Tuesday, 30 August 2022

Invasion

I can think of at least a couple of times that Twitter has familiarised me with a moth sufficiently well prior to a real-life encounter that I have recognised it instantly when the time came. And so it was with this morning's new one.

Listed as 'Nationally Scarce B', Scrobipalpa ocellatella (the Beet Moth) is described thus on UK Moths:

'A rather local species, occurring on shingle coasts and saltmarshes along the southern coast of England and Wales.'

Norfolk had its first record in 2019, and by the end of 2021 there had still been less than 10 records in that county. However, this year something profound has happened. Less than a week ago, one Norfolk moth-er had 209 in his trap! As well as many records from inland counties like Wiltshire, in recent days Scrobipalpa ocellatella has reached Derbyshire and Yorkshire for the first time. Dorset-wise there are but a handful of dots on Living Record currently, but I am pretty sure this is about to change...

As I went through this morning's egg trays I spied what I thought was going to be Blastobasis adustella, a common micro. But a closer look had me reaching urgently for a pot. This was dead ringer for the countless ocellatella photos on my Twitter feed. Just as I was closing in for the capture it whizzed across the garage, disappearing into a stack of clutter. And that was that. A few minutes later I spotted another micro bouncing around the inner wall of the trap, just inches from freedom, but this time somehow potted it. And Scrobipalpa ocellatella was mine.*

Just 7mm, and admittedly not a looker. Behaved badly in the studio too, and this was the best of the very few shots I managed before it flew.

Some other nice moths today...

A rather pretty version of the highly variable Common Marbled Carpet.

Setaceous Hebrew Character is a regular, but this fresh example definitely deserved a photo.

The very lovely Green Carpet. Again, quite common.

The three moths above are perched upon a slab of stone that I found in the forbidden field at Cogden today. I thought it was slate, but the pale marbling has me doubting that now. Anyway, whatever it is, I thought it might be okay for moth pics, so brought it home and gave it a scrub up. Anyway...

As well as lumps of stone, there were also a few birds at Cogden. Not loads, but enough to make you think there might be something better around the corner. There wasn't.

The most unexpected bird was this one...

This Red Kite showed really well, but I made a hash of most of the photos.

Other than that it was all about routine common migrants. A lot of scratching about for 5 Spotted Flycatchers, 8 Wheatears, 10 Whinchats and a single Redstart. As is so often the case, birds were mostly in discrete clusters. Two groups of 4 Whinchats apiece, 4 Spot Flys together and 5 Wheatears in one field. I didn't walk the beach, so probably missed a number of Wheatears there.

Whinchat

Whinchat again

Spotted Flycatcher

In between these little pockets of action, very little. But I didn't care. I mean, how could I? If you're going to do some birding that involves scattered little groups of routine common migrants with big gaps of nothing in between, there aren't many lovelier places you could pick...

Cogden. Beautiful.

* Yes, mothing does weird things to you.

Sunday, 28 August 2022

Last Week

The morning after publishing the last post there was one new moth in the trap. A micro. Which of course needed a name. And, shining harshly now, upon both that little moth and my rash, soap-box words of the previous night, was the cold light of day. A pitiless, searching beacon.

It's not often that I've wished I could unwrite stuff, but it happens. I shall leave the post as it is though, a slightly toe-curling reminder to think a little harder in future before pressing 'publish'.

Staring up at me from that morning's moth scribbles were A. coronata, Pandemis corylana, A. tristella, A. geniculea, B. adustella, and this...

Eudonia pallida - a new one for the NQS moth list

Yes, a few scientific names have already found tenuous lodging in my mothy lexicon. And, tellingly, I do not know the vernacular names of at least a couple. I would need to look them up.

So that's it then. Like the countless moth-ers who have gone before, I shall just have to knuckle down and learn the scientific names. I'm hoping that captioning the photos will help. We'll see.

Meanwhile, birding efforts have been a bit feeble. One highlight of the week was an after-work circuit of Beer Head...

Not sure I've previously seen Curlew at Beer Head. These two heading W.

Not too much had changed since my last visit (a year ago?) except that the old Look-out is now a fancy holiday let, rather than a tired relic.

My newly-attuned mothy eyes noticed loads of migrant Rush Veneers in the lee of the clifftop hedges...

...and many pretty little Pseudargyrotoza conwagana (Yellow-spot Tortrix).

Three Yellow Wags with cattle.

Lyme Bay Blue. Oh, and Wheatear.

Cogden and West Bexington haven't been particularly generous this week, but a few bits...

A handful of Whinchats at least.

In the field I thought this was probably a Lesser Black-backed Gull. Not a particularly dark example, but nearby Herring Gulls were significantly paler. However, something prompted me to take photos, and viewing them on the laptop screen I began to have doubts. Too dark for Yellow-legged Gull though, surely? Final verdict? Er... I'm really not that great at gulls.

Whinchat, Whitethroat, static caravans and Golden Cap. West Dorset birding in late August.

Mostly though, it's been all about the moths. And many of them are blessed with those tongue-twisty names that I am simply going to have to get on and learn...

The rather lovely Rosy Rustic

Dusky Thorn - a regular sight just now

Square-spot Rustic - another common one at the moment


A subtle job, which looks much better through a hand lens.

Frosted Orange. This is one of those moths that you see in the book and think: ' Ooh, that looks smart. I hope I get one of those one day.' And then - when you do - it is even better than imagined. Just gorgeous.

Six-striped Rustic. Had a handful of this lovely moth now.

Our second one of these, and miles bigger than the previous example. The size variation of some species is incredible.

Common Marbled Carpet. This rather variable moth was a regular when we first started back in June, then none for ages, but one or two again recently. Presumably second-generation individuals.

Had a few of these...

...and these.

Quite common, but stunning colours.

Possibly the 'rarest' moth recently. No other Bridport area records on Living Record yet, at least. National status listed as 'local'.

Light Emerald, another fairly common but lovely moth.

I rather like these 'flat-body' moths. And that is exactly what they are. Flat.

Pinion-streaked Snout, our second. A real tiddler, and looks for all the world like a micro, but isn't.

So there we are. Up to date. Words eaten, gulls given up on, and other humiliations.

Onwards and upwards...

Sunday, 21 August 2022

In Praise of Vernacular

A quick circuit of Cogden this afternoon, searching for migrants. Slow going initially, with both Vanessa cardui and Nomophila noctuella definitely migrants, but not the ones I was after. Eventually I stumbled across a nice Phoenicurus phoenicurus, and soon added a single Phylloscopus trochilus and two Saxicola rubetra. Nice.

I am sure that some readers are not even slightly phased by the scientific names above, and can picture every species mentioned. Good for them. Me? I had to look each one up to ensure accuracy, because I never normally use them. I mean, why would I? I am not a naturalist in any professional sense, and have happily got by with vernacular names for six decades. In the rare event that I need a scientific name, it is just a reference book or mouse click away.

So what is all this nonsense with micro-moths?

I spent most of my walk pondering this question, which has vexed me mightily since starting down the Dark Path two months ago. Here's the thing...

Every macro-moth has a vernacular name in the English language. For example, Large Yellow Underwing. Generally speaking, the vernacular names are easy to remember because they consist of familiar words and, as in this case, many convey some obvious feature of the moth itself. The scientific name of Large Yellow Underwing is Noctua pronuba. My limited education suggests that Noctua has to do with night-time, but pronuba means nothing to me. Noctua pronuba is a name I would need to learn parrot-fashion, and would easily forget without constant repitition. Thankfully this is not a concern, because Large Yellow Underwing is the name that everyone uses.

But, not so with micros...

This morning I thought our run of at least one new moth every time was finally over. But no. Literally on the floor of the trap was one last moth. This one...

If I have identified it correctly, this is Agonopterix yeatiana.

According to Living Record, Agonopterix yeatiana has not been recorded in the Bridport area before, so this is a nice catch. Agonopterix yeatiana means 'small, spotted, pale grey jobbie, with which to grip off your Bridport mothy mates' and is much easier to remember than the vernacular name, Coastal Flat-body, which conveys no meaning at all, and is a pig to remember.

As a beginner, the most irritating issue about trying to learn a million new moths is the stupid insistence upon scientific names when it comes to the vast majority of micros. What is especially annoying is the fact that they all have a vernacular name, but mothy folk won't use them. Why not? Well...

If you visit Dorset Moths or Norfolk Moths, for example (both excellent websites) you will see that every micro is listed (and searchable) by both a scientific and vernacular name. These county moth websites were designed by a chap named Jim Wheeler, who also compiled a publication entitled Micro Moth Vernacular Names - A Nomenclatural Checklist of British Microlepidoptera. My tyro's understanding is that he came up with these names unilaterally - an act of 'hubris' as one mothy voice whom I respect has put it - and many long-time moth folk are decidedly unimpressed. So. There exists a full set of vernacular names for all these tricky micros but, when it comes to their adoption and use, there is...er...some controversy...

However, do I care?

Not one bit. I do not care how the vernacular names were arrived at. I do not care whether or not they are appropriate in every case. I do not care that they were essentially decided upon by one bloke rather than a committee. Do you hear me, moth people? I do not care.

What I care about is that 1,600+ micros have a name that I can easily learn and remember, and in most cases say out loud with confidence that I have the pronunciation correct.

I am heartened by the fact that my favourite micro book (Common Micro-moths of Berkshire, by Nick Asher) uses the new vernacular names, and look forward to increased acceptance by those who wish to smooth the path of newbies like me. I have wrestled with what my own approach ought to be, and have tried hard to learn the scientific names. Blog-wise I have swung between referencing both scientific and vernacular, and scientific only. But why make a challenge needlessly harder than it already is? From now on, vernacular only, and hang the consequences.

PS. Painted Lady, Rush Veneer, Redstart, Willow Warbler and Whinchat, in case you were wondering...

Phoenicurus phoenicurus, a nice 1st-winter male I think.

Saxicola rubetra

Saxicola rubetra x2, dreadful heat haze x1.

Saturday, 20 August 2022

Convolvulus Hawk-moth

At what stage of its life is a Convolvulus Hawk-moth a Convolvulus Hawk-moth? This might seem a daft question, but the answer determines whether I have seen two of them, or three.

The first was on October 12th, 2010, on the Scilly Isles. It's pretty sobering to realise I had already chalked up half a century plus before I saw a Convolvulus Hawk-moth, and even that was pure serendipity. As the crowd dispersed following a Pied Wheatear twitch on St Mary's, someone spotted this...

Waiting for dusk...and for all the people to go away.

To get that photo, I honestly cannot remember if I went to quite the same lengths as Ian Lewington, but probably...


I was delighted with this encounter and, not being a moth-trapper, never particularly expected to see another. But on October 21st, 2019, while doing some work very close to our bungalow, I almost put my hand in what I thought was a nasty big blob of excrement. Until I looked closer...

Convolvulus Hawk-moth caterpillar.

It was Twitter folk who retrospectively identified it for me, so this rather poor phone pic is all I have. Still, the question remains. Is this my second Convolulus Hawk-moth, or not?

And so to last night.

We have several potted Nicotiana plants close to the garden cabin, and in a quietly optimistic corner of my mind I have nursed a hope that they might pull in one of these splendid moths. I have no idea whether it was the Nicotianas wot dun it, but the first I knew of our success was when I peered in the mouth of the trap late yesterday evening and spied a massive moth peering back. And I just knew.

Sadly it is a beaten-up specimen, and maybe only recently arrived on these shores. More politely, I ought to call it 'well travelled' perhaps...

Convolvulus Hawk-moth

Just two (and a bit) months into my mothing career, and already the humble trap is graced with one of these awesome creatures. I feel very privileged.


It was not the only sphingid caught last night, but the Poplar Hawk-moth looked rather small in comparison.

At the other end of the scale was a diminutive pug which I initially called Wormwood. The Wormwood/Currant Pug challenge is fun, and invariably comes down to subtleties of wing shape as well as size and markings. Some time back I lifted a load of [expertly - and presumably correctly - identified] internet images of both species from the instructive Moth Dissection website, and constructed a collage. Generally I will photograph any that are not obviously Wormwood Pugs, then compare with the collage, thus...


On this basis, today's head-scratcher is actually a Currant Pug. It was quite a tiddler, so that makes sense. I do enjoy this kind of ID challenge, which feels perfectly doable. Unlike the 'gen. det.' jobs which necessitate microscopic examination of surgically removed bits of tiny tackle. Not for me thanks.

Currant Pug

Other ID challenges are provided by the regular micro-moths which come our way. Two from last night...

Otherwise known as Wainscot Smudge. A new one for us, but apparently very common.

In 2009 the Spindle Knot-horn was described as '...a suspected immigrant, transitory resident and rare resident' in Dorset. However, judging by the current Living Record maps, it seems fairly common now. I think this is our second.

One last moth. This is not the first Peach Blossom to decorate the NQS trap, but the previous example was so battered and worn that I couldn't bring myself to photograph it. I hope that one day we get a pristine fresh one (which this is not) because it clearly has the potential to be a stunning beauty...

Peach Blossom

Friday, 19 August 2022

Mainly Moth

Autumn migration is gathering pace, yet I am strangely unmoved. In fact I have done zero birding since last Sunday, and even that was mainly a time-filler while waiting for the West Bex Tree Crickets to crank up. It's not as if there are no birds around. For example, the Mackerel were in at the weekend, chasing whitebait close inshore, and had attracted a healthy following of gulls. And I like gulls.

Between me and the angler you can see a little patch of disturbance where tiny fish are 'boiling' on the surface, plus a good number which have leapt out onto the shingle. I couldn't find anything unusual among the numerous gulls.

Instead of migrant birds, mostly I was distracted by migrant moths that evening. I had four pots in my bag, and as dusk fell they became home to the first four decent-sized moths that let me catch them. Every single one was potentially a migrant...

Clockwise from top: Turnip Moth, White-point x2, Bordered Straw.

All the above were right on the coast path, which lies just inland of West Bexington beach. At least a couple were nectaring on Ragwort, which seems very popular with many insects. In addition I saw another Bordered Straw, one or two Silver Ys, and loads of Rush Veneers - all migrants, most probably. That was in just a short spell prior to darkness, after which it was all about the Tree Crickets.

As you might imagine, having seen this lot just a few miles away on the coast, all week I have been hoping for some nice migrants in the garden moth trap too. Well...

This morning's prize: a rather worn Portland Ribbon Wave, our first. I'm not entirely sure where these come from (other than Portland!) but suspect there's a good chance that this one crossed the Channel.

The garden's 4th Bordered Straw. Definitely a migrant.

I'll stop wittering on now, and just post a load of this week's moth pics. One or two seem to be uncommon locally, but mostly I think they are fairly routine...

The vernacular name is Common Nettle-tap, and I believe it is exactly that, i.e. common, but this is the only one that's ever made it into the moth trap.

Orange Swift. Our second. Lovely.

Purple Bar. Almost pristine.

Six-striped Rustic. Quite common locally I think, but this is our first of this nicely-marked species.

Marbled Beauty. We used to see a lot of these back in Rickmansworth, Herts. Not sure that it's quite so common in Bridport.

Square-spot Rustic. Another common one.

Small Square-spot. Also common.

Lime-speck Pug. This little beauty was sheltering beneath the eaves of the garden cabin during Tuesday's rain.

Also known as Elbow-striped Grass-veneer. Just one of those myriad little moths which flush out from under your feet, then roll up into a tight tube upon landing. Nice though, isn't it?

Wax Moth. Technically a micro-moth, but very much not micro. Not that many local records.

Another common one.

Blair's Mocha. Roughly 200 Bridport records on Living Record now. Pretty uncommon most other places.

Maiden's Blush. One of three on Monday night.

Small Rufous. A wetland species which feeds on various rushes, this seems a bit of an odd one to get in the garden trap. A number of Bridport records though.

Pale Mottled Willow. Only our second, but common locally. At first glance it looks a dull, grey thing. But a close look reveals subtle tawny markings here and there. I love that.

Straw Underwing. The largest moth in today's gallery, and not common locally. There only seem to be a small number of Bridport records.

A moth I recently caught by hand at West Bexington, and about which I said: '...hopefully will also wind up in the garden trap one day.' Well, it did.

A common moth apparently, but not many Bridport records.

Otherwise known as Large Lance-wing, and the scarcest moth in this post. Not many Dorset records (25-ish on Living Record) and apparently none west of Abbotsbury. Until now.

So yes, the mothing has been fun, and thrown up a few nice surprises. Even the common ones are frequently gorgeous, so it is never a chore to pick through them. I have no idea what the garden tally is currently, but we still haven't had a single catch without a new species in it.

If I am fortunate enough to find a decent bird this autumn, I definitely will not have deserved it!