Fan-foot, Dun-bar and the Silver Y

Silver Y Moth, Autographa gammasilver yAlthough it’s years since I last saw a Silver Y moth, Autographa gamma, I didn’t have any difficulty in putting a name to it, thanks to the conspicuous calligraphic Y on its wing. This is the first time that it has turned up inSilver Y sketch the moth trap and that could be because, as an immigrant each year to Britain, it has taken until now to reach Yorkshire.


dun-barThere are so many brownish, streaked little moths, both micro and macro, that I find drawing them gives me my best chance of picking out the pattern as I look through the field guide. Taking a close look at this, I noticed that the two bands and the inconspicuous dot made a pattern like a carnival mask, enabling me to identify it as the Dun-bar, Cosmia trapezina, a common moth from lowland Scotland southwards, wherever there are trees.



While I sketched these moths Barbara went through the book and came up with a name for this obscure-looking delta-winged little moth. It’s the Fan-foot, Zanclognatha tarsipennalis, a common moth of woods, hedges and gardens.

The the three lines on its wing are;

  1. curved/wavy
  2. like a question mark
  3. almost straight

with a row of fine dashes along the edge of the wing.

Orange Swift

orange swift

Lets have an easier moth; the male of the Orange Swift, Hepialus sylvina, has a bright orange-brown forewing. It’s larvae feed on herbceous plants including dock, dandelion and bracken.


small yellow underwinglarge yellow underwingThese two underwings are so regular in the moth trap that I tend to ignore them so that I thought it was about time that I made a quick sketch of them.

Pentax Prints

shoe on the beach 1973

Pentax Spotmatic 1000Rummaging through my file drawer for some photographs for an article I was surprised to find that I still have the negatives from a three week course that I took at the Royal College of Art in early spring, 1974 including this old shoe on the strandline taken on a day trip to the south coast.

contact prints

Looking through them brings back vivid memories of that period, for instance, these contact prints from the still life session include long forgotten details of my everyday life; keyring, pens, bus ticket and anorak label.

Read more in my article Just handle a Pentax in the Retro Tech series in the Currys photography blog.

Who do I think I am?

family tree

John JonesI’M PULLING together my year of research into our family tree into a series of mini-biographies of some of the key characters starting with John Jones, one of my maternal great-grandfathers (left). He was blacksmith from Connah’s Quay, north Wales, near the border with England.

Tracing a Jones family in Wales is tricky as it’s such a common surname and so far I’ve made only limited progress. Now is a good time to go over what I do know and consider the questions that I need to be ask next if I’m going to take things further.

I’m using Apple’s iBook Author to produce an illustrated PDF document that I can e-mail to other members of the family and print out for my mum.

As it’s not for general publication so I don’t have to think about the wider audience or the limitations of print. It’s an opportunity to experiment with the design.

Blue Sky Research

family treeI want to start with the basics and show John’s position on our family tree without all the subsidiary branches.  I was considering a simple hand-lettered diagram but then I thought wouldn’t it be more inviting in a digital publication to have something in colour, something like the image that they use in the television series Who do you think you are?; an oak tree in a green meadow spreading its branches into a blue sky.

As I was thinking that I looked out of the studio window and saw a cloudscape that I thought would do just fine. I took a couple of pictures of it one with the exposure set for the sky, the other set for the wood, and I stitched them together in Photoshop.

So that’s my starting point; my mum, her parents and her grandad John. On average one eighth of my genes must come down from him.

timelineThe blue sky is a suitable metaphor for the blank canvas that you’re faced with when you start researching your family tree but when I think about times past I don’t think of a vertical axis, like so many in the west I’m in the habit of seeing action as starting on the left and running to the right and my image of the past 2000 years is of a band, like a film strip, curving back into the past.

The Common-Clay

obscure moth

As you can see from this photograph taken in the bug box, this is a small moth, just 16 or 17 millimetres long.
As you can see from this photograph taken in the bug box, this is a small moth, just 16 or 17 millimetres long.

I’VE FOUND some striking looking moths in the light trap in recent weeks but I thought that it was time to turn my attention to the commoner but obscure species that I generally ignore.

obscure mothI’ve been thinking of this moth as a ‘clay’, as it resembles a variable little moth called the ingrailed clay but there are probably a dozen other noctuid moths in the field guide that are possibilities.

Drawing it from one of the photographs I took is my attempt to take in its markings; most prominent of which, or should I say the least obscure, are the kidney-shaped marking and the adjacent oval on each of its forewings but most noctuid moths have these.

As usual, any suggestions as to its identity would be very welcome.


gothicgothicTHE FIRST THING that struck me when I saw this moth in the light trap was the tracery on its wings. Now that I know it is the gothic, Naenia typica, I can see that it resembles the patterns found in the stained glass windows of gothic cathedrals. Its relative the Bordered Gothic dispenses with the pointed tops to the arches and has more of an Art Nouveau look, as if it had been designed by Aubrey Beardsley rather than Hugh of Lincoln or Bram Stoker.

The larvae feed on a range of wild and cultivated plants including willowherb, cleavers, comfrey and sallow.

Mother of Pearl

mother of pearl

The photograph that I made my pencil and watercolour sketch from. This was easier than squinting into the bug box, which is how I drew the pen and watercolour sketches.
The photograph that I made my pencil and watercolour sketch from. This was easier than squinting into the bug box, which is how I drew the smaller sketches.

I KEPT THINKING of the patterns on sea-shells as I drew this moth, the mother of pearl, Pleuroptya ruralis. At 15-17 mm, three-quarters of an inch, it’s no midget but it’s classified as a micro-moth, one of the Crambidae, a group which also includes grass-moths, china-marks and the small magpie.

mother of pearl

You might disturb the mother of pearl in daylight in a nettle patch. Its green larva rolls a nettle leaf for protection. Its larvae will also feed on elms.

Caught in the moth trap 21-22 July.

Early Thorn

Drawn from my own photograph, which can be easier than peering into a bug box.
Drawn from my own photograph, which can be easier than peering into a bug box.

AT FIRST GLANCE you might think ‘butterfly’ as the Early Thorn, Selenia dentaria, is the only Thorn moth to hold its wings up in butterfly fashion.

You might be thinking that late July doesn’t qualify as ‘Early’ but this is a female of the second generation, which  usually has a larger tawny orange patch on its underwing than the February to May generation.

As the name suggests, she might well be looking for a blackthorn or hawthorn to lay her eggs on, there are plenty in the immediate vicinity, but the larvae will also feed on birch, alder, honeysuckle, sallow or bog-myrtle. They’re common in a wide variety of habitats including gardens, hedges and woods so they should feel at home here.


moth trapTHIS IS the moth trap that I’ve been using. It’s built from a design that you can find in the Anglian Lepidopterist Supplies Beginners Guide to Moth Trapping, which is available as a PDF from the Anglian Lepidopterist Supplies website. It slots together so it’s easy to dismantle for storage.

blacklightI bought the black light UV bulb in September, intending to have the trap ready for the moths of early autumn but by Christmas I still hadn’t made a start on it so I’m grateful to my friend David Stubbs of Solway Dory who made this for me in his workshop.

He made one modification to the design which isn’t essential but which I’ve found helpful; the original design is apparently open to the ground so he added a plywood base that rests on batons of 1×1 inch timber glued around the bottom edges of the trap. This is useful on a summer morning when I need to move the trap into the shade to deal with later.

A further improvement that I have in mind: I’m checking in charity shops to see if I can find a suitable heatproof glass container, such as a large cafetière, to cover the bulb so that if there’s a shower during the night it will be protected.

I didn’t want to run the cable out of a window so I had an outdoor electrical socket with a circuit breaker fitted on the back wall of the house, which is a useful thing to have anyway.

Mercury Vapour or UV?

A couple of friends who’ve had experience of moth-trapping recommended that I start with a UV lamp rather than the more powerful mercury vapour. Apart from potentially annoying the neighbours in a back garden location like mine, the mercury vapour brings in so many moths from such a wide area that it can be daunting for the beginner to deal with quantity and variety of species caught.

My friend Tim Freed who does moth surveys sometimes runs three traps simultaneously but he stops up all night going from one to the other logging the catch.

I’m happier to be dealing with much smaller samples of the local moth population but I hope that I’ll be able to keep this up through the seasons and gradually get an impression of the bigger picture.

I’ve got a number of moth books but I think the essentials are Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland by Paul Waring and Martin Townsend and Field Guide to the Micro Moths of Great Britain and Ireland by Phil Sterling and Mark Parsons. Both are illustrated by Richard Lewington.

Moths are so variable that its helpful to check out other books and to Google the species and conjure up dozens of images of it.

Pond-dipping the Movie

smooth newt
This smooth newt is a male; note the banner-like tail.

WE CAUGHT smooth newts, freshwater leeches and pond snails in one of the ponds at Hassacarr nature reserve, Dunnington Common, near York on this morning’s Wakefield Naturalists Society field meeting. This is only the second occasion on which I’ve tried out the possibilities of underwater movies using my Olympus μ Tough so using the iMovie app I’ve put together a few clips in this YouTube video.

Sketching the newt as it swam around the tank gives some impression of its movements but you can’t improve on the video clip in the way it shows the looping movement of the leech.

Tubular Water Dropwort

Seed-heads of tubular water-dropwort.
Seed-heads of tubular water-dropwort.

Tubular water-dropwortTubular Water-dropwort, Oenanthe fistulosa, grows around the edges of the largest pond. It one of the rarer species to be found on the reserve, declining as its wetland habitats disappear.

Around York, a city long famous for its flooding, wetlands is sometimes seen as prime real estate. Earlier this year one developer was frustrated that his plan to build an out of town department store was held up for several months because the resident population of great crested newts had to be relocated.

We found no great crested today at Dunnington but they are often found on pond-dipping days on the reserve.

Little Brown Moths

dropping mothTHIS SMALL moth, black arches, appears to be disguised as a bird dropping or a dried crust of lichen. Like most moths, it holds itself flat against the surface that it is resting on so that its outline would blend seamlessly with a similar background.

old leaf moth


The large yellow underwing seems to have gone to a lot of effort in the design of its veins, tufts, random blemishes and high ‘collar’ to give itself a resemblance to a dry, dead leaf. It sat tight the whole time that I was drawing it so I didn’t get to see it flash its hindwings.


A restless little moth flies around in the container that I’ve put it in. It looks like a smaller, less distinct version of the double square-spot moths that often turn up in the moth trap.

The least distinct of this batch of moths.


Its slightly smaller companion in the container isn’t so restless. This little moth has a double-wave pattern on its wings.

The nearest thing that I can see in the book in a pine processionary but we’re nearer to broadleaved woodland so I think that is unlikely.


Finally another small moth and the least distinct in this batch. Whenever a moth like this turns up I’m tempted to call it an ingrailed clay as that species is so varied in size and pattern, but there are a lot of similar looking moths. It’s evidently a design classic, one that ensures the moth’s survival.

Also caught in the trap this morning: peppered moth (light form as always), flame, heart and dart, double square-spot, shoulder-striped wainscot and a second large yellow underwing which did show its colourful hindwings as it flew away.