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The weather is all too seducing. I feel like a naughty schoolgirl playing truant as I abandon indoor chores.
“I have to go and pick up some bales from the top.” I call out to anyone listening as I guiltily slide out of the office donning wellies and sunglasses (the eyes haven’t recovered from troglodyte-sight following the last couple of years’ rain). On the bobcat I change the scraper for the grab and trundle off up the lane, dogs in tow. The snail pace of the bobcat feels just fine today, and despite the engine noise the vibrant gloriousness of the farm can be hungrily appreciated.
Mission accomplished all too quickly so I reluctantly return to my office and try to concentrate. I get sidetracked by twitter, I get sidetracked by chatty emails, I get sidetracked by the phone. I just get side tracked by anything.
Robert calls up the stairs “Want to come on a walk?”
“I’m trying to work.” I shout back “Trying…” And it’s definitely trying “So yes please…hold on a second and I’m there.” I give up all pretence, close down the computer, grab socks, rucksack, puppy and dogs and I’m off.
Robert’s day time interest-of-the moment is hoverflies. Having been on his course he’s all fired up. So with butterfly net, collection jars and an insect pooter – a thing to suck up insects into a collection tube (and I thought he was talking about a computer…) – he scours the hedge and wood line of all accessible fields and moorland; this wonderful weather has been perfect for insects, especially hoverflies.
We decide on Scadsbury, an hourglass culm grassland field bordered by ancient woodland leading down to the River Lew. Primroses dotted among the soft pink-mauves and deep purple-blues of violets spill out of the woodland into the scalloped edges of the field; nature’s own subtle embroidery. Dancing a jig at the very tops of pussy willow trees, males of the beautiful moth Adela cuprella seek to attract mates. This small moth, with its metallic bronze and copper wings, and flowing white antennae many times the body length, has never before been recorded in Devon but it’s common this year. The book says it comes and goes, some years being very seldom seen if at all, and others in some numbers.
Down by the river clumps of pungent wild garlic are linked through a green carpet of bluebells teetering on the edge of flowering.
Robert finds his hoverflies while the dogs and I introduce Willow to woodlands, boggy grassland and rivers. She’s entranced while we (yes, even Skye and Ness, though they have tried their best to ignore her) are enchanted by her!
Have you noticed the preponderance of moths stuck like fridge magnets to the outside of your kitchen windows recently? These are probably Winter moths, not particularly colourful or alluring, more along the line of drab and grey, as befits the weather! But you can, even at this time of year, find some stunning beautiful ones with romantically wistful names…the merville du jour, scarce umber and feathered thorn.
I’m intrigued by moth names and how they came to be. They can be ambiguous; the anomalous, the uncertain and the suspected; or factual like double line, triple line, the red, orange or yellow underwings; then there’s the purely descriptive – the lead-coloured-drab, the dingy mocha, the emerald and chocolate tip. When out of the blue these dour, dry scientific recorders appear to be overcome by nature’s beauty and names like pale shining brown, the beautiful brocade, peach blossom, flame carpet, ruby tiger and clifden nonpareil appear! Exquisite and evocative. Sometimes when Robert empties his moth trap and notes the species it can sounds like the recitation of a poem with each word leaving his mouth morphing into the very thing the moths have been named after – the phoenix, the silver hook, the sprawler, even Mother Shipton.
I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed an insect hovering around flowers that you presume is a bee or wasp, but on closer inspection something is just not right? No pollen sacks? No sting? Most probably it’s a hoverfly.
Robert, as you may have gathered, has a keen interest in moths and bumble bees, but this year due to the awful weather they have done very badly. So unfortunately his numerous mothing and bee finding forays have been total washouts and he’s returned home empty handed and despondent. However during these expeditions he’s noticed that the hoverfly has actually done rather well; so the frustrated entomologist in him has found an alternative outlet – identifying and photographing hoverflies.
Hoverflies, as their name suggests, are known for their hovering abilities. Many of our 250 British species are brightly coloured, mimicking bees and wasps. Although they themselves are quite harmless, having no sting, by this ruse they gain some protection from birds and other predators. The adults are abundant on flowers for much of the year, feeding on both pollen and nectar, while the larvae live in rooting wood, compost heaps, stagnant water and so forth feeding largely on decaying organic matter. A few, like Volucella pellucens, live in the nests of bees and wasps, scavenging dead and dying insects and other debris. And another, the Arctophila superbiens’ larvae, live in water filled hoofprint along shady muddy paths…no brownie points for knowing why this particular insect has thrived this year!
narrow bordered bee hawkmoth
Manic, hectic, non-stop – and I’m not talking about the frenetic cutting and carrying of silage or the persistent hum drone whine of tractors, mowers, foragers, bailers and wrappers filling the air 24/7 as most of my neighbours rush to take advantage of the warm, dry weather – but of Robert’s weekend schedule. As you are, no doubt, totally aware…it’s been National Moth day, night and weekend!
chimney sweeper – a moth whose food plant is pignut
You may have gathered through various comments in other posts Robert has a keenly developed interest (obsession?) with moths – trapping, collecting, recording, rearing and photographing – the last he does with enviable artistic flare and skill. So the last forty-eight hours has been one continuous merry-go-round of places, locations and venues from first light till the early hours of the morning (most things moth taking place during the most unsocial hours). Moth traps have been set, county moth gatherings have been attended, special sites have been visited, recordings have been made and moths – ordinary-extraordinary, exquisite-dowdy, day flying or night flying – have been found, noted and documented, whilst friends, acquaintances and strangers have been persuaded, cajoled and curmudgeoned into participating in one form or another.
mother shipton – can you see the witch’s face?
I’ve cherry picked. Choosing to accompany Robert on the more social affairs, and during the hours when most self-respecting moths are tucked up sound asleep in some cool dark hideaway, safe from marauding predators, apart, that is, from the occasional unusual treasure – such as the narrow bordered bee hawkmoth.
I’ve snatched a hasty conversation with a pal on a log in an orchard whilst traps have been set and electrics wrangled with; sipped tea in the shade of a wild rose after a walk around a stunning triple SI in search of the rare Marsh Fritillary butterfly; and been refreshed with a glass of ice cold wine in the dappled sun of early evening having trekked across the moor for supper. I have also had time to enjoy the extraordinary beauty of our flower meadows which are at their peak and taken pleasure in watching and observing the stock as they contentedly graze and relax in the early summer sunshine. A perfect June weekend.
ragged robin in dillings
for heidi – our only lunar moth – a lunar hornet moth, not as impressive as yours!