Monday, 20 October 2014

Yoga wasp

Penny does yoga on Monday mornings so I have posted the picture above in her honour. Not that there is any resemblance, but the creature - an ichneuman wasp, is it? - has the slender suppleness which the gentle programme of exercises is said to bring.

I am beyond improvement in such matters but hope I retain some of the spirit of my second photo - my chirpy little moth-enemy the robin, which continues to take an unhealthy interest in my examination of the eggboxes in the morning.  We had a friend staying overnight and I was pleased to show him a Merveille du Jour and a Pink-barred Sallow. But for the rest, we have a brown study today and one which will tax my ID powers later on. Unless, that is, some kindly expert chances to pass by...

Friday, 17 October 2014

New, new, new and new

It's easy to think at this time of year that the moth season is over and that the worsening weather and darker mornings mean that the lamp should be packed away. Last night was an antidote to that. Lovely mild weather brought four newcomers for the year to nestle in the eggboxes and give me a surprise in the morning.

One of them was the Sprawler shown in the top picture, a moth whose name conjures up a fop from Downton Abbey sliding back in a large armchair with a glass of port in his hand. The authorities say that the name comes from the caterpillar of the species which has a habit of jerking back its head and front segments when alarmed. This isn't what I call sprawling, but there we are.

The second newcomer was the large Feathered Thorn above, a fine Autumn moth with excellent antennae; I'm sorry that the continuing absence of my little camera stand Miranda means that my focus isn't as hot as it should be.

Thirdly there were four November or possibly Autumnal moths, the modest and sober Jane Eyre-like ones just above, and finally a very richly coloured Red-green Carpet - sorry once more for the lack of definition in the pic below. Update: actually on checking, I find that R-g Cs of an earlier brood came to see me in the late Spring. Sorry, but the others are definitely first for 2014.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Not for the squeamish

Rain has stopped play for the time being but when I went out this morning to bring in the trap, I saw the sad sight above. It's the culmination of the slug and fly saga which I reported on two posts ago. As I suspected, the slug had somehow ambushed the fly or found it stuck on slime or dazzled by light and had sucked its innards dry.

Yuch!  And my next picture isn't much cosier. These are the remains of a moth or moths which I found jammed in an eggbox cone. It's quite interesting, though, in spite of the grim subject. That cable-like thing is the moth's proboscis, winding round something attached to one of its legs. Well, we can't say Tennyson didn't warn us, with his all-too-accurate line: 'Nature, red in tooth and claw...'

On a happier note, I distributed some of my Emperor Moth cocoons to the various enthusiasts who gathered around the Kirtlington Death's Head Hawk moth ten days ago, and here are a couple of photographs of them, above and below. Don't you think the one below looks a bit like a piece of carving by Grinling Gibbons? Martin Townsend, co-author of the Moth Bible and nurturer of three hatched Death's Heads from Kirtlington now, tells me his cocoon is a female. How he knows this, I have yet to find out.

Some more moths to conclude with:  a Willow Beauty, a Barred Fruit-tree Tortrix (Pandemis cerasana) I think, Pyrausta despicata from below and above Update: and one which is all my own work, which is highly unusual compared with being corrected by a kindly expert, but I think this is actually Hypsopygia costalis aka the Gold Triangle micro, a Shuttle-shape Dart and a very fine capucina form of the Green-brindled LabelsCrescent.

And finally finally, a curious picture which appealed to me for some reason. As you can see, I stopped in the course of my vaccing to take it. I felt that the Pink-barred Sallow and the vacuum cleaner had something in common. As for the Daddy Long-legs, I fear that I have Hoovered up quite a few of those.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Ford perfect

I have been re-reading the best books yet written on (a) butterflies and (b) moths, both by the same expert author, the late Professor Edmund Ford. I'd advise reading them in that order - Butterflies first then Moths - because Butterflies is easier going and also lays the groundwork for some complicated discussion of genetics in Moths which I still have to read several times to begin to understand.

Don't let that put you off, however. I once had lunch with the prof at the Travellers' Club in London and he was a wonderfully twinkly old bachelor about whom many stories are told. Some of these involved allegations of fairly extreme hostility to women outside their once traditional place in the nursery and kitchen (eg not at home in his much-loved Oxford University), but I suspect that quite a lot of teasing was involved. At all events, many of the people he thanks most warmly in his foreword to Moths are women.

He also has a very nice line in quips as you can see from the extracts above, on matricidal larvae, and below, on caterpillars which require sunshine to flourish (don't we all?)

I got Moths down from the shelves in one of my occasional attempts to find out what experts think about the way that light traps work - do they really 'attract', or is it a matter of the insects' delicate radar and antennae being dazzled and disrupted. Ford proposes a theory of two circles of light - if I understand him correctly - an outer one which does draw in the moths and then an inner one which disrupts them and sees them end up, effectively out of control, spiralling into the trap. This was published back in the 1960s mind, so I have plenty more researching to do (and trying to understand the research, with my feeble Grade 9 failure in physics-with-chemistry O Level, also in the 1960s).

On the subject of light, here's the scene in the garden yesterday afternoon. I can't pass a rainbow without trying to photograph it. The pot of gold was just behind our solitary but quite impressive pumpkin, though I haven't tried to dig it up yet - the pot, I mean. As for the pumpkin, roll on Hallowe'en.

Oh, and we'd better have a moth. I was intrigued by this battered Black Rustic and attempted a close-up of its wing stripped of scales - like a roof after a tornado, though in this case it was probably a bird that did the damage.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Pot pourri

A mixed bag today and I seem to have gone all French in my title - maybe under the influence of the lovely Merveille du Jour. A second one came today - pic below - which is great; it's good to know that they have a definite presence here rather than the lamp attracting a solitary, wandering pilgrim.

Unusually, because I usually release moths immediately, I've popped both of them in a shoebox together with a piece of oak bark - their favourite place for laying eggs - and some ivy flowers from which they sip nectar in the wild. I am now hoping that Darwinism does its stuff, though this depends on their being respectively male and female.

I was struck last night by the beauty of the trap as darkness fell and here are a couple of pictures I took - one with flash at the top of the post and one without below -  to see if you agree.

Meanwhile, I must announce the answer to my Grand Find the Second Error in the Bible competition. The winner from the millions of entrants was my good friend and adviser among commentors, Ray, who cryptically observed that the answer lay in the illustration. Indeed it does, as you can see here:

Still flitting about from subject to subject, I'm delighted to pass on news of two exceptional moths attracted by another two Commentors: the incomparable Ben Sale of Essex Moths, who has corrected my ID blunders with great patience and kindness for years, has landed that extremely rare honour of finding a new moth for the first time in the UK: an immigrant Fall Webworm (not a name I would like to have, but still. Read about it here. And Countryside Tales, as per her recent comments, has had a Clifden Nonpareil. Ooh I am jealous. Read about that here. But everything is said to come to he, or she, who waits.

Penultimately, here are some other residents of last night's eggboxes: a Satellite, a Burnished Brass, a Light Brown Apple micro (Epiphyas postvittana) and a Blair's Shoulder-knot extending a friendly paw, all above  - plus, below, a bizarre pair on the lamp flex: a slug apparently sucking the innards out of dead fly. Did the slug pounce when the fly was mesmerised by the lamp? I fear we will never know.

And finally, talking of predators, here is a Christmas card (minus snow) snap of my moths' worst enemy in the morning when I am taking pictures of them. I have no illusions about robins being dear little creatures. Still, you can't help but like them.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Marvellous indeed

I didn't think this season would have much more to offer me after last week's Death's Head Hawk moth excitements, but I was wrong.

Much as the skull-adorned monster awes me, my favourite moth has always been the Merveille du Jour which I never saw in Leeds but hosted for a single night a year ago.

Here he (or she) is back again, after a night so chilly that I almost had second thoughts about putting out the trap.  After examining half-a-dozen eggboxes, I thought I was going to have to be content with a trio of (very nice) Green-brindled Crescents - one below, followed by a close-ish-up of its metallic scales - and a smattering of brown and chestnutty things.

Then I saw a scrap of very different green beside a cone underneath the next eggbox and - yippee, your heart really does leap, or at least mine does - there was a Merveille du Jour. A Marvel of the Day indeed, even if it is strictly a Wonder of the Night.

You might be interested in my cack-handed photography efforts, btw, as illustrated above. I have lost my faithful little tripod Miranda and my quavering hands have meant a bit of a decline recently in whatever sharpness in pictures I previously managed to achieve. I did the Merveille twice, once at about 8.30am without the bigger tripod and then again at 10.30am. It's interesting to see how the camera 'lies' about the colour. The reality is a mostly mixture of the two although the actual colour of the moth does change depending on the light because of the nature of the cells. Mind you, my camera now lets out a little spiral of smoke after taking a flash photo, rather like those revolving, exploding ones on Kodak Instamatics, so I think its days may be numbered.

Colour at 8.30am...
...and two hours later
For scale, here's the moth again, below, with a Barred Sallow and one of the Green-brindled Crescents and I'll leave you with another Barred Sallow on Penny's red kneeler, in case by now you are a bit fed up with the colour green. Update: Sorry, that one's a Pink-barred Sallow - many thanks for the correction to Julian, a fellow enthusiast and light-trap operator just up the road whom I met at the Great Hawk Moth Fest.