Monday, 5 September 2022

Gloom, Doom and Scarce Moths

Yesterday morning I was tempted into a seawatch, my first for ages. I lasted 45 minutes, and tallied 52 Gannets and 4 Med Gulls. An accurate Gannet count is always a bad sign, an indication that there was nothing better to keep me busy. Virtually any blow will result in a few Gannets passing, if nothing else. They are almost ubiquitous, and consequently taken for granted. Hopefully this will always be so. But...

Many years ago my old buddy Derek treated me to a RIB outing off the Pembrokeshire coast, which included a visit to the gannetry at Grassholm. What a spectacle! Sadly, this year Grassholm is just one of the many seabird colonies to have been clobbered by Avian Influenza. Around Britain, countless Gannets have died, are dying right now, will die soon. Just how far-reaching are the effects likely to be? I have no idea. However, posted on the local birdy WhatsApp group today was a photo of an adult Gannet in a Colyton field, well inland. And at Cogden this morning, a young Gannet flew towards the sea from the direction of the coast road! It had clearly wandered at least some way from its usual habitat, and is the first local bird I've seen inland of the beach...

Gannet heading towards the sea from inland. Don't ask me what it's carrying.

Also, a couple of Gannets passed by just off the beach. They are not often close enough to make me get the camera out...

I am not necessarily suggesting these Gannets were sick (apart from the Colyton bird) but the AI situation cast them in a different light somehow, and made me wonder. And tideline corpses have a more sinister feel too. Just how deeply is this disease going to bite?

Cogden this morning. There was a time I would simply have assumed 'natural causes', but not now.

I really, really hope that counting Gannets on a seawatch does not become a thing. That would be too sad.

So, after that sack of deep gloom, something completely different...

Back in July our little moth trap caught a scarce migrant called Tebenna micalis, or Vagrant Metal-mark. It was a bit knackered, and photos in the subsequent NQS post (here) were less than dazzling. Which was a shame because, judging by online pics, the moth itself can be very dazzling. Well, against all the odds (it really is scarce, with less than 20 on the Dorset Living Record map) we caught another last night...

A bit worn, but it looked pretty good through a hand-lens. Sadly my camera isn't good enough to do the thing justice, but imagine it is covered in loads of spangly glitter and you'll get the idea.

Something more obviously spectacular came our way a couple of nights back. I shall set the scene. It was barely dusk - not even 9pm - and I was loitering by the trap, hoping for an early micro or two. Right next to the trap are the remnants of our potted Nicotianas...

Well past their best, but thank goodness there are still a few blooms left.

...and right there, nectaring happily on the scant few flowers still in production, was a whopping great hawk-moth. It could only be one thing, surely...?

It was.

Convolvulus Hawk-moth. Our third.

I could scarcely believe it. Not only was this one an absolute peach, but what were the chances of my being on hand when it passed through? Slim, I think. Very slim.

Also that night, two more Old Ladies. Here is the best of them...

Every Old Lady we've caught has been a bit frayed around the edges. Appropriate, perhaps.

Some final bits and bobs...

Grey Seal this morning. I don't see them that often.

A particularly well-marked Rush Veneer.

It often strikes me that close-up photos of moths rarely, if ever, give much impression of how tiny some of them are. For example, many of the smartest geometers we've caught (those vaguely butterfly-like jobs) are a lot smaller than a Common Blue, which typically has a 28-36mm wingspan*. To illustrate, here is the garden's first Portland Ribbon Wave, photographed on the moth plank back in August. To me, there is no real sense of scale here...

Portland Ribbon Wave

And here is the garden's second Portland Ribbon Wave, photographed among assorted mothy paraphernalia in the garage today...

With a wingsan of 23mm, much smaller than a Common Blue.

Perhaps it is the seeming dearth of common migrants or something - the shadow cast by Avian Influenza doesn't help - but for some reason birding feels like the increasingly desperate pursuit of slowly diminishing returns right now. Or maybe it is because my age makes it possible to recall a different, more bird-rich (and possibly rose-tinted) time. I just need a memory-wipe and baseline reset...

In the meantime, there is much about mothing to avert the gloom.

* According to Wikipedia.


  1. Gav, your last main paragraph pretty well summed up my birding thoughts only today. I set forth birding hoping to find something out of the ordinary and found next to nothing of anything. It's a noticeable trend, this birding with vastly fewer birds. I think today I've given up. Move on. Nothing to see here.

    1. Well, until I go out looking again, just in case 🙂

    2. Thankfully, Ric, there's always next time. 😊 👍

  2. Fire, flood, pestilence, it's been quite a year and all life has suffered in some way. It sounds like something I once read... bleak, isn't it.

    1. Dave, I learned this morning that Grassholm is estimated to have lost 80% of its Gannets. Much worse than I realised. Yep, 'tis bleak.