Friday, 16 September 2011

The moth that started it all

The Blood-vein (above) holds a special place in my natural history heart as it was the species that really fired my imagination and turned me from a birder into someone who started to look at other things.

My early notebooks do hint that I was aware of non-avian things - the odd reference is made to orchids, butterflies and, yes, even moths - diary entries exist from when I was still living at home as a student, and refer to a Swallow-tailed Moth and a Red Underwing which visited my bedroom through an open window during a hot spell in the summer of 1975.

But it was when I stayed at Dungeness Bird Observatory that my interest grew. In the common room was a cupboard that housed the old log books. As I was a regular I was trusted to assist in any data gathering that the then warden, Nick Riddiford, was involved in. I loved this cupboard. It held hours and hours of captivating reading, old sheets of records stretching back to 1952. I handled them and inspected them with a reverence usually reserved for ancient manuscripts. Those 'old days' came back to life in my head as I immersed myself in the writings of the day. But I digress...

In that same cupboard I came across an index card box. I opened it up and found a collection of cards, each with a handwritten name of a moth, underneath of which was a forewing and a hindwing stuck down with sellotape. A macarbre and crude identification guide, but this was before Skinner published his groundbreaking book which superceded the old, diffcult volumes by South. I was mesmerised as I flicked through them, most of them brown and crumbling under yellowing tape. But there was one card that was fresher than the rest and showed a striking wing with a name that I would never forget - a Blood-vein! Would I ever see such a beast?

I cannot say that I became a recorder of moths overnight. I spent a bit of time looking at those that came to lit windows at night, and it wasn't until 1981 that I inspected an actinic trap with a young lad that I had befriended - his name was Sean Clancy. You may have heard of him.

My first MV experience blew me away. It was 1984 and some visiting moth-ers set one up in the observatory garden. It was like watching a machine hoover up moths. And what variety! I recognised one of them straight away, memorised from a card in the observatory cupboard - BLOOD-VEIN!! I ordered a trap the next day. I've spent so many happy nights (and days) with moths, from Surrey woodland, downland and heathland; Kentish coasts; Scottish hillsides; and my own garden which still provides great highlights such as this years Rannoch Loopers. If you haven't got into them yet, I can thoroughly recommend that you do. You don't need much, just check a lit window at night...

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