Thursday, 26 June 2014

Excursion to Paradise

P and I had a day out yesterday in the lea of the Malvern Hills where I spent six idyllic years as a small schoolboy and first became enthusiastic about butterflies and moths. Part of our day involved a visit to the tucked-away farm where a greatly learned and wonderfully patient moth recorder relative lives - Martin Skirrow, a retired expert on tropical health and medicine.

In his nook he has so far recorded 527 moths, taking immense pains - far beyond my own capabilities - to establish the identity of pretty much everything which visits his Robinson trap. While we were there, he kindly showed us the day's eggbox population and reclassified a presumed Heart and Dart as a Turnip moth (left). More on that in a moment.

But first, an important lesson from a fabulous box of tropical butterflies which Martin has kept ever since his own schooldays, when a retired Army major with entomological interests spotted the boy's enthusiasm for insects and encouraged it with the gift of this small but vivid collection from his travels. Exactly the same happened to me, courtesy of the then curator of natural history at Leeds City Museum, John Armitage, who gave me lots of helpful advice but, more significantly for a 12-year-old boy, a box of exotic butterflies collected in and around Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

Martin was also given this marvellous beetle by the major, a denizen of the Congo which goes by the excellent name of Goliath and is, as the Major carefully wrote, the LARGEST BEETLE IN THE WORLD. Apologies to my daughter-in-law if she has stumbled across this. Such creatures are not her thing.

Back in the relatively humdrum world of UK moths, Martin showed me a very handy way of quickly sorting Heart and Darts from their less common but very similar relatives in the trap such as Heart and Clubs or indeed the Turnip. The H&D is much the commonest moth at the moment and it can be recognised immediately by this dark, moustache-like shape on its 'forehead'.  Many thanks Martin, and for a real treat in your lovely part of the world - a place where the famous Three Counties of Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire meet.


Ray Walton said...

A really interesting post Martin, with double thanks to Martin Skirrow for informing you, and no doubt many others, for the valuable piece of information he imparted to you about discerning H&D's from Clubs and Turnips. I am much the wiser as a result.

Martin Wainwright said...

Thanks v much Ray - I'll pass that on. It was great to see a real expert patiently at work. Alas, I will never attain that standard. But it's all most enjoyable. All warm wishes, M