Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Another world revealed

The first time that I knowingly took an interest in moths was during the evening of Saturday August 2nd 1975. I can be that precise as the day had been spent at Lords Cricket Ground, as a spectator watching 'our' boys take on the Aussies in the Ashes test. That Australian team were full of greats - Ian and Greg Chappell, Rod Marsh, Dennis Lillee and Geoff Thomson to name but five. On that particular day though the plaudits went to England batsman John Edrich, who completed a century. But I digress.

That evening I attended a family wedding reception in Tring, Hertfordshire. I had only been birding for a matter of months, and my interests in other aspects of natural history were in their infancy to say the least. But as darkness fell, something happened at the bare windows of the village hall that caught my attention. The black panes of glass were alive with fluttering forms attempting to get inside with us. They were moths. 

Moving over to the window it was clear that these moths came in differing sizes, shapes and colours. I stood mesmerised as they came and went, each minute that passed revealing more wonders materialising out of the darkness. A small group of children had seen me looking, and came over, eager to get involved. They, too, were taken aback by the nocturnal show - we all wanted to see more. There then started an early form of citizen science, as we commandeered a number of small glasses from the bar, opened one of the windows, and started to trap the moths within the glass receptacles by using beer mats to usher them in. We couldn’t name them, but that didn’t matter - in fact I think it fair to say that none of us knew that moths had names, beside that of ‘moth’. Each capture was passed around, particularly if it had some sort of wow factor about it. The plain, the brown and the small were quickly released. There was one in particular that captured my imagination. It was fairly large and at first appeared to be dark brown all over, but when disturbed, or in flight, revealed an intense yellow underwing. It appeared to be quite common. After 30 minutes of hunting moths my attendant young gatherers had had enough and moved on to something else. I stayed by the window, ignoring the celebrations alongside me. Another world had been revealed.

The following week I got hold of a copy of the Observer’s Book of Moths. A there, on a plate, was my moth at the window. A Large Yellow Underwing. A species that I would get to see, sometimes in their hundreds, even thousands, over the coming years.

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