Sunday, 22 November 2020

Radford's Flame Shoulder


If I look at the Sussex records or the Flying Tonight App, there are still a lot of moths around, that would be new and me and that I could hope to find in my trap. The so called November, December, and Winter moths should be about along with late year species like Mottled Umber, the Sprawler, Yellow Line Quaker, Spruce Carpet and Satellite. I put the trap out whenever I can but I am just not getting any of these species. My usual catch is a couple of Silver Ys and half a dozen Light Brown Apple Moths.

Then last night, some luck. Not the moths I was looking for but a Flame Shoulder sitting in the bottom of the trap along with the usual catch. I knew it was a bit late in the year for this species so that opened up the intriguing possibility of a Radford's Flame Shoulder.

The field guides say this is a rare migrant from the continent first recorded in this country in 1983 and with only 29 records prior to 2015. I think many more have been seen since then and I am aware of quite a few reports along the south coast this year. Still it was good to find a possible in the trap.

But was it a Radford's? The key ID features for the Radfords Flame Shoulder are given below the pictures. It seemed to tick some of the boxes but with my limited identification skills it was a difficult call.

Radford's Flame Shoulder - Ochropleura leucogaster

Radford's Flame Shoulder - Ochropleura leucogaster

Key criteria for the Radfords:-

Long winged compared to the Flame Shoulder  -  According to the Field Guide, on average it is only one millimeter longer. That's not something I can call looking at a single specimen although it did look a bit slimmer than my only picture of a FS.

Black streak extends beyond the kidney mark - Well yes, but not by much.

Kidney and oval marks smaller than a FS - Possible but not easy to call.

Dull brown ground cover - duller than what? it still seemed to be showing some red.

Sharp contrast between purple thorax and white patagia - I had let it go before I read this.

Clear white hindwing - I didn't see this and I still don't know how to see the hindwing on a moth without damaging the moth, which I am not prepared to do. It's going to make some future identifications difficult.

Flame along the costal edge extending well beyond the kidney mark - Yes 😀 but its only one good tick out of a possible seven.

In the end the strongest indicator was the date, with the end of November being well past the usual flight period for the Flame Shoulder.

On balance, I thought it probably was a Radford's but it is always with some trepidation that you load your identification onto the national recording system, in this case iRecord, and wait to see if some expert comes back to point out what an idiot you are. In this case I was spared that ignominy and I had another good moth to add to my garden list.

It's strange, given my previous doubts, how when I look at the pictures now, it seems so obvious that it is a RFS.

My only other new moth of late, a tiny spot on the kitchen window as it was getting dark a couple of days ago. I nearly ignored it but it turned out to be a Narrow-winged Grey. Common enough but a new one for me and they all count on the garden list.

Narrow-winged Grey - Eudonia angustea

Narrow-winged Grey - Eudonia angustea

It was good to get a bit of success but there is still a big list of winter moths that I need to look for. Roll on the next good mothing night.

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Bloxworth Snout


It's November and it's getting colder but the books tell me that there will still be some moths flying as long as the temperature stays above zero. I just haven't managed to work out which nights they will be flying on.

On Sunday, I had what I thought was quite a successful night for early November,  with twenty plus moths in the trap. Admittedly 7 of those where the Light Brown Apple Moths and 8 where Silver Ys but I also has three new moths in Black Rustic, Feathered Thorn and Scarce Umber.

Black Rustic - Aporophyla nigra  (It's a bit worn but thy all count)

Feathered Thorn - Colotois pennaria

Scarce Umber - Agriopis aurantiaria

Flushed with enthusiasm I put the trap out again last night. Having checked up on the moths still likely to be flying this late in the year, I was looking forward to finding a few more new species. Sadly it was not to be. All I found was a single Light Brown Apple Moth.

I really don't understand what makes a good mothing night. Comparing the nights of Sunday the 8th November and Tuesday the 10th, I have:-

                                    Sunday 8th             Tuesday 10th

Temp                             8-13°C                    10-13°C

Wind - gusting to          12-19Kmh                4-21Kmh

Humidity                       91%                         88%

Cloud cover                  18%                          19%

Pressure                       1019mb                    1025mb

Visibility                      Mist to Good              Good      

Moon                           51%                          29%

The only significant difference seems to be in the level of moon illumination. However, various sources suggest that, either less moths fly under a full moon illumination or UV lights are less effective during a full moon illumination. This is the reverse of what I am seeing.

The problem with this analysis is that I am only looking at my trap. It takes no account of the surrounding houses and street lights. Worst case, I could find that someone close by was running a Mercury Vapour lamp on Tuesday and had a catch of a few hundred. Still, its worth keeping a more detailed log of the weather on mothing nights and doing a bit more research.

The other moth of interest on Sunday night was my third Bloxworth Snout for the garden and my second of the weekend.

Bloxworth Snout - Hypena obsitalis
15th October 2020

Bloxworth Snout - Hypena obsitalis
8th November 2020

Bloxworth Snout - Hypena obsitalis
9th November 2020

Ten years ago it was a real rarity in Sussex. There are more sightings these days but unless 2020 has been an exceptional year, three inside three weeks suggests real beginners luck.

The Silver Ys were nice to see but would have been even nicer if one of them had been a different member of the Plusiinae subfamily.

Silver y - Autographa gamma

Other moths included a Double-striped Pug, and Olive-Tree Pearl.

Double-striped Pug - Gymnoscelis rufifasciata

I have run the trap a couple of times since my last moth blog back in September. New moths for the garden have included:-

Red-line Quaker - Agrochola lota

Clancy's Rustic - Platyperigea kadeni

Barred Sallow - Xanthia aurago

Orange Sallow - Xanthia citrago

White-point - Mythimna albipuncta

and other interesting specimens

Angle Shades - Phlogophora meticulosa

Barred Marble - Celypha striana

Pale Mottled Willow - Paradrina clavpalpis  (on Avocado)

Cypress Carpet - Thera cupressata

Olive-tree Pearl - Palpita vitrealis

The moth numbers may not be great at this time of year but the excitement of opening the trap, to check the catch, is still there. As is the disappointment when it turns out to be a single Light Brown Apple Tree Moth!

Light Brown Apple Tree Moth - Epiphyas postvittana

Roll on the next good mothing night, whenever that may be.

Thursday, 22 October 2020

Stejneger's Stonechat

In January 2017, Dave I visited  Dungeness twice and spent a good part of that time searching the area around the quarry for a suspected Siberian Stonechat, possibly a Stejneger's. We had checked the identification features but really had no idea if we would be able to identify the bird if we caught sight of it. 

We needn't have worried. We didn't manage to see it and although disappointed at the waste of time did have to smile when we subsequently found that DNA  analysis had shown it to be a European Stonechat. 

I had a sense of "deja vu" when another possible was reported at Medmerry. Researching the identification features again, left me with no more confidence than for the Dungeness bird, that I would be able to make the identification. Did I really want to spend time looking for one Stonechat, amongst a lot of other Stonechats, that I probably wouldn't recognise as being anything out of the ordinary anyway.

I left it a couple of days but in the end I had to go. It was on my patch and it would help heal the open wound left by the failure at Dungeness.


The directions to the thistle Field were easy to follow and there were already four or five people watching when I arrived. All very promising but the downside was that there were a lot of Stonechats in the field and it was a very bright morning. Not the sort for looking for subtle differences in feather hues let alone trying to get a photograph of them.

After a couple of false starts I did manage to pick up one bird that looked different. It looked more like a Whinchat with strong supercilium's but with a broad white throat. Further observation showed that overall the bird looked paler than those around it with less colour on the belly and with an unstreaked apricot rump.

Viewed from other angles the supercillium barely showed up and at times I thought I was getting two different birds mixed up. You had to follow it until the angle changed and the white reappeared.

To me it looked a good candidate and other more experienced birders had similar views. Clearly it stood out from the other European Stonechats around it but was the variation within the limits of the European species? More worrying, would I have just written it of as another Stonechat if I hadn't been told that it was there.

A DNA sample had been collected the day before and the only way the bird will be accepted is on the basis of this sample. 

Watch this space.