Sunday, 30 July 2017

Ear we go

Multiple arrivals of the same type of moth are very common at the moment, notably the over-sized micro Mother of Pearl which regularly numbers over 30 in the trap. These are notably jittery moths, given to resting on the inside of the transparent cowl and fluttering wildly when I trundle up and move it to the table to take out the eggboxes and photograph interesting inmates. This morning, there was a different and much more sleepy example: a score of Flame Shoulder moths, russety insects with tightly furled wings and a stripe and badge like insignia on a military uniform.
This is one of the relatively few moths which prompts a quip from the authors of the Moth Bible (not humourless types but doubtless under the publishers' cosh when it came to space for words). Their original comment 'Comes to light where it flies wildly and has an unfortunate habit of occasionally entering the ear of a moth recorder' has been supplemented in the Third Edition by 'On more than one occasion, this has necessitated a trip to hospital to remove the moth.' Goodness! I am glad to say that all the Flame Shoulders which I have encountered have been asleep, and I have left them that way.

 Other visitors included the Red Twin-spot Carpet above, the battered Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing below with an Iron Prominent,  Marbled Minor and Straw Underwing following that.

Finally, I have included as many of my fingers in the final picture as there are Flame Shoulders in the top one, along with a micro which I think is Cochylis dubitana but in the mini-world I am often wrong.

Friday, 28 July 2017


I got unnecessarily excited when I first saw this moth in the trap today. Its curious resting posture had me wondering whether it was some strange version of the Burnished Brass. It was only when I came inside and consulted the Moth Bible that I realised that it was an old (albeit infrequent) familiar: the wonderfully-named Coxcomb Prominent.

The word 'coxcomb' may take you back to Shakespeare lessons in school and reading aloud in rote such curious lines as 'Also be you, look you, an ass, a fool and a prating coxcomb' (from Henry V). Although used to describe someone vain and conceited, the word comes from a mediaeval jester's cap which had a strip across the top like the crest of a cockerel.

Ready for take-off

The moth's version of this is the pale-coloured quiff on the back of its head. It goes merrily with the curious horn of fur halfway along the back of the folded wings and the fan shape - usually serrated but a little battered in this specimen, which rounds things off. An excellent moth.

Another interesting arrival was the Dark Spectacle, above and below, a moth which I have not yet put on my records list.  Update: I have now. I am sure that I will have had one or more in the past because they are not uncommon, but it is very easy to mistake them for the ordinary Spectacle, which comes in large numbers. I think that I can be excused this oversight as the Moth Bible explains how the two species were for a long time known as one by the Linnaean name Abrostola triplasia. To my great delight, as an enthusiast for moths' wonderful English names as opposed to the challenging Latin, Greek and Graeco-Latin of Linnaeus & Co, the Bible says of the confusion over the two Spectacles: 'This can make the interpretation of records, especially older ones, difficult unless the English names, which have not changed, are used." Hurray!

Two other attractive moths with very different colouring but similar patterns - the double kidney-like marks and fan of jagged arrowheads at the base of the wings - which are found with many variations in many UK species. This leads to great confusion in the faltering ID section of my brain but I think that these two are a Dark Arches and um, well actually, I shall have to ask the experts at the Upper Thames Moths blog about the second one. Update: I haven't had to bother them because Dave Wilton's latest post on UTM, headed 'The next confusing species', convinces me that this is a Straw Underwing.

Lastly a nice red and black Burying Beetle, an unusual insect in that the males as well as females have a hand in childcare. Both parents dig a little nest - hence their name - and jointly nurture their larvae with regurgitated food.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Postman Poplar

One of the pleasures of running a moth trap is the chance which it gives to spread the word about this largely unseen part of UK wildlife. Newcomers to the subject are invariably astonished by the range, interest and colour of my small, nocturnal visitors. In turn, they pass on the news.

My latest victim has been our excellent postman Michael who has chatted to me on occasion about the eerie glow which he sees occasionally in the winter months, or the curious bowl-with-a-bulb which is often on the lawn on lighter mornings. This week, we finally had the chance to look at a few captures. The mail must get through on time, but Michael built in a few extra minutes to have a quick look.

I was very much hoping that the moths would oblige with something impressive and they came up trumps. Two fine-looking Poplar Hawks were examined by Michael and in turn examined him and his van. It was another small episode in the very interesting life of a postman about which I hope that he one day writes a book. There is seldom the time for a prolonged conversation but I have learned enough about his experiences - getting emergency aid for a haemophiliac badly cut in an accident at home, spotting an electrical fire in flats  at its early stages - to see how valuable these eyes and ears in our daily surroundings are, quite apart from the remarkable job of getting our post too and fro so quickly and efficiently.

The same applies to milkmen and women, a job I have always rather fancied because I like getting up early. Even in the limited realm of your own house or street, it is fascinating what you get to see when few if anyone else is around.  Including, of course, moths.

Keeping your eyes open for the unexpected at all times is good advice, as my final picture shows. In search of salad, I noticed this caterpillar on home-grown cauliflower florets in our fridge. It thus escaped adding a tiny tang to one of my signature dishes, cauliflower cheese. I am afraid that I do not know wat it is, but I will check out the Moth Bible and put 'cauliflower' and 'caterpillar' into Google.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017


Moths can fly, but I can float. I don't usually feature myself here after a lifetime of bylines etc; but I thought I'd just show that I am not a man with only one hobby. I am, admittedly, a little wobbly after taking up sculling again following an interval of half a century - yes, awful to say but true. But all's going well in spite of the amount of advice to take on board (legs first, elbows in, shoulders relaxed...) and I haven't yet fallen in.

Meanwhile, the trap continues to tick over. Nothing too spectacular but the Dark-barred Twin-spot Carpet, above, is daintily patterned and coloured. This is a moth which, although still rated as common, has declined severely in numbers in recent years. Let's wish it well.

Then we have a Nut-tree Tussock and finally, a series of pictures of the engaging Straw Dot, a very small macro-moth which has been coming in large numbers for a few weeks. I took these primarily to examine the difference in colours and strength of patterning, a very common feature within many species of UK moths. By contrast to the Dark-barred Twin-spot Carpet, the Straw Dot is prospering in the UK, according to the Moth Bible 'probably as a result of higher rainfall'.  I am glad that this suits somebody (other than the garden).

Tuesday, 25 July 2017


Hooray! A pug moth which even I can identify. As a rule, I find these little scraps of flying matter an impossible challenge, even since the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society kindly gave me a special book on UK pug moths in exchange for a talk. But this has to be the White-spotted Pug, wouldn't you agree? I will be plunged into despair if I am wrong.

It was attracted by the lamp which I placed in a rather unusual position after dramatic events two weeks ago when we were in London with the grandchildren. The usual scene of chaos at breakfast was interrupted by a 'phone call from our kindly neighbours saying that power lines had come down after heavy rain dislodged a tree branch in our garden. Said neighbours had been warned not to go to close to the exciting scene because of the presence of 11,000 suddenly liberated volts. I remember reading at university about the Marquess of Salisbury accidentally electrifying the dewy lawns at Hatfield House in the 1890s during the course of the amateur experiments in which he liked to indulge. Luckily that was not the case here.

Southern and Scottish Power were extremely efficient and we subsequently stripped the felled branches into a log pile and this temporary mountain of brash. I can't say that elevating the trap to its proud position on the summit obviously increased the number of moths in the eggboxes. But it looked impressive.

Here are some of the night's other visitors: the first Scalloped Oak of the year, above, and a Gold Spot or Lempke's Gold Spot below. I know the latter has featured here recently, but I can't resist them. Ditto with the Black Arches whose picture comes next, though I have the added excuse of comparing the slightly worn condition of this one with the pristine specimen which came here on Saturday night and whose photo is reproduced below the first one.

Lastly, a humble but beautiful Garden Carpet, and the most appealing of the six different types of the Common Rustic.

Sunday, 23 July 2017


I put the trap out last night but not with great optimism after an afternoon and early evening of continuous rain. We have a group of elderly people coming to tea later on (my latent baking skills have been revived with a rather crisp looking Cherry Madeira) and I'd like to show them a moth or two.

As I expected, the eggboxes were only thinly populated. The air in the garden was still moisty this morning and flying through it overnight, if you were moth-sized, would have been a damp experience. But there were sufficient nice things for my purpose, among them the Black Arches and Small Phoenix shown here.

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I admit that today's post may seem a bit of an advert for Burford Brown eggs - perhaps they would like to sponsor me. But I'm not very apologetic because both these moths chose the same box and anyway the eggs are extremely nice. More expensive but worth it for the treat. More to the point, and the reason for my headline, is that my tally of moth species in the garden here has now topped 400. Huzza!

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Class of 2017 (1)

It poured with rain last night (great for the garden and Community Allotments) but I woke up early this morning. With no trap to examine, I did a little good housekeeping and added 11 newcomers since the end of May to my records list.

Here they are as a reminder to myself that when I feel that I am getting repetitive in this tenth year of the blog - as indeed I too often am - there are still regular novelties and surprises.

The characters in the multiple picture are, left to right, row by row: Grey Pine Carpet, Double Lobed, Bordered Pug, Ethmia dodecea, Campion, Toadflax Pug, Brown Silver-line, Calamatropha paludella and Donacaula forficella.

My computer's Layout facility won't do a multiple of more than nine, so the remaining newcomers have glorious slots of their own below: the micro Agapeta zoegana and the macro Lattice Heath.

Looking forward to more!

Friday, 21 July 2017

Beauty indeed

All moths are welcome here, so far as I am concerned (and I think that I speak for Penny too, albeit with due deference). But some lift the heart in a special way and one such came this morning: the modestly-sized but glorious Bordered Beauty.

It is near in family to yesterday's equally lovely Maiden's Blush, so I am a happy moth enthusiast at the moment. Neither moth is rare but you will be lucky to see them unless you have dealings with a light trap. No wonder that enthusiasm for the hobby is growing, and with it the country's knowledge of our moths.

The other feature of today's arrivals was that quite a few of them elected to slumber near to the moth trap but outside it, among them the Yellowtail above and the Common Footman at the foot of this post. In between are two of the many slumberers in the eggboxes: an Engrailed (Update: sorry and many thanks to my Commentor below; it's a Willow Beauty. And here am I talking about an increase in knowledge of moths. I find these - and too many other categories of brown/grey types - persistently hard to distinguish. Ah, well...) and an Iron Prominent.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Local lattice

A new moth for the second post running - a delicate little visitor which perched on my rather less delicate finger in the 'Let's pretend I'm a butterfly' stance, with its wings folded vertically rather than open or flat in its back.

I couldn't tell its identity straight off and the Moth Bible shows very few underwings. But an evening's leisurely look at suspects led to me to the Latticed Heath - like my last post's Double Lobed a common moth but not one which I have recorded either here in Leeds.

It seems to have triggered a trend for would-be butterflies among my moths. This morning, the trap included the Common Carpet above (and with its wings spread out after I had tickled it, below) and what a think is a second CC in the second picture below. 

Here are some of my other visitors on a damp and slightly colder night: a Red Carpet, that beautiful and beautifully-named moth the Maiden's Blush alongside a Ruby Tiger, a sample of the hundreds (literally) of opalescent Mother of Pearl micros which are by far my commonest moth at present, and the delkicate, related micros, the Ringed China-mark or Parapoynx stratiotata and the Small China-mark or Cataclysta lemnata (I think, so far as the latter is concerned; can't see what else it could have been). I like that word Parapoynx.