I’ve become increasingly fond of moths over the last few years, but seldom am I lucky enough to get a good look at one. The obvious reason being their nocturnal nature: the vast majority of species fly at night, diverse hordes of them taking to the air unseen whilst us day-dwellers are tucked up asleep. This is where moth trapping comes in. The general principle is quite simple: put out some sort of a light,* and wait for moths to be drawn to it like, er, moths to the flame, ready to be observed and identified.**
Whilst it may have become something of a cliché, many species of moth do indeed find light irresistible. This is probably because they are thought to navigate using the moon, and the trap’s light in effect creates a decoy moon which tricks the moths into flying towards it instead of the real thing. When the moon is particularly full or otherwise bright, you would therefore expect catches in light traps to be lower, and this is demonstrably the case: both cloud cover and moon phase influence the number of moths caught on any given night. Presumably when the real moon is easy to see, moths become harder to fool.
I made a half-hearted effort at the ‘Garden BioBlitz’ last year – an event which encourages all to go out and see what’s living in their gardens, whether bird, beast, bug, bat or bee. I pootled in our shared Sevenoaks garden for about an hour, photographing a few things, and ultimately forgot to ever identify it all and submit a sightings list. This year, I vowed, I’d do it properly. And what better way to start such an event than with a moth BBQ?
We weren’t, I hasten to add, actually cooking moths on our sustainably-sourced-British-coppice charcoal fire – bean burgers and veggie sausages were on the menu – but had arranged a pleasant-sounding evening of al fresco dining followed by the viewing of what we hoped would be a multitude of moths, with a side order of bat detecting. Alas, this has been a terrible year for mothing, so it shouldn’t have been surprising that our somewhat comical jerry-rigged moth ‘trap’ caught nothing at all. Not even one of those veggie sausages. And of bats we got not the faintest ultrasonic squeak.
By the lake corner a nuthatch was tweeting away – yes, nuthatches do actually say ‘tweet’, if you hadn’t noticed – defending a favoured tree, whilst on the water the ever-hungry fleet of marauding mallards kept an eye out for bread-wielding toddlers. A heron which has been hanging about the lake’s central island for most of the week was for some reason playing a solo game of pick-up-sticks. Approaching the park’s far edge, I could hear two or three great tits stepping on squeaky bicycle pumps – that is to say, singing – as robins dashed on and off the path in search of a morsel or two. I stepped round the corner onto Beech Lane at the same moment a great-spotted woodpecker chose to bounce dramatically across the road and over my head, its red undertail leaving a trail like a firework against a blue-grey sky. That same moment I realised I was grinning from ear to ear, buoyed by nothing more than the life of a few common birds.