Mothing night 16th July 2022 – an annual memorial event for George Higgs and Gordon Redford

A joint MKNHS and Bucks Invertebrate Group meeting at College Wood, Nash

All photos © Andy Harding

A period of warm weather suggested good conditions for plenty of moths, even if we could have done with a little more cloud cover.  MKNHS members provided more traps than any recent years, with seven.  Unfortunately this year’s date was not convenient for a couple of south Bucks regulars, but Martin Albertini, our County Moth Recorder, again made the long journey north.

We used Ayla Webb’s large Robinson trap as the gathering point with camping seats suitably arranged to view whatever arrived on the white sheet surrounding it.  The guesses for the first macro-moth to arrive were all wide of the mark, with that honour going to the beautiful July Highflier, or is it Highflyer?!

July Highflyer

The moths piled in and those which could be easily caught were passed round the audience.  The more attractive species in terms of pattern or colour are always welcomed, such as Iron Prominent, Ruby Tiger and Peppered Moth. The latter is consistently the pale form nowadays.  We wonder whether more dark (melanic) forms were here 100 years ago, at the height of industrial activity belching smoke to coat tree trunks with black dust!  The picture below of both light and dark forms was taken at Howe Park Wood in 2019 (the only dark form individual I have seen in the UK).

Peppered Moths, Melanic and Normal forms

A Small Fan-Footed Wave, not a striking moth at all, drew plenty of interest in the features which enable us to identify it. Indeed this common species outdid the much scarcer Lesser Cream Wave. A much smaller micro-moth, Acleris emargana, displayed its violin shape: small is often beautiful.

Another real star was not a moth attracted to the light above the trap, but one attracted to a ‘sugaring solution’ in which treacle and alcohol are vital ingredients and painted on to four nearby tree trunks. A Copper Underwing, probably Svensson’s Copper Underwing, was the early arrival, followed by a couple of others and the beautiful Herald.

A tour of the traps more distant from our gathering point revealed Hornets in two widely-separated traps, an interesting insect species, but not at all welcome in our moth traps.  In three different traps we found Box-tree Moths, a giant micro-moth, and a new species for College Wood, in its inexorable march northwards, destroying any hedges of Box in its wake.

Box-tree Moth

And so it continued until just before midnight when the generator which was powering three main traps decided to go to sleep and, despite much valiant effort, refused to awake.  There were plenty of moths in the traps, so calling an end to the communal event was not a problem.  Tim Arnold, Ayla Webb, Rachel Redford (how appropriate was it that Rachel was running her dad’s trap here), and I agreed to cover our traps and return early doors the next morning to identify the contents. Linda Murphy processed the catch in her small actinic at this point, so she didn’t need to make her long journey again in the morning: how very sensible!

Nearly everybody left at this point, but Tim had so much gear to power very distant traps that he was still on site close to 1am. Martin Albertini was running two traps at the other end of the wood powered by his own generator. After Tim’s departure I enjoyed a period of personal mindfulness standing alone in the pitch black, until I decided I was better off going to take a look at the large catch attracted to Martin’s lights and help him pack up, so I could secure the site at 1.40am.

What a great night! ….

…..and it didn’t end there.  All the trappers noted above, plus Martin Kincaid,  were on station on time in the morning and began to work through the traps. Scarcity can be of a species or of an unusual form, as illustrated by this buff form of Poplar Hawk-moth.

‘Buff form’ of Poplar Hawk-moth

Both identification and photography are much easier in daylight, so species such as this rather subtle Olive (that’s its name) and the more gaudy Black Arches and Privet Hawk-moth could be enjoyed by us all, as well as the local dog-walkers and their dogs! Spreading the word about the wonderful world of moths is what it’s all about!  That is just what George and Gordon would have wanted.

Olive moth

Black Arches

Privet Hawk-moth

A very long species list is appended to this report through the link below, following meticulous collation of all the trap results. This includes the all-time list for College Wood, as well as the species seen on 16 July, identifying the 8 species we saw which were new to College Wood.

Species list

Thanks to everyone who came to the mothing night and to the Woodland Trust, in the shape of James Stevenson, for again allowing us access to the wood for this special event.

Andy Harding
July 2022