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During the middle of the week when the weather was warmer and calmer traffic levels were up slightly but not by as much as I had hoped.  I have lots of drunken hoverflies and the occasional sozzled Red Admiral making merry beneath the Victoria Plum trees and the broken over-ripe plums I can’t clear. The won’t rake up and some I can’t even pick up; they simply disintegrate and spill out over the ground in a worse mess than before I started on them.

Getting back to my moth watch, the pick of  Tuesday evening’s crop was a new moth for me and yet one I knew the minute I saw it I would have no difficulty IDing. It is the Scalloped Oak (crocallis elinguaria). The specimen that came into the bathroom was in beautiful condition. It is a member of the ennominae sub-family of geometers. It is a common moth and on the wing in July and August.

Scalloped Oak (crocallis elinguaria)

Scalloped Oak (crocallis elinguaria)

The other species of moth included carcina quercana, which when newly emerged is quite pretty (purples and yellows) though small. Earlier in the year I found plenty of them in the strawberry patch, then they disappeared for quite a time; now they seem to be back regularly though the ones I am seeing are less bright. Other micros included Light Brown Apple Moth which is still about in almost plague proportions, the Brown House Moth and phylctaenia coronata. None of them are remarkable, and all have been about in numbers this year.

Macro moths included the Brimstone Moth (intermittent visitor this year), the Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing, Garden Carpet and moths that were either the Common Rustic or the very similar Lesser Common Rustic.

Beyond that I found one micro (so small the pictures I took were no help) and one new moth (or at least new for this year) which I’m pretty sure is the Square-spot Rustic (xestia xanthographa).

Square-spot Rustic (xestia xanthographa)

Square-spot Rustic (xestia xanthographa)

Then Wednesday evening produced a real treat. Having been distracted (all too easy) and not gone back to the kitchen  to make a start on them until after 9:00, on a warm evening with the lights on, I found my plans to get the dishes done being put on hold by a spectacular moth sitting on the top of the humble pile of unwashed dishes.

I had the time to grab magnifying glass and field guide; it sat there patiently while I measured, peered and photographed. It is the Old Lady (mormo maura).

Old Lady (mormo maura)

Old Lady (mormo maura)

Apart from the Poplar Hawk-moth this is the biggest moth I’ve seen this year. The typical wingspan of the species is about 7cm; even at rest with the wings brought together it is still an impressive size. This one had evidently been in the wars and had extensive damage to the left forewing.

It is a resident moth in the UK (meaning that the full life-cycle takes place here) with local distribution and on the wing between July and September. It is not regularly brought to light so I feel a bit fortunate to have seen this one, though it is typically found near rivers and marshes so this is the right environment.

In the bathroom I found a couple of Small China-marks, a crambus perlella and yet more Light Brown Apple Moths. Of the macros the only certainties were another Setaceous Hebrew Character (hard to believe I’d not seen one before this year) and the first Common Wainscot of the year:

Common Wainscot (mythimna pallens)

Common Wainscot (mythimna pallens)

Setaceous Hebrew Character (l) and Common Wainscot (r)

Setaceous Hebrew Character (l) and Common Wainscot (r)

The Rustic (hoplodrina blanda) and the Uncertain (hoplodrina alsines) are virtually indistinguishable, particularly by an ill-equipped rank amateur. Flight periods and location are no help. I’m sure this is one or the other:

Rustic or Uncertain

Rustic or Uncertain

And similarly the Common Rustic and Lesser Common Rustic are very nearly impossible to distinguish with the naked eye and in the absence of a willingness to sacrifice the moths to make an ID.:

Common Rustic (or Lesser Common Rustic)

Common Rustic (or Lesser Common Rustic)

Finally I had help from Ben Sale to identify this one as the Pale Mottled Willow (paradrina clavipalpis); another first for me. August has not been everything I’d hoped but I’m pretty sure that the list for the month will not look too thin, now, compared with June and July.

Pale Mottled Willow (paradrina clavipalpis)

Pale Mottled Willow (paradrina clavipalpis)

Last night was much thinner – the only new moth was this macro which I’ve tentatively identified as a Shuttle-shaped Dart (agrotis puta puta).

Shuttle-shaped Dart (agrotis puta puta)

Shuttle-shaped Dart (agrotis puta puta)

Which brings me up to date and so I can slink off and feel sorry for myself. I’m paying a price for this. The night before last I sustained quite an attack by something and as a result have nasty bites on hand, arm and foot – the bits of me that stuck out from under the covers I suppose. I’d dearly love to wage chemical warfare on the midges but probably won’t for the sake of the moths.

Although the weather here has been reasonable – not actually warm let alone hot but fairly bright and with light winds, the moth visitation level has dropped right away. In terms of number of individuals and variety of species things are way down on the halcyon days of June and July.

That said the occasionally new species is turning up to stretch the list of this summer’s visitors – and as I am up to my ears in ‘real’ work I’ve been able to fill time amply without swatting up on moths half the morning.

One of the moths I’ve been seeing in numbers this week is a new one for me – and though I’m going to name it as the Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing (noctua janthe) that species is practically indistinguishable from Langmaid’s Yellow Underwing. I’ve gone with the common moth rather than the migrant.

Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing (noctua janthe)

Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing (noctua janthe)

Which brings me to a musing on the word migrant in entomology. Given the inflammatory connotations perhaps entomologists should abandon it in favour of ‘tourist’? Moths have enough bad press without the BNP getting on their case too…

I thought I had a Turnip moth but I was mistaken. It  has been identified for me as a Dark Sword-grass (agrotis ipsilon), a member of the same noctuid sub-family but a migrant species. This is a quite large and imposing moth, but it is still astonishing to think of anything so small and fragile making the hop across the channel.

Dark Sword-grass (agrotis ipsilon)

Dark Sword-grass (agrotis ipsilon)

Among the macro moths, the Willow Beauty, Cloaked Minor, Setaceous Hebrew Character, Silver Y, Dusty Small Wave, Brimstone Moth and Bright-line Brown-eye are also still making occasional appearances. So too the Double-striped Pug.

Of the micros, most are as yet and probably will remain unidentified – I regret not picking up the book on pyralids when I had the chance a few weeks ago.

The main exception is the Mother of Pearl which has made its first appearance this year. It is a very large micro moth, far larger than for example the Small Dusty Wave or any of the innumerable and tiresomely difficult to distinguish Pug moths. The name is a bit of oversell in my opinion; the moth isn’t nearly as attractive as might be suggested. Nevertheless it is a species I’ve seen before and it is good to know that it is still around:

Mother of Pearl (pleuroptya ruralis)

Mother of Pearl (pleuroptya ruralis)

Two other readily identifiable micro moths: phylctaenia coronata is about again (or still about, but it seemed there was a bit of a lull) as is pyrausta aurata. The latter posed a particular problem as the specimen in the bathroom was a particularly faded individual no longer purple and gold but brown and yellow. [See previous post – for an idea of the colour when fairly fresh, and note the difference even a few days makes.]

pyrausta aurata

pyrausta aurata

The other notable micro moth is the returning Small China-mark (cataclysta lemnata). I had an almost pure white (male) specimen in the house earlier this year. A couple of females have been about this week, so much darker I debated whether they were in fact Brown China-mark specimens instead. The underwing is quite beautiful and the giveaway only given a glimpse of:

Small China-mark (cataclysta lemnata)

Small China-mark (cataclysta lemnata)

And so to the great out doors. I shall be digging out my recipe for green tomato chutney, I fear. Yet again the bulk of the crop won’t ripen, and this is said to be one of the five driest parts of the UK.

Sadly, though the fruit harvest this year has been extraordinary (though I haven’t lost a branch from a Victoria Plum – others are reporting this) there has been no great upsurge in the butterfly population. Just one drunken Red Admiral flopping about from windfall plum to windfall plum. The hoverflies are enjoying one prolonged drunken orgy out there. In the meantime the lack of really hot and sunny weather probably spells doom for the fruit on the olive trees. They are there, alright and some of the getting quite large. But without prolonged warm sunny weather they cannot ripen and the likelihood is that in the next fortnight the weather will turn appreciably autumnal.

 The pinot blanc grapes are possibly in a better position – more advanced, quite swollen in fact and almost at the point of needing just to ripen.

The other grand accomplishment of the week is a cranberry bed. In a moment of inspiration I co-opted the old disused pond, filled with rubble and several years garden waste. Soil testing has suggested this will be a good spot and I’ve cut back overhanging trees to improve the light. Now I just need cranberry plants to go in it. If I’m here in spring next year…

Actually, a couple of evenings; the pickings are too lean to justify frenetic blogging each morning. But last night, though the numbers were not high I had a disproportionate number of new species. They were all rather small though mostly classified as macro moths and it has taken me a while to get to the point where most are identified and I can post them. None are particularly notable beyond being new for me.

Unidentified micro

Unidentified micro

Second unidentifed micro

Second unidentifed micro

The second moth (above)  was substantially larger than the first – and I’m almost certain is the same species seen in the bathroom mid-July.

The third of the three unidentified micros last night was the smallest and also the most distinctive looking, with its white head; but as is so often the case with these very small moths the resources available to me simply are not comprehensive enough.

Third unidentified micro

Third unidentified micro

The remainder of the moths last night were all much larger though the first of these is classified as a micromoth.

Garden Pebble (evergestis forficalis)

Garden Pebble (evergestis forficalis)

The Garden Pebble might be a common moth in the UK but this is the first time I’ve caught one in the bathroom.

Inevitably there were pugs, to have me pulling my hair out, though one of them, this one, I was able to identify with some certainty as the Double-striped:

Double-striped Pug (glymnoscelis rufifasciata)

Double-striped Pug (glymnoscelis rufifasciata)

Another three moths that were all new to me, all common enough and all macro moths (though only the first is actually quite large):

Common Carpet (epirrhoe alternata)

Common Carpet (epirrhoe alternata)

Cloaked Minor (mesoligia furuncula)

Cloaked Minor (mesoligia furuncula)

Vine's Rustic (hoplodrina ambigua)

Vine's Rustic (hoplodrina ambigua)

And then there were two unidentified macro moths, the first a pug – the constant source of ID frustration, the other of uncertain family:

Unidentified pug

Unidentified pug

Unidentified macro (family uncertain)

Unidentified macro (family uncertain)

So that wraps up last night’s finds; it was a warmer evening and quite still – a large number of species but not present in quantities.

On the previous night, with similar conditions, pickings were far leaner but there was this lovely little macro moth which I haven’t identified, which quite happily sat on my finger (after I’d rescued it from some cobwebs) while I photographed it:

Unidentified

Unidentified

Unidentified

Unidentified

I found the first example of the micro moth pyrausta purpuralis, a moth which has been a frequent visitor in the past:

pyrausta purpuralis

pyrausta purpuralis

And then those determined Light Brown Apple Moths – a pair that was at it for ages and even tried flying while hooked up:

Light Brown Apple Moths

Light Brown Apple Moths

Worth noting also that the Willow Beauty continues to be about in numbers and that a Cabbage Moth (big and dark, rather than the white butterfly that back home is also known as the cabbage moth) were about. I couldn’t justify more posts of the Willow Beauty and couldn’t get a good shot of the cabbage moth. Off now to check out what waits upstairs.

Between them the past two days have produced a crop of moths almost worth mentioning and one really tremendous find.

The weather has been calmer and warmer, in fact quite humid and the forecast out until the end of the month is good so I might yet extend my list of finds for the year and overall – quite a few moths from previous years still haven’t made their reappearance.

The pugs which were about in large numbers at one point reappeared with a double-striped pug (glymnoscelis rufifasciata) last night and another specimen which I couldn’t be certain about the night before. Unfortunately and as usual such a small moth is too difficult for me to photograph well, but last night’s visitor allowed itself to be potted up so that I could bring it to the field guide and have a good look.

There was a quite distinctively marked and pale micromoth in the bathroom which I also potted up but haven’t been able to ID. As is often the case the flash reflects off their scales, but without the flash the little light from the low energy light bulb simply isn’t enough for good photographs – I still haven’t replaced the tripod.

Unidentified micro

Unidentified micro

And by the way the diameter of the pot in which it is resting is 5cm. This next picture isn’t as clear but gives an indication of the shape of its head and mouth parts which may help me to identify it or at least place it in the correct family/sub-family.

100_3728

On both nights I’ve had what are probably Lesser Common Rustics (mesapamea didyma) which are just about as dull looking as they sound but also the Willow Beauty (peribatodes rhomboidaria) which particularly in the male with its big dark eyes and extravagent feathered antennae is quite lovely.

Willow Beauty (peribatodes rhomboidaria)

Willow Beauty (peribatodes rhomboidaria)

There have been Small Dusty Waves (idaea seriata) about, as well as an unidentifed probable tortrix and a tiny micro with peculiarly curly antennae. The green lacewings are still about but for the most part the flying insects in the bathroom after dark are just midges or micros or other things that will bite and nothing will induce me to develop an interest in them. Our relationships are strictly one way.

And that leaves just the find of the past couple of days, which was spotted making rapid progress in the mid-afternoon yesterday across the back paving. Since I haven’t seen an adult, ever, this was a complete surprise.

Privet Hawkmoth (sphinx ligustri) caterpillar

Privet Hawkmoth (sphinx ligustri) caterpillar

No mistaking however, the species. This creature should it successfully pupate and emerge next year will become a Privet Hawkmoth (sphinx ligustri) with a wingspan of up to 11 cm. The caterpillar is already enormous and so it is hard to imagine that it isn’t close to pupating.

Privet Hawkmoth caterpillar detail

Privet Hawkmoth caterpillar detail

Although I have no privet on the property I do have a large old lilac overhanging the paved area – and that is another prefered foodplant. I can only imagine that something shook it from its perch and it was certainly heading back in the direction of the lilac. I gently helped it on its way and have hopes that next year I might even see an adult, now I’ve had evidence that they are about.

The lack of posting shouldn’t be taken to reflect a diminution in my attentiveness. But there are only so many photographs of hoverflies I can bring myself to take.

Conditions are distinctly mild but not actually cold, and rather damp. Not astonishing, then, that I found what I found lurking in an open bag of compost which I shifted when doing some tidying up this afternoon:

Common Frog

Common Frog

Having sifted through the few photographs I’ve taken over the past few days there are a couple of half decent moths, including a return of the Twenty-plume moth which I saw one example of last month but wasn’t able to photograph then as well as this:

Twenty-plume Moth (alucita hexadactyla)

Twenty-plume Moth (alucita hexadactyla)

What a strange month July was. A  mixture of the scarce and notable on the one hand, some nights when I could barely keep up, and a long barren patch at the end. Since about the twentieth of the month the number of species on any day has failed to reach double figures, and there have been nights when not one moth came into the house. Overall this was a good month, in terms of ‘quality’ of species I was able to record.

Of the moths coming into the bathroom (or other parts of the house) the following were identified.

Micro-moths:

  • Bird-cherry Ermine (yponomeuta evonymella)
  • Small Magpie (eurrypara hortulata)
  • Diamond Back Moth (plutella xylostella)
  • paraswammerdamia albicapitalla (yes really, and it’s tiny)
  • Brown House Moth (hofmannophila pseudospretella)
  • agapeta hamana
  • Dark Fruit-tree Tortrix (pandemis heparana)
  • Twenty-plume Moth (alucita hexadactyla)
  • Garden Grass-veneer (chrystoteuchia culmella)
  • crambus perlella
  • agriphia straminella
  • phylctaenia coronata
  • synaphe punctalis [NB]
  • Large Tabby (aglossa pinguinalis)
  • Bee Moth (aphomia sociella)

Macro-moths:

  • Common Emerald (hemithea aestivaria)
  • Small Blood-vein (scopula imitaria)
  • Least Carpet (idaea rusticata atrosignaria)
  • Dwarf Cream Wave (idaea fuscovenosa)
  • Small Dusty Wave (idaea seriata)
  • Riband Wave (idaea aversata) [both variants]
  • Yellow Shell (camptogramma bilineata)
  • Swallow-tailed (ourapteryx sambucaria)
  • Orange (angerona prunaris)
  • Willow Beauty (peribatodes rhomboidaria)
  • Poplar Hawk Moth (iaothoe populi)
  • Buff Ermine (spilosoma luteum)
  • Flame Shoulder (ochropleura plecta)
  • Bright-line Brown-eye (lacanobia oleracea)
  • Broom (melanchra pisi)
  • Small Ranunculus (hecatera dysodea) pRDB
  • Clay (mythimna ferrago)
  • L-album Wainscot (mythimna l-album)
  • Dark Arches (apamea monoglypha)
  • Silver Y (autographa gamma)
  • Spectacle (abrostola tripartita)
  • Snout (hypena proboscidalis)
  • Dotted Fan-foot (machrochilo cribrumalis)

In addition there were upwards of 25 species of moth I was unable to identify.

Outdoors I found a small colony of Six-spot Burnett near the marina, and on one of the sheds I found a Star-wort which is another nationally scarce moth [NB].

Undoubtedly the best moth of the month was the Small Ranunculus, a very pretty moth which I had seen during past summers and photographed but not identified. This is a moth that has been to the brink of extinction but is now securely re-established in a few parts of the country. Finding a couple of Nationally Scarce (B) moths too, was a bonus.

On the other hand I’m perfectly well aware that this sort of catch is par for the course on an average to good night in fair conditions working outside with a moth trap. This is the catch of a very ordinary bathroom in which nothing special is done beyond leaving the light on.

August has started as July ended (with wet and windy weather) and so far the finds have been few and far between, hence the low level of posting.

I have had a number of careers now, none of them illegal anywhere in the world as far as I’m aware – though management consulting is not a universally admired occupation.  For a while after leaving The Firm I ran a local charity shop; I had a bit of money behind me and an appetite for doing something positive and that would directly help the local community.

For eighteen months I had a generally wonderful time, but the back biting from a very small minority of others eventually became too much for me to bear and I moved on. The one Christmas I worked there I gave every member of the volunteer group a small gift. I had gone to the florist intending to buy a bouquet for each or perhaps a small potted flowering plant but my eye was caught by something a little different: attractively packaged and presented aloe vera plants. The shop had enough to go around and one extra so I purchased them as a job lot and presented them to The Ladies.

For those of you who have never had much contact with a Charity / Thrift / Opportunity shop it might be worth me explaining that in my experience they are largely the preserve of ladies of a certain age or certain social standing. But since we hereabouts lack numbers of the latter the work force at this particular shop was largely made up of the former. I was the odd one out being almost two generations younger than most of them and essentially able bodied.

I gave out those aloe vera plants and most of the ladies were, I suspect, rather bemused by my choice of gift. One was left over and I took it home intending to keep it for myself. Initially it thrived but within a few months it left me, then I put the experience of the shop behind me by moving on to other things. I forgot about the aloe vera plants in general and my failure with my own plant in particular.

Then about six weeks ago I was gifted a couple of aloe vera plants. They came to me potted up in flimsy disposable drink cups each in a little plastic bag of the sort you might get for yourself at the self-serve bakery counter in a supermarket. With no greater knowledge now than then of how to care for aloe vera I put them on my magic window sill and, since the weather isn’t reliable around here I left them in those plastic bags loosely knotted at the top to keep them reasonable warm. And every now and then I would remember to water them.

About two weeks ago I noticed that one of them had developed a little baby aloe vera out of its base.

The baby aloe vera

The baby aloe vera

So now I have a problem. Clearly my management of these little plants is doing no harm at this stage but at some point I am going to have to take action. I am going through this with my seed-raised asparagus plants which now desperately need re-homing but still look intimidatingly fragile, too. The difference with the aloe vera is that I have help at hand. These two little aloe vera plants are the offspring of one of the plants I bought and gave as gifts four and a half years ago. One of the ladies, hearing belatedly the fate of the plant I kept has given me these, raised from the plant I had given her.

Nature has an at times astonishing ability to vanquish improbability and so I hold out slender hope for my highly unlikely pumpkins. Last October I did the pumpkin carving thing for my little neighbour. She is into Halloween and likes the lit pumpkin which I sit on the stone fence where she can see it. Pumkin carving is a messy business.

I thought at the time I’d cleared up properly but earlier this year I found a clump of seed that had somehow missed the green wheelie bin and fallen behind a planter. I swept those seeds up with the rest of the rubbish one weekend intending to dispose of it at a later date. Time passed and the small pile of rubbish compacted; eventually I bit the bullet and swept it down the path to be added to some other organic matter to break down. Well I have pumpkin plants growing out of that small patch of decomposing sweepings. Four of them.

Infant pumpkin plants are rather sturdy little beings. I think they’ve left their race for posterity a little late but I’m going to let tham have their chance.

Pumpkin seedlings

Pumpkin seedlings

In better tended parts of the property the windfall Victoria Plums are piling up. The trees are producing in heroic but rather wasteful proportions. I cannot keep up. I am keeping back some of the rotten ones as they will attract butterflies, freezing them for use latter in the season when the fresh ones are no longer available.

I am nearly certain that I have two varieties of olive tree. While the fruit of the rest are still tiny weeks after the flower petals died and fell away two are racing ahead. Or perhaps this is just an individual olive tree thing. I suspect I won’t be able to know until I have fruit I can compare. Last year there were no olives at all so this year is already a major improvement.

English olives

English olives

The pinot noir vines are showing no hint of producing fruit this year but the plants themselves look healthy and are reasonable just as ornamental foliage. The pinot blanc have produced small bunches of grapes that are making progress and I still have hopes of these ripening this year. That too will be an advance on last year.

English Pinot Noir

English Pinot Blanc

The patrol of the garden undertaken today (and during which the outdoor photographs were taken) produced no moths but one mature bush cricket on one of the grape vines, and more Speckled Wood (pararge aegeria) butterflies. I had first spotted them a couple of days ago during a break in the weather and they seem to be drawn, as Red Admirals are, to the rotting fruit.

Speckled Wood (pararge aegeria)

Speckled Wood (pararge aegeria)

And so to yesterday. As tweeted I went to London which is always a mistake. I step out onto those streets and wish I was back there permanently. Commuting suddenly looks appealing again. I get over it, but slowly. Last year I went to an extraordinary exhibition staged by Wellcome Collection at the centre near Euston.

Something like 30 skeletons had been laid out in the display centre. These skeletons had been selected from the Collection and had been recovered from sites across London at various times and dating back to a variety of periods in London’s history.

They were the remains of individuals who ranged in age at death from pre-natal to advanced old age, and in occupation and socio-economic background. The exhibition including remains from London’s Roman past and from as recently as the late Victorian period. For a fair proportion of the remains, particularly the later sets, biographical had been established.

I understand that such an exhibition will strike many as macabre and visiting such a display as disturbing behaviour. I can only say that I found the tenor of the exhibition curiously reassuring. The curators had made every effort to produce a dignified and enlightening presentation. Well the Trust is running a new body exhibition at the moment and I went along. Closed, for the day. What luck. I may have another chance to get up to London next week. Fingers crossed.

With that plan scuppered I moved on toward Covent Garden. I can’t get vegemite locally and the lack of vegemite for my toast amounts to a domestic crisis. I now have a very large jar of the stuff. The Australia Shop is a treasure trove of half forgotten goodies: summer rolls, twisties, fruit tingles, life savers, minties, etc. I confined myself to one box of barbeque shapes and three (on offer) boxes of TeeVee snacks. And I haven’t opened them yet. Am I not good?

Being good at the sweetie counter meant I could spend up in the bookstore. The Waterstones in Gower Street is a favourite; I prefer it to Foyles in fact. It is close to UCL and has vast quantities of serious reading rather than shelf after shelf of rather banal and lightweight general interest level non-fiction in standard grade Waterstones shops. It also has a cracking remaindered section.

Apart from the other stuff I carried off as an indulgence I am now the proud owner of a new copy of the current edition of the Waring Townsend Field Guide to British (Macro) Moths. My old copy which was secondhand, heavily annotated by the previous owner, can now be donated to the charity shop when next I do a run over there, in the hope that it will assist another budding moth hunter as it has served me.

And that’s about it. No moths to report in the house or outside; aside from another Bird-cherry Ermine and a Brown Housemoth which I turfed outdoors. The weather has been abyssmal and though the sun is out I fear the bulk of the good (and in moth hunting terms, productive) weather might be beind us. But if I’m wrong, I’m now well armed.