Saturday, 23 August 2014


Today is a record of curious places visited by moths and men. In the first case, here is a unusual lair for a Large Yellow Underwing: an unopened packet of miniature French Foreign Legionnaires and their Bedouin opponents. As our long, slow sort-out continues, I spotted the new and contented tenant in a box whose purpose or intended recipient has long vanished from Penny and my minds.

As for men, the explorer was myself, wobbling up a ladder to the roof of our shed for some experimental high-level light trapping. Well, ten feet high, anyway. The results were unimpressive; the sparsest number of moths since back in March. Mind you, it was almost as cold as March last night so that may be the reason rather than the unusual location. I will try again in warmer times.

Publishing weird photos such as these which such ease and lack of expense makes me marvel again at how far technoloogy has taken us in the last two or three decades.  Can you imagine using the old methods of buying a 36-exposure film for £3 or £4, waiting first to finish it and then a week or so for the chemist to get it developed (another £5-£7), and finally sticking it in an album (further outlay of £3 or so) to be seen by...well, no-one much?

A nice little Wainscot. Otherwise there were a dozen rustics and a few Flame Shoulders , like the garrison of a desert fort in one of the Beau Geste stories

As it happens, I can, because my 95-year-old mother-in-law who lives with us still uses film, thanks to postal suopply and development services which seem to be largely based in Lancashire. She, however, does not photograph moths.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Damp but cheerful

Yesterday's tribute to the robustness of moths in poor weather bears repetition today.  By 9.30pm last night, the rain was drumming on the roof and I almost decided to switch the lamp off. I didn't, because I have been trapping rather perfunctorily in the last two weeks, and I'm glad that I took that decision because there were plenty of residents this morning. About 150 in fact, rather more than the previous night.

Looking around the self-seeded marigolds next to the trap, I also saw a pleasantly large number of 'semi-residents', including the Poplar Hawk in fine condition which you can see in my first two pictures; at the top, in the background behind an Angle Shades whose rakish profile always catches my eye; and then in splendour on its own.

Another marigold housed the Treble or Lesser Treble Bar above and a third had this lovely carpet moth; only a Common Marbled Carpet, I think, but patterned and coloured in a way so subtle and intricate that you can feast your eyes on it for ages. I've put in a bonus picture for you to do just this.

As for the rest, assorted sorts of yellow underwing toppled the Flame Shoulders from top place in the numbers chart although the latter came a very respectable second. Also there: Spectacle, Green Carpet, Common Plume, Shuttle-shaped Dart and the various forms of annoyingly brown and grey rustics at which I've had by usual stab; confirmation or correction welcomed as ever.

Square-spot Rustic

And again, in a different colourway

Vine's Rustic

And lastly, Flounced

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Cooling it

Common Plume - Emmelina monodactyla

Moths are sturdy little creatures. It was extremely chilly for August last night but the trap was well-stocked. Here are some of its residents - nothing terribly exciting but a good range. There were well over 100 individual insects with Flame Shoulders still well ahead of the others in terms of numbers.

Common Wainscot

Meanwhile, I am still very pleased about yesterday's Hummingbird Hawk moth even though it was dead when discovered. I hadn't read the entry on the species in the Moth Bible when I wrote the post, assuming that I already knew all that I needed to. This was complacent of me. When I turned to the entry over my morning tea today, I discovered that it contains another example of the authors' very rare excursions into whimsy and overt lightness of heart.

Flounced Rustic

The HH has a special section of its own called 'Folklore'. There may be more of these in the book but if so, I've not come across them yet. In the Hummingbird Hawk's, the 'apparent' practice in Malta and Italy of seeing the moth as a good omen is described along with the pleasant fact that the senior author (I'm not sure which one this is) saw a Hummingbird Hawk on the day of his daughter's birthday which also coincided with the birth of the book itself - indeed a happy day for all interested in the moths of the UK.

Square Spot Rustic - is it worth two of its pal in my hand below?

Finally it repeats an anecdote published endlessly on the web: that a 'swarm' of Hummingbird Hawk moths was seen speeding across the Channel to the UK on D-Day, the Allied invasion of Europe on 6 June 1944. And everyone who saw them is supposed to have survived.  What a nice addendum to all the history and drama of the day; but I would like to trace the story back further if anyone knows more. Were they hastening to our island to spread the news? Was the magical preservation actually the fact that if you did see them but then, alas, die, you were in no position to comment?

Pondering such questions is the very stuff of retirement.

Rosy Rustic, I think. Update: but I think wrongly. It's a Six-striped Rustic, new to my records. Very many thanks to Countryside Tales and Richard in Comments.

Not sure - homework for later  Update: it's another Square Spot - many thanks again to Richard in Comments.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Fidgety Phil

I don't think I've ever seen a Humming-bird Hawk moth at rest and my experience of them goes back more than half-a-century to when I caught one which was nectaring on lavender at a guesthouse in Manorbier near Tenby where we were on holiday.  It didn't last long because the landlady was a tidiness fetishist and thought that my dead insects were rubbish, so threw them out. Never mind, I was to see plenty more H-b Hs later on in life.

Most have been abroad and I have spent happy but largely frustrating hours trying to photograph them as they zoom about and then whirr above flowerheads in constant motion, just like the birds whose name they take. Whatever the blurring, though, it is excellent to watch them sipping their drinks with their enormously long, uncoilable tongues. This one which I found in our greenhouse this morning was at rest, however. Permanently. Sadly it had died before any of us realised that it had got in.

The brighter side of this small tragedy was that I could photograph it in detail and here are some of the results. Doesn't the tongue remind you of those spiral liquorice sweets?

I also append a couple of more traditional H-b H photos, the first in France by my excellent niece Jessie who regularly supplies me with butterfly and moth pictures from all over the world; and the other two, including the one with the mystical shaft of Heavenly light, by myself on Paxos in Greece.

This is the first H-b H I've recorded in the UK since starting light-trapping in 2005 although they are regularly found in the summer when they fly over from the continent. This is especially true in southern England but I was sent a picture of one in Yeadon, just outside Leeds, a couple of years ago. Intrepid little creatures. RIP.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Yellow lines

Things have been quiet on the moth front - nights a bit cold and discouraging for trapping - but I've just nabbed a pic of another of our regular butterflies to add to the ones I posted recently.

I'm a bit off butterflies in the garden, to be honest, after the absolute devastation wrought by Large, Small and Green-veined White caterpillars on our purple sprouting, but I have no objection to this visitor: the Brimstone which loves sipping nectar from our runner bean flowers. Quite the opposite.

This one is a female, much paler than the bright yellow male, whose colouring is one of the theories about the etymology of the strange word 'butterfly'. The Brimstone is a 'butter coloured fly', so the argument goes.  I've added the second picture because the boundary line created by the runner bean leaf on the upper right is so sharp that it reminds me of Philip Pullman's The Subtle Knife where the hero Will uses a very sharp knife to cut his way between different worlds.

Memorably, this first happens among those odd-shaped trees on the Oxford Ring Road by the Banbury Road roundabout (as I unfailingly remark to poor Penny every time we sail past on the Park & Ride bus from Water Eaton).

Monday, 18 August 2014

Creepy Crawly time

It's awful to use the word 'autumnal' for the weather this early in the year but nonetheless, there is that feel around of colder evenings, berries and russety leaves, bonfire smoke due to start coiling up any time. In the circumstances my trapping enthusiasm has been slightly chilled and the moths are having a rest. It seems a timely moment to look at some of the other visitors attracted by the lamp in recent weeks.

Over the years I have found bugs, beetles, spiders, the odd butterfly and even a couple of birds among the eggboxes and wise commenters have been excellent at identifying what the smaller bretheren and sisters are. I'm all at sea about this selection but much approved of a quote about beetles from Alfred Russel Wallace at the little exhibition in Woodstock which I mentioned the other day. I can't lay my hands on it just now but his enthusiasm for them is all over the internet and he collected more than 83,000 different ones from the Malay Archipelago and elsewhere during his long and fascinating life.

Our greatest writer acknowledges them too, giving Isabella in Measure for Measure the lines:

The sense of death is most in apprehension;
And the poor beetle, that we tread upon,
In corporal sufferance finds a pang as great
As when a giant dies.

On which lofty note I must leave you, to go shopping.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Canada calling

My sister and brother-in-law are staying with us on their way home to Bradford from a very enjoyable wedding in Canada (as opposed to Cana, though they had as much fun as if the water had been turned into wine). They enjoyed a week or so in the wilds of the Adirondacks in New Hampshire too, and have shown us photos of bear prints and a massive hawk moth caterpillar which make the moths of Oxfordshire look tame.

None the less, I was hoping that the latter would make an effort in honour of our visitors and they have done, although warmer weather is the more likely cause.  The eggboxes and the house wall near to the trap produced an interesting and colourful selection with some highlights shown here starting with the Swallow Prominent clinging to our stonework below.

Perversely, however, I have started with a bird rather than a moth, a couple of close-ups of the beautiful colouring of a juvenile goldfinch which sadly killed itself by flying into our windows. It's the first we've found this year which is something as last year we clocked up half a dozen. But a waste and a shame. In spite of their misbehaviour around the trap in the morning, I enjoy birds as much as anyone else and we have a good variety here. The robins and blackbirds have also been noticeably less of a nuisance with the trap since they fledged their young.

Penny is sleeping in and I don't want to disturb her so for now I am guessing that the brightly-coloured visitor above is a Lunar Thorn. You can see why. It may, however, be a Canary-shouldered or one of the other Thorns. I shall check when the sleeper wakes and update if necessary. Update: I have now done this and it's a C-s T.

I've featured the Sallow Kitten before but it's so delightfully patterned and coloured that here it is again, from the side and above, with another lustrous regular, the Gold Spot (or possibly Lempke's Gold Spot) shining below.

Next we have a Small Plume (I think) Update: no, on further reflection, I think it's a Triangle Plume or Platyptilia gonodactyla,  followed by a Poplar Hawk resting in an unusual manner because of a wing tear, and obligingly showing the russet glow which is normally hidden. This is thought to be a warning device to predators, revealed in a sudden movement by moths feeling themselves under threat. We went round a great little exhibition on Alfred Russel Wallace at the Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock yesterday - excellent place - and this subject came up. Charles Darwin wrote to Wallace (his less well-known co-discoverer of evolution through natural selection) asking for his thoughts on the amazing colours and patterns of caterpillars which don't mate and have no need of fashion sense to attract the opposite sex. Wallace convinced him of the warning-to-predators alternative.

Poplar Hawks are enjoying an excellently long season, well into their fourth month here. By contrast, today's last moth, lurking in an eggbox cone, is a newcomer for the year: a Garden Pebble. This is one of the largest of the UK's micros, officially known as Evergestis forficalis.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Spindly souls

Long, thin moths are the order of the day this morning. I am using the adjectives in proportion as none of this half-dozen is more than a couple of centimetres long, but on their own terms they are spindly indeed.

They were the most interesting residents in a very modestly-populated trap, whose macro population consisted largely of Flame Shoulders with a few other noctuids snoring away alongside. Times are relatively unrewarding but there will be nice things out there. Judging by last year's posts, the Old Lady and the Red Underwing should be in flight; their names make them sound like a couple of villains from Dickens teetering along between alehouses in London.

Today's moths are (I think...) Catoptria falsella at the top with three Agriphilia selasellas coming next and finally a couple of Crambus Perlellas. But I may be wrong and welcome a return to the paths of righteousness from one of my friendly experts, if so.