Tuesday, 24 August 2021


Penny and I quite often discuss whether collecting is an overwhelmingly male pursuit and generally agree that the answer is yes. I am part of the evidence, in that the arrival of anything new in the moth trap gives me particular pleasure. And I have been very lucky in that regard over the years.

The unspectacular moth above is another to add to my tally - belatedly because I first featured it here at the end of a post on 8th August in which I celebrated my first visit from a Waved Black but ignorantly dismissed this moth as 'another variation of the Common or Lesser Common Rustic'.

So, warm thanks to the Commentor Pembrokeshire Birds who kindly suggested that the moth is actually a Crescent, an ID just confirmed by the expert Peter Hall on the invaluable Upper Thames Moths Blog. Up goes my tally again. I will add the numbers up again soon.

Meanwhile the moth trap keeps busy; this morning brought me the interesting trio of swift moths, above. The top one is a male Common Swift and the middle one a very nice and well-patterned male Orange Swift, so nice in fact that I thought at first that it might be a Map-winged Swift, a relative which has yet to pay me a call. The bottom moth, which is quite dramatically larger, is a female Orange Swift, albeit without the orange which is exclusive to the male.  These moths - five of them in the swift family altogether with the other two being the even more jewel-like Gold Swift and the Ghost moth - have the distinction of coming first in the Moths Bible. Sadly, that is because they are among the most primitive of UK moths, with no proboscis and therefore no ability to feed. Here they are again, one by one and closer-to.

 Another caller was the Small Square-spot, which I haven't seen for a while and to be honest wouldn't have recognised had it not been for recent mention of it on the Upper Thames Moths blog.

Out in the sunshine, meanwhile, P and I and a friend had an excellently long look at a very patient male Southern Hawker dragonfly. What a beautiful creature. If you see a dragonfly out patrolling, remember that they tend to fly in fairly confined areas and often come back to the plant or perch which they have only recently left.

The sun has also brought out some pleasant blooms in our garden for insects to visit including this miniature-flowered version of Morning Glory and our Magnolia grandiflora whose vast waxy blooms share the very short life of the Morning Glories whose name derives from the fact that the flower lasts for less than a day.

And the butterflies and some moths like the sunlight too. Here is a Speckled Wood on our rhubarb, a quiet haven from the buddleia which is thronged with Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshells, Painted Ladies and assorted Whites. And a Silver Y beneath the leaves of our Cooper's Burmese rose (a climber which I much recommend).

Monday, 23 August 2021

Webb's wonder


Another newcomer for my list today: as soon as I saw this beige-y wainscot at the very end of my trawl through the eggboxes, I thought: 'Mmmm. Don't think I've seen that before.' Sure enough, it is a Webb's Wainscot, an attractive member of that large tribe and still ranked Nationally Scare although it seems to be on the increase.

It was first described as long ago as 1790 by a Bavarian naturalist Eugenius Johann Christoph Esper who was encouraged by his botany professor at the university of Erlangen to abandon his original course which was in theology. Who knows what he might have achieved in the church, but he certainly did a lot of excellent work on butterflies and moths including several books whose value and relevance has lasted.

It might therefore be called more justly Esper's Wainscot but Mr Webb took the honours when it was first discovered in the UK, in Kent in 1879.  It is noted for the very widely scattered range of sightings, reaching as far north as Spurn point in Yorkshire and Tynemouth near Newcastle upon Tyne, but only in very small numbers and not yet as colonies. More recent successes have come further south including round here.

Here it is, above, with a similarly beige form of the Common Wainscot and below a view of its slender, cone-like abdomen from behind.  Thank you for paying me a call and adding to my ever-growing list.

In other parts of the trap and its surroundings, the guest list continues at a high occupancy rate. Every morning, there are Brimstones in the grass around the trap and yesterday they were joined by this Poplar Hawk, a moth which is enjoying a very long season this year.

In the trap itself, the micros included this delicate little Ringed China Mark below and the lovely Chequered Fruit-tree Tortrix which is like a piece of jewellery, an enamelled mosaic.

The macro moths furnished my first Shaded Broad-bar of the year as well as a very battered Black Arches whose apparently full life hadn't affected its liveliness and flying skills,

Neighbours who came to see the moth trap recently and remarked on the beauty of some White Ermines WhatsApped me this photo of a caterpillar they found and were startled to be told that it will turn into..a White Ermine. How a hairy black beastlet can metamorphose into the lovely white adult with its black dots like the fur collar of a member of the House of Lords is one of the many, many wonders of Nature.

Then this morning, as we were having breakfast outside, a bright flutter of red followed by a large, dark triangle on a sunny wall indicated the presence of a Red or - hope against hope - a Dark Crimson Underwing. Both are regular dayflyers and this one proved to be Red. Common but delectable, like the one in the moth trap earlier this week.

Finally, I was delighted to discover these stained glass butterflies in the little church at Wytham, near Oxford where the wonderfully wooded estate was given to Oxford University after the Second World War by Colonel and Mrs ffennel whose forebears the windows commemorate. You can read the story of this remarkable couple here on the website of the Open Air School they founded to give children from towns and cities some experience of the countryside. A touching quite from a little girl pupil in a letter home is 'This must be a very holy place'. Another example of how nature in the hands of people like the ffennels and Herr Esper of Webb's Wainscot can do us all a power of good.

Sunday, 22 August 2021

Careful roamer

You might expect a Gypsy moth to lead the carefree, random life of a roamer on the roads, but things don't work like that. Last year on 19 August, my first examples of this rapidly spreading immigrant appeared in the trap, two of them.  This year on the same date, there was one in the eggboxes and this one perching demurely on a leaf nearby. Clockwork!

As I mentioned last year, Gypsy moth caterpillars are of some concern to farmers, gardeners and foresters so we'll keep our fingers crossed on that account. It is a downside of the success of some new moth arrivals in Britain. Every time I see a beautiful box hedge, as at the lovely Waterperry Gardens near here this week, I keep my fingers crossed that the equally fast-spreading little Box Moth will keep away. An infestation can be devastating.

Meanwhile a second and even more predictable arrival: the lovely Red Underwing above. I am looking at these big visitors with more than usual care because the much rarer Dark Crimson Underwing is also on the march. Its hindwing patterns are slightly different from the Red Underwing's and both moths are famously reluctant to show these glamorous petticoats except when flying off.  They normally rest as in the picture below; if you are lucky, as here, a tiny speck of red peeps through.

The other way of spotting the colour is to check out their underwings, something Penny famously did a dozen years ago when she spotted a Red Underwing snoozing on the underneath of an almost exactly colour-matching pub umbrella by the Thames.  Here's what you see, below, followed by the moth on a toning tablecloth after release from initial imprisonment in my Bug Bottle.

I mentioned Waterperry and we were lucky to take a friend there on a sunny day which brought the season's lovely Vanessid butterflies to the many strongly-scented flowers. How lucky we are to have such strikingly beautiful creatures among our common UK species as the Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell and Painted Lady below.

Thursday, 19 August 2021

Scary eyes

I thought that I would give the moth trap pride of place today, coinciding with sunset on a quiet Summer night. I always enjoy the different effects of the lamp on the surrounding greenery - or sometimes, in Winter, snowscape - and the way that the mercury vapour bulb starts off pink, develops a purplish core and then settles down into a cool, minty glow. 

It continues to keep busy and full of variety, including this Vapourer moth, a slightly sinister-looking species it seems to me, with its very pronounced 'eyes' staring blankly from a dark 'face'.  It gets its name from the strongly attractive pheromones released by the flightless females to signal their presence to males. As a result, only males ever visit the moth trap and they look male too, with their Denis Healey eyebrow antennae, shown in more detail below.

Another welcome visitor was this Marbled Green, a species new for this year in my garden and one with traces still of the initial range of greens which fade rapidly as the moth ages. Following that is yet another Tree-lichen Beauty, a very rapidly increasing recent arrival in these parts whose ability to hold on to its green is greater.

Brimstone moths with their welcome splash of vivid yellow in the gloom of the trap are also very common at the moment, almost matching the daily total of Mother-of-Pearls. Here's one alongside an ichneumon wasp and that delightful moth, the Sallow Kitten.

Lastly among the macro-moths, here are a couple of Square-spot Rustics and then we have the large micro Donacaula forficella, with fewer dark markings than usual, perhaps through wear and tear althjough the Micro-moth Bible says that the streaks along the forewings vary in intensity.

And beyond the moth world, I played tag with this Common Darter dragonfly below and later a fine male Brimstone butterfly, a glorious species which is usually the first of the year to appear and the recurs at intervals throughout the Summer. Happy times!

Sunday, 15 August 2021

Patience is a virtue

I learned the proverb 'All things come to those who wait' at a tender age, fortunately with an optimistic twist rather than a sense of fatalism. Sure enough, after three visits, a Latticed Heath obliged me with a decent picture of its spread forewings, even though I had disturbed it from the trap and watched it flutter off.

It didn't go far and I saw where it landed on the lawn with its wings obligingly spread rather than folded over its back, crept up and the iPhone co-operated with the correct focus. So here is the moth, in all its pretend-butterfly glory rather than a bit blurry against the trap's black bowl.

Otherwise the night's visitors were unspectacular although there were a lot of them. I puzzled over this very isosceles moth on the left for a while but decided in the end that it must be a scoparia or eudonia micro-moth, almost certainly too life-battered to ID, though I will try.Update: and having tried, I now think it’s Diurnea fagella, an old friend.  Further update: having read Gerry's comment below, I revert to my first thought. He hesitantly puts his money on Eudonia lacustrata and I will back that with mine. I'll also add the moth to my next queries to the marvellous experts on the Upper Thames Moths blog.  Even further update: the expert Dave Wilton rules that sadly it’s too worn to be sure. The equally small chap below, however, I can identify with what for me amounts to certainty as a Garden Rose Tortrix, Acleris variegana. An appropriate name as we have plenty of roses in bloom at the moment and the moth also comes in a wide range of varieties. 

Still in the world of micros, behold the blue-eyed boy, or maybe girl, Crambus perlella with his or her curiously distinctive snout. And after that, I was able to take a leisurely look at the underside of this Black Arches, left, courtesy of a short stay in my Bug Bottle.

In the afternoon, a male Southern Hawker dragonfly got stuck in our greenhouse and rescuing it in an old ice cream box gave me the chance of a pic of it briefly at rest as well as the blurry flying one which I snapped first:

And I was lucky a little later to disturb a Copper Underwing (or the very similar Svensson's Copper Underwing) in the long grass near where the moth trap had been sited the night before. Its unorthodox resting position gave me a glimpse of the underwing which gives it its name. This is almost always concealed and even when teased, the species in my experience is unusually reluctant to show it.

The quotation with which I started this post comes, incidentally, from a poem by Lady Mary Montgomerie Currie who published under the pen-name of Violet Fane. The full quatrain reads rather charmingly, if sadly: 

Ah, all things come to those who wait,’
(I say these words to make me glad),
But something answers soft and sad,
‘They come, but often come too late.’

Luckily, in mothing terms, mine have come in time.