Friday 30 September 2016

Autumn orange

It's easy to think, at this time of the year, that all the glories of the UK's moth realm are past and that little apart from a gradual wind-down remains before the effective end of the season in November. At least I find it so. Luckily, I took a post-holiday peek yesterday at the excellent Upper Thames Moths blog and was reminded how much beauty - and surprise - can come the moth-trappers' way in early to mid-Autumn.

Galvanised by this into lighting the trap last night, I was rewarded this morning by three lovely members of the 'oranges and lemons' Sallow family: the Barred Sallow at the top of this post, the Pink-barred Sallow in my second picture and the simple Sallow itself, below.

The Lunar Underwing is around in great numbers and all three of its colourways; here are a a grey one and a beige one below. Just the tawny one missing.

Then I think we have a trio of Beaded Chestnuts, although I get a bit unreliable with this sort of moth:

And finally, by far the most common moth in the trap at the moment is the stylish Black Rustic. A Darth Vader among moths, the species also has the habit of settling down on walls or foliage up to ten yards away from the trap. here are two which have found little niches in one of our house's rather primitive-looking walls.

Thursday 29 September 2016

Holiday moths

Sorry for the silence here but I've been away on holiday - a working holiday as Penny and I were there as Useful Grandparents. We had a week on Skiathos which we last visited 33 years ago. It's changed, inevitably, but the lovely beaches round Koukounaries have not been spoiled and the interior of the island is still mysterious and very green.

Very Riband Wavy

This looks like a Portland Riband Wave; very rare in the UK but widespread on the Continent

My moth investigations, encouraged as ever by our granddaughter, were mostly focussed on a number of outside lights fixed on whitewashed walls, which produced a handful of doing overnighters every morning. None of them are exactly riveting and the last one, above, is the good old Silver Y, star of this year's European Cup football final.  The best moth was scooting around by day - the Hummingbird Hawk shown in my first picture.

This is very like our micro Endotricha flammealis


A Wainscot of some kind?

A Garden Pebble methinks, or Continental relative thereof - with an ant providing a handy scale

I have never seen one of these at rest, apart from one in our greenhouse a couple of years ago which was not merely at rest but at Eternal Rest, hence its immobility. They are desperately hard to photograph, at least for an amateur like me. I just pointed the camera at the jasmine on which the moth was nectaring and clicked and clicked.

At least one picture wasn't too bad; and while Hummingbird-hunting, I cam across the pretty moth above, resting quietly on a leaf.  It has the look of a faded Continental relative of our Bloodvein. I'm also pleased with these butterfly pics below: a Lang's Short-tailed Blue, underside and top-wings, and a Painted Lady.

Other butterflies included the Small Copper below and a Wall whose wings on a beautiful day of glaring, hot sunshine did very funny things to my digital image.

And here are some Geranium Bronzes, a species so prolific on Skiathos that they rise like little scraps of flower petal as you brush through the maquis. This butterfly is that rarity, a new British species. First arriving in a nursery's consignment of geraniums from Spain or Portugal in 1997, it is now on the UK list although its ability to survive our winters is uncertain.

Finally, a 'looper' caterpillar which was spinning its way down from the jasmine when I interrupted its progress for a photograph. I tried to snap it in dangling situ but it never stopped oscillating from side to side, either because of the sea breezes or due to its mighty hauling and spinning efforts.

Friday 16 September 2016

Warming-up a dull day

Oh dear, the mornings are growing darker with distressing speed. But that does not mean that the moths are following suit. Here are two characters which greatly cheered me up this morning: a Ruby Tiger, above, showing off its fine front breeches, and that gallant old trouper, the Red Underwing, below.

The latter is the first I've had this year, a big moth and very impressive in flight. This one paused to allow me just the one photo and then powered off over our lawn and into the safety of an oak tree. It was a delight to watch it in flight, with the warning colouration of its underwings deterring any nearby, hungry birds.

Friday 9 September 2016

Warm but frosty

One of my favourite moths called last night for the first time this year: the Frosted Orange. Its colouring and pattern is wonderfully subtle and well-suited to its name; a mixture of the warmth of summer which is now beginning to give way to mellow autumn and chilly winter.

The Sallows are another signal of the changing seasons and share the orange which is a colour shared by summer and autumn. This cCentre-barred Sallow disdained the trap and chose to sleep instead on a metal window frame. It was a very conspicuous object to my human eye but not, apparently, to birds. It was still safely there this afternoon.

Finally, the second generation of Snouts are upon us, darker and smaller than their cousins who were here from June to early August. Pinocchio and Cyrano de Bergerac come to mind although the snout is actually the moth's palps, organs whose role involves touch and taste rather than smell.

Thursday 8 September 2016

Fringe on top

Another new arrival for me came a couple of nights ago - I'm sorry that I getting a bit indolent but that end-of-season feeling is creeping in.  It wasn't a new species but a form or variety of a species that I've never had before and moreover, one which the Moth Bible describes as 'rare'.

The trap had appeared to be dull as I sifted through the eggboxes, glancing wearily at hundreds of Large Yellow Underwings and Setaceous Hebrew Characters. There were one or two different moths but all them familiar: a Burnished Brass, a Brimstone moth and a Rosy Rustic.

But then I got on to the final phase of my checking, looking at the moths which had chosen the inner walls of the trap bowl to snooze on, rather than the eggboxes. Among them was a Treble-bar or Lesser Treble-bar, species which are very difficult to tell apart. And then, crouched on a plastic nut which forms some structural part of the bowl, there was the moth in my first two pictures today.

It was different from anything I've seen before; but a check with the Bible suggested that it must be the form fimbriata (fringed) of the Lesser Treble-bar. It chimed exactly with Richard Lewington's painting but because the text gave only two Oxfordshire records (1993 and 1999) I thought that I had better check with the experts on the Upper Thames Moths blog.

The prime one, Dave Wilton, unhesitatingly confirmed that I was right, and also gave me the 'fringed' translation of fimbriata, a term which also appears in Linnean names of a plant, a fish and the Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing.  His colleague Peter Hall chided me for not tempting the moth in my second picture on to a piece of glass, so that a check could be done of the end of its abdomen (home of the sexual equipment which so often defines moth species) to tell wither it was the T-b or the LT-b.

To be honest, I can't be bothered with such ways of sorting out species. Give me, any time, the approach of people such as the Dorset Moth Group whose excellent website says: 'Diagnostics include: inner dark 'bar' resembles flag and flag-pole rather than hockey-stick.' On that criterion, I would go for Lesser Treble-bar in this case. And be damned.

Saturday 3 September 2016


I am very pleased to have discovered another literary outing for woodlice, in Francesca Kaye's novel The Translation of the Bones. I won't spoil it for you but it is more lengthy and interesting than their cameo in Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Mrs Tittlemouse, even if unlikely to supercede that in fame.

I haven't got a woodlouse to show you this morning - although I could find hundreds within minutes, both under stones in the garden and in cracks in the masonry of our house. But the creature in my first picture got me thinking about them, because it is so peculiar.

My younger son found it on his shin while hiking in the Picos de Europa, magnificent mountains in northern Spain. At first, he thought that it was a scrap of dead grass, as I did when I saw the photo. In fact it is a youngish stick insect. Like most British children, he is well familiar with these from primary school. One of the poignant moments of our sons' childhood was being in a Bradford petshop at the same time as another child, who had been entrusted with his class's stick insects for the holidays and had let them escape. He and his mother were trying to buy lookalikes.

And so to moths, and I think that you will see the reason for the link: extreme spindliness. This is one of the T-shaped UK 'plume' micros but I cannot be considered to be a trustworthy guide as to which. Past experience and the very tightly furled wings lead me to suggest the Common Plume which has the unusually pleasant and comprehensible Linnaean name of Emmelina monodactyla (single-winged Emmeline). But I will leave it at that, except for a final, handsome moth.

This came on Thursday night: a Feathered Gothic, tucked among the hordes of drably familiar Large Yellow Underwings and Setaceous Hebrew Characters which currently have mass bookings of my eggbox cones. I had to tap it out which made it jittery and it flew-flopped on to the lawn. But after it had calmed down, I enticed it on to a finger and then the moth trap cowl, and here it is again, below, showing off the glorious antennae which identify it as a male.