Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Dorset beauties - and some at home too


We've just had a lovely week in Dorset, partly based at Bridport and partly in Weymouth and greatly blessed with sunshine at both. As is so often the case in the UK, this week has seen a complete turnaround in the weather with flash flooding in both towns.

I'm sorry for those who chose this week rather than last for their holidays, but it looks as though the sun is coming out again even if the temperatures are not as fiercely hot as they were for us. To some extent, I think that the hottest weather was too much for butterflies but we still saw a good collection as above - Painted Ladies, Comma, Gatekeeper, Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock.

Along the banks of the little river beside which we stayed in Weymouth's outskirts, there were also plenty of small dragonflies which I plan to ID soon with the help of the excellent web pages of the British Dragonfly Society. My best sighting, though, was of a Clouded Yellow butterfly on the cliffs above Ringstead Bay, a delectable spot shown in the picture below. The walk from the National Trust car park is long and steep but rewarding in every sense and the beach is bliss.

Colourful or pleasantly-patterned beauties were also waiting for us when we got home and lit the moth trap again - for example, the familiar little micro Pandemis corylana or the Chequered Fruit-tree Tortrix, the Common Carpet, the Common Rustic - a very variable species - and the Flame Carpet with its fine pinky-maroony central wing strip.

I was also delighted to find that delicately-named, patterned and coloured moth the Maiden's Blush in one of the eggboxes and the truly lovely Bordered Beauty in another, from which it decamped to my dressing gown. The third in the trip below is a Vestal, a pure-looking moth named after the temple virgins (usually at least) of ancient Rome, whose simple creamy toga with a pinky-purple stripe its colouring resembles.

Finally that rakishly distinctive regular the Angle Shades and a line of the children and grandchildren's washing, showing that we humans can brighten up the world too.

Monday, 15 August 2022

Talking of pests...

My note about immigrant moths which are sadly also pests on crops coincided with a request from a friend on holiday in France for the ID of a very fine-looking arrival at her cottage. Her photo above showed it resting like a venerable sentinel or distinguished alderman; a very big moth with the sleek physique of, say, a Pine Hawk.

I had no idea what it was but Google soon turned up its dramatic persona, an 'adventist' or moth transferred to a new home by human agency, the Palm Moth, native to South America and imported to Europe in consignments of ornamental palms.  It is already a serious threat on the continent and the Government pest regulators here (who supplied the second photo showing its splendid underwings which must terrify birds when flashed) are very much on the watch for it.

Curiously, in spite of the size and dramatic content of Richard Lewington's typically excellent painting in the Moth Bible, I hadn't notice the illustration above. I suppose I have always concentrated on the section of the book where more likely arrivals are to be found. Anyway, there it is, with very precise details of the few arrivals in Britain, all of which were killed before they could spread. I do wonder though, the way things are going with Continental arrivals, whether examples of this impressive creature are going to be picked up in moth traps here, one of these days.

Meanwhile we must content ourselves with the more modest but very lovely Red Underwing which has just started arriving here. I managed to tempt this one to show a fraction of its own bird-scaring underwings, above, and then had a peek at them from underneath, below.

The good old faithful Poplar Hawk moth keeps turning up and the freshness of the example on the vine below suggests that a new generation, perhaps the third of the year, is emerging from its pupae. 

In contrast to their youthfulness, this old and battered Pine Hawk spent a night here too. Although its wing-scales have grown thin, the distinctive jetplane shape of the moth, which makes it one of my favourites, is intact.

A couple of other nice things before I go: a Scorched Carpet moth and a pretty male Ringed China-mark micro, whose Linneaean name of Parapoynx stratiotata has a distinguished ring. The females, sadly, are a contrasting mix of pale browns.

Thursday, 4 August 2022

Beautiful pests


A couple of interesting moths today which would have been a great surprise to anyone finding them only a few years ago. The first is the Box Tree moth, above, which was accidentally introduced to the UK in the early years of this century - the first record was in 2007.  It has flourished mightily and I get both its forms, the melanistic one on top and the standard version below. It is very bad news for owners of box hedges who fortunately do not include me. An infestation of caterpillars can doom a National Trust knot garden. Mind you, think of all the clipping box involves...

The second invader is the Oak Tree Processionary, which looks like a monochrome version of the Nut-tree Tussock and is also considered a potential threat,  this time to the good old English oak. Large concentrations of its caterpillars can strip a tree of its leaves, making it much more vulnerable to other pests.

The moth was introduced to England by mistake in 2005 and has expanded beyond its original toehold in London in spite of Government attempts at control. This is the first to visit me but others are being reported increasingoy on the Upper Thames Moths blog. Perhaps the most remarkable behavioural side of the species is the caterpillars' communal progress which accounts for its name. Here is a telling picture from the Government's Forest Research website.

In a happier part of the moth realm, here are a couple of pictures of the delicate Latticed Heath, a dainty moth which appears to believe that it is a butterfly. It looks like a relative of the Duke of Burgundy Fritillary, holds its wings in butterfly-style and even has butterflyish antennae.

Also in the graceful ranks of small moths, I'm always pleased to see a Single-dotted Wave like the one below, partly because it gives me yet another occasion to wonder which of its many dots is responsible for its name.

Talking of butterflies, we were back with the grandchildren after out holiday and I was pleased to catch a Holly Blue on their buddleia after prolonged stalking, in company with our two-year-old. He then proved his spurs by spotting this splendid Jersey Tiger, below, on the way to one of the local Walthamstow parks.  As Conehead regularly bears witness in Comments, this is now a common moth in London and we saw two more later on in the lovely gardens and open-air café of the Vestry House museum.

Finally, more of the many moths which have poured in here over the last two weeks: Copper (or Svennson's Copper) Underwing, Um.., Er..Knot Grass? Marbled Beauty, Orange Swift, Shaded Broad-bar, Carcina quercana, Um again.., and finally a Swallow Prominent.

In the second composite: Red Twin-spot Carpet, my Single-dotted Wave again (but I won't make any dot remarks), Yellow Shell and a Mother-of-Pearl, Dusky Sallow, July Highflyer, Least Carpet, the Oak Processionary once more, a Sallow Kitten and the everlasting Elephant Hawk moth.  Apologies for the repeats; my compositing sometimes gets out of hand.

Wednesday, 3 August 2022

Here in black and white

A favourite moth is calling regularly at the moment, the Black Arches whose bold juxtapositioning of black and white contrasts with the subtler camouflage of drabber species. As with military dazzle camouflage, the patterns confuse the outline of the moth and alter its shape; at least so we assume, because it survives its many predators and returns in late July and August every year.

This year's examples included the one immediately above and in the two pictures below which had a softer and more blurry pattern than is the norm. Only the males come to light and you can see from the fine antennae in the last picture that this is indeed a Mr and not a Mrs.

The moth's other Point of Interest, as they put it on Google Satellite, is the touch of pink, visible on its head in the middle picture and on its abdomen in the one with the purple Globe Artichoke flower. This can be strikingly bright although there is a melanistic variety which I have never seen, where the entire moth including head and tummy is a dull grey.

It has been high season for moths for a while now and they have been whirring in - here is a selection: August Thorn, Red Twin-spot Carpet, Least Carpet, July Highflyer, another Red TS Carpet, the micro Ancylis badiana, Brown-line Bright-eye, Early Thorn and Shaded Broad-bar.

Then in the second composite, one of hundreds of Mother of Pearls around at the moment, Blood-vein, Canary-shouldered Thorn, Large Yellow Underwing, Brimstone in a bush by the light, Swallow Prominent on a wall near the trap, Willow Beauty nearby, Brimstone actually in the trap and a battered Ringed China-mark micro with a Common Footman.

All these juicy guests have been watched with great interest by our blackbirds and robins, especially the character below who will go to any lengths to get through my defences when I am photographing the slumbering moths in the morning.

Tuesday, 2 August 2022

Holiday finds

   I am terribly behind - age and the lovely weather, sorry. So here's a catch-up from mid-July when P and I had a marvellous week in a National Trust lodge to Oxburgh Hall near King's Lynn. On the first day of the Great Heatwave, the neighbouring village of Santon Downham was the hottest place in England.

We survived. Indeed, a moated castle with foot-thick walls is a very good shelter from 40 degree temperatures, plus the National Trust café served a delicious iced coffee. Just before we went, P was drawing the curtains in our sitting room and discovered an Old Lady moth, probably seeking somewhere cool to lie up.

Digital cameras mess around with colour but actually the Old Lady can appear in all these three shades, depending on the light

   These are fine moths in terms of size but their funereal colour and patterning conforms to very outdated 'Old Lady' stereotypes. 'Old' ladies these days wear jeans and have purple hair. I've always liked the moth since teenage days when a cousin and I caught one on rum-and-treacle at our uncle's Suffolk rectory. They had two old ladies from his previous parish staying and when we rushed in yelling 'We've caught an Old Lady', there was initially consternation. It was also exciting, three years ago, to be tipped off about a hundred or so of them aestivating - summer hibernation in very hot weather - on a cool spot under a local canal bridge.

   Oxburgh and around yielded a fine collection of butterflies and some decent moths (no light trap but the lavender attracted a Mother of Pearl and plenty of Hummingbird Hawks and a Dusky Sallow took refuge in our bedroom on the hottest night). There were also lots of damsel and dragonflies patrolling the moat and streams and Pam Taylor of the totally excellent British Dragonfly Society kindly, and very swiftly, identified the one in the composite photo as a male Emperor Dragonfly and the one in the large picture below with its odd blue 'eyes' as a Brown Hawker.

   We also encountered this evil-looking but apparently harmless fly below in large numbers - ID much-appreciated from any passing dipterist - and saw a good collection of birdwing butterflies in the Lynn Museum's section of Cabinets of Curiosities, although I think the caption should read South east Asia rather than South America.. 

   Finally, here are some other artificial beasts and holiday views: a rare 'Peter's Pence' lectern which took the annual donation for the Pope through its beak and excreted it from its bottom; and a magnificent fish graffito - both at Oxburgh church. And then a glider, a man-made moth, just after landing near the National Trust's extraordinary Lyvenden New Bield.  The house isn't a ruin. Work stopped when its wealthy commissioner died in 1605 and has never restarted since.