Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Mellow fruitfulness

It's much too early to be thinking of Autumn, especially as the heat of this exceptional Summer is apparently due to return after the current, very welcome hiatus of fresher weather and some soft, refreshing rain.

That said, the lovely Thorn moth in my first picture does have colours evocative of the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness etc.  More to the entomological point, which Thorn is it? There are so many on the go, but because of its resting position and violet band, I am going to opt for Purple Thorn.

Next, I was struck by the difference between the two Shuttle-shaped Darts at the top of the composite picture above. The lighter one is the male, the darker the female. Below them are a couple of Prominents who always have a family representative in the trap at the moment;  Iron to the left, Pebble to the right.

My second composite shows a couple of Willow Beauties, lovely delicate 'old lady' moths, the first accompanied by a nice, fresh Flame Carpet. On the bottom row is another irresistible Black Arches and - I think - a Common or Lesser Common Rustic with colouring rather similar to the rusty appearance of the Iron Prominent.

So to the continuing presence of hawk moths with the Poplar, top right, alongside a Common Plume - plume moths are very frequent visitors at the moment - a rather light Dark Arches and a Marbled Coronet, lovely moth. Plus a pretty pair below: another Willow Beauty on the transparent(ish) cowl beside a Lime-speck Pug.

Lastly, my granddaughter is currently into using dead ladybirds on her ever more interesting drawings and paintings of various members of the family. The trap is getting plenty at the moment, mostly the American sort whose invasion of the UK seems to be going all too well.

Monday, 30 July 2018

Shady spot

I tried a new and previously over-looked spot for the trap last night. It had the advantage of plentiful tree-shelter on an evening which started off quite rainy but grew dryer as the night set in. 

The first visitor I spotted was the Black Arches, above, resting quietly on our front gate. Inside the trap there was a another treat, albeit a tiny one, in the form of this Beautiful Plume micro Amblyptilia acanthadactyla (Linnaean names are like the Sri Lanakan ones on University Challenge which often need an extra-long nameboard).

Alongside it in the eggboxes was its plainer relative the Common Plume, below, and an itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny micro of the sort with which I seldom bother. I had a go at photographing it this time and I think that it is a mini-mini-chap or chapess called Phalonidia manniana.  But I definitely need to check that with Upper Thames Moths.

Finally, another challenge to my ID skills came in the form of this Carpety character below. A Red Carpet, I think, but another check is in order.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Each to their own

The trap's bulbholder is usually festooned with moths at this time of the year, perhaps because it is warmer than the eggboxes further below. The majority are usually Mother-of-Pearl micros as in the picture above, but look closely and you will see that a family of wasps have pegged out their own territory, on the metal screw attachment even closer to the bulb, the source of heat. They are a minor hazard in the eggboxes at the moment although generally too sleepy to get annoyed. Hornets keep putting in appearances too, causing me to act with extreme care.

Here's a different occupant of the bulbholder and one which only gave me one chance at a photo before flexing its battered wings and taking off with admirable agility and speed.  Although the picture is a bit blurred and the specimen so tatty, I am pretty sure that this is the attractive and attractively-named Maiden's Blush, as opposed to the larger and more angular - and more common - Bloodveins which were on the opposite side of the bowl - picture left.

We had prolonged rain for the first time in ages overnight but I had checked the forecast and snuggled the trap up against a hawthorn hedge. This and the remarkable efficiency of Mr and Mrs Robinson's simple rain shield kept the bulb, the trap and its occupants dry although their numbers were much smaller than of late. Smaller, but attractive as you can see below although I am having a senior moment in identifying the first two, distinctive as they may appear.  Help appreciated; but for now I will suggest an unusually dark Marbled Beauty and a Clouded Brindle (with a relative in the third picture plus a Marbled Minor and Gold Spot and my helpful thumb to give scale).

Next we have a Ruby Tiger showing as much of its vivid red body as they usually allow me to see and then a poplar Kitten (I think, but please correct me if it is a Sallow Kitten; both visit, and confuse, me.

And lastly, a trio of fluttery Carpety moths: a July Highflyer (do they fly high? I have yet to read an explanation for the name); a Common Carpet and a red Twin-spot Carpet which has sadly seen better days.

Saturday, 28 July 2018


When we ask our two-year-old grandson what we should say on meeting assorted other members of the family, he invariably replies: "Boo!"  That is what I think the very large beetle, above and below, was saying to me when I turned over an eggbox in the moth trap and found it clambering about.

I think that it may be a Great Diving Beetle which had made its way to my lamp from the nearby Oxford Canal. Its carapace was the most lovely shiny black, like the finish on japanned furniture.

Among the moths, it was good and unusual to get a prolonged view of this Ruby Tiger's hindwings which are usually kept closely hidden. The moth is extremely tatty and cannot have long to go in its short life, but it was energetic enough to first scuttle and then fly off.

Otherwise in the composites, here are - above clockwise from top left: Rosy Rustic, Shaded Broad-bar, Clouded Border and Marbled Beauty, and - below clockwise from top left: Straw Dot (on plant beside the trap), Blood-vein, Pyrausta purpuralis micro and (though I'm guessing here) Juniper Pug.

A quick diversion into butterflies next: the grandchildren's garden in Walthamstow gave me a lovely sighting, but no photo, of a Jersey Tiger, an immigrant moth making excellent progress in southern England, and later on this Holly Blue butterfly, skittering around the neighbour's wisteria which is enjoying a second flush of blooms.

Back home, another night's trapping brought me the moths below: clockwise from top left: a male Ringed China-mark micro (Parapoynx stratiotata), another of the same with fresher colouring, a Smnall Fan-footed Wave (I think) and a Scalloped Oak.

Then we have a Common Swift, a moth which will appear in ever-increasing numbers of the next few weeks I suspect, and a comatose Pine Hawk. There was a Poplar Hawk in another eggboxes and these big and lovely moths are enjoying a very extended season since the first came to see me in early May.

Finally, illustrating the continuing variety and large numbers of moths this lovely summer, my composite below shows, clockwise from top left: Tawny Speckled Pug, second generation Early Thorn, Marbled Beauty and Yellow Shell.

Monday, 23 July 2018

Butterfly walking

I found time at the weekend, amid many distractions, for a walk round the 'butterfly field', as I think of the gentle, five or six acre hillside beyond our house. It has generous field edges, a feature of this part of the world related, I think, to nature conservation subsidies. Wildly mixed tree-planting has also been done on three sides and the hedges are a tangly riot of plants.

The cereal crop is organically farmed too, which hasn't done it any favours in terms of the thistles, poppies and many other wildflowers growing amid the shoots of corn. But this too is excellent for the butterflies. And so of course is this Summer's endless sunshine.

The flaw in my arrangements is that I have no camera currently and so rely on my iPad with its excitingly cracked screen. The said sunlight makes it very uncertain for me what I am photographing. You should see me stabbing with a finger at the blurry image which I think is the butterfly, hoping to get it into focus. The insects don't stay long, either, unlike the drowsy moths of a morning in the trap. It must be rather pitiful seeing an ageing gent stalking a Common Blue for ages and ages. But sometimes the cherries all line up in a row, as with the lovely Brown Argus in my top picture.

My second lot of composites is rather less successful in focussing terms, so I will have to go back as soon as I can find time and creep about some more. I was pleased with my third picture, however. Just a Meadow Brown, but reasonably precise for me.

When I put the Brown Argus on Instagram, a friend commented that they had similarly been pursuing a Large White, one of the UK's commonest butterflies and the bane of allotmenteers because of its voracious caterpillars. The hunt was worth it because the 'Large' White turned out to be two Small Whites, vigorously mating while in flight.  I must have come close to a similar experience with the two Commas in the pictures to the left (sorry for blurring) and below. Can you see them at either end of the one below? They were undoubtedly out on  a date, but I discreetly left them to it.

We have some 30 species of butterfly here, none uncommon, and it is a delight to see so many of each type as well. My first composite shows a Ringlet, Small Copper and male Common Blue as well as the Meadow Brown; and my second, below, a Hedge Brown or Gatekeeper (very well-named as it confines itself to the edges of open fields), the Brown Argus again twice (top right and bottom left), a male Common Blue with folded wings in the bottom right corner and a female Common Blue (easy to muddle with the Brown Argus but with its orange upperwing spots less like arrowheads and its underwing pattern a different version of dots and dashes.

Sunday, 22 July 2018


Some friends came round to see the contents of the moth trap the other morning and we had a convivial time discussing the various arrivals, their habits and peculiarities. Most of the time, I spend my time with the moths on my own, which I enjoy, but it was good to hear other people's spontaneous reactions, the sort of questions they asked and the helpful observations they made.

It reminded me of my working days when I was on a job with a photographer and he or she would point out something which I had missed. But back with the moths, although we had a large and interesting catch, the usual thing happened of the most striking recent moth arriving a day later.

It was the Black Arches above, a consummate exercise in dazzle camouflage or 1960s op-art design which has the added attraction of a salmon pinkish body with black spots. This is almost always modestly covered but I enticed this one to spread its wings - not for long enough, sadly, for me to take a photo; and then it was up, off and away. 

I was luckier in August 2015 when I had a much more co-operative visitor and took the second lot of pictures which give a thorough, closer look.

By contrast with the Black Arches, the poor old Mouse Moth, above, drew the decorative short straw. Its coat is so funeral that you can hardly see the black buttons.  With it in the trap were the three Carpet moths, two Pugs and a pretty little Wave, below, which I will ID shortly (though even I know that the second pug is a Lime-speck). 

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Carefully does it

I am always cautious when I turn over the eggboxes while inspecting the trap, in case my pudgy fingers squash a little micro. But at the moment I am operating even more gingerly, after discovering the characters in my first two photographs.

They are hornets, insects of fearsome repute although these were too sleepy and light-dazed to pay me any attention. As with almost all animals, it is usually the case that they will not molest you unless they see you as a threat. This understandable concern may be a misreading of your intentions, however, for example if you trod on an adder which you had failed to see (and ten years ago, while photographing a Peacock butterfly in a Yorkshire fir plantation, I very nearly did put my hand on an adder - link here and photo, left). Hornets have an 'attack pheromone which mobilises all in a nest if a major attack is feared. So do treat them with caution.

Other arrivals included the Canary-shouldered Thorn, above and in my composite picture at the bottom of the post. At least even I can recognise this member of the family; but I must check my other recent Thorns with the experts at the Upper Thames Moths blog as they are notoriously easy for twerps such as myself to confuse. And below a very pretty male Small Scallop, I think, with below it the lovely micro Anania coronata (right) and a handsome Sallow Kitten.