Saturday 30 June 2012

Underneath the Arches

I've been muttering about looking at the Arches family and here we are at last. I suspect that it's largely because this one, above, was sprawled on its back like a drunk and so justified my atrociously punning headline. But in a very poor season for moth numbers so far, they are at least here in force.

The main thing that intrigues me about them, apart from the handsome size and patterning which includes the arch-like features which account for their name (above), is the variety of colour and tone. These below are all Dark Arches (I think and hope...) but initially when you look into the trap, you wonder if some of them are something else.

This is the case with very large numbers of UK moths, adding to the muddle and confusion which I already, notoriously, experience in trying to decide what's what. Look at these Hearts and Darts just below, as another example.  And then I think we'll conclude with some current arrivals which even I can identify: a Snout (what a nose!) - but, update, see Comments and ponder the story of Pinocchio; not that I make my mistakes deliberately. But this is a Fan Foot, a species becoming rarer in the north according to UK Moths, contrary to the general trend. Many thanks to Dave and Ray) -  a Brimstone and a Small Angle Shades with its lovely, just perceptible hint of that very rare moth colour, blue.

Friday 29 June 2012

Pseudo-science, or the case of the Greens' Little Helpers

This morning's pictures illustrate what I shall grandly call the Empirical Fallacy. They appear to suggest that if you are a green moth, you get a small attendant to look after your daily needs. Certainly, a Martian exploring last night might have come to the conclusion that this applied to all Earth's curious, winged inhabitants. But as we know, neither proposition is true, any more than my boyhood conviction that Martians are also green.

The solution is to make sure not to draw conclusions from observations until you have a good number of the latter, and to take other precautions such as pondering other reasons for these quaint duos. But that's enough pseudo-science. Enjoyment is every bit as important; and I hope that these pictures of the year's first Light Emerald, which fluttered out of the trap but luckily hid on a window, and a Green Oak Roller or Tortrix micro, are enjoyable.

Thursday 28 June 2012

Pink and plump

Please forgive a little diversion from my planned observations on the Arches family. Who can resist the mighty hawk moths? They are far and away the biggest of the UK's species, entirely in a class of their own.

And look! The warm nights (still with a sting in the tail from morning rain though) have brought in these two peaches: a Poplar Hawk showing her pink slip and an Elephant Hawk revealing her (or possibly his) pink all.

We have also had the Eyed Hawk and Lime Hawk here, as well as the brown version of the latter, but they are less common. The Poplar and the Elephant are old but very beautiful reliables.

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Green, green, green

Well, well. We've had an almost perfect June night, apart from a little rain just as I was making the early morning tea. Moth numbers remain modest even so, but I have a few to show off; indeed, enough to divide between several posts.

I was going to major on the Arches family, handsome insects which have started to arrive in force, but instead I am giving the whole space over today to just one of them: the Green Arches, a magnificent moth, whose colouring is both stunning and subtle.

Here it is, helpfully choosing a green eggbox to show its own greenery to best advantage. A green moth in a green shade, to twist the words of Andrew Marvell's lovely poem The Garden. Plus a bit of pink on its skirt hem and stripy stockings. And here it is close-up, below. Oh bliss.

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Dots in a name

One of my favourite summer moths has defied the continuing miserable weather (cold when not raining, wet when warm). Here it is: the Single-dotted Wave, which I like on account of its inappropriate name.

If you screw your eyes up, maybe the smudge becomes a single dot. But otherwise the little creature is covered with them. It also has an endearingly finicky diet. In captivity, says my Moth Bible, the caterpillars 'will eat dandelion, preferring withered leaves.'

Well we have plenty of dandelions, both withered and plump. What we don't have is plenty of moths. This morning, there were six Heart and Darts, two Yellow Underwings (one of them shown above with a nice Dark Arches and a slug trail), a Freyer's Pug (below - am I right expert commentors?) and a couple of carpets. Not empty, but not great for a night in June.

Thursday 21 June 2012

Rain, rain go away

Back with the tiddlers today because rain has returned overnight, so it's backlog time. I settled back in an armchair last night with my new micro-moth Bible to identify the little creature above, fell asleep, woke up and had another go and then fell asleep again. The result of this endeavour means that I think that it's a Carnation Tortrix. We do have carnations in the garden, or Pinks as I prefer to call them. I hope I've got this one correct.

Secondly, here's a delicate little Carpet; either a Spruce or another Grey Pine, the latter introduced to me only last week by Samuel Miller and David Shenton, kindly and expert commentors. I shall opt for it. The forecast isn't good for the next few nights, but we'll see. Ironically we are in the high summer season of longest days and shortest nights. Could someone tell the weather gods (or fiends)?

You can make both the pictures bigger by clicking on them.

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Sparse but varied

The view in the UK's mothing community at the moment is that this is a very poor season. My experiences bear that out. Our muddled but largely unpleasant weather seems to have delayed things and possibly reduced this year's generations altogether. There are significantly fewer arrivals at the moment than in any of the past four years.

The variety is keeping up though. Above is my second Large Yellow Underwing of 2012, one of the brown variety as opposed to the bluey-grey which came the other night. And below is what I think is the year's first Dark Arches, a most distinguished moth.

Because of the broken patterning, its camouflage works even better against the paving stones than this Clouded-bordered Brindle, below,  a rather wan specimen of one moth which is commoner here this year than ever before. And finally, I think the handsome chap at the very bottom is a Marbled Minor.

There were several micros too, which I will examine on a rainy day. Although the sun has come out for now - timely for the Olympic Torch which is meandering through Yorkshire - wet weather is due back tomorrow so I should get the chance. 


Tuesday 19 June 2012

Shining bright

The trap is mended!  Already! All thanks to the illustrious Kevin Hill, the world's best electrician whose contacts I can always furnish to readers within electrical reach of Leeds. Thanks very much, Kevin.

In his honour, on the first dry night for ages, this beautiful moth arrived: the Burnished Brass. It isn't rare and comes to the trap every year, but it always surprises and delights me. The metallic sheen is the result not of electricity but reflection from scales tilted to use the light. As you study the moth from different angles, the sheen comes and goes, fades and glows.

Talking of sheen, I was at an Open University degree ceremony in Gateshead on Saturday and the organisers showed me their Magic Box - actually a large red crate - which had all the essential equipment for handling ceremonial emergencies. It included a spraycan of Mr Sheen, presumably to buff up fading regalia.

The OU is one of the best UK institutions created in my lifetime; in fact probably the best. Graduates' stories at the ceremony of endeavour, perseverance and family support were inspirational. The Burnished Brass is a suitable moth with which to celebrate their lustre. Let's leave it with a final view of its strange and wonderful tufted headgear. A Roman or Greek warrior among moths.

Monday 18 June 2012

Darkness covers the Earth

 This is the scene here at the moment, if you'll excuse my borrowing a trick from Laurence Sterne's The Adventures of Tristram Shandy. The moths fly undisturbed because our garage power system has fused.

More soon, I hope, when we have sorted out one or more of these. There will also be an inquest as to whether the cause was my operating the trap in the rain the other night. The bulb was off in the morning and I assumed that it had failed after a long life. But no. It's the circuit.

Saturday 16 June 2012

A scientist writes...

I woke up in the middle of the night last night, which had one good result. Like one of the ancient Greek philosophers, I was able to make an observation and from it, a logical deduction. It wasn't quite on a par with discovering the hypotenuse or the essence of a good life but I can tell you this for definite: moths do fly in the rain.

In the last post, I speculated about this. But at 2.30am I saw it for certain. For about five minutes, I watched from a bedroom window as the rain pattered down on the trap and at least five moths at various intervals skittered around.  I have to make an early start this morning so am temporarily putting up the pictures without identifying all of them. But you can see at the top, the first yellow underwing of 2012, a Large YU, and I think that the second one is a Dun-bar. Update: see Comments for the excellent and wise Ben Sale's help.

They say it will be dryer and warmer next week, but that is a forecast and not a fact.

Do you like my new doorhandle scale? Penny does. It's also a handy place to perch an eggbox in full light.

Thursday 14 June 2012

Wear in the world

This very wet June is taking its toll on my ability to trap, but I went ahead the other night and found that the moths are out, probably during intervals between the rain. Their resistance to wet weather seems to be stronger than to cold. It is after chilly nights that the eggboxes yield nothing.

This Twin-spot Carpet, for example, seems to be unaffected by the surrounding raindrops on the trap shield. Possibly it has even been drinking them and fallen asleep after a sackful. And, Update, it isn't a Twin-spot but a Grey Pine Carpet; see my invaluable commentors.But other moths are showing the effects of life in the wild. Look at this lovely Herald, which will almost certainly be very elderly for a moth as the species hibernates and this year's brood will not yet have emerged; his or her trailing edge is getting to resemble the proud but tattered gown of a noblewoman down on her luck.

These last three are badly battered too. I think that they are Clouded-bordered Brindles because of the dark pattern where the folded wings meet the bottom of the body. But, as always, I stand to be corrected...

Sunday 10 June 2012

Martin's birds

Apologies to my fellow mothpersons for going way off message, but I've not been trapping in the rather uncertain weather. My mothery has mostly consisted of being immersed in the micro Bible, specially its excellent section on searching for the tiny beasts by day. Recommended equipment includes 'a stout stick' which seems a bit heavy-handed. To be fair, it's for beating a way through thick undergrowth, of which the UK still has surprising large amounts.

We are lucky to have a small share here and as a result, we have always enjoyed a rich variety of birds. A family of Long-tailed tits are zooming around all over the place at the moment, exactly like exuberant teenagers. Goldcrests flute away in their thin, distinctive tones (is this their recent home, below, in Penny's hand, or maybe the Long-tailed tits?) and our Sparrowhawk family will soon be about from their penthouse at the top of a tall pine.

Last week we were visited by a wonderful thrush - Song or Mistle, I don't know - which chose the highest point of our highest tree and sang its heart out at dusk. We were celebrating too, because we have a pond and a couple of years ago, when there was all the fuss about an MP claiming expenses for his duck house, we built one in a day out of a wooden box. I couldn't claim it on expenses because it didn't cost anything.

This year, mirabile dictu, it has been home to a duck for a month and last week I surprised her with these, her ten kids. They have gone now, which I gather (and hope) is normal, in search of a proper stretch of water. But they will remain in my memory. On the other side of things, Nature is famously cruel and most un-Beatrix Potterlike, and it was sad to find the remains of a young jay on our lawn - top picture. Cats? Or maybe a nasty posse of magpies and crows. Cruel birds, although beautiful in their own way.

Finally, our Victorian house almost has more window than wall, like Hardwick Hall, and that exacts a toll in birdstrike every year. Three years ago, this even included one of the Sparrowhawks which flew straight into a window, so hard that it left a ghostly image (recorded on the blog here). Here is the latest victim, sadly. A nuthatch. Fortunately we have plenty of these, diligently going down our trees in search of grubs while a couple of pairs of treecreepers go up.

Saturday 9 June 2012

Martin's menagerie

I gave the moths a rest yesterday and we did the best thing you can do in Leeds on a dull and rainy day: took a trip to Tropical World at Roundhay Park. Penny and I hadn't been for ages. In fact, I think the last time we were there, the old Mynah bird was still in residence, squawking its famous cry of 'Roundy Paaark'.

It's half-term and the antics of the visiting children were almost as diverting as the butterflies, birds and other beasts on display. It's a marvellous facility and a great tribute to Leeds city council and those generous donors Marjorie Ziff and her late husband Arnold. Needless to say, among its attractions are meerkats, including recently-born young. You can get very close and they don't take a blind bit of notice.

There's also a good selection of creatures to curdle the kids' blood enjoyably. It was salutary to hear a Mum keeping her obstreperous daughter in order by warning her that this crocodile might pounce on her. The only pouncing we saw was on ice creams as the sun finally came out.

Friday 8 June 2012

A second Bible

I haven't had time yet to do justice to this vast subject, but it's high time to welcome a second Bible for moth enthusiasts: the long-awaited Field Guide to the Micro Moths of Great Britain and Ireland. Here it is, and it is wonderful. The writers Phil Sterling and Mark Parsons are meticulous and Richard Lewington's paintings are outstanding, as in the first Bible which has served me so well. The format is different from the macro moths volume, with a lot more photographs of eggs, caterpillars and pupae, plus distribution maps and other info.  But the paintings remain at the heart of things.

I must now settle down to identifying a backlog of puzzling little creatures; and even with the new guide, it isn't easy. You would think that this first moth, whose picture comes with the free extra of an interesting close-up of the trap's moulded black plastic, was simple. But although there are lots of black-dotted white micros in the book, I haven't tracked it down yet.

But I will, heartened by knowing that this second one is Diurna fagella, a very frequent visitor which our West Yorkshire county moths monitor Charlie Fletcher kindly identified for me a couple of years ago when I first featured it.

Finally for now, I'm going to be searching more closely for this micro whose tiny size belies the extraordinary complexity of both pattern and colouring on its wings. My initial trawl hasn't located it, but I will continue. The book is completely absorbing. 

Update: see Comments for massive help, full identifications and tips on using the new Bible.

Wednesday 6 June 2012

A tale of two trappings

Here is an interesting contrast. On Monday night, Penny and I went up to Wallsend where I had to report on the lighting of one of the Diamond Jubilee beacons. We got home about half-an-hour after midnight but it was dry and not too cold, so I turned on the trap. In the morning it contained...nothing.

Then last night, when the weather turned wet and a little cooler, I thought I'd still go ahead and trust to Mrs and Mrs Robinson's trusty rainshield, often praised here, helping it a little by putting the trap under a large and dense yew tree. In the morning it contained...all these Common Swifts, plus several Heart and Darts, a Garden Carpet and some pugs. This seems to me to say something about moths' flying times. Do they, like us, go to bed relatively early?

As I said the other day, the Common Swift is my current Top Moth, and last night it excelled itself. If you look at its entry from my Moth Bible - top picture, with Richard Lewington's almost miraculously accurate paintings - and then at the catch in the second picture, you will see that all three forms are there together.

 Here they are in turn. Above, the standard, clearly-marked male. Below, the larger and rather duller-coloured standard female.

 And here below, a completely plain-coloured specimen like the one in the middle of Lewington's trio, but darker. It was a little bigger than the standard males and therefore I think it was a female, where the plain form is commoner.


Finally, below once again, what I think is a male because of its smaller size, showing the variation in patterning within the gender. Dissecting genitalia is probably the way to make sure of the last two, but I am not ready for that. Nor, I suspect, ever will be. But you can maybe see why I often get so confused. For all their differences, all these moths are Common Swifts.