Being back on duty after a bit of annual leave is always a challenge. Getting back into the routine of day shifts and night shifts again, plus finding stuff for the kids to do during the holidays, leaves you with less time to write a blog. Thankfully our two love a local walk in the woods and they quite enjoy getting up early to help with checking the moth trap, which makes it a family event. We get quite excited about the prospect of what we will find when the lid comes off, likening it to pirates opening a treasure chest.
I have learnt that it is important to check around the trap first, including all surfaces in close proximity to the trap site. There is a small fence, a shed and lots of plants close by to the trap. I quite often find moths settled here, attracted by the light, and not inside the trap. You do have to be careful where you step!!
The trapping got off to a slow start this year. I first put the trap out on the 27th February and you will remember that the weather was really cold earlier in the year, the end of winter going into early spring was particularly cold with a frost most mornings going into March and early April. Suffice to say the first night drew a blank with no moths. It wasn’t until the 8th March, when it warmed up slightly, that I got my first ever moth caught in the garden trap, a single Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica). Followed a week later by a couple of Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi). They do say patience is a virtue and I persevered, religiously putting the trap out whenever I had the opportunity. Then on the 19th March I got a 16 moth haul, lots of early spring treasure, Common Quaker, Hebrew Character and a couple of Early Grey (Xylocampa areola) joined by a Chestnut (Conista vaccinii). This was a pattern for the next week or two with the occasional Early Thorn (Selenia dentaria), the odd Small Quaker (Orthosia cruda) and one or two Clouded Drab (Orthosia incerta).
Numbers started to increase towards the end of May as it started to get warmer, I got my first trapped Cinnabar (Tyria Jacobeae) on the 26th, I will write a future blog dedicated to the Cinnabar. I began to get new species for the garden after each night of trapping now. The moths in the trap were joined by Burying beetles (Nicrophorus humator), these have a fantastic odour and Common Cockchafer (Melolantha melolantha). On one occasion I counted 12 Common Cockchafers in the trap and my six year old son took great pleasure in examining these beauties, he even took one to show and tell at school, in a jam jar with holes in the lid. He would go on to repeat this with larger moths as the summer term progressed much to the delight of his Headteacher.
I had wondered for a while, since I started trapping and probably since we moved into this house, if we had any of the Hawk moths locally. I remember seeing a photo of a Poplar Hawk moth (Laothoe populi) that my brother had found in his porch in the next village, one mile away, so we must get them here. Two Elephant Hawk moth (Deilephila elpenor) turned up in June closely followed the next day by my first Poplar Hawk moth. As a new “Moth-er” these were the fancy treasures I had been looking for, these have that wow factor that makes you stare at them open mouthed. I popped these in the aforementioned jam jar and popped down to school with them to show my sons class, it is good to share, and these “super” moths are jaw dropping. The children were delighted to see them, for sure, a great unexpected connection with nature for them. My son particularly liked it when a Buff Tip (Phalera bucephala) appeared in the trap, handling them gently and helping them to safety but only after a good ten minutes of close examination at their intricate beauty and marveling at their camouflage. One alighted on a nearby log, very close to our bird feeders and in the direct line of sight of a male Blackbird (Turdus merula)! We watched from the kitchen window as the Blackbird stepped over the Buff tip and shoveled up discarded sunflower hearts off the bark, completely ignoring the juicy moth. I reckon that is natural selection in action right there. The Buff tip survived to live another day.
And so the summer has been fascinating, it has been an unexpected joy to get up early and inspect the trap, sometimes on my own and sometimes with the family. The numbers of moths in our garden so far have been spectacular, in my mind. I thought we would get a few over the months of trapping and had an idea what was around in our area (I had read the Briggs list, see previous blog) and I was pleasantly surprised to see just how many different species turned up to the light.
In terms of the positive effects on my wellbeing, looking back at the 5 steps again from the NHS:
*Learning new skills – at the forefront of this is the methods of identification of the new moth species I have trapped. Using guide books and local records to narrow down the possibilities to come up with a positive ID, most of the time. Recording the trapped species in my notebook and then uploading them to the national and county recording schemes.
*Give to others – sharing my finds with the family, sharing the finds (especially the “super” moths) with my sons class, posting photos of my finds on social media pages.
*Pay attention to the present moment (mindfulness) – connecting with the natural world has always been a positive experience for me and this is no exception, you never know what is in the trap until you open it with childlike curiosity. It has/can be a challenge trying to ID some of the moths, I am colour blind, but with a little bit of patience I can pretty much get there and if I can’t I will ask for advice, there are plenty of experienced Moth-ers out there if you know where to look.
All in all so far, my experiences of “Mothing” have been positive and I have learnt so much already. I’ll keep you posted on how we get on going forward and I will share some further mothing stories what have been quite unexpected and an absolute delight.