Early Season Norfolk Moths

The warmer weather of the past few days really kick-started activity amongst our group of Norwich based moth enthusiasts. On Tuesday (19/3) I was invited to join a field trip to a private site in the South-west of the county to search for some early spring Breckland specialities. As the sun went down and we set up a handful of battery powered actinic traps hopes were high that we could repeat the success of a similar trip a few days previously. In the end a full moon and a sharp drop in temperature around 21.00hrs meant that numbers and diversity were not quite as high as we had anticipated. Nevertheless by the time we packed up at 22.30hrs we had managed to record at least 67 individuals of 17 species including the following five species all of which were new for me:

The birch specialist Yellow-horned showing how it got its name!
The understated Mottled Grey was new for many of the participants.
Water Carpet
Broom-tip – quite an early date for this heathland species.
For me the moth of the night was this majestic and subtly toned Scarce Tissue

I was too busy at work for the next couple of days to even contemplate running a trap but that did not deter others. On Thursday (21/3) news filtered through of no less than five Small Eggars being caught across the county. One at Cley and two each at Lyng and Litcham. This beautiful little chocolate coloured moth is declining in the UK and many moth-ers are more likely to have seen evidence of its larval webs in hedgerows than an adult.

Fortunately the pair of females at Litcham arrived at the light-trap set in the garden of Keith Kerr, top entomologist and leading light of the Norwich moth-ers WhatsApp group who with typical generosity invited visitors. I couldn’t make it, but because I was based at home the following day to receive a delivery I asked if Ian Robinson could bring at one of the Small Eggars back to Norwich along with a Lead-coloured Drab. I collected the three visitors from Ian on Thursday evening and as a result Friday morning saw a near constant ringing of the doorbell as a steady procession of visitors from Norwich and further afield turned up at my front door to admire the Eggars and discover how to tell Lead-coloured Drab from its more abundant and infinitely variable Clouded relative.

One of the two female Small Eggars.
Female Lead-coloured Drab – males have nice feathery antennae which makes them easier to tell apart from grey forms of the closely related and much commoner Clouded Drab

So far so good – all I had to worry about was when my package would arrive, scheduling a work meeting and returning the moths to Litcham. Except that visitor after visitor was telling me that a Barred Tooth-striped, caught in the Brecks the previous night, was on display at the NWT’s Weeting Heath visitor centre. Luck was on my side; the package arrived on time and my colleague plumped for an early afternoon meeting which allowed me enough time to take the scenic route to Litcham, via Weeting! When I arrived at the VC I found the warden James with two pots on the counter – one containing the BT-s and the other a couple of Dotted Chestnut, a species that is expanding its range in Norfolk. Although it has not yet reached me. James was pleased to see the Small Eggars, which by now were rather sadly moribund. This was almost certainly due to the exertion of them having fulfilled their biological role of egg-laying prior to capture than their excursion to Norwich. He then very kindly helped me photograph the moths, both of which were new to me, before I headed to meet Keith and return home.

Barred Tooth-striped: The Breckland population discovered in 1980 is completely isolated from others in the UK.
Dotted Chestnut

James Lowen has already blogged about the Kindness of Moth-ers a sentiment that I can only reiterate here. None of the above would have been possible without the collaboration of fellow enthusiasts; organising the field trip, lending portable traps, transporting moths around the county and sharing their finds.

And amongst all this excitement what about my own backyard? I ran my home made MV trap a couple of times over the weekend (21-24/3) recording good numbers (44 and 64) in catches dominated, as is expected in late March, by Common Quakers. Quality was offered by a pair of beauties – Brindled Beauty which was new for the year and a couple of latish Oak Beauty. But in truth it feels like the season is just getting started.

Oak Beauty from the garden trap.