Travel Notes

As we travel widely during the summer looking for insects to photograph, Roger Edmondson and I have decided to put a record of our more interesting finds on this website. New entries are not always entered in date order so please check for changes by clicking on 'What's new' on  the home page.

6th October 2013

Most of the migrant moth species that arrive at the southern coast of England die when the British winter sets in. This is possibly because of the combination of damp as well as cold conditions that we get during our winters. Some of the earlier arrivals such as Silver Y and Hummingbird Hawk-moth may breed and produce a true British generation, but these are also usually killed off by our winter.

Despite this being the general fate of most migrants, some do manage to survive and set up temporary or even occasionally permanent populations. Recent examples of these are Oak Rustic, Sombre Brocade and possibly Clifden Nonpariel, and the Flame Brocade mentioned in the previous post on Portland.

Roger and I decided to visit Durlston Country Park, near Swanage to photograph the Oak Rustic and the Sombre Brocade, as both of them have colonised the Holm Oak in this area. We arranged permission earlier in the day to trap there, and were told that this was OK as long as we photographed the two moths on site and did not take any away.

We arrived more than an hour before sunset so that we could look around and find a sheltered place close to the Holm Oak that was suitable for trapping. It was a breezy afternoon and fairly dull, so apart from a few Fox Moth larvae, several of the migrant Rush Veneer and a migrant Clouded Yellow butterfly asleep in the grass, we did not find any interesting lepidoptera before we started light trapping.

Clouded Yellow    Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Clouded Yellow Colias croceus

We decided to trap in the fields at the edge of the woodland to the east of the visitors centre and bungalow. There was a slight breeze, but we were sheltered from the worst of it by the slope of the ground and the trees on the west side of the fields. As at Portland a few days before, we used a 125w MV trap and a twin 20w UV compact fluorescent trap. This allowed us to use the lithium battery pack from our other twin 20w when the first ran out, which gave us about 8 hours of light. The lights were turned on at 7.10pm.

After 2 hours of trapping we were feeling rather disappointed as we had only managed to catch 7 species, although 3 of these were common migrants (Plutella xylostella, Udea ferrugalis and a few Dark Swordgrass). After a short discussion with Roger, he decided to check out how sheltered it was on the wooded path that ran along the top of the slope to the south and on his return we decided to move both of the traps. This was a good decision, as in about twenty minutes we had doubled the number of recorded species.

The first of the 'better' migrants that we recorded was a Delicate. This was followed by the reddish form of Pearly Underwing and at about 10.30pm by the one and only Oak Rustic Dryobota labecula of the evening. Luckily the Oak Rustic was in good condition and we had our photographs. The moth was first recorded on Jersey in 1991, was later found on the Isle of Wight in 1999, then  finally reaching Hampshire and Dorset in 2005. The specimen in the picture had a forewing length of 15mm.

Oak Rustic    Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Oak Rustic Dryobota labecula - Durlston

Just after 11.00pm the generator (which is a very small and portable model that does not hold a lot of fuel) had to be refilled. While filling it with petrol, I held the cap from the fuel can in one hand, the fuel in the other, and my torch in my mouth. It was then that a moth decided to land on the rim of the open generator fuel tank in the light of my torch.

I was worried that it was going to enter the tank and die so moved the torch beam, it was then that I saw that the moth was a possible Sombre Brocade. Unfortunately with no hands free I could not do much, and I could not even shout to Roger as I had a mouth full of torch.

The outcome was that the moth flew behind me into my shadow. By the time I had put everything down and turned around, it had gone, and we never saw another all night. Not long after that a few Green-brindled Crescent came to the lights and I began to doubt that what I had seen (mostly head on) had even been a Sombre Brocade, but I will never know.

Despite missing our second target species the night was not a disappointment as we ended up with 45 species, including  a Caloptilia cuculipennella and two Palpita vitrealis which caused much confusion as they came in together, but neither went into the trap. I was saying "it's here" and Roger was saying "no, it's here". Both were very beautiful as they were in excellent condition.

Palpita vitrealis   Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Palpita vitrealis

We also had some rather worn Mecyna asinalis, a Convolvolus Hawk-moth, a Gem, a really fresh Red-green Carpet and a Pinion-streaked Snout.

Moths were not the only insects attracted to the lights. We also had 3 Tawny Cockroach Ectobius pallidus including a female with her oothecae (egg capsule) still attached to her abdomen.

This small cockroach (around 10mm) is not a household pest like the alien species in Britain, but one of three native cockroaches that live in the countryside in the same harmless way as the native crickets.

Tawny Cockroach   Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Tawny Cockroach Ectobius pallidus - female with egg capsule

The last light ran out of power at 3.05am after which we decided to take the scenic route home via Portland, so that we could see how well Martin Cade had done with his traps. On the way we managed to shift all of our mothing gear towards the front of the camper van when a Roe Deer ran out in front of us while only about twenty or thirty feet away. Luckily Roger was quick with the brakes and the deer veered back onto the verge and we all survived to tell the tale.

We managed to get a couple of hours sleep, despite what seemed like the whole population of Portland driving past and making as much noise as possible.

When we arrived at the Bird Observatory, Martin had already gone through the 8 traps he now runs and there were several more exciting arrivals since our last visit only three days before. I was able to photograph Blair's Mocha, Old World Webworm and Dewick's Plusia.

On the way out of the Observatory we noticed a Southern Oak Bush-cricket Meconema meridionale on the wall by the entrance, this has been a regular spot for them to be recorded since we first found one there in 2010.

Blair's Mocha    Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Blair's Mocha Cyclophora puppillaria - Portland Bird Observatory

4th October 2013

Living in Bristol we do get a few migrants travel far enough north for us to record them, but these are usually the more common species such as Dark Swordgrass, Vestal, Rush Veneer and of course Silver Y. The recording of species such as Ni Moth, Egyptian Bollworm and the migrant hawkmoths have been a much rarer occurrence. The moths are also less likely to be in good condition by the time they have travelled that much further north.

Roger and I had already recorded a few Diamond-backed, Vestal and Dark Swordgrass from as far back as August, but nothing rarer, so when we heard that the migrants had started to arrive in numbers on the south coast we decided to do some trapping at Portland.

As the wind was forecasted to be about 11mph from the west we decided to trap in one of the many disused quarries on the east side of Portland, but first we visited Martin Cade, the warden at the Bird Observatory, to see what he had been catching.

In the previous few days he had caught a large number of migrants including the 8th Egyptian Bollworm Earias insulana for Britain. This was the 3rd Egyptian Bollworm caught at the Observatory by Martin. Having had the 4th record in my Bristol garden in 2001, I was very interested to see the latest specimen.

Egyptian Bollworm    Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Egyptian Bollworm Earias insulana - Portland Bird Observatory

A few days later the 9th Egyptian Bollworm was recorded in Cornwall. This is obviously a good season for migrants.

Among the other migrant species that Martin had recently trapped were the pyralids Antigastra catalaunalis and Uresphita gilvata, and the noctuids White Speck, Cosmopolitan, Flame Brocade and Dusky-lemon Sallow.

As already mentioned, we were going to trap on the east side to shelter from the forecasted west wind, but for much of the evening the wind appeared to be from the south. We used a 125w MV and a twin 20w compact fluorescent trap. The lights were turned on at around 7.15pm. It was part overcast and the temperaure was 15C.

For the first few hours the only migrants were Silver Y, Rush Veneer, Pearly Underwing and Udea ferrugalis, but around 10.30pm we started to get others such as a couple of Turnip, several Vestal and about a dozen Dark Swordgrass.

With the exception of the pink specimen of Vestal Rhodometra sacraria that we recorded in Sandbay near Weston-super-Mare, most of those seen by us this year were of the straw coloured form with a brown diagonal bar, but one of the three recorded during this session was a beautiful pink striped form. It is possibly a coincidence, but all three Vestal were caught in the twin 20w compact fluorescent trap placed amongst scrub, and none with the 125w MV which was situated more out in the open.

Vestal - pink-striped    Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Vestal Rhodometra sacraria - Portland

Throughout the evening we also recorded many resident moths including several worn Mecyna asinalis, 4 L-album Wainscot, about 40 Black Rustics, 40 Large Ranunculus, 4 Feathered Ranunculus, 2 Feathered Brindle, 3 Pale Mottled Willow and many more common species.

Moths were not the only insects of interest. Roger found a specimen of Dicranocephalus agilis, a large (11mm in length) bug that feeds on Portland Spurge which was abundant in the quarry where we were trapping.

Dicranocephalus agilis    Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Dicranocephalus agilis - Portland

Martin Cade had asked us to let him know whether we caught any Flame Brocade, as he is getting them so regularly compared with a few years ago that there is a chance that they are breeding on Portland.

Surprisingly it seems that relatively few visitors actually bother to trap on Portland. Most seem content to just look at what is caught in the Bird Observatory traps. This is a shame as there are a wide variety of habitats on Portland, and the area surrounding the observatory is very windswept and perhaps not the best place to trap unless you are after the newly arrived migrants when there is a gentle southerly wind. Apart from those migrant moths, that area probably only supports a small proportion of what could be found elsewhere.

Towards 11.00pm we trapped our first Flame Brocade Trigonophora flammea (and later 2 more), and since that night several more have been recorded by local moth recorders in their garden traps on Portland. So either there has been a massive increase in the number of  immigrant moths or perhaps they are now breeding.

The moth was a former resident, which died out in the 19th Century. Until recently it was a rare immigrant along the south coast. The larvae feed on a variety of plants including Meadow Buttercup, Lesser Celandine, and later Privet, Ash, Blackthorn and Broom. It is quite a large moth. The specimen in the picture had a forewing length of 22mm.

Flame Brocade    Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Flame Brocade Trigonophora flammea - Portland

Strangely the most abundant moth of the night was the rare Beautiful Gothic Leucochlaena oditis with at least 50 arriving at the two traps. The picture of the female below was taken on a previous visit to Portland. To see that account and more details of Beautiful Gothic please click here.

Beautiful Gothic    Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Beautiful Gothic Leucochlaena oditis - Portland

After midnight we were still getting new species including a very worn Annulet, a Mallow, and more migrants including a Plutella xylostella, 2 White Point, a Scarce Bordered Straw, 2 Delicate and a Convolvolus Hawk-moth.

We turned off the last light at 1.55am having recorded about 280 moths of 39 species. At this time the temperature was still 15C, with the sky only part overcast. The wind was now blowing from the west.

After a couple of hours sleep Roger and I visited the Observatory to see what Martin Cade had recorded. As expected with four times the number of traps and first point of entry to Portland for the migrants, Martin had a really large number of species, including most of what we had recorded, plus others such as Palpita vitrealis, Gem and Clancy's Rustic. He also had larger numbers of each species, including 12 Delicate.

25th September 2013

The weather in September has been a disappointment after the beautiful sunny conditions we had in July and August. The numbers of moth species entering our traps in July and early August was usually over a 100 and often 120 plus per evening. During September the number has dropped to 25 or 30 species and sometimes less.

We were pleased to have a warm, overcast evening on this visit to Sandbay in North Somerset. The temperature stayed steady at between 16 and 17o C. This was from when the lights were turned on at a rather late start of 8.15pm,  to lights off at 12.15am.

We placed our traps on the edge of the saltmarsh. We did not have large numbers of individual moths, but we did get 37 species and a wide variety,  including Eudonia pallida, Acleris rhombana, Gold Spot, Red Underwing, Black Rustic, Lunar Underwing, Beaded Chestnut, Large Wainscot, Bulrush Wainscot, L-album Wainscot and a male Vapourer.

The migrant species were all common including several Silver Y and  Dark Swordgrass, a single Rush Veneer and a beautiful pink Vestal Rhodometra sacraria.

This was the first really pink Vestal I had seen, as although I have recorded quite a few over the years, they have all been yellow, apart from a slightly orange specimen that I had in my garden at the beginning of August.

The species appears to have arrived in Britain in large numbers this year, as there have been many records and these were often far away from the south coast. The species is from southern Europe and North Africa where the larvae feed on a variety of low growing plants such as docks. The specimen in the picture had a forewing length of 14mm.

Vestal - pink    Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Vestal Rhodometra sacraria

The male Vapourer Orgyia antiqua was in very good condition for a moth that flies mainly between late July and September, with a few in the south occasionally surviving into early October. The species appears to have done well this year, as we have had them in the traps on several occasions and they have often been seen during their daytime flight while searching out females. The male in the picture had a forewing length of 16mm.

The female is without wings, and usually travels no further than the outside of the cocoon in which she pupated. It is here that she lays her eggs after a male has found her and she has mated. The female below is one that I found when following a male around our back garden. It eventually mated with her and she produced the eggs shown in the picture. It was on Jasmine. I do not know whether the larva fed on this plant, but the species does feed on a very wide variety of deciduous shrubs and trees. The eggs overwinter and the hairy caterpillars disperse in the spring.

Vapourer - male    Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Vapourer Orgyia antiqua  - male

Vapourer - female    Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Vapourer - female with her eggs attached to the outside of her cocoon

31st July 2013

Several moths have been notably more common this year than previous years. Last year Roger and I visited South Wales on a couple of occasions in search of the Hemp Agrimony feeding Scarce Burnished Brass, but without any luck. This year there have been many reports of this moth along the South Wales coast, and we found it on our first visit  (19th July).

Another more common moth that I have only come across occasionally in the past is Euspilapteryx auroguttella. We have recorded several of these tiny moths this month in South Wales (19th July) and Gloucestershire (31st July). They usually have two flights, one in May and the other in August.

Although small, it does attract attention in the trap, because it constantly gyrates its white-tipped antennae. The larva feeds at first in a winding mine on the underside of a leaf of Hypericum perforatum or other Hypericum species, later forming a blotch. It then spins a downward fold or pointed cone at the tip of the leaf (often twice). In the second it spins a white, silken chamber along the leaf in which it pupates. The forewing lengths of the specimens that we recorded were from 4 to 4.5mm.

Euspilapteryx auroguttella    Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Euspilapteryx auroguttella

July 2013

Due to the amount of moth trapping and photography I have done during July, I have not had time to work on this web site. I have taken a couple of thousand moth pictures in this month alone.

July 2013 saw a massive increase in the numbers of insects flying when compared with earlier months or July 2012.

In 2012 Roger and I rarely recorded more than 50 species in our light traps, even on the sites with the most diverse range of plants and habitats, wheras in July  this year we were regularly trapping 120 species per night on the better sites, and I was recording around 90 species a night in my garden.

It is obvious that the unusually hot weather has caused this upsurge in numbers, but where did they all come from?

Has the hot weather caused them to breed more successfully? Was it because the 2012 to 2013 winter was a 'proper' cold British winter, instead of the mild, wet winters we have been having that probably caused many eggs, larvae and pupae to go mouldy or emerge prematurely?

Or perhaps the insects were there all the time and the warm weather has allowed them to disperse back into the areas where they had died out.

I think it is probably a combination of all of these factors. The number of moths coming to light traps was probably lower in the colder weather because insects were not dispersing, so that only those in the immediate area were being attracted.

Insects in some areas may have been hit by the constant damp and flooding that has been so common over the last few years, while many larvae may have emerged prematurely before the foodplants were available.

We will probably never know the truth, but let us hope we have more 'normal' weather over the next few years.




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