The moths of March

As this is now my second year of trapping moths in my garden, I can actually make some comparisons. Obviously, I’ve not got nearly enough information to establish trends or anything like that – that would take several years – but I can compare 2011 with 2010.

So… has March been any better this year, compared to last in terms of moths?

Last year I put the trap out 6 times in March, this year 5 times.

Last year, I had 6 species, which were:

Pale Brindled Beauty
March Moth
Hebrew Character
Clouded Drab
Common Quaker

This year, I’ve also had 6 species – but different species. This year, I’ve had:

Dotted Border
Hebrew Character
Clouded Drab
Common Quaker
Early Grey

Dotted Border was the only species that was new to me and my garden, compared to last year. Early Grey was recorded last year, but not until April.

As for species numbers, the best night last year totalled 5 moths of 2 species (4 Chestnut, 1 Pale Brindled Beauty). This year, the best night totalled 51 moths of 2 species (31 Hebrew Character, 20 Common Quaker). The highest number of species on a single night was 5.

What conclusions can we draw from that?

Not a lot, really. I think it’s reasonably safe to assume that as it was quite mild towards the end of March, it resulted in earlier hatchings of some species – namely the Hebrew Character and Common Quaker (both pictured below). Are there more of them, though? Well, I’ve definitely had more on any given night this year compared with last year, so I guess that this year could be a good year – at least for the earlier moths of the year!

Hebrew Character

Common Quaker


Hey folks,

I figure that if you’re reading this, you’re probably a user of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. Just to let you all know that Butterfly Conservation have now established a presence on both.

Their Facebook page can be found HERE

Their Twitter feed can be found HERE

In other news, I saw my first butterfly of the year on Sunday 27th February – a Small Tortoiseshell on the wing in Dalgety Bay. By far the earliest I’ve seen one!.

I’ve also had my moth trap out twice this year, so far. The first time, I managed to trap 4 Hebrew Character and 1 Dotted Border – the second time, nothing at all. On the plus side, though, the Dotted Border is not a common record for Fife.

As a means to get fit this year, I’ve decided to set myself a bit of a challenge. I’m going to attempt walking the West Highland Way in April this year. Originally, the plan was to do the walk for my own benefit, but more or less everyone I’ve spoken to about doing the walk has suggested walking it for charity.

So, that’s exactly what I’m going to do! It’ll come as no surprise to readers of this blog that my charity of choice for the walk is Butterfly Conservation. As I share my interests and concerns with the charity, they were the logical choice.

If anyone does feel that they wish to support me in this, please click on the ‘Sponsor Me’ link on the bar to the right. All donations are gratefully received and will go direct to Butterfly Conservation themselves.

If anyone wants to track my progress in getting fit for the mammoth challenge (for those that don’t know, the West Highland Way is a 96 mile walk, taking between 5 and 8 days, on average to complete), I have a separate blog, detailing my progress, and reporting on some of the places I’ve visited (or will be visiting) in the course of my training. I’ll also be updating that blog each day while I’m on the walk (assuming I can get a signal on my phone!), so that people can track my progress. The blog can be found HERE.

Signing Off

Well, that’s the moth trap now packed away for the year, so things will be a wee bit quiet on this blog over the winter months.

Nothing particularly earth shattering has happened since my last blog. The most interesting thing was Butterfly Conservation Scotland’s Members Day at the end of October. Mark Young did a short workshop on Micro moths and how to start going about identifying them. I’m planning on getting some of the books he’s suggested over the winter months, with a view to identifying micros as well as macros next year.

I’ll most likely be bringing the moth trap out of hibernation in March next year, so until then, this is me signing off.


PS: If anyone is interested in what I plan on doing during the winter months, feel free to take a look at my new blog ‘Walking in the Wilds of Scotland’, which I co-author.

Shoes Vs Boots?

Ok, so if you’ve read the title of this post, you’ll know that this isn’t going to be about moths, I hope!

Basically, like most people who spend a lot of time in the outdoors, I’ve always tended to wear hiking boots. I’ve recently come into contact with walking shoes, and, well, I really quite like them! first of all, let’s take a look at the shoes in question.

These are the Merrell Chameleon Slam II shoes I’ve recently purchased. Now, I had to compare them to boots in a few different scenarios, just to see if they felt any better or not.

First of all, the shoes themselves. I’ll point out straight away that they are NOT waterproof. They do have a reasonably flexible sole… but it is more rigid than a trainer would be, yet more flexible than a hiking boot. It seems like quite a good compromise to me. They’re also much lighter than boots.

If you do plan on buying some of these, or any other Merrell shoes, please do try them on before you buy them! I’m normally a size 11, but needed to go for a size 12 for these. Apparently, Merrell shoes do tend to size a little on the small side.

Now, the first test I tried was the Elie Chainwalk

Here’s me making a bit of a fool of myself on one of the chains. I can climb up them with no problems at all, but I hate the descents!


The shoes worked really well here! the amount of grip in the soles was incredible, and because they were so much lighter than boots, movements felt easier (though you wouldn’t be able to tell that by the video!)

If you include the walk from the car park at the golf course and back over the top, that one was about 5 miles. At the end of it, my feet felt a little sore at the balls of the feet, but I put that down to the socks (I was wearing basic, cheap sports socks)

The next challenge was my daily walk. I’m currently trying to get fit, so I’m going for a walk every day of around 3 and a half miles. I have now taken the shoes on that walk several times (I’ve had the shoes 8 days now). As the walk is for a large part on paved roads and paths, there wasn’t really much to challenge the shoes. However, I’ve been trying to improve my speed on the walk over time, so I’ve been adding a bit of running into it, to get over the most boring parts of the walk quickly… the shoes clearly out performed boots here in pretty much every way, but you would expect that, really.

However, back to my previous comment… these shoes are definitely not waterproof. I did have to wade through a couple of puddles, and my feet got soaked. I suspect during the middle of winter, that would be a big issue! This is the one area where boots continue to outperform shoes. Yes, I could have got waterproof shoes, but my thinking was that a waterproof liner holds water in as well as it holds water out… thus if water got over the top of the shoe, I’d be soaked, and the water would be stuck inside the shoe until I could remove it (And let’s face it, water coming over the top of a shoe is significantly more likely than coming over the top of a boot) The shoes also take quite a while to dry out. Yes, they were dry the next day, so I could use them again, but it took at least 8 hours for them to dry out completely. Not very good if you plan on wearing them for long walks.

Which brings me to my final walk. Glen Tilt.

Above is the walk I did on Saturday. A little over 10 miles, over some variable terrain. I wanted to see how the shoes (and my feet) would cope with the increased duration and variable gradients and terrain.
The shoes performed really well, with a few exceptions.
There was a section of the walk where machinery had been recently used (Atholl Estates had been doing some forestry work), and the terrain was very muddy. I found I was slipping and sliding a lot more with these than I would be with boots.
They did get wet, about half way through, but I was reasonably surprised to find that it didn’t adversely affect my feet too much. The biggest issue, however, was about 3/4 of the way through the walk. When faced with a steady downwards gradient on a paved road, my feet moved forwards a little in the shoe, and created a bit of heel rub. I did end up with a small blister at the end of the walk as a result. Again, I suspect, had I been wearing full walking socks (I was wearing Bridgedale X-Hale Multisport socks), this would have prevented it from happening.

If the My Tracks application on my phone is to be believed, I did just under 12 miles in 3 hours 17 minutes. In reality, it was probably a mile or so less than that, once the GPS errors are taken into account. Still, I’m reasonably confident that I wouldn’t have been able to do the walk as quickly had I been wearing boots.

The lightness of the shoes compared to full on boots shouldn’t be underestimated. I didn’t feel tired at all at the time, despite clearly walking the route at a faster than average pace. (I felt it after being home for an hour or two, though!)

Does this mean I’m a convert to shoes? Definitely… with a few modifications. I’ve bought myself a pair of Sealskinz Trekking socks to give me a little extra padding, and waterproofing. I’ve not tried them out properly yet (I’ve only made sure I can still wear the shoes comfortably with the socks on), but I’m hopeful that they’ll make all the difference for the longer distance walks. I’ll stick with the Bridgedale’s for shorter walks, though.

I’m not a complete convert, though. I plan on walking the West Highland Way next year, and I know that these shoes simply would not be able to cope with the long distance walking combined with the weight of a full pack. I’d feel far more secure wearing boots in that scenario. Also, I doubt I’d be using the shoes to climb any munros during the winter months. Definitely a summer use only item, when in the hills! However, I have no problems using them in the glens all year round, when combined with the waterproof socks.

I think, basically, if you plan on walking at pace, with a light load, either in lowland conditions, or in the summer months, a switch to shoes might just be the best thing for you. However, for backpacking and winter hiking, I’ll stick to boots!

Lack of Updates

Hey folks,

Apologies for the silence on my part for the past month or so… I’ve been really busy of late, and to make matters worse, my moth trap broke!

My ‘waterproof’ ballast for the trap leaked, and it’s taking a while to fix! I may need to replace the ballast completely, sadly. I have, however, managed to re-wire my old moth trap, which isn’t quite as effective (smaller funnel, less caught), and I’ve got that out just now.

There hasn’t really been very much else to report on over the past month or two, since I’ve been without the moth trap. The most interesting thing is in relation to the Comma Butterfly. Last year was the first year that we had seen the species when walking the transect at Cullaloe, and we’ve seen them again this year. The difference is that although we saw them last year, it was only ever individual butterflies. This year, on the other hand, we’ve seen multiples on more than one occasion. I reckon it’s only a matter of time before we find the proof of them breeding in Fife, in the form of caterpillars. I plan on making a concerted effort to find some next year!

I also managed to find a couple of Commas near The Hermitage, in Perthshire… when I reported these, I was told that apparently, they’re spreading further northwards all the time. They’re regularly seen at Blairgowrie, it seems. Still, my records were a first for the 10km square, so I’m happy with that! 🙂

Hopefully I’ll have more to report on over the next couple of weeks, now that I have a moth trap in action again.

On Tuesday this week I went to Tipperton Moss (at the western end of Loch Glow, in the Cleish Hills) in search of Large Heath butterflies. It was probably the best day we’ve had in the past week in terms of weather.

I parked at the end of the access road to Loch Glow (rather than the car park at the loch edge, which was full with fishermen) and took the walk along. Not surprisingly, after all the recent rain, it was just a little bit on the wet side!

It didnt take me too long (about 15-20 minutes) before I got to Tipperton Moss, where I’d been informed the only Fife colony of Large Heath could be found. It didn’t take me too long before I spotted my first butterfly. A drab orangey thing flew past. It was gone far too quickly for me to get a look at it and definitely too fast for me to get near with the camera. It wasn’t long after that I saw another, similar butterfly. This one I managed to chase (although being a bog, I got pretty wet and filthy in the process!) and came away with these photos:

I was happy enough with that and so off I went. After all, these were butterflies at the right time, in the right habitat. On the way back to the car, I did, however, manage to get a photo of a Small Heath just for comparison when I got home.

Are we noticing the similarities yet?

The downside of the ‘Large Heath’ photos I took is that the butterfly was not very obliging… It clearly didn’t want to sit at the right angle, or it didn’t want to sit at all, so the photos are not the best. When I got home, I began to have my doubts about them… was this a Large Heath or a Small Heath?! I emailed Duncan Davidson, the County Recorder and asked for his opinion.

The result: Inconclusive. We’ve not been able to confirm without a doubt that the photos are Large Heath. Although the likelyhood is that they are, the photo evidence was not very good. Now, Had I looked at the butterfly and paid more attention to the features at the time, rather than trying to get it in shot… we’d have more of an idea. When I was at college, we did a unit on ID – where I was told that it was far better to take a sketch and some field notes than it is to take a photo. I didn’t understand why that would be at the time, but I do now! Photos are great to back up your evidence, but I guess they don’t see everything the eye does… particularly in cases like this.

Yesterday, Duncan braved the weather and went to Tipperton Moss for himself, just to confirm whether the Large Heath are still there or not, and he took the following photos:

These are very clearly Large Heath butterflies. So we have confirmation… I was in the right place, at the right time. So… are my photographs Large Heath?

We’re still not willing to confirm for definite. Looking at the top photo, there’s a very definite dark eye-spot on the lower wing, which isn’t visible on the Small Heath (there’s no black on the ones on the Small Heath)… this suggests it is most likely a Large Heath, but it’s not necessarily enough to be conclusive.

Duncan has sent away the photos to another source for confirmation.

Now… what I’d originally planned when I went in hunt of Large Heath was to report on the size of the population. I clearly can’t do that… but this isn’t just because of the problems noted above. Tipperton Moss is a blanket bog, and as such, if you go there by yourself, you’ll probably not be spending as much time looking for butterflies as you will be looking for safe places to put your feet. To get a proper grasp of the population up there, it’ll take 2 or more people to visit. Hopefully next year we’ll be able to arrange a visit, to get the info.

So… I think i’ll be leaving the camera in its case for a little while and getting the old pencils and field notebook out instead. My drawing is awful, but at least I’ll be able (with the notes written) to confirm ID by that method.