Monday 27 August 2018

Pillow talk

I was having breakfast the other day when I looked up and saw on our sun umbrella (not much in use just now) the unmistakable grey unilateral triangle of a resting Red Underwing. This beautiful moth lifts the trapper's heart at the end of the summer, a time when much else in the eggboxes is small, brown and - to me at least - not very exciting.

Red Undwrings have visited the actual trap but they have a liking for sun umbrellas. The first I saw in this part of the world, back in August 2009 when we were down from Leeds for  weekend, was on a pub umbrella at Radcot Bridge. It was spotted by Penny who was also struck by the toning of its pink underwing with the brewery's branding colour (bottom left, above).

The underwing is your best hope of a photo which explains why the moth has its name. It stubbornly refuses to show its bright scarlet top petticoat when at rest and you have to be very quick to snatch a photo of it if and when you irritate the moth into giving you a quick flash. I tickled this one three times, in the manner of my granddaughter enticing a moth on to her finger, and each time it flew away, circled the umbrella and then came back to roost in the folds of material again. Its final resting place was too high for me to reach, so I left it in peace and went back to my kipper.

Earlier in the morning I had found this strange moth on my pillow, one with markings unlike anything in the Moth Bible. I wondered if it was something foreign or an aberration but on close inspection, I think that the effect of being squashed by me - which sadly may be what happened if it had snuggled on to my pyjamas when I was inspecting the trap - produced what appears to be wing scale loss, more or less identical on each wing. So I think it was a Carpet moth of some kind, but a Carpet Hoovered clean.

The orange and yellow Sallow moths are a sign of Autumn in the offing and they have come a little early this year. Here are a couple of Centre-barred Sallows, one in the trap and the other dozing nearby.  Two pictures also of one of my favourite small moths the Green Carpet, the top one from above and the bottom one from below, through the trap's transparent cowl on which it had found rest. I like it largely because green is not that common a colour in UK moths; so it's nice to follow the pictures with two of Light Emeralds, again one in the trap and the other close by, in our Romneyia poppy which has yet to give us any of its massive, floppy fried egg flowers this year because we didn't cut back its old wood last winter.

A quintet of grey and brown visitors here which I will identify for certain later because I need to go out and check this morning's trap shortly; but I am pretty sure that the top two are Flounced Rustics, bottom right a Square-spot Rustic, bottom middle a Lychnis and bottom left a White-point.

Next - sorry, I hope that I am not going on too long - here are two examples of that very multitudinous visitor the Mother of Pearl micro in an unusual resting position, showing the pointy forewing tips, photos which also illustrate how digital photography can change colours depending on the amount of light. Sadly this moth is in an unusual position because it has died although the lovely iridescence which gives the species its name is still evident. The photo bottom right shows a living example which was also in the trap, resting in the normal pose.

Three moths outside the trap now: the lovely, striking yellow of a Brimstone, a sleek Swallow Prominent and one I need to ID.  And finally three Carpets pretending to be butterflies and, in solitary glory, a little Common Plume.

Wednesday 22 August 2018

Old familiars and a new arrival

When you have run a light trap for ten years it is easy to get blase about common moths and regular arrivals. But then something about them catches your attention and you re-experience the thrill when you saw them for the first time.

The two Angle Shades, above, are a case in point. This is a very familiar rooster in the eggboxes and one of the commonest moths in requests I get from friends to identify a species they've found at their lighted window or snoozing in the curtains. Yet what a wonderful creature it is! That rakish shape, caused by the very unusual folding of the wings like umbrellas when the moth is at rest, is one of the wonders of the UK moth world.

By chance, I had the opportunity to photograph the Angle Shades in a different position, with its wings outstretched above,  and then with its spotted body from underneath, below, as there was a dead specimen in the trap along with the two live ones. Maybe it was the victim of a hornet which was hidden below an eggbox and gave me a sting - extremely small because I whipped my kind away and the hornet was drowsy, but a warning nevertheless.

The trap had some other delightful creatures inside; best of all was a new micro visitor, the Small China-mark, which completes a very attractive family for me.

Here she is - the female has the streaky brown and white forewings while the male goes for a very smart pure white with a single black dot. This distinction also applies in the Ringed China-mark but not in the best of them all, the Beautiful China-mark, shown third below with the final member of the family, the Brown China-mark featuring in my final picture for today.

And again, closer
Beautiful (to put it mildly)
and Brown

Sunday 19 August 2018

Sinister street

We've been away for a lovely week in west Wales, but before we left, my last night of trapping attracted this rather sinister visitor. Not only is he or she largely clad in black but the uniform includes what looks un-nervingly like a swastika.

I just had time before we left home to post this picture on the excellent Upper Thames Moths blog and its arch-guru Dave Wilton helpfully advised:  'Could be a dark Ancylosis oblitella which might even be a first for VC23 or else Pyla [Matilella] fusca which I suspect is more likely even though it is an uncommon species. The latter feeds on heather but none of the few Bucks records are from anywhere near heathland.' My conclusion from looking at his two alternatives is that my shady arrival was a Matilella fuscia, with our garden unusually like heathland because of the drought.  Here is a composite of all the pics I took of the moth, so that you can come to your own conclusions:

We didn't see many moths in Wales but I managed to get these two pictures below on our last night, when we discovered that our rented mud-and-thatch cottage had an outside light which I promptly turned on. I plan to spend the rest of the evening trying to ID them. The second picture is abysmally blurry and so may prevent any definite success; but the basic pattern on the wings looks very like the little chap in the third pic which landed on my pyjamas the night before we left for holiday. Indoors, meanwhile, note the evidence from the living room carpet, left, that we were not the cottage's only inhabitants.

We had better luck with butterflies - Smnall Tortoiseshell, Small Copper and Red Admiral - and a helpful dragonfly which stayed still long enough for me to get a relatively well-focussed picture:

And a cliff walk from Cumtydu proved that the local conservation authorities know what they are talking about: 

Finally, in Wales, I was shutting up shop for the night when I noticed this Setaceous Hebrew Character unflappably roosting below the latch. He or she remained unperturbed as I clicked things shut and shot the bolt across to keep out demons.

Back here, this morning's trap had this lovely lacewing, an insect so common that its delicate beauty may easily be overlooked:

Here it is again with a picture of two shiny red-and-black ladybirds snuggling up to a moth and one of my favourite annual visitors, a Peach Blossom.

Other overnighters included two Poplar Hawks, a moth doing specially well this year, and then in these three pictures below, loads of Setaceous Hebrew Characters, whose numbers have reached plague proportions, a Beautiful Plume and a Flounced Rustic, interestingly worn in some places but not others.

Finally, I took by chance a series of pics of that famously nervy moth the Copper Underwing, and here they are: getting flustered, all in a whirl and only finally - and very briefly - settling down in some sort of focus. I know how it feels...

Saturday 11 August 2018

Back in the long-ago

I haven't had the light trap out for a couple of nights because we have been busy with other things, but one of them has a bearing on moths. For the first time in many years, Penny and I had a convivial evening with a couple of brothers who went to school with me when we were all aged between seven and 13 - and were all fascinated by butterflies and moths.

Our discussions prompted me to sift through a pile of old letters to my parents, carefully kept by them and now a window on a distant world. I was one of those children sent miles away to board at the other side of the country; not what I wanted initially at the age of seven - hard to imagine - but wonderful in due course from the butterfly and moth point of view.

Herefordshire was much more richly endowed with interesting species than Leeds and the school, which had a strong Quaker influence, was keen to encourage pupils to follow hobbies, of which the study (and this days collection) of butterflies and moths was one. Instructed by a teacher known as Hopeless Sam, we roamed the Malvern Hills with our nets and killing bottles (I used to patronise our local chemists in Leeds with regular orders for what was called 'killing fluid', and developed a lifelong enthusiasm in the process.

Here are some extracts from reports home - first, an exciting event during a cricketr match, foreshadowing my recent breeding experiments with Emperor and Poplar Hawk moths:


There were regular inquiries about the welfare of my other menagerie, back at home, which my mother had selflessly agreed to manage; news of my brother's similar activities, and, of course, the traditional Nigel Molesworth request for presents:

The hobby also featured in jokes with schoolfriends:

And I was very pleased to get occasional expert recognition of my youthful activities:

John Armitage was a wonderful man, keeper of natural history at Leeds Museum, and an unfailing encourager of young enthusiasts. He also wrote syndicated newspaper coloumns about his field and I was ever so chuffed when this one appeared, referring to the mysterious 'Charlotta' in my final extract from the letters:

Nowadays, with fantastic and reasonably-priced cameras, we would be content to photograph such exciting discoveries. But I kept and 'set' mine and still have them. Here is Charlotta, above and below, with a standard Dark Green Fritillary to show the differences:

Friday 10 August 2018

August visitors

I mistakenly suggested the other day that a Balsam Carpet was a Red Twin-spot Carpet, though I did at least correct myself before anyone else was quick enough to do so. As if to rub the point home, two Red Twinspot Carpets flew in last night, flaunting the very obvious twin spots which give them their name. And which are completely absent from the Balsam.

Another moth I've turned a blind eye to recently is the Straw Underwing, although I don't altogether blame myself since they come in a confusingly wide range of background colours. The one above, for instance, pictured alongside a Setaceous Hebrew Character, is almost a capuccino compared to the darker brown which is closer to the norm. Here's what I mean in the next picture: the top moth is a more standard Straw Underwing, hanging out with a Common or Lesser Common Rustic, left, and a nice, bright Small Square-spot, I think.  Oh, and part of a Willow Beauty, bottom left.

I've mentioned before that I handle the eggboxes with care at the moment and the need for that continues. Every morning, there are at least five wasps in the eggboxes and most days for the past fortnight, there has been a hornet. Eek!

Meanwhile the trap is not the only place where moths are to be found. This Silver Y, below, made its way into our living room and took a fancy to a painting of Bowfell and the Crinkle Crags in the Lake District.

Now for some other early August arrivals: a Rustic, I think, a Chequered Fruit-tree Tortrix micro (aka Pandemis corylana) spotting light at the end of a tunnel, a Common or Lesser Common Rustic, the pretty little micro Pyrausta aurata, and three different Silver-ground Carpets, one pretending to be a butterfly.