Monday, 24 December 2018

Merry Christmas!

Christmas is a good time for reflections on the natural world with talk of birth, renewal and wonder in the air. Also in the air, to my surprise as Penny and I drove back in drizzle from the usual, delightfully anarchic Crib Service, were moths. No fewer than three caught in the car headlights.

So, for the first time in a month, I lit the lamp, even though I have only one eggbox at the moment, the others having been ruined by November's rain. Instead, I substituted an old sheet and on it, this morning, was a solitary Mottled Umber, my last moth of 2018.

The pics are below, but since the little moth's coloration has none of the colour of Christmas, I thought that I would give precedence to this lovely Small Tortoiseshell which was fluttering about in the kitchen, enjoying our central heating, a few days ago.  I hope that your holiday is as lovely and enjoyable. Merry Christmas and all warmest wishes for the New Year!

Oh and here's the Mottled Umber in the grey of dawn; not colourful but a dainty little caller.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Sombre day

Ben Sale of the excellent Herts Moths Blog is always a very welcome visitor in Comments here and his last, on my most recent post, was an example. He took a look at the rather sad, dead and unidentified moth which I featured on 4th November - and repeat above - and wondered if it might be something a little rare.

To whit, the Sombre Brocade, a moth from southern France and the Iberian peninsular which isn't even mentioned in my first edition (2003) of the Moth Bible.  It does, however, make an appearance in the current, third edition (2017) after making landfall in Guernesey in 2006 and arriving on the UK mainland in Dorset two years later. Since then, it has been recorded in Cornwall, Devon, Kent and London and is clearly one of an encouraging number of immigrant moths which are making visits, and perhaps a home, amongst us. And will not be discouraged by Brexit.

But is this one?  When I put the photos above on the unfailing helpful Upper Thames Moths blog, the experts Marc Botham and Dave Wilton reckoned that it was a Brindled Green, which struck me as right. At that stage, I had still not heard of the Sombre Brocade and so I was interested, when Ben introduced me to it and I went a-Googling, to find how similar the two moths are.

If you look at this interesting post from the Portland Bird Observatory in Dorset towards the end of September, you will see what I mean. And here, above, is their helpful picture of two 'standard' pictures of the Brindled Green and Sombre Brocade, together with a moth which was causing them a certain amount of ID headache, and which turned out to be an SB.

So I have copied their style and append two photos incorporating the forewings of my moth alongside the standards kindly provided by Portland, so that you can ponder and - if so inclined - pass your verdict on to me. However academic the exercise, because the moth is gone and its state and my photos almost certainly unacceptable for definite records, it will at least give you some sympathy for detectives, spies and others who have to puzzle for hours over grainy snapshots of CCTV images.

That's my hand in the background; how beautiful.  My own opinion still tends towards the Brindled Green, but don't let that influence you either way (seeing how I am almost aways wrong). Good luck!

Update: the experts on UTM all reckon that it is, or was, a Brindled Green, but also a useful reminder of the two moths' similarities. We will all have to keep a careful eye in September 2019.

Sunday, 11 November 2018


After a complete washout last night - driving rain and a supper engagement which meant that I couldn't put the trap out until midnight - I thought that I would just catch up with my backlog. I have a file on the desktop called 'Current Moths' and the word 'current' is beginning to turn into  misdescription.

This top picture, for example, dates back a month when the 'phone went soon after I'd taken up the early morning tea and it was our granddaughter in a state of high excitement. "Grandpa! Grandpa!" she almost squeaked, "the White Ermine has hatched!" Sure enough, this being FaceTime, she was holding the delicate white insect in her hand; a very late emergence of what was a third generation for that particular White Ermine family whose history you can revise here. 

I was slightly worried because I was due to take a box of White Ermine chrysalises from the same batch to a friend in Salisbury who is thinking of taking up trapping.  Would they all hatch in the same way, before I had the chance to pack and head off? Luckily, there have been no further hatchings since and the rest of the brood now face a long winter's sleep before they emerge in Salisbury and east London.

Nothing else very exciting to report; a handsome Heart and Dart above (Update - sorry, it's a Turnip, a good basic name for a good basic moth. Many thanks to Ben Sale in Comments for putting me right), a slightly blurred (sorry) Vestal below and one of those annoying grey species which I'll have to examine the moth Bible to pin down, maybe in front of the fire this evening.

Oh, and it's nice to show the underneath of a Merveille du Jour, that glorious moth whose beautiful top wings normally get all the publicity.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Warm spell

The weather in the UK is bouncing around more erratically than ever with icy days and nights followed by pleasant, mild spells, one of them under way at the moment. Penny and I are feeling particularly warm just now, having come in from a Mischief Night bonfire with added sparklers. It is interesting how even after a really cold snap which is slain our cosmos and brought all the walnut tree leaves down en masse, the sunshine can tempt out a Peacock - fluttering outside our dining room window at lunchtime, above and below.

The moth trap has attracted some nice visitors, too, notably this Sprawler below, in its fur coat. The moth supposedly gets its name from its caterpillar's habit of rearing up and then flopping back when alarmed. But I like to think of it as a clubbable gent of a moth, settling back in one of those leather armchairs with a cigar and a glass of something.

The Sprawler is a very active, jittery moth and this one scuttled about over the eggboxes for ages before deigning to hold still long enough for me to take an relatively unblurred picture. It never tried to take off, however, possibly through sleepiness and not yet having summoned up enough energy to use its wings. The way that moths have to do that, taking up to half-an-hour in the case of the Winter Moth on cold December and January nights, is shown by the Silver Y below. It was disturbed as I fumbled about with the eggboxes and is whirring its wings in the run-up to take-off, just in the way that aircraft used to do before releasing their brakes and heading down the runway.

More fur-coated gents now. There were six December Moths in the trap - first two pictures below - while on the lid, resembling the Sprawler but with a narrower, more rakish shape and more sharply curved trailing edges to its hindwings, there dozed a Blair's Shoulder-knot, increasingly also known as a Stone Pinion. It will be interesting to see if the latter name takes hold, leaving the famous Dr Blair (an entomologist who recorded new immigrant species on the Isle of Wight in the 1940s) with only the Blair's Mocha and Blair's Wainscot.

Other arrivals on quite a busy night included the Red-green Carpet below on the bulbholder's cone, a nice Feathered Thorn and a Yellow-line Quaker.

There was also the mystery (to me) moth below, already dead and possibly badly worn. I will enquire of the kindly gurus on the Upper Thames Moths blog. Update: in a Comment on my next post, Ben Sale interestingly suggests that this may not be a Brindled Green but the very similar, though much rarer, Sombre Brocade which is showing signs of spreading in the UK after first arriving in Guernesey in 2006. See my next post but one for more on this.

 Finally, we have been doing some hedgework and in the process found a lovely collection of birds' nests. The moss and dried-mud one is especially sweet, possibly the work of a chaffinch according to friends who know more about birds than me. I've always been led to believe that nests are not often re-used, so P and I felt justified in detaching these ones to show the grandchildren.  I guess that it's good in any event for each generation of birds to do their own building, to make sure that the skills do not die out.

Friday, 26 October 2018

Colours in the murk

Wet, cold and generally miz - why should any moth want to go flying on nights like these?  Dating and mating is the answer, I guess. And for the moth with any eye for beauty, there are a few lovely visitors still around.

Look at these three, for example.  At the top, two pictures of the same delightful Green-brindled Crescent, a frequenter of over-ripe blackberries - the ones which, according to my Mum, the Devil's got into.  Just above, a glowing Barred Sallow of the less frequent orange and purple form; the standard version is yellow and brown like a Welsh Rarebit. This species, too, has similar tastes to Beelzebub; hence, perhaps, its fire and brimstone colourway.  And, below, that trusty and appropriately marvellous regular at this time of the year, a Merveille du Jour. Not my marvellous pyjamas, too.

All these three were snoozing in the eggboxes this morning. Alongside them was the contrasting Plain Jane below, a moth which will take over the trap increasingly as Winter approaches. I am fairly sure that it is a male November moth, but the distinction between November, Pale November, Autumnal and Winter moths can be a nice one and I am notoriously unreliable when it comes to such things.

It was also a pleasure to find a Large Wainscot in the trap, my first this year although it has paid visits previously. This is a moth which goes out twice a night, firstly at dusk and secondly much later. He or she (probably the latter as it is mostly the female which visits light traps) will definitely be a late flyer because I did not put out the trap until after the ten o'clock news. All hail the third appearance in today's post of my vivid pyjamas.

Unlike these hardy moths, butterflies are tucked away in hedges and outbuildings during these chilly months, occasionally fluttering out for an hour or two if the sun warms things up. A typical example has decided to hibernate in our living room where turning on the table lights regularly misleads it into thinking that the sun has come out.  It's a Peacock, very common but also very lovely.

Saturday, 20 October 2018

Two moons

This post dates back a couple of weeks but has been slumbering unfinished in the Drafts file and then  got leap-frogged in my annual excitement at the arrival of the Merveilles du Jour. it doesn't concern particularly interesting moths so much as the effects or otherwise of their supposed navigational guiding light, the Moon.


Here is the said Moon, first of all in the morning at about 6am when it was still shining strongly and then during the previous evening when its glow, as you can see, was a worthy rival for the light trap. Moth experts continue to debate about the relationship between the two but in general, and certainly on this evening in particular, a larger moon meant a smaller number of residents in the eggboxes.   

Not that they weren't attractive, whether in the understated grace of the Willow Beauty, above, or the distinctive shape of Blair's Shoulder-knot below. I am repeating myself, for those who have followed me faithfully over the years, but this is one of no fewer than three moths named after a Dr Blair who retired from the entomology department at the Natural History Museum to the Isle of Wight. The latter is a well-known landfall for new additions to the UK list and he first recorded this moth there, and also Blair's Moch and Blair's Wainscot. Well done indeed!


Finally a non-moth overnighter. Who doesn't love a Daddy Longlegs?

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Simply marvellous

I have been busy with unmothy things lately and so am rather behind. Apologies for the longish gap. I can't help breaking my silence now because that glorious highlight of this time of the year has come calling: the wonderful-looking, wonderfully-named Merveille du Jour.

Not just one, either. TWO! A pair. And if only we still had some pears left on our espaliered fruit trees, I could have posed the lovely little things on one of those and made a small linguistic joke. But perhaps a rosy apple is lovelier.

This is not a rare moth and thus it serves as an ace example of the wonders which surround us if we only look. Admittedly, you will be lucky indeed to chance across an MduJ if you do not have a light trap. But now, at almost five in the afternoon, I could give you that chance. One of the two above is still snoozing on the apple tree. Its lichen camouflage is superbly well-suited.

They are not the only pretty moths around at the moment. Look at these: a Green-brindled Crescent and a Red-green Carpet:  

And as a poignant reminder of the transience of these creatures, which seldom live more than a few weeks, here's the sad but beautiful remains of a Red Admiral which shone out at me from the lawn this afternoon while I was weeding.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Brightening September

Still no return of the Hummingbird Hawk moth, as I make my way through the garden's weeds, but here's a nice Small Tortoiseshell to add to my autumn collection of butterfly colour. Unlike yesterday's Painted Lady, it was in very good condition, suggesting that the weather is still warm enough for hatching to go on.

Here it is from a distance on our hawthorn hedge, basking in the late afternoon sunshine which was genuinely warm, and then, below, a little closer. Small Tortoiseshells are nervy and extremely powerful flyers, jittering about amid long and muscular swoops, almost like a Scarlet Tiger or Large Yellow Underwing.

The moth trap meanwhile continues to serve up an interesting selection: a much less orange Large Ranunculus than the glorious one which came earlier in the week; a sinister Black Rustic showing its petticoat, a couple of custardy Sallows - Barred above and plain Sallow below -  a Lunar Underwing and a Depp-brown Dart, the last the unfortunate winner of this morning's Most Boring award.

And finally that elegant but nasty piece or work, an ichneumon wasp, a creature which likes to lay its eggs in live caterpillars. Yuk!