Seeking Lepidoptera

In need of some respite from dissertation work and keen to spend as much time as possible outside in the glorious weather, yesterday was dedicated, wholly, to surveying Lepidoptera. Daylight hours spent chasing butterflies as I attempted to survey a few new sites for this year’s Big Butterfly Count and night, moth trapping in the garden. Both ventures, thankfully, coming up trumps and producing myriad vibrant and interesting species.

My first butterfly transect found me meandering through an unassuming patch of wasteland near Cambois – a small coastal town not far from my home in Bedlington. Setting out, things looked altogether promising: warm temperatures and masses of blooming Ragwort, Buddleia and Knapweed giving hope that there would at least be a few butterflies on the wing. There was, and within moments of my arrival, the first species began to appear. Among these, a number of Small White, Meadow Brown and Ringlet – common species one would expect to find here – but also a Small Tortoiseshell and a surprise Dark Green Fritillary. The former bringing a rather large smile to my face given their seemingly low numbers this year.

Next came a lone Comma moving frantically about a patch of nettles; while further along the track both Red Admiral and Small Copper were also observed. All of these, lovely though they are, soon found themselves playing second fiddle, however, upon sight of the days first Grayling. The initial individual hunkered down and doing its best to blend into the subsrate soon followed by twelve more. The colony of Grayling at Cambois is well known locally and butterflies can reliably be seen here most years; though, historically, I have only ever seen one or two individuals. The thirteen noted on this day setting a new personal record, and the sight of the intricately marked butterflies themselves, leaving me more than content. Departing the site, four Small Skipper were unearthed and a Speckled Wood was found sunning itself on some roadside brambles. Eleven species in fifteen minutes, not bad at all…

Carrying out a second butterfly count, this time in nearby the sand dunes, another Small Tortoiseshell was noted alongside numerous Meadow Browns and Six-Spot Burnets. Another three Small Skipper here came as an added bonus; while a lone Green-Veined White took the days butterfly tally up to an impressive twelve species. Fourteen if you count the Common Blues and Large Skippers notched at Bedlington earlier in the day.

Skipping forward a few hours and nightfall found me positioned in the garden, eager to see which moth species would find their way into my heath trap on this occasion. Truth be told, I was not overly hopeful – I broke yet another bulb a few days past so, on this occasion, was forced to make do with a household UV bulb – of the kind used to find stains and check for fingerprints. Lo and behold, however, this bulb outperformed my previous actinic by quite some way, with 132 moths of 37 species trapped between 11 pm and 1 am, including some nifty garden firsts. The undisputed highlight coming in the form of my first garden Drinker, alongside a duo of Dark Spectacle, two Cloaked Minor and a single Ypsolopha scabrella – an abundant and rather neat little micro. Other goodies included a record count of five Buff Footman and singles of Peach Blossom, Peppered Moth and Early Thorn; while Large-Yellow Underwing again took home the award for most numerous species. No less than 47 individuals were found in the trap this morning, yikes.

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