Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Phew, what a scorcher

My unsubtly punning headline today bears no reference to the Bank Holiday, although that had its scorching moments. No, it is penned in honour of one of my favourite moths: the Scorched Wing.

Named for the dark streaks which look as though the moth has gone too close to the proverbial flame, this species has some of the finest confusion or 'dazzle' camouflage in the moth world.

Like the more famous Peppered Moth, whose sprinkling of black dots and streaks on white presents the human eye with problems, the Scorched Wing's tightly banded, wavy marks de-focus lenses and even give the impression that the moth is on the move.  I have spent many happy hours trying to get a good 'static' photograph but I fear that this Holy Grail still eludes me.

Resting males curl up their bodies suggestively. The operational part is at the tip

I have managed to get some slightly unusual views today, however, because there was a Scorched Wing upside down in the dewy grass beside the trap this morning. When I rescued it, it furled its wings vertically, butterfly-style, allowing me a good look at their underside.

The Scorched Wing is only locally common but comes faithfully to my trap every year. It provided some entertainment for the grandchildren, who massively disrupted my life and the moths' over the weekend. Fortunately, the good Lord sent me some hawkmoths which the children love having on their fingers. The oldest was even content to allow a Maybug, terrifying-looking creatures although famously docile and entirely harmless, to crawl up her arm.

The sun brought out the butterflies too, including a newcomer for the year, this Painted Lady. On the way down to the river where we met the frog below, a handsome Speckled Wood fluttered about in the dappled shade.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Two on a hand

I can't resist spending time with the spectacular Hawk moths which arrive at this time of the year, though I doubt that I will beat last year's record of four on one hand and seven altogether - the Privet, Pine, Small Elephant, Elephant, Poplar, Eyed and Lime. So far, the last four have arrived and that is enough for me. I expect the Privet and Small Elephant to put in an appearance; the Pine is less certain but has called by on two of the four years that I have so far light-trapped here.

An agreeable thing about Hawks is that they sleep very soundly in the morning and consequently may be photographed without fear of their fluttering away like the little carpets and similar fragile and apparently more nervous moths. Here are some more pictures of the Eyed one, including its underwing with a saucy slash of pink.

Here's the Poplar Hawk and below it a Figure of 80, showing the reason for its name in the first picture and the fact that it could be known as the Figure of 08 in the second.

More on the Muslin Moth now; although I have rather banged on about it this year, I have completely failed to point out its natty yellow foreleg breeches which add a welcome splash of colour to its appearance. Veritably a Malvolio of moths!

Next we have a pretty little Clouded Silver, a Snout with its long, protruding palps and a strange, silvery-grey moth which I will present to the experts on the Upper Thames Moths Blog. Perhaps it is an unusually large micro.

We now have head-scratching time again; I will sort out the next two later.

And finally a moth which drew the straw's shorter end when it came to both appearance and name: the Turnip. Having said that, I find its curious wing patterns reminiscent of Egyptian hieroglyphics, especially that little eye, so maybe it has a message for us.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

On a dark day, a reminder of loveliness

It is impossible to be light-hearted so soon after the terrible terrorist attack in Manchester, but I agree very much with the city's Mayor, Andy Burnham, that it is important to show the deluded perpetrators of such atrocities that they will not affect our way of life, divide us or scare us. There is also some consolation in the fact that one of the UK's most beautiful insects visited me overnight and that I can show it as a reminder of the lovely things in the world: the Elephant Hawk Moth.

I have mentioned before, more than once, how the kindly curator of natural history at Leeds Museum, John Armitage, steered my brother and I to likely places for finding this moth's almost equally striking caterpillars - grey and 'eye' -ed in a way that accounts for the species' name. We duly discovered them in rosebay willowherb clumps beside the city's ring road, feeding in the shade on the lowest leaves, just as he had predicted.

The moth is common although, like most moths, seldom seen by those without a light trap. I always hope that one will come when we have children about. The grandchildren may be coming at the weekend, so here's hoping that the lovely weather holds and another Elephant comes to call.

It is a matter of bitter regret that the children killed in Manchester will not now enjoy such discoveries and spectacles from the natural world. But there is much more good in the world than evil and it needs to be celebrated and cherished. As Martin Luther King said, darkness cannot drive out the dark. That is lightness's job.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Light and shade

I was going to start with the moths today, as usual, but the weather has been so delectable that I cannot resist a few pictures of butterflies. These three were among a crowd of fluttering visitors, the other species being Small and Green-veined Whites. Luckily I have netted our brassicas, although I find it impossible to keep the little leaf-munchers out.

I was pleased to get the top picture of that lovely creature, the male Orange Tip, showing not juist its eponymous colouring which the female lacks, but the delicately-patterned hind underwing which is common to both sexes. Orange Tips are tremendously skittery and I've not been able to nab a decently focussed picture of one until today, through no lack of trying.

Lovely to stalk this Brimstone in a leisurely fashion too and I noted that the Holly Blue below zeroed in on two fragments of pottery and plastic in pretty much the same colour.  Mind you, it went for our Sweet Williams too, which are blooming early in common with a lot of other garden flowers this year. We have two terrific delphiniums in full fig, a whole month earlier than I would have expected.

So to the moths which are a commonplace group though none the worse for that. Two new-for-the-year species are the Coronet just below and then, after that, a couple of the very distinctive 'orange splodge' form of the Common Marbled Carpet, an extremely variable little moth. The second one has apparently had a hard life, although it will not have beebn one of more than a few weeks.

Finally, I've mentioned before the way that male Muslin moths always rest with their antennae out and raised. Here's further proof: a trio all in an apparent state of alert.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Variations on a greyish theme

I have spent many an hour defending the UK's moths against accusations that they are small and grey or brown, a travesty when applied to such delicate creatures as the Brimstone or vivid ones like the Elephant Hawk. But today shows that the critics can be strictly correct, at least so far as the colour goes.

That said, I hope that you will agree that the patterning shown on my first two moths is exquisite, even if the colours are in the sombre part of the spectrum. I think that the first moth is a Sycamore and the second a Poplar Gray but I may need to check with the Upper Thames Moths blog experts. (Or if you are passing and know, please give me your views).

No doubt about my third moth: the famous and often-discussed-here Peppered Moth and no prizes either for identifying the Poplar Hawk below. These lovely creatures are daily arrivals in the light trap at the moment but this one flashed his, usually hidden, maroon-blotched underwings at me and I couldn't resist taking a picture.

We now move on to a section which I will need to update later today as these types of moth - sadly somewhat small and grey-brown, confuse me greatly. 

Update: I think that this is a Common Rustic. Further update: no can't be; season wrong. Am checking with Upper Thames Moths blog. Final update with many thanks to Dave Wilton of the UTM: It's a Rustic Shoulder-knot.

Update: I think a Square-spot Rustic. Further update: sam objection applies, so checking this one too. Final update with many thanks again to Dave: It and the one below are both Small Square-spots, like the second moth down which, remarkably, I actually got right. I hope you can understand my incompetence, however, when you learn that these three moths are all the same species. 

Update: ditto, I think. Further update: AND this one. Perhaps it's an Ingrailed Clay?

Update: a Small Square-spot, I believe

But I can tell you confidently that the next one, below, is a Silver Y, one of the UK's most successful immigrant moths and the first of all moths that I remember seeing. They can be common and conspicuous when flying by day, darting about to sip nectar from blackberry bushes.

Then we have a Setaceous, meaning 'bristly', Hebrew Character which has started to replace its virtual namesake, the simple Hebrew Character, in the eggboxes.  I suspect but am not sure that the 'bristly' refers to some hidden characteristic, probably in the genitalia, which isn't explained in the First edition of the Moth Bible. When I take up P's morning tea, I will see if the third edition which she has given me for my birthday is more enlightening.

So to a couple of lighter and very attractive moths: a Silver-ground Carpet and. perched on my almost equally beautiful finger, a Common Wainscot.

I must be off now to clean my trainsers, ready for a capsize test, fortunately in a local, heated swimming pool.  After an interval of 50 years, I am taking up sculling again. Let's hope that this blog doesn't come to a premature, watery conclusion.