Saturday 30 April 2016


Stuck amid the ice floes like Sir Ernest Shackleton's ship the Endurance, here is my only visitor for the last three nights. A lonely Clouded Drab which was so sound asleep on the trap's cowl that my various attempts to stroke and tumble it back to life came to nothing. I left it as firmly in the Land of Nod as ever, albeit in the snugger surroundings of an eggbox.

The frosty nights must be primarily responsible for the unusual dearth of moths this year. The contrastingly warm and sunny days we are getting are bringing out plenty of butterflies. On the cheery side, too, my young Emperors and Empresses are munching their way through ever-increasing amounts of hawthorn.

I mentioned the other day how they showed no interest in bramble when I offered some as an alternative dish. I also raised this on the Upper Thames Moths blog and one of its many experts, Andy King, replied with this very interesting observation: 

Bramble is a bit of a funny foodstuff. It is eaten by a load of insects in captivity - including lots of stick insects. But, unlike perhaps a lot of other things it might be better to feed them old leaves, rather than the fresh new ones - counter-intuitively, perhaps. The thinking behind this is that the new ones are unprotected by thorns and therefore contain toxins or repellents, whereas the old leaves are, theoretically at least , protected by prickles. If the caterpillars have started on Hawthorn already they may be reluctant to change - this happens to some, but not all species.

Maybe this is one reason why my Mum was never much bothered about sell-by dates.

Thursday 28 April 2016

Chilly, chilly

My chief mentor in the world of moths, Ben Sale, has some interesting thoughts on his excellent blog about the low numbers coming to traps throughout the country so far this year. He blames the weather - cold if it isn't wet, wet if it isn't cold - and possibly the effects of a mild winter on parasites which feed on hibernating adults and cocoons. He also suggests two subsidiary causes, both resulting from the damp and chill, in predation by extra-hungry birds and late emergence of hibernating species. The latter rings true. on a cold and frosty morning.

That's what it's been today and the grand total of moths in the trap was one; a bold Hebrew Character which had somehow dragged itself out of bed for a spin. I wasn't surprised. The grass was rimy with frost which was also hard enough to 'glue' on the trap's transparent cowl. But today the wind direction changes to the milder West and - touch wood - the prospect doesn't look too wet.

Wednesday 27 April 2016

Hello petal

Cold and wet weather left me with an empty trap on Monday night but a buggy run with the granddaughter in London today was a little more profitable.

It was still cold but the sunshine brought out this Small White, which sends my 2016 butterfly tally creeping up to four species.

Can you spot the butterfly?
The butterfly was like a larger version of the cherry and apple blossom petals which are gently falling both in London and here at home.  It found a cosy spot to nectar in a bed of mixed Spring flowers - picture just above - especially anchusa and deadnettle. London's gardens are small but rich in plants and wildlife.

Tuesday 26 April 2016

Little Tories

In my occasional role as pseudo-scientist, I have conducted a small experiment with my burgeoning family of Emperor Moth caterpillars.

I raised my previous brood on hawthorn which they ate with gusto. But a friend on the excellent Upper Thames Moths blog told me that his had been reared on bramble - blackberry - leaves which they ate voraciously.

I started my current family on hawthorn but yesterday I popped in a handful of bramble leaves as well, to see if the catties might give them ago. The result? So far they are proving as conservative in their habits as human children, like the marvellous Lola of Charlie and Lola in 'I will never, not ever eat a tomato'. Or as doctors. Not to get involved in today's dispute, but the history of the medical profession's resistance to change makes salutary (and enjoyable) reading.

The evidence for Caterpillar Conservatism is in the pictures above.

I'm interested too in the different, lighter colouring of a couple of the caterpillars, which may be a step ahead of their siblings in development? Or is it just the effect of sun light on their young and perhaps somewhat translucent bodies?

Finally, I noticed these slender prisms on our kitchen window this morning and hopefully wondered if they might be yet another virtue of that incredible stuff, spider silk. But our domestic regime is exonerated. They seem to be wafer-thin smears of window-cleaning stuff left behind after a vigorous polish by P last week.

Sunday 24 April 2016

Cousin Muslin

I am updating the photographs on my 'What Moth Is That?' tab above, which forms a complete record of visitors to the trap so far.  This is quite an arduous business, involving searching back over the seven-and-a-bit years of the blog, but I surged forward this week past M and N and am now in the middle of the Ps.

The grind is relieved by pleasure in re-encountering moths which I had all but forgotten. One of these was the Muslin and, Lo and behold!, an example was perched on the bulb collar this morning. It was cols last night and also apparently rained at some point, and the only other inhabitants of the eggboxes were four Hebrew Characters. So thank you, Muslin Moth, for a nice surprise.

The name derives from the soft, almost stroke-able texture of the moths' wings and their delicate colouring: white in the female, creamy in the Irish male form and this governessy beige in males found in the rest of the British Isles. The impression of a demure outfit is completed by the neat rows of 'buttons'. And don't underestimate the moth (a mistake often made with modest human beings). It is closely related to those aristocratic types, the White and Buff Ermines. Note  the rich fur collar and the rather fine, yellowy knee breeches in the second and third photos, which it shares with these posh cousins.

Saturday 23 April 2016


Not a lot to say about a picture which speaks for itself, other than Hooray! Spring is really - well nearly - properly here.

This is my first Orange Tip sighting for 2016. I also photographed its beautiful underwings with their lacy pattern of greenish-grey, but messed up the focus so that all the delicacy was blurred. Still, there'll be other chances.

That takes this year's butterfly tally to four: Brimstone, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell and now Orange Tip. Happy St George's Day, 400th Birthday of Shakespeare et al.

Friday 22 April 2016

Imperial Grandchildren

It's only a few weeks since Penny and I became grandparents for the second time. But now look what's happened.  It's beyond my capabilities to count this little lot until they are bigger and the risk of one slipping off a leaf un-noticed is less. But I'd guess we've a score or more of the little chaps.

They eat A LOT. Luckily we have hawthorn in good supply

These are the offspring of the two Emperor moths which hatched last month, the male waltzing off into Walthamstow where we were on a visit, and the female spending just the day there, broodily on a garden fence, before accepting recapture, return to Oxford and release here. In the meanwhile she had laid a nice clutch of eggs. The experts on the Upper Thames Moths blog thought that they looked fertile; and so it proved.

I suspect that the catties were actually born on HM the Queen's 90th birthday yesterday, which is nice. We watched a bit of a TV programme about the Royals last night which had the young Princess Elizabeth talking rather touchingly about her ideal of service to what she called the 'Imperial family'. On that note, here is the Imperial family of my little brood:



...and Granny

A couple of newcomers for 2016

It was relatively warm last night and I expected more moths in the trap this morning than the half-dozen who decided to stay the night. Though small in number, they were interesting, with two newcomers for the year among them.

One is the handsome Early Grey in my top two pictures, a moth which naturally makes me think of tea. Earl Grey has played other roles in my life; I recall a time when I was doing daily battle against the 'grim, grey North' image but found myself staying after giving a talk in Newcastle upon Tyne in the Grey Hotel in Grey Street - all named after the tea man's tribe.

The other moth has exactly the sort of name I was doing battle with so far as the North of England is concerned: a Lead-coloured Drab.  Trent in Comments was tipping me off the other day to look out for this, and here it is above, duly arrived.  At least, I hope I've got my ID correct (from the wing shape). Trent will correct me, if not. Update: actually Dave Wilton on the ever-excellent Upper Thames Moths blog has got there first. I had forgotten that Lead-coloured Drabs have feathery antennae, so this is but a Clouded Drab. Just as much an 'old north' name though.

Other pleasant residents included the Powdered Quaker above and two cuddly Brindled Beauties, below.

Thursday 21 April 2016

The Deer Hunter

A brief non-mothy entry today. I spent the morning reconnoitring the last stages of the route for our local Beating of the Bounds (leaving Holy Cross church, Shipton-on-Cherwell, at 11am on May Day, Sunday 1 May, if you're anywhere near. I can supply more details through Comments).

Cameraman spotted. I'm off

There were only brief spells of weak sunshine and I didn't see any butterflies, nor did I set up any moths. But the local woodland down by the river Cherwell was full of deer and here are some pictures which I managed to snatch. Deer are quick to scram, very prudently, but I developed a technique of pretending that I hadn't seen them, slowly unzipping my camera case and raising the camera as unobtrusively as possible. And!

The scuts are a fine sight when the deer flee, bobbing up and down as they go

The results aren't brilliant and were mostly taken with the zoom well out. Luckily the camera has a built-in anti-wobble mechanism and I hope the pictures given an idea of the excitement of such large animals living wild on our doorstep - and many, many other UK doorsteps; deer were just as common where we lived on the edge of Leeds.

Wading through oilseed rape on last year's Beating of the Bounds

Tuesday 19 April 2016

Sunny days...

...are here again, hooray! And with them, the sap rising in the trees and plants, not to mention young lovers such as this pair of Small Tortoiseshells.

Actually 'young' may be a misnomer judging by the frayed state of the edge of the top insect's right hindwing. I suspect that this is a couple of oldies tempted out of hibernation and reliving the giddy days of their youth last autumn and late summer.

P and I followed them along a field edge on a reconnaissance for our second Beating of the Bounds walk which is due here on May Day. Also out enjoying the sun was a Peacock and a squadron of Brimstones, the latter based appropriately on the periphery of 'London' Oxford (aka Kidlington) Airport.

The moth trap initially appeared to be a fly trap, above, but on closer inspection proved to have a small but good selection of predictable arrivals for this time of the year. Here they are, below:

Common Quaker (I think)
Hebrew Character

Common Quaker

Powdered Quaker

Clouded Drab (I think)

Monday 18 April 2016

Shivery nights; fur coats helpful

The weather has turned glorious by day but remains chilly o'nights and that means that the real riches of Spring moths are yet to come. This is not unusual, and in previous years I have often delayed lighting the lamp until the very end of the month - which this year will mark the third anniversary of our move from Leeds. Time flies.

In spite of the cold, the regular modest snoozers in the eggboxes - Common Quakers and Hebrew Characters - were nonetheless joined last night by a nice pair of Brindled Beauties, shown in their fur coats above, and a completely zonked Pale Pinion, below.
Well, the famous surgeon Lord Moynihan had chubby fingers too - indeed they are commemorated by a cast of his hands at Leeds General Infirmary. Alas, I don't suppose I will ever get my wedding ring off, though symbolically that is nice.
Meanwhile, my Emperor Moth eggs remain quiescent. But that suits me at the moment as life is busy in other fields. Grandchildren, Beating the Bounds on Mayday, et al.

Saturday 16 April 2016

Brrrr! And Eeeek!

Here's looking at you, pal. In spite of snow this morning, the lamp attracted a decent number of moths last night including this Early Thorn, above and below, which must present an intimidating prospect to other insects. Its fine antennae complement its unusual habit, which I noted the other day, of folding its wings vertically like a butterfly.

This particular specimen is on the drab side for the species, which can come with tasteful orange shades, especially amongst the second brood which hatches from larvae produced by this Spring generation and emerges in late summer.This moth will have hatched recently after spending the winter as a chrysalis. I imagine it is less than impressed by the weather with which its young adult life has been blessed.

There is a scarce, dull greyish variant of the main species (Selenia dentaria) known as form harrisoni, but I don't think this one of those. I must check on who Harrison was and report back. Nice to immortalised in a modest way by a rare moth.

Also among the eggboxes, a Hebrew Character (above) and a meeting house-ful of Common Quakers, a couple of them shown below.