Moth (and Mouse) Night

This weekend is Moth Night (it troubles me every year that Moth Night is actually a weekend!). It was supposed to be a fairly windy night and the various moth groups I follow were abuzz with prospects of exciting migrant moths being blown in from the Continent. One of the themes for this year’s Moth Night was the importance of ivy as an autumn food source. I cleared a path to our patch of ivy, so I could get close up for nocturnal photos and out my moth trap went in hope and anticipation. As anyone who reads my blog, or indeed anyone who has ever tried photographing wildlife knows, things rarely go to plan.

So the moth trap attracted just a measly 10 individuals of 8 species. October is getting near the end of moth season, so I was never going to get hundreds of moths, but I had hoped for a bit more of a selection. There are some lovely colourful autumn moth species, but none of them fancied my moth trap last night. I did get two migrants – both Silver Y moths – seen here with their distinctive y or gamma (hence their latin name Autographa gamma) marks on the wings.

The remaining 8 moths were made up of 2 Common Marbled Carpets, 1 Light Brown Apple Moth, 1 Blair’s Shoulder Knot, 1 Lesser Yellow Underwing, 1 Setaceous Hebrew Character, 1 Black Rustic and 1 Shuttle-shaped Dart. All lovely moths in their own right, but not the most exciting selection.

The ivy was also a complete wash out. Although it was in full flower, I didn’t see a single moth on it. Admittedly I didn’t sit in the bushes staring at it all night, but I did pop out for frequent spot checks. Maybe the light from the moth trap was doing too good a job attracting what few moths there were and keeping them away from the ivy? I’ll keep checking the ivy over the next few nights – it will be too late for Moth Night, but I’d like to get a photo of at least one moth on it. I did check out the ivy this morning and it was buzzing with bees (who had clearly got the memo the moths had missed about it being a good source of food in the autumn!). No sign of any Ivy Bees, but plenty of Honey Bees making the most of it.

One surprise find to finish off Moth Night was this mouse. As I was putting the moth trap away in the garage, I saw movement from the box with the birds’ peanuts in. A mouse had got stuck in there and looked just as surprised as me. A quick photo and he was running free in the garden again, although he may have preferred to stay in the garage with the bird food.

30 Days Wild – Day 12

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_12Day 12 of 30 Days Wild and it’s been all about the moths. This weekend has been the annual Moth Night (which slightly confusingly has run for 3 nights) – a celebration of all things mothy. The theme of this year’s Moth Night was Hawkmoths, so I was really hoping I’d get some in the traps.

I had both moth traps out last night and was up at 4am this morning to empty them before the robin beat me to it. The last 2 days I’ve been pretty much eyeball to eyeball with this robin as he has clearly learnt that moth traps provide easy pickings! I only have to turn around for a second and he’s there sitting on the edge of the trap, peering in. If only he could tell me their names, he’d be a big help!

Skinner TrapI’d run one trap on Friday night as usual for my weekly Garden Moth Scheme count. So I could use those numbers for Moth Night too – great when the data can be used for 2 schemes at once!

 

Safari TrapLast night though I put the other trap out as well (I can only use the wooden one for the Garden Moth Scheme) to try and maximise my haul for Moth Night. Fortunately the rain held off last night until about 5:30am, by which time I had collected all the moths ready to photograph at a more civilised hour.

I’ve spent a large part of today identifying the moths I’d photographed this morning and yesterday. I’ve no idea yet how other moth trappers got on, but I was pretty pleased with my total count of 174 moths of 41 species over the 2 days. Interestingly the number of traps didn’t make much difference – I got 27 species the first night with one trap and 29 last night with the 2 traps.

I was really chuffed to get 2 species of Hawkmoth – the Elephant (on the left below) and the Small Elephant (on the right obviously!).  We get the bigger one quite often in June and the small one less frequently. It would have been nice to get some of the other big hawkmoths too, but that’s the way it goes.

Pair of elephants

The dominant species in terms of sheer numbers was the Heart and Dart, which accounted for about a third of the total number of individuals. I love the way many of the moths are named – the Heart & Dart is so called because it has dark markings shaped like a heart and a dart! It does what it says on the tin!

Heart & Dart

The other numerous moth in the trap was a micro one – the Diamond Back Moth – named for its diamond shaped pattern on its back! This tiny moth is actually an immigrant and they’ve been blown over to the UK in recent weeks in huge numbers – they even got a mention on Springwatch.

Diamond Back moth

The Diamond Back wasn’t the only incomer, I also trapped a Silver Y moth each night – again named for the silvery Y shape on its wing. The Silver Y is one of the more famous immigrants in the moth world and even got recorded as part of the Big Butterfly Count last year.

Silver Y

Moths can generally be split into Macro and Micro moths. I tend to prefer the Macro ones because not only are they bigger, but they are usually easier to identify. This weekend brought some particularly impressive ones. The Scarlet Tiger is so bright and colourful it is often mistaken for a butterfly. They regularly fly in sunshine, but this one came to the trap at the weekend.

Scarlet Tiger

The Puss Moth and Pale Tussock are two other large species that turned up for Moth Night. I love the way the Puss sits with its front legs stretched out ahead.

Puss Moth

Pale Tussock

I was really pleased to find this next moth in the trap this morning as I’d only ever seen it in the books before – the Figure of 80 – so named because it looks like someone’s written 80 on each of its wings!

Figure of 80

Although the Micro moths are obviously smaller and so generally harder to ID, many of them are really quite stunning when you look at them close up, like this Cherry Bark Moth (top) and Barred Marble (below).  They’re both probably less than a centimetre long, but there’s such detail in their colouring.

Cherry Bark

 

Barred Marble

So that’s Moth Night over for another year. Hopefully they will have had lots of results submitted from all over the country and it will have raised the profile of moths generally.  I really enjoy taking part in projects like this; it’s great sharing the photos on social media and seeing what all the other moth-ers around the country are getting in their traps.

For more info have a look at their website:  http://www.mothnight.info/www/

 

Buttercup 30 WEEDS

Weed no. 12 in my 30 Lazy Weeds from the garden and it’s the Buttercup. One of our most iconic flowers, that even children will recognise. Most kids will have tried the old custom where you hold a buttercup under your chin and if it reflects yellow, it means you like butter. Of course all it really proves is that the buttercup’s petals reflect light very well, but that’s not quite so romantic a thought! Maybe it is that old custom though, as buttercups hold an innocent charm for me that few of the other flowers do.

Citizen Science

With the Big Garden Birdwatch coming up this weekend, it got me thinking about the other forms of Citizen Science (Citizen Smith’s nerdy cousin!) that the other half and I get involved with from the comfort of our own garden.  For amateur biologists like us, these projects are a great way of indulging our hobbies and hopefully contributing something useful with the information at the same time. Most of the ones we participate in require no specialist knowledge (phew!), no specialist equipment and often very little time. Yet when enough people contribute, they can provide significant amounts of information that the scientists couldn’t get any other way.

BlackbirdThe Big Garden Birdwatch is one of the oldest projects and has been going for over 30 years, allowing the RSPB to monitor long term trends in our garden bird populations.  You just need to watch the birds in your garden for an hour and count the maximum number of each species you see. For more information go to: https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/discoverandlearn/birdwatch

Small CopperThe Big Butterfly Count is a relative newcomer, having only started in 2010, but already it’s become the biggest butterfly survey in the world. Last year over half a million butterflies were recorded in over 50,000 counts – you couldn’t pay for that amount of data!  For this project all you need to do is record the maximum number of each of the target species you see in just 15 minutes during the 3 weeks the project runs each summer. For more information go to: http://www.bigbutterflycount.org/

I’ve been monitoring the moths in our garden for a while now and last year took part in Moth Night in September.  Moth night runs for a different weekend each year with a different theme each time (this year it will be Hawk-moths). You can either run a moth trap in  your own garden or go to one of their public events. For more information go to: http://www.mothnight.info/www/ This year I’ve decided to go one step further and joined the Garden Moth Scheme. This project gets volunteers to put out moth traps in the garden once a week over the summer months and log their findings. Since I’ve been more or less doing this anyway, joining the scheme seemed like the logical thing to do. For more information go to: http://www.gardenmoths.org.uk/

Painted LadyIf you don’t want to get involved in anything too formal, some schemes just require you to log certain species as and when you see them. Butterfly Conservation runs a Migrant Watch for Painted Lady butterflies and Hummingbird Hawk-moths. These species are becoming increasingly common in the UK and may be indicative of climate change. You can help monitor this by simply logging any sightings of them (at home, work wherever you see them). Humming Bird Hawkmoth 3For more information go to: http://butterfly-conservation.org/612/migrant-watch.html

 

 

 

Azure DamselflyThere are schemes for all sorts of species – we’ve logged dragonflies and damselflies at http://www.british-dragonflies.org.uk/ and reptiles and lizards at http://www.recordpool.org.uk/index.php You name it there is probably a recording scheme for it somewhere.

Although I’ve always been interested in encouraging wildlife into the garden (hence the abundance of wilderness areas – honest that’s the reason!), it was taking part in a Garden Bioblitz a few years ago that really fired my enthusiasm. In a Garden Bioblitz you simply record all the species (plants and animals) you can find in your garden over a 24 hour period.  The first time we did it, the other half and I recorded 119 species – and that was before we had a moth trap! Hopefully this year we can improve on that. If you fancy having a go – http://www.gardenbioblitz.org/

In short (after rambling on longer than I meant to), if you’re interested in wildlife and observing it anyway, why not put those observations to good use and submit them to one of these schemes?

Sweet Smell of Success

Moth HaulSo Moth Night is over for another year and I was pretty pleased with the results from our little patch of mothy heaven. A total of 21 species and 217 individuals recorded from the two nights I ran the moth traps. The weather wasn’t perfect (it chucked it down the first night) but the moths were obviously more intrepid than me and braved the elements to come to the lights. (if you light it they will come…)

Copper Underwing on sugared treeFor the first time I’d tried the sugaring technique, daubing our apple tree with the sticky sugary concoction – and success! This beautiful Copper Underwing just couldn’t resist the sweet smell and spent a long time filling his proverbial boots from the tree. I was a bit worried the moths might just get stuck in the sugar, but thankfully morning came and no sign of treacly embalmed insects.

Centre Barred SallowThe vast bulk of them were Large Yellow Underwings (156 individuals) which tend to dominate the traps at this time of year. But amongst them were a few other beauties, like this lovely autumnal looking Centre Barred Sallow. These pretty moths are supposedly coloured like this so they are camouflaged against the autumn leaves.

 

Lunar UnderwingAlso popping up were these Lunar Underwings – I have a soft spot for these probably because the name reminds me of the “Giant Lunar Moth” from the Dr Dolittle film (now that would be a sight at the moth trap!)  Hopefully Moth Night will have been a success all over the country and provide plenty of useful data for their conservation.

 

 

Moth Night

It’s Moth Night! The annual celebration of all things mothy and I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve waiting to see what the morning brings in my moth trap. Moth night actually runs for 3 nights, which the pedant in me finds vaguely irritating, but I guess Moth 3 Nights just didn’t sound right, so I’ll try to let it go! The theme this year is migrant moths, with one in particular gaining much publicity – the Convolvulus Hawkmoth which is huge. You can apparently tempt it into your garden with tobacco plants and alcohol, so I’ve got the other half sitting in the garden drinking his beer and having a fag to lure them in – what moth could resist that!

Square Spot rusticMoth (3) night officially started last night and a Square Spot Rustic moth obviously took this as his cue as he appeared on the shower curtain while I was in the bath last night. The photo here is not of the same specimen (I don’t tend to have the camera in the bath with me, that would be too weird) but of one photographed last month.

 

 

Moth TrapSo I’ve got the moth trap out in the garden tonight and will run two more tomorrow night. I’ve also painted various bits of wood around the garden with a disgusting concoction of treacle, beer and sugar which is supposed to attract certain species. I’ve just got to remember where they are when I’m stumbling around in the dark, or I’ll end up stuck to one like a giant fly on sticky paper! Hopefully I’ll be able to post some more mothy photos after the weekend if I’m not stuck to the tree.

GreeboAnd finally today’s post is dedicated to our beautiful little cat Greebo who two weeks ago today lost her battle with Cushing’s disease – a disease so rare our vet had never even seen it in a cat. Greebo did love a good moth, although more as a tasty, crunchy snack than as a wonder of nature. We miss you Greebie. xxx