Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Good Housekeeping in Oxfordshire (2)

Retirement has given me extra time for housekeeping and not only of the Hoovering kind, much as I love cruising round with the vac on maximum power. So here's an update on the moths which have visited Penny and me in our new home so far, in this first season of running the light trap in Oxfordshire.

Apologies to those who find lists uninteresting. This is really an exercise done for my own use, though it may play its small part in all the mapping of butterflies and moths which goes on. I was reading in Butterfly Conservation's excellent Butterfly magazine the other day that an estimated 26 million Painted Lady butterflies flew over southern England between August and October 2009, some of them a kilometre up in the air which were detected by radar. How much we know nowadays!

So, here is the list of moth callers to date, a total of 163 which is very modest in the light of the 636 species so far recorded in 2013 by Upper Thames Butterfly Conservation which covers Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire. It understates the true number, mind, because I have not (yet) recorded quite a lot of the commoner type of visitor and many a micromoth has nipped off before I got round to taking its photo.

So I would guess that we've had over 200 species in reality, but that's cheating. I'll stick to the ones which I have photographed and for which I have definite dates. Here they are, with the ones which have arrived since my last audit on 31 May in bold and the ones not found in Leeds in red:

Macromoths: Angle Shades, Barred Straw, Barred Yellow, Beautiful Golden Y, Beautiful Hook-tip, Blood Vein, Bordered White, Black Arches, Blotched Emerald, Blue-bordered Carpet, Bright-eye brown line, Bright-line Brown-eye, Brimstone, Brindled Pug, Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing, Brown Rustic, Buff Arches, Buff Ermine, Buff Tip, Burnished Brass, Chinese Character, Chocolate Tip, Cinnabar, Clouded Border, Clouded-border Brindle, Clouded Drab, Clouded Silver, Common/Dark Marbled Carpet, Common Emerald, Common Footman, Common Lutestring, Common Quaker, Common Swift, Common Wainscot, Common White Wave, Coronet, Copper Underwing (or Svensson's CU), Coxcomb Prominent, Dark Arches, Dun-bar, Dingy Footman, Dot Moth, Drinker, Early Grey, Early Thorn, Early Tooth-striped, Elephant Hawk, Engrailed, Eyed Hawk, Flame, Flame Shoulder, Garden Carpet, Garden Tiger, Ghost, Grass Rivulet, Green Carpet, Grey/Dark Dagger, Grey Pug, Heart and Dart, Hebrew Character, Herald, Iron Prominent, July Highflyer, Large Nutmeg, Large Twin-spot
Chocolate Tip in Oxfordshire
Large Yellow Underwing, Least Black Arches, Leopard, Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing, Lesser Swallow Prominent, Light Arches, Light Emerald, Lilac Beauty, Lime-speck Pug, Lobster, Marbled Beauty, Marbled Minor, Middle-barred Minor, Miller, Mottled Beauty, Muslin, Muslin Footman, Narrow-bordered Five Spot Burnet, Nut-tree Tussock, Oblique Carpet, Orange Swift, Pale Pinion, Pale Prominent, Pale Tussock, Peach Blossom, Pebble Prominent, Peppered including melanistic, Pine Beauty, Poplar Hawk, Poplar Grey, Powdered Quaker, Privet Hawk, Puss Moth, Red Twin-spot Carpet, Riband Wave, Rivulet, Ruby Tiger, Rustic Shoulder-knot, Satellite, Scalloped Oak, Scarce FootmanScarlet Tiger, Scorched Wing, Setaceous Hebrew Character, Shears, Short-cloaked Moth, Shoulder-striped Wainscot, Shuttle-shaped Dart, Silver-ground Carpet, Single-dotted Wave, Silver Y, Small Angle Shades, Small Dotted BuffSmall Elephant Hawk, Small Emerald, Small Phoenix, Small Quaker, Small Square-spot, Snout, Spectacle, Straw Dot, Swallow Prominent, Swallowtailed, Sycamore, Treble Line, Twin-spot Carpet, Twin-spot Quaker, V-Pug, Waved Umber, White Ermine, White Satin,  Yellow-barred Brindle, Yellowtail.  (138)

Micromoths: Acleris forsskaleana, Adela sp, Agonopterix arenella, Aphelia palanea, Agapeta hamana, Aphomia sociella, Beautiful China Mark, Celypha lacunana, Cnephasia sp. Cochylis antricapitana, Dioryctria abietella, Diurnia fagella, Ephestia kuehniella, Eudonia mercurella, Green Oak Tortrix, Large Tabby (Aglossa pinguinalis) Lozotaeniodes formosana, Mother of Pearl, Phtheocroa rugosana, Pyralis farinalis, Scoparia pyralella, Small Magpie, Udea olivalis, White Plume, Willow Ermine. (25)

Butterflies: Brimstone, Comma, Common Blue, Green-veined White, Hedge Brown, Holly Blue, Large Skipper, Large White, Marbled White, Orange Tip, Peacock, Red Admiral, Small Heath, Small Skipper, Small Tortoiseshell, Speckled Wood, Small White. A little further afield: Purple Emperor, White Admiral.   (20)

And for comparison (and not, I hope at the risk of driving you mad), here are the moths which visited the trap during five years in Leeds, 2008-2012. The ones not (yet) found in Oxford are in red:

Macromoths: Alder, Angle Shades, Angle-striped Sallow, Antler, Autumnal Rustic, Barred Red, Barred Straw, Barred Yellow, Beautiful Golden Y, Black Rustic, Blackneck, Blair’s Shoulder Knot, Bloodvein, Bordered White, Bright-line Brown-eye, Brimstone, Brindled Green, Brown China Mark, Brown Silver-line, Buff Arches, Buff Ermine, Buff Footman, Buff Tip, Burnished Brass, Campion, Canary-shouldered Thorn, Centre-barred Sallow, Chestnut, Chimney Sweeper, Cinnabar, Clouded Border, Clouded-bordered Brindle (plus ab Combusta), Clouded Drab, Clouded Brindle, Clouded Silver, Common Carpet, Common Emerald, Common Footman, Common Marbled Carpet, Common Quaker, Common Rustic, Common Swift, Common Wainscot, Common Wave, Common White Wave, Common Yellow Underwing, Copper Underwing and/or Svensson’s C.U. (impossible to distinguish without expert help), Coxcomb Prominent, Cream Wave, Crescent, Dark Arches, Dark-barred Twin-spot Carpet, Dark Brocade, Dark Dagger, Dark Marbled Carpet, Dark Spectacle, Dark Swordgrass, December Moth, Dot, Dotted Border, Double-lobed, Double-striped Pug, Dun-bar, Dusky Brocade, Dusky Thorn, Dwarf Pug, Early Grey, Early Thorn, Elephant Hawk, Engrailed, Fan-foot, Feathered Thorn, Figure of 80, Flame, Flame Carpet, Flame Shoulder, Flounced Rustic, Foxglove Pug, Freyer's Pug, Frosted Orange, Garden Carpet, Ghost, Gold Spangle, Gold Spot, Golden-rod Pug, Gothic, Green Arches, Green-brindled Crescent, Green Carpet, Green Pug, Green Silver Lines, Grey Arches, Grey Birch, Grey Chi, Grey Dagger, Grey Pine Carpet, Grey Pug, Grey Scalloped Bar, Heart and Dart,Hebrew Character, Herald, Ingrailed Clay, Iron Prominent, July Highflyer, Knot Grass, Large 
Lime Hawk, var brunnea, in Leeds
Emerald, Large Yellow Underwing, Lead-coloured Drab, Lempke’s Gold Spot, Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing, Lesser Common Rustic, Lesser Swallow Prominent, Light Arches, Light Emerald, Lime Hawk including Var brunnea, Lunar Underwing, Lunar Marbled Brown, Lychnis, Marbled Beauty, Marbled Minor, March Moth, May Highflyer, Middle-barred Minor, Miller, Mottled Beauty, Mottled Rustic, Mottled Umber, Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet, November moth, Oak Beauty, Oak Hooktip, Ochreous Pug, Old Lady, Orange Sallow, Orange Swift, Orange UnderwingPale Brindled Beauty, Pale Mottled Willow, Pale Pinion, Pale Prominent, Pale-shouldered Brocade, Pale Tussock (including dark variety), Peach Blossom, Pebble Hook Tip, Pebble Prominent, Peppered (including melanistic variety), Phoenix, Pink-barred Sallow, Plain Golden Y, Poplar Hawk, Powdered Quaker, Purple Bar, Purple Thorn, Red Underwing, Red-green Carpet, Red-lined Quaker, Riband Wave, Rivulet, Rosy Rustic, Ruby Tiger, Rufous Minor, Sallow, Sallow Kitten, Satin Beauty, Satellite, Scalloped Hazel (including var nigra), Scalloped Hook-tip, Scalloped Oak, Scarce Silver Lines, Scorched Wing, September Thorn, Setaceous Hebrew Character, Shaded Broad-bar, Shoulder-striped Wainscot, Shuttle-shaped Dart, Silver Y, Single-dotted Wave, Slender Brindle, Small Angle Shades, Small Fanfoot, Small Fan-footed Wave, Small Phoenix, Small Quaker, Smoky Wainscot, Snout, Spectacle, Spruce Carpet, Square-spot Rustic, Straw Dot, Streamer, Swallow Prominent, Swallowtailed, Tawny-barred Angle, Treble Bar, True Lover’s Knot, Twin-spotted Quaker, V-pug, White Ermine, Willow Beauty, Winter moth, Wormwood Pug, Yellow-barred Brindle, Yellow-line Quaker, Yellow Shell. (205)

Acleris forsskaleana - happy in
 both North and South
Micromoths: Acleris forsskaleana, Acleris shallerianaAnania coronataAncylis badiana, Argyresthia trifasciata, Barred Fruit-tree Tortrix (Pandemis ceranasa), Bird-cherry Ermine, Blastobasis lacticolella, Bramble-shoot Moth, Brown House Moth, Brown Grey (Scoparia ambigualis), Carnation Tortrix, Catopria margaritella, Cypress Tip, Diurnia fagella, Dipleurina lacustrata, Emmelina monodactyla, Epiblema cynosbatella,  Eriocranaria subpurpurella, Eudonia mercurellaGarden Pebble, Garden Rose Tortrix, Green Oak Roller (Tortrix viridiana), Light Brown Apple Moth, Marbled Orchard Tortrix, Meal Moth, Mother of Pearl, Phyllonorycter geniculella, Plume (Stenophilia sp.), Pyrausta aurata, Small Magpie, Spindle Ermine, Tinea trinotella, Twenty-plume, White-shouldered House Moth, Ypsolopha Sequella.  (36)

Butterflies: Brimstone, Comma, Common Blue, Green-veined White, Hedge Brown, Holly Blue, Large Skipper, Large White, Orange Tip, Painted Lady, Peacock, Red Admiral, Small Heath, Small Copper, Small Skipper, Small Tortoiseshell, Speckled Wood, Small White, White-letter Hairstreak. (19)

As I always remark on these occasions, what great names!  Update: I've been rushing around on trains for much of today and have not had a chance to reflect on the above, but I will be doing. One noticeable difference between the two sites, apart from the lists above, is that the great deluge of 'yellow underwings' which was an annual July/August event in Leeds has not happened in Oxfordshire (yet). The nearest current contender is the Mother of Pearl. Overall, I would say that this season has produced a greater variety of moths so far but fewer 'gluts'.  But it is early days.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

The eyes have it

A flash of colour arrived this morning amid the muted tones which have dominated the trap for the past week: a male Orange Swift which looks freshly-hatched and handsome, albeit somewhat like a tarantula from the front. It is yet another novelty which is nice, as today is the birthday of my younger son.

The Orange Swift caterpillar eats dandelion roots which is a laudable practice in the eyes of anyone who has tried to dig out these sturdy weeds - from places where they're not wanted; I'm a big fan of dandelions when they stick to road verges or the wild and nettley end of the garden. On the whole, they don't.

The other thing which struck me about the eggboxes today, apart from two Elephant Hawks and one Poplar Hawk roosting together like a trio of pensioners (they've been coming to the trap for weeks), was the number of little eyes peeping up at me from moths' wings.  Here are a few, with a final bit of colour to end up with thanks to a Pale Pinion's choice of resting place on Penny's bright red garden kneeler.  Update: sorry, it's a Light Arches - many thanks once again to Richard in Comments.

A Common or Lesser Common Rustic with blotchy eye makeup

Copper (or Svensson's Copper) Underwing - moths which are exceptionally reluctant to flash their bright underwear, raising doubts about its purpose as an additional deterrent

Poplar Grey. There's a lot going on in the wing pattern but I hope you agree that the eyes peep out

Dun-bar. A worthy but boring moth saved from terminal dullness by its varied colouring. This version has the most distinct eyes

The Nut-tree Tussock's eyes strike me as slightly oriental, at least when seen from the side like this

And the Pale Pinion (nope, Light Arches, sorry, see above) on its  bright red couch - flagrant defiance of the rules of camouflage

Away from the world of moths, the white mallard which is a feature of our stretch of canal has hatched her brood, with three of the chicks as golden as those Easter ones made in China. I have always wondered what the people in the toy factories think of these, and of many of their other products which our offspring (or those who skilfully market to them) demand.

Monday, 29 July 2013


Click on the pic to check out the dew on this dainty Yellow-barred Brindle which was all but invisible on the bleached wood of a windowsill

Cooler weather and rain have coincided with a lull in moth-related excitement, with a run of the worthy but drab sort of species, enlivened by Mother of Pearls in great abundance, plus Yellowtails. This has prompted me to spend a little more time examining the surroundings of the trap, something I tend to overlook when absorbed by interesting novelties tucked away in the eggboxes.

Tough old thing; last night's OAP Swallow Prominent

The practice of moths coming near the trap but not entering it has something interesting to say about the workings of 'attraction' to light, or disorientation of their subtle navigating systems as it may really be. Below are some of my finds, which also illustrate the gradual fading of this year's first generations.

A reminder of one in its prime - the day before my birthday (May 18 remember) this year

Age comes to moths as to all else in creation, but they can bat on in spite of physical decay like sturdy pensioners. My pics above show the effects of a short but hard life on that aristocrat of the UK moth world, a Swallow (or Lesser Swallow Prominent), compared with one enjoying its salad days. Gallant battered thing, the oldie still retains the sleek lines which give it such distinction when newly-hatched. Thinking of that issue of attraction/disorientation, note that its antennae, so vital for guidance in flight, look in good order compared with the sadly worn wings.

Here are some of the other moths which were sleeping nearby:

A Lime-speck Pug on the outside of the trap's bulb-holder

A Brimstone Moth in the grass

A Carpety moth which I'll be ID-ing shortly, on the house wall. Update: CT has beaten me to it in Comments; it's a Small Phoenix. Many thanks!

A Dot Moth tucks into the window farme

While  Common Footman prefers the actual pane

An Ermine micro just avoiding a spider's web

Going bald; an ageing Peach Blossom on the window

A Beautiful Golden Y on the other side of the window frame

A Pebble Prominent on the wall

And a Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing examining our decaying woodwork; remedial sanding and painting due in the autumn

Update: And finally...   The chief indoors moth-spotter, Penny, discovered this second generation Early Thorn in our kitchen this morning, looking like an actor or actress taking a nervous bow in the footlights. It's apparently attracted to, or distracted by, a light-switch rather than an actual light.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Hold the front beige

Beige is the colour of the blog today, and of the coffee and walnut cupcakes which Penny has made for a triple birthday celebration we're joining. I've also got an unusually large number of unresolved questions seeking answers. So here goes. Update - and the answers have come in. See Comments and a big thank you to Richard for the IDs and to Countryside Tales for having a crack.

The moth in the top three pictures is some kind of Footman, but which? Dingy maybe? I don't think it's a Common one, like the much smaller grey gentleman accompanying it in the second snap.  The Common Footman is a very familiar moth, both here and back in Leeds, so much so that I see that I haven't yet included it in the Good Housekeeping list which I'm keeping of moths seen so far this year. But I've never had such a large or eliptical one. It's the nearest moth equivalent of a flying saucer. Update: It is a Dingy Footman, but the form stramineola which sounds like a Caribbean island or Spanish musical instrument. Many thanks again Richard in Comments.

Help much appreciated - as also with this Footman, above, which seems thinner than the standard type and was hugging itself in this gauche-looking way, in the process revealing its fine yellow back legs. Update: and it is different - ID-d by Richard as a Scarce Footman (which actually isn't that scarce hereabouts).

Then we have this, above. I am more or less certain that it's a Mother of Pearl but it is much creamier, indeed much beige-er, than the standard version, of which the trap holds at least 20 examples every night.

I do at least know the seventh beige moth; a nice Scalloped Oak, and the eighth with its curious T-shape is one of the Plumes, although I will need some time to work out which. Another of my neighbours has just sent me a photo of a White Plume, a beautiful and distinctive moth which I featured last month. This one is going to be a great deal harder to pin down.

So to a Wainscot which looks new to me, and I'm plumping for a Southern because of the dots and dashes and the fact that the species is happy in areas like ours which adjoin canals. Update; no, it's a Small Dotted Buff which is at least on the same page as some of the Wainscots in my Moth Bible and related to them. Thanks once more Richard. Then we have one of last week's stars, a Marbled Beauty, plus my thumb which I'm including only because I like them so much; and a pretty little creature which I've failed to nail but am guessing is a Toadflax Pug. Update: no, it's a Red Twin-spot Carpet which I should have known because members of the first generation came to the trap earlier in the summer. A final bow for Richard and many thanks again. I think I can claim not to have been totally crass with these moths, but there is much room for improvement (cf school reports c. 1965).

Then, what is going on with this Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing and the little red dot above its left antenna and eye? The three pictures show the size and shape of this strange addition. I think from Googling that it's a parasitic Red Mite which is bad news for the moth, but any enlightenment gratefully received.

Finally, a couple of dainty micros which were sleeping close beside one another in the same eggbox, albeit with their big eyes wide open. More guessing here: I go for Crambus perlella and Agriphila straminella.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Martin's Moorhen

I thought I'd spring a surprise today with a picture of something which is neither a butterfly nor a moth, It's a moorhen, one of those quaint birds which motor round our rivers, lakes and canals with a strange jerky motion - backwards and forwards like a rowing eight. I've often thought that a Nobel Prize awaits the physicist who can overcome that jerk in the otherwise smooth flow of a rowing crew going at top speed. Magnetic sliding seats? But I don't think the moorhen's unique style will ever change.

Look at that foot! Why in Creation was this little bird landed with that? As my bird Bible says: "It takes to the air after lengthy pattering over the water's surface and flies, rather weakly, with its legs dangling behind."

Equally irrelevant to entomology is this fungus which has attacked our plum tree, wreaking potentially great damage but in the meanwhile providing a fascinating and rather beautiful display of sap, like resin. The gardening manuals say to cut off affected bits and destroy them utterly, but I am finding this difficult because of the beguiling colour and translucency of the sap. And anyway, I don't much like plums.

Here are some dead things now. Alas, the ability of our greenhouse to attract and then suffocate butterflies is matched by the fatal effect of our windows - big and without crossbars - on birds which fly into them. This siskin - I think - is just the latest of about half-a-dozen so far this summer. Memorably in Leeds, as described in a blog post on 15 July 2009, a sparrowhawk flew into our living room window with an almighty wallop, breaking its neck and leaving a weird ghostly image on the glass.

I was talking about ants and grasshoppers the other day and complaining that Aesop had unfairly disparaged the grasshopper as spendthrift and carefree, with no scientific grounds. Here is a picture which would have pleased the old chap: ants making prudent use of a dead grasshopper. How sad.

An insect at last! See below. But also dead, one of the greenhouse victims. It is doubly on my conscience because I had a feeling yesterday that when I listed the 11 butterflies active in the garden on Thursday, I had left one out. I had and it was this one, a Speckled Wood, a beautiful butterfly whose colour and patterning is perfect camouflage in its favourite surroundings of sun-dappled shade.

I am very fond of this butterfly, which has been a big UK success story over the last 30 years. When I first reported one in Leeds back in the early 1990s, without a photograph, the local moth expert refused to believe me. Two years later, I sent him a pic of another one and by the time we moved house, they were all over the place.

Some people accuse moths of being hairy, but check out the Speckled Wood

I'm also very chuffed because a picture I took of a Speckled Wood sunbathing in a small patch of sunlight on the outskirts of Sheffield is going to be used in a report to Natural England on micro-climates. A very nice scientist found it on an internet trawl. I'll tell you more when the report is published. Yo!

A Ringlet getting a bit old, but there's nothing wrong with that

I ran the trap last night but plan a leisurely Saturday going through its arrivals without any rush. So here to end with are a few more of our current garden butterflies - plus a bonus picture of a Comma contributed by one of our neighbours who rescued it from the beak of a Spotted Flycatcher. The natural world is a cruel and dangerous place.

Large White, bane of the cabbage grower

And its deputy, the Small White

A Comma, beautiful butterfly with uniquely-shaped wings for the UK, showing the reason for its name

And another which had a narrow escape - the Flycatcher got the wing, not the body. Note my neighbour's photographic skill at getting the wing outline both in real and shadow