Thursday, 22 August 2013

The Dragon and the Old Ladies

Given the title to this post, I ought to start off 'Once upon a time...' but I've led off with this dragonfly instead because it's such an extraordinary-looking creature. It zoomed off when I first tried to photograph it on top of a bamboo cane in our veg patch yesterday. But I've noticed that dragonflies (a) like perching on top of sticks and (b) often return to the same one, and so I waited and (b) duly happened. Now to ID it at leisure and update later. Update: kindly and knowledgable Ray has saved me the trouble - see Comments. It's a Common Darter - wonderful that such amazing insects are common in the UK.

Old Lady number one

Meanwhile, once upon a time (c.1963) my cousin and I were staying at my uncle's rectory in Suffolk when we dashed indoors after inspecting our rum-and-treacle lures for moths, shouting: "We've caught an Old Lady." Since two elderly women from my uncle's previous parish were staying as well, this caused brief consternation. But our Old Ladies were of the mothy sort, Mormo maura, which coincidentally I was discussing with Ben Sale on his expert blog yesterday, because he had just found one in his trap in Essex.

Old Lady number 2

I lamented that I hadn't had any here, and indeed had only ever seen one other since the Suffolk drama, mysteriously dead on the roof of our car outside our home in Leeds. Lo and behold! The coincidences which have so regularly marked moth events since we moved to Oxfordshire in April struck again.

There were two Old Ladies in the trap this morning - pictured above - great big moths in the sort of dignified but dowdy livery which accounts for their name, given in 18th century days when old ladies emphatically didn't wear purple. I shouldn't have been surprised maybe because my Moth Bible says that Old Ladies 'can be found roosting in outbuildings' and in my constant search for new trapping sites, I had hoisted my lamp on to the roof of our dilapidated shed - see above.

Poplar number one, flashing its petticoat

Poplar number two. Sorry pics are a bit dark but it's overcast this morning

The sisterly pair had three large grey companions in the eggboxes: two Poplar Hawks and a magnificent Red Underwing which is still somewhere in our greenhouse, to which I retreated this morning because of steady rain. If I can find it later on, I will try to get some pictures showing more of its racy petticoat than the glimpse in the close-up below. Update: and I have. See bottom of post. The sun roused the moth from its hiding place and I got the picture before popping it in a box and letting it go outside. If Old Lady moths can tut tut, I'm sure they will have done so, if they got a glimpse of this underwear when the Red underwing flew in.

Here's the afternoon picture below, with a bit more scarlet showing. Nice eh?


Ray Walton said...

Hi Martin

Your dragonfly is (looks like) a Common Darter, and, as you quite rightly suggest, they do regularly return to the same perch each time

Your Blog is, by far, the one I most like visiting each day.

Ray (Stokelymort)

MartinWainwright said...

Hi Ray!

You are a star. We've got visitors and I didn't get round to Googling yesterday and now I don't need to. Very much obliged as always.

That's very kind of you about the blog and as you know, I am more grateful than I can say for your unfailing expertise, plus all the interesting things which come up in these exchanges. I'm planning to change my design soon to give more prominence to other blogs because there are so many interesting moth ones.

Mooray for the internet! Humanity must be more knowledgable than ever before, by far

warmest wishes