Sunday, 8 April 2018

Keep an eye open for those tricky spring species

We all need to be very vigilant when checking the trap at this time of year as some of the more uncommon spring species can be easily overlooked or misidentified in among the more common species. The following list shows what we should be checking for in the trap.

·         The Small Quaker can be a very numerous species, but check them carefully as there might just be the similar looking, but very uncommon Blossom Underwing in amongst them.
·         Clouded Drab and the Twin-spotted Quaker both have very variable colour forms and one colour form of Clouded Drab in particular can look like a form of Twin-spotted Quaker, so we need also to be on our toes here.
·         The Powdered Quaker will be on the wing soon. This species has a dusting of speckles and is slightly bigger than the Common Quaker, but if the speckles aren’t very prominent it can easily be mistaken for the latter.
·         The Lead-coloured Drab has been recorded in a few sites in the east and south of the county. This species can easily be confused with the Common Quaker, so all individuals much be checked thoroughly. The Lead Drab has a more even lead colour and the apex of the forewing is more rounded. It would be great if we could get some more confirmed records of this species, so again, be vigilant.
·         Our first two specifies of Pugs are also on the wing now, i.e. Brindled Pug and Double-striped Pug and while they’re not that similar, care should be taken with id.
·         Several species of Agonopterix and Depressaria are also on the wing at this time of year, many of which can be confused with others.

If you’re in any doubt with identification, of any of the above species, as always, send me a photo and I’ll do my best to confirm it for you.  

Other good early species to look out for now are; Pine Beauty, Brindled Beauty, Glaucous Shears, Broom-tip and Grey Birch.

Happy mothing

Peter.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Costa Rica - Moths and other insects

Last November, we visited Costa Rica, primarily on a birding trip, but it offered good opportunities to see moths.  Simon said before we went 'I hope you are not going to spend all your time looking at insects....'

In some places, there were moths around the hotel lights after dark, but at Rancho Naturalista, in the Talamanca Mountains, there is an illuminated sheet, just inside the rainforest. This is switched on about 3 or 4 nights a week, and attracts hundreds of moths and many other insects including mantis, wasps, flies and katydids.

I found myself getting up at 4am to photograph the moths, (and rescuing some by taking them away from the light and into the rainforest), before the woodcreepers and flycatchers arrived to feast at first light.  Some moths could be easily assigned to families eg hawkmoths and tiger moths, but with no field guide available some were much trickier – made more difficult by the incredible mimicry which is an important survival strategy.

There are moths which resemble wasps, as well as wasps which resemble moths; moths which looked like butterflies, and moths which looked like scorpions; and others which mimicked their toxic relatives. There were many moths which resembled dead leaves complete with ragged edges, ‘disease’ blotches and sometimes even curled wings. There was even one moth which resembled a thorn.




  
































Early, one morning, I was surprised by a huge Saturniid moth, probably Rhescyntis hippodamia. It is the size of a dinner plate and fluttered about like a large bat, before landing on the sheet. You can see how huge it is compared to the hawkmoths on the sheet next to it. If you look closely, you can see that the tips of the forewings resemble a snake’s head.


You can see more photos from the trip here








We spotted  number of rather impressive caterpillars including this handsome creature:


There were plenty of beautiful butterflies - my favourites were the glasswings – we were lucky enough to find a lekking site in a dappled patch of sunlight in the rainforest where the males were displaying to attract mates.  






Lurking under the hummingbird feeders outside our room, we spotted a few hooded mantis. These amazing insects actually catch and eat hummingbirds - although thankfully we didn't see this happen.














And no, I didn't spend all my time looking at insects - we also saw many birds, amphibians and reptiles, and mammals. The only thing I was short of was sleep!

Clare Boyes

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

2018 January Moth Challenge

Hello Mothers,

The January challenge has now finished, the data is all in and has been collated in the two charts below.

This year 12 mothers took part (one more than last year) and between us we recorded 22 species, the same as last year (11 macro and 11 micro) and 204 moths (179 macro and 25 micro), which is again an excellent effort on everyone's part. However, in general, moth numbers were well down on last year.
Only one person achieved the macro part of the challenge, with 10 plus species that was myself with 10 species. Julie Pearce/Mark Thomas and Sue Southam were next with 6 species. I also managed to achieve the micro part of the challenge with 8 species.
The six recorders who managed to record nothing this year will have to share the coveted ‘wooden bulb’ award (formally the ‘wooden spoon’ award).

Click to enlarge

Now for a more in depth breakdown of what was recorded.

Macros - As can be seen in the chart below several people managed to record 3 species. Across all recorders the most numerous species was the Winter Moth with. Once again the Mottled Umber came second with 31 moths and the Mottled Grey was third with 26 moths.The most moths recorded by individual recorders was 125 by myself, Sue 32 and Julie/Mark 21.Of the 11 species recorded, none were totally unexpected, although the Pale Pinion and Spruce Carpet are always good January records.

Micros - Interestingly, for the first time, the micro species recorded of 11 matched the macro species recorded, so that was a particularly good effort on the part of the five recorders trapping something (one up on last year). The species recorded by the most recorders was once again Agonopterix heracliana (2 people). No unexpected micro species were recorded this year.

Click to enlarge

Many thanks to all those for taking part this year - key below.

DG             Deborah Griffith                         Welshpool
SS              Simon Spencer                            Llanfyllin
PRW          Peter Williams                            Commins Coch
JP&MTT   Julie Pearce & Mark Thomas     Aberbechan
PR              Paul Roughly                             Abermule
AT             Alan Tadman                               Derwenlas
GBC          Gavin Chambers                          Lake Vyrnwy
JH              Jeny Heard                                  Montgomery
SOS           Sue Southam                               Guilsfield
TS              Tammy Stretton                          Welshpool
IM             Ingrid Maugham                          Meifod
LW            Les Wilkins                                  Dernol

Happy mothing to all in 2018.

Peter

Monday, 19 February 2018

The evolution of butterflies and moths

Many of you probably saw the recent discovery of ancient moth scales in the news. Following on from this discovery, I wrote a blog on the early evolution of Lepidoptera - including what the first moths living over 200 million years ago looked like and some of the reasons why the group has since evolved to be so successful. Might be of interest in these winter months when the trap is (relatively) quiet?

Link: http://www.douglasboyes.co.uk/blog/2018/02/13/flying-with-dinosaurs/

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

My 2017 Mothing Highlight

In March 2014 I had a Small Eggar one evening fluttering around by the moth trap. I checked what food plant they used and was surprised to find that such an uncommon moth feeds mostly on hawthorn and blackthorn. From April through to July I checked the bushes nearby for signs of the larva or their tent and found nothing. In the autumn I lightly trimmed some of my blackthorn and hawthorn as that is what they are supposed to prefer. Checked again in 2015, found nothing. More trimming in autumn, checked the hedgerows in 2016, still nothing. By 2017 I had lost interest and didn't bother checking, with only a couple of sightings of larva for Montgomeryshire I thought it was unlikely that I would ever get to see them.

In early 2017 I had obtained some pheromones for luring Burnet moths as part of a project run by Ashen Oleander at Canterbury for his PhD. In July to test the lures I went to a site about a mile away from here were I had seen some Burnets in 2016. I was putting out the lures when I noticed something odd in a small hawthorn bush a few metres away. On closer inspection I realised it was a Small Eggar larval tent. The larvae were well grown, and most were clinging to the outside of the
tent, with a few wandering around the bush munching on hawthorn leaves. I watched them for a while, most didn't stray from their tent, but some were moving quite rapidly along the branches looking for leaves to eat, or returning to the tent after feeding. There is a short video clip of them here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RpGgyrSahY



The area they were in was grassland that had been allowed to scrub up, there were a number of smallish hawthorn bushes and a few clumps of gorse dotted around. The hawthorns didn't look very trimmed, but I suppose the sheep might have been nibbling at them. It is hard to understand why some species are so unusual. The habitat didn't look different to anything else around, so why arent they everywhere?




Paul Roughley

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Essex Skipper confirmed in Montgomeryshire

2017 saw an extremely rare - though, in this case, not unexpected - event in Montgomeryshire: a new county butterfly record. Essex Skipper has been spreading rapidly in recent decades and has become common over much of southern England and Wales. It is rather similar to the Small Skipper so has possibly been overlooked to some extent.

It's definitely worth checking your Small Skippers in 2018, especially in the east of the county. There are some useful pictures for separating the two species under the 'similar species' section on UK Butterflies. If possible, please take photos to have any potential sightings confirmed.

Essex Skipper. Peter & Sue Young. July 2017, Welshpool.

Monday, 15 January 2018

2018 event programme

We will begin the year with two events held at private residences - this should give us the option of some shelter and warming beverages in the (unlikely!) event of poor weather. On the 14th April, we are visiting Simon Spencer's smallholding, hoping to catch Broom-tip (a nationally scarce species that has been found at the site in the past). On the 28th April, Steve Attwood-Wright is hosting us at his private nature reserve in the south-east of the county. This is a particularly under-recorded area and the site has had no moth trapping in the past, so who knows what will turn up...

We will hold an event at Cors Dyfi reserve in the far west of the county on the 2nd June. Later in the month, for Moth Night 2018, we will be trapping on limestone grassland at Llanymynech Rocks (16th June). The site has produced a number of exciting records over the years including:
This Netted Pug was caught at Llanymynech last year (GO).

On the 14th July, we will hope to entice amorous male Welsh Clearwings at Lake Vyrnwy (a joint event with the RSPB). This rare day-flying species has not been seen in the county for several years (though it is thought to experience population cycles lasting several years so this may not be a cause for concern). Fingers crossed! Even if we're unsuccessful in luring the clearwing, we will no doubt be able to find some other moths which may be on the wing (or feeding as larvae).
Welsh Clearwing at pheromone lures. Lake Vyrnwy, 2010 (MDH)

Wern Claypits nature reserve is another site that has not had any previous trapping - a fact we'll be rectifying on the 4th August. The site is designed to recreate the habitat of an abandoned canal. We'll be targetting specialist moths associated with wetland habitats. Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust (MWT) will be joining us and will be aiming to record some interesting bats foraging over the water.

We'll end the year by visiting two MWT reserves: Coed Y Dinas (1st September) and Deri Woods (22nd September). The latter is a joint event with the MWT and we will be targetting the autumn sallow moths.

Please consult the programme, which can be found in the events section of the website, for further information (including location details, directions and meet times).

Friday, 5 January 2018

A good steady mothing year at Commins Coch

During 2017 I maintained a good average for both macro and micro moths, although my butterfly count was slightly down on recent years.   

The highlight for me was a NCR of the micro species Cedestis gysseleniella – a species which hadn’t been recorded in North Wales before.

Cedestis gysseleniella
One of the more outstanding trapping periods was during December with massive numbers of Mottled Umber I recorded. A grand total of 835 were recorded during the month which peaked on 21st with 222 moths (counting was as manic as a good night's trapping in the summer). Although these massive numbers were during a milder spell of weather the curious thing was that I didn’t have overly large numbers of any other species (apart from slightly inflated Winter Moth numbers), I don’t really know what to put it down to.

My overall figures for the year were:-

Macro = 313 species recorded. This includes 3 new species for my site (details below); 18828 moths.

Small Argent & Sable; 1 recorded on 20th June. 
Orange Footman; four recorded between 27th May to 15th June. 
Beautiful Brocade; 1 recorded on 21st June.

Micro = 140 species recorded. This includes 8 new species for my site (details below); one of which is a NCR; 2324 moths. 

Phyllonorycter harrisella - 1 on 22nd May  
Cedestis gysseleniella - 1 on 2nd August  - New county record
Ypsolopha sequella – 1 on 28th August 
Teleiodes vulgella – I on 23rd July                                 
Cochylis nana – 1 on 26th May 
Eana osseana – 1 on 25th July                                   
Acleris caledoniana – 16 between 28th August and 2nd October  
Schreckensteinia festaliella – 1 on 30th March

Butterflies = 16 species recorded. 717 butterflies (no new species).

Hopefully, 2018 will be a good season for us all, which as usual I'm very much looking forwards to.

Peter.                                                      

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Mothing at Derwenlas 2017- a year best forgotten.

Mothing at Derwenlas 2017 - a year best forgotten..
2017 showed all the signs of being a good mothing year despite failing dismally in Peters’ January challenge. My overwintering Herald moths were found in the attic at the cottage again otherwise January was very lean.

As I have mentioned previously my moth recording is split between our home in Denbighshire and our cottage at Derwenlas and as the season progressed so the numbers increased with Derwenlas having a slightly greater number and variety of species. One highlight of this year was to be our 6 week trip to the Outer Hebrides again in May/June. With my Skinner trap duly packed we set off for the islands of North and South Uist. The first overnight stop was at Onich on the shores of Loch Linnhe and that evening our walk down to the shoreline took us through a wildflower meadow absolutely full of Grass Rivulets and at the hotel was a honeysuckle hedge covered in “Twenty-plume” moths- at least twenty! Once settled on South Uist I set up my trap near the machair behind the cottage but on the third day of the holiday I managed to completely rupture my Achilles tendon whilst playing with the dog at the edge of the sea.

Moth trap on South Uist machair
The end of mothing
The result was my right leg non-weight bearing in plaster for 3 months followed by more months in an orthopaedic boot. Whilst crutches were undoubtedly essential I soon discovered you have no hands to carry anything. Needless to say this changed our plans considerably not least my ability to empty a moth trap. My wife Mary discovered new talents putting moths in plastic pots not to mention chauffeuring our Land-Rover home to North Wales. Among the more interesting moths we caught were Shears, Sharks and Knot Grass. We then moved to North Uist where the terrain was very different- moorland with rocky outcrops- quite unsuitable for a one-legged moth-er.

Once home at our bungalow I finally tried running my trap again in the Autumn but we spent very little time at Derwenlas as the bedroom and bathroom are up 2 flights of very steep stairs. As I write this I am feeling very optimistic for 2018 and have already planned trips with the moth trap to Dumfries, Cornwall and Somerset. I am driving and walking but have yet to venture far “off-piste” and smooth tarmac is not a great habitat for moth traps. I hope to spend far more time at Derwenlas cottage this coming year and even attend a few MMG meets. One final challenge for the coming Autumn- has anyone tried a portable Heath trap onboard a narrow boat?? Watch this space.

And to my fellow Montgomery moth-ers

All the best for a great 2018

Alan

Butterfly Conservation North Wales - Facebook group

BC North Wales have a group which may be worth joining if you use Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/277847912412601/