A few highlights from 2018

It’s been a rather stop-start year for me in terms of mothing. I had a very, very hectic first few months of 2018 at work and didn’t really start the trap until into April. Then, a house move meant that late July and early August were also slim in terms of numbers trapped. However, the move to the new home, from Exmouth to Budleigh, brought some fantastic moths to the trap. Here, I’ve picked out a few highlights from the year to remember.

The Spring always starts with Orthosia – the quakers – for me; a favourite family. April 12th brought these four together: twin spot, small, common and hebrew character.

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Ten days later I trapped Pale Pinion, a moth I was pleased to get and also new to the garden in Exmouth.

Shortly after the Pale Pinion, another of the beautiful wood-mimic moths dropped by in the shape of Chamomile Shark, new for the garden again, and a really smart moth:

Perhaps the highlight of May though was the Emperor moth that Matt trapped on a lure – surely the most amazing British moth in terms of its looks. A real stunner and a treat to see.

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One of my aims for 2019 is to get a few lures and try to trap some of the moths that don’t come to light – the clearwings, for example.

A more mundane highlight for me on the same day that Matt trapped his Emperor, was the return of Treble Brown Spot to the garden. These are scarce, if not rare, but the garden in Exmouth does well for them and I’m always pleased to see one … here, a pair from different May days.

I think this is a beautiful little moth, the perfect woodland edge species, delicate and ideal for flying in dappled shade.

Moth numbers build during the year and explode in June and July. Though there were no rarities, the sheer number of different species is a celebration in its own right. Here are just a few to enjoy …

August saw us moving house, leaving Exmouth for Budleigh. In some ways it was sad to say goodbye to the garden in the old house. I’d started trapping there late in 2015 and so had had two and a half years. In that time I’d trapped 340 different species, of which 113 were micros and 227 were macros. This involved 2727 separate records uploaded to the online moth recording scheme, often of multiple moths, meaning that the total number of moths was much greater than this.

In this sense the old garden was hard to give up, with the feeling that there was still more to find. However, if I was feeling a little bit nostalgic it didn’t last long as the new garden started producing great moths almost immediately.

September began with two Portland Ribbon Wave on the same night, a moth I’d trapped just a couple of times in 2016 in Exmouth.

Then I got the scarce Evergestis limbata (Dark-bordered Pearl), a lovely migrant moth found in small numbers on the south coast.

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The next night I caught Box Tree Moth:

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I believe this was just the second ever record for Devon, the first coming just a few weeks beforehand on the East coast of the county; though with their rapid movement north and colonisation in the south-east, it won’t be the last, I’m sure, and I suspect 2019 will see them popping up all over the UK.

As the Autumn drew in there were other moths new to me, even if not rare in general: L-album wainscott; orange sallow; and dark sword-grass.

But, if all these were exciting, the best was still to come in the shape of a mythical moth – a lifer if ever there was one. Clifden Nonpareil.

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Many moth-ers go a lifetime without seeing this moth – though it is reputedly starting to colonise the south of Devon and I would be surprised if it didn’t become much more common as the climate warms. On the 28th September I was lucky enough to find the one above in my trap – it’s an absolute stunner. Yet, if that wasn’t enough, a few days later my son was playing hockey in Taunton on a cold, still evening, with bright floodlights round the ground, and two more flew over, one even landing on my bag! These moths are so big that you could be forgiven for thinking they were small birds of some sort and were so impressive that they gained the attention of all the watching parents, even those unfamiliar with moths.

After that, there was little that could top it, but the year came to a really good end with several other species that were new, and even one that was rarer than Clifden Nonpareil. First, though, Clancy’s Rustic …

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Several White-speck, in different shades …

More nice migrants: Palpita vitrealis and Gem …

A moth fairly local to the south/south-west,  Mecyna asinalis …

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And then, as if all this wasn’t enough, on the 17th November I trapped Oak Rustic – rarely seen in Devon, or elsewhere in the UK, with just a handful of records over the last few years:

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This was a fitting end to a great year of trapping, full of new species for me, and meaning that I passed the 400 life-time species mark, as well as picking up some real rarities. Of course, with such fabulous habitat and the sea just 10 mins walk away, it’s a great place to be.

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Happy New Year … and I hope you have a productive, moth-ful, 2019.

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More Cracking Migrants

I was just about to go to bed last night when I picked up a Tweet noting that the weather looked good for migrant moths. Warm air from Africa was due to wash across Southern Europe and into the SW UK. On the spur of the moment I decided to put out the trap. And what a prize for doing so, come the morning. Though not full of moths, the variety was fabulous and showed off what Autumn mothing is all about.

Best of the bunch was a small, largely innocuous looking moth that I only saw at the end of the emptying process. This was Oak Rustic (Dryobota labecula), a fairly rare migrant which, though establishing itself further along the south coast (40+ caught the other night in Dorset) is still very unusual in Devon.

For each of the last two years there has only been 1 record of this moth in the Devon Moth Record handbooks, with just 2 in 2015. Needless to say I was delighted to get this one, and in quite good condition – a first for me, of course.

Also a first for me, though not quite so uncommon was this Gem (Nycterosea obstipata). Small enough to be a pug of some sort, the black dots, surrounded in white, give this moth away.

Next up in the ‘new garden ticks’ was Satellite (Eupsilia transversa), so called because the kidney mark on each wing has two small ‘satellites’ around it. The marks can be orangey or white – here a mix, with the kidney mark and satellites different colours.

All three of the moths above were lifers for me – showing what a great night it was. However, there were still other interesting Autumn moths which, though not new to me, were welcome nonetheless. I love Merveille du Jour (Griposia aprilina) and even though this one was a bit washed out it was still a thrill to see it by the trap.

The next moth, Palpita vitrealis, (Olive-tree Pearl) is also a super moth, though for different reasons. It’s a migrant again, and where Merveille du Jour shouts ‘look at me’, P. vitrealis is almost ethereal, ghost like.

Its wings are transparent, edged with a subtle orangey-brown along the costal margin. They are reasonably catchable, but today’s haul of four together was a record for me by some way.

Also migratory is this Dark Sword Grass (Agrotis ipsilon), which I’ve caught before but never in such clean, well-marked condition. Where P. vitrealis is angelic, this one has something of the night about it; dark, jagged lines reminding me of bared teeth.

Finally, what would, on another occasion, perhaps merit a post of its own, this beautiful White-speck (Mythimna unipuncta) is a good find. Not a first – I’ve caught several in the last few weeks – but still a great moth.

In addition to these, five or six Rusty-dot Pearls and three Silver-Ys meant that this was a bumper Migrant Night. What Autumnal mothing is all about …

Immigrants

With Brexit burning away in the news media at the moment, it’s an apposite time to talk about immigrants … though these ones are strictly lepidopteran of course. It’s been an excellent week for migrants, with the storm blowing in from the Americas, and though I’ve not been able to get the trap out as much I’d have liked, I’ve had some nice new moths. Here’s a quick run-down …

 

Clancy’s Rustic (l) and White Speck (r), both of which are migrants, the former being new for me, and a really smart moth in my view; the latter more subtle, but equally beautiful.

 

Scarce Bordered Straw (l) and Dark Sword-grass (r). Again, the former is a new one for me, though not uncommon. Like one or two others, I think our recent move from Exmouth to Budleigh has meant that I’m just a bit closer to the sea and to rocky shorelines, helping to bring in different moths.

Not migrants, but I’ve also had some other moths new to my gardens (old and new):

 

On the left here is Grey Shoulder Knot, new to me, and I’ve put it up next to a much more familiar visitor to my old garden, Blair’s Shoulder Knot. They are both lovely; the former have more obvious patterning, but if you look closely at the Blair’s you will see beautiful black lines running through its grey, making it well camouflaged against bark.

Another new one was this Large Wainscot, again, showing very subtle colours:

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I love the subtlety of the Wainscots, which would be lost entirely in reedy vegetation. And speaking of blending-in, the Sallows must be the masters to Autumnal colours, wonderfully illustrated by these three, with a few Autumn leaves thrown in for comparison.

Across the top are two forms of Barred Sallow (l), with Centre-barred Sallow (r) and (normal) Sallow below next to the leaves.

Finally, back to one more immigrant. The last couple of nights we’ve had a visitor in the back room, seeking out a place to shelter …

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This is a Western Conifer Seed Bug, an immigrant from America – indeed, from the West Coast originally – but now beginning to be well-established in Europe, including the UK, probably from timber imports; I suspect this one is local. As the name suggests, it likes conifers, and though I’m always wary of insects that are invasive, it’s certainly a smart bug. The insects around us have good reason to shelter though. Having just got my hands on a bat detector, I’ve become aware of just how numerous bats are. I’m planning a separate post on this, but for now I’m hoping you might be able to use the link below to hear the Pipistrelle bat that is a regular hawker round our back door – especially when the moth trap is running!

Click here

New moths in Budleigh

It’s been too windy and wet to do much trapping this week, despite the promise of migrants from the warm air pouring north from Africa. My trap doesn’t work well in the wet – electrics and water don’t mix in my view. Because of this it’s an opportunity to look back at the last few weeks in our new Budleigh home and the moths that have appeared here.

Whilst the recent Clifden Nonpareil has been the highlight there have been some other interesting immigrants. In Exmouth, where I lived previously, I never caught Dark Sword-grass, but here it’s been a regular visitor since we moved in:

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More exciting still was this Mecyna asinalis which is a fairly scarce migrant tending to favour coastal locations and which came in a pair on Sept 27th:

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Close cousin to the Dark Sword-grass, Shuttle-shaped Dart, was a common visitor in Exmouth and has turned up regularly in Budleigh too, in both sexes – female on the left and male on the right:

I think both these are the common sub-species Agrotis puta puta, though I have wondered if I might trap a stray A. puts insula which is endemic to the Scillies. I’m not really clear on the difference butthe moth on the right was certainly smaller and brightly marked, with beautiful purple wingtips. Any expert thoughts welcomed.

Also new to me – though Matt has had it regularly, was this L-album Wainscot which I think is a really beautiful moth:

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Lastly, this Sallow – which again was a moth that I didn’t catch in Exmouth – is a real beauty, reflecting the colours of Autumn.

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You might like to imagine this moth tucked up in the Autumnal leaves, which are certainly now falling. These ones had blown into a pile in Exeter today, where they caught my eye, and I would think a Sallow would be invisible amongst them.

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I’ve also trapped its close neighbours, Centre-barred Sallow (shown below) and Barred Sallow, which are equally stunning:

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So, it’s been an exciting month with the trap and I hope that, if the rain holds off, I might still manage to trap some of the migrants that have been blown this way by the Southerly winds of late.

 

Clifden Nonpareil #2 … and 3!

Having caught my first ever Clifden Nonpareil last week I had blithely assumed that it would be a once in a lifetime experience. And I’d have been happy with that, such was the excitement of finding it. It really felt like, had I never caught another great moth, I could be happy with my one ‘big’ find.

Of course, I’m aware that Clifden Nonpareil seems to be becoming more frequent, perhaps as climate changes and temperatures warm, and so there was a chance of more. What I wasn’t expecting though was what happened last night …

My son and I were in Taunton, at the artificial hockey pitch at Kings College where there are bright floodlights surrounding the site. As my son played and I watched, I noticed a large shape fluttering across the pitch. Perhaps because I’d just caught one I knew instantly what it was and, sure enough, as it came towards us and settled on the pitch its identity became apparent.

Obligingly, it settled on the plastic canopy of the dugout where I managed to scoop it up, revealing its blue stripes, albeit on tattered wings.

Not surprisingly it attracted quite a lot of attention from other watching parents – ‘wow, like a bat’ and ‘I never realised moths could be like that’. Haha, ever the educator …

But, as if that wasn’t enough, 30 mins later another one appeared, this time not settling, but clearly and obviously the same species of moth – unmistakable in terms of its size and grey colour. I’d have assumed it was the original one if it hadn’t been for the fact that he or she was still contentedly settled on my rucksack where it has sought shade after its release!

So, not one, but two Clifden Nonpareil in one place … and my third in less than 10 days. It’s been quite a time!

One more note. I commented in my previous post that the moth I had trapped at home was, bar a small section of missing hind wing, completely pristine with barely a scale missing. The one here though was, as you can see, very tatty. This adds weight to my suspicion that the trapped moth might have come from a more local brood, even from within the Southwest perhaps.

It’s exciting times, not least with more warm weather ahead blowing up from Africa. Trap set.

Clifden Nonpareil!

You don’t have to be mothing for long to hear about Clifden Nonpareil (Catocala fraxini). It’s the stuff of legends to someone like me; the kind of the moth that others catch and share, like treasure, on their social media sites. A rare immigrant, there are just a  scattering of sightings each year, and even though 2017 was a record year for Devon with a bumper 9 records (only 1 and 2 respectively in 2016 and 2015), this is still a moth that I assumed I’d never catch.

Nonetheless, like the lottery, one always dreams. And, also like the lottery, one has to be ‘in it to win it’ … which is why, somewhat belatedly, I turned the trap on last night. My daughter was working late, waitressing, and it meant that I had to go and pick her up around 1130. As I left the back door there seemed to be little around the trap. Where normally I’d have expected fluttering wings, all was quiet; but you can’t resist a quick look inside, just in case.

If you thought that the idea of doing a ‘double-take’ was just a phrase, I can now assure you otherwise. My eyes saw a huge, grey moth and though I think that somewhere deep in my mind I knew, it was a moment before my brain caught up with them and made me look again. With a quickening heart I dashed back inside for a jam-jar, hands fumbling at the key to the door. As I eased the moth into the jar, I felt sure that I must have made a mistake, but, as the moth flapped its wings, there it was – the flash of blue across the hind-wings that convinced me that all was well.

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This, my friends, is a beautiful moth – perhaps the beautiful moth in British terms … though one might argue that an Emperor comes close. But whereas the latter wears its beauty in a manner that is garish and loud, this is beautiful on many different levels.

First, it’s huge; bigger, in bulk, than a hawkmoth so that, when it flies, it feels more like a small bat than a moth. Then, there is the subtlety of the colours. The immediate impression is of grey – much more grey than the Red/Crimson Underwings, which have an orangey/brown hue to them. But in amongst the base-grey are all sorts of delicate oranges, blue-shades and jagged dark lines.

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And then, just when you think you’ve seen a great moth anyway, it decides to spread its wings and show its full glorious blue bands …

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I have to say that I was like a kid who’s just seen his idol – goggle-eyed and not entirely calm! Having had time to look more closely now, and to share it with others, a thought has come to mind which is that, though there is a small tear in the left hind-wing, the moth is generally in pristine condition.

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You can see on this wing detail that every scale is still there and, for me, this raises the question of where it’s come from. Had it traveled from afar I can’t help thinking it would have been a bit more faded, and I wonder therefore whether it has come from a colony somewhere nearer to home. Of course, I’ll never know, but this post on the Devon Moths website from last year is suggesting that it might be colonising parts of Devon.

Let’s hope so because the prospect of catching this moth more regularly is an exciting one.

Box tree moth and more immigrants

I ran the trap last night and emptied it this morning. To my surprise this little beauty was nestled in a corner:

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This is Box Tree Moth (Cydalima perspectalis) and is an immigrant originally from Asia, and considered a pest because the larvae attack the Box tree (Buxus); it is now established in much of Europe. Records have started to appear since 2007 in the UK, mainly in the South-East. The first Devon record was only in July, but increasing numbers have started to turn up in the South-West this summer. We will have to see how this trend develops, but it looks like it’s going to become a commoner species in the coming years and is likely to establish itself here.

Other immigrants appeared too. Here is the beautiful little ‘Rusty-dot Pearl‘ (Udea ferrugalis), a common catch in traps, but a stunning moth all the same …

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In addition, there were several other really lovely Autumnal moths, including Crescent Dart and Angle Shades:

The former is local along the south and west coast and largely confined to coastal, rocky cliffs, of which East Devon has many of course. I initially confused it with Heart and Club and Turnip moth, both of which it resembles.

But my favourite moth of the catch was this one, Large Ranunculus. Just look at the subtle colours, which blend brilliantly with the flagstone on which I’ve laid it.

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Its close relative, Feathered Ranunculus, was one of the first moths I ever caught and completely bowled me over, so I have a soft spot for them all.

Time will tell if Box Tree Moth establishes itself, but there is no doubt that moths can spread fast once they begin to do so and I fully expect to find this as a regular in the trap in years to come.