Author Archives: tonydavisonsimplybirdsandmoths

Migrant Moths

Autumn – One of the best times of the year for catching Migrant Moths
By Tony Davison

Trapping rare moths seems to be a topical and exciting subject at this time. As Birders are keen to see rare vagrant and rare migrant birds during the autumn months, so too are Moth-ers keen to trap vagrant immigrant moths. The parallels in the two subjects are incredible and it never ceases to amaze me how such delicate insects can travel hundreds of miles and drop into a moth trap, usually in excellent condition, simply Mind Blowing. Similar to the way that the small Yellow-browed Warbler, Pallas’s Warbler and Goldcrest (The “Sprites”) arrive on our shores after a strong Easterly blow. These birds travel vast distances and again, Mind Blowing..

Convolvulus 021614Convolvulous Hawkmoth – A very large and common migrant moth from southern Europe – It may now be breeding in southern England and often does on the Isles of Scilly.

Over the years a wide variety of rare moths have been recorded in Britain. Usually the months of September and October are the best. Most arrive from Southern Europe and the Tropics and their arrival usually coincides with warm southerly high pressure systems, coming up from North Africa, the Azores, Canary Islands and Madeira. Murky weather with fine drizzle and south, southeasterly winds can be superb.

Antigastra catalaunalis 06 116Antigastra catalaunalis – A vagrant/accidental migrant from the Tropics and Southern Europe

Palpita vitrealis 06 161Palpita vitrealis (Olive Tree Pearl) – A scarce migrant from Southern Europe

There is no greater thrill than finding a rare migrant moth in the trap. It can sometimes be a MEGA, or even a first for Britain no less.

Hodebertia testalis 06 149 copyHodebertia testalis – This specimen was a first for Britain. Trapped on St. Mary’s, Isles of Scilly on 18th October 2006. This individual arrived at a time of high migrant moth activity. I was fortunate to see and photograph the specimen on 19th October, before it was sent off to the Natural History Museum, for confirmation of it’s identity. In “mothing” terms, a MEGA, an awesome moment and it doesn’t get much better than this.

One of the best places in Britain for trapping rare migrant moths is on the Isles of Scilly and over the years I have been fortunate to have caught a number of good immigrant moths whilst on holiday on the small island of St. Agnes.

Merveille du Jour 027613Merveille du Jour – This specimen was certainly the “Wonder of the Day”. I found it in my trap on 15th October 2006, whilst moth trapping during my holiday week on St.Agnes, it was a first record for the Isles of Scilly.

Vestal 06 164Vestal – Pink individuals indicate long distance migration from warm climates.

Hymenia recurvalis 06 236  Hymenia recurvalis – A rare autumn migrant from the tropics. This specimen was the 2nd record for St. Agnes, Isles of Scilly – October 2006.

Old World Webworm 06 226Helula undalis (Old World Webworm) A rare migrant from the tropics

Delicate 037615Delicate – A common migrant often arriving in large numbers – It may breed in Southern and SW Britain.

Gem 081616Gem – A scarce migrant from Southern Europe and North Africa. The Gem can be an indicator of good migrant activity.

The arrival of migrant moths are not limited to our of islands and coastal areas. Many get trapped by moth enthusiasts from a number of inland counties. For example, from my small South Derbyshire garden, I have caught a variety of good migrant moths over the years. A second record of Ni Moth for Derbyshire, several Rusty Dot Pearl, Small Mottled Willow, Vestal and Scarce Bordered Straw, all vagrants to my county.

ni-moth3Ni Moth – This specimen was a complete surprise, I nearly passed it off as a Silver Y. A second record for Derbyshire.

Scarce Bordered Straw 16th Sept06 025 Scarce Bordered Straw – During the autumn of 2006, an unprecedented arrival of this species occurred in Britain. During this invasion, the species was added to the Derbyshire list

Small Mottled Willow 06 112Small Mottled Willow – A common migrant but a scarce immigrant to Derbyshire

Rusty Dot Pearl 9158593Udea ferrugalis (Rusty Dot Pearl) trapped in my garden as recent as 16th October 2014

Dark Sword-grass 06 055Dark Sword Grass – A common migrant that can turn up anywhere, during any month.

Crimson Speckled 06 268Crimson Speckled – One of the most sort after rare moths.

In recent years, moth trapping has become an increasingly popular hobby, especially amongst Birders. There are possibly more people “Moth Trapping” now than in the last 20 years. The status of Britain’s moths has recently been published in a superb book by Butterfly Conservation. Millions of records of moths are now held by the National Moth Recording Scheme (NMRS), and a comprehensive picture is now beginning to emerge. This can only be achieved by the many Moth Recorders submitting their records. As more people become involved in moth trapping and recording, the knowledge of our moth population and our ability to conserve and protect it, will undoubtedly improve.

Colour Forms

Comparisons between colour forms of bird, moth and butterfly

By Tony Davison

As I’ve said before, it never ceases to amaze me how often I see  many comparisons       between bird, moth and butterfly. The following analysis is in no way intended to be      scientific, it is simply my observations relating to to three examples of colour forms in bird, moth and butterfly, one in particular being dimorphism.

The Skuas are renowned for having dark, light and intermediate colour phases. In these plumages, identification can prove to be difficult. Glyn Sellors© has kindly supplied me with two images of Long-tailed Skua – Stercorarius longicaudus, to show a dark phase  (juvenile) and a pale phase (adult).

1279E-07 NORWAY-JUNE-2011901Z

In moths, one of the best examples of colour form is in the Peppered Moth – Biston betularia. These days the usual variety, especially in rural areas, is white “peppered” with black spots and speckling across the wings and body. The dark melanic colour form – carbonaria, is sooty black, with tiny white spots at the base of the forewing and was once very common being associated with industrial areas where there were high levels of pollution. With cleaner air controls in place and smokeless zones etc, the melanic form is now only present in small numbers throughout populations and is on the decline.

Peppered-Moth-June29th2008-004Peppered Moth melanic form carbonaria

The Map Butterfly – Araschnia levana, is well noted for its seasonal dimorphism. The spring brood is predominantly orange-brown (form levana), whilst the second brood, that emerges in the summer months, is black (form prorsa). To the untrained eye, they can appear to be two completely different species.These colour forms are determined by the length of day in the larva stage and it is not clear what, if any, advantages this holds for the species. My thanks go to Barrie Staley© for providing the photo of the spring colour form taken in Poland during May 2007. The summer colour form is one of my photographs, taken during my recent trip to Bulgaria in July 2014.

DSCN1070-MapMap 9892281

One and the Same

The Common Marbled Carpet – Dysstroma truncata is a very variable species and can sometimes cause a few problems with ID

By Tony Davison

When I opened up my Moth Trap this morning, there were two main highlights from an otherwise very poor session. 1) A new species for my garden and a new photo for my website – Currant Pug – 2) Four colour forms of Common Marbled Carpet, presenting me with a great photo opportunity to capture the different colour forms of this species.

Common Marbled Carpet is a highly variable moth and one form that is unmistakeable has a large orange central patch on the forewing. There are numerous other forms that are a combination of greys, blacks and browns that can cause confusion with the Dark Marbled Carpet – Dysstroma citrata. The best and most reliable feature to separate citrata from truncata is the central “twin-peaked” projection of outer edge of central band on forewing which is longer and more pointed on citrata. Common Marbled Carpet is now on the wing.

Common-Marbled-Carpet-61884179 Common-Marbled-Carpet-62014181 Common-Marbled-Carpet-62274183 Common-Marbled-Carpet-62344182

Early Spring Moths & Butterflies

By Tony Davison

Recent warm spring weather brings out early Moths and Butterflies

The recent warm spring sunshine has seen the first few spring butterflies emerge from their hibernation. The past few weeks Brimstone, Red Admiral, Peacock, Comma and Small Tortoiseshell have all been on the wing 

It is amazing that such delicate insects as butterflies and some moths, can find a warm dry place and then hibernate for some four months during our winter, only to reappear in the spring as if by magic. One of the wonders of nature.

Early spring moths are now appearing in our moth traps. These are usually the first moths that one encounters when first getting involved in the fascinating hobby of “Mothing”. As spring progresses and the evenings become a little warmer, the species count will improve. Here is a selection of common spring moths to look out for.


Clouded Drab – Extremely variable in colour


Common Quaker – A small moth and easily recognised by rounded tip to the forewing, rounded, pale outlined kidney mark and oval. Quite variable in colour.


Hebrew Character – The black mark in the forewing, from which this moth gets its name, is unique to spring flying moths.


March Moth – A distinctive looking moth that is triangular shaped, grey in colour and the obvious over-lapping forewings are diagnostic. Delicate in build. The females are completely wingless.


Oak Beauty – A large spring moth, easily identified by the two broad brown cross-bands running through the forewing. Ground colour varies. As the name suggests, this moth is a real beauty. The male has feathered antennae.


Twin-spotted Quaker – The two black spots, roughly half way along inner edge of the faint outermost cross-line, are distinctive. Ground colour often a tawny brown. A rather broad and curved forewing. Dark centre to the pale outlined kidney mark.

Good “Mothing”

Winter Birding in New Jersey, USA

By Tony Davison

The Sea Duck of Barnegat Jetty and Avalon, NJ, USA.

From the 7th to the 13th February, along with three birding friends, I visited New Jersey and specifically Barnegat Jetty, Avalon and the Cape May Peninsular. Our quest was to try and photograph the variety of Scoter and other Sea Duck that frequent the area. There is also a regular flock of Harlequin Duck off Barnegat and these offered even more excitement. It was also my first birding trip to the USA and so I knew I was in for a treat and a rack of new birds.

During the week we also visited Stone Harbor, Brigantine and various sites along Cape May for woodland birds and none Wildfowl. We were blessed with great weather until the 13th Feb, when all hell broke loose with an ice storm, strong wind & heavy snow, at least 10 inches fell in the New York area. Life still went on though and as normal and despite a three hour delay on our return flight, we managed to get out before the real bad weather hit the area.

The sea duck were simply incredible with thousands of Black Scoter off shore at Barnegat and Avalon, emitting their eerie “cooing call notes”, hundreds of Long-tailed Duck or Oldsquaw as they are affectionately know, also emitting a strange “Yodelling” sound that carries some distance and close quarter encounters with Harlequin and Surf Scoter. A few White-winged Scoter and plenty of Common Loon, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser, Scaup, American Herring Gull and a large flock of very friendly Purple Sandpiper, on the Jetty at Barnegat. All made for some tremendous photographic opportunities.

Barnegat Jetty, Long Island, NJ, USA - Tony Davison

Barnegat Jetty, Long Island, NJ, USA – Tony Davison

Barnegat jetty

Barnegat Lighthouse State Park, NJ is located at the northern end of Long Beach Island and the Barnegat Jetty is a MUST-VISIT destination during the cold winter months. The Jetty is effectively a sea defence wall built of huge granite boulders and juts out into the sea for about a mile. Once out at the end it was like the arctic, with a freezing cold wind chill factor but some remarkable birding sights. The main attraction are the wintering Harlequin Ducks but there are also many other sea ducks that offer close quarter viewing. The Blue Mussels are the food attraction to the sea duck, and the rocks are covered in them. We visited Barnegat twice during our stay and on the second visit, we had some remarkable views of a flock of 35 Surf Scoter of varying ages.

The first birds to be encountered on the jetty are the American Herring Gulls, in a variety of age and plumage.

Adult winter American Herring Gull - Barnegat Jetty - Tony Davison

Adult winter American Herring Gull – Barnegat Jetty – Tony Davison

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Adult Great Black-backed Gull - Barnegat Jetty - Tony Davison

Adult Great Black-backed Gull – Barnegat Jetty – Tony Davison

Then came the variety of sea duck and in particular, the incredible “Harlies” of the feathered kind, rather than machine kind!! Stunningly beautiful birds, apart from the females!!

Adult female Harlequin Duck off Barnegat Jetty - Tony Davison

Adult female Harlequin Duck off Barnegat Jetty – Tony Davison

Above five images - Adult Drake Harlequin - Barnegat Jetty - Tony Davison

Above images – Adult Drake Harlequin – Barnegat Jetty – Tony Davison


Adult drake Bufflehead - Barnegat Jetty - Tony Davison

Adult drake Bufflehead – Barnegat Jetty – Tony Davison

Above three images  American Black Scoter off Barnegat Jetty Tony Davison

Above three images American Black Scoter off Barnegat Jetty Tony Davison


LTDuck-05083800 LTDuck-13043828 LTDuck-13233829Above three images  Drake Long-tailed Duck Barnegat Jetty Tony Davison


Surf-Scoter-32073843 Surf-Scoter-32373844Above three images  Surf Scoter  Barnegat Jetty  Tony Davison

Red-B-Merg-04903799Drake Red-breasted Merganser  Barnegat Jetty  Tony Davison


RBMerg-054238021st winter drake Red-breasted Merganser  Barnegta Jetty  Tony Davison

Purple-Sand-06003805 Purple-Sand-05843804Above two images Purple Sandpiper  Barnegat Jetty Point  Tony Davison

Another site that we visited several times was Avalon, situated between The Wildwoods Township and Atlantic City. Avalon and Stone Harbor share a barrier island named Seven Mile Beach and Avalon comprises the north side of the island. The area is a huge sea bay that attracts thousands of Scoter and other sea duck. The Jetties offer the best spots for viewing but accessing them without disturbing the birds is very tricky. Extreme care needs to be taken when walking on the Jetty Stones. We viewed from the main Jetty over-looking Townsends Inlet and encountered thousands of Black Scoter, with smaller numbers of Surf and White-winged Scoter including one superb male. Hundreds of Long-tailed Ducks were also mixed in. The calls of the birds could immediately be heard as we got out the car on arrival. A fantastic sound and site, once we started viewing.


A view of Avalon Bay  Tony Davison

Avalon-07633853Avalon Jetty  Tony Davison

WWScoter-drake-19913836Drake White-winged Scoter  Avalon  Tony Davison

Scoter-18663835Part of the Scoter flock off Avalon  spot the 2 WWS  Tony Davison

GNDiver-14373834Common Loon Tony Davison

Brant-33033848Brant  Tony Davison

A fantastic trip to a beautiful part of the world. Thank goodness the weather was on our side otherwise it would have been a completely different story.

2013 – A Butterfly Revival

According to a number of recent publications, the long hot summer of 2013 has helped to revive many of our species of British Butterfly. The recent Big Butterfly Count that was conducted by Butterfly Conservation during the summer, recorded four times the number of butterflies this year as during the same period in 2012.

More than 44,000 people took part, recording a staggering 830,000 butterflies. Not surprisingly, due to the extreme numbers that I saw during the summer, the whites did very well with both Large White & Small White numbers up by more than 300% on 2012.

In top place was Small White, with Large White second and Peacock in third place, quiet a surprise. The Small Tortoiseshell that has suffered in recent years, seems to have made a come back and came in at sixth place in the rankings. Some 15 of the 21 Big Butterfly Count species increased in numbers this year and 12 were up by at least 50%.  Although there are still many species that are struggling, it is fantastic news to see that some of our British Butterflies have bounced back in such a way, thanks mainly to a hot and sunny summer. Long may it continue.

With late autumn approaching, there is still time to observe several varieties of our favourite winged insect and if we get any warm southerly winds, that often bring a few rare migrant birds to our shores, keep a look out for one or two rare butterflies. How about a Queen of Spain Fritillary or a Short-tailed Blue, maybe on the Isles of Scilly in October. Clouded Yellow can still arrive in good numbers in favourable weather conditions.

The Isles of Scilly has a sub-species of Speckled Wood which is on the wing throughout October and in the warm autumn sunshine there should be plenty of Red Admiral and Peacock, maybe Comma and Painted Lady and the odd Small Copper to brighten up the day and enjoy before the approach of winter.


An immigrant Painted Lady at Spurn during the weekend of 25th August, when there was a huge fall of  migrant birds along the East Coast of England. Records of Painted Lady often coincide with bird migration – Tony Davison©


There were small numbers of Painted Lady at Spurn on 25th August 2013. Tony Davison©


The Peacock  can be on the wing into October if we have an “Indian Summer”.


This Red Admiral was feeding on Buddleia at Spurn Point. This could also have been a migrant. An incredible record of  a Plain Tiger, a first record for Britain of this stunning African species, was also recorded at Spurn during this period of high bird migration activity from Southern Europe. . Tony Davison©


A migrant Queen of Spain could easily turn up in late autumn. Tony Davison©


Look out for Clouded Yellow on the south coast & Isles of Scilly in October. Tony Davison©


The rare Short-tailed Blue can often arrive on the south coast during the autumn. This one has lost it’s “Tails” making identification rather tricky. Tony Davison©


The Small Tortoiseshell has seen somewhat of a recovery this year. This one was photographed at Spurn during the weekend of 25th August. There were many on the wing at this time. Tony Davison©


Small Tortoiseshell photographed in Dorset during early September, again there were many on the wing enjoying the late hot summer sunshine. Tony Davison©


The Isles of Scilly has a sub-species of Speckled Wood – Pararge aegeria insula, which has more orange markings than the nominate and other sub-species P.a.tircis that occur in BritainTony Davison©

UK Butterflies Suffer Another Set-Back

With 2013 recording one of the coldest springs for 50 odd years, our British Butterflies have suffered a further set-back. Many have been late to emerge and our rarer species are now on the wing anything up to several weeks later than would be expected.

Butterfly Conservation have stated in an article I read recently, that the Pearl-bordered Fritillary did not emerge until April 27th (usually this species is on the wing by April 1st). The rare and endangered Wood White was first seen in early May (On the wing in 2012 by April 10th) and the Duke of Burgundy was only on the wing in late April, (up to three weeks later than 2012).


Grizzled Skipper


Pearl-bordered Fritillary


Duke of Burgundy


Wood White

2012 was a complete washout year and one of the worst years on record for our British Butterflies. Many species are in decline. How will they fare this year with such a cold spring? Lets hope  that the weather improves and they have a successful breeding season, in order for their ever dwindling numbers to show some signs of increase.


High Brown Fritillary

During 2012 the critically endangered High Brown Fritillary saw its population drop by 46% and the Marsh Fritillary by 71%. Populations of many butterflies and moths are depressing and species that were once common during the last decade or so are now showing dramatic reductions in their range & numbers. I can’t bear the thought of not seeing a Small Tortoiseshell grace our British Countryside.

For further reading see – Butterfly Conservation’s publication “The State of Britain’s Larger Moths 2013” and “The State of Butterflies in Britain and Ireland”.


Small Tortoiseshell