I’ve had two days recently when I went looking for butterflies and was feeling a little disappointed not to see very many when, all of a sudden, a moth flew by and landed at my feet … like Nature saying ‘Here’s a consolation prize!’ or, maybe, ‘Don’t be a Wally! Look at this amazing creature!’ … and so I did. And then another moth appeared, and another, and …
It seems surprising to me that a rainy day walk can turn up moth sightings. I’m not talking about heavy rain – I probably wouldn’t be out in that – just a very slight drizzle, which in this week’s heat was actually quite refreshing. Only a few hardy Meadow brown butterflies flitted up as I passed by but the moths were more frequent than I expected.
Silver Y (Autographa gamma)
Late summer through to mid autumn is probably the best time to see these distinctive immigrants, though some hardy souls do manage to breed in Britain. I imagine this one wafting in from the Continent on last week’s hot southerly winds.
Common purple-and-gold (Pyrausta purpuralis)
I’ve seen quite a few of these tiny moths during my daily meanders, presumably because they have two broods each year and the second brood emerges right about now, July-August.
Shaded broad-bar (Scotopteryx chenopodiata)
Two of these beauties have popped up for me recently, one at Grangemoor Park, the other at Cosmeston, both quite light in colour, though a quick look at the images on the Butterfly Conservation website will show how variable they can be.
Common grass-veneer (Agriphila tristella)
I tend to avoid photographing the many grass moths that, like crickets and grasshoppers, flit up as my legs disturb them when I’m walking through longish grass or wildflowers, because they can be difficult to identify. Luckily, my local Twitter pal George, a senior moth ecologist at Butterfly Conservation, was able to put a name to this one very quickly. It’s a common grassland species that flies from June through to September.
We’ve had cooler, greyer, wetter weather in recent days, which isn’t so good for seeing hosts of butterflies and other insects flying around the wildflowers but, if you can find them, it does slow those insects down a bit making macro photography a little easier … sometimes. A slow, quiet, stealthy approach is still required as, to take macro photos with my Olympus camera, I need to get as close as an inch to my subject. Mostly, the insects fly or scuttle off, but this stunning Silver Y moth was a rather lovely exception to my usual failures.
On Wednesday I made my second visit to Aberbargoed Grasslands National Nature Reserve with my friend Sharon. Last time we dipped on seeing the Marsh fritillaries because it was too overcast; this time, we dipped again because the recent spell of hot dry weather has meant their season has finished for the year. Still, we have now walked most of the paths around the reserve so we’ll know exactly where to look next year. And, though we missed out the fritillaries, there were still plenty of other butterflies and moths to charm and delight us.
From today until the end of June, I’m taking part in 30 Days Wild, a month-long nature challenge run by the Wildlife Trusts. The idea is to do something wild every day for 30 days, whether ‘you take time out to simply smell a wildflower, listen to birdsong, explore a local wild place or leave a part of your garden to grow wild for a month’ and the aim is that by ‘making nature part of your life for 30 days’, you will feel ‘happier, healthier and more connected to nature’. This is pretty much what I do most days anyway but this month I’m going to ensure I go wild every single day! You can join in too, if you want – the info is here.
So, today, on day one, I went for a lovely long wander in Cathays Cemetery, Cardiff’s magnificent, huge, Victorian cemetery. Sadly, some parts of the cemetery are poorly managed – large areas without gravestones, which could be easily become wildflower meadows, are savagely mown, the clippings not removed. But there are a couple of areas where the grasses and wildflowers have been allowed to grow, and additional wildflowers – in particular, a lot of Yellow rattle – have been sewn. These two areas were alive with insects today: bees and hoverflies, bugs and beetles, and damselflies galore. My favourites, though, were all the lovely Lepidoptera: here are some I saw …
As well as the reptiles we saw on our ramble around Parc Slip Nature Reserve and in spite of the constant light rain, we also saw quite a few moths, the odd butterfly, a few damselflies, and an abundance of pretty wildflowers. Here are the moths I managed to photograph (some poorly!): Common Carpet (Epirrhoe alternata), Inlaid grass-veneer (Crambus pascuella), Large Yellow Underwing (Noctua pronuba), Phtheochroa inopiana, Silver Y (Autographa gamma), and the larva of the White ermine (Spilosoma lubricipeda).
When I first spotted this little moth clinging upside down to a flowerhead of Ribwort plantain, I thought it was a pupa of some kind. It was only when I got really close with my camera that I noticed a little eye watching me. Though it must’ve been a bit shocked to see a giant with a black box looming over it, it didn’t move. Even as I rotated the stem this way and that to get photos from different angles, it stayed perfectly still. Maybe it was petrified or maybe it just felt assured that its perfect camouflage meant it wouldn’t be harmed – and it certainly wasn’t harmed. And I was overjoyed to see such a gorgeous creature.
It’s a Silver Y moth (Autographa gamma), named for the little white marking on its forewings that looks like a Y or, if you know your Greek alphabet, a gamma. Though they can be found in the warmer parts of Britain all year round, these little creatures (with a wingspan of 30-45mm) are also migratory. In spring, they fly from the southern parts of Europe and from north Africa as far north as Greenland, Iceland and the Scandinavian countries, sometimes arriving in Britain in their thousands. Look for them on their favourite food plants, the clovers, Common nettle, and the peas and cabbages in your vegetable garden.