Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Time to say Goodbye, for now

Right, we really will stop now. The weather has chilled again and the mornings are getting dark. I'll leave you for 2010 with this fine Angle Shades which came the other night in spite of rain. It found a dry perch underneath the trap's plastic collar and was snoozing undisturbed when I braved the drizzle. Also there was the moth below, providing a textbook Laura Ashley example of how much slip to show (short enough to be interesting, etc). It's a November Moth, which seems a suitably seasonal note on which to conclude. I'm umming and erring about doing a monthly trap over the winter, just to see if anything is about. There is, for example, a handsome insect called the December Moth which I remember catching at our porch light in Leeds when I was a boy. But otherwise, see you in April, and many, many thanks for all the interesting and helpful comments.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Coffee morning

I'll stick my neck out this morning and say that this arrival last night (above) is a Green-brindled Crescent, although nothing about it is green. That is because it is the aberration capucino, named like the drink from the brown and white habit of Capucin monks and found almost exclusively in formerly heavy industrial areas such as Leeds. It baffled me at first, in spite of the distinctive white marking, because there didn't seem to be anything quite like it in my Waring, Townsend & Lewington, but a photo on UK Moths' excellent website (see list on left above) looks identical to mine.

It is a newcomer here, as is this second moth, if I have identified it correctly as a Pale Mottled Willow. There are a number of similar species but the clincher for me has been the PMW's fondness for peas. We have grown more peas this year than ever before, which isn't actually very many; maybe ten dinners' worth. But that would be a mountain of feasts for a PMW caterpillar, and something certainly burrowed into part of our crop.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

A green thought in a green shade

Back in Leeds, back at the trap. Lots of interesting visitors thanks to the warmth. Just one of them for now: only a Red-Green Carpet, but isn't it a lovely thing? More tomorrow because I must now to bed, after a happy day down in Dorridge with the in-laws and many other assorted members of the Wainwright and Dharmaratnam genuses of the Homo sapiens species, clustering around Radha's Sri Lankan curries like so many intoxicated moths.


Saturday, 9 October 2010

Packing-up postponed

I was going to say that our revels now are ending. But even in the Lake District, the weather has been astonishingly mild and I'm minded to keep the trap going for the next few days, back in Leeds. Last night we all went out to eat at the Woolpack near Brotherilkeld, at the foot of the great, wild curve of upper Eskdale, and although it was blowy, the wind was as balmy as in the South Seas. During a day's round of Burnmoor Tarn, the lofty heights above Wastdale's Screes and back up lost little Mitredale, we found plenty more Broom Moth caterpillars around, an elusive brown, dotted moth jittering about in the bracken in daylight (any identification ideas, anyone?), and a Comma resting on a Forestry Commission warning sign about tree-felling. In the evening, yet another Small Tortoiseshell fluttered into Penny's and my bedroom and came to rest on Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna (above). There's a great, human and instructive read, as the butterfly seemed to know.

Kingsolver btw is the sister-in-law of a very nice American academic called Mark Whitaker who has written a biography/analysis of the murdered Sri Lankan journalist Sivaram Dharmaratnam, younger brother of my in-law Suri and Uncle of our Tom's lovely Abi, supplier of interesting news of moths to this blog from Mexico City. I live in hope of meeting BK one day. Details of Mark's book are on www.amazon.co.uk/Learning-Politics-Sivaram-Revolutionary-Anthropology/dp/0745323537

Friday, 8 October 2010

Small things in big places

I walked from Boot to the Jaws of Borrowdale yesterday, over Scafell and Scafell Pike.  Fifteen words to describe eight hours in Paradise, especially as the mist lifted shortly before I became, for half-a-minute or so, the highest person in England. Thereafter the sun shone and shone. My Paradise opinion seemed to be shared by a Small Tortoiseshell which was basking in the sunshine on Broad Col. This is pretty impressive, as the col is 3030ft high and the weather there volatile. Only yesterday, four of our party were driven back down from just the same spot by rain, thick mist and even hail. 

What was the Tortoiseshell doing then?  Maybe it flew up yesterday from the nearest bunch of nettles, its larval foodplant which isn't to be seen anywhere near Broad Col. Or perhaps it finds shelter deep in the omnipresent piles of stones (see the pic of the Pike's summit, Broad and Ill Crags, above) which also make excellent storage heaters to bask on when the sun does shine. Either way, I was so surprised to see the butterfly that I failed to sort out my camera in time. But down in Borrowdale, I saw three more on the roadside verge between Seatoller and Rosthwaite and here is one of them. Also a dead shrew on the fellside between Burnmoor tarn and Scafell summit. There is, or was, a lot of life in them there hills.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

God (or Nature) and Man (or Woman)

A bright flutter of colour sprang up yesterday outside the Screes pub in Nether Wasdale when Penny and I cycled up for lunch. After this summer, I automatically assumed that it would be a Peacock or Red Admiral. They have far outnumbered the third of the lovely Vanessid trio (see learned post some weeks below on the origins of this insect family name). But no. The flutter was indeed that third: a lovely Small Tortoiseshell. Apart from exalting its beauty, even with the camera struggling to cope with the Screes' dazzling whitewash, there isn't any more I have to say. Except, perhaps, to contrast it with a similar work of man: my pillow here in Boot. A good effort and lots of hard work, but not really comparable. Not very comfortable either, with the sequins, until I turn it over.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Ratty and Badger (and Jiminy too)

After yesterday's tick, it seemed only proper to investigate the River Mite, which flows into the Esk not far below Boot. We were helped by the famous and invaluable Little Ratty railway, seen here with the Charles Darwin doll which is symbolising these few days of  walking and incidental nature investigation in the Lakes.

Caterpillars though - nix. After two days of having to tread carefully to avoid Fox moth woolly bears and what - thanks to Worm's comment in the post below - I now know to be Broom moth larvae, we didn't see one on a long and beautiful hike back up the dale from Ratty's terminus at Ravenglass. This included what seemed to be their ideal conditions - boggy and soaking - on parts of Muncaster Fell, and also the exotic flora of the Edwardian Japanese garden in Giggle Alley, Eskdale Green. Volunteers are slowly bringing this back to its original startling state. I'm continuing to research the fine name.

There was a dead badger, though, the second in four days. We passed the other on the roadside near Ulpha. Sad, but a small sign of how common Brock has become, thanks to effective animal protection laws. And this cricket (above) - a much more vivid, limey green than the picture suggests, which leapt out of our group's way into a puddle, but managed to leap again, to safety.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Tick box

Yesterday was caterpillar today. Today it's ticks. To be accurate, one tick, which fastened itself to the shapely leg of one of our Lake District band, Margaret McGowan, an educational adviser whose website will shortly be up and running on  www.educationadviceonline.co.uk. It latched on to her halfway up Scafell via Cam Spout where the more muscular half of the group went adventuring. Penny and I and a couple of the others meanwhile perambulated round Eel, Stoney and Burnmoor tarns below Slight Side and found an enormous number of Fox moth caterpillars, plus plenty of the sleek, stripey ones you see below.

They appear to have been designed by the manufacturers of Hi-Viz vests which doesn't help them to hide but probably puts off predatory birds. I remember finding these as a boy in bracken on the Deer Hill at Bolton Abbey and noting how the younger ones had the comely livery of yellow with British Racing Green, the latter changing to brown in those close to pupation.

I've done a quick check on the net to see what they are but without success, and have to get my boots on now. Will try harder later.
The tick btw is very dead, the result of immersion in a cup of boiling water. I'm not going to try, but I imagine that it might test like an extremely tiny shrimp. It is the size of a pinhead.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Coincidence time again

Here is my son's Charles Darwin doll (no, no, we weren't that much of pushy parents, it's a fairly recent joke). He's sitting on the summit of Green Crag above Boot in Eskdale, whence this post comes. It seems a bit improbable, surrounded by vast mountains and without a peep of phone connection, but wifi is penetrating right into the kitchen of the farmhouse we're staying in, which was built in 1703. I can this bring you news of another glorious date match, like the Blair's Shoulder Knots and Black Rustics which faithfully . Like Darwin, I am slowly building up a scientific case on moths' flying seasons, not that it will be news to any scientists.

Anyway, on the way up Green Crag, which is a very excellent little mountain with interesting approaches and descent up two different 'peat roads', used for collecting fuel with carts, we found three of these caterpillars. Guess what, in the first week of October last year, we did the same thing on the Floutern Pass which connects Ennerdale, where we were staying at the time, to Buttermere. Provided that no one treads on it, it will turn into a Fox Moth, as pictured here. The caterpillars seem to like boggy uplands. As I noted last year, Arthur Ransome collected them as a boy on the fells and hatched the moths. The famous Gipsy Moth biplane also had a relative called the Fox Moth, shown here in action for Australia's flying doctor service.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Which am I?

It's unusual but regular, the picture above: a moth pretending to be a butterfly. Maybe because of the current monsoon, which seeped into the trap a little in spite of Mr and Mrs Robinson's excellent rain shield, this little Carpet took refuge high up on the eggboxes and adopted the folded wings position used by butterflies. Usually this is one of the indicators of difference between butterflies and moths - other principal ones being that all British butterflies have clubbed antennae and fly by day, whereas almost all moths have enormously varied antennae and fly by night. But there are exceptions to all three rules on the moth side, and this is one. After my Quaker bungle yesterday, my identification nerve has gone completely but I think it is a Common Carpet. A bit boring, I agree, but after yesterday's foray into fine art, I have to say I like the background colours. Here's another one (left above), reading the egg instructions, and a third (right) whose identity I'm definitely not sure of. It could be another CG, a Red Green Carpet, or one of several very similar ones. Dean or Ben to the rescue... Help! PS And Lo! Dean has come to the rescue instantly. Thanks so much. The first is a Common Marbled Carpet and the second an RGC

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Moths can be art critics too

There is a moth called the Pod Lover, albeit never seen by me. Now I nominate this overnight visitor (above) as the Art Lover, because it had the nous to settle on this copy of an oil painting when I decanted the eggboxes in our kitchen, safe from the rain. It's a distinguished portrait because the painter was Nick Penny, now head of the National Gallery. We were schoolboys together in Shrewsbury where an exhibition including this picture opens next week. The subject is another of our 17-year-old contemporaries, Ron Smith, who was a talented and original artist like Nick. I didn't know him well and long ago lost touch, but the expression is how I recall him; an outsider and never seeming quite at ease.

The exhibition is launched on 9 October at Shrewsbury School's art building; I'm not entirely sure how generally open it is, but in my day the place welcomed all and sundry, as indeed it should, given its wonderful facilities and grounds, in which we frolicked happily all those years ago. One of those involved is John Alford, a fine painter himself who with Arthur Broadbent, a wonderful Irishman with a past career in wartime camouflage, ran an inspirational art department in the 1960s. Quite apart from their teaching, including Arthur's slides of outstanding European buildings which were almost all obscured by his Morris Traveller, their art school was a sort of independent republic. A basement window was never locked and much-used to escape Cadet Force and similar nonsense. I cannot prove that this negligence was deliberate but have no doubts myself.

And the moth? I'm pretty sure that it's a Common Quaker (but see PS below). Less distinguished than its lined relations in the previous post, but trim. Its main flight season is March-May but small numbers emerge in mild autumns, and it's mild now (though soaking). Talking of which, I surprised this vast amphibian (below) outside our back door while setting the trap. It's toadlike in size but froglike in shape. Could it be a late, mild autumn pregnancy? Another question: why on earth have we got the hosepipe out in current conditions? I haven't the slightest idea.

PS Dean has put me right in Comments. It's a Yellow-lined Quaker after all. Sorry.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Society of Friends

There was a Quaker meeting in the trap last night. Only two different friends, but attractive ones. Indeed, they may be new here, both of them, although neither is uncommon. I will check back. Autumn is their time of year. Above is the Yellow-lined Quaker and below, the Red-lined one. Quaker moths were so named because their neat appearance resembled that of members of the Society of Friends. Some use the word 'plain' but I don't find that the case, any more than it was with Prudence Pym, the heroine of The Quaker Girl, whose simple bonnet and dress became the height of fashion in Paris, after she was thrown out of her home by her parents for drinking a glass of champagne.

Prudence was played originally by that lovely flower of Bradford, Gertie Millar, who was born in Manningham, where I also once lived in Southfield Square. I can't resist adding a picture of her too. If you swap over to my other blog, True North, you'll find an entry on her there too, on 18 January this year, because I have two books, one on Famous People from Bradford and the other on Famous People from Sheffield, which both claim her. But Bradford is right. Quakers btw got their name from a sarcastic judge in Lincoln, after George Fox 'bade him tremble at the word of the Lord.' My red-lined Quaker is duly trembling, preparing for take-off from the bowl of the trap. Fox gave Quakers one of the best pieces of advice for life that I have ever read: 'Walk cheerfully over the world, seeking that of God (or you may prefer to read Good) in others.'

PS I just checked back and the Yellow-lined Quaker has been here before, but not the Red one. Huzza!