Along with it’s reputation for rare migrant birds, Scilly is also an excellent place to trap migrant moths. Penninis Head is the most southerly point on St Mary’s and the penninsular runs North to South. Sheltered spots amongst boulders and dry stone walls are ideal sites to trap recent arrivals from Iberia and North Africa. With our accomodation being at the base of the headland I felt there was a good chance of success.
A brace of Radford’s
The first night of our stay (17th October) I set my battery operated actinic trap in the grounds of our lodge. The result was disappointing; lots of Feathered Ranunculus and Lunar Underwings, but little else. Fortunately staying on Penninis Farm gave access to some fields on the West side of the headland. Two nights later I placed the trap in a corner of a rough pasture lfacing St Agnes.
I retrieved the trap the following morning and took it back to our lodge. Amongst good numbers of the usual suspects there was a small selection of immigrant or likely immigrant species. This included Angle Shades, Turnip and Whitespeck and two pristine Radford’s Flame Shoulder.
Other migrants were familar from my first foray into migramt moth trapping on The Lizard in September 2019. These included one each of Scarce Bordered Straw, Delicate and Dark Swoardgrass.
Micros not migrants
Two nights later I tried the same location again. No migrants and a more autumnal feel to the local moths. But, to my suprise, there were two micro-moths in the trap; Crocidosema plebejana and Scrobipalpa ocellatella. Both are rocky shore specialists, confined to the South and South-West, that fly late in the season.
Given that I only trapped for three nights I was very pleased with the outcome. On three counts. Firstly the nice mixture of migrant moths and local species, like Feathered Ranunculus, that I don’t see at home. Secondly catching some micros was a bonus – I had hardly caught any since late August, Finally it was excellent to see my battery operated actinic get such good results. Small portable traps give flexibility in a way that mains operated traps with MV bulbs do not. A useful lesson for the future.
By the time the UK lockdown started on 23rd March I was already working from home. University teaching had gone on-line and my last physical seminar was on the afternoon of Friday 13th March. During an extended period of home working during the lockdown moth-trapping would be an important part of my routine.
A slow start…
That night I ran my actinic Heath Trap and caught just five moths of three species (5/3). However on the wall behind the trap was a tiny pale grey micro-moth. It reminded me of the Lichen Button (Acleris literana)that I had seen on Wiveton church in late January. Not surprising as it was another species of Acleris; either logiana (Grey Birch Button) or kochiella (Elm Button). Based on the images both Keith Kerr and Dave Appleton favoured logiana an identifcation later confirmed under Keith’s microscope. A new species for me, TG20D and only the sixth to be recorded in the TG20 hectad.
Before the restrictions tightened I took a short trip down the A11 to Roudham Services. The layby is surrounded by woodland and the walls of the well lit toilet block are attractive to moths. In past years this has been a reliable site for two early spring species; Small Brindled Beauty and Yellow Horned. The first is quite scarce, but Yellow Horned is quite common in suitable habitat (birch). I quickly found one and relocated it to Eaton for 24 hours for a photoshoot.
The next two and a half weeks were very cool and trapping was hard going. I was catching 3/4 of the common Hebrew Character, Common and Small Quakers and Clouded Drab most nights. Occasional relief came in the form of the odd Twin-spotted Quaker and Early Grey.
A change in the weather
The weekend of 4th/5th of April was much warmer. Multiple reports of male Emperor Moths coming to pheromone lures on Saturday made sure I gave it a go on Sunday. Twenty minutes after deployment an Emperor buzzed my lure, but some inept netcraft saw him disappear over the back fence. Never mind! A few minutes later he returned and I didn’t mess up my second chance. Whilst he cooled off in the fridge a second individual briefly inspected the lure. My first multiple siting after singles in 2017 and 2019.
The warmer weather encouraged me to switch to the bigger and more poweful MV trap. I was not disappointed with 17/10 including four new species for the year (nfy): Nut-tree Tussock, Herald, Double-striped Pug and Oak Nycteoline. Three of these species would have recently emerged
The next couple of nights were quieter with only Early Thorn the only nfy. However as it warmed up ahead of the Easter weekend numbers picked with 23/13 overnight on 8th April. Engrailed plus Brindled Pug and Beauty were all expected nfy.
Not expected was another pale grey moth on the wall behind the trap. This was a new species for me; Early Tooth-striped. The first record for TG20D tetrad and just the third ever recorded in TG20.
Who needs Easter eggs?
The catch on Easter Saturday morning was small although there were three noteworthy moths. None of this trio were in the trap, but were on the house wall and other nearby surfaces. A crisp olive and lemon Frosted Green was just the second for the garden. It was certainly much better looking than last year’s rather worn individual. In comparison Streamer is a regular garden moth in mid-April, but definitely one of my favourites. The extensive mauve suffusion is shown off to good effect on this lovely fresh individual.
However pride of place went to another new species for me; Lunar Marbled Brown. This species is bigger than I had expected with a series of wavy crossbands in muted cream and brown tones. The black “lunar” mark is towards the top edge of the broad cream band.
After dark on the evening of 11th April there was a lot of activity in the mild still conditions. The next morning did not disappoint and there was a fine array of moths spread across the house wall and in the trap. There were high counts of Brindled Beauty and Streamer (4 each) and 7 nfy including, Least Black Arches, Muslin Moth. Scorched Carpet Swallow Prominent and my second garden Mullein.
The two nfy micro-moths were Many-plume and Bee Moth. A couple of tiny black and white micro-moths looked more interesting. I identifed them with the aid of my photographs as Mompha subbistrigella (Garden Mompha). Although this species is new to me it is not uncommon and quite well recorded around Norwich.
Unfortunately wind and rain on the night of 12th April brought this enjoyable period of lockdown moth-trapping to an end. That said although the current restrictions are set to continue this cool spell will soon pass. And as we appraoch May there will be be many more good nights as numbers and diversity increase.
During my last couple of days in Batumi I became aware that a second summer Brown Booby was being seen irregularly near St Ives in Cornwall. Although Brown Boobies are quite common on a global scale it would be a new species for me. But for two reasons one that would have to wait. Firstly I had been away for 2.5 weeks and had work commitments to fulfil. Secondly I had planned a weekend birding and trapping moths on The Lizard when I took Kat back to university. I was just going to have to sit this one out!
Last seen at St Ives around midday on 31st August this bird was seen again an hour later from Pendeen. Since Pendeen is ca10 miles SW of St Ives it had surely gone. However, in a strange twist a different, first winter, bird turned up in the rocks off Kynance Cove the next day. Just about a mile from the Lizard Youth Hostel I was booked to stay in for the weekend of 6th- 8th September I was just going to have to sit this one out!
A sucessful twitch
We set off on the evening of 5th September with a fully loaded car – even with the back seats taken out all available space was occupied either by the worldly goods of the student illustrator or mothing paraphanelia. And why not? As the UK mainland’s most southerly point it is a prime site for migrant moths and a number of species restricted to the rocky shores of SW England and Wales. After a rubbish journey slowed by mutiple diversions we reached the Okehampton Travelodge just after midnight and pitched in for the night before continuing on to Kynance in the morning.
By the time we reached the NT car park at Kynance many happy folk, a number of whom had also made the long trip from East Anglia, were already drifting back to their vehicles. Reassured I headed up to the viewpoint only to find the bird had left its favoured rock. After a bit of uncertainty the Brown Booby (WP #715) was relocated feeding in Pentreath Beach where I watched it at some considerable distance for about 40 minute performing laps of the bay before it returned to Gull Rock. I managed on one OK record shot as it flew past about 100 m below me and was very envious of the lone photographer located on a low promentory about 0.5 km to the South who seemed to be going eyeball to eyeball with the sulid – maybe tomorrow?
Time now to get Kat moved in. After a brief stop in Truro to collect the house keys and for me to visit the excellent SouthWest Optics to buy some replacement eye cups for my Swarowski binoculars we headed into Falmouth. By the time we arrived I was famished and left Kat to get settled and headed to a cafe 100m down the road which turned out to be the highly recommended Provedore with a fine choice of SE Asian fusion dishes and excellent coffee,
After leaving Kat to unpack and catch up with friends I picked up some groceries and decided to take another look at the Booby which was now settled back on its offshore rock. But not the usual spot – it had moved to the West face of the rock which meant a hike of about 1.5 km beyond Kynance Cove to look back and view it.. Compared with the morning this was less than satisfactory with the distant Booby shuffling uncomfortably in a crevice and never really looking settled it did cross my mind something was amiss.
I returned to the car and drove the short distance to the YHA’s Lizard Point Hostel. This very comfortable four star hostel is located close ot the tip of the pennninsular and was a hotel in the Victorian time. Facilities are good, albeit a bit basic, but with the added bonus of otstanding Atlantic views and extensive sheltered gardens. As it was quite breezy I set one trap in the garden before walking into the village to enjoy a pint and a supper of locally sourced seafood at The Witchball mainland Britains’s most southerly pub.
The next day was clear and still and offered an opportunity to photograph the Brown Booby in good light. First I needed to attend to the trap and have breakfast. I caught about 20 moths, nothing out of the ordinary, although a Frosted Orange offered evidence of the changing seasons. The catch did include Galium Carpet which was new for me and three Delicates. The Delicate is an immigrant, although these have been the progeny of moths that arrived earlier in the year and stayed to breed,
A second bite of the cherry?
After breakfast I headed back up to Kynance Cove. An increase in visitor numbers required parking in an overflow carpark with help from a rather officious NT volunteer! It was hard to know if the Booby was present, but plenty of telescopes were trained on it favoured rock. I headed in the opposite direction to get to the promentory before it started to feed. On the way I was joined by a local photographer who had spent an hour or so on Pentreath beach. He was far from convinced our quarry had not gone. I was just going to have to sit this one out.
And I did for a couple of hours in the company of a steady stream of hirundines and the occassional passing Mediterranean Gull. But no sign of the Booby. The consensus from friends I met on the way back to the car park was that it had disappeared overnight.
The afternoon was spent retreiving more of Kat’s possessions from storage in Truro and moving them to Falmouth. Job done I returned to the hostel to cook myself dinner. A very fine chilli con carne which was able to cool and mature whilst I set the traps.
Given the calmer conditions I elected to run both traps on the cliffs just off the SW Coastal Path. I powered up the gennie as the last jogger of the evening pounded their way along the path. Nobody would pass the traps again until I emptied them in the morning.
Eat, sleep, moths…
I returned the hostel to enjoy my chilli and a glass or two of red wine before retiring. In the end I managed as good a night’s sleep as the top bunk bed in a shared dormitary allows. As one of my room mates observed at least the YHA don’t make you do chores any more!
Once again the morning dawned clear and still and I walked down to the trapsnot seeing a soul. Both traps held good numbers of moths with a nice balance between migrants local specialities. The migrants included;Delicate, Dark Sword-grass and Scarce Broad-bordered Straw.
Whilst local coastal specialists were represented by Grass Eggar, Devonshire Wainscot and Mullein Wave.
After breakfast I checked out and headed into Falmouth to help Kat with a supermarket shop. By mid-morning I was on my way to Davidstow. Unfortunately my attempts to photograph a long staying Buff-breasted Sandpiper were thwarted by some over exuberant members of the microlight community. At which point I accepted that I had enjoyed a pretty good weekend and set the Sat Nav for home.
The Biggest Week in American Birding is a festival organised each May by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory in Ohio to celebrate peak warbler migration. For Norwich garden moth-trappers the first week of July is the “Biggest Week” for moths. Who could forget the stunning Orache Moth that arrived in James Lowen’s trap in July 2018. I was excited to know what 2019 might bring? But I was not ready for the outstanding week of midsummer week garden moth-trapping that transpired.
I managed only a modest catch on 28th June with six species that were new for the year (NFY). There were also three species of micro-moth that were new to the garden. The adventive Box-tree Moth was long overdue and did not hang around, but was acompanied by two pretty tortix moths. Lozotaeniodes formosana (Orange Pine Tortrix) is a big tent shaped micro with characteristic orange and fawn blotches. In contrast Archips xylosteana (Variegated Golden Tortrix) rests with flat wings that showcase its symetrical golden-brown patterns.
The next day a mid-morning post from Will Soar alerted us to multiple Red-belted Clearwings attending a lure in his garden. Since Will lives just 1.5 miles down the road I put out a lure. Within 10 minutes five Red-belted Clearwings were buzzing around it. It felt like that I was on a roll.
The dam breaks open..
The night of 29th June was very warm and still; just perfect for moths. The flood gates opened and the following morning I found a dazzling array of moths in both traps. Several of these were new to the garden for example an absolutely pristine Alder Kitten.
Also new was a trio of green moths. Both species of Silver-lines (Green and Scarce) along with a slightly faded, but still stunning Green Arches.
Other quality moths included two new for the year; a smart Blue-bordered Carpet and a cryptic Dusky Brocade.
There were a lot of unfamilar micro-moths to sort through. The most glamorous of these was a chocolate and gold Pammene regiana (Regal Piercer). Least common and new to TG20D was the strikingly black and white Parachronistis albiceps (Wood Groundling) with just 75 previous Norfolk records. Othe NFG micros included; Calamoptropha paludella (Bulrush Veneer), Ancylis achatana (Triangle-marked Roller) and Phycitodes binaevella (Ermine Knothorn).
To ensure a manageable catch before work I only ran the small actinic trap on the night of 2nd July. This kept the numbers down, but there was a new micro-moth in the trap; Dichomeris marginella (Juniper Webber). This species is quite localized in Norfolk and uses suburban garden junipers as a foodplant. However it must have been established in Eaton for some time as Dave Hipperson recorded it in the 1980s and 90s.
Tyger Tyger Burning Bright
The final garden trap of the week was on the night of 4th July. The week’s activities curtailed by a weekend away in NW Norfolk to celebrate our 30th Wedding Anniversary. When I opened the trap the following morning I could not believe my eyes. Sitting on top of the first egg box was a pristine Scarlet Tiger. Just the sixth Norfolk record following three in the West of the County the previous weekend!
With the Tiger safely potted I started to sort the rest of the catch when my eye was drawn the wall. A Blackneck. Scarce rather than rare, but another teriffic addition to the TG20D list and just the fourth for TG20. The macro haul was completed with four NFY species that included Tawny Barred Angle.
Apart from the expected seasonal spike in Chrysoteuchia culmella (Garden Grass Veneer) threre were fewer micro-moths than recent nights. These did include Ostrinia nubialis (European Corn Borer) and Argyresthia albistria (Purple Argent) both new for the garden and TG20.
It had been an outstanding few days of moth-trapping. Once all the star turns were photographed and released I was happy to leave for our weekend away. Even so as we drove to North-west Norfolk I could not help but wonder what the Biggest Week for moths in 2020 will bring.
After I returned from Kuwait the garden moth-trap was hard work due to a series of cool nights in the last third of April. But it was not without rewards. The night of 22nd April brought half a dozen species that were new for the year. This included a first garden Lesser Swallow Prominent which I didn’t find time to photograph. A mistake that I didn’t repeat the following weekend when I finally recorded Frosted Green. It was one of just four moths in the trap on a very cold night.
A slow start
A warmer night on 1st May brought an improved catch (23 moths of 13 species). This included seven species that were new for the year (NFY) and a well marked, but unfamiliar pug. With help from the friendly folk on the Norfolk Moths Facebook page I was able to identify this as a Dwarf Pug. This species is usually associated with spruce plantations and most Norfolk records are from the Brecks. But it does seem prone to wander
Numbers were low for the next ten days with catches never reaching double figures. But I did record no less than three species of Hawk-moth; Lime, Poplar and Eyed.
More micro-moths appeared from the middle of the month. The common Cochylis atricapitana (Black-headed Conch) was an expected addition on 18th May. It was accompanied by the new for year Notocelia cynobatella (Yellow-faced Bell).
A brace of Seraphims
One feature of my my garden moth-trap is the number of Light Brocades that I catch each spring. This species is widespread across southern and eastern England, but in Norfolk most records come from around Norwich. This year it appeared on the 22nd May.
Also on the night of the 22nd came the first of two Seraphims. This is a species with a patchy distribution in Norfolk, but again with many records around Norwich. The second individual darker turned up two days.
The 24th May also brought a very fidgety Pale Oak Beauty which didn’t stay for a photograph. Much better behaved was the garden’s first Clouded-bordered Brindle.
The final flourish!
My catches over the last two nights of May were not huge, but the diversity was good. Many more species were appearing for the first time this year. These included two of my favourite macro-moths; Elephant Hawk-moth and Puss Moth.
There was also an increase in the number of micro-moth species including three species that were new to me. The first two species Plutella porrectella (Grey-streaked Diamond-back) and Rhyacionia pinivorana (Spotted Shoot) were expected.
The third Assara terebrella (Dark Spruce Knot-horn) was a surprise and represented the 43rd Norfolk record. Like Dwarf Pug this species is usually associated with spruce plantations and rarely recorded away from Breckland. It is also considered “Nationally Notable”meaning that it has been recorded in 16-100 10 km squares! It was nice to add TG20 to that list.
Despite these successes my garden moth-trap still managed to serve up one mystery. A tortix (a kind of micro-moth) that I caught on the last night of the month. It appears to be a weakly marked example of Hedya pruniana or Hedya nubiferana two closely species I record regularly. Impossible to tell apart without dissection I let it go. It is the kind of mystery that keeps us keen!
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 joined a field trip to a private site in South-west Norfolk to search for some late March Breckland specialities. As the sun went down 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 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. This included five species which were new for me:
I was too busy at work for the next couple of days to even contemplate running a trap. That did not deter others. On Thursday (21/3) news filtered through of no less than five Small Eggars 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. 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. Keith is a top entomologist and a leading light of the Norwich moth-ers WhatsApp group. And with typical generosity he invited visitors. I couldn’t make it, but I was based at home the following day to receive a delivery. Consequently 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. As a result Friday morning saw a near constant ringing of the doorbell. A steady procession of visitors from Norwich and further afield turned up at my front door. Not only to admire the Eggars but also discover how to tell Lead-coloured Drab from its more abundant and infinitely variable Clouded relative.
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 every other visitor told me about a Barred Tooth-striped caught in the Brecks the previous night. It was now 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. This gave 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 contained the BT-s and the other a couple of Dotted Chestnut. This is a species that is expanding its range in Norfolk, although it has not yet reached me. James was happy to see the Small Eggars, which by now were sadly moribund. This was almost certainly due to the exertion of them having fulfilled their biological role of egg-laying prior to capture rather than their excursion to Norwich. James very kindly helped me photograph the moths, both of which were new to me, before I left to meet Keith and return home.
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) and recorded good numbers (44 and 64). The catches were dominated, as 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.