22nd January

The moon is perhaps too little remarked upon. I mean, it’s remarkable! That white disc in the winter sky is another world, an 80 quintillion ton sphere of rock circling the earth in a graceful monthly journey. As it travels, waxes and wanes it reflects light from the sun, flinging rays over 200,000 miles back through empty space to illuminate the night sky. It governs the tides we depend on for important things like seeing wading birds and surfing. It’s the stuff of poetry, legend and scientific discovery. In short, it’s brilliant.

The moon itself is dark, cold and lifeless, but seen from earth it is as beguilingly changeable a natural object as any other. It’s a shape shifter, slinking into the shadows and veiling itself in mist and cloud. Chameleon-like, its colour adapts and changes, from pure white to the grey of a washed-out winter’s evening, from the orange of a harvest moon to a blood-red eclipse.

As we approached full moon this week other denizens of the night began to emerge, as if by way of celebration.  Moths are said to use the moon for navigation – hence their magnetic attraction to light – and a pleasantly surprising four species were found in the Reading University trap on Friday morning. One, Oak Beauty, was a whole four weeks ahead of schedule. Pale Brindled Beauty is more accustomed to flying in January. The fine specimen of this species we trapped seemed particularly eager to fly back into the darkness when I released it the following evening.

Even more to my surprise, the moths’ great enemies, bats, were also active at dusk on Friday.  Two or three made leisurely laps of a tall, dead, ivy-covered tree in the Wilderness, interspersing bursts of flapping with short glides as they hawked. Bat silhouettes are not my forté, and in the absence of a bat detector I couldn’t be sure what these were, but the mid-paced, gliding flight and suggestion that they were larger than a pipistrelle point to something like brown long-eared bat. All the while a brilliant moon shone through clouds beyond, illuminating the latticework of branches through which moth and bat alike flew.

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The moon over Whiteknights Park, 22nd January 2016

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