Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Something new

It's quite an event for me to get a new moth these days. Immediately after our move from Leeds there were plenty to add to the list, but three years on they are few and far between.

Especially when I am not the brightest button at recognising them. This example makes the point. When it arrived on the night of 6 June I thought that it was a Smokey Wainscot, a moth which I like for both its name and appearance, and that was how I left it on the blog.

Then step forward a couple of kindly commentors. No, they said, this is an Obscure Wainscot, and they were right. Excellent! An even better name with an equally fine combination of shades and patterns on its wings. It's also a relatively uncommon moths, so joy all round. Now we just need Parliament to remind us that we are a representative democracy and throw out the dreadful and damaging referendum.

Anti-democratic? Not a bit of it. Clem Attlee described referenda as "a device for dictators and demagogues." They are banned in Germany, for very good historical reasons.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Life goes on

We're still trying to work out what the UK has done to itself with the vote on Thursday to leave the European Union. It'a always best to be positive and no doubt we will muddle through, but it is hard to think of worse examples in my lifetime of a self-inflicted political wound.

So let us take solace in moths and - initially - butterflies, for there are many of these about when the sun comes out to shine. The one I've featured today is a Meadow Brown nectaring on Love-in-the-Mist. Butterflies are much less easy to photograph than moths, being skittish and wary, but the Meadow Brown is helpfully territorial. Instead of chasing it, you can wait patiently for it to come looping back to where you first saw it.

This habit was recorded many years ago by the late Professor Edmund Ford who recalls a detailed survey of colony which confined itself to a small area in his great book Butterflies, the first of Collins' famous New Naturalist series. Meanwhile, while the Referendum votes were being counted, I went to great lengths to place the moth trap in an unusual position: 15 feet off the ground on the roof of our shed.

The results were, like those of the Referendum, disappointing. The best of a modest clutch was the Muslin Footman, a moth which is only locally common but I'm clearly in one of its hotspots.  There have been several in the eggboxes for most nights in late June over the last three years and 2016 is proving no exception. It bears no relation to the main tribe of footman moths, with their slender capsule shape enclosed in neat wings like a footman's coat. Its distinction is a set of slightly transparent wings which give it a blurred appearance - in common with much that I look at these days.

Finally, we have reached the time of the year when you set up the orangey flutter of Shaded Broad-bars walking round the local field. Above is one which I tracked down to its leafy refuge in a hedge. And below, a rather more crumpled one, captured in a friend's flat cap.

Thursday, 23 June 2016


You will hardly need reminding that today has been an important one for Britain. But a moth blog is probably not the place to add another little chirrup on a subject which has been so thoroughly aired. Suffice it to say that I am a firm supporter of remaining in - and reforming - the European Union. I also regret that appealing to the worst side in all of us has obscured the reputable arguments on the side of Leave.

Whatever, it has at least been a memorable day for my moths and natural history more widely. Look at these lovely creatures on one of our delphiniums: a Small Elephant Hawk and (bottom moth, warming up for escape in the second picture) an Elephant Hawk. The latter also features in the third picture, keeping its beady eye on Referendum voters.

And here they both are again, along with one of two Poplar Hawks which also visited the trap.

Meanwhile, on the walk across a couple of fields to the Polling Station, Penny and I were delighted to find the first Bee Orchids of the year growing in wonderful profusion. They included a single specimen bursting with flower buds; in my previous experience, three or four have been the most one could expect.

Appropriately, the moth trap also came up with the Bee Moth, one of the UK's largest micros - you can see from my picture that it is almost as long as the nearby, dozing Heart and Dart macro moth. The Bee Moth is a fascinating creature whose name comes from its larva's habit of living in bees' nests, feeding off old cells, detritus and sometimes live young. All the time, unmolested by the adult bees.

Here are some of the eggboxes' other Referendum Day residents; an interesting bunch but somewhat outdone by the stars above:

Small Emerald with its lovely green fading to a washed-out light cream, as sadly happens. Update: Many thanks to my commentor for correcting me. This is a faded Light Emerald, sorry.

Riband Wave

One of the Pugs but I know not which

Dark Arches
Light Arches, a lovely moth
Bordered White - one of a small number of UK moths which appear to think that they are butterflies, at least in terms of resting with their wings folded like this, rather than outspread or horizontally over their backs

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Midsummer madness

Well, it's been a memorable Midsummer Night and Day this year, starting with four hawkmoths on my hand (and there was another Eyed as well) and going on to embrace some lovely butterflies, orchids and even a kingfisher.

Here's the latter, perched on the ridge of our outhouse roof, up which it was clambering when I spotted it from our bedroom. What on earth could that flash of iridescent blue be? Surely not? But yes, it was. The first we've ever had in the garden (though they can be seen on the nearby river Cherwell and the canal). Sorry it's an awful pic taken from quite a way away with my iPad on maximum enlargement. But you can just see the blue.

The wooded verge of our local 'big field' has also entered on its period of summer glory; in a half-hour meander, I stalked these Marbled White and Common Blue butterflies and found the Pyramidal and Common Spotted Orchids shown above.

Happy times!  Here are some hawk moth pics to end the day:

I love the streamlined Pine Hawk, a moth we never saw in Leeds

Here it is again with its jet-plane sweep of wing

One of two Eyed Hawks in the trap, revving up for escape

And those whoppers,  the Privet Hawks. I am siting the trap in our potato patch in the hope of attracting a Death's Head next

Monday, 20 June 2016

Little people

The Longhorn family of micros are an odd-looking lot. I've often rhapsodised about antennae as the one adornment of moths not shared by humans (apart from wings, natch). But I don't think I'd really want to tackle the rush hour or go round the supermarket on Fridays with a pair like these.

Watching this particular Longhorn whizzing around the floor of the trap, apparently unwilling to take off, only added to my doubts. I am pretty sure that it is Nematapogon metaxella because of its markings.  

Talking of wobbly IDs, I have built up a bit of a queue of micro-moths waiting to be named and rather than keep it to myself, I'll post it now and if any expert is passing, help would be much appreciated. Otherwise, I will gradually track them down as time allows.

Phtheochroa rugosana (what a name...try saying it)

Hedya pruniana - Plum Tortrix (We have a plum tree)
And again
Agapeta hamana
Ancylis badiana
Callisto denticulella (I think)
Udea olivalis
Aphelia paleana - Timothy Tortrix (I think)
Hofmannophila pseudospretella - Brown house-moth. A bit of a baddie as its diet includes wool, fur and even books
Epiphyas postvittana - Light Brown Apple moth

Fingers crossed that they're not all wrong.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

What's in a name?

One of my favourite moths arrived last night, but it's one whose name has always seemed demeaning. The Blotched Emerald does indeed have distinctive areas of of fawn and white on its shapely wings with their chequerboard fringe, but surely we could think of a nicer word than 'blotch'.

In some of my schooldays, the word meant a bungle, and this moth's colopuring and pattern is anything but bungled. Like all Emeralds, though, the beautiful green fades with age - and with storage in the cork-lined cabinets of pinned butterflies and moths which old-fashioned collectors used to use.

It's a 'local' moth, not everywhere abundant, and we never saw one in Leeds. I used half the photo in my first pic as the black of the trap's bulbholder, on which the moth was snoozing, messes up the camera's focus and only this half was reasonably precise. I tried to tempt the Emerald to somewhere easier but no sooner had my scrap of eggbox tickled its forfeet, than it skittered off to the safetly of a nearby hedge.

Three regulars both here and in Leeds also turned up last night, adding their finery and delicate beauty to the overnight guests. They are below: a Burnished Brass form juncta, a Silver-ground Carpet and a Garden Carpet.

Saturday, 18 June 2016


The Snout moth is one of the peculiarities of the year's regular round. No need, I think, to explain its name; those palps - a form of sensor as distinctive to insects as antennae - are the finest you'll see on the wing in the UK.

Topping that, its also has a V-bomber shape when at rest which gives it a formidable appearance, down to the neatly curved tips of the forewings. The banded patterning meanwhile makes for useful camouflage on tree trunks, fences and the like.

Another new arrival for the year is this Turnip moth - I am fairly sure -with its rather complex take on the familiar 'heart and dart/club' design of many smallish, brown/grey moths' wings. Its caterpillars are part of country lore under their nickname of 'cutworms' - and apt description of what they do to the roots of carrots, turnips and other crops which, luckily, we are not growing this year. 

Welcome too to the first of the year's Large Yellow Underwings, a species so plentiful in Leeds that I often wished they could find somewhere else.  It is cuddling up to a Marbled Minor or Lesser Marbled Minor, species which need microscopic work to tell them apart.

The Wainscots are an appealing family and I specially like the Smokey Wainscots, shown here with its dusty lines on the creamy background. That sort of pattern which has Penny instinctively reaching for the Hoover.

It's something of a star in my book but the Common Wainscot shown below deserves the thumbs-up I'm giving it too. The name for this pretty group of moths comes from 18th century entomologists' opinion that the look resembles delicately carved wooden panelling, painted a tasteful Farrow & Ball pastel shade.

Now for some carpets, of the mothy rather than decorating kind: a Silver-ground if I am not mistaken, followed by a Common Marbled, one of the larger of the brethren and noted for the variation in its patterns. This type, with its large splodge of bronze, is my favourite, if only because it is highly recognisable. Even to me.

Next we have a Poplar Grey, a very natty moth, and then I hope that you will forgive me indulging myself with some pictures of Ermines, Buff and White, which are among my favourite UK moths. The middle picture nicely shows the two of the main types of patterning in the rather variable Buff, one with a pronounced row of black dots and the other less heavily sprinkled.

More indulgence, below, with another of my top visitors, the Spectacle moth, peering at one of the millions of immigrant Diamond-backed micros which have come to the UK this months. And I couldn't resist the contortions of the Poplar Hawk below it, like someone playing Twister.

Finally, in this rather lengthy catch-up - sorry - after grandchild mayhem, we have an immigrant Silver Y and a delicate newcomer for this year, the Mottled Beauty.

And finally, finally, lastly, I think that these little specks are moth eggs (in a the apt setting of a swanky eggbox) rather than poo. But I couldn't cope with the combination of the grandchildren and trying to puzzle things out further, so I tipped them discreetly on to various pieces of herbage where I hope that they flourish (or nourish by decomposing, if they are poo after all).