Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Great skies; but where are the moths?

As much discussed in the UK, we enjoyed delightfully spooky weather yesterday, variously described as a Red Sun and Marmalade Skies. The latter was closer to accuracy so far as we were concerned; until early afternoon, we were bathed in a weird, orangey glow caused by sand swirled up from north Africa by mighty Hurricane Ophelia, along with ash from fires in Portugal and Spain.

When we saw the sun, it resembled the photo from the BBC's website on the left, but most of the time, the other pic from the BBC on the right gives a better and more marmaladey impression. Along with many others, I was optimistic that these conditions would be reflected by curious, long-distance arrivals in the moth trap. But that was not the case. 

I blame the wind which got up in the evening and the temperature, which fell. Although I saw a couple of moths fluttering close to the lamp before I turned in, the eggboxes were very sparsely populated this morning. Indeed, the only moth which I thought worth showing you was this Angle Shades, a long-standing favourite which hasn't been for a while. Perhaps its stylishly raked winds allowed it to risk the 40mph gusts which lasted 'til midnight.

My other moth curiosity, below, was on board a friend's boat which took Penny and myself for a memorable saunter along the Thames, including a call at the wonderful Egyptian House in Moulsford, left. These are the tragic remains of that lovely and aptly-named species, the Bordered Beauty. I suppose that they show the efficiency of spiders at filleting out a moth's juicy, edible bits.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Large means large

I am running a day behind these days, with daylight coming too slowly and too late for me to scribble out the blog post before life's other demands kick in. Today's handsome whopper therefore visited me on Sunday night and provided a nice surprise yesterday morning.

It's a Large Wainscot, suitable named as you can see when you compare it with the Common Wainscot which also stayed the night. Here they are below, waking up slowly in the company if a Merveille du Jour, that star of the UK's Autumn moths.

The Large Wainscot is not that common round here but it has come calling for the last three years. It likes watery spots and we have both the Oxford Canal and the River Cherwell nearby. A curiosity of its behaviour is that it flies twice a night, briefly at dusk and then for a longer spell later on. Superficially it resembles the White Speck which filled me with such joy yesterday, and inded my first thought on seeing the WS was that it was an LW.

I rhapsodised about the Green-brindled Crescent two days ago. Its appearance is usually followed by that if its very close relation, the form cappucino, and this has duly happened again this year. Here it is, above, a darker and less blingy version, with the brown body and creamy top associated with the coffee (and the Capucin monks after whom both drink and moth are named). The standard, glisteningly green form is on the left.

A distinctive micro next. This is is Hypsopygia glaucinalis, a sort of big brother to Hypsopygia costalis or the Gold Triangle, the pretty scrap of purple and gold which came the other day - and again in this bunch of Sunday nighters - see right. Glaucinalis is duller but bigger, easily the size of many UK macro moths. It's also useful. Unlike the Boxworm and White Speck (or Armyworm) which are serious crop and plant pests, its caterpillars feed on decaying matter and are useful scavengers. They have admittedly been found munching on birds' nests, but not in sufficient numbers to do serious damage. And it's hard to imagine them being foolhardy enough to dine on an occupied nest, whose inhabitants would surely seize the chance to dine on them,

When I first went to look at the trap, a small moth was all of a flutter inside the transparent collar, whirling around distractedly before finally settling on the battered plastic. Here's the view I had below:

What was it? I lifted the bulb and its holder out carefully and upturned the collar gingerly. The moth stayed put and posed for a picture, resting on my beautifully pyjama-glad knees (the jams looking a bit grubby because the collar is between them and the moth).  It's a Straw Dot, one of the macros smaller than Hypsopygia glaucinalis, which is enjoying a good long season this year.

Finally, a series of tortrix micros: a fine, fresh example of the Garden Rose Tortrix, Acleris variegana, which last arrived two nights ago in the form of a very battered specimen; the puritanically grey Acleris sparsana and the Light Brown Apple Moth, Epyphias postvittana, with a jauntily tail-cocking Red-green Carpet looking on.

Monday, 16 October 2017


It's childish I know - or perhaps we could settle more kindly on 'child-like', but I still get a kick out of finding unusual moths in the trap. This is a pretty infrequent experience and now that we have been here for five summers, it's a surprise to find anything which hasn't called at least once before. But that was my experience yesterday morning, after the last of National Moth Nights' three nights.

The visitor was a White-speck, an immigrant species which makes landfall in the UK every autumn but only seldom this far inland. Martin Townsend, the co-author of the Moth Bible and an unfailingly helpful mainstay of the Upper Thames Moths blog, says that there have only been a few records for Oxfordshire. Now mine joins them, huzza!

It nearly didn't, firstly because I turned the moth's eggbox over clumsily after examining the other side and nearly dislodged the un-noticed White-speck in the process. And secondly, because I initially took it to be one of the less common wainscots. Luckily, there was something about its shape and the beady, eponymous white speck, which kept me searching through the Bible.

White-speck Land
- the Isles of Scilly
It isn't a specially exciting moth to look at, as you can see, but it has a sleek, streamlined appearance which makes for a purposeful impression.  In the United States where it is common and a major agricultural pest, it is known as the Armyworm because its voracious caterpillars can assemble in large numbers and march on crops. The Americans' usage of 'worm' for caterpillar, by the by, is an example of how their version of English has kept alive old forms which we have discarded; 'worm' is one and 'gotten' another. Worth remembering, when we criticise them for their many novelties.

Why a White-speck now? It is one of an army of immigrant moths swept north from the Continent on warm winds caught up in the train of the remains of Hurricane Ophelia. White-specks usually head for Devon and Cornwall and have even established breeding colonies in the far south west, including the Isles of Scilly. On your guard, daffodil-growers!

This morning's forecast for Hurricane Ophelia from the BBC's website. You'll have to imagine the moths getting hauled north to the right of the orange track

A most excellent bug - the
trap also had a wasp, an earwig,
Several Daddy-long-legs, lace
wings and woodlice
Back on National Moth Night, I was visited by another attractive immigrant and one which has settled here bigtime, Blair's Shoulder-knot, above, one of three UK moths which carry the name of a retired entomologist from the Natural History Museum, Dr Blair, who lived on the Isle of Wight where many species new to the UK first make landfall as the Shoulder-knot did in 1951. It shares the sleekness of the White-speck but has a rather more handsome, Tweedy appearance. It also has a look of the Pinion moths and Dr Blair modestly suggested initially that it should be given the agreeable name of Stone Pinion. But others disagreed and wanted him  honoured for his tireless discoveries and so the moth joined the much rarer Blair's Mocha and Blair's Wainscot.

Red-line Quaker

And its Yellow-line cousin. Update: Paul in Comments suggests that this is a Brick and I am sure that he is right. Many thanks again P.

Here are the other arrivals on Saturday/Sunday night:

9 Lunar Underwings
8 Beaded Chestnuts
7 Setaceous Hebrew Characters
4 Large Yellow Underwings
3 Black Rustics
2 Straw Dots
And one each of Sallow, Barred Sallow, Square-spot Rustic, Autumnal Rustic, Centre-barred Sallow, Lesser Yellow Underwing, Red-line Quaker, Yellow-line Quaker and the micro Brown Plume, Stenoptilia pterodactyla, below.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Recording chores

Top Moth from National Moth Night for me: an iridescent Green-brindled Crescent

Common Marbled Carpet
I have belatedly caught up with the fact that the last three nights have constituted this year's National Moth Night, a fairly recent way of harnessing amateurs' enthusiasm to get a clearer picture of the UK's growing record of species and numbers. This is an entirely excellent idea, especially in providing solid data to counter the mercurial ways of the media (in which I used to work for many years) and the resulting, exaggerated highs and lows in reports of moth gluts or suggestions that species are dying out altogether.

Another favourite: Ruby Tiger with a long-snouted caddisfly
Snout and another caddis
So I joined in on Friday night, having missed the previous evening because of a visit elsewhere. I am not a sedulous recorder and find the painstaking listing of species and numbers in the trap much more difficult than I should. Since childhood, I have preferred to concentrate on the 'treasures' in any list of facts or collection of objects. Indeed, cherry-picking the curiosities of life is probably the main reason why I decided to make my living as a journalist.

And another; the good old Burnished Brass (f.juncta)

Here by contrast are the figures from Friday's trap, which I must also remember to send to the organisers of National Moth Night - and do let me encourage you to do likewise. I will try to be more on the ball next year and flag the event up in advance.

New for the year: Autumnal Moth

Red-green Carpet
35 Setaceous Hebrew Characters 
31 Black Rustics
10 Large Yellow Underwing
8 Lunar Underwing
5 Red-line Quaker
4 Square-dot Rustic
4 Lesser Yellow Underwing
4 Sallow
3 Green-brindled Crescent
2 Autumnal Moths
2 Centre-barred Sallows
2 Beaded Chestnut
2 Straw Dot
One each of Red-green Carpet, Common Marbled Carpet, Burnished Brass form juncta, Rosy Rustic, Ruby Tiger, Snout and Silver Y.

Silver Y, a seasonal immigrant in great numbers

There were also three 'carpety' moths which I have yet to identify - probably faded Common or Dark Marbled Carpets but I wonder if one of them is a Streamer; and two 'grey-y' gents, or ladies, as my granddaughter would no doubt call them, whose ID I also need to track down. Here they are:

These are the two 'grey-y' ones. I think they are two more Lunar Underwings:

The micros consisted of the dainty Gold Triangle, Hypstopygia costalis, pictured left, and the two tortrixy types shown below, one of them very battered. I think the top one is a Dark Fruit Tree Tortrix, Pandemis heparana, and the knocked-about one a Garden Rose Tortrix, Acleris varienaga. I should be sure, as both are common and come here often, but there we go.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

One up for youth

The 'phone went the other morning at 8am when I have to admit that Penny and I were still slugging in bed with our morning tea. It was our granddaughter, a noted enthusiast for moths as I have mentioned in the past, who could not contain her excitement about a new discovery.

"I am calling it Browney Whitey," she said, "because it is brown at the edges and white in the middle." Then she repeated this in a whisper, so as not to wake the moth up.

We hooked up on Facetime so that Penny and I could take a look at the cause of all the excitement (which the granddaughter was keen to tell us had been found in a pair of pants). It was difficult to make out as the 'phone jogged about, but there was something familiar about it. A few hours later, our daughter-in-law emailed the photo above and I realised what that something was: posts on the matchless Upper Thames Moths blog have reported recently about the spread of the micro Cydelima perspectalis, known in English as the Box Tree Moth or, less flatteringly, the Boxworm.

The granddaughter had beaten me to finding an example of this new arrival in the UK, a moth from the Far East - Japan, Korea and parts of India - which made its way here in imported goods in 2007 and has since flourished mightily as you can see from the post in the UTM blog by ace expert Dave Wilton, above.  Hats off to the young, say I! I hope that I will play host to a Box Tree Moth here before long.

Mind you, I have no box in my garden. If you do, this moth is very bad news indeed.It will be interesting to see how the neatily clipped hedges of hundreds of stately homes cope with the species' voracious caterpillars.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Top moth

I was all set to write an elegiac, end-of-the-season post this morning. Indeed, I was rehearsing my opening as I looked through the scantily-inhabited eggboxes: 'Things are beginning to wind down, darker days are drawing in...' etc.

But then I saw the magnificent Merveille du Jour shown in the two pictures above, nestling in a battered eggbox cone. Oh happiness! This is one of my favourite moths and it adds to its lustre by coming at the otherwise sometimes dispiriting fag-end of the year.

Marvel of the Day?  It is strictly speaking a Marvel of the Night. But who is quibbling?  Though talking of marvels of the night, Penny and I went to a brilliant light show at Blenheim Palace last night, laid on by the American artist Jenny Holzer. It was free but - like the Oxford Heritage Light Night which I featured last week - very under-advertised. Blenheim is usually awash with people and queueing cars but last night there were fewer than 100 spectators when we were there.  If you are anywhere nearby, the night-time show has a couple more evenings to run.

Back in the moth trap, I also found the Square-spot Rustic above,  interesting in that its caterpillar is as nocturnal as the adult moth, feeding by night. And - final picture - the micro Endotricha flammealis which is only locally common but was here in July as well at the end of September last year.