The Highlights from Charlie Fletcher
28. Devon Carpet
27. Kent Black Arches
26: Fen Square Spot
25. L-Album Wainscott
24. Varied Coronet
Some moths like Small Ranunculus advance across the county at a great rate without a moment’s thought for what lurks round the corner. Others appear to plot their advance carefully, send out a few scouts for a recce, and inch forward gradually. Varied Coronet is most certainly in the latter category. This is another fairly recent colonist to the country, initially as a rare migrant and first recorded breeding in 1948 in Dover. It reached Lincolnshire in the 1970s and was first recorded in Yorkshire at Whitkirk (Leeds) in 1988. This was the only county record when Sutton and Beaumont was written in 1989. Numbers were very low over the next few years but by 2000 it had a foothold in the south of VCs 61, 62, 63 and 64. Since then it has built its numbers up and gradually inched north and west. There has been very little spread into the south-west of England or into Wales. It has instead concentrated on heading north on the east side of the country.
This is an antisocial moth which appears on its own in the moth trap. It seems to have few friends and it rather enjoys social distancing. The most ever caught in the county in one session is three. Numbers have increased considerably in the last two years and in 2020 there were 91 records of 92 moths from 51 sites. The slow march across the county continues and the map shows a lot of new sites at the periphery of its range forming a new frontier; Luddenden, Keighley, Otley. Knaresborough, Hutton Conyers, Helmsley and Skelton are all new sites to where it has advanced before calling a halt and planning next year’s campaign. We now have a VC65 record as is has advanced from Sharow, a mile away in VC64, to cross the border into my garden. This is despite the lack of Sweet Williams in my flower beds so it must have been a bit miffed when it arrived. If you haven’t recorded this moth, a good gambit is a trip to the garden centre when lockdown permits, to stock up on its favourite food plant. Take care not to confuse it with the rather similar Marbled Coronet, though this has become a much rarer moth in the county, in fact it is now so unusual that we need to see photographs of any possible Marbled Coronets you might catch
23. Small Brindled Beauty
A map with no red 2020 dots on it for a change.
Does Small Brindled Beauty still occur in Yorkshire? It is getting towards the right time of year to look for it. In Porritt’s day it was “tolerably common”. He found it on “the boles of oaks etc early in March” and listed localities all over the county. Records have been thin on the ground since then and Sutton and Beaumont listed very few recent records in 1989. Since then, records have come from Bubwith in 1991, Grosmont in 1992 and 1993, Low Bentham in 1998 and near Hawnby in 2009. There are known populations in north Lancashire and in Lincolnshire. On the map, records after 1950 are in black. The Atlas says that it has declined substantially in both distribution and numbers since 1970 across the country. This is a moth of mature oak woodland. It tends not to wander and it not a common visitor to gardens. It therefore has to be looked for. It flies from mid-February to mid-March at a time when few moth trappers venture out of their gardens. The flightless females can be found by searching near the base of oak trunks after dawn and are reasonably distinctive, though we would need to see a good clear photograph. The males come readily to light. This species is still highly likely to occur in the county. Some of the remoter unexplored oak woods of VC62 might be worth a look. It also could easily still occur at sites like Strensall Common, Skipwith Common and Askham Bog in the centre of the county. We’ve just got to look for it.
22. Small Ranunculus
Small Ranunculus has an interesting history in the UK. It was formerly resident in the south east of the country, along the south coast and into south Wales. In the 19th century larvae seemed to be a bit of a pest on cultivated lettuce. Towards the end of the century in went into decline and became much rarer. The last record was 1939. There was a gap of 58 years until two moths were found in Kent in 1997. Larvae were found the next year and colonisation of the London area was rapid over the next few years. The same situation happened in parts of Europe as it became common in some large cities in Denmark and Sweden such as Malmo and Copenhagen.
This species seems to have the ability to disperse long distances and rapidly form new colonies. In 2001 it appeared in Newport, Monmouthshire, and quickly became well established. In 2005 moths were found in the Merseyside area and again became established very quickly. Yorkshire was colonised in 2010 with single moths at Rotherham and Sprotbrough and although there were no records in 2011, it has occurred in varying numbers from 2012 onwards and this has been associated with a marked expansion of range. VC61 was colonised in 2014, VC64 in 2017 and VC62 in 2018. Range expansion is more impressive than the actual numbers of records which have not increased quite as much as I would have thought.
The situation has altered in 2020 and numbers of records have shot up. This has again been associated with a marked range expansion. Western expansion has given us records at Bradford, Bramley and Otley, and one at Coniston Cold is a bigger jump north-west. Of even more interest is a record at Middlesbrough. This is suggestive of one of its long-distance dispersals and it will be interesting to see if this is another successful colonist. Something certainly has been happening to this moth in 2020; one of our own Yorkshire moth’ers even found the first two moths for Ireland!
The current wave of moths does not appear to be decimating the lettuces in our gardens as they have a taste for the wild ones. Larvae are frequently found in Yorkshire on both prickly lettuce and great lettuce, and have apparently also been found on wall lettuce in other parts of the country. The food plants have increased in range in recent years and are both now common on Teesside. I would not be surprised if we see a new colony in the Teesside area and perhaps further north, where spread is likely to be coastal. I suspect there will be less spread to the north-west unless other food plants such as wall lettuce are utilised.
21: Small Egger
Small Eggar has a very fragmented distribution in England but things were different in the past. Porritt seemed to have little trouble finding it and in 1883 listed several sites in all five VCs, mostly in the centre and east of the county. In 1907 he just listed three localities, Everingham, Ingleby Greenhow and Thirsk where it appeared to be commonest. Perhaps the decline had already started by that time. Further north, there were records into Northumberland and Durham in the 19th century and Dunn & Parrack say the last record for the north-east of England was at Newham Bog in 1896 (incidentally the old Northumberland site for Dark Bordered Beauty) though the Northumberland Moths web site has records for 1899. Either way, it disappeared from localities to our north at an early stage.
Sutton and Beaumont in 1989 mentioned a severe decline across the whole country “over the last few years” and pointed out that the last stronghold in Yorkshire was “in the Pickering area”. The map in the new Atlas is interesting, showing how widespread it was in the past and showing the current fragmented populations in the south-west, Oxfordshire area, East Anglia, mid-Wales and south Cumbria, in addition to our own population.
e of the county
Adult Small Eggar is rarely seen, possibly because of the early flight time of January to March (Field Guide) or February to April (Atlas) at a time of year when most people tend to trap in their gardens rather than venture further afield. The only record on our database of an adult caught at light was one at Haxby in 2007, and I get the impression it is not a moth that wanders widely. It is usually recorded as larvae in webs in hedges – usually blackthorn or hawthorn, and there have been small numbers of records from the Malton and Pickering areas in recent years. The exact distribution has been quite uncertain – until now. Sam Newton has been doing some fantastic work in 2019 and 2020 surveying this area for larval nests and has discovered a huge number of locations. I’ve tried to show these on the map and if I’ve got it correct, the 2019 records are in red and the 2020 in blue. We can really see the proper distribution for the first time. You will notice that the records go up to the Derwent and don’t cross into VC61. This doesn’t mean that the river forms a boundary and that it doesn’t occur in VC61, rather that this area hasn’t yet been properly surveyed. I hope the study will continue this year and find more records in this direction.
Poor hedgerow management in the past might have contributed to the decline of this species, as cutting out of season from April to June damages the larval webs. It over-winters as a pupa near the ground but it could be affected as an egg if hedges are cut in February. I was surprised that managed hedges tended to do better than those left to grow unchecked and rarely cut. Sam has been able to draw some interesting conclusions and advice on hedgerow management.
I wonder if this is the full story. Does it occur outside the core area? Why does it just occur in this area? Where did the Haxby moth come from? It is quite a distance for it to fly from the core area and I strongly suspect it occurs a little further south. We have a 1950 record from Allerthorpe Common which of course is not far from where it was not uncommon at Everingham in Porritt’s day. It was caught by Denis Wade and I have the specimen in my collection. It is certainly well worth while keeping an eye open for larval webs from late April to early July in hedges anywhere on the east sid
20: Glaucous Shears
Is Glaucous Shears exclusively a moorland moth? Our Field Guide thinks so – “Habitat – moorland” it confidently states. Other literature agrees, though the Europeans take a slightly different tack, and Noctuidae Europaeae, tells us that throughout Europe it inhabits “humid, often swampy and marshy coniferous forests” with “massive” growth of bilberry. French literature also says bilberry is the food plant though our Field Guide plays down bilberry to a supporting role and says “bog-myrtle, meadowsweet, creeping willow, bilberry and heather”.
So, if it’s just a moorland moth, why do we get lowland records. There can only be three reasons.
1. Immigration. The Field Guide says “resident and suspected immigrant”. I’m not quite sure what the evidence for immigration is. OK, it turned up at Spurn in 2010 and 2018 but if you look at the Atlas and go clockwise around the coast from Spurn, you get all the way to Devon before there is a dot on the map. The only inland post-2000 dot in the south-east half of England is in south Cambridgeshire. If it is a migrant, why are there no records on the coast? Where does it migrate from? European literature doesn’t seem to mention its migrant status. The Atlas suggests it might be an immigrant on Orkney. Why just there? I would have thought that immigration was not a common reason for out-of-area records.
2. A tendency to wander. Some upland moths quite commonly seem to wander to lowland habitats. For example Haworth’s Minor and Heath Rustic. In my own garden I have trapped Glaucous Shears on three occasions in 20 years, usually after westerly winds, and I am seven miles as the moth flies from suitable habitat. Other sites closer to the moors have trapped it a little more often. So, although it does wander, I am not convinced it wanders large distances. I would be surprised if it wandered 20 miles on a warm windy night.
3. It is not just simply a moorland moth and exists at a low density on (for example) our lowland heaths. Lowland heaths are not mentioned when it comes to describing the habitat of this species. It doesn’t seem to utilise them in other parts of its range, for example it is absent from heaths in Dorset and Hampshire. There are however hints in some Yorkshire accounts. It was a common moth in Porritt’s day and he listed a lot of sites, almost all in upland areas of the county, however one site on his list was Skipwith Common and we also know that Prest found it in 1883 at Askham Bog. In 1907 Porritt wrote that it “occurs more or less commonly on probably all extensive heaths and moorlands throughout the county”. Sutton and Beaumont in 1989 said “probably locally common in many of the moors in vice-counties 62-65, but also states “occasional in other habitats in all five vice-counties”. Since then, it has been seen at Skipwith rather vaguely “in the 1980s” and two records at Haxby in 2009 and 2019 raise the question as to whether these might be wanderers from an undiscovered population at Strensall Common which is a stone’s throw away.
2020 was a very good year for Glaucous shears in Yorkshire with 59 records of 175 moths from 34 sites, mostly in the usual upland areas in the west of the county and the east of VC62. There were big numbers on Keighley Moor with several counts into double figures, so the habitat here must be ideal. Of more interest however were six unusual records from lowland sites, at Owston, Wintersett and Austerfield in VC63 and at Askham Bog, Bishopthorpe and Ripon in VC64. The Ripon moth might have been a wanderer, but some of the others are just too far for wandering moths to travel on westerly winds. The Askham Bog record this year is interesting, and there is plenty of bog myrtle at this site. Perhaps it is resident there. Bishopthorpe is only a mile or so away so perhaps this was a moth wandering from the same site. Was the Austerfield moth a wanderer from Hatfield Moors? Was the Owston moth a wanderer from Thorne Moors? Where did the Wintersett moth (the second at this site) come from? As usual, the more one studies the records that come in each year, the more questions need to be answered.
19: Large Ranunculus
It is interesting to see that Large Ranunculus was “widely distributed and common” in Porritt’s time. He lists it from all his usual correspondents from sites spread across all five VCs and evidently had little difficulty in finding it. In Durham it occurred along the lower Tees and it was known from Bishop Auckland and Durham according to Robson in 1899. Our database is poor for records for many species from then until 1960, but it must have still been present, probably in lower numbers, as for several years – there were records from Northallerton, Elland and Wakefield in the 1940s and 50s. There were also records in Northumberland at Kielder 1969 and Rochester in 1979 indicating that the northern population was still extant in some areas, and one was taken at Middleton-in-Teesdale in 1974.
There was then an unexplained and very marked decline in the north of England and like so many species it largely retreated south to a line running from north Norfolk, the south-east Midland counties to south Wales. It did not completely leave Yorkshire however. In 1989 Sutton and Beaumont noted it was “now even more local than formerly and almost entirely restricted to the coast”, and this has been the case ever since. At Spurn, records in the 1970s and the early 2000s suggested that it was resident there, but there were few records in many other years and it was last seen at Spurn in 2014.
Some of these recent records may be wanderers from Lincolnshire and it is unlikely that it is currently resident. We do however have a proper stable relict population further up the coast. This is centred around Bridlington, Flamborough and up the coast to Scarborough. We get records from these sites most years. In 2009 we received two records from Pickering. These were accepted but there was always a slight question mark as they were out of area and there was no photo. This year however, we had three records of six moths from another site in Pickering which backs up the previous records and confirms that the range extends inland. Together with further records from Scarborough, Flamborough and Bridlington, it paints a slightly rosier picture.
Looking at the recent Atlas which of course documents records to the end of 2016, it implies that although numbers have reduced, there has been some range expansion, and looking at the periphery of its range, there is a hint that in some parts of the range, it is creeping forward. It might be a little early to get excited, but I wouldn’t be surprised if in ten years’ time we are documenting a fresh invasion of the south and east of the county.
18: Grey Chi
17: Webb's Wainscott
Webb’s Wainscot has a curious history of colonisation. It is another species relatively new to the UK and was first found in 1879 in Kent. It gradually spread along the coast, west and north, and since 2000, the pace has quickened with significant spread inland, with a lot of records in the south-eastern quarter of England. More than any other coloniser, it appears to have a tendency to send pioneers a long way to spy out the land. Moths arrived at Spurn in 2002 and one was found at Tynemouth in 2006. Invaders at Spurn evidently included at least one gravid female as a good colony was established with a lot of records over the next few years and counts of up to six at a time in 2003. This colony however gradually died out. There was only one record in 2008 and none in 2009, though there have been scattered records every 1-2 years since then. In 2013 and 2014 there were records on Teesside and it is possible that there was a temporary colony, though we have had none since. In 2016 we were surprised to receive a nice photograph on one trapped at Barnsley, our first inland record. The next three years brought just a single record from Spurn, but 2020 has been far more interesting. There was one record from Spurn but moths were trapped at two other locations, Hunmanby Gap in the north of VC61 and Rossington in the east of VC63. Presumably these were just wandering individuals but particularly the Rossington record hints that there might be colonisation happening or about to happen inland in the south east of the county, as the line of advance of settled colonists is heading in our direction.
16: Tree-lichen Beauty
Tree-lichen Beauty has been expanding its range in Europe since the mid-19th century, or possibly even before that as records before 1850 are rudimentary. European literature said in 2009 that it had “now reached Sweden, Finland, Lithuania and southern England” where “the species might now be resident”. Indeed it was. Its situation in the UK changed from an extremely rare migrant in the 19th century to a regular migrant on the south coast by the 1990s. By the early 2000s it was breeding in the south-east and rapidly formed healthy populations in Kent, Essex, Surrey and the greater London area. The Atlas, looking at records to the end of 2016, showed records as far as north Norfolk and a line of advance advancing into Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire, but still a long way short of Yorkshire.
In 2018, there were four records at Spurn and the following year this had increased to 11 records of 12 moths, with outlying records at Swinefleet (just into VC63), and up the coast at Flamborough. In 2020 we have had 15 records of 16 moths at Spurn and a single moth further north at North Frodingham. This species is evidently here to stay and there is no reason why its rapid increase will not continue. At this rate of increase it is very difficult to put a limit on its spread. This is another species to watch and see what happens. Will it contract back for a while or will it carry on expanding?
As its name helpfully suggests, it feeds on lichens on trees, so this is yet another example of a lichen-feeder doing well. Noctuidae Europaeae is a useful source of information here. It implies the larvae aren’t too hard to find (September to June) and occur on “various unidentified lichens growing on the trunks and branches of both forest trees and fruit trees as well as wood lying on the ground, on wooden fences, walls and planks”. Even stone walls and concrete fences are said to be used. It suggests that although a wide range of trees are used, fruit trees, especially cherry and plum are favourites, but also apple, pear, poplar and oak. Interestingly they are said to be sometimes found “in numbers” on glue rings used for Winter Moth control. Right, I’m off to get some glue rings for the fruit trees. I don’t care about the Winter Moths!
14: Toadflax Brocade
Toadflax Brocade was first found in the UK in 1939. Breeding was proven on the south coast in 1952. Colonisation was slow but by 2000 it was found widely in the London area and numbers seemed to build up quickly. Over the next few years, it moved quite rapidly north and a wandering individual was seen at Spurn in 2007. The Atlas, looking at data up to the end of 2016, suggested it was resident in Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and south-east Wales.
In 2020 the situation progressed further. On 21st May, single moths were trapped at Doncaster and at Rothwell, south-east of Leeds, suggesting a coordinated arrival. Four days later one was found at a second site in Doncaster, and here there was a further record in June. Two more records from the same site in August must be from a second brood and suggest that there was local breeding. This rapid expansion shows no sign of slowing down and it is highly likely that we will see more records in the coming years. Adult moths are unmistakable and there aren’t really any confusion species. The larvae are spectacular and easy to identify, so well worth searching for, especially in the south of the county.
A survey in 1999 found most larvae on purple toadflax, though they have been found on Common Toadflax and in fact on other Toadflax species at times. I don’t have any purple toadflax in my garden at the moment. That situation will be rectified this year!
It is not obvious how long Sycamore has been found in the county. There are one or two old records in the 1960s but they are thought to be unreliable. Some of the dates are rather vague – for example I have one record dated “1930-81” from the Malton area. None of these records are acceptable as it is an easy moth to misidentify – the confusion species being Poplar Grey - and there are no specimens or photos. It is a recent colonist to the UK and was first found in London in the late 19th century but was apparently rare until the 1950s when it started to move north and west. The first records that we can be sure about were in 1992 at Levisham and Strensall Common, followed by more records in VC62 and the east of VC61. As often happens these early pioneers disappeared; there were no more from VC62 and a fresh invasion started in the Spurn area in 1999. This was followed by colonisation of the south of VC63 in 2006. Numbers built up steadily until 2013 since when they have fluctuated quite a lot – presumably its parasitoids caught up with it. The range has been slowly expanding. One in Settle in 2011 was a wandering moth way out of area, but the core population has consolidated, particularly in VC63, and is doing well.
In 2020 there was evidence of a range expansion north-west with several new sites on the periphery of its range including a jump to near Skipton and to my garden in the south-east of VC65. So when interpreting the map, the north-eastern records in VC62 and the north of VC61 are the first wave of invasion in the 1990s, and the record in the west of VC64 is the early Settle wanderer. So ignoring these gives us a nice line of advance heading north west.
It seems that it can now be found almost anywhere in the centre, south and east of the county and it will be interesting to see whether its rather stop/start progress will continue. In 2020 we received 51 records of 52 moths from 32 sites, so all except one were of single moths. The maximum ever caught in one trapping session is four which makes me wonder if it more common than we think and just isn’t strongly attracted to light. Most of our records are from gardens and the main garden food plant is often horse chestnut rather than the usual sycamore or field maple. We commonly get records of the rather spectacular larva - 14 records on the database including two this year
11. Gold Spangle NB Red dots 2020. Black dots 2000 - 2019. Grey dots pre-2000
10. Beautiful Hook-tip
Beautiful Hook-tip was known to Porritt. He said “we have two localities for this peculiar lichen feeder” These were Scarborough and York and were the furthest north this species had been recorded in Britain. This is yet another moth which then retreated south to the Midlands and East Anglia where it lay in the doldrums for many years before deciding to venture slowly north about fifty years ago. A record at Tophill Low in 1997 was a taste of things to come and from 2007 it decided Yorkshire was the “place to be”, colonising VC62 in 2008 and the other three VCs in 2009. Since then, numbers have rocketed and we now have over 2000 records on the database. For the last three years I have been confidently predicting a slump in numbers as its parasitoids catch up with it, which just shows how much I know about moths, as records continue to climb.
This year we received an amazing 454 records of 898 moths from 123 sites spread all across the county with the exception of the north west where its preferred woodland habitat is not quite so plentiful, though I do expect a bit more movement in this direction. The number of red dots on the map this year is quite impressive and as you can see there are a lot of new sites. It is already becoming easy to forget how rare this moth used to be. Counts into double figures are now quite common, particularly in VC61, and the biggest total caught in one trapping session is 35. This species produces a small second brood in September and early October most years but curiously there wasn’t a single second-brood moth this year.
9. Black Arches
8. Beautiful Snout
5. Tawny Speckled Pug
4. Bilberry Pug
If you have the first edition of Waring and Townsend's Field Guide you will read that this Nationally Scarce B species apparently occurs at Strensall Common. This has been removed from subsequent editions as I collared Paul Waring and he has no idea where the record came from. Our first documented record was near Halifax in 2016 when one was bred from a larva on bilberry. It was subsequently found in VC64 near Fewston in 2017 and there were records in VC63 & 64 in 2019. In 2020 it was found near Otley and it has jumped to the east of VC62 with two records at the same site. It has also been found recently in Durham and the south of Northumberland. The Atlas says "the distribution trends for this species shows a steep long-term decline" which is rather at odds with what I am seeing. Has it been here all along? Is this a rapid wave of invasion? What is going on? It does come to light, but it isn't the sort of species you are going to get in your garden. The way to find it (and this worked for me!) is to look for a lightly wooded area with a good bilberry understorey. If there is a covering of Scots Pine then that is ideal. Go at dusk in the second half of June or the first half of July on a calm warm evening with a torch and net, and there is a high chance you will find it. It is almost certainly more widespread than the map suggests. It is a most attractive species when fresh and you're not going to mistake it for anything else. So in Spring when we're still under lockdown, use your daily exercise to identify some potential sites to target later in the year.
3. Maiden's Blush.
Maiden's Blush has a curious history in Yorkshire. It was known in Porritt's time from many sites across the county and he described it as "distributed but not very common". There were low numbers of records, usually less than one a year, until 2007, then numbers increased exponentially to a peak of 92 records in 2017. Since then there has been a plateau, and this year we received 82 records of 100 moths from 33 sites. Seven were from new 10K squares so there has been a lot of "filling in". The interesting thing is there has been very little expansion of range, though there was slight spread up the coast to Scarborough this year. The most north-westerly dot is my garden where I first had one back in 2004 when it was rare. I've since had singles in 2014 and 2020 but there has been no further extension of range to anywhere further north or west. It is an oak-feeder so really should be found in suitable oak woodland in the rest of the county. There is lots of good habitat up into VC62 which it really should be colonising. There have been a couple of records in Northumberland, most recently in 2017, and scattered records in Lancashire, but there doesn't appear to much of a resident population in those counties, and these might be just wanderers. It will be interesting to see what happens next.
1: Privet Hawk-moth
A record number of Privet Hawk-moths this year. 80 records is double 2019 and is by far the most ever, with sightings as far as Leeds and York. Seven new 10K squares involved this year. Perhaps that privet hedge in the garden is a good idea after all. How long will it take to get into VC65?