Monday 25 February 2019


Week ending 24.2.19

A spell of mild weather prompted many a moth-er to start trapping again.  Although I have been trapping on and off all winter, there have been some very lean spells while we we having cold nights.  Even this week, mild daytime temperatures have fallen away quickly to give us some rather chilly nights and even frosts.  However, the first hour or two after dusk can still be productive in the garden.

18.2.19 - A nice day but the temperature dropped to 7 degrees overnight.  Only 1 moth turned up to the 60 watt Actinic trap but it was a year first and a lovely moth; an Oak Beauty.

Oak Beauty

On the same evening I had asked Jackie at Hundred River Farm to run her 20 watt trap.  Only 3 moths arrived to her trap; Pale Brindled Beauty, Spring Usher and an Agonopterix heracliana.

Pale Brindled Beauty

Spring Usher

Agonopterix heracliana

19.2.19 - A Dotted Border to the lounge window was the only adult moth but 2 Angle Shades larvae wandered into the trap.  I was pleased to find my first brown form of this caterpillar.  So far this year, more Angle Shades than any other caterpillar have come to the moth traps although Lesser Yellow Underwings are close behind with 2 more being found around the 60 watt actinic on this evening.

Angle Shades caterpillars

20.2.19 - A milder night produced a rare visitor to my garden trap; Tortricodes alternella.  Although common in woodland around the region, only 2 have ever made it on to my garden list.  Three Common Plumes (Emmelina monodactyla) were in and around the traps and after the first check I thought that was it.  It was, therefore, a welcome surprise to find a Pale Brindled Beauty nestled inside the trap when I looked later in the day.

Pale Brindled Beauty trying to hide!

On closer inspection the Pale Brindled Beauty was really well marked and deserving of a photo shoot before release.  It was probably the nicest specimen I've seen.

A real beauty - Pale Brindled Beauty

21.2.19 - After another glorious day the temperature looked promising for this evening.  Indeed, at lighting up time the temperature in my garden was still holding up at 11 degrees celcius.  I decided to give the mercury vapour bulb a try which lights up the garden and often brings in more moths.  The only downside is that quite often the moths don't make it to the trap but instead settle on fences and garden furniture so they can be hard to find.  As hoped, it was a very good evening for moths and although the temperature eventually fell to 2.1 degrees, it had remained above 6 until after 11pm so 7 species of moths made it onto my list; my highest February tally.  Highlights included a second Tortricodes alternella in as many days, March Moth and two new moths for 2019; Early Grey and Common Quaker.

March moth

Tortricodes alternella

Common Quaker

Early Grey

Other moths on this night included Chestnut and another Pale Brindled Beauty which seems to be having a great year both in the .

24.2.19 - Sunday night followed another gloriously sunny day but unfortunately the temperature fell away sharply and by 10pm there was a light frost.  The minimum temperature was -1.4 degrees and only 2 Emmelina monodactyla and a few caterpillars showed themselves in the garden.

25.2.19 - Last but certainly not least... My wife took the kids to woodland playgroup today and found a pine cone with the exit hole of a Cydia conicolana.  This is the third site at which we have found it locally proving that it is very under-recorded and is almost certainly far more common that previously thought.

Cydia conicolana exit hole 

Tuesday 19 February 2019

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Gunton Meadow 16.2.19

With conditions looking really good for a field trip we decided to head for the Suffolk Wildlife Trust nature reserve, Gunton Meadow.  I also decided that it would be a good time to introduce my 9 year old son to the world of mobile mothing.  Until now,  Nathan has only spent time with the garden trap or the occasional dusking session at the end of the road.  This was to be his first full-on multi-trap field trip and we all hoped for a good one. 

We set up the tripod at base camp with one MV and three 20W Wemlite traps dotted around the woodland section.  As night fell,  we felt sure that moths would come thick and fast to the MV light at base camp.  Hot chocolate and coffee were consumed in anticipation of a flurry of moths that just didn't arrive... a couple of Agonopterix moths,  presumed heracliana,  arrived early on but nothing else arrived in the first 20 minutes of darkness.  We decided to do an early round of traps which only produced a Tortricodes alternella and a Spring Usher.  

Spring Usher

Back at base we were beginning to think the moths weren't going to turn up but then a Pale Brindled Beauty dropped in and gave us hope. 

Pale Brindled Beauty 

Before long we decided to do another round of the traps.  More Pale Brindled Beauties and Tortricodes alternella were found but there was a distinct lack of moths. A nice Dotted Border was spotted by Peter,  but it had no intention of going to one of our traps.  Instead, it fluttered along the bank of the stream and landed in a Bramble thicket. 

Dotted Border 
We spent some time searching tree trunks but found very little.   A Sycamore tree produced some Pammene regiana cocoons and Stigmella aurella was an easy tick on Bramble but still the moths were hard to come by.  Eventually a flurry of activity produced several more Pale Brindled Beauties, March Moth and another Spring Usher.

Pale Brindled Beauties 
We plodded on regardles of the low numbers and slow pace and towards the end of the session we'd picked up a smart looking March Moth, an Early Moth and a Chestnut. 

March Moth 

Early Moth 

The Chestnut 

So although it was very slow with a disappointing number of moths caught,  with a few early stages seen added to the list,  we ended up with 11 species in total; the highest count of the year so far...

Friday 15 February 2019

A hole lot of success!

School run mothing - February 13, 2019

Nature is all around us; all we need to do is learn where to look. I've always had a keen interest in moths but over the last couple of years I have become more serious in the science of recording them,  especially the early stages. Indeed,  in some cases the early stages are easier to find than the adults which might not visit light traps often. Eggs, caterpillars and chrysalises may be found by examining the food plant or suitable habitat. Sometimes the presence a species can be determined by simply observing the signs left by feeding or pupating.

Last winter I made a half-hearted attempt at finding signs of the Tortrid moth, the Pine Cone Piercer, Cydia conicolana.  The moth leaves an exit hole in a pine cone as it emerges. The tiny hole,  around 1mm in diameter, can be seen quite easily and so it's just a case of finding a tree where the moths occur and checking cones.  Easy!  Well,  maybe not. With only a few records of this moth in Suffolk,  some may have considered it a hopeless task but I decided to have another try this year.  Every Wednesday we walk through a cemetery on the way to play group with the kids.  It's quiet and peaceful and full of nature. There are also a few Scots Pine trees scattered throughout. Each week I ask the kids to bring me as many pine cones as possible for me to check. Week in, week out. No joy. 

This week was no different.  The kids asked if I would show them the bagworms again; we'd been looking at the Luffia lapidella cases the week before.  Then I asked them to collect some pine cones. I checked dozens without success although I did find some curious holes in a pine stem... hopefully further investigation will identify the culprit. 

Later the same day, having failed in my quest to find conicolana at the cemetery,  I entered my children's school grounds and as always,  picked up a couple of fallen cones from the path.  No conicolana.  My youngest comes out first and we normally make it to the car before my eldest catches up. Today I bumped into a couple of friends and ended up delayed enough for Nathan to catch up with us before we'd left the playground.  Walking up the path beside the Pine trees, while idly chit-chatting about what the kids had done that day (there was much excitement about a visit that day by the local fire brigade), I casually asked Nathan to pick up some cones for me to check to save my knees.  He picked up three and handed one to me with a withering look of "what's the point? We've looked at so many".  It was at that moment I saw it.... a tiny little hole. Small but perfectly formed. The unmistakable sign left by an adult Cydia conicolana as it exited the cone last year. Proof of breeding and a sign of a possible resident population. And here it is....

Exit hole of Cydia conicolana 
So. Success indeed.  This isn't the first time I have gone looking for evidence of a moth in an area with few or no previous records.  I seriously doubt that the number of Cydia conicolana records give a true representation of its status.  They simply have to be more widespread than records show.... Indeed, buoyed by the success of finding one, I carried on searching for more.  The result?  A new site already!  Refusing to give up searching in the local cemetery, we were walking back from the beach this morning (15.2.19) and I targeted 2 different Pine trees.  I recently read that they are more likely to be found under lone Pines in full sunshine.  These two trees looked perfect and so I began a quick search.

The two Pines
Within minutes I had found a cone with 2 exit holes.  Although this cone is older and not as neat, I am confident that I have found evidence that Cydia conicolana is more widespread than previously thought.

The second cone 
My next objective is to find further cones from these two locations before moving on to, hopefully, find even more sites.  Maybe there are suitable looking Pines near you.  If so, spend a couple of minutes every time you pass it and you too could find this seldom-seen moth. 

Sunday 10 February 2019

You Beauty!

Dunwich - 9 February 2019

With a second opportunity in just three days to get out into the field, we decided to try a new area near Dunwich. The area of woodland is made up of mainly coniferous trees with some Oak, Birch and Elm along the rides.  This time of year is better in more deciduous woodland but we thought we'd give it a go anyway.  

To maximise our chances we set up with two 125w mercury vapour lights and two of our 20w Wemlites.  The Wemlites were the first to bring in moths with a few Tortricodes alternella and a Pale Brindled Beauty early on.  

Torticodes alternella

Torticodes alternella group

Pale Brindled Beauty - Phigalia pilosaria

Once set up,  we went off with our torches to check some tree trunks.  Unlike Thursday night when we found dozens of Chestnuts, Spring Usher and Pale Brindled Beauties, this time we only located a couple of Chestnuts.  However,  we did stumble across a superb Violet Ground-beetle.

Violet Ground Beetle

The Chestnut - Conistra vaccinii 

After a couple of hours and just Acleris ferrugana/notana added to the list, we started to pack up.  With only the MV on the tripod left, the final moth of the session plonked itself onto the white sheet... an immaculate Pine Beauty!  A slow and steady session ended with the best moth of the year so far.

Pine Beauty - Panolis flammea

Acleris ferrugana/notana

On the way home we stopped at a public toilet block by the side of the A12 to look for moths.  With lights left on all night, there are often moths on the walls and around the doorways.  Although Peter had checked there earlier in the day and found nothing from the previous night, there were a couple of Pale Brindled Beauties and an Early Moth by 8pm.  A visit the following morning produced two Spring Ushers and a Dotted Border.

Dotted Border - Agriopis marginaria
Spring Usher - Agriopis leucophaearia
Early Moth - Theria primaria

Friday 8 February 2019

Down to the Woods!

Jubilee Covert - 7 February 2019

We kick-started the field trip season with a rather productive trip to some l local woods on Thursday night, 7th February.

With a small window available between my normal after-school activities and a predicted change in weather,  Peter picked me up with a car full of traps, generators and moth-ing paraphernalia and we headed for some woods near Frostenden. 

Although it was already dark,  setting up wasn't too difficult as we had decided to deploy just 2 of our homemade traps with the 20W Wemlite bulbs. While we were setting up the traps, moths were already being attracted to our head torches which fueled our optimism.

First moths in and around the traps were Pale Brindled Beauty and Tortricodes alternella,  the latter being a first for Peter and my first for a few years. 

Pale Brindled Beauty - Phigalia pilsaria

Tortricodes alternella

Within seconds of lighting up the first trap, Spring Ushers were flying around us and a few were netted and placed in the trap for looking at later.  We deployed the second trap further up the track and returned to base where we took a few moments to grab a coffee and organise the pots.  Very quickly we noticed some Chestnuts in their usual positions of being low down on the narrow, smooth-barked trees. In total we counted over 60 Chestnuts using torches, scanning the most likely trees for the reflections of their eyes in the beams.

The Chestnut - Conistra vaccinii

As we searched the tree trunks, we found a newly emerged moth climbing up a small tree.  Although its wings were still wet and floppy, they were fully pumped up and I could tell it was a Dotted Border; a new species for 2019.  We left it in peace to dry its wings and continued our search.  

Dotted Border - Agriopis marginaria

Trunking also produced some more Spring Usher, Pale Brindled Beauty and some Dark Chestnuts while a couple of Psyche casta were found back at base on the trunks of mature Oaks.

Dotted Border - Agriopis marginaria

Dotted Border - Agriopis marginaria

Spring Usher - Agriopis leucophaearia

Spring Usher - Agriopis leucophaearia

A very respectable 109 moths of 7 different species in little over 90 minutes! Not bad at all for February!

The full List:

The Chestnut - 63
Dark Chestnut - 3
Pale Brindled Beauty - 9
Dotted Border - 5
Spring Usher - 20
Tortricodes alternella - 7
 Psyche casta - 2