I left off in yesterday’s post on the Sunday evening, as the mothing action – and the bulbs that lured them – really began to hot up. I’d never seen so many traps set in one place: at least five mercury lamps lit up Windmill Farm, aiming for a good catch towards the Bioblitz total. Moths for miles around were presumably spoilt for choice, with pale yellow light bathing the windmill like an illuminating monument. The only competition for brightest object visible that night was the moon, which may have distracted the odd adventurous moths away from our more convenient traps.*
At least two hardy souls were up for most of the night, catching up with moths freshly arriving. I hung around with a late cup of tea for a while, enjoying such beauties as Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing, Swallow-tailed Moth and The Drinker, before succumbing to much-needed rest. That was OK – I almost prefer the surprise of opening an untouched trap the next day to see what has dropped in. It’s like an ecologist’s Christmas – stumbling out of bed (in this case, out of tent), bleary-eyed and sore-headed, but buoyed up by the impending disclosure of what moth-Santa brought in the night. Or should that be Moth-er Christmas? As you can see from this limited range of pictures, many of our finds were spectacular.
More experienced mothing hands pointed out it had been a ‘disappointing’ catch. It was cold, for July, and numbers are down across the board this summer, with adult moths struggling to find a good stretch of weather in which to emerge. Frankly, if I’m ever present for a ‘good’ catch, I don’t know what I’ll do with myself – attempting to mentally or visually process Windmill Farm’s record catch (500 individual moths, from 85 species) would probably be overwhelming. Still, I look forward to it. I’m most definitely catching the moth bug, and I fully intend to present myself at as many trap unveilings as possible in the next year, and eventually obtain – or build – one of my own.
Tearing ourselves away from moths, the team of blitzers (to coin a collective noun) set to work on increasing our species total in a frenzy of pond dipping, botanising and bug hunting. Dragons – dragonflies and damselflies, that is – are one of the top draws at Windmill Farm, and I believe 14 species were seen during the blitz, including the new-to-me Emerald Damselfly and Red-Veined Darter (the latter of which I almost didn’t realise I’d seen until consulting with Andy and checking my pictures! Cameras do come in useful).
Whilst we feasted on the dragons with our eyes, a hobby dropped in at lunchtime to feast on them in more literal fashion. And indeed, after all that invertebrate-based excitement, the species of the day, for me, ended up being a bird. Predictable as always. But this was a long-awaited lifer, a wood sandpiper. Last year they seemed to be everywhere through autumn migration, except for wherever I happened to be birding, so the chance relocation of a green, putative wood sandpiper by site warden Dougy, and the chance fact that we were with him at the time, gave me a surprise early chance at the species this autumn. (It’s autumn for waders.) I was delighted when he got close enough to the bird to confirm its identity, and pleased to then get a good enough look to satisfy myself that I would have known what I was looking at – noting the species’ heavily spotted back, pale undersides, eye stripe, yellow-green legs and slender build. One I hope to see a lot more of in future. A bagful of new insects, rare plants at every turn (which I haven’t even touched on), and even some bonus birds of the very good sort. Bioblitzing? I’m completely sold.
*For the moon is, of course, a moth trap. Forget ridiculous legends about faces made of cheese. If one was a moth, the piercingly bright globe of a full moon would clearly appear as an irresistible beacon, the light to end all lights. What appear to be craters are actually the crevices in millions upon millions of egg boxes, resting places for ambitious lepidopteran astronauts. And when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon’s surface what he actually said was ‘A small step for man, one giant leap for mothkind’, but it seems his words got lost in the static. The only reason you don’t see moths heaped up around the Eagle’s legs in those famous photographs is that the crew took specially designed brooms with them to clear off the landing area: incredible, but true.