Sunday 30 June 2019

Having his wicked way

Penny and I much enjoyed visiting the Felix Valloton exhibition which has just opened at the Royal Academy - a wonderful collection of paintings and woodcuts of 'disquiet', illustrating the hypocritcal sexual mores of the loatre 19th century Parisian bourgeoisie. This may seem a far cry from moths and butterflies but it came to mind immediately when I chanced on the courtship of two Small Tortoiseshell butterflies shown below.

Like the gents in Valloton's artwork, the male Small Tortoiseshell had only one thing on his mind and, working clockwise from top left, he went for it. The conditions in terms of sunshine, erotic warmth and a leafy, discreet retreat were ideal for his purpose. Elsewhere, during a blissful afternoon, there were too for mine.

Although this is a moths blog, I am a sucker for butterflies as much as anyone else and the wide borders and woodland adjacent to a big field of organic barley near our house are superb for butterfly hunting at the moment. Here are some of the results, before we get on to an equally rewarding, warm night of moth visitors to the light trap:

Small Skipper, with brown antennae which distinguish it for the layman from the very similar Essex Skipper with which it often flies.
Meadow Brown, probably the commonest species in this locality.
Small Skipper
Large Skipper
Essex Skipper, with black tips to its antennae. This species is so like the Small Skipper that they were  recorded together until 1889 when the Essex Skipper was recognised - the last British butterfly to be identified and named.
Damsel Fly
Battered female Common Blue
Ringlet underwing
Ringlet topwings
Green-veined White
Large Skipper topwings
Large Skipper underwing
In the trap, meanwhile, there were joys aplenty for our grandchildren who associated our house with moths and always expect to have an overnight haul willing to perch on their fingers in the morning. I'd say that one Privet Hawk, one Small Elephant and 11 Elephants is a pretty good total for two small  hands. The two Peppered Moths also look at home.

Other arrivals included the lovely Swallowtailed Moth below, along with the Tawny-barred Angle, an infrequent visitor, the small but striking micro Pseudargyrotoza convagarna and a Scarlet Tiger, somewhat careworn and zonked but very fine all the same. 

If only moths were this colour

One of the delights of Summer is the appearance of Common Blues on our local field edges, flying jewels which may be common but are also uncommonly lovely. We have the grandchildren here at the moment but I keep sneaking out to see if I can repeat with better focus the picture I got of one below with parts of its bottom wing almost irradiated by turquoise because of the way that they have caught the light.

I have often bemoaned the lack of blue in UK moths - only a couple have even a version of it - the common Small Angle Shades and the rare Clifden Nonpareil. The latter is becoming more frequent in our part of the world at the end of Summer and I live in hope that it will be my turn to see one with its hindwings' band of mauve this year. But, exciting though that would be, it is mauve and not the glorious blue of its humble but heavenly butterfly relative shown here. The deficiency must be something to do with the disadvantage of blue for night-flying insects though what these may be, and why blue helps a day-flying butterfly, I have yet to discover. On the latter point, the world's most famously colourful butterflies, the Morphos of South America, are all manner of exquisite blue. So is the most exciting butterfly that I have ever caught, Papilio Blumei, which I netted after a hectic and unforgettable chase in Sulawesi, Indonesia, many years ago.

These days I am happy to hunt with a camera, even though this is requires much more stealth and patience with lively butterflies than soporific moths. Here are some of the others about at the moment: an immigrant Painted Lady above, a species immediately distinguished from the wobbly, fluttering Ringlets and Meadow and Hedge Browns but the powerful flight which enables it come from southern Europe and even Africa on jetstream winds. And below the delicate Marbled White, Small Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral, along with a day-flying Cinnabar, bottom right, a sort of honorary butterfly though it is officially a moth.

Another in that line is the Scarlet Tiger below. At this time of year, when I get calls or emails about unusual local moths, I can be almost certain that they will be Scarlet Tigers. The name comes from their vivid red underwings which flash brightly in flight but are usually concealed, as in this picture, when the moth is at rest.

Now for some of the trap's contents in the last few days: below, a Light Arches neatly in an egg slot, the standard and much more common Dark Arches, a cigar-stub/twig Buff Tip from the side and head-on, and an Eyed Hawk with shot-up trailing edges to its wings like a fighter plane which has had a rough time in a dogfight.

Then we have an intruder: a neat little Yellow Shell which preferred our porch to the trap and remained there undisturbed all the following day.

Finally, we have one of the few micros of which I am fond, the Green Oak Tortrix whose green is both vivid and an unmistakable way of ID-ing this member of an otherwise peskily difficult tribe. Then there is a Light Brocade (I think) and a Common Wainscot whose slightly oddly-coloured 'shoulders' are a result, I suspect, of digital photography's ways with light. Bringing up the rear are a dark form of the Marbled Minor and a couple of examples of that graceful, delicate, fluttery moth, the Mottled Beauty. 

Monday 24 June 2019

Red petticoats

Another good night for hawk moths which are wonderfully abundant in this part of the world. The Eyed Hawk, above, had chosen a nice warm spot below the trap's bulb, while in the eggboxes was the Poplar Hawk below, along with both Elephants, standard and Small.

After my streaky White Ermine, here's a micro version; the Thistle Ermine, a great burrower into plants stems when a caterpillar.

Next, with its distinctively close wing-furl, comes a Heart and Club - I am fairly sure - and after that, the year's first Buff Arches, a delightful moth with its Arabic calligraphy in lovely swirls.

Now for an unassuming micro, which I will try to ID later, and then one of many Cinnabars which flutter picturesquely around the garden and adjacent fields by day as well as at night. They usually hide their red petticoats but this one was generously prepared to flaunt them.