Thursday, 7 February 2013

Falling into the 'moth trap'!

As a new ‘moth-er’ Peter thought I might be happy to relate the story of my introduction to mothing last autumn. It was certainly a little unusual and unexpected!

It all started when Sue Bosson suggested I might like to join her and the Montgomeryshire Moth Group on 6th October for their last meeting of 2012, at Pont Llogel. I had been to a couple of meetings over the years, but had never trapped myself, although the idea was one I’d always hoped to follow up one day, once retired!

The evening was by no means warm, but the assembled group seemed oblivious to the cold, and set up four Skinner traps alongside the river, and a white sheet. Chris painted what I was told was his own unique treacle recipe on several trees, and I was invited to check trees and traps at regular intervals. It was good to be with such an enthusiastic bunch, ranging from teenager (the very accomplished moth-er Douglas) to those of more mature years like myself, and although I was a complete beginner, I was made to feel very much a part of the group. There was not one moth that I recognised initially, but by the end of the evening I felt reasonably confident with three moths which I’d found incredibly beautiful – Canary-shouldered Thorn, Green-brindled Crescent and the amazing Merveille du Jour.

All thoughts of being cold were soon overtaken by the sense of anticipation each time we went to check for more moths. On our return to base, where Peter had his identification table, I was helped to recognise the diagnostic features of each species, and it seemed that each time I returned, Peter had come up with a suggestion. The conversation started something like this:
Peter – “Where do you live? We could do with somebody recording moths in your area”.

Me – “Oh Peter, much as I’m enjoying this evening, I’m a complete beginner, and wouldn’t know where to start”.

Off I went to check the traps again. On my return I was greeted with:
Peter – “I’ve some good news. Chris has 3 moth traps and would sell you one for £10. The only thing would be, they don’t have any electrics with them”

I didn’t like to admit that neither my husband, Steve, nor I, would be much good at sorting out the relevant electrics, and again made noises about being insufficiently knowledgeable to start recording. Then off to re-check trees and traps.
On arrival back at base:

Peter – “ It gets better – we have a trap that we might be able to loan you. How would that be?”
I thanked him and agreed that this might give me the chance of a trial run, and that if I didn’t take to mothing, I could just return the trap. Then it was off again to check for more moths.

Over a very welcome and unexpected cup of coffee and a slice of Sue’s scrumptious banana and chocolate cake, Peter made another announcement:

“Do you know, things just get better and better all the time. Peter (Bent) has recently bought the updated version of the Field Guide to Moths of Great Britain and Ireland, and is happy to give his old copy to you”.
Events seemed to be overtaking me, but this was a very generous offer, and I thanked Peter, explaining that I’d be happy to buy it from him. He was staying (and mothing) at Morben Isaf, but would post it to me on his return home, and would prefer that I made a donation to charity rather than pay him for it.

By this time we were all feeling quite chilly, and although I’d been thrilled to see what I thought was a good number of moths, apparently this was fewer than we could have expected had the weather been warmer.
But I drove home feeling very fortunate to have met such a kind, knowledgeable, helpful and generous crowd and also to have been inspired to consider ‘trapping’ myself.

So that was Sunday morning an e-mail had arrived from Peter W, with a “further fantastic offer”!
He’d received an e-mail from Chris, who was selling a trap on behalf of a friend of his, and wondered whether I might be interested. What clinched it for me was that it came WITH electrics! So I took Peter’s advice (“I would bite his hand off if I were you”) and contacted Chris. He replied almost immediately, and even insisted on delivering the trap personally- “It would be an excuse to drive out for the day, as I can have a look at some habitat that I might want to trap on next year.”

So in less than 24 hours I had had the good fortune to be awaiting a Robinson trap, and the moth id book, and it had all been arranged for me!
Two days later, Chris and the trap arrived, and he explained how the previous owner, George Higgs, now 88 but mothing since the age of 11, was too unwell to use it any more. I felt very privileged that perhaps I would be able to give the trap a new lease of life, and vowed to put it to good use that very evening.

With beginner’s luck, and fair weather, I managed to trap 7 macro moths and a micro moth on my first night, including the wonderful Merveille du Jour and Green-brindled Crescent I’d marvelled at a few days earlier– and as I didn’t yet have the book I used the excellent MMG website to help with id. I then spent hours researching them all, and wondering how people can possibly cope with a summer evening’s catch! I took some very mediocre photos of them, which I sent to Peter, along with my ideas as to what they might be. He of course replied almost immediately, and was very encouraging, as he has been ever since. There’s still so much to learn, from recognising different species to learning correct terminology to taking/editing decent photos, but Peter’s endless patience and guidance make it so much more than just catching moths!
I wrote a letter to thank George, and to let him know how much the trap and my new hobby meant to me. I didn’t give my address as I didn’t want him to feel a need to reply, but it appears he asked Chris for our phone number, and within a few days we were chatting on the phone. What a delightful man he was, and so modest about his achievements and knowledge. I wish we’d been able to talk again, as we agreed to do, but he only lived for a few more weeks, and despite never having met him, I felt a real sense of loss.  On the positive side though, his trap lives on, and has much to teach me.

My few weeks of mothing in 2012 introduced me to twenty-five species of macro moth – none of them rare, but with wonderful names and markings, and all previously unknown to me. Until then I had no idea that we had such an array of night-time visitors to our garden – and these are the quiet months in moth terms! I now look forward to what 2013 brings, knowing that there will be many more surprises and delights, as well as plenty of e-mails to Peter asking for confirmation and helpful tips.
For anyone viewing the MMG website, and wondering about coming along to a mothing event, I can thoroughly recommend it, but be prepared to become ‘hooked’ –the enthusiasm of the group is most certainly infectious!!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your article Sue, it contains everything, from delight to sadness and from kindness to surprise. I don't think you'll ever forget your trip to Pont Llogel, will you?; you were certainly taken along on a 'Silky Wave' of emotion from that night and thanks for sharing your lovely story with us.

    Like Alice did when she fell down the hole, I hope that 'falling into your moth trap' takes you on a wonderful journey of moths and mothing.