Friday 30 June 2023

An Epic Night

At this stage of my mothing career there are two principal factors which influence my pleasure in a particular moth. One is its aesthetic value; the other, its rarity. I know how superficial that sounds, and hopefully other factors will come to play a more prominent role in my appreciation of moths. Things like a species' fascinating life cycle, or interesting behaviour, say; or the knowledge that here is a moth which has suffered catastrophic decline in recent years. This is certainly true of birding, and it's been a long time since looks and rarity were the be-all and end-all.

In the meantime: aesthetic value. On this basis alone, there are several moths on my most-wanted list. Very often they are species which have featured regularly on my Twitter feed (but not in my trap) and thereby stirred a strong desire to make their acquaintance. Usually they are relatively common, like Lime and Pine Hawk-moth, Leopard Moth, etc. Which brings me to Tuesday night...

Tuesday evening was warm and overcast. I had high hopes. Not long after dark, I glanced outside and spied a chunky beast clinging to the moth towel...

Oh wow! Lime Hawk Moth was everything I hoped it would be. Just awesome!

That was about 22:30, and already there were several moths buzzing around the trap. I fetched the net. It was going to be a long night...

Leopard Moth. What a stunning creature! The dazzling blue legs were unexpected. Also, if you look closely, deep blue highlights to the three tufty studs on its thorax. Factor in a long, wiggly body and disproportionately short wings, and you have a pretty bizarre-looking moth. Wonderful!

Two lovely moths from my most-wanted list was just the start. What about rarity then? The thing with rarity is that I frequently have no idea a moth is rare until I research it. One micro trapped on Tuesday night illustrates this nicely. I was pretty sure it was a Gelechiid, but there are loads of intricately patterned ones like this one, and in my crack-of-dawn, bleary-eyed state I had no desire to pick carefully through the plates in 'Manley', so resorted to ObsIdentify. Which gave me Carpatolechia fugitivella, at a very high level of confidence. And yes, it matched perfectly...

There is some Elm in our neighbour's garden hedge, which may or may not be significant.

As per normal, I checked the Dorset Living Record map to get some idea of the county status of this 6 or 7mm scrap of a moth. Well...

Each dot represents one record. So, not common then!

Some eye candy, some rarity buzz, and what else? 215 moths of 74 species constitutes one of my best catches so far, and there were several other highlights...

A tiny little gem, and a garden first. Not uncommon though.

First Slender Pug of the year. Six records in 2022 has given us the biggest Bridport dot on the species' Living Record map. Not sure what the attraction is. It's a Willow feeder.

New for the year. Just a single in 2022.

First of the year. Quite common, with 13 garden records in 2022.

Single-dotted Wave. First 2023 record of this common, diminutive moth.

At the opposite end of the spectrum to the previous moth, what a delight to find this monstrous Privet Hawk-moth in the trap. Our second this year.

A garden-first Broad-barred White. Seemingly common enough Dorset-wide, but for some reason there are no Living Record dots in the Bridport area.

This Smoky Wainscot looked very similar to some of the five Common Wainscots trapped on Tuesday night, but displayed the characteristic dark markings on the underwing and has a subtly different shape. Our first of 2023, after three last year.

Such a nice haul of moths - including 14 new for year and five new for garden - was a lot of fun, but hard work to ID and record. I was away for Wednesday and Thursday nights, so tonight will be the final trap of the month. With the half-year garden tally currently standing at 313, will any be added before June is out I wonder?

In other news...

Devon's first recorded breeding Avocets hatched three chicks this week, at Black Hole Marsh in Seaton. All credit to East Devon District Council, and its former employee Fraser Rush in particular, for the creation and development of this superb wetland habitat. Tempting Avocet to breed in Devon was one of the project's specific goals, and may have seemed overly optimistic back in the mid-noughties. Yet here we are. It was only right that Wednesday's lunch break should be extended to include a visit. I would like to say I captured some fine shots of the happy family, but cannot. Instead, have this...

One of the parents.

Also, the following screenshot of Tim White's tweeted pic. I did manage some photos which included all three chicks, but they are pointless in the face of this masterful shot of two of them. If you haven't come across Tim's bird photography, or his incredible astronomical images, he is well worth a follow on Twitter: @ColytonWildlife.

Tuesday 27 June 2023

The Aggregations of Doom

It is true that some birds are difficult to identify - in a few cases, very difficult - but there aren't many which cannot reliably be done in the field. When it comes to moths, however...

On my 2023 garden spreadsheet are Uncertain/Rustic agg. (short for 'aggregate'), Marbled Minor agg., Acleris notana/ferrugana, Agonopterix heracliana/ciliella, Depressaria sp., and a few more in that vein. By the year's end I will have added others. Moths which cannot reliably be separated without recourse to surgery are almost an everyday thing in mothing, and a reality which as a birder I struggled to come to terms with. Even now it still irks me sometimes when I have to record a nicely-marked, pristine moth as an aggregate. A couple more cropped up recently, and feature below.

Saturday night, 24th June

74 moths of 33 species, with four new for year. Not a sparkling night, but one or two nice highlights...

This crisp, freshly-minted moth cannot safely be separated from a number of look-alikes, so has to go down as Cnephasia sp. Annoying, but I'm used to it now.

This is a Dark Dagger. Or it might be a Grey Dagger. Yep, it's Dark/Grey Dagger agg.

No such aggro with this little nugget. Plus, it's very well-behaved for a micro.

Short-cloaked Moth. Probably the highlight of Saturday night's catch, with just one trapped last year.

Sunday night, 26th June

Much better, with135 moths of 63 species. Ten new for year, four new for garden.

The first two Yponomeuta sp of the year. There are, I think, three species which cannot be separated in the field, and this pair are one (or two) of them. Even worse, I've read that they cannot safely be done under a microscope either. The only reliable way is by caterpillar, or if bred from the larval foodplant.

A lovely garden first - Cinnabar. I didn't even know they came to light.

Hopefully I've got this one correct. Cloaked Minor, new for the year.

Hopefully I've got this one correct also. It has a look-alike which we've trapped before. Anyway, assuming I have, it's new for the garden.

A nicely-marked Lychnis - new for the year.

Old Lady. Those I've trapped previously were a lot later in the year, and all a bit battered. This one is immaculate. I peeled it very carefully off the garage wall.

Dun-bar. First for 2023, and I'm expecting several more.

Rosy Footman was a lovely surprise when I first encountered it last year. Such a striking little moth. This is the first of 2023, but there will be many more.

At a bit less than 6mm, this is a very small Tortrix. Also a garden first. There are only a couple of other Bridport area records on the Living Record map, so it is probably a nice catch.

This Tortrix is at the other end of the spectrum, size-wise, and another garden first.

My first white Coleophora sp., one of several possibilities. Probably one of the most depressing bunch of moths to catch. There are millions of them, and most seem to be impossible to ID without dissection. This one was released without bothering it further, and quietly forgotten. As one fellow moth recorder put it, anything otherwise would be like sending in records of 'warbler sp.'. Pointless.

Monday night, 26th June

90 moths of 44 species, including four new for year and one new for garden.

Assorted brown pugs. Hopefully I've got the IDs correct.

Probably the night's highlight. Despite total lack of green bits, this is a worn Little Emerald. The cross-lines are just about discernable. There are no Living Record dots in the Bridport area and, despite being listed as nationally common, the rest of Dorset is not exactly plastered with them either.

The year's first Lackey. Blurry wing-tips give away the fact it was warming up for flight. Ten seconds later, it was gone.

The first Rusty-dot Pearl of 2023, and part of a migrant tally which included four Diamond-backs and two Silver Y.

The 2023 moth tally now stands at 299. Trapping tonight, then a couple of nights off. Think I can safely predict 300+ before July. Even if some of them are those annoying aggregates.

Saturday 24 June 2023

214 Moths

The 214 moths caught these last two nights were far from evenly distributed. Last night was a bit warmer, but I wouldn't have guessed it was going to produce almost three times as many moths as Thursday, and twice the variety. Predicting what may, or may not, be a good night for mothing must be a useful talent, but I definitely don't have it. As I type, it is very warm out, and muggy, but the sky is clear. Will tonight be especially good, or just average? Obviously I hope the former, but have no real idea.

Thursday night

57 moths of 33 species, with three new for year and one new for garden.

New for the garden, this apparently common moth took a while to ID. When I did eventually get there, I learned that the crumpled, almost collapsed-looking back end is actually an excellent pointer to this species, which can have very variable markings.

Large and loud. Magpie Moth is always a treat. New for the year.

Friday night

Last night's 157 moths of 66 species was miles better, and right up there with the most productive I've experienced so far. 12 species new for year, but just two new for garden.

Fan-foot. Common, but only caught this species three times last year. First for 2023.

Light Arches. First of the year. Another common moth, but only caught it twice in 2022.

First Lesser Yellow Underwing of the year. Very fresh, but with a deformed wing.

Caught this little moth twice last year. It is one of three which turned up last night. This photo was taken in the 5 milliseconds it kept still.

New for the garden. A few Bridport area records.

Nice to get another pug species. I recognised that dull orange waistcoat from last year - Haworth's Pug.

New for the year. Caught a handful in 2022.

New for the garden. This is the Great Black-backed Gull of Scoparids. Nationally common, but there is only one other Living Record dot in the Bridport area.

I expect to see plenty more of this charismatic little moth as the summer progresses.

Barred Yellow, a species that we saw just once last year. This gorgeous little moth was a major highlight of the night's catch.

Among last night's pugs was a Currant/Wormwood type. My bleary, crack-of-dawn eyes were not up to sorting it it out but, for me, a photo helps enormously...

I went for Wormwood Pug, the first this year.

Out of curiosity, I thought it might be helpful to compare it to a couple of the Currant Pugs caught earlier this month, or, more accurately, what I have called Currant Pugs. So here they all are...

Top two: Currant Pugs. Bottom: last night's Wormwood Pug. Well, that's what I think anyway. Yes, it's all very subtle!

The 2023 moth tally is cracking on nicely - 280 now.

Thursday 22 June 2023

Gull Flock in Miniature

It's no secret that I enjoy the sometimes tricky challenge of gull identification. Unsurprisingly, the very same jollies are there to be had in the world of moths. The pug family is a good example, but last year I was exposed to another: Scoparid moths. I was too fresh a beginner to take them on in the moth avalanche of summer 2022, but now I am ready. Just like gulls, they are largely monochrome, with a bit of brown here and there. Last night I caught nine. Here are eight of them...

I don't think any were longer than 9 or 10mm, so yes, they are small, dull, and all look the same. So why bother, right? Well, in the collage above are three different species. One of them (two individuals) is designated Nationally Scarce B and is new for the garden. Definitely worth the bother.

I'll come back to this lot a bit later. In the meantime, a quick summary of the last couple of nights...

Tuesday night

50 moths of 29 species is the lowest tally for a quite a while. Even so, five of those 29 were new for the year...

First Buff Arches of the summer.

Encountering this salted caramel confection for the first time was a major highlight of last year's mothing. It is common though, and the novelty did wear off. Even so, what a snazzy moth!

Pristine Common Footman, the year's first. There will be lots of these to come...

Pristine V-Pug, the year's first, etc...

Caught two of these last year, which possibly makes our garden a Bridport hotspot - there only three other local dots on the Living Record map.

Not the first this year, but a pretty fresh one.

Small Elephant Hawk-moth was another 'new for year' on Tuesday night, but I managed to make a pig's ear of the photos. I first met this species last summer, but had forgotten how tiny they are.


Wednesday night

A night with a theme (see photo at top of post) but also some cracking moths that weren't monochrome. 126 was the total, made up of 43 species. Six new for year, of which four new for garden.

Most of the moths pictured so far have been in amazingly good nick, evidently newly emerged in some cases. This unseemly focus on perfection has been noted by one NQS reader. So, to prove that Dorset moth folk value all moths, regardless of condition, some of the following images feature moths with missing scales...

Just a Common Carpet, but I like these.

Broken-barred Carpet. Caught one of these last year, on almost exactly the same date.

Actually new for the garden on Monday night, but escaped the studio. Rediscovered yesterday, lurking in the conservatory. Treated much less complacently second time around.

Our second Scorched Carpet of 2023. Scuffed, nicked and battered too.

Pristine, immaculate... Blair's Mocha #7

Small Fan-footed Wave. Very alert, very ready to fly at the slightest provocation.

The Med Gull of Scoparids, perhaps. Also, Nationally Scarce B. Quite a few local records though, so I guess it is not too uncommon within its range.

New for the garden, and characterful with it. Win, win.

I nearly overlooked this little cracker. Shan't tell you what I momentarily thought it was, in my bleary-eyed state, but it's no bigger than many pugs, so there's a clue. Anyway, this is Small Seraphim. A garden first, and definitely scarce locally. There are only two nearby dots on Living Record.

I predict lots of these...

...and lots of these.

Another common one, but with that attenuated shape, straightforward to identify.

A common, and increasingly familiar micro.

I remember trapping one of these tiny moths last year but cannot find any record of it, so this counts as new for the garden. Designated 'Local', there are a few Bridport area records.

So, back to the miniature gulls. As the summer progresses, I expect to see more and more of those little monochrome moths. A number of species might turn up here, and I really ought to make the effort to learn them. To that end, I took that collage of eight depicted above, plus my copy of Nick Asher's Common Micro-moths of Berkshire, and applied what's left of my brain to the ID puzzle. Here is what I made of it...

1, 2, 3 - Eudonia lacustrata; 4, 5 E. delunella (#5 presumably a weakly-marked individual); 6 - E. mercurella; 7, 8 - E. lacustrata (#8 a bit worn)

Common Micro-moths of Berkshire is a brilliant volume, and I find myself referring to it all the time. All credit to it then, that my ID conclusions received a pleasing thumbs-up from one or two very experienced moth folk. Without that book I would have been fumbling.

Okay, no more mention of gulls.*


* Obviously I mean the metaphorical kind. Real gulls are due a lot of mentions. Always.