Monday, 4 July 2022

Very, Very Local

I haven't written much about nocmig just lately. Why not? Because it has been utterly dire. The last ten days of May were bad enough, but June was simply desperate. Blank after blank...after blank. A couple of times I forgot to switch from 'stand-by' to 'record', and tellingly found myself relieved at the prospect of not having to scroll through another night's-worth of nothing. And then, finally, in the early hours of June 25th...

Yay!! A wader! the unmistakable sonogram of a Redshank.

If pressed to pick one species, I would have predicted Common Sandpiper as the first nocmig wader of 'autumn'. As it was, there were another four blank nights before that happened, 18 minutes into June 30th. So, a whole month of nocmig recording, with just one Redshank, one Common Sand, one Barn Owl and two Moorhens to show for it. But I didn't give up. Surely it will pick up through July, I thought, as returning waders pass through? And already, it has...

The begging calls of juv Tawny Owls have featured a couple of times, which nicely confirms local breeding, and my first Oystercatcher since May 18th was great to see/hear this morning, but that's all small potatoes compared with this...


Despite knowing this call quite well from my time on the Axe Estuary, I did seek reassurance from the WhatsApp group for what is a nocmig first for me: Black-tailed Godwit. That was recorded at 01:43 yesterday morning.

Never give up!

Back in February, our younger son Baz sent this photo, taken on a site he was working at close to Axminster...

Two hibernating Heralds

I was very envious. I'd never seen a Herald. I knew that they hibernated in quiet, dark places like caves, old WW2 bunkers and suchlike, but never realised the moth trap might pull one in. Well, this morning...

Wow! What a stunning moth this is!

This morning's other new moth stood no chance really, but was nice all the same, if in a quiet, very-understated-indeed kind of way...

I did struggle a bit to identify this, but it is a bit worn, and the markings somewhat faded.

There was another smart new one yesterday morning too...

Ridiculously furry.

In a few minutes I shall clip the nocmig microphone to the cabin fascia, and prep the actinic for another session. A garden sound trap and a garden light trap. I suppose one day soon I will have to get out looking at stuff a bit farther afield, but right now, home is where it's happening...

Saturday, 2 July 2022

From the Studio...

The moth list hit 140 today. Many keen moth-ers have garden lists running into several hundreds, so I've barely scratched the surface yet. Even so, that's 140 [mostly] new names to learn, plus the ability to match them to actual moths. Boy, it's hard. Especially tricky are the scientific names which come with most micro-moths. I don't know when I last needed to learn so much new stuff so quickly.

Photography has helped, especially with the micros. By taking photos, then labelling them, I am hoping the process of simple repetition will make some of it stick. This has presented new challenges though. While it's easy enough to photograph a Privet Hawk-moth 60mm long, some of the micros have been 5mm or less - 3.5mm is the smallest so far - and those tiny ones are very difficult to capture well with the P900. But it has been fun trying...

Phyllocnistis saligna (Willow Bent-wing) makes an appearance in my state-of-the-art macro-photography studio, complete with some old bloke's knackered-looking thumb.

Getting the lighting right has been the most challenging aspect really. A soft light, yet bright enough to let the camera operate on a setting that will give minimal pixellation, is what I'm after, but too often I get more contrast than I want. Slowly improving though, I think. A few favourites from the last couple of days...

Shades of grey. Sycamore (left) with a Dark or Grey Dagger. The latter are [externally] inseperable as adults, though their caterpillars are chalk and cheese.

Sexually dimorphic, so I know that this is a female. If all my photos of 8mm moths came out this well, I would be very pleased indeed.

The ID of this 6mm moth is probably a bit sketchy, as there are look-alikes. However, I have plumped for the commonest probable.

A new pug this morning. Woo-hoo! It made me very happy.


This is our third Small Elephant Hawk-moth, and a bit less than pristine. Not sure why I didn't photograph the first two, because they are absolutely gorgeous.

One of the millions of 'bird poo' moths.

As far as I can tell, the miniscule speck in the first photo is probably the scarcest of this lot, and may even be a first for Bridport. Certainly it is the least recorded anyway. And I'm not surprised. Even those with eyesight sharp enough to see the thing would be hard-pressed to recognise the flicking, silvery speck as an actual moth...

Those scattered 'hairs' are from a previous shaggy occupant of this pot, in other words a normal-sized moth.

Somewhere in those photos above (Coleophora lutipennella) I allude to my occasional 'less than certain' identifications. I have learned very quickly that moth ID is frequently art as much as science. Sure, you can dissect the things and examine their reproductive organs...but I have no intention of wandering that far down the Dark Path. Which means I have to rely on what is externally visible and do the best I can. This is fun, and a near-future post will be entitled 'Moth ID - First Impressions', or something similar. And it is definitely better than gulls.

Or worse.

Thursday, 30 June 2022

Better Than Gulls?

Been swapping a few moth-related messages today, and someone said to me: 'Glad you're still enjoying it!' My reply was almost blasphemous...

'Oh, it's better than gulls!'

As I career headlong down this Path of Darkness, helplessly in thrall to a new passion, I wonder how recent NQS output comes across? 'Look what's happened to poor Gavin,' they say, shaking their heads in pity. 'Better than gulls?! Good grief, the fella's done for.'

Fear not, I still love gulls. Looks, character, behaviour, rarity potential, ID challenges - gulls have got the lot. But moths take it all to another level. Pugs alone, for example. Fifty-odd species recorded in the UK, with 'common', 'scarce', 'rare' and 'mega' all represented, and some fiendish ID challenges to boot. I've seen just ten of them, but had loads of fun wrestling with their identification. Take the Wormwood Pug which featured in the previous post...

Well, it wasn't a Wormwood Pug at all, but a Currant Pug. And it took an expert to set me straight. This is a Wormwood Pug, caught last night...


I do at least appreciate why these two very similar pugs are what they are, so have gained a tiny bit of knowledge along the way. I think it was Matt K who quipped that pugs are the gulls of the moth world, and while some love 'em, many just don't 'do' them at all. Yep, I get that...

There have been loads of new species lately, including ten last night. A selection of recent favourites...



This tiny (5mm) moth is an American import, arriving from the States on a Cypress tree 25 years ago, apparently. Likely in a garden near you right now.

This little beauty (and the next) are no bigger than a Small Blue butterfly.


Technically a micro-moth. This pyralid is as large and striking as lots of macros.

I've been very much hoping to see one of these. Look at those bunny ears!


Likewise, this bizarre-looking thing was high on my 'wanted' list. Looking remarkably like a fresh bird poo at rest, in flight it assumes a completely normal shape, like the two waves pictured above.


Another striking micro.

Better than gulls?

You decide.

Tuesday, 28 June 2022

Strength in Depth

Seawatchers at Galley Head, County Cork, today recorded 617 Cory's Shearwaters, 7 Greats, 230 Sooties, 7 Long-tailed Skuas and 10 Sabine's Gulls, plus the usual dross of course. West Bay is similar to Galley Head, in that it has sea just offshore, so I was a bit disappointed with the paltry tally my 40 minutes this evening produced: 13 Gannets, 1 Manxie and a Med Gull. Ah well...

Thank goodness for moths.

Our smallest catch so far is 19 moths of 11 species, three nights ago. But even that lot contained a new one for us...

Named after the little fin poking up on its head, apparently.

The following night, again a single new moth...

A tick, yes, but not exactly a looker.

Last night, four new species. And this time there was a real cracker...

What a classy-looking moth!

Needed assistance to identify this one correctly. Currant Pug is very similar. As usual, a tiny bit further up the learning curve as a result.

Superficially similar to - and roughly the same size as - a micro we caught a couple of weeks ago, Tortrix viridana* (Green Oak Tortrix), but this one is a macro-moth.

Have caught this one previously, but bailed out of the identification challenge

Our list stands at 119 currently, and I am pretty confident that all those have been correctly identified. At the beginning of the month I was having to look up just about every single moth. Talk about laborious. Now I am identifying two-thirds or more without needing to check. It definitely feels like progress is being made. I can even remember a small number of those annoying scientific names by which micros are generally known. All good.

However, the best thing about this mothing lark is the sheer diversity in each catch. Last night, for example, 33 moths of 23 species. In addition, almost every catch includes a 'quality' moth or two. To put this into a birding context, imagine that your local patch is a reasonable wetland. Every day there will be a selection of waders on offer. Dunlin every day (in moth terms, think Heart and Dart), plus Redshanks (Large Yellow Underwing) and a few Ringed Plovers (Riband Wave). Occasionally there will be some 'quality' - species like Little Stint, Avocet, Spotted Redshank, Curlew Sandpiper etc, species that you might normally record between one and five times a year perhaps. In birding, that list of quality species is relatively short, and you definitely will not be bagging one too often - once a week would be great. Moth-wise it feels like the list is endless, and that we get one or more almost every night! Certainly, in less than a month our modest Bridport trap has caught plenty of moths which are locally uncommon or scarce, or better. Take that Wormwood Pug above, for example... 

That little blob by Bridport and West Bay represents 10 records of Wormwood Pug in the last five years. Our single last night is possibly just the 11th recorded locally since 2017.

And here's another one. The wonderfully named Cream-bordered Green Pea is also not a common moth...

Dorset-wide, perhaps more numerous than Wormwood Pug, but still that Bridport/West Bay blob represents just 13 records in the last five years.

Better still, the Shaded Pug that we caught last Thursday night...

Yep, no Bridport records at all, it seems. I believe the map actually covers all the records this century, and the big blob on Portland represents 29 of them.

I should point out that these wonderfully informative maps (which are infinitely zoomable) can be accessed via the Living Record facility on the very excellent Dorset Moths website, though you do need to create a Living Record account to get at them. Hopefully it's okay for me to post these small versions here...

Going against the grain somewhat, I've even begun (just) to enter our moth catches on Living Record for posterity. I hope I can keep that up, but if we ever start getting monster catches I might struggle.

I've digressed a bit, but my point was this...

I doubt we live in some mothy mega-hotspot, yet here we are, with our modest trap (40W actinic) catching locally uncommon or scarce moths left, right and centre. Moths definitely have strength in depth. With some 2,500+ species to go at, all I can say is: 'Brilliant!'
 


* Tortrix viridana...

Monday, 27 June 2022

Birdfair Syndrome

Here is a rarely-publicised fact: it is illegal for fishing tackle shops to sell lead weights between 0.06g and 28.35g (1oz). It might surprise you to know that this ban came into force as long ago as 1987. The reason for it?

...to protect animals, particularly swans, from accidental poisoning and death through ingestion of accidentally discarded anglers' lead weights.*

As an angler, my tackle box contained several little pots of lead split-shot in various sizes, essential for weighting the line when float fishing. Of course, I understood why the ban was in essence a positive thing, but was rather distressed by two facts:

  • The total absence of such a ban for the shooting fraternity, whose cartridges peppered the countryside - including countless wetlands and waterways - with goodness knows how many tons of easily ingested balls of lead shot annually. And none of them were 'accidentally discarded' now, were they?! [The irony that this is still the case 35 years later is not lost on me.]
  • The lead-free alternatives were (and to an extent still are) significantly inferior and more expensive.

So what did I do? I hurried on down to the tackle shop and stocked up mightily on lead split-shot before the ban came into force. Basically my desire for personal convenience and the status quo outweighed any environmental concerns I may have had.

For me, this trivial example illustrates our (the big, collective 'our') knee-jerk response to anything which threatens our happy norms. If there is a way to circumvent, avoid or, better still, ignore this new inconvenience, chances are we'll choose it. Is this tendency the reason for so much negativity whenever low-carbon birding is mentioned? And for the resurrection of Birdfair, even?

In the wake of two years which have changed so many things, Global Birdfair feels like an awkward anachronism. I have never met Tim Appleton MBE but, going by the little videos on Twitter, can only marvel at his enthusiasm for the event, and evident organisational skills. But to what end, I wonder?

I know I'm not alone in having these reservations, and it was interesting to read the latest e-newsletter to British Birds subscribers.** Here is the closing paragraph...


Very thought-provoking to read this from such an influential publication. Ditto Birdwatch mag's #LocalBigYear initiative. There are some positive signs out there, but boy, it is a very slow train...

Meanwhile, I get the sense that too many of us are hurrying on down to the tackle shop before the ban comes into force.


PS. This post isn't meant to provoke a load of debate (which, to be honest, all gets a bit wearisome) but rather, food for thought. If it annoys, please just ignore me.


* Wording of The Environmental Protection (Anglers' Lead Weights) (England) Regulations 2015, which '...consolidate The Control of Pollution (Anglers' Lead Weights) Regulations 1986 and The Control of Pollution (Anglers' Lead Weights) (Amendment) Regulations 1993 (S.I. 1993/49).'

** Sent to me by a kind correspondent because I had neglected to tick the 'receive e-newsletter' box in my BB subscriber profile. Rectified now of course.


Saturday, 25 June 2022

No Moths at All

No moths in this post. Just good old birdy stuff.

A generous call from Alan Barrett this afternoon prompted a local twitch. Great White Egret is still a scarce bird here. I saw one last year, two together the year before, and now another single in 2022. Inadvertantly I flushed it upon arrival, so it was flight views only, and one unfocused burst of blurry shots that are not worth posting here.*

I hung around in case it returned, but no deal. Plenty of compensation though. A Hobby put in a couple of appearances, and there were more Swifts than I've seen anywhere else locally, perhaps 30 or more.

I thought I was photographing one master of the skies, but got two.

Hobby. Never close, but always wonderful.

And there was non-birdy stuff to look at, and creep up on...

Small Skipper

Marsh Frog. Ridiculously green.


My first Gatekeeper of the year proved a bit coy. Having unsuccessfully chased it around for a couple of minutes I asked myself why I was bothering. A really common butterfly, which ought to be out in profusion very soon - why this urge to photograph the first one I see? 'Good question', I replied, and stopped immediately. Moments later, the Small Skipper pictured above - another really common butterfly, and my umpteenth of the year - posed beautifully, right beside the path. I suspect I ought to be drawing some sort of lesson from this tale, but if it's that I am a bit lazy, I know this already.

For the last few weeks, nocmig reviews have gone like this...

Click, click, click, click, click, click...click...click...[loads more clicks]...click...ad infinitum...

Pausing to check out the odd blip invariably results in one of the myriad squeaks, wails and gurks that issue from the throat of every Herring Gull. It has been dire.

Finally, last night, this...

The characteristic Loch Ness Monster squiggle of a Redshank. Music to my ears!

I reckon conditions were a bit poor for moths last night. Cool, windy, the odd shower. Just 21 moths of 13 species bothered to turn up, but one of them was new. In the trap it looked a rather black-and-white thing, distinctly monochrome. But as with so many moths it seems, very different up close...

The Coronet. Not monochrome.

Did I say no moths in this post? I did, didn't I? Oops.


* See? A bit rubbish...



Friday, 24 June 2022

Little and VERY Large

Last night was ridiculous. Including moths which I caught outside the trap, 107 individuals of 50-ish species was by far the biggest tally so far. And 19 were new! The majority of those 19 were species I had never seen before, anywhere, ever. Including this juggernaut...

Privet Hawk-moth

As I type, this beast is resting up on an old piece of feather-edge fence board, so I just popped out to measure it. Exactly 6cm from nose to wing tip. That equates to a wing-span of 12cm+, about five inches! It is massive. I heard it before I saw it, a sound like a small drone entering the garden air-space. Slow and ponderous, and quite easily caught by hand. All my nearby pots were woefully inadequate and I had to hurry and get an old Tupperware container!

At the other end of the scale, this...


Apparently this micro is common, so I've probably seen loads. But, at 8mm long, who ever notices them? Not me. And yet, even my limited photographic gear is capable of hinting at the tiny stunner hiding there in plain sight. A classy camera set-up really does bring out what little jewels these micros often are.

As with birds, there is incredible variety in moths, incredible beauty too. A few of last night's treasures illustrate that fact rather nicely...






The so-called Dingy Footman - pleasingly smooth and silky-textured - is worlds apart from the scratchily-marked Scorched Wing, or the pinky-purply tones of the butterfly-like Early Thorn. And so many of these pretty things are much smaller than a photo would suggest. The Scorched Wing not much larger than a Common Blue for example, and the lovely Mocha which featured in yesterday's post, a touch smaller...

Mocha on Field Scabious stem. Not a Common Blue.

Possibly the 'best' moth last night was this one...

A pug sp.

Pugs are hard. One or two I can do okay now, but worn individuals are a nightmare. This one looks like it may be a Shaded Pug, but that would be rather a good local record. Unfortunately I only managed a couple of shots like this one; when I tried to get something clearer by opening its pot, away it went, rather pronto.

Any moth enthusiasts reading this post are likely chuckling at all this. Been there, done that. Hopefully it is nice to be reminded of those far-off days of newbie-ness. On the other hand, perhaps you are in the same camp as me until recently. Moths? No thanks. Life's too short. Too much to learn. And you are right. Life is too short, and there is wa-a-a-a-ay too much to learn.

But it's fun trying.