Last night was warm, calm and humid and our best moth night of the year so far, with 429 moths of 64 species. Best of the bunch was Blue-bordered Carpet, which we never recorded in Kent, while Common Footman, Fan-foot, Engrailed, Dusky Brocade and Buff Arches were all new for the year. The most numerous species were Heart and Dart (106), Dark Arches (60) and Common Wainscot (27) while Large Yellow Underwing (14) began to show here in numbers for the first time.
Mindful of the chances of bumping into furtive George Cole-lookalikes selling Cup Final tickets we decided to risk a visit to Tout Quarry on Portland and were treated to an array of butterflies that included firsts for the year in Marbled White, Small Skipper and 2 very fresh Graylings. The display of sculptures near the car park was also worth a look too, particularly Roy Dog with his Bowie-esque eyes. After lunch we decided to take a look at the Butterfly Conservation reserve at Lankham Bottom, a spectacular coombe of chalk downland covered in vetches and rock-rose. It was among the latter that we found 3-4 Cistus Foresters and 2-3 Wood Tigers and although a subsequent visit to Powerstock Common was quiet, it had been a very good day.
In time-honoured fashion, although it was still raining at breakfast the forecast of more rain failed to materialise and it turned into a lovely sunny day from mid-morning. Butterflies continued to impress with six species in our meadow, including Large Skipper, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Meadow Brown, Holly Blue and a freshly-emerged Ringlet, which brought the number of species in the garden so far this year to 14. With plenty of knapweed coming into flower the prospects of the total reaching 20 seem increasingly good. We also took delivery of a smart new 400L water butt, so that should keep the rain away for a while.
Lime-speck Pug and a sudden emergence of Brussels Lace were the overnight moth highlights on Saturday 26th. Although it was a morning of broken cloud, we decided on a visit to Portland, where we eventually found our way into Broadcroft Quarry, managed as a nature reserve by Butterfly Conservation. Some of the quarry is still active, but the 7.4 ha site was gifted as a reserve in 1994 and is now a spectacularly nice spot to wander around. Plants included masses of kidney vetch and bird’s-foot trefoil, with patches of Pyramidal Orchids and one Bee Orchid. Some of the management appears to have involved surface-scraping to maximise the herb-richness of the site and although it was hardly baking we saw several Silver-studded Blues, Painted Lady, Dingy Skipper and at least 7 Mother Shipton moths. It also looks like a good birding spot in spring and autumn, with the Bird Observatory visible not far away below us.
A fairly quiet moth trap last night after so much rain and wind, but still Pale Mottled Willow and Magpie, sitting next to a Small Magpie in the bin, were new for the year.
Our visit to Godlingston Heath near Swanage was not a total disaster, even though we failed to see a single butterfly on the heath, let alone any fritillaries. Still, we did see several dragonflies, including Keeled Skimmer, Broad-bodied Chaser, Emperor and Common Darter. A Nightjar also treated us to a brief spell of churring on the dot of midday. Returning home, Small Tortoiseshell, Meadow Brown and Large Skipper were additions to our garden butterfly list, which now stands at 13 species (compared to a maximum of 14 that we recorded at Sandwich).
Given the frisky wind and rain that began before dawn it was a better night here at Coryates than expected. Much of the moth trap contents involved the usual suspects, but underneath one of the trays was this magnificent female Ghost Moth – quite the largest we have been treated to (about 35mm).
After a breezy and consequently quiet 17th last night was calm and overcast and our trap at Coryates brought another new high for the year, with 205 moths of 65 species. New for the year were Riband Wave, Straw Dot, a rather dilapidated Foxglove Pug, Cream-bordered Green Pea, Yellow-barred Brindle and a lovely Beautiful Golden Y, which we have trapped down here in previous years but never in Kent.
Thursday 17th. With humid air and the threat of thunderstorms from the south, last night was likely to be good and so it proved to be, with 121 moths of 41 species. Alder Moth was the pick of the bunch, being a species we’ve never encountered before, but Ingrailed Clay and Brown Silver-line were new for us for Dorset and Grey/Dark Dagger, Common Swift and Single-dotted Wave all new for the year. 2 Delicates, a Silver Y and 2 Diamond-backs were the only signs of immigration, however. In the event the storms never materialised so the decision to risk trapping was a good one.
For those of you wondering about the sound of popping champagne corks the previous morning it was to celebrate Heart and Dart being the first species to reach the 100 mark for the year so far.
After another more or less fog-bound day, emptying the moth trap on Saturday 12th was really exciting, for the first time this year. Top of the list in a haul of 110 moths of 51 species was our first ever Striped Hawk-moth, a notable migrant from Europe, along with newbies for the year in Ochreous Pug, Scorched Wing, Light Emerald, Mottled Rustic, Large Yellow Underwing and Barred Straw. A walk along the dismantled railway was much better for butterflies, including our first Meadow Brown of the year, though the downside was our collection of 6 ticks!
So, Wednesday 9th was this week’s shopping day, but not before Dark Sword-grass and Double-striped Pug had been recorded in the moth trap. The insect theme continued later in the morning with the discovery of a Speckled Wood in the garden – the 10th butterfly species in the garden so far this year. The field behind us was cut for silage yesterday; always a sign that birds of prey might be on the lookout for goodies and around midday a commotion over the field revealed 2 Red Kites, one of which slipped away NW while the other stayed long enough for some photographs. At least one more flew NW about two hours later.
Tuesday 8th was something of a curate’s egg, starting with nearly being wiped out as we crossed the road below Corfe Castle by a driver indicating to turn left with no intention of doing so. Having escaped that examination we climbed to the ridge above the castle in search of Lulworth Skipper (we had seen them here on the opposite ridge a few years ago) but failed to find any. However, butterflies that were there included ca20 Common Blues, 7 Small Heaths, 3 Painted Ladies, 2 Speckled Woods, an Orange Tip and a worn Adonis Blue. There were also several Bee Orchids on the south-facing slope. Earlier, the moth trap came up with firsts for the year in Clouded Border, Middle-barred Minor and Snout.
It was still cloudy at home after a light overnight shower on Sunday 6th so we decided to try Portland Bill before the world and his wife got going, but arrived to find the sea shrouded by fog and the fog horn on the lighthouse blaring gleefully. However, the grassland just inland of the car park was warm and quite interesting for insects, including the pretty micro Scoparia pyralella, a couple of Small Blues and several Yellow Belles. A lingering (breeding?) Wheatear was just about the only avian interest except for the local Rock Pipits that seem oblivious to the tourists surrounding them.
Earlier, the moth trap turned up a Delicate (a migrant or the offspring of last autumn’s influx?), Bright-line Brown-eye, Buff Ermine and Dark Arches.
Saturday 5th was another lovely sunny day. We decided to avoid the crowds as much as possible by walking eastward from East Fleet towards Ferrybridge, getting as far as the outskirts of Chickerell. Avian interest amounted to a Stonechat, 7 Great Crested Grebes, a Med. Gull calling over The Fleet and 2 singing Lesser Whitethroats. As for butterflies, in descending order of abundance we saw Speckled Wood, Small Heath, Red Admiral and Holly and Common Blues. Last night’s moth newbies included Privet Hawk-moth, Oak-tree Pug and Orange Footman, following Sallow Kitten and Vine’s Rustic on Thursday night.
Thursday 3rd. Burnished Brass and Eyed Hawk-moth were new for the year yesterday, followed this morning by Flame, White-point, Spectacle, Clouded Silver, Shark, Common Carpet and Common Wainscot in a catch of 44 of 25 species: the best of the year so far. There were also 8 Silver Ys and a Diamond-back, so some immigration is afoot.
Tuesday 1st. Time to review our moth trapping efforts in May which amounted to 38 macro and 9 micro species in 18 sessions, which would have been even worse had it not been for the final few days of the month. New for the year last night were Sharp-angled Peacock, Figure of 80, Setaceous Hebrew Character and Small Square-spot, which doesn’t appear to be going through the same sharp decline here that is evident in Kent.
In an hour along the disused railway 2 Speckled Woods, a Holly Blue and a Small White were the sum of butterflies to be seen, but moths were more interesting, with several Nettle-taps and singles of Esperia sulphurella and Alabonia geoffrella.