Monday, 30 November 2015

Diversions while digging

These are quiet times for the moth-trapper. Between now and the middle of February is the time to curl up with a book or a list of records like the hero of a John Buchan novel in a Scottish fishing hotel. (Except, alas for sentiment, the last Scottish fishing hotel I stayed in had a video blaring away in the lounge, a custodian rather of the 'You'll have had your tea' variety and a complete ban on the pipes which Buchan's characters stuffed with shag tobacco before embarking on their tales).

But what matter? Because a much healthier option is to get out and dig the garden; and while doing so, keep a weather eye out for characters such as the caterpillar above. He or she is the larva of that extremely everyday moth, the Large Yellow Underwing. But I have never seen one before, in all my 65 years, and so the encounter gave me pleasure.

Pupae and catties from Richard South's
 famous UK moths book which is now online here thanks to Wikisources
I popped him or her in a box with some leaves and went away for a couple of days, expecting to find a pupa and cocoon when I returned yesterday. Instead, the caterpillar was wandering round and even nibbling the last bits of green and red on one of the less rain-sodden leaves. I had forgotten that these creatures, like many UK moths, need soil to burrow into for their long sleep and silent transformation inside their pupa shell.

Hence the digging tip, which is also the subject of an entire small booklet, 'Pupa Digging', by the Rev Joseph Greene. One of those 18th century vicars who spent much time on natural history, his enthusiasm for this particular branch of entomology has never been publicly equalled, nor his knowledge and mastery of technique.

All I can add is: dig carefully. Remember last year's wonderful discovery in Kirtlington by Chris Powle's family, who unearthed two Death's Head Hawk moth pupae in their spud plot after finding one of the species' vivid yellow caterpillars marching across their lawn.  Good gardening, and good hunting! My cattie, btw, has just been released in a nice patch of crumbly soil, so good luck to it as well.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Martin's modernisation

Morning all!

Regular readers will have noticed a difference in the blog and I apologise for disruption, in the manner of building firms which ask us to bear with them while they divert the pavement or make a lot of noise.

Yes, inspired by having to design a blog for another group (the result can be admired or scorned here), I have discovered all sorts of wizardry on the incomparable Blogger which I never knew existed.

Now some of this has been applied to Martin's Moths, most obviously in the blaze of glorious Technicolor above. Perhaps more important and useful, you can now examine Pages (yes, dimwit that I am, I never knew you could make Pages as well as Posts). Click on one of the tabs above - on the Difference between butterflies and moths, How to attract moths and My records - for permanent, easy-to-access stuff on these subjects.

I will be adding and tweaking and fiddling with things for a while to come. It's been very cold here - two nights of frost have finally killed the wonderfully long-flowering tender plants in our garden - and so my light-trapping will be very intermittent between now and March. This has two advantages: I can get on with other things, such as making breakfast or washing up last night's pots; and this explanatory post can stay on the front page for a good long time.

I have illustrated it with moths looking out at you, in the hope that you will explore them and their world in return. The blog archive on the right goes way back to 2008, when the Spectacle moth shown here was the very first picture that I published. I've been browsing back through the years myself in search of photographs and, though I say it who shouldn't, I got re-hooked.

Friday, 20 November 2015


It's gone so cold this evening that I'm leaving the moths in peace, not that many have been coming when the lamp in the trap is trimmed. That doesn't mean that wildlife in general has gone to sleep; witness the other creatures I found among the eggboxes this morning.

I snapped the little Cranefly at the top rather hastily and absent-mindedly and only discovered the beady eye of an alien creature peeping through the hole in the eggbox when I downloaded the photos from the camera. Regular readers will know my love of eggbox art and this is another example for my eventual, possibly posthumous, exhibition on the subject.

Meanwhile, here are some more creepy-crawlies. First, a nimble-looking spider:

Next a greenery-yallery fly. Identification from any passing dipterist would be much appreciated: Update: And Lo! I have a wonderfully expert commentor who identifies the fly as the Yellow Dungfly (great name...) or Scathophaga stercoraria and the spider as a Harvestman, either Leiobunum rotundum (another fine moniker), Odiellus spinosus or Mitopus morio.  Most impressed and grateful. Many thanks!


Playing dead

Now some tiddly creatures, like the one in the second picture of the fly, above. I got some better pictures of these little brethren but have just clumsily deleted them by mistake.

And finally, some moths. I am not sure about this bedraggled specimen (but still with a fine head of hair). Is it a  very tattered Yellow-line Quaker? Or ditto Brick. Once again, help appreciated.  Update: It's a Brick; many thanks to experts on the Upper Thames Moths blog where I also posted the pics. I'm pleased about that as I've not knowingly had a brick this year, though that's probably down to my ID myopia.          

An Autumnal or Winter moth meanwhile took up residence in the relative warmth of our porch overnight.

And here to end with is a Satellite with browny markings but the inner dot lighter than usual - bearing out Trent's comment four posts ago.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Lonesome nights

These are lonely times in the moth trap's eggboxes, but they are not quite deserted. Wind and rain seem to be alternating at the moment and on Saturday night we were down to one bedraggled Autumnal/November moth. But last night thinks looked up a little.

First to come to light (late afternoon sunlight, that is, as other tasks kept me from investigating earlier, was the perky little Red-green Carpet, parading the tip of its abdomen proudly. That's where the reproductive coupling goes on.

Next a sleekly handsome Blair's Shoulder-knot, an immigrant species in the UK when it was first discovered in 1951 on the Isle of Wight by Dr Blair, late of the Natural History Museum, whose expertise and coastal habitat also led to the discovery of Blair's Wainscot and Blair's Mocha. Now it has clearly established breeding colonies, to have regular, fine-condition arrivals so late in the year.

And finally, this Setaceous Hebrew Character, sporting the Hebrew letter 'Nun', the equivalent of 'N', on its wings as a reminder of the legendary occasion when it had the temerity to speak directly to God, rather than through one of his moth-minded angels. 'Setaceous' means bristly, which again may refer to private parts.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Aged pioneer

Dear me, I seem to have been rather inert. On this blog, at any rate, but truth to tell, the nights are getting colder and the mornings darker and the moths fewer. All that I can offer from the last week of fitful light-trapping is the tattered but handsome Dark Chestnut above and the Lesser Yellow Underwing (I think) below.

Fast asleep

Newly woken and a bit cross

I am excited, however, for entirely different reasons, although they are linked to the blog. One of my retirement hobbies, which are legion, is helping out occasionally with scrub-clearing and hazel-coppicing in our local Fuel Allotment. This is as an unusual survival of the mediaeval practice of allocating a small part of a parish's land - usually the worst bit where crops would not thrive - as a source of kindling and firewood, specially for the poor. In most parts of the UK, the term 'fuel allotment' survives as a small general charity, giving a few thousand pounds a year, if that, to needy people locally. That happens here too, but chance has kept the actual fuel allotment itself in charitable ownership - six acres of woodland called Weaveley Furze which form a countryside and wildlife haven.

What has this got to do with Martin's Moths?  Well, because of the blog, I was asked to help with some sort of online presence for the Furze and I couldn't think of anything better than Blogger. Having pottered along in the same groove here for years, I was imagining something rather similar - a basic layout and a succession of posts. But luckily, I had time to look at the system's Layout options more closely.

The result is here - nothing to do with moths, so if you are here as a mothwoman or man, it's probably not of interest. But if you do have time to give it a look, you'll see that there are separate Pages as well as blog Posts, an email facility and other delights.

These are just the tip of the iceberg on Blogger, and the whole experience reminds me of my attitude to new technology during my years in journalism. These coincided with vast and continuous change from my early days of tyoing out stories with up to seven carbon copies, to my swansong when I made films, podcasts and God knows what else, revelling in the power of Apple products, freely supplied by my employers at The Guardian and the BBC.

Two Gadgets I decided not to use
My approach, especially as I aged, was to show boundless enthusiasm for each new gadget and widget, to such an extent that I was occasionally held up as an example to younger colleagues who seemed less eager to embrace change. This wasn't entirely flattering. The line taken was: "Well, if Martin Wainwright can do it..." But it was true. New tricks.

So, to come to the point of this ramble: since the trapping season is petering to its close (albeit with occasional surprises, such as only the second-ever Slender Burnished Brass found in Oxfordshire which came to a local light trap this week), I am contemplating exciting technical changes here.

Stand by...

Oh, and I should just add this humble November/Autumnal/Pale Autumnal Moth which was sleeping on the wall of the house, close to the trap, two nights ago.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Moths in the smoke

We let off our fireworks last night and, as clouds of cordite-scented smoke billowed around, reflected on the possible effect on the moth trap.

One obvious one was that its powerful light created eerie patterns in the dark, especially when seen (and photographed) from behind a variety of intriguing garden objects.

The other was a possible deterrent effect on the number of visiting moths, although the dampness and slightly colder conditions last night probably had more influence on that. There were only three residents in the eggboxes this morning, but one of them was well worth noting.

That was the Dark Sword-grass, above, a powerful immigrant which is usually around between July and October and not often in large numbers. It has, however, been recorded in every month of the year and mild weather such as the spell which we are enjoying at the moment is what prompts its appearance.

For the rest, there was a handsome Feathered thorn and ditto Blair's Shoulder-knot. Encouraged by this, I am about to put the trap out for another, less smoky, night

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Satellite landings

The Satellite moth spends the whole winter lurking about but is only usually tempted to the light trap by mild weather.  Accordingly, three of them were snoozing in the eggboxes this morning, along with three Feathered Thorns. My top picture shows the two different types of moth apparently sussing one another out.

The Satellite comes in two liveries: the browny one shown in that picture and the much more notable one with darker background colouring and two bright satellite patterns on its wings.

The pattern accounts for the name - a moon with two little satellites - and also much resembles one of the alien enemies which you had to shoot down in the computer game Space Invaders. I like to think that an entomologist might have been involved in the game's design.

Also in the trap: this handsome moth, which I think is a Beaded Chestnut.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Time for some lesser brethren

Epiphyas postvittana cosying up to macro Blair's Shoulder-knot

The last ten days have seen a sprinkling of micr-moths snuggling in the trap, the littlies of the mothy world which I do my best to admire and find interesting but without much success. It is true that some of them look marvellous via a well-focussed shot from a digital camera which is then enlarged. But the word 'some' is significant and anyway, I think the concession rather proves my point. Once you have zoomed in on one of these moths and then further enlarged the image, it is micro only in name.

Acleris rhombana

I have to admit that I may also be influenced by the difficulty of identifying many of the micros. This is a problem for me with many macros, so how am I expected to cope in the Tom Thumb world? Badly, is the answer. But at least I've had a go here. Passing experts are encouraged to confirm or challenge.

Epiphyas postvittana, or Light Brown Apple moth, on the trap's shield

Epiphyas postvittana on the trap's rim

Epiphyas postvittana on an eggbox cone

Acleris sparsana, just for a change

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Foggy moths

Large Wainscot

December moth

A fellow enthusiast, Steve Trigg, tried an experiment at his Thames Valley home earlier this week. The fog was so all-pervasive and settled-in that he put out the moth trap to see if the insects shared the problems experienced by UK airports. sure enough, in the morning his eggboxes were untenanted.

Red-green Carpet

Red-green Carpet

Red-green, or possibly Autumn Green, Carpet

Last night was very foggy here; the white stuff was not only visible but tangible. As soon as I went out, I became speckled with little drops of moisture. It last the night, lifting only slightly, but in the morning I found the following: Large Wainscot (3), Red-green Carpet (3 unless the last one shown in my pics is an Autumn Green Carpet) Update: it isn't. Expert Dave Wilton on the UTM blog confirms that all three are Red-green, December moth (2), Setaceous Hebrew Character (2), Red-line Quaker (2), Yellow-line Quaker (1), Sprawler (1), Winter/Autumnal/Pale Autumnal moth (1), Feathered Thorn (1) and Angle Shades (1).

Setaceous Hebrew Character (with another Large Wainscot behind)

I've added the pictures in that order and respectfully submit my findings for all who are interested in the subject(s) of moths and fog.

Red-line Quaker

Red-line Quaker

Yellow-line Quaker (I think but I am very unreliable on such things)


Winter/Autumnal/Pale Autumnal moth

Feathered Thorn

Angle Shades