend a day as well as a night trapped inside. Micro-moths are for retirement. A lot of people tend to specialise in the pug moths when the time comes to out on slippers and puff a pipe; but these are much more curiously coloured, albeit so small. I hope my eyesight bears up...

Saturday 15 August 2009

Not all bad

I've grumbled a lot about the excess of yellow underwings at the moment. They filled the trap again last night, but at least that gave me the chance for some different photography. It was a warm evening and I found a way of standing with the camera blocking the light (which is dazzling), and tried to catch moths arriving. They zig-zagged in every half minute or less, mostly yellow underwings. Trying repeatedly to catch them - because the whole process takes less than a second - I even blessed their abundance. Oooh good! Here comes another one! I was a bit alarmed at the furious way in which they dashed themselves into the trap. It bears out those who believe that moths are fazed by the light, rather than 'attracted' to it. Like spacecraft in sci-fi whose instruments have been taken over by a higher power. In this case, me. The bonus, too, is that when they are in flight, they reveal the reason for the name yellow underwing. The yellow smear in the smaller picture comes, I think, from the moth's very rapid wing movements. At rest, they look like brown sticks. You can only keep up this method of nocturnal photography for a short time. It's like the PE punishment at school where you had to stand with your arms held out in front of you, holding one of those accursed 'medicine' balls.

Friday 14 August 2009

Who was Svensson, then?

I can't answer the question in my headline, yet. But here is Svensson's Copper Underwing, which was only separated as distinct from everybody else's Copper Underwing in the 1960s. It has dark palps with pale tips, which I think are what you can see in the picture. Once I've posted it, I'm going to click on it to have a closer look and report back. The moth was a welcome arrival after all the yellow underwingery, although there were a good 60 of the latter in the trap too. I moved it to a more shady, wooded area which meant many fewer moths overall. But the SCU is a handsome visitor and in good condition. It was very jittery, hence the blurred wings (not me, I promise) and took off shortly afterwards in a mad but successful break for freedom. I've now checked out the magnified head but, as ever, remain uncertain. So you decide. The ordinary CU's palps are pale throughout.

Thursday 13 August 2009

Introducing the Economoth

This is a distinguished insect. You could call it an Economoth. It graces the front cover of The Economist which is as witty as usual (in full, below). Did you know that we may have power cuts within the next few years in the UK? Bad news for those of us who run moth traps. The next issue comes out tomorrow, so buy your Moth Economist asap, particularly as my older son works for it. I think that if you want to keep abreast of the world's affairs, it's a very handy way, perhaps combined with occasional doses of Red Pepper - see links to both above, left. I'm hoping to discover from their customer services dept whether the illustrator used a real moth as the model and if so, what it is. No trapping today, because I am fed up with yellow underwings (and they may well be fed up with me, justifiably). I'm trying to work out a different site to try the trap, which involves cables, plugs and much thought.

Wednesday 12 August 2009

Prominent visitors

Here's a strange beast: the Pale Prominent. It has a unique fore-and-aft arrangement of its 'snout' and distinctive tail. It was tucked to one side in the trap among some 500 yellow underwings of various sorts. The bird and bat population must be extremely healthy round here. The role of moths as indicators of such things was very well explained in an episode of BBC's The One Show yesterday which you can watch again on My mother-in-law was fascinated, noting that the moth trap featured was exactly the same as mine, down to the random egg boxes. Here's another, more handsome Prominent which settled by the trap's lightbulb last night and was unperturbed by slight drizzle. It's a Swallow Prominent, or possibly a Lesser Swallow; you sometimes have to do nasty, dissecty things to tell the two apart. The term 'Prominent' comes from pronounced tufts on their bodies. The One Show's presenters were a bit put off by moths' hairiness, but eventually ended up contemplating giving a beautiful pink and golden Elephant Hawk a quick stroke.

Tuesday 11 August 2009

Brimstones, there and here

I wanted an excuse to post one more butterfly from Tadpole Bridge, and now I've got one. My Mum phoned last night with one of her occasional bulletins about moths in her porch, which has a nightlight and various niches in the stones and woodwork where moths like to rest. Her description made it clear that she'd found a Brimstone Moth, common but attractive and a genuinely bright yellow. The picture, left, is courtesy of the excellent My Tadpole pics are of the Brimstone butterfly, which is more of a lemon colour, turning to pale lime when caught in the shade, as in the second photo. It's one of the first to appear in the Spring, so this must be a second brood. They feed on Black Alder and we planted a few of these as a hedge six years ago, getting them from the excellent Hollybush Farm run in Leeds by the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers. Two years later, our first Brimstones appeared, although we've never (yet) had as anything like as many as the flocks at Tadpole Bridge.