Tuesday 30 July 2019

Two little kittens

The exceedingly pretty Kitten twins are about at the moment - the Sallow Kitten on the left and the Poplar Kitten on the right. Their caterpillars share the oddness of the Puss Moth larva which I featured here two posts ago - frightening little faces and a pair of whips on their tail to flick off parasitic ichneumon wasps. Their names indicate their foodplants, which are both abundant round here, and their colouring is just lovely. Welcome both!


With them in the eggboxes and on the transparent cowl were several examples of that deceptively modest moth, the Yellow-tail. Apparently virginal white on first look, with just a couple of little beige markings, it shoots up its concealed yellow tail when disturbed. Here we are:

Another composite photo follows of the very large micro Calamotropha paludella, so big that it can sometimes be confused with the Silky Wainscot macro moth. Its large palps give it away. The other micro looking at my camera with puzzlement is a Spindle Ermine.

And now a third and final composite; one of Carpet moths. These grateful insects are regulars in the trap from April to October and last night saw these - two Red Twin-spots, one much fresher than the other, and a Common.

Hwk moths are still flying in; two Elephants today and this heroically battered Poplar. As you can see, he was revving up to leave when I took my photo at about 7.15am. I was much-alarmed when he whirred off because the robin and blackbird which dog my trap examinations every morning where nearby. But he made it to safety.

Purely for their loveliness, here are some of the other 2-300 moths which overnighted here: a Gold Spot, which was as keen to go as the Poplar Hawk, next to one of scores of Mother-of-Pearl micros, and then a delightfully-patterned quartet - from top left clockwise: Dusky Sallow,  two slightly different Marbled Greens and a Marbled Beauty.

Sunday 28 July 2019

Travelling Tiger

While we were admiring the excellent caterpillars of Suffolk, the grandchildren got in touch from Walthamstow with entomological news of their own. "What is this moth, Grandpa?" they inquired in a message attached to the picture above.

I enlarged it as best I could and that was efficient enough to show - left - that it was a Jersey Tiger, a lovely bright creature which has long since expanded from its Channel Islands base and is now often seen in southern England, notably London.  The sighting rang a bell and, sure enough, I found that exactly a year ago, I wrote in a post here: '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.'  When I can find time, I must do some more comparisons between years; certainly, the occasional chances I get to look back and see what has come on a particular date in previous seasons, sow a consistent pattern.

The warm sunshine has meanwhile brought out the butterflies during the day and two of them, a Comma and fine new Peacock showed an interest in the moth trap:

There were lots of brown butterflies wafting about in the garden too, including this skipper - Small, I think - and a very nice Hedge Brown which had the good manners to open its wings and sunbathe, rather than clasping them tightly over its back as these types of butterfly often do.

Saturday 27 July 2019

Home again

Do moths fly in the rain? Definitely, including some whoppers like the very worn but still game Pine Hawk in my first picture.  On the left is the trap shining in mizzly drizzle. The little specks of light are whirling moths, just a few of the many which were around between 8.30pm when I turned it on and 10.30 when I turned it off for fear that the night of rain which was forecast (accurately, it turns out) might blow the bulb.
Here are some more pics of the rakish Pine Hawk followed by four different Ruby Tigers, one of the commonest moths in the eggboxes at the moment. 

Then we have what I think is my first Dun-bar of the year but it could just be an Angle-striped Sallow, an immigrant moth which I haven't recorded yet. It's followed by an impressive beetle which I initially mistook for a flat slug. And the tail-end Charlie is a lovely and well-named Marbled Beauty.

Friday 26 July 2019

Constable Country

Penny and I have been away for a week to celebrate our Ruby Wedding, staying in that delectable (and to us, relatively little-known) part of England known as Constable Country. Thanks to the National Trust, the settings of the painter's most famous works in the valley of the River Stour, which links Suffolk and Essex, are remarkably little-changed. Given my surname, it is perhaps unsurprising that I have always been fond of The Hay Wain - above. Below is my younger son's photograph of the same scene this week, complete with his somewhat abstract rendering of a wain.

The valley is rich in wildlife. While we baked ourselves in the sunshine on the terrace of Flatford Mill, overlooking the scenes above, a Red Admiral butterfly swooped down and a grass snake swam across the millpond, using exactly the same sinuous movements as it employs on land.

I couldn't take the moth trap because of all the other necessities we had to cram in the car, but in the warm weather, the grand old 17th century timber-frame house where we spent the week acted as a sort of super-trap on its own. Here are four moths which were dozing on the walls of our landing yesterday morning, after we left the window open and a light on.

From the top left, they are a very appropriate Ruby Tiger on the carpet, a delicate Least Carpet on the wall, a Smoky Wainscot - Wain again - on the carpet and the micro-moth Udea prunalis, back on the wall.

These were good to see but the greatest excitement of the holiday was a Puss Moth caterpillar in the final stages of its development, rushing to pupate when it was spotted and photographed by my younger son - second picture in the split photo below. Shortly afterwards, I saw the Lime Hawk Moth cattie shown immediately below, an exquisite pink beast with a bright blue horn on its tail.

The Lime Hawk's colour combo is genuinely startling, especially when you consider that the adult moth almost exactly replicates the greens and browns of military camouflage. Here are a couple of closer looks at that marvellous horn:

Cinnabar caterpillars are two-a-penny but I always enjoy photographing them - and seeing the blaze of ragwort which has successfully defied a misinformed campaign by horseowners to persuade landowners to root it out. Here are a couple of the plants acting as mobile restaurants, and another caterpillar enjoying the warmth of the sun-baked Suffolk roads. It's interesting that their warning colouration - for they are poisonous to birds - is the same as the combination of yellow and black used in nuclear radiation signs.

The grandchildren were with us some of the time and engaging vigorously with Nature, as ever, They caught and briefly kept as pets a number of small fish, which I'm glad to say were later repatriated into the cooling waters of the Stour.

Friday 19 July 2019

Not an Emperor, but purple enough

My cycling expedition to Bernwood Forest in the hope of seeing Purple Emperors was not successful - albeit rewarded by many lovely Silver-washed Fritillaries. But I am content with my own little Purple Emperors on the veg patch here: the tiny but beautifully-uniformed micro moth, Pyrausta purpuralis. Although micros have failed to ignite my passions, being so small and too numerous and often too similar for my ageing brain, my new iPhone camera has kindled a little enthusiasm.

In former days, for example, I would not have attempted a picture of the little scrap above; but the iPhone turns it into an exquisite mini-dragon, eye and 'beak' and all. It also gets close enough for me to hazard an ID - Chrysoteuchia culmella, I'm thinking.

There continue to be plenty of moths in the trap, most of them predictable, as well as a good number which prefer to slumber on neighbouring plants. Here for example are a Common Emerald and an August Thorn on my spuds and a Brimstone tucked away in the long grass.

Thursday 18 July 2019

Butterfly bush

We've been overnight at the grandchildren's in Walthamstow to celebrate Granny's birthday, and look who joined in the party. Penny was Chief Sub-editor of Cosmopolitan when we met and it's appropriate that 40 years later, our celebrations have been enhanced by a Comma.

It is an unmistakable butterfly in areas from which fritillaries are absent - ie nearly everywhere I regularly go - because it shares with them that almost luminous russet colouring. This distinguishes it from the equally vivid, but in rather different ways, Red Admirals, Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells which also flock to buddleias' honey-scented swags of blossom at this time of the year.

The comma on the underwing looks wonderfully deliberate, as does the marking on the species' American relative, the Question Mark butterfly - see left. I have expatiated on this before and on the other interesting episode from the Comma's history, the intensive collecting and breeding (an releasing and re-introducing) programme carried out in the 19th century by Emma Hutchinson, the wife of the vicar of Kimbolton in Herefordshire. 

The moths meanwhile continue numerous, last night including a further five Poplar Hawks. While hiding them from our very inquisitive robins and blackbirds, I got this unusually comprehensive picture of a Poplar Hawk, flattening itself against our garden wall - very different from their usual, curled-up and batlike position in the trap, as shown right:

On the inside wall of the trap's black plastic bowl - a terribly difficult background for photography because of digital 'reflection', there was a slightly unusual moth. After taking some poor snaps, I enticed it on to an eggbox, after much fluttering, and here it is: the Meal moth, one of the UK's biggest micros and, as its name suggests, a modest threat to Corn Flakes if it gets into your store cupboards. Appropriately, it appears to be reading the ingredients list on the eggbox.

Finally, we have the year's first Dusky Sallow, below, followed by a Slender Brindle , a Rosy Rustic and two little Least Carpets, a tiny, beautiful and only locally common moth. Both favoured the underside of the trap's transparent cowl, peeping upwards at the drizzle-bespattered morning (rain at last; the garden rejoices).