Saturday, 20 September 2014

Moth balls

I promised a tribute to the Scottish referendum yesterday and here it is. Don't be disappointed if you were attracted here by the headline, though. That subject comes up shortly.

First, however, is an appropriate picture which I have entitled 'Union'. The trap on the momentous morning of the result was unusually dominated by Daddy Longlegses or Crane Flies and, as you can see, two of them were doing their best to ensure that this fertile situation happens in future.

The referendum has dominated media discourse in the whole of the UK lately and one imagines that in Scotland they have thought and talked of nothing else. As usual, one imagines wrong. In my search online for something about Scottish moths, I discovered this comment in the Yahoo forum for enthusiasts north of the Border:

The lifestyle of a true migrant is rather specialised. Often the gonads are undeveloped when the moth emerges, to save weight on the journey.

This came in a fascinating discussion about the enormous distances travelled by the little objects of our enthusiasm, and it provoked the unsurprising reaction from another forum member: 

Thanks for that! Though, I hadn't realised moth gonads were that heavy
This makes me every bit as happy as yesterday's result. Edinburgh's ancient reputation as the 'Athens of the North' is evidently alive, well and shared among Scotland's many excellent moth specialists.

If I had to name a favourite Scottish moth it would have to be the Rannoch Sprawler, an insect which I imagine draped contentedly in a leather club armchair in a kilt with a pipe, yarning about great battles with salmon or deer in the Highlands. Like Scottish independence, I have yet to see it but wonder if I will one day. The picture of the moth's two varieties, left, was taken by John Knowler from this excellent website and I'm grateful for its use.

I say that because many commentors, not just Alex Salmond, are speculating that the progress of self-government in Scotland can only continue. The referendum defeat may therefore be less of a full stop than a comma.

Cue - budum-tish! - my final pictures: the first, a very nice one of a Comma butterfly taken in our garden last week by Australian friends who have a very fine camera. The second by me, of a the striking underside of another Comma which, most unusually for a butterfly, spent last night in the trap. And the third a close-up of the same which shows, perhaps encouragingly for Scot Nats, that things are not always as black as they seem.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Season of mists

Thank you, Scotland! I shall dedicate a suitable moth tomorrow. But now to current business...

Autumn Moths continue to arrive, some of them suitably russet-coated like this Brown-spot Pinion (I think, unless it's a Beaded Chestnut), below, complete with its fancy striped stockings. I've topped the post with a late survivor of the summer's glories, however, the Ruby Tiger above,  almost aflame with colour ans till out enjoying these warm September nights.

Next we have a micro in autumnal hues, a Large Fruit Tree Tortrix or Arcgips podana. We have a little collection of apples and plums so this is a predictable visitor but no less welcome for that.

Now for a trio of Lunar Underwings, a moth with a rich variety of colourways as shown here

And finally a quartet of Beaded Chestnuts - or are they Brown-spot Pinions?

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Moths for breakfast

Mary and her paintbrush - see below
I am not really a social moth-er, though I enjoy comparing notes on the blog and benefitting from the wisdom and ideas of other enthusiasts. Nature is best studied alone in my experience, partly because you can concentrate more easily and with less distraction, and partly just because you make a lot less noise.

The morning after; my trap under an unaccustomed rug to help keep jittery moths calm
Gathering round a moth trap when the lamp is lit is also an uncomfortable experience. The brilliance of mercury vapour bulb may attract moths in some way that we still don't entirely understand, but it certainly isn't good for human eyes. Moth 'breakfasts' are more manageable, however, and - as flagged-up in my previous post - I have just enjoyed one near the beautiful village of Minster Lovell with its famous mediaeval ruin and the considerable remains of a 19th century Chartist settlement, Charterville Allotments, on the outskirts.

Oak Hook-tip - one of the nice arrivals which I've not seen before
The ruin was the scene of a notorious instance of trapping, not of moths but of the beautiful heiress to the Lovell fortune. Gaily suggesting a game of hide-and-seek after her marriage, she clambered into a large chest, closed the lid and... the intricate lock sprang into place, her friends did not think of looking in that particular hiding place and her cries and banging were never heard. Wait for a cold winter night when the fire is blazing and settle down with the ballad of the story which you can find here (with its music on other websites).

Feathered Gothic; a very handsome autumn moth
Which is a rather long introduction to the friendly gathering of West Oxfordshire Field Club which used my Robinson trap and an actinic trap - a less obtrusive device well-suited to gardens close to other houses. The latter was placed in woodland on the site of an old quarry (which provided rubble for the runways at nearby RAF Brize Norton), and mine in the lovely garden of the cottage next door.

We had a good catch the following morning, including the pretty Oak Hook-tip and fine Feathered Gothic shown above. The event's organiser, Mary Elford, is a fellow contributor to the excellent Upper Thames Moths group. She introduced me to the usefulness of an oil-painting brush in tempting moths out of egg cartons and from the side of the trap's bowl, whose black plastic background makes photography difficult.

Those are the sorts of benefit you get from social moth-ing, and I am very grateful. Here are some more of our finds, including a lovely creamy Wainscot whose ID Mary is currently checking.

Vine's Rustic, I think Update: but I now think that I thought wrong, and that Toni in Comments is right to suggest that this is a Pale Mottled Willow. Thanks v much, T
Lunar Underwing
Garden Rose Tortrix micro (Acleris variegana)
Common Wainscot of the pinky type
Mary's mystery Wainscot

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Darth Vader

I've fallen behind again because of guests and other duties, including a spell in the veg patch and tinned food store in advance of today's Harvest Festival. Produce goes to the local food bank, a sign of difficult times for too many people even if prosperity seems to be returning.

So I must catch up later on my first return to trapping at home after Corfu, on Wednesday, and a very enjoyable moth morning on Saturday with West Oxfordshire naturalists near to that beautiful place, Minster Lovell (and its fascinating associated Chartist settlement Charterville, whose neat little Georgian bungalows formed smallholdings with six or so acres and a cow or two).

Instead, today is the turn of that Darth Vader among moths, the Black Rustic. There were two of them this morning, my first of the year. The one at the top declined to enter the trap but was lurking next to an appropriately sinister crack in a wall - one of the entrances, maybe, to the moths' equivalent of the Death Star. The second one was in the eggboxes but still contrived to slide into a corner with a definite air of menace.

These are definitely Autumn moths and so, in spite of our mellow late return of summer, the seasons roll on.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Moths of Corfu (and some other animals too)

Long-tailed Blue, I think Update: No, thanks to Richard in Comments, I now know that it's a Geranium Bronze. I posted on this three years ago - see

I've been away in the sunshine (and indeed the rain, with European weather stood on its head so that Britain was basking while we got quite damp, though never other than very warm).

Ditto Update: nope, I'm going for Lang's Short-tailed Blue as per the amazing Richard in Comments

But I think this one may be a Shaw's Short-tailed Blue Update: Nope, a Lang's, I think. See caption to pic above

There was enough sun to bring out some lovely butterflies, though, and I managed to photograph a few in between spells of intense and extremely enjoyable granddaughter-watching. She beats even moths...

I'm going for Marbled Skipper on this one

The first five are a trio of blues of the tailed variety - although deely-boppered might be an apter description than tailed. Then we have a pair of skippers and finally a smart little fritillary and a reassuringly mundane Small White. Update: I have started an intensive ID sesh with the help of excellent websites such as this Flickr Greek Lepidoptera Pool, and am adding my suggestions as captions to the pics. Confirmation, correction and help of any kind MOST welcome.

Moths were also about at night and convenient to study and photograph thanks to a row of lights like inverted goldfish bowls where we were staying. Our group included the UK's illustrious Paralympian swimmer Suzie Rodgers who was my older son and daughter-in-law's best girl at their wedding. In addition to her many other talents - her daily practice sessions mightily impressed the sunbathers of Corfu - she is an ace moth-spotter and I owe her big thanks for alerting me to quite a few of the ones whose pictures follow, plus various other insecty creatures and one of their many enemies as a tailpiece.

Here are the more striking of the macro moths, led by a Corfiot relative of the Maiden's Blush, appropriately for the island of Nausicaa who surprised Odysseus in the nude after his shipwreck. Then comes a local version of our Vestal, again bringing echoes of Homer in terms of Penelope's chastity while her roving warrior husband was endlessly away.

Update: probably a Mullein Wave - many thanks Richard in Comments

Following them, a range of intriguing macro unknowns which I hope are distinctive enough for me to crack in ID terms in due course (others welcome to join in, as always)

Update: I'm plumping for dark form of Devonshire Wainscot, thanks to Richard in comments (again)

Update: Thanks to Andy King of the excellent Upper Thames Moths blog, I can definitely ID this as a Passenger Moth,  Dysgonia algira.  Ditto the moth below.  Thanks very much Andy

A different specimen of the moth above, caught in a flash pic on our kitchen wall . Update: see caption of moth above.

Update: Hooray for Richard in comments yet again. This is Dysauxes punctata 

Now a few which I am sure are relatives of our immigrant Silver Y family or indeed actual Silver Y's in some cases

And then the micros...  Days of enjoyable winter research lie ahead on websites which illuminate the moths of Greece. I have failed in the matter of scale once again but these are thumbnail-sized beasts. The colouring is a bit dodgy too with the photographs taken flashless by the ochreish light of the lamps.  Meanwhile, descriptions of blissful weather on our return have me fired-up to light the trap here at home and see what has business in Oxfordshire in September.

Update: Palpita vitrealis or related Crambid - thanks to Andy in comments. This also applies to the pic below

Update: Palpita vitrealis, as in preceding pic
Update: I think this is a Bee micromoth

Update: thanks to Richard in Comments again, I am pretty sure that this is a Hoary Footman

Update: another Bee micromoth, methinks

To conclude with some of the other animals in Gerald Durrell style, here are a few of the many bugs and beetles which swarmed over the goldfish bowls; then a strange upside-down, dragonfly nymph-like creature spotted by Penny as we marched home from the supermarket with our supper ingredients, and finally two cicadas, one intact and the other minus one of its key back legs but formidably agile even so.

Sorry, I said 'finally' but here's that tailpiece I mentioned earlier, below,  Watch it, moths of Corfu!