There are lots of things I like about observing and recording nature in general – being outdoors, the way it makes me look differently at the world and the sense of focus that I find myself in … what would be called mindfulness nowadays and for which you’d pay £30 an hour in a class of some sort if you couldn’t just ‘be’ in the wild. But I think what’s best of all is the way that what you find is a matter of random luck as much as it is habitat, season and geography. Of course, it’s possible to target moths, not least by going portable with a generator, but because the trap is static it’s largely a matter of what flies over. Moreover, with more than 2500 moths, it’s likely that you will always find new ones.
So it was this morning. I’ve been mothing regularly for four and half years now – hardly an expert, but with species list of 456 moths – and yet I’m regularly finding new ones, as well as reacquainting myself with old friends. This morning, no less than six new moths arrived; and, what’s more, three of them were really quite common ones which had simply never happened to pitch up in my garden.
First, a Hawk-moth whose large cousin, Elephant Hawk-moth, is a regular visitor – Small Elephant Hawk-moth:
This one was a bit tatty, but it’s a moth I’ve been looking forward to catching for some time now, so great to see.
Then, the second one is a moth that I can’t believe I’ve never caught, one of the best of the ‘bird-dropping’ camouflage moths – Chinese Character:
I love this moth, not least since it’s so unlike a moth! It really is just a blob of bird-poo, and though the photo doesn’t capture it well, it even glistens a bit in the sun like it’s fresh.
Third, of the macros, was this one – a lovely fresh Broom Moth.
Though Townsend’s guide says it’s common, the recent Atlas of moths (Randle et al, 2020) says that its abundance has decreased by 88% since 1970. It’s worth reflecting on this figure – of every 100 Broom moths in 1970, 88 of them have nowadays disappeared, so it’s lack of attendance at my trap my be less surprising than it might seem.
After these macros, three micros. First, (and as ever with the health warning that micro ID is hard and I’m happy to be corrected) Aspilapteryx tringipennella, one of the lovely family of Gracillariidae which ‘stand up’ on their front legs.
Then, Epinotia tedella, Common Spruce Moth, which presumably came out of the rather scruffy spruce trees at the end of our garden.
Though it’s small, it’s also extremely smart with a rather zebra-like appearance.
Finally, and frustratingly, this is Pseudatemelia flavifrontella (/josephinae):
The frustration is the need for the ‘slash’ and the second possible specific name. Both flavifrontella and josephinae look very similar, and the guide said that it was impossible to tell them apart without dissection. However, flavifrontella flies earlier. from about now, with josephinae not until mid-June; however, having consulted our county moth recorder, the heat of recent weeks means that it’s hard to be sure. More frustratingly, it turns out that I could have separated them by looking at the abdomen … but I’d let it go! You live and learn.
Finally, to illustrate the way in which the content of your trap can be surprising in many ways, two moths were trapped which I’ve had before – many times in the latter case – but which would be a great catch for people in other regions of the country. These are the very local micro Evergestis limbata, Dark Bordered Pearl, and the Geometrid Portland Ribbon Wave.
The limbata I caught on 3rh September 2018, just the once. The Wave is surely breeding nearby though as I’m getting them regularly this year and last, and also had them previously when I lived in Exmouth – along with other trappers who are finding them nearby. It’s another example of a moth that, contrary to the Broom moth above, is doing well – spreading out from it’s original lone site in Portland, Dorset.
What a great morning – the perfect example of what mothing is all about for me. Always a surprise amongst the Heart and Darts … which were up to 49!