The Novers Moth Night Public Event + Fungus Foray

What a fabulous Friday night September 23rd, 2011 turned out to be!

We – the Wrekin Forest Volunteers Moth Group (The WuFuV MuGs!) – were invited along to run a moth night which was a public event hosted by Glynn & Sue Barratt along with Jan Vail and many others too numerous to mention in this short post.

I think the organisers were a little concerned that no-one would turn up. They needn’t have worried – I counted 35 at one stage. I’m guessing it was the camp fire, rabbit stew, mulled cider and pleasant company that enticed many along but nevertheless everyone showed an interest in the fluttery things as night descended and moths started to arrive in the traps.

The Novers is 30 acres of mixed woodland owned by The Titterstone Clee Heritage Trust and includes a disused limestone quarry. It’s proving to be a fascinating area to explore as hands-on organiser Glynn Barratt encourages various groups to come along and discover what’s lurking!

Tony Jacques (Shropshire County Moth Recorder) and I had previously ran moth traps in April and August 2011 as surveys for the trust and were keen to return for a third visit. The numbers and species recorded on this night were greater and better than the previous surveys, aided by the fact that 4 of the 5 traps ran right through the night until dawn on Saturday. The count for the night across all traps was 234 individuals across 48 different species.

At least one person at the event had a terrible moth phobia. Jan explained that one of the reasons for her attending was to face her foes and try to rationalise her phobia. I encouraged her to take a closer look at some of the beautifully coloured moths that were arriving. With trepidation and much hesitance she slowly started to get a little closer. That’s Jan on the left. She eventually held a moth in her hand (albeit inside a clear plastic pot!) but she felt she’d achieved quite a lot and in fact Jan thanked me the next morning  for helping her on the first stage to understanding why she has such a deep-rooted fear and how she can, hopefully, find a way forward from here.  So, I’m sure, very soon there’ll be moths flying freely through her bedroom window with nothing but enthusiastic adoration from Jan. We’ll see!

In talks and presentations that I do around the county I usually meet one or two people (not always ladies I hasten to add!) who have similar fears. I think by showing them that moths are not all horrid brown furry things, and indeed many are more colourful than some of their cousins the butterflies, they come to realise that their fear of moths and often, surprisingly, their simultaneous love of butterflies is irrational. But who am I to speak? I have a deep-rooted fear of dogs – but then they do have a tendency to run straight up to me and either bowl me over or just take a chunk out of my leg or sometimes both! You don’t get that with moths!

Onwards…

The star of the night in terms of moths was undoubtably the fabulous Merveille du Jour – always a treat when they turn up this time of the year. On this night there was just one that came to visit Tony’s trap.

It’s a moth that’s not uncommon but isn’t often seen which sounds like a bit of a contradiction but the fact is you’re unlikely to see it unless you have a light source in or near woodland. The adult female lays her eggs on the branches or in bark crevices of oak trees which overwinter and then hatch as caterpillars in April-June. After pupation they emerge as these really colourful adults in September/October.

There were also a couple of unusual ones and in fact two that were new to me. One of these was a variant of a Noctuid moth – The Sallow – which is quite common this time of year but not so the variant.

I managed to trap a singleton of each in each of my two traps.

                  

The Sallow                            variant Form flavescens

The Barred Fruit-tree Tortrix is again – not at all uncommon – but one that I just hadn’t recorded previously. Seen it a couple of times before, but not in my trap! So this counts as a first for me!

Tony managed to trap another micro which was scarcer with, according to my records, only 4 previous sightings in the county and that was the rather striking Ypsolopha sequella:-

A couple of the more colourful noctuids also arrived – Frosted Orange and Brimstone.

We sat around the campfire exchanging stories which included the US climate satellite which was crashing to earth sometime during the night,  location unknown. We looked to the skies and hoped it wasn’t about to land at The Novers, especially as 3 of the moth crew were camping over.

Glynn then related the numerous accounts of sightings of a prowling big cat – the infamous black panther apparently seen in this very wood by a local resident. Tales of lamb carcasses being found high up in trees and huge footprints embedded in mud made us all listen intently. What was that noise? A twig being broken under foot? Did anyone else see that low black shadow through the undergrowth? Oh well… time for bed!

Despite all this, we slept well in our little tents and in fact Les and I – normally awake and emptying the traps at dawn, both slept through till 8:15am! Liz was already up but slept well too. No sign of space debris or hungry black cats looking for – well… looking for anything at all to eat!

We emptied the traps, did our final ID’s and then joined John Hughes from the Shropshire Wildlife Trust for a fascinating Fungus Foray. A member of the moth crew is also a fungus expert and has led similar events himself, and that’s Les Hughes who shares the same surname as John but they’re not related apparently.

This was an oyster fungus which John explained is usually edible but the fact that this one was growing on yew probably makes it poisonous as it would have absorbed the toxins from the tree. You really do have to be careful with these things don’t you?

And some that look quite appetising can taste pretty revolting as Claire discovered as she sampled a tiny piece of Sulphur Tuft!

A total of 26 different species of fungi were found which was impressive given that lack of rain has meant for a very low appearance this year and some fungus events have even been cancelled as a result! Please let me know if you would like a copy of the list created by fellow WuFuV Les Hughes.

On my stroll around I couldn’t help capturing this image of a handsome Hawthorn Shieldbug

And this pretty-looking Harvestman Mitopus morio

All-in-all, an excellent night and morning spent with moth-ers, fungi folk and people who just enjoy being in the woods in early autumn.

Thanks again to all who participated and maybe we can do it all again next year?

Paul Watts

PS. Enjoy the slideshow…

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