Above: Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing. Photo © Harry Appleyard.
As we all know, moths need to be attracted. So, prior to the meeting, Janice Robertson and I, with the assistance of Martin and Margaret, the residents of ‘The Holt’, organised a mercury vapour lamp over a sheet (equipment courtesy of Rachel Redford) on the lawn of ‘The Holt’ and a Robinson trap on a white sheet with a similar 125w bulb in the overflow car park. With no great confidence, five trees were liberally daubed with a concoction of various alcoholic drinks, molasses and other sweet substances (courtesy of Ayla Webb): a process known as ‘sugaring’.
Because the meeting was scheduled for a 7.30 pm start, which is a while before moths could be expected to be on the wing, I had brought along a small viewing net (also courtesy of Ayla Webb) with a selection of the more striking moths I had caught the night before in my garden traps. I also had about a dozen moths in plastic pots, which I found particularly interesting and with which I made a desperate attempt to maintain the attention of the group. However, before any moths were discussed, the group were warned not to do any tree-hugging … the results would have been horrible to behold.
As the level of interest started to flag, we moved to examine the sheet below the light on the lawn, which held a small range of flying insects but no moths. To keep the circulation going we moved to the first tree, and to everyone’s surprise a Copper Underwing was feeding on the liquor. This and subsequent Copper Underwings have been recorded as Copper Underwing agg. (aggregated) because Svensson’s Copper Underwing and the equally common Copper Underwing are extremely hard tell apart without handling these extremely slippery moths.
The other trees were not so productive, but on arrival at the Robinson trap the first couple of the beautiful Green Carpets put in an appearance as well as the other most frequently encountered species of the night, a tiny micro, almost certainly Yponomeuta yvonymella. Again caution had to be exercised because of the other very similar ‘Ermine’ moths and attempting genital dissection of the poor creatures to confirm the ID seemed inadvisable, and not something I practise. Back at the lawn a striking moth, and a clear sign of autumn, was on the sheet and was successfully identified by a couple of the group since it was a species I had brought in the display net – Centre-barred Sallow. Several bright lemon yellow Brimstone moths also mirrored the contents of the net.
At this point some people were keen to get back to the tree trunks and we were all treated to up to 4 Copper Underwings on a tree, with the odd Square-Spot Rustic and Angle Shades. Much larger was an Old Lady Moth, not in great condition, but drinking eagerly.
The last tree viewed produced the star of the night, a huge Red Underwing, quite happily opening its wings for the cameras at point blank range.
It was now unclear which was the best spot to stake out and a couple more circuits produced a probable total of 10 Copper Underwings, a second Old Lady, and a third superbly marked one flying in and out of the Robinson trap. Common Wainscot, Setaceous Hebrew Character, White Wave, Large Yellow Underwing and the much scarcer Broad-Bordered Yellow Underwing were easily seen on the sheets. An intriguing moth proved to be a very worn Dun-Bar, rather than anything more exciting.
Several of the group left around 9.30 pm and, with things changing very little and the density of midges afflicting the throat passages around the Robinson becoming unbearable, things drew to a close at 10.30 pm.
A very successful evening, with thanks to those who came along and especially to Martin and Margaret, who live at the Holt, in tolerating, nay, facilitating, our mothing evening.
The Robinson was allowed to shine all night and at 7 am the next morning Janice, Rachel and I opened a small actinic trap, which I had left in the reserve, as well as the reserve permanent trap and the Robinson. The result was 40 species of macro-moth, of which Common Wainscot, Setaceous Hebrew Character, Large Yellow Underwing, Common Wave and Small Square-Spot were in double figures; Square-spot Rustic and the Snout numbered over 20 and top of the pile was Green Carpet with 28 individuals. 8 micros were identified and 2 others were photographed but not yet identified … lazy me.