Tuesday, 31 March 2020

One in the hand

Yesterday was too chilly for the butterflies to be about and, like much of the nation in the virus lockdown, Penny and I were busy gardening. But the combination gave me my best photo yet of a Peacock, a species which is so skittish and on the alert when flying in warm sunshine.

I fetched the wheelbarrow which was upturned on a pile of weeded brambles and ivy and, shortly afterwards, notice a familiar traingle in the bottom of the barrow. It was a Peacock roosting in the chill and, goodness, was it difficult to wake!

After prolonged if gentle prodding, it finally opened its wings - clearly using its protective reflex as it was far too torpid to attempt to fly. The effect of the wings flashing open to reveal their bright eyes is certainly startling; even at my great age and with much experience of such things, it gave me a small start, as well as great pleasure.  I wonder how many Peacocks escape doom by frightening off predators in this way. One da, perhaps, I will see the process in action for real; or maybe find an example of it on the net.

The butterfly remained completely passive but, luckily for photography, kept its wings open as I tempted it on to my fingers. There it stayed, until I deposited it gently into the shelter of some long grass and scrub.

Monday, 30 March 2020


The moth trap light bulb has died, so activities will cease for a while - not that they have been exactly strenuous with the run of very cold nights. Impressively, the various moth trap-supplying firms are continuing business online, but in the long-term, the issue of mercury vapour bulbs is problematic.

As the website of Anglian Lepidopterist Supplies, one of the main specialists, explains:

Most of the remaining bulbs also seem to have screw threads, whereas my ancient Robinson trap has a three-pin bayonet fitting. I think I've sourced a new bulb but, as it happens, I have two unused screw bulbs in storage, one of them shown left with the newly defunct bayonet one. So if anyone handy in these matters is passing by and reading this, I'd be grateful for any tips on converting my system. I guess I need to find a new bulbholder with a screw thread to link up to the wire shown right.

Meanwhile, you may like to see how much rubbish - quite a lot of it insect-based by the look of it, -accumulates in the base of a bulbholder whose owner has not cleaned it out for 12 years:

Now that I have cleaned it, I will give the bulb one last try but I doubt, sadly, that the fluff and bits of wing and leg will have stopped the power getting through.  As a consolation, and a relief from the virus misery, the Spring countryside is fantastic at the moment. Here are blackthorn, violets and cowslips which Penny and I saw on a very ordinary footpath near us yesterday. 

Back home, we are very much enjoying the spate of witty internet posts on what to do at home during the lockdown. There is a brilliant one in which people create their own twist on Old Master paintings, while this is a guide to mountain-climbing using your stairs - apologies if you live in a bungalow:

With our holiday plans completely wrecked, like so many other people's, one of our sons also kindly emailed these suggestions for tourism at home:

And finally, here is a little brain gym for you, to keep the grey cells alert:

Warmly wishing everyone the best in keeping safe and well during  these difficult times.

Friday, 27 March 2020

Cheering sight

Nothing terribly exciting or unusual here but at last my skittish butterfly visitors paused long enough for me to get these half-decent pictures.  The week of brilliantly sunny and warm days has been a tonic, especially in the context of the virus restrictions; and a reminder of how lovely our common butterflies, like the Small Tortoiseshell, Brimstone and Peacock shown here, are.

Moths are another matter so long as the clear skies bring such frosty nights, but we can hope for better before long.  I hope that you and yours are meanwhile keeping safe, snug and well.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020


In Spring, a young Brimstone's fancy...  For the last two days, I've enjoyed the sight of the lemon and custardy butterflies darting rapidly about. Yesterday, they got down to business. With Spring bursting out all over, this pair were whirling about together over our burgeoning rhubarb in the sunshine before disappearing into the discreeter dappled shade of our neighbour's black walnut grove. A cheering sight!

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Butterfly sun

It was as warm as summertime yesterday afternoon, which is a major consolation for the troubled times we're living through. The butterflies duly responded; after Sunday's first sighting of a couple of Brimstones in the Chilterns, we had our debut of that lovely species here. Powerful flyers, Brimstones seldom settle for long and so my pictures are blurry and snatched. But a lovely sight nonetheless.

A peacock was also swooping about, exercising its wings after hibernation. My series of pictures was taken as I crept up on it in the vegetable garden, which is being weeded and tilled as seldom before. But I couldn't get close enough for a big, crisp shot. I think the insect's eyes sense movement and shadow with great sensitivity.

Nights are contrasting chilly with the largely clear skies and we have had quite heavy frosts since Friday. The moth trap therefore remains indoors, as we now have to rather too much of the time.

Monday, 23 March 2020

The butter-coloured fly

I put the trap out on Friday night and woke up to find the garden rhimed with frost. Not a soul had slept in the eggboxes. It is interesting how cold stops flying at this time of year.

Yesterday in the daytime was another matter on in beautifully warm sunlight on the Chiltern hills, Penny and I saw our first butterflies of 2020, apart from the occasional hibernator such as the Peacock which enlivened morning service at church three weeks ago.

Both were Brimstones, the first in the churchyard at Nettlebed and the second amid the trees of the Warburg nature reserve, a woody dry valley which boasts no fewer than 15 species of wild orchid. The familiar yellow species with its smart, slightly-hooked wings, is a favourite suspect for the etymology of the word 'butterfly' - first in the season and therefore a matter of note, and butter-coloured (although the male is actually more lemony).

Let's hope that they were a good omen. But in any event, we had a lovely walk - pic above - and were pleased to see the countryside fuller of ramblers than usual, no doubt because of all the other current virus restrictions on daily life.

Saturday, 14 March 2020

First big party

It's cheering this morning, amid all the gloomy virus news, to report the year's first large gathering of moths in the light trap. Just as the Government moves to ban big gatherings of people, the moths are gaily getting together. Here are the four species which came last night.

Heading this post are Hebrew Characters, all of the three which flew in on a warm night but one with brief but, by the look of it, quite heavy rain which turned the top moth's oak leaf into a little boat. Then below we have one of six Clouded Drabs which were in the eggboxes above a couple of Small Quakers, of which there were seven.

Next, another Clouded Drab which has been in some sort of scrap with either a bird, a bat or a thornbush, and below that a third Clouded Drab on the right and a Common Quaker - one of 15 in the trap - on the left.

Finally, the most interesting new arrival, for me at least: three Twin-spotted Quakers in three different colourways, the ones at the bottom with a Small Quaker (left) and Common Quaker (right). I can't say that this is my favourite time of the year for moths, seeing as how I really go for the bright and colourful ones, but it's nonetheless encouraging to see things picking up.  Let's hear it yet again for the Robinson trap's simple but very effective rain shield. Hooray!

Monday, 9 March 2020

Settled down

No drama last night, I'm glad to say, following the toppling of the trap by wind on Saturday/Sunday night. No drama inside either, but a Clouded Drab - bottom right, above - joined three Common Quakers in the modest morning assembly. So with January's solitary Pale Brindled Beauty and my little February Agonopterix, that's four macros and one micro at this very early stage in the year.

Sunday, 8 March 2020

The wind blew...

Well, this is something that's never happened before - and that's quite a claim after 12 years of running a light trap. I came out this morning, early, after a night of mixed weather and was startled to see that the top of my familiar black, cowled tub was no longer in place. The lamp, its bulbholder and rainshield had all gone.

I was more startled still, and very relieved, to see when I got a little nearer that the light was indeed still shining, albeit in a different place. This is a tremendous tribute to the sturdiness of mercury vapour moth trap bulbs, as well as to the soft landing place provided by young cow parsley.

I had hear gusts of wind in the night and one such had clearly found its way under the rainshield, normally such a trusty ally in bad weather, and hoicked it off. Luckily, the night was much less wet than windy and the eggboxes under the large help left where the bulb should have been were onoy a little damp.

My trap is a bit of a contraption after so much use and I may invest in a new cowl this year, as more and more Sellotape is pressed into use to seal gaps and cracked sections, as shown to the left.  For all its wonkiness, however, it was able to provide shelter to my first macro moths of 2020, the  couple of Common Quakers shown below.  Much as I admire Quakers, partly after spending five happy years at a highly independent and unorthodox Quaker school from the age of seven to 13, I have to tell you that they gave their name to this species, and several of its relations such as the Small and Yellow-bordered Quaker moths, because they are plain and drab..

I thought that was it but this evening, when I decided to put the trap out again in a more sheltered spot, I noticed a slimmer, angular-looking moth actually on top of the bulb's rainshield. Here it is: a male March Moth, below, one of the few species named after a month which stays pretty loyal to that designation (unlike, for example, the August Thorn). It's one of the winter and early Spring moths whose female companions get a raw deal, as shown in the picture from the Moth Bible, right. They are basically designed to reproduce, crawling up a tree trunk and waiting for a male to come and do the business.

Meanwhile the Spring is springing into life with a beauty which helps to counter all the gloom about Coronavirus.  Here's a cherry tree in our garden and some of the clouds of mis-named blackthorn along the Oxford Canal and all round our neighbouring fields.

I've been a bit tardy with the next moth, the only one I found in February when I didn't light the moth trap at all.  This little guy was in our shed and fluttered off when I banged the door. He or she is probably Agonopterix heracliana but could have been the very closely related but rarer A. ciliella.  You can only really tell by genital examination and I'm not up to that. Plus the moth is long gone.

Finally, we had an extra member of the congregation in church this morning: this Peacock butterfly which was swooping around and getting into a bit of a tizz at the windows. If you look at the third photo, you can see one reason why.  Peacocks and their relatives Small Tortoiseshells often hibernate in houses and other buildings and can emerge prematurely in sunny or warm spells. This accounts, inter alia, for their regular appearance in theatres where they had been snoozing in the stage curtains and their emergence is accounted a good omen for the box office. There's no scientific link, but it's nice to think that you never know.