Friday 31 May 2019

Round and round

We've just had a very pleasant week in Sardinia where the wildflowers were still out, albeit fading, and the butterflies and moths were beginning to enjoy the warm weather too. Here are a couple of composite photos which I spent my idle, sunlit hours creating - circular dances by the Hummingbird Hawk moth which lived in the sprawling bougainvilleas at our hotel and by a courting couple of the Sardinian equivalent of the UK's Wall butterfly. Update - with thanks to Conehead54 in Comments: the 'Wall' is actually the Mediterranean form of our familiar and much less orange Speckled Wood. Sorry).

These impressive works of art were made from clips from the short films below which I hope will work on your computer or 'phone:

Another frequent visitor to our balcony was this Holly Blue, a very tenacious and adaptive species which is also common here in Oxfordshire's countryside and in the very different, urban streets of Walthamstow which it shares with our grandchildren.

And now here's the Wall (Speckled Wood rather) again. This one was safe - at least for the time being - in a hedge in the local town, unlike one of its unfortunate relations which was the subject of a riveting episode of animal drama. We were having a drink at a cafe when we heard a regular snapping sound which turned out to be the beak of a small, sparrow-like bird which was determinedly chasing another Wall (Speckled Wood, I mean) butterfly round the garden.

It would have been a useful lesson for any sentimentalist about animals - a small but striking example of their constant need to hunt and eat, and the inexorable working of the food chain. There was, sadly, no contest. The Wall (SW) jinked and skittered with admirable skill but ultimately the duel was akin to one between a modern jet fighter and a biplane. Here is all that was left of the butterfly after the final snap.

Later in the same day, I had an even more exciting example when a cormorant, single-mindedly fishing a few yards from where I was swimming in the sea, dived and went after a shoal of fishes like a rocket. Its lethal speed and skill underwater was an astonishing contrast to its slow progress, bobbing and dipping, when paddling on the surface. Sorry not to have photos or a film, which would have been striking, but I was mostly underwater at the time myself.

Sunday 19 May 2019

Damp lover

After yesterday's throng, a very sparsely-populated trap this morning; a few Muslins and Hebrew Characters, one Maybug and some sort of ichneumon wasp - and this: a pretty example of the common but beautifully-patterned and subtly-coloured Silver-ground Carpet moth. I nearly missed the picture as the insect was wide awake and fluttered twice round the trap as I carefully picked out the eggboxes. Luckily it settled for a brief photo before fluttering away and finding a roost in our beech hedge.  The Moth Bible says that it has a liking for damp places and, appropriately, the lawn this morning is sodden with a heavy dew.

The camera on my iPad Mini is not the best, and I am not the cleverest of photographers. But I hope that this picture has sufficient focus to make the close-up above worthwhile, Below, meanwhile, the wider view shows the little moth's size compared to an eggbox.

Saturday 18 May 2019

Happy Birthday

The moths have an excellent record of coming good on my birthday - today - and this year, it was a pleasure to welcome the year's first example of that lovely moth the Coronet, above and immediately below. It has the most wonderfully subtle shades of green; my favourite colour in UK moths given the almost complete absence of blue.

In the past, May 18 has often brought me an entirely new species and I was initially unable to recognise the tiny triangular scrap below. Some sort of very small Carpet? Or one of the rather rare Pinions?  I looked in vain through the Moth Bible and was on the verge of posting its picture on my unfailing fallback option, the Upper Thames Moths blog. 

But then I bethought myself: completely new species are a real rarity now that we have been in Oxfordshire for six summers. So I nipped back out to the trap, now stashed away from a pesky robin in our shed, for a further check. To my relief the moth was still there and it had also adopted a new resting position which cleared things up. 

Silly me! A micro-moth. Sure enough, their Bible revealed the little chap to be a Twenty Plume, which first came to me in Leeds in 2010 and then here in 2014 and later, including one occasion when the reason for its name was clearly shown when it fluttered on to the computer screen.  The same thing happened when I popped it briefly in a transparent box and photographed it against the light. Hard to believe the difference between the two views of the same insect - the one below and the ones above.  If you count the plumes, there are indeed ten on each side (plus two legs showing through the almost translucent wings)

There were plenty of other nice arrivals, as the weather warms up and Summer gets under way. My first composite below shows, clockwise from top left: Heart and Dart, Shuttle-shape Dart, the immigrant White-point (I think) and Early Grey.

Next come two Common Swifts and after them an assortment of micros, a pug and a carpet which I hope to return to later.

Then two contrasting colourways of that very familiar immigrant (and possibly now settler), the Silver Y and finally the topside and underwings of what I think is a Small Seraphim, plus that long-standing favourite of mine, a White Ermine.  

And just to end my Birthday News, here is a pic and a mini-film of an ant taking a dead fly home for tea in our greenhouse. Yuk! But impressive.

Friday 17 May 2019

Christmas colours

An early birthday present from my grandchildren had excellent results in the trap last night, including the vivid red and oily-black Cinnabar above and the handsome Lime Hawk seen with a Green Carpet below. Red and Green were always described as 'Christmas colours' by my children, notably when we were once driving along the Burley Road into Leeds in midsummer, and they were struck by the 'Christmas' combination of redbrick and trees in full leaf.

What was the present? Here it is in action, below - a string of battery-powered 'moth lights' which I strung out in a flowerbed to help to entice flying night-time visitors. Whether or not they liked it, I cannot say, but the effect was appealing to the human eye.

I had to be cautious with the eggboxes this morning as, along with a score of moths, they contained four fat wasps.  Here are some of the other moth arrivals: the year's first Setaceous Hebrew Character, pictured to the right of the standard Hebrew Character. And then a composite of, clockwise from top left: Treble Lines, Marbled Minor, Garden Carpet, Flame Shoulder and the large micro-moth, Garden Pebble. The last was very jittery and permitted only the one picture before fluttering away drunkenly, pausing twice very briefly on the lawn before vanishing into a nettle bed.

Finally, here's a pic of the Lime Hawk's underwing and a couple of composites, just to celebrate Christmas Colours once more:

Thursday 16 May 2019

Warming up

There are signs that the prolonged spell of cold nights - in between lovely May days - is coming to an end. At my age, I should have known better, but we prematurely planted some dwarf French beanlets and they have all been slain by frost. The trap has been sparse with one night, a week ago, when nothing at all flew in. But things were better this morning.

I can record the year's first Maybug, for example. There were actually four of them, including one with ineptly-furled wings which initially had me thinking that its antennae were at the wrong end. It was upside-down in the bargain, always an ungainly position for a Maybug. I set it upright and left it to puzzle out the always-impressive amount of information about eggs which comes with even standard eggboxes these days. Albeit, upside down, as the moth had been until I intervened.

The year's first White Ermine arrived as well, a common but lovely moth. I have a friend in Salisbury who hosts regular explorations by moth enthusiasts looking for the much rarer Water Ermine in the riverside meadows. Rarer it may be but it is not as beautiful. Last year, I gave her some White Ermine chrysalises and she reported delightedly last week that the first had hatched (second picture below).

Finally for today, the year's second visit from a Poplar Hawk took place and, as usual, I couldn't resist teasing it into displaying the maroon warning marks on its hindwings. A gentle nudge on the nose had the apparently soporific insect displaying them with lightning speed - a defensive reaction, I am sure, rather than a thought-out decision.

Saturday 11 May 2019

The Silk Road

The trees are in fresh green leaf and that means that I must start looking for a mulberry, so that I can take up my narrowboat neighbour's kind offer of some silkworm eggs. She has successfully reared a large brood since January, feeding them on a sort of concentrated mush supplied by an online silkworm business. They live in the cosy warmth of her main cabin which is usually heated by a solid fuel stove.

Above, you can see her collection of eggs from the moths she hatched after seeing them safely through the larva stage from eggs which were sent to her shortly after Christmas. A key member of our local Knit & Natter (in which I am the leader - and solitary member - of the men's section), she has ambitions to spin the cocoon silk into something wonderful and strange.

The small number of pale eggs in the picture are infertile ones, so there are plenty available for me to try following in her footsteps. At the moment, in contrast to their parents' cosy upbringing, they are living in her fridge to delay their hatching until people such as myself have suitable breeding arrangements ready.

Meanwhile, the seasons' current combination of garden preparation and moth pupation is turning up less exotic chrysalises, like the two rescued from our veg patch during a digging sesh this week. I also have a few Emperor moth coccons which are yet to hatch and Penny found the caterpillar shown above in a flowerpot. I hope that it too will soon pupate.

Cold weather has kept numbers down in the moth trap but the variety is gradually on the increase. The Pebble Prominent, top left above, is the only new arrival in the last week, accompnaied by returnees such as those shown - clockwise from top right, a Spectacle, a Waved Umber, A muslin and a second Spectacle, this time shown from above.

We have had another, different sort of flying visitor, however: the grand old Flying Scotsman came thundering through on a Bank Holiday excursion. She was two-and-a-half hours late but that suited our timetable for the grandchildren's tea. Mind you, a standard Cross Country service which came through at slow speed in the steam train's wake caused our three-year-old, vehicle-obsessed grandson just as much joy.  I hope the following film is viewable on your computer.

Friday 10 May 2019

Little and large

What with one thing and another (one thing being our granddaughter, the other our grandson), I am late in recording the year's first hawk moth appearance, above. This fine Poplar Hawk spent the night with us on Thursday/Friday last week, May 2nd/3rd, along with its tiny companion, the minuscule but very pretty Least Dark Arches. This is five nights earlier than last year, four nights earlier than 2017 and a full ten nights earlier than in 2016. Is this yet another tiny morsel to add to the growing concern about global warming?

Other arrivals just before and during the Bank Holiday weekend included the quartet above - from the top left clockwise; Frosted Green, Flame Shoulder, Shuttle-shape Dart and a battered Brindled Beauty. Below is the Malvolio of the moth world, the deceptively plain Muslin Moth whose magpie-striped legs reveal fine yellow breeches.

Finally, it was interesting to find a Campion in the eggboxes, a moth which is supposed to make its debut in late May. Another morsel, maybe?