Welcome to my second blog, which is a lighthearted look at my adventures whilst out watching and photographing wildlife and birds in North Somerset. I hope my stories make you smile whilst highlighting the wonderful and diverse wildlife present in the North Somerset area.

You can also see my garden project which includes gardening for wildlife here:- http://higgysgardenproject.blogspot.com/

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Tales from the ‘Moth Men’

Hello All,

Again it's been a while since I posted up on here but don't worry I've been out wildlife watching and in true Higgy fashion creating material for you that will hopefully show the lighter side of wildlife watching and put a smile on your face as you read about Higgy's calamities once again!.

In the time that I've been away I got together with a good friend of mine 'James' to create a new 'Moth and Butterfly Group' within our local wildlife conservation group. I thought that a report of our first summers mothing and butterfly adventures would be of interest and I'm sure will present a few laughs along the way also!

The Elephant Hawk Moth was just one of many moths that we planned to find this summer!...

The Moth & Butterfly Groups starts, 'Rise of the MOTHMEN!'....

Higgy (on the phone) “Hi mate, great weather, do you fancy a mothing session on Friday night?”
James “Yes great mate, can’t wait!”

Higgy (on the phone) “Sorry mate, It’s absolutely typical! The weather is terrible, rain and wind! We’ll have to cancel our trap tonight again!”

As many of you will know James, Tony and I set up a new ‘Moth, Butterfly (& insect) Group’ for our local wildlife group at the start of this year. This group was designed to get out into the local villages and onto the group's reserves to start building a picture of the areas moth and butterfly population. To date, I have to report that this hasn’t exactly run as smoothly as it could have, especially weather wise meaning that our moth and butterfly records aren’t quite where they should be for the year!...

The concept of the group takes us back to a neighburing village's wildlife group's ten-year anniversary event, where James and I volunteered to do a moth trap on their reserve situated high up on a wooded hillside. This event has a lot to answer for as it was extremely windy and the small trap that had been provided didn’t fill either of us with much confidence of a successful trap. Relaying our concerns to the organiser and suggesting an early start the next morning we were informed that someone would be staying on site overnight as security and had a camping stove! Well for two growing lads like us this was just too tempting to resist and we returned the next morning at 4.30am complete with a pack of a dozen pork sausages! Getting our priorities right we ignored the moth trap and chucked our bangers into an old dirty saucepan. Unfortunately, with no oil and still being half frozen the bangers broke up and stuck firmly to the bottom of the pan half cooked! A flippant comment from James led to the now famous ‘Moth-Men’s Breakfast!’ To cut a long story short we failed miserably that day with only 6 moths in the trap and having very narrowly avoided food poisoning we spent the next two hours chasing spiders, beetles and any other bugs that moved just to have something to show the paying public! 
Despite our disastrous start the ‘Moth Men’ had truly evolved and we sold the idea of our new ‘dream mothing team’ to Tony who supported the idea fully and even wanted to be involved (he doesn’t know about ‘Moth-Men’s Breakfasts’ yet!!!!)

Our first public mothing event didn't exactly go too well and James and I ended up crawling around trying to find bugs and beetles to show the paying public!!...

After our initial disappointment and in true team spirit a ‘team training trip' out to South Somerset was arranged! Apart from the obvious need for team building this trip offered us the perfect opportunity to go and see the Large Blue butterfly that was once extinct in this country. I was sure that this trip would bond us as a true team and change our fortune from only a few moths and butterflies to a bounty of wildlife wonder!!...

James and I set off early (in the rain!!!) and within 30 minutes found ourselves sat behind plates of bacon, sausages, eggs and all the other trimmings that come with a real ‘Moth-man’s breakfast’!...

I know exactly what you're all thinking now, that we don’t actually ever see any moths or butterflies as we're too busy stuffing our faces!!..

Well I’m happy to report that we did have a great trip with both recording lifetime firsts in the form of: large Blue and Grizzled Skipper! On the way back we stopped off at Priddy Mineries in the Mendip hills to see the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries (SPBF) that reside there (in fact the only place in Somerset that I am aware they breed). To cap off a great day James recorded his first SPBF and Chiminey Sweeper Moth that again only resides on certain sites such as this. I think that we can all agree that this was a very successful and worthwhile ‘training’ trip!?! 

Grizzled Skipper was a first for me...
 Large Blue was a first for both James and I...
 Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary was a first for James...

Due to this huge and incomparable success we started making plans to go after the Adonis Blue later in the year! 

Back to reality!...

This year has seen our arranged mothing events cancelled one after the other due to inclement weather on the day! In fact, as I sit and write this I have just cancelled this weekends planned event due to a horrendous weather forecast!

Becoming completely frustrated by our bad luck we finally had a lovely hot sunny Saturday in July that seemed perfect for moth trapping, so I quickly got on the phone…

Higgy “Hi mate fab day really hot and still, it should be cracking for mothing this evening, do you fancy doing a trap in the wooded reserve tonight?”
James (very excited) “Oh yes mate can’t wait it looks superb we should have a trap full tonight! Really exciting!”
Higgy “Great, I’ll pick you up at 9pm and I reckon we better pack the sunscreen and cold drinks it’s so hot!”

I duly picked up James at 9pm and we loaded up my old truck and bumped our way down the dirty farm track that runs beside the reserve. It was a lovely evening and we watched the Rooks come into roost from our position at the bottom of the track so as not to disturb this fabulous spectacle. Now in high spirits we unloaded the car and set out a large white sheet to reflect the light from the small trap that we had borrowed for the evening.

Higgy “Drat the light’s not working!”
James “looks like a bad connection”...

45 minutes and two phone calls later, we had a working moth trap…

WHHHOOOOOSHHHHH!!!!!!...... Higgy & James “Arrggggggggg!”...

The biggest gust of wind you could possibly imagine promptly blew our reflective sheet over the car and into the field of cattle that were watching our antics with some amusement! The gust even proceeded in knocking over our newly mended moth trap! James then bashed his arm on the gate (“Oh drat!”) and I stood in a fresh cow pat! (“Oh drat!”)...

FWsssssssss, Grrrrrrrrr Booooommmmm… 

An almighty thunderstorm complete with torrential rain immediately followed this initial huge gust of wind! Like drowned rats we quickly packed up our gear (not having caught a single moth!) and climbed back into the car soaked through to the skin! We had a brew out of my flask and after an hour of torrential rain we gave up and drove home! On the way home the air conditioning in my old truck packed in so we had to use wet jacket sleeves and anything else we could find to clear the now misted up windows! To add further to the insult whilst negotiating the bendy roads across the Moor we seen so many moths in the headlights that I’m sure they were laughing at us!

Despite our continued bad luck and poor timing with the weather we have actually managed to get a few traps in over the summer and have even recorded several new species, which is promising. Here are the results of this year’s traps to date…

6th May we trapped in my garden and recorded twelve different species
Nut-tree Tussock - Colocasia coryli

13th May 9 species recorded in my garden
Muslin Moth - Diaphora mendica

3rd June Another garden trap and a dozen species, heavily represented was the ‘Diamond Back Moth’. This is an immigrant that turned up in large numbers across the country at this time.
Swallow Prominant - Pheosia tremula

4th June James and I supported The North Somerset Butterfly House by trapping at a public event held there. We recorded 18 species. Many of these were notably different species from what we have recorded in my garden including a beautiful Lime Hawk Moth expertly captured by James.
Lime Hawk-moth - Mimas tiliae

16th July 31 species recorded in my garden with three new garden records. It was great to have junior members represented at this event and they all thoroughly enjoyed seeing all the moths but especially the beautiful Elephant Hawk Moth that put in an appearance for them!
 Rosy Footman Miltochrista miniata & Common Emerald, Hemithea aestivaria.

23rd July an impromptu trap in my garden: I rang James at 10pm to see if he wanted to trap as it was so humid! After a little bribery involving some cans of cider and guiness he agreed and we recorded 40 species in just over two hours including 8 garden firsts! A cracking evening sat chatting on the decking and drinking beer whilst surrounded by moths!
 Popular hawk Moth - Laothoe populi

27th August was our last trap and we recorded an impressive 35 species in my garden including this gorgeous  Svensson's Copper Underwing which was one of three firsts for the garden that night. 
Svensson's Copper Underwing - Amphipyra berbera

Well I hope you will agree that depsite some fun and games and plenty of rain we still managed to get some good mothing and butterfly watching in. We have also recorded well in excess of 100 species in my garden so far this year with over 10 new species recorded also.

Following our successful 'team training day' we did have another one in September after the Blue Adonis and I'll let you know next time how this went, did it rain?? Did anyone fall over or get locked in their car?? Never! Surely not!!? You'll have to wait to next time!! :-)

Best regards


 P.S. Mrs H isn't too happy with me as the sausages I stole out of the fridge for the first ever 'MothMan's Breakfast' were being saved for sunday lunch!! ooopps!! :-)