A Brief Review of 2020

As 2020 draws to a close I thought I would pull together a few of the mothing highlights from what has been quite a year. Back in March, as the lockdown began, I confidently wished everyone well, saying that ‘whatever happens over the next few weeks I hope you manage to find time and space to see some good wild-things’. Little did I know that nine months later we’d still be under strict regulations due to COVID, with Christmas plans in chaos for many. But, whatever else the year has brought, the moths have been kind to me and, below, I share some of the real highlights of a good mothing year.

The year began in FEBRUARY for me, not with the moth trap but with seeing hibernating moths in the Exeter catacombs whilst on a bat survey. Despite the risk of predation, Herald moths hibernate as adults in numbers and these one were clinging together in an old wardrobe that had been discarded.

Herald moths hibernating in Exeter catacombs, 20th Feb 2020

But the real mothing year started for me in MARCH when I dusted off the trap for the first time and caught some of the classic Spring Orthosia moths, the best of which was this cracking fresh Powdered Quaker:

A really fresh Powdered Quaker

This isn’t a rare species, but you seldom see them this fresh, with all the subtle black markings showing so clearly. The rest of March was not spectacular but my first ever March moth, on the 24th, was a welcome, and appropriate, way to start adding to the life list.

March Moth – a lifer, then caught twice more in March 2020

APRIL too was far from exciting in terms of new stuff, but it’s always a wonderful time of year in general as other insects, including the bees, start to really become active. The moths get more dramatic too, in my view, with Prominents and Tussocks, still well wrapped up in long scales, making for good viewing. Perhaps my favourite was this Coxcomb Prominent, a real looker:

Coxcomb Prominent

It’s easy, when you are into recording something, to be too focused on new finds and good to remember as well that the fun is in looking closely at whatever you find and as April turned, MAYDAY brought three more Prominents, all as beautiful as each other:

And so, on, in what is always a rather strange time of year, plenty of moths about, but not in huge numbers yet, nor likely to provide you with a real heart-stopper. Indeed, May was half done before I suddenly got my first really exciting moth – a Privet Hawkmoth. This isn’t rare, and I’d seen one before, but it was the first one I’d trapped, and pristine to boot:

What a stunner, and so big that you felt like you were holding a small songbird rather than a moth. It stared out at me as I approach the trap; no hiding in the corner for this one … and an omen of better to come later in the year.

But first, May 27th, which suddenly brought the year to life with no less than six lifers in one trap. The best of the bunch were Broom Moth, a species rapidly declining, and Small Elephant Hawkmoth which, though common enough, had not crossed my radar before.

The others were less spectacular, three being micros, but equally exciting: Aspilapteryx tringipennella, Epinotia tedella and Pseudatemelia flavifrontella (/josephinae). The last was Chinese Character which, again, I’d seen everywhere but in my garden up to this point, but was now a garden tick:

Chinese Character

This final trapping of May, with lots of new moths, certainly signaled the onslaught of summer when numbers really pick up.

JUNE brought some spectacular species, if familiar to me, with Phoenix, True Lover’s Knot and Grey/Dark Dagger being good examples:

Perhaps the star of June though was saved for the very last day, when this Scarlet Tiger came to light:

It’s a moth of the SW, though extending its range rapidly in a changing climate and a brilliant example of just how spectacular moths can be.

By JULY things are in full swing and running a trap regularly is hard work. Firstly, the shear volume of moths can be daunting, sometimes several hundred to sort through and catalogue. I record them all in a notebook first that comes outside with me alongside the compulsory cup of tea and then upload all the records onto the Moth Recording Scheme website where it stores them and allows me to look back later. I also take photos of the more exciting ones, often posting them to Twitter and also uploading to my Flickr site so that I have a photo-record too. All this takes time, as you can imagine, not to mention the time spent identifying the little devils in the first place – which for micros can be an exhaustive, and exhausting, process. Moreover, the early mornings are tough; to avoid too much bird predation you really need to up and at it at dawn, which in late June and July means a 5am start at the latest. But it’s all worth it when something exciting turns up in your garden, which is certainly did for me this summer … but first a little detour, down to the River Otter which runs below the house about half a mile away.

Ottermouth, Budleigh Salterton

In early July Matt purchased the new ‘lure’ for Lunar Hornet Moths. This is something that hadn’t been available prior to this year and its introduction revolutionized many people’s understanding of these amazing moths, mine included. Overnight, a moth that few had ever seen was being found all over the place, including Budleigh! After showing me one he’d caught himself, Matt kindly leant me the lure and within about an hour I’d trapped six, in different locations all along the river bank!

To say these are amazing is an understatement. For all the world like a full-sized hornet, the males come drifting down from the tree canopy of a willow to smell out the lure. Read a full report here if you missed it the first time.

Also in July, and then again in August, Matt and I made a second trip to the river, this time at night with a generator to run the traps to see what came out of the reed beds. It’s great habitat, and there was lots to see but out target species were Wainscots and we managed to find both Fen and Brown-veined Wainscot, both new for me:

Also of note were Southern Wainscot – the characteristic dark forehead band just visible – and Crescent, a moth with a beautiful, curling kidney mark.

And so into AUGUST proper, where, on three nights, within a week or so of each other, the 3rd, 11th and 12th, my mothing world exploded with new and fantastic species. First, on the 3rd, a moth that was a dream come true – Bedstraw Hawkmoth.

This is a moth that many moth-ers never get to see, and so I consider myself lucky to have caught it. An immigrant, almost certainly, but with the possibility that it hatched from local larvae, three of which were found in Exmouth last Autumn apparently.

After this, stunning find on the 3rd, the 11th August was a still, muggy night which brought over 65 species to the trap, with some stunning migrants. The stars of the show were Tree-lichen Beauty, a rare immigrant from Southern Europe (though possibly now breeding in the SW) …

Tree-lichen Beauty

… and Lesser-spotted Pinion, which has resident populations in the SE, but very few records this far West, making this another likely immigrant:

Lesser-spotted Pinion

There were other good moths too – Vestral and White-Point as immigrants, and Portland Ribbon Wave, which many people will never see if not on the South coast, but which is breeding locally to us and why I get them in good numbers here.

All this felt incredibly lucky … to be seeing such fantastic moths in my own garden. But then to cap it all, a second Bedstraw turned up!

You can see from the wing details that these are two different moths, not a recapture – incredible luck indeed! And, yet more, this time not in my garden, but on the same night as this second BHM, Matt caught Dark Crimson Underwing in his trap in Exmouth … another stunning moth:

It’s all enough to need a lie-down. Fortunately, the rest of August trotted by with some nice moths, but nothing extraordinary. I also took a break from trapping as I went on holiday, taking me into SEPTEMBER, always a slow month as I work in education and it’s the busiest time as the academic year gets started. I barely got the trap running in the garden, but the month still produced one highlight, the 14th, when I got a last minute call from Paul Butter to join him on the cliffs above Lyme Regis to set three traps between us. It was a wonderful evening, not least to simply be on the clifftops on a lovely evening, but capped by trapping not one, but two Clifden Nonpareil:

These are the biggest moths you’ll hold in the UK in terms of wing area, sitting fairly fully across the whole of one palm, and flat, making them feel almost like two-dimensional cut-outs. I’ve been lucky to trap this three times in my life (five individuals in total) – though once was not really ‘trapping’ as such when two fluttered across the flood-lit hockey pitch that my son was playing on in Taunton and landed on my bag!

And so to OCTOBER, always a marker for me as my birthday falls in this month and it was in 2015 that my wife gave me my trap and I started ‘mothing’, meaning that each year it feels like a kind of fresh start. Things are quietening down of course, but this Heath Rustic, a regular up on the common, was the first I’d caught in the garden.

Heath Rustic

Also nice was this micro, Ypsolopha parenthesella, a super-looking little fella, reminding me how much I like the micros, as much because of, not despite, the ID challenge they present:

Ypsolopha parenthesella

As October turns into NOVEMBER and it starts to turn colder, many of the moths are done – though not of course dead, as they live on as larvae, pupae, or even adults overwintering, such as the Heralds that started the year above. In fact, it’s tempting to put the trap away but I try to run it a few times and it’s great to see the end of the year connecting with the start like this. One also tends to get some quite unusual species, and for me Oak Rustic stands out.

Oak Rustic

Still a fairly rare moth, though getting more common, it was only first recorded in the UK in 1991, on the Channel Islands. I had had it in 2018, but took it again this year on Nov 7th. It appears like a late flying, slightly stocky, Common Rustic.

Also of note as November fliers are the ‘marvelous’ Merveille du Jour – just the most stunning shades of green – and Scarce Umber.

But, if I thought that that was it for the year, I was in for one last surprise, with a moth I had been on the lookout for over the last few years.

Radford’s Flame Shoulder

This is Radford’s Flame Shoulder, very similar to the common Flame Shoulder, but an immigrant moth with some subtle differences around the shoulders and the extent of the black markings in the wing. It’s increasing in numbers, like so many moths that are traditionally from warmer climes, but still a rarity and one I’d really hoped to catch.

Finally, then, into DECEMBER, and another Oak Rustic is all I’ve managed of note. I’ve tried a couple of times for December moth, but, as yet, to no avail. It’s been a great year for rarities and new moths, but it goes to show that mothing is an unpredictable affair – one of its frustrations, but also one of its great joys. I’ll leave you with this nice smart male December moth from 2017, in my old Exmouth garden.

December Moth, 2017, Exmouth

One still to catch here in Budleigh. May be in 2021?

Happy Christmas and New Year!

Radford’s Flame Shoulder …

After yesterday’s success, with Palpita vitrealis, Gem and Dark Chestnut, I was looking forward to opening the trap this morning. A light drizzle of overnight rain looked promising too – so often the moths seem to settle better when they’ve been forced to avoid some rain – and sure enough it didn’t disappoint.

I’ll come to the other immigrants in a moment, all of which I carefully potted up as I went through the trap, but the star of the show was nearly missed as it had slipped into the gap between the sides of the trap. As I started packing away I saw a moth that was instantly familiar, and yet immediately, noticeably different …

Radford’s Flame Shoulder

This is Radford’s Flame Shoulder (Ochropleura leucogaster), a rare, though increasing, immigrant from southern Europe and a moth for which I’ve been on the look out for a few years now. It is very similar to its genus cousin Flame Shoulder (Ochropleura plecta) which is a common, resident moth flying earlier in the year – the image below is from 2016:

O. plecta – Flame Shoulder

Though similar I knew straight away that today’s was the rarer Radford’s: in addition to the late flight season, more elongate and the cream leading edges to the wings extending right up over the shoulders and meeting a creamier forehead (below, first two images Radford’s; third image Flame Shoulder for comparison):

Another nice feature is the extent of the black line through the kidney mark on the forewing which extends sharply, like a dagger, through Radford’s and stops more abruptly in O. plecta:

Plucking this from the edge of the trap as I was packing away was the icing on the cake of a good morning’s catch. As well as the Radford’s I had four Oak Rustic, another scarce moth that I’m lucky to have in the garden. I caught this previously, in 2018, so it’s not new for the garden but lovely nonetheless – like a slightly stocky Common Rustic:

Also on the list of migrants in the notebook were 4 x Palpita vitrealis (Jasmine Moth), c. 13 x Udea ferrugalis (Rusty Dot Pearl), 2 x Autographa gamma (Silver Y) and a single Cydalima perspectalis (Box-tree Moth), the last of these possibly a resident.

All these are lovely moths, but perhaps not comparable visually to the next one, my first two Merveille du Jour of the year. These are stunning, both in their own right on a blank background and in their more natural camouflage on the mossy bark of a tree:

Also in the trap one or two other moths of interest. This Brimstone Moth is very common, but it’s late in the year and given how fresh it looks I suspect might be a third generation:

Brimstone Moth – 3rd generation?

I caught my first Brimstone this year on 7th April. In early May I was catching 11 in a night with large, fresh specimens; then a lull with just the odd moth before a peak of 41 on 7th August, often smaller individuals of a second generation. After that it’s regular, but down to singles from early September onwards. To get a sense of the shape of this distribution over time I’ve combined all my records for the last three years below (331 individuals recorded across 73 different dates) into a time series.

You can see today’s moth on the very right hand side of the horizontal axis – surely a separate third generation?

Finally, a few other bits and bobs, including Scarce Umber (2) and a nice Oak Nycteoline:

A fabulous night then, with a lifer, long sought after and some other spectacular moths. Good evidence that Autumn is often a good month when the nights are still and damp with wind from the south.

Autumn mothing

It may be because the autumn always coincides with the start of the new academic year and I’m really busy, but somehow I always seem to forget how good the mothing can be at this time of year. Nights that are rain-free don’t seem to have been nights that are ‘I’m-free’ and so, slightly ashamedly, I noticed that it was over a month since I’d last set the trap.

However, with a low of just 11.5C and a wind that dropped overnight I ended up with 42 or 22 species in the trap last night. Some of these were migrants with the best being this very worn Gem:

Gem

Always lovely are Palpita vitrealis (two in fact) which live up to their names with wings that are truly vitrous – glass-like:

Palpita vitrealis

Perhaps the best moth personally though was this Dark Chestnut, which was a lifer for me. It’s a lovely moth, darker in life than the photo shows here and with the beautiful square wing-shape that tends to characterize the chestnuts.

Dark Chestnut – lifer for me

Many of the moths on the wing at the moment, like the Dark Chestnut above, reflect the colours of the time of year.

These three are representative of the changing leaves, with some still green and some which have turned. (Grey Pine Carpet is always tricky to distinguish from the very similar Spruce Carpet and thanks to Twitter-helpers for support on this.)

More subdued, but another moth I really like, is this Blair’s Shoulder-knot.

Blair’s Shoulder-knot

For some reason I’ve got a real soft-spot for these – I think perhaps because I caught them early on when I first got my trap in October 2015. I still associate them with being exciting, even slightly exotic.

Finally, some micros. Four Rusty Dot Pearls might well have been immigrants, but the ones that made the camera were these:

So some great moths but, as ever, for me the best thing of all is the peace and calm that goes with emptying the trap in the morning. Tea, camera, notebook, and it’s a beautiful chance to lose myself in something stress-free (until one dashes off without me seeing it of course). The light is on and I’m hoping the rain will stay away long enough to enjoy it again tomorrow.

Autumn Catch-up

It’s been a long time since I updated this blog. This is partly becuase at this time of year I’m always busy at work, but also reflective of the slowing down of nature as the weather cools, the rain returns and days shorten. Everything seems to be winding down and drawing in.

Whilst it’s generally been quiet, one night from the last month stands out however – 15th September, when I joined Paul Butter to set three traps on the cliff tops just West of Lyme Regis. A really warm evening brought plenty of moths, but most remarkably two Clifden Nonpareil.

These are stunning moths, which I’ve been lucky enough to trap twice before. They are so large that they sit covering, fairly completely, one’s palm; and the flat wings make them look almost like cardboard cut-outs on the side of a trap. The stunning blue hindwing stripes look magnificent; a superb moth.

Other than that, numbers have been fairly low, though not unusual for the time of year, with the usual collection of Autumn moths, reflecting the changing garden colours.

As well as these common, if colourful, regulars, there have been one or two nice additions to the year list. This Ypsolopha parenthesella was a new moth for me and a nice little micro.

Ypsolopha parenthesella

Meanwhile a moth new to the garden was this Heath Rustic, one that I’ve caught before on Woodbury Common, but which has never previously made it to the garden:

Heath Rustic

This morning I trapped this Mecyna asinalis which was also a visitor last year, but good to see again as it’s a fairly local, coastal specialist.

Mecyna asinalis

With the Heath Rustic, above, it’s a good example of how well placed I am here in Budleigh with coastal, riparian, suburban and heathland habitat around me.

Beyond this, the moths have been regulars with nothing really unusual. Elsewhere in the garden though, there have been signs of Autumn’s onset. One of my favourites is the annual arrival of the Ivy bees – Colletes hederae. I look out for these every year as the plant comes into flower. On September 14th there was no sign, but on the 15th there they were, dashing about over the ivy that covers several swathes of our walls, and in the hedge up the drive.

Ivy Bee

They are super little bees, busy as anything feeding away, clearly aware of the lateness of their arrival to the garden and perfectly adapted to make use of the ivy flowers – a real specialist. Each year I’m ready to trim back ivy, but I always make a point of delaying it until these little buzzers have had their fill.

Bedstraw Hawkmoth … AGAIN! (… and more)

When you trap one of the rarest moths in the county, with just a handful of records over the last few years, you consider yourself lucky. When you do it again 10 days later, well …!

With the threat of rain overnight, I put the trap under the sun umbrella on our garden table and the underside of the canopy was plastered in moths come the morning. Having spent 20 mins recording these, and then opening up one side of the trap and dealing with the plethora of moths inside, I had already been at it for 45 mins before I even saw this moth …

Bedstraw Hawkmoth

There, for the second time in 10 days, was a Bedstraw Hawkmoth, an insect that many moth-ers may never seen … and I’d found two in as many weeks. What a cracking moth!

So, just how lucky am I?

Well, the answer to that depends on what the most likely scenario is. One obvious possibility is that I’m only as lucky as the first time because this was the same moth, re-trapped having lingered near my garden. With this in mind I looked back carefully at the photos from the 3rd August and they suggest that this is not the case.

As you can see, the extent of the black markings on the hindwings is different, with a distinct bulge on the new moth not present on the old one. Whilst moths might lose colouring over ten days as the scales wear away, it couldn’t have gained this extra black marking. These look like two different specimens therefore.

So, the second possibility is that I’ve simply managed to trap two immigrants … but with just a very few records for the UK every year, and very few of these in Devon, the odds that these were two immigrant moths and had both stumbled on my garden are surely negligible.

But there is a third possibility which is that far from coming from miles away, these moths are the progeny of a local breeding pair, or pairs, and have therefore emerged nearby. This seems the likeliest – and most exciting – probability … still immensely lucky that reproduction happened locally but, given that it did, then statistically fairly likely that I then caught two of them. It would also explain why they look so pristine …

Perhaps what we are seeing here is the product of our increasingly mild winters. As I understand it, Bedstraw Hawkmoths spend the winter underground as a pupa and the caterpillars then are active from July to September. However, the pupal stage ‘does not usually survive’ our wet winters (Waring, Townsend and Lewington, 2012, p. 167); though over the last 50 years or more there have been temporary resident sites in different parts of the UK, especially in the SE. It looks like at least one pair of pupae have managed to do so here, even though last winter was a wet one. Either way, a fabulous moth to have nearby and coming to the trap. Let’s hope that the population lingers and, perhaps, even manages to take hold permanently.

As if that wasn’t enough, Matt then called me to say he had trapped Dark Crimson Underwing in his Exmouth garden just a few miles away!

Dark Crimson Underwing

DCU is pretty much as rare as the Hawkmoth, with just 38 British records in the Atlas (Randle et al, 2020) since 2000 and only one site showing in Devon. To see this, as well as the Hawkmoth, made for a fabulous day, with the promise of more to come given the hot and humid weather forecast.

Migrants

A still, muggy night brought a host of moths to the trap, with over 65 species. Among them were a few really nice migrants, though their exact status is hard to define given the changing distribution of many moths over the last couple of decades as climate and habitat both change.

Two lifers were the pick of the bunch for me. First, Tree-lichen Beauty, a moth from Southern Europe, though with the possibility that it now breeds in parts of Southern England.

Tree-lichen Beauty

However, records in the SW are very scarce and so I’m assuming this one came in from overseas.

Next was Lesser-spotted Pinion:

Lesser-spotted Pinion

Distribution is similar to the Tree-lichen Beauty, with resident populations in the SE, but very few records this far West, making this another likely immigrant. It wasn’t until I’d let it go as I tried to get a better photo that I actually realised how uncommon it is in this part of the world and that some people are yet to see it – sorry Matt!

Also immigrant was this Vestal, one of two this morning and having been trapped the day before yesterday too.

The Vestal

Trends for this moth, according to Randle et al (2020), involve a recent increase after a long-term decline. It’s a moth of Southern Europe again, but now being seen as far north as Shetland! For me it’s annual, but always a lovely one to get.

Lastly, White-point, which has an immigrant population but now breeds across much of Southern England and is a regular, if not frequent visitor to my garden.

White-point

This one looks worn enough to think it might have traveled some way.

Other than that, the moths of interest included two Portland Ribbon Waves.

Portland Ribbon Wave

We do well for this round here in the Budleigh and Exmouth area and assume that there are resident breeding colonies nearby. However, today’s moths are second generation – I trapped several from the first generation in late May, the latest on May 25th – and though Townsend et al’s field guide from 2012 suggests that English populations don’t breed twice they surely now do given the regularity in late summer and early Autumn. Last year I also had a good number of these in August and into September; and this one looks incredibly fresh as if just emerged.

Finally, Crescent Dart – I think, though happy to be corrected – and Mullein Wave were both nice moths …

… and accompanied by the, now almost regulation, Hornet (Vespa crabro) which I seem to find in every trap at the moment.

European Hornet

Not a moth, but perhaps the most beautiful of the insects in the trap and, early in the morning, very placid and happy to pose for photos.

Reed Bed trip #2

I spent another lovely evening last night down at the Otter reed beds with Matt. Compared to the visit last week it was much stiller and warmer and this was reflected in the greater abundance of insects.

Despite having several Fen Wainscot just 10 days ago that particular species was nowhere to be seen this time. However, in its place we found good numbers of another Wainscot new to us both: Brown-veined Wainscot, Archanara dissoluta.

Brown-veined Wainscot
Brown-veined Wainscot

The one I’ve shown here is described as the more common form, f. arundineta, in Townsend et al, but in practice we found more of the darker form, below:

Brown-veined Wainscot is described as a localised reed bed specialist with larvae that feed inside the stems of Common Reed. Like the Fen Wainscot last week, this moth is largely distributed in the South and East of the country so forms a good record here.

Another good record, hiding in amongst the more regular Smoky and Common Wainscots, and a lifer for me, was this Southern Wainscot. It’s distinguishing feature is a dark band across its forehead and, though faded, it is just visible here.

Otherwise, for me there was one other new moth, though common enough nationally; this Agonopterix alstromeriana.

Agonopterix alstromeriana

In all, 40 species made the notebook and there were undoubtedly others we missed. Amongst them were two huge hornets that decided to come and investigate the trap at one point.

Intimidatingly big – Vespa crabro (European Hornet)

Matt braved them and potted them up for later release. Bar these, the best of the rest on a really enjoyable night were:

Bedstraw Hawkmoth

An admission … I’ve been moaning to myself that I’ve not had a ‘good’ moth for ages, despite all my attempts of late and so surely I deserved one. Nonsense, of course. As if nature somehow owed anything! And mothing is largely luck, of geography and habitat and what happens by. Nonetheless, as the golfer Lee Travino famously said, ‘the more I practise the luckier I get’. And so how glad I was that I set the trap again last night.

I can see the box in the garden from our kitchen window and as I let the dogs out around 5am (quietly, don’t wake the family!) I noticed a large hawkmoth clinging to the inside. My first reaction was Privet – large size and a striped appearance – but I immediately realised that this was something else. Something much better. Bedstraw Hawkmoth!

Bedstraw Hawkmoth

What an incredible beauty. Just a stunning combination of size, colour and pattern. And pristine too, with not a scale out of place … of which more below. First, some detail shots:

Like many of the larger moths, and the hawkmoths in particular, when disturbed it flashes a bright red warning using its hind wings. I also love the stripe above the eye, almost like a ‘browed’ warbler of some sort as much as a moth. Indeed, these beasties need to be handled to really appreciate their scale and as they warm their wings before take off they emit a humming noise with a real sense of power behind it.

So where is it from? In the field guides it’s noted as an immigrant, from warmer climes, but apparently there were three larvae found locally, in Exmouth, last year. They need warm and dry winters for the larvae to survive and our last one was warm, but very wet. Nevertheless, given just how perfect the scales look, this really could be a local moth, just emerged and flying for the first time. What a privilege that it choose my garden to drop into last night.

Beyond the hawkmoth there were a few other nice moths new for the year – below:

In addition, though not new for the year, some others that stood out in terms of colour and pattern.

A great morning, and with the prospect of more to come as the weather looks like it is set to warm up at night times. As ever, I wonder what will drop by …

River Otter trip

I took the trap down to the River Otter last night, using a generator for power. Great to have the company of Matt and we set up in a quiet corner by the reed bed at White Bridge on a still, but rather cool, clear night. The temperature was probably just a bit low for a real influx and moths drifted in slowly, mainly Common and Dingy Footmen.

Our main target species were the Wainscots and despite the poor numbers we had some luck. Even before the likely candidates, Common and Smoky, a Fen Wainscot appeared.

Fen Wainscot

The photo is obviously taken this morning in good light, but under torch light in the dark it showed a beautiful silky texture with a subtle sheen to it. Wing shape – relatively wide compared to the length and quite pointed – was also noticeable. In good light the chocolate edging is also very clear:

Fen Wainscot wing detail

After that we trapped a second, along with Smoky and what I think is just Common (R) below:

Otherwise, we were kept nicely busy, though not rushed off our feet with moths including Drinker, Ruby Tiger, Red Twin-Spot Carpet and a few others. But the real surprise was awaiting us!

Packing away, we emptied the trap only to find a moth that, in the dark, seemed black with two white spots that we couldn’t immediately recognise. In the light at home though it turned out to be The Crescent.

The Crescent
Wing detail

Though distributed all along the South coast, this is a nice find for our part of the world, with just a scattering of them in the Devon records over the last few years. Particularly good since we didn’t see it going into the trap!

We plan to try the same spot on a warmer evening in the near future, but for now I’m happy with these two excellent lifers.

Footman moths

Despite a warm clear day, the overnight conditions didn’t quite produce the catch I expected last night, though still a decent haul of 89 moths of 44 species.

What I did get was Footman moths, a group from the genus Erebidae – which also includes the Ermines (Buff, White), Muslin Moth and the Tigers – the name presumably coming from the smart, yellow-trimmed uniform that might be worn by a footman.

Today I caught five of the commoner species plus one that I’m undecided on – Hoary or Scarce Footman. On a cool morning they were fairly docile and managed to organise themselves for a group shot – below.

Rosy (top) and then L – R Common, Dingy, Hoary/Scarce, Buff and Four-spotted Footman

Common Footman (far left and below) is indeed common at this time of year with 20+ regularly in and around the trap.

Common Footman

As well as being fairly docile in the cool conditions, their defense mechanism is to flip over and play dead. They can lie like this for ages hoping, I guess, that a bird might consider a dead moth less appetising – or perhaps less nutritious – than a live one; though it always seems like a last-ditch effort to me.

Common Footman in defense position, playing dead.

The others are less common, though I do well for all of them here on the SW coast. As a group though they seem to be benefiting from our changing climatic conditions with a number of them doing particularly well.

Dingy, Buff and Common
Dingy (L) and Buff (R) Footman

Dingy and Buff Footmen (above) have, since 2000, both extended their range considerably and have had an incredible change in abundance. According to Randle et al (2020) this has increased by 5500% and 84500% respectively – that is 55 and 845 times as many of each species between 2000 and 2016! It’s no wonder I’m catching them.

Also in the trap was a male Four-spotted Footman, one I’ve been getting regularly in the last week or so.

Male Four-spotted Footman

It’s the female that has the spots, three being visible, with the last under the fold of the wings. There were none today, but this pair was trapped last year.

Female and male Four-spotted Footman

Again, it’s expanding it’s range fairly rapidly and is now resident across much of southern England. It’s certainly common in my trap at this time of year.

Next up, Rosy Footman, a stunning little moth which, when freshly emerged, is a bright orangey, pink with smart black markings.

Rosy Footman

Finally, this (below) is either Scarce or Hoary Footman.

Scarce / Hoary Footman

I think it’s the former – certainly pale enough (easier to see in comparison to the other moths in the very first photo above), though the thing that I’m hesitating on is the trim round the wing which in my experience of Hoary doesn’t usually extend quite so prominently round the apex. I wonder if this one is just a bit worn though, making it appear more ‘trimmed’ than it is. Scarce Footman (below, from 2018) is a very similar shape, wings rolled tightly round the abdomen, but is darker and has yellow piping more prominently round the whole wing.

Scarce Footman from 2018

Until recently Hoary was only likely to be found on the rocky coasts of SW England but has colonized the SE and is also expanding. I do well for it here, being pretty much annual and at least as regular as Scarce.

So a good morning for Footman moths. Also nice was this Blue-bordered Carpet, a moth I’ve seen before, but never trapped myself.

Blue-bordered Carpet

And finally, three very smart Prominents: Pale, Lesser Swallow and Swallow, the last two, at least, presumably from second broods since I had them earlier in the year.