Saturday 26 December 2020

Shropshire - Day Flying Moths part 1

With a bit of spare time over the Christmas period, I thought I'd see how many day flying moths were lurking in the archives? With the 2020 sightings, I managed a tally of 16 species...

Kicking off is the 'Nationally Scarce B' Argent and Sable seen on Whixall Moss back in 2008! I avoid the place lately due to the biting insects!

Same location for this Common Heath back in 2013 and yes, more common than the above!

Emperor Moth was a first for me in 2019! What a fantastic moth this is!!

I've lost count of how many times I've photographed Hummingbird Hawk-moth but this is the one and only time I've been really pleased wit the outcome!!

Here's the stunning Muslin Moth (my one and only) female at Venus Pool...

Oak Eggar, another one and only taken at Cramer Gutter waaaay back in 2006!

One of the real highlights over the years was not just finding Ruby Tiger on Whixall Moss in 2013 but realising I had a pair!!

Tucked away in the vegetation was this Shaded Broad Bar at Venus Pool this year...

Who said moths are dull and boring? A second instalment to follow shortly...

Shropshire - day Flying Moths part 2

To start off part two, here's the highlight of 2020 - two Six-belted Clearwings at Venus Pool!

Silver Ground Carpet at Clunton Coppice in 2013...

Silver Y seemed to be everywhere during 2020 and the main event was finding several at Aston Locks,

No shortage of Six-spot Burnet each year but as I tend to ignore them, I don't appear to have any Five-spot variants!

Treble Bar from Prees Heath this year...

You need water to find Brown China-mark and the pool at The Bog delivered several of these in 2020. Always on the  aquatic vegetation...

Amongst the Micro-Moths, they don't come stranger than the weird Brown Plume present at Venus Pool. Obviously tiny, n a dry grass habitat, they become invisible once landed!

From 2010, Common Wave at Whixall Moss...

And finally, another one from Venus Pool this year - Common Yellow Conch.

Looks like that's another challenge is lined up for 2021 - there's many more of these Day Fliers to find!

Wednesday 16 December 2020

Book Review - Britain's Day-Flying Moths 'WILDGuides'

The final instalment of WildGuides book reviews for 2020 could be tailor made for me? My passion for birds has already taken second place during the summer months in recent years with Lepidoptera and Odonata occupying a lot of interest. Moths have gradually appeared on the radar over the years but I have resisted temptation to go down the moth trap route due to lack of time. My interest in them has been opportunistic, photographing the few Hawk-moth or day flying species which have come my way in recent years. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve tried to ‘freeze’ a Hummingbird Hawk-moth image! Achieving this and photographing my first Emperor Moths were two of the highlights of 2019.

The 2nd edition of ‘Britain’s Day Flying Moths’, written by David Newland, Robert Still and Andy Swash was published by WILDGuides in 2019. This new edition brings in several new species, updates information / design and features positive changes as suggested by reviewers of the 1st edition. Of the 2,500 moth species recorded in Britain and Ireland, this book includes 158 species which routinely fly during the day plus 29 additional but relevant species. The tried and tested WILDGuides style is evident and makes for intuitive reading. The first issue the book attempts to resolve is a definition of the title, what is a day flying moth? Some moths (e.g Cinnabar, Burnet and Silver Y) are obvious day fliers whilst others are easily disturbed in their habitat and often seen in flight. 

The first 15 pages cover Moth biology, life cycle, naming, identification and then defines day flying moth groups based on their family noting their key distinguishing features. For example, how the moth holds its wings at rest or colouration helps with assigning to a particular group although some groups only contain a single species. There are 60 Geometrids and 23 Micro-moths, both sections which are likely to be amongst the most thumbed pages?

Examples of where to look for day flying moths are displayed in a photo gallery and eight habitat categories are defined. Over forty of the species included in the book can be seen in gardens or parkland and the ‘gardening for moths’ section details many of the key plants which will attract moths to your garden including larval foodplants.

A glossary heralds the start of the species accounts which cover 183 pages, accounting for the majority of the 232 pages. Species are covered in taxonomic order only deviating where similar species are quite sensibly presented on facing pages. Each species has a full page and English names take precedence and are referred to in the text, although scientific names are noted for each species header. A standardised box details the conservation status in Britain and Ireland, where found, when flying, size, larval foodplant and a reference to similar species.  The description details the key characteristics, behaviour and lifecycle, including usual or interesting details. For most species, information is given regarding the larva which can be quite varied in themselves! At least one superb photograph of the moth in its natural resting pose accompanies the text, (see examples below).

I didn’t realise there were seven Burnet species, only three of which are common but distinguishing them, especially the rarities can be difficult! The differences are all small and some are Scottish specialities which will be a challenge to find and identify.

For each moth group, a two-page general introduction is given which includes the key characteristics of the species it includes. The Hawk-moth section is one of the shorter ones, including Hummingbird Hawk-moth and two species of Bee Hawk-moth but also illustrates several more of our most impressive moths even though they aren’t generally seen as day fliers. They may be found resting in gardens where I have found two species myself, so their inclusion for me is justified and completes an overview of the group. 

23 species of micro-moths are covered, there are so many more but those included demonstrate the tremendous diversity amongst this group which numbers over 1,600! From the Plumes (Brown and White), Yellow Conch and Small Magpie there are plenty of appealing species to behold plus the less welcome Common Clothes Moth. I don’t think I ever saw one as a youngster but I well remember the smell of ‘moth balls’ and curious holes appearing in woollen garments, the unwanted legacy of their presence in the house!

The final group includes two recent introductions which are also pests: the Box Moth and Oak Processionary. These are expanding their range from the south east and could become a serious nationwide threat to their larval foodplants, which suffer rapid defoliation and damage.

To help ‘list-minded’ folk like myself, a summary list of day flying species (p 210-217) is included noting the likely habitat, flight season (whether found nationwide, north or south), main larval foodplant and conservation status. I have seen many more day flying moths than I already have images for and need to take a bit more notice of them whilst out recording Odonata, Lepidoptera and Orthoptera! Hmm, this list of insects is expanding somewhat but I am now motivated to find out more via the final pages of the book which adequately cover recording / monitoring, conservation and ‘further reading’ / useful websites.

I am sure this book will be invaluable to all those that wish to know more about these moths and as an introduction to moths generally comes highly recommended as a must have on the bookshelf or in a backpack! There is one caveat, do not expect every moth you flush in daylight to be included in the book, you may need to resort to a full ‘search’ elsewhere for a positive identification. Be assured, they will be in the minority and my one and only example of this during the past year was Dingy Footman…

PS Here's the Hummingbird Hawk-moth. I'll upload a Day-flying moth post soon...

Thursday 10 December 2020

Betton Abbots - Whooper Swans

Hot on the heels of the VP Bewick's Swan, news of two local adult Whooper Swans also emerged via Tom Lowe. It took three visits to the general area to hit lucky...

They were accompanied by six Mutes, not always welcoming!

After facing this one off, they got back to feeding...

Let feeding / resting swans lie...


Wednesday 9 December 2020

Black Knoll - Snow Bunting

I always try to get to every scarce bird in Shropshire, some are easy... some are difficult! The prospect of climbing to the summit of Black Knoll in near freezing conditions for a Snow Bunting didn't exactly fill me with enthusiasm (I must have taken a few thousand images over the years!) but this is Shropshire and not an everyday bird! To give credit where due the bird was found by insect guru Nigel Jones earlier in the week, a refreshing change from Diptera!

I'd just parked up at 'Base Camp' at the Southern end of the Long Mynd and whilst getting my gear ready noticed a familiar car approaching... it was Rob Stokes! Been a while but we teamed up and kept each other going!

We were nearly at the summit and at roughly the same spot John Martin connected the previous day, and split up to check the nearby paths. 30 seconds later "I've got it Jim" came the call. Yep, he certainly had and it wasn't long before a half used card was full (here's the highlights)

As ever, a confiding bird provided you just sat still and waited...

Even taking a bow...

Card no 2 was more of the same but trying for cleaner backgrounds or something 'different'?

Tiny seeds but puffed up and looking as if he ate all the pies!

With the light getting worse and hands frozen, a worthwhile finish with a classic pose!

Shropshire Snow Bunting No. 3 for me. The cold was soon forgotten as we made our way back to the cars!