The earlier pictures were taken on my wee compact Canon ixus 970IS, which involved sneaking up on the butterflies. This can be very frustrating when they fly off, but very rewarding when they don't!

Since 2012 I have been using a Panasonic Lumix FZ150, which allows me to zoom in to the butterflies from a couple of metres away.



Thursday, 26 June 2014

Moth Trap at the Farm

Two weekends ago I took the moth trap to a local farm to see what I could catch away from the lights of the village. The farmer there is very interested in nature conservation and has done much to enhance the farm for wildlife.
I set up the trap on some short grass between a woodland strip and an area of wild bird cover. It seemed like the perfect spot, but shortly after I arrived back home it started to rain, and the rain continued for most of the night.


The next morning I didn't hold out much hope that there would be anything in the trap, so I didn't rush round to the farm too early. When I arrived at the trap there were a number of chickens looking rather intrigued by it! I then noticed that there were not only quite a number of moths inside the trap, but there were about ten moths on the white sheet.

Amazingly, I caught 62 moths that night and 24 different species. Among the many small brown jobs were a number of more interesting moths. This is a Pebble Hook-tip, Drepana falcataria, which had avoided being eaten by the chickens! 

This strange-looking moth is a Coxcomb Prominent, Ptilodon capucina, with its blond quiff.

Green seemed to be a popular colour. As well as a Green Silver-lines, that I had previously caught at home, I caught two Green Arches, Anaplectoides prasina. These are lovely moths and they remind me of an old carpet!

I also caught a Green Pug, Pasiphila rectangulata

I also managed to get a picture of a Brimstone Moth, Opisthograptis luteolata, which pleased me as previously they have flown away when I have taken the lid off the trap!

Probably the most spectacular moth I caught that night was this Northern Eggar, Lasiocampa quercus. It is quite a large moth, with a wing length of about 5 centimetres. 

I was excited by this moth, but couldn't find it in my moth book. It turns out to be a Small Magpie, Eurrhypara hortulata, which is classified as a micro moth. Strangely it is bigger than many of the macro moths that I have caught. (Yes, it makes no sense to me, either!!)

I also caught five large Poplar Hawkmoths like I mentioned in my previous post and various brown moths that took me ages to identify. By the time I had emptied the trap, taken pictures of each moth and then identified them all it was nearly lunch time!

I made sure that I released the moths well away from the chickens!

Last weekend I took the trap back to the farm and set it up again. It seemed like the perfect weather so I was hopeful for a big haul. Almost as soon as I switched it on a moth flew straight into the trap! In the morning I was a little disappointed to have only caught 45 moths, and no large ones this time! 

However, I still caught 25 species and 13 of them were ones I hadn't caught the week before. It really amazes me how different the results can be only a few days apart.

This one is a Light Emerald, Campaea margaritata.

This is the first Peppered Moth, Biston betularia, I have caught. I remember learning about these at school. There are two or three colour morphs of this moth, and normally the lighter one, like this, is the most common. However, following the Industrial Revolution, with increased pollution levels the darker morph became more common because the trunks of the trees were darker. Today, with our cleaner air the light moths are once again the most common.

I do like the green moths! This is a Green Carpet, Colostygia pectinataria. 

Most of the rest of the moths I caught that night were variations on a theme, all much the same shape and colours, such as this Double Square-spot, Xestia triangulum

So far this year I have caught 48 different species. The person who lent me the trap has told me that he thinks I will catch over 150 species by the end of the year. I had better brush up on my ID skills!

Monday, 16 June 2014

Garden Moth Trap

I have been having fun with the moth trap that I have been lent to help determine what moths occur in this part of Scotland.

I have set it running six times in the last two months and it is interesting to see the different species that seem to occur each time.

The first time I tried it was on the 5th April and I only caught three moths, all the same species, the Hebrew Character, Orthosia gothica.
Hebrew Character

Three weeks later we had appropriate weather to use the trap again. This time I caught three species, a Hebrew Character, and two new species, a Common Quaker, Orthosia cerasi, and a very similar-looking Small Quaker, Orthosia cruda
Common Quaker
After another three weeks, I tried again on 19th May and I caught nine species. All of them brown, but at least slightly different browns!
Lunar Thorn, Selenia lunularia

Small Phoenix, Ecliptopera silaceata

Now I was starting to get more excited!

The next time I put the trap out was on 27th April and this time I caught 11 species, and seven of them were new. There were also some really exciting species among them. I had put the trap down by the house, which is painted white, and I think the reflected light helped to attract more moths. Some of them were on the wall of the house in the morning.

I love these White Ermines, Spilosoma lubricipeda

These Poplar Hawkmoths, Laothoe populi, are enormous. They are at least three inches across. I have never seen one of these flying around or attracted to a light, so I was surprised to find two in the trap.

As well as these, I saw a lovely Brimstone Moth. These are a lovely yellow, but sadly it flew away before I could take a photograph.

On the 9th of June I only caught eight species, but there were some interesting moths among them.
I love the mottled pattern on this little Foxglove Pug, Eupithecia pulchellata.

Green Silver-lines, Pseudoips prasinana.
The moth trap runs off mains electricity, but I was also given a battery and adapter, so that I can take it out into the countryside to see what I can catch there. Last week I thought I should try it out in the garden running off the battery to make sure it worked. This time I caught seven different species. I am not sure if this was because the light wasn't quite so bright, or if it was because there was quite a lot of rain in the night. However, there were five new species for me among them.
Bordered White, Bapalus piniaria.

Elephant Hawkmoth, Deilephila elpenor.
Once I have photographed each moth and noted them down I put them somewhere safe, so that the next evening they can fly off and live their lives unscathed. I have noticed that some of the garden birds have been taking an interest in what I am up to, so I am taking extra care to make sure the moths are hidden away from them!

Each time I put the trap out I have caught some new species and so far it has been quite a gentle learning curve. I can't take credit for being able to identify them all, and I regularly send pictures to Mark, who lent me the trap, for him to help me with the identification.

On Saturday evening I took the moth trap to a local farm where the farmer has a great interest in wildlife. He has planted hedges, dug ponds, improved woodlands, put up bird boxes and left a grassy margin around each field, all to benefit the local birds and other wildlife. I will have to leave what I caught until my next post.


Thursday, 12 June 2014

Vice County Maps

I learnt something new last week after I had found the Green Hairstreak butterflies that I mentioned in my previous post. Given that I have been co-ordinating the butterfly records in East Lothian for a few years now, it is something that I really should have known!
I have always used the current boundary of East Lothian to differentiate between East Lothian records and records from outwith East Lothian.
However, I was informed that biological records use the Vice County areas. This was a system that was devised in the 1870s by a botanist, dividing Britain into 113 roughly equal sized areas based on the old counties. These areas remain the same, despite more recent changes in county boundaries, so biological records are measured consistently.

Vice County 82 - East Lothian

The current boundary for East Lothian
If you compare the maps above you will see that using the Vice County area we lose Musselburgh on the west, but we gain a little spur to the south west and we also gain the bite that is missing on the current south east border.
Linn Dean Nature Reserve, where I saw the Green Hairstreak butterflies, is in the spur to the south west. I can't believe my good luck!!

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Green Hairstreak - Callophrys rubi

I am not really sure how I feel about wind farms. I don't like the look of them, particularly as the few that were built are expanding and starting to merge together. On the other hand, it must be good to generate electricity without releasing carbon or producing toxic byproducts.

Actually, it is the large tracks that are cut into the landscape that worry me more than the turbines. Much of the area I was walking in today is very wet, but where the tracks have been created, there is a large ditch either side, allowing the water to drain off the hills. The hills used to act like a large reservoir of water, but now no sooner than it rains, the water runs off sometimes causing flooding downstream.

Today I went in search of Green Hairstreaks, Callophrys rubi, close to a large wind farm in the Lammermuir Hills.


I had been told of the location of some recent sightings of this butterfly, and many of them were tantalizingly close to the East Lothian border. I plotted the locations onto a map and there was a row of dots just a few metres outside East Lothian's boundary looking as though they were just about to mount an attack!

Up here the Green Hairstreak caterpillar food plant is Blaeberry, or Bilberry, Vaccinium myrtillus. I had been advised to look for boggy areas with tussocks of Blaeberry and the sightings that I had plotted all appeared to be close to Spruce plantations.

It was difficult to get through the boggy ground from the wind farm tracks to the areas I wanted to check out. I ended up taking quite a detour, and as I was getting close to a Spruce woodland I thought I would check the blaeberries growing close by. To my delight I saw a small green butterfly flying into the air in front of me. It was soon being chased by another. These were the first Green Hairstreaks I had seen in Britain!


I walked along a small valley to where I had been told that other Green Hairstreaks had been seen and I was delighted to see several more.




The reason that no Green Hairstreaks had been seen in East Lothian became apparent when I looked over the fence and saw that the farmer on the other side had improved his grazing, and instead of bog there was rough grassland. I searched all around the woodlands, but there was no sign of any Blaeberry and consequently no sign of any Green Hairstreaks on the East Lothian side of the boundary.

I then followed a stream all the way to a local nature reserve to see if there was any suitable habitat there. On my way down the stream, I was stopped in my tracks when I saw a Green Hairstreak on a leaf in front of me. I was very excited, as I thought this was my first East Lothian record, but then realised that I had jumped over the stream to get past some rocks and I was actually back on the other side of the border!



The butterfly was just below the centre of the picture above. On the right hand side of the stream is East Lothian, and on the left is Midlothian. You can see how close this was to being an East Lothian record!!

Although this didn't seem to be the right sort of habitat for a Green Hairstreak, I climbed up the slope and found Blaeberries growing.

I spent some time searching the slopes on the East Lothian side and found a few patches of Blaeberry growing, but sadly no Green Hairstreaks. At least I know the sort of habitat that I need to be looking for, so the search will go on!