19/11/2011
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Moth News: October–November

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With temperatures still well above normal, winds coming mainly from the south or east and only two nights of mild frost, continental migrants continued to drift into the southern half of England well into November. Many of the species that had arrived in abundance in early October were again recorded, but in dwindling numbers. Highlights included yet another British first, some very late dates for residents and a few records of totally 'out of sync' emergence.

A Golden Twin-spot was at St. Mary's (Scilly) on 15th October. A Silver-striped Hawkmoth was found on a house window in Hollesley (Suffolk) on the 16th October, another came to light at Bracklesham (West Sussex) on the 3rd November and one at Alderholt (Dorset) on the 14th November became the 700th moth species ever in Tom Morris's garden!


Silver-striped Hawkmoth at Alderholt (Dorset) (Tom Morris).

A SSE breeze, combined with patchy drizzle and light rain, from late October renewed optimism that some late-season classics might arrive, and they certainly did. A Ni Moth was at Hockwold (Norfolk) on 30th October and a late White-point was notable so far north at Chalford Hill (Glos) on the 2nd November. A mini-influx of Red-headed Chestnuts involved singles on Portland (Dorset) on 31st October and 4th November, one at Bracklesham (West Sussex) on 3rd November, one next day at Dungeness (Kent) and another at nearby Ruckinge on 10th.


Red-headed Chestnut at Ruckinge (Kent), 11th November 2011 (Bernard Boothroyd).

News of a Radford's Flame Shoulder on St. Agnes (Scilly) on the 3rd November raised hopes that some others may get to the mainland, as they did in 2006.


Radford's Flame Shoulder on St. Agnes (Scilly), 4th November 2011 (Mike Hicks).

The following weekend saw the last Crimson Speckled of the season to light at Dymchurch (Kent) on 4th November, but elsewhere the half-expected extra Radford's did not show up. Then, just as many moth-ers were thinking of putting their traps away into winter storage, a series of fortuitous events lead to one of the major discoveries of the year. A photograph of a putative Red-headed Chestnut trapped at Dartford (Kent) on 6th November by Norman Winterman, and posted on an online forum, caught the eye of Northumberland-based Tom Tams. Alarm bells rang as Tom carefully studied the image, and he soon realised he was actually looking at Britain's first Black-spotted Chestnut (Conistra rubiginosa). The species has recently spread very quickly through northern France into Belgium and Holland and Anglian Lepidopterist Supplies boss Jon Clifton even suggested, only a few months ago, that it was one to look out for as a migrant in late autumn and early spring.


Female Black-spotted Chestnut at Dartford (Kent), 8th November 2011 (Steve Whitehouse).

The following evening this story took an even more unexpected turn. Arrangements were made for the moth to be on view from mid-evening in nearby James Hunter's garden, from mid-evening. A dozen enthusiasts were attempting to photograph the rather active female in the comfort of James's lit garden shed. Paul Chapman, who was already happy with his views, was standing outside in the garden, next to James's actinic trap. Suddenly a small noctuid moth arrived on a nearby doll's house and Paul instinctively enticed it onto his finger. Almost immediately, shouts of "quick, get a pot!" pierced the night air and the moth was soon safely secured. Everybody was staggered to see that it was another Black-spotted Chestnut, this one a male and in even better condition than the first!


Male Black-spotted Chestnut at Dartford (Kent), 9th November 2011 (James Hunter).

Over the next few nights extra efforts were made to see whether any more could be found, but so far there have been none. Was this just a coincidental arrival of two separate migrants, funnelled in along the Thames Estuary? Did the male sense the female's pheromone and 'home in' from several hundred yards? Is there a small colony already breeding nearby? Only time will tell, but, whatever the outcome, it is still one of those amazing stories that Mother Nature often throws up. Hats off to both Norman, Paul and Tom on this occasion!

Migrant Bloxworth's Snout were recorded at Bracklesham (West Sussex) on 22nd October and next day near St. Buryan (Cornwall). The over-wintering broods of our resident population roost and hibernate among stone walls, thick ivy and in natural and man-made recesses along the south coast in Devon and Dorset, and can be found with a torch, if you know where to look.


Bloxworth Snout in Dorset (Roger Wasley).

Elsewhere four late-October Blair's Mochas included one at Kempshott (Hants) on 28th, the latest county record ever.

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Blair's Mocha (Dave Foot).

The period ended with two more major finds in Dorset. One of Paul Harris's lifelong ambitions was to see Death's Head Hawkmoth in his Broadwey garden. The 'dream moment' finally arrived on the early morning of 12th November when he found one sitting on top of his furthest garden trap. He was almost tempted to say 'well that's it, now I can give up' — only joking of course! Nearby, close to the Butterfly Conservation HQ at East Lulworth, Les Hill was finally rewarded for his non-stop autumn effort with a Purple Marbled on the night of 12th.


Death's Head Hawkmoth at Broadwey (Dorset), 13th November 2011 (Roger Wasley).

Minimum numbers of scarce migrants included 38 Vestal, 80 Gem, six Convolvulus Hawkmoth, 25 Hummingbird Hawkmoth, five Crimson Speckled, 117 Dark Sword-grass, 58 Pearly Underwing, 51 Delicate, 108 White-speck, 13 Cosmopolitan, 18 Flame Brocade, four Small Mottled Willow, 35 Scarce Bordered Straw, seven Small Marbled and five Dewick's Plusia. Silver Ys were widespread, with a sample peak of 38 at Portland (Dorset) on 30th October.


Vestal at Woodnewton (Northants), November 2011 (Nick Smith).


White-speck on St. Agnes (Scilly) where the species almost certainly breeds (Mike Hicks).


Dewick's Plusia at Wimbourne St. Giles (Dorset) (John Winterbottom).

Following on from last month's basketful of tropical pyralids, a few more of the rarer ones included a Spoladea recurvalis at Sandy Point (Hants) on 29th October, single Uresiphita gilvata near St. Buryan (Cornwall) on 22nd October and at Sissinghurst Castle (Kent) on 31st October. The only Diasemiopsis ramburialis was on Guernsey on 8th November.


Uresiphita gilvata (Steve Whitehouse).

A Musotima nitidalis at Crawley Downs (West Sussex) on 26th October was found to be only the second British record of this native of Australia and New Zealand. The species has presumably now gained a breeding foothold in southern Europe and must be prone to northern dispersal. Other migrant pyralid moths included at least six Old World Webworm, 35 Palpita vitrealis, 69 Rush Veneers and over 1,000 Rusty-dot Pearl. The true micro Tebena micalis was seen by day at Pembrey CP (Camarthen) on 12th November and represents only the fourth for Wales! At least 92 Diamond-back Moths were logged across the country.


Old World Webworm at Wimbourne St. Giles (Dorset) (John Winterbottom).


Palpita vitrealis continued to be recorded across England and included several inland in the Midlands (Steve Whitehouse).

The last month has also seen some notable second-brood activity, including eight Crescent Dart recorded on Steep Holm (Somerset) on 20th October and several Large Nutmeg in Northamptonshire and Suffolk.


Large Nutmeg at Woodnewton (Northants), November 2011 (Nick Smith).

A scattering of coastal and inland Dark Arches were probably migrants but could also have included some British-born second generation. There were some particularly late records of what are normally summer moths. A Kent Black Arches at Portland (Dorset) on 16th October was followed by a Smokey Wainscot there on 20th. A Tawny Shears was at Wadhurst (West Sussex) on 24th. A Chalk Carpet was at Flamborough Head (East Yorks) on 29th with an Ingrailed Clay nearby at Rudston on 8th November. There have already been several records of spring species across the country: at least six Hebrew Characters included two at one site in North Yorkshire; a Spring Usher was found in Ipswich (Suffolk) on 30th October; and perhaps the most bizarre record was of a Light Feathered Rustic at Dungeness (Kent) on 9th November. A Common Quaker came to a Worcester trap on 12th November, about three months early! It is suspected that this year's long Indian summer has tricked a few individual moths into thinking it is spring already.

The only rare butterfly was a female Long-tailed Blue on St. Agnes (Scilly) on 27th October. Just three Painted Ladies and a dozen Clouded Yellows were reported. Vagrant Emperor dragonflies were reported near Dunbar (Lothian) on 16th October, in Fife on 23rd, in West Cornwall on 28th and finally at Port Talbot (Glamorgan) on 10th November. A male Red-veined Darter was on The Lizard on 25th October while a few lingered on St. Mary's (Scilly) till early November.

References

Clifton, Geeson & Geeson (2011). Conistra rubiginosa – a potential new moth for the UK. Norfolk Moth Survey newsletter – spring 2011 79, pp.12-13

Waring, Townsend and Lewington. Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland. Revised edition, British Wildlife Publishing, 2009.

UKMoths online photographic guide

Written by: Steve Whitehouse