People often ask me what time of year do moths fly and are surprised to hear the answer: ‘Every month of the year.’ It is true that not so many fly in the colder months, and that they avoid windy and very wet weather, but many species, such as the Dark Chestnut and Dotted Border, hibernate as adults and readily appear in brief mild nights throughout the Winter. Others, like the appropriately named Early Moth, emerge from their pupa when the weather is mild in the first 10 weeks or so of the year. It therefore follows that to get a really good idea of the moth species present recording should take place throughout the year whenever the weather seems suitable.
In 2017 my moth recording at Rutland Water started on the evening of 19th February when I started to find places to run traps near Sharple’s Meadow and Lagoon II. I was joined by someone new to moth recording, who best remain nameless, who watched with great interest as each trap was carefully located on level ground, and secateurs used to clear trailing brambles, dead twigs and small nettle shoots. After a while, a voice said: ‘Ah, I see what you are doing: making a clear zone to improve the effectiveness of your traps. Very clever.’ One must always be encouraging, so I replied: ‘Yes, I am sure you are correct, but I find removing the brambles stops them snagging my clothes, cutting the twigs prevents them poking me in the eye, and trimming the nettles reduces stings later in the year.’ Moving quickly on to the following cold February morning, we were treated to a few Dark Chestnuts, Dotted Borders, and Early Moths.
Moth recording visits continued for the rest of the year whenever the weather forecast was suitable and time allowed until the last visit on the night of 21st November with a portable actinic light. This attracted a surprising number of late evening birders who helped while away the time as there were only a few Winter Moths and a brief visit by an unimpressed Badger. The Winter Moth is the small brownish moth often seen on winter nights in car headlights on country lanes. There are two species that are almost impossible to separate in the field. Later, under the microscope, I was able to confirm that we have both Winter Moth and Northern Winter Moth present on the reserve.
What of species highlights for 2017? Through the year I recorded 114 species of moths. A new species, for me, was the Seraphim in a trap on the morning of 5th May. The larva of this local species feed on Aspen, which is abundant in the area. The hindwing has a curious lobe like a small extra hindwing.
Another species, the Old Lady Moth, seemed to have a good year at Rutland Water and other places across the county. Several were in the traps on 27th August. Bigger, more showy moths such as this species, always impress. After showing one of the specimens off at the visitor centre, I was able to finish with the very politically incorrect: ‘If you have all had a good look I’ll carefully toss the Old Lady into the bushes.’
If you are interested in building your own moth trap, take a look at Paul’s book here.