A Spectacle(ular), SilyerY Sunday and Migrant(ory) Monday

The numbers of human visitors to the reserve are often difficult to predict and Bank Holiday weekends are no exception.  Animal visitors, on the other hand, are almost impossible to predict as the flow of the seasons moves on.  For some it is late summer and to others its early autumn.

On the bird front there have been many sightings of kingfisher and the numbers of waterfowl are starting to build steadily, in number, if not in range of species.  Small numbers of migrant waders are starting to appear including common sandpiper and green sandpiper. Perhaps the most notable bird of the two days was/ has been a black tern, reported yesterday and which we saw, appropriately from the Tern Hide, as we closed the reserve. So far no reports today.

Jim had set up the light trap overnight on Saturday, but the slightly damp and cooler conditions didn’t produce  a huge range  of moths.  the most spectacular was a Red Underwing, which unfortunately took flight almost as soon as it was found – so no picture.  The most populous species in the trap were Silver Y (8) and Spectacle (7).  Later in the day one of the Silver Y moths, so named for the ‘y’ shaped marking,  settled on my car .

Silver Y moth on car - yes i kow it needs a wash!

Silver Y moth on car – yes i know it needs a wash!

The Spectacle moth’s name is less obvious when seen side on.

Not obviously spectacular

Not obviously spectacular

but quite understandable when viewed head on –

The name 'Spectacle' seems more obvious now.

The name ‘Spectacle’ seems more obvious now.

A number of times when I’ve been  going through, sorting out the various moths in the light trap, I’ve been asked about the differences between moths and butterflies. i don’t pretend to be an expert, but the following may help.

Butterflies and moths comprise the order lepidoptera (from the ancient Greek for  ‘scale’ and  wing’ ) and in the U.K. includes butterflies  ( 50 + species), macro moths (the larger ones 800+ species) and micro moths (several thousand species).  There is a tendency to think that day flying species are butterflies and nocturnal ones are moths, but there are a large number of moths species (more than all the butterflies) that fly during the day. Mostly they are micro moths and easily overlooked, but include some macro moths, like  Silver Y and Humming-bird Hawkmoth (see last week’s blog).  To add to the confusion some butterflies must be on the move overnight  as they are regularly caught in overnight  light traps, I’ve seen Peacock, Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell.  I seem to remember that the strict technical definition of a butterfly is the possession of club-shaped antennae, as on this Red Admiral.

Red Admiral

Red Admiral

   whereas moths have feathery or straight antennae like this Small Phoenix.

Small Phoenix - note the straight antenae, typical of moth species

Small Phoenix – note the straight antennae, typical of moth species

The differentiation between macro and micro moths can be even more confusing as it ultimately seems to depend in which family group the moth belongs . Size isn’t everything, there are some quite small macro moths and some fairly large micro moths, like this Mother of Pearl – a micro moth – which is about the same size or larger than the Small Phoenix – a macro moth.

The wonderfully lustrous sheen of the Mother of Pearl

The wonderfully lustrous sheen of the Mother of Pearl

Incidently the Mother of Pearl illustrates quite clearly the facet of the ‘scaly wing’ nature of lepidoptera. Although the picture doesn’t show it too clearly, the subtle silvery iridescent, almost translucent, colouring on the wings is caused by interference patterns of the light on the tiny scales.  This gives them a shimmering effect as the colour changes depending on which angle you see them from. I’ve read somewhere that this effect was the inspiration behind the development of the compact disc (CD and presumably DVD’s) as it was realised that this could be used to store huge amounts of information in a small space and could be written to and read by laser light.  

The elevated temperatures have kept any dragonflies and damselflies quite mobile, but a Migrant Hawker was kind enough to perch up on the buddleia and stayed there long enough to have its  picture taken.

Migrant Hawker

Migrant Hawker

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