Category Archives: Butterflies and Moths

Camberwell Beauty

Flamborough, 25th August 2006

Some memories don’t fade. This one is a non-avian event which is one of my best non-birding memories ever. And its anniversary is coming around so…

Rich Baines and I had been poodling around Flamborough Head, birding on a balmy day. Can’t for the life of me remember if we saw anything else. We were just arriving back at his home (almost opposite where I live now) when we both had our attention grabbed by a large dark butterfly. Now both Red Admirals and Peacocks can kind of look large and dark. What it was about this one exactly I don’t know. But my reaction was different. With rising panic there was a ‘stop the car, ‘stop the car’… wondering wondering- when suddenly it came to rest on the wall next to us. CAMBERWELL BEAUTY!!!!

It rested for not more than a few seconds- all credit to Richard for getting me winding the window down, leaning over and firing off a couple of shots. Because I was in a trance-like state!  After a few seconds it took flight and we quickly lost it. We put the word out, and several folk tried to ‘twitch’ it. Even though a nearby buddleia was burgeoning with both flowers and common butterly speces, we never saw it again. And by the way- once on the wing- it flew. I mean it seemed to fly about twice the speed of the other butterflies!

I’ve had my CAMBERWELL DAY.  No idea how you predict a ‘Camberwell Year’ or what conditions give optimum hope of seeing one, but I hope you have one some day if not already. 🙂


Camberwell Beauty DAY 1 (1 of 1)

Camberwell Beauty DAY 2 (1 of 1)


Scarce Tortoiseshell

aka Yellow-legs

Thanks to Will Brame who sent these images of a Scarce Tortoiseshell, also known as Yellow-legged Tortoiseshell. He found this one in Suffolk earlier this spring. In the butterfly world it’s an amazing find and follows an unprecedented arrival into Britain of about 7 Scarce Tortoiseshells last July 2014.

There was only one previous record- in 1953 of  a species which normally only occurs east of a line from the Baltic to the Adriatic- eastern Europe and Asia through to China. Some migrant occasionally reach up into Finland and southern Sweden, and its thought some of these proceed to head west into the Netherlands subsequently reaching eastern Britain. Apologies to Will for the late posting. Some of us have been keeping a keen eye out in East Yorkshire. No luck yet though…


IMG_6819 IMG_6822

above- Scarce Tortoiseshell in Suffolk by Will Brame- showing some leg. All photos above by Will Brame.

 How to Identify them? 

This book is a real boon- just published in early 2015, it even mentions the July 2014 arrival. It does a superb job at helping the learners like me to learn the differences between Small Tortoiseshell, Large Tortoiseshell and Scarce Tortoiseshell. see below:


Britain’s Butterflies:k10469
A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Britain and Ireland
Fully Revised and Updated Third edition
David Newland, Robert Still, Andy Swash & David Tomlinson





tort three (1 of 1)tort two (1 of 1)

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.

Olive Tree Pearl

Palpita vitrealis and other migrant moths

Martin Garner

At last. Living now at the and of Flamborough Head I expected some interesting moths. Catches in my first few weeks have been poor. However no rain and some south-easterlies overnight on 16th-17th October spurred me on together with visiting birders next door. Only a few moths but what a selection! Thanks to Burnley’s Graham Gavaghan for his ID’s.

Best of the moths was the beautiful white and delicate micro moth called Olive Tree Pearl. Billed as a migrant that normally only reaches southern coastal counties in Britain- it is therefore very rare as far north as Flamborough.

Check out this bit of info on the species from UK Moths

Two more migrants included the scarce Rusty-dot Pearl and a couple of Rush Veneers. I thought Goldcrests crossing the North Sea was pretty staggering. These things crossing such large bodies of water. Well I am into the incomprehensible zone. Just wow.

Olive Tree Pearl Palpita vitrealis 1408

Olive Tree Pearl  Palpita vitrealis. Flamborough 17th October 2014

Olive Tree Pearl Palpita vitrealis. Flamborough 17th October 2014


Olive Tree Pearl  Palpita vitrealis. Flamborough 17th October 2014

Olive Tree Pearl Palpita vitrealis. Flamborough 17th October 2014

This map below from the excellent Yorkshire Moths show the status of Olive Tree Pearl Palpita vitrealis in Yorkshire.


palpita vitrealis


Rusty-dot Pearl Udea ferrugalis 1395

Some info on the species form UK Moths.

Rusty-dot Pearl Flamborough 17th October 2014

Rusty-dot Pearl Flamborough 17th October 2014

rusty dot pearl

Rush Veneer Nomophila noctuella 1398

Rush Veneer, Flamborough 17th October 2014

Rush Veneer, Flamborough 17th October 2014

Better go switch the trap on…

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

Spurge Hawk-moth


An old write-up, reposted  just in case I ever find one 😉

Oh wow oh wow oh wow

I know these were also reported as Steve Job’s dying words. I also use these kind of words with some unexpected encounters with nature. I did with these as correctly identified by some blog followers. Caterpillars of the Spurge Hawk-moth just look amazing. It’s very a rare as a flying moth in Britain and only one record of the caterpillar. For more see here.

I saw some on Linosa, thanks to Andrea Corso who was ‘grazing them’.



The Continental Swallowtail Butterfly ssp. gorganus

in Dorset and south British coast. Identifying individuals.

MG: Please excuse my ignorance. I thought there was one place you could see the beautiful Swallowtail Butterfly in Britain. Somewhere on the Norfolk Broads, associated with Milk Parsley plants. There. That’s the end of my knowledge on the British Swallowtail. Indeed I didn’t even know it was especially ‘British’. Well it is. Thanks to Steve Smith who got in touch I have learnt much more. The Norfolk Swallowtails really are British- the indigenous British subspecies Papilio machaon britannicus limited to… you guessed it, the Norfolk Broads. Lots more on the excellent UK Butterflies site.

However there is a continental form Papilio machaon gorganus which rarely crosses the channel into southern England. Last summer (2013) was an exceptional year with gorganus Swallowtails reported in Hampshire, Sussex, Kent and Bucks. And it seems they did the quite unexpected, breeding and overwintering successfully and appearing this summer.

In addition adults on the wing were discovered earlier this month in Dorset. Steve tells the full story on his blog, so with these photos to whet the appetite please visit Steve’s site. Read about his discoveries and how he is exploring to see if individual butterflies can be specifically identified by their discrete wing markings.

all photos below by Steve Smith. Read all about the gorganus Swallowtails in Dorset:

               post on the discovery                     post on further explorations

worn swallow


swallowtail one

Swallowtail B: Left forewing (2 July 14) – Yellow patch A is almost square (Swallowtail A – it a longer & flattened oval) & black band C has 3 distinct triangular edges on left hand side (Swallowtail A – it’s smooth)

swall tail