Newsletter 13: Spring 2008
Chairman's Introduction | Highland Branch News | Pale Brindled Beauty
Report from the West Coast, 2007
Is there such a thing as a typical year for butterflies and moths? Every year seems to merit the description “strange” or “unusual” and 2007 was no exception. It began with an extraordinary number of early butterfly sightings during March and I recorded no fewer than eight species earlier than ever before between mid-March and mid-June. I also recorded earliest dates for more than forty species of macro-moth.
As the year progressed the weather deteriorated and many reports suggested that overall it had been a very poor year for butterflies and a rather erratic year for moth recording. From my perspective it was still rather a hectic year. I continued to trap moths on the Balmacara Estate as well as at home and also kept my butterfly transect going from 12th April until 29th September, missing only six weeks due to holidays or poor weather. I also carried out a breeding bird survey for the National Trust for Scotland on croft land in the Plockton area. This produced a few interesting by-products in the form of butterfly and day-flying moth records.
The Peacock continued to establish itself in the Lochalsh area and I saw eight along a short stretch of road in Gleann Beag on 30th April. I also saw three in the grounds of Armadale Castle, Skye on 2nd May. However it was a mixed year for the moth species that have been spreading northwards recently. After an exceptional year for V-Pug in 2006 I saw none during 2007. I also failed to see any Clouded Silver but Scorched Wing did better with as many as five trapped on 1st June. Satin Beauty numbers were down but they were recorded again from two of the new sites.
The other major development resulted from my appointment as moth recorder for Vice Counties 104 (Skye) and 105 (Wester Ross). I have received a surprising number of records from visitors who have carried out moth trapping in these two areas during the last two years. This is very encouraging but I am still struggling to enter my own records into the MapMate system and haven't yet got around to analysing this influx of other people's records. However it is clear that there are a number of interesting records amongst all this data.
The first butterfly reported was a Peacock seen by Jean Saville on 25th March at Glenelg which is where the first proof of breeding was obtained in 2006. The only spring record of a Red Admiral was at Conchra on 26th March while Small Tortoiseshells were reported from three widely scattered sites at Ratagan, Drumbuie and Plockton on 27th March. Another Peacock at Allt-nan-sugh on 27th completed what was a remarkable three-day period.
However what could have been the most surprising record during this period I haven't been able to count as I didn't get a definitive view of what was almost certainly a Speckled Wood on 27th March.
The butterfly flew rapidly through our garden and from the colour it could hardly have been anything else. Because of the exceptional date I feel I cannot claim the record without having had a clear view of the butterfly at rest.
A Green Hairstreak on 12th April was my earliest record to date but this species seemed to have a poor season with a maximum count of only eight on my transect on 29th April. There were eight Pearl-bordered Fritillaries on the transect on 29th April, only the second year that I have recorded the species in April. The peak count was 14 on 13th May and it was good to have David Barbour present on this day to confirm that I really do have this small isolated population on Carr Brae. Two searches at other potential sites failed to find any Pearl-bordered Fritillaries and Carr Brae remains the only known occupied site in Lochalsh. The typically short flight period ended on 6th June. The first Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary was spotted (in flight!) by David Barbour on 13th May, an exceptionally early date. This fritillary peaked at 27 on 18th June, well down on the 51 recorded in 2006, but still a decent count along such a short transect. It was the best year for Dark Green Fritillary since 2003 with butterflies on the wing a whole month earlier than in 2006, although the flight period also ended earlier.
It was disappointing not to see any Orange-tips on Carr Brae after they seemed to have established themselves there in 2006. However there were reasonable numbers in the more traditional sites in the area between 26th April and 15th May. This is another butterfly with a very short flight period in Lochalsh.
Speckled Wood and Scotch Argus are two hardy species which seem to be able to cope with whatever weather the north west Highlands can throw at them. Speckled Wood peaked at a record 21 on my transect on 12th September and the maximum count of Scotch Argus was 44 on 8th August. Although this was well down on the 97 Scotch Argus recorded in 2006 it compared favourably with most previous years.
There was an exceptionally early Small Heath on the transect on 9th May. Numbers peaked at 26 on three dates during June but the season ended rather early on 24th July. The flight period of this species seems to vary considerably from year to year.
Despite the early March record of a Red Admiral it was a very poor year for this species. I had just one more sighting in August and three in October. However the small influx in October was much appreciated when there were no other butterfly species about, the last two being seen in our garden on 24th.
Winter Moth and Chestnut were the only moths seen during January but things began to improve during February. As well as the usual March Moth, Mottled Grey, Pale Brindled Beauty and Dotted Border came the first two early species, a Red Chestnut on 19th and an Engrailed on 20th. I had recorded neither of these in February before. Most of the February moths were attracted to lighted windows, two attempts at moth trapping being rather disappointing.
18 species were recorded during March, the Robinson trap being used on six occasions. Although no new species were added to the March list three species were recorded on earliest dates: Hebrew Character and Red Sword-grass on 11th and Small Quaker on 13th.
April was a very eventful month with 38 species recorded. 14 common species were recorded earlier than ever before, the most surprising being a Spectacle on 29th, the previous earliest date being 7th June. Eight species were recorded in April for the first time including Birch Mocha and Ruddy Highflyer on 29th and my first new species of the year, a Grey Birch, also on 29th. Exceptionally high counts included c.40 Double-striped Pugs at the windows on 14th and 23 Early Tooth-striped, 18 Red Chestnut, 75 Common Quaker and 32 Hebrew Character all trapped on the 11th. The total catch of 241 moths on 11th April was beaten only once during the year on 17th July when 243 moths were attracted to the Robinson trap. However the July catch included 41 species compared with the 18 species on 11th April. April was also notable for my second record of Scarce Prominent at Lochalsh Woodland Garden on 25th, my only previous record being way back on 30th April 1996.
Two surprises during May were a Seraphim on 4th and a Poplar Lutestring on 12th. The larval food plants of both species are aspen and poplar, neither of which occur on Carr Brae and so both species were new to me. Another common species which had eluded me up until this year was The Herald but at last one appeared in my trap on 4th May. May also produced another Birch Mocha on 17th, an Ochreous Pug on 4th, the first Scorched Wing of the year on 17th and a large count of 43 Brown Silver-line on 4th.
Ash is plentiful in Lochalsh and David Barbour came over on 11th and 12th May to target Barred Tooth-striped which he thought might occur in this area. Traps were set at three sites on these two nights but unfortunately no Barred Tooth-striped were caught. Interesting moths which were attracted to the traps included the afore-mentioned Poplar Lutestring along with another Birch Mocha, May Highflyer, Glaucous Shears and Light Knot-grass.
Five Scorched Wing on 1st June were followed by another single on 17th. There were no new species for July but on the 1st I added Shears and Marbled Coronet to my garden list and also had a Beautiful Brocade. Broom Moth was the moth of the month with 19 in my garden trap on 13th, 55 at a site in Kyle on 14th and 14 at Duirinish Lodge on 19th. I don't recall seeing Broom Moth in such numbers before. An Argent & Sable was a surprise find in a rushy meadow near Plockton on 7th June with not a bog-myrtle in sight.
July was the most productive month with 75 species recorded in the garden and a further nine species in Kyle. I caught up with another common species that I hadn't seen before, a Barred Straw on 17th, while Chevron, Golden-rod Pug and Beautiful Brocade were also new for July. 50 species were trapped at Carnmore, Kyle on 19th and on the 24th I had my highest species count of the year in the garden (48). The Carnmore catch included 49 True Lover's Knot, a Satin Beauty and a Grey Dagger, my garden catch included a record 72 Triple-spotted Clay, 4 Barred Carpet, 32 Magpie moths, 2 Satin Beauty, Square-spotted Clay and Beautiful Brocade.
An interesting trapping at Kirkton on 1st August produced my only records of the year for three uncommon species - Coronet, Northern Arches and Lempke's Gold Spot. It was a disappointing year for Yellow-ringed Carpet, one of the Carr Brae specialities, and I didn't see my first two of the year until 9th August with singles following on 6th September and 10th October. There were two exceptionally late sightings of Small Phoenix on 10th and 30th September and a rare sighting of Red Carpet on 12th September. However the September highlight was an Orange Sallow at Lochalsh Woodland Garden on 28th, almost certainly a first for the Lochalsh area.
The dreaded Epirrita species were, as usual, the dominant species during October and November peaking at 84 on 11th October when November Moths appeared to outnumber Autumnal Moths by about three to one. The first December Moth was seen at the windows on 30th October with the last two on 14th December but no more than two were seen on any one day. The other four species recorded during December were all the usual suspects – Winter Moth, Northern Winter Moth, Scarce Umber and Mottled Umber. Winter Moths peaked on the 31st when 41 were attracted to the windows, obviously keen to see the New Year in!
Ishbel Cameron, Jean Camilli, Jean Saville and Rowena and Kenneth Oliver consistently keep me in the picture regarding the first butterflies of the year. Ishbel also provides much more information regarding butterflies and moths in the Drumbuie area. Barbara Soutar generally does the hard work of setting up the traps on the Balmacara Estate so that I have the luxury of just turning up in the morning to help identify the contents. Audrey Sinclair has allowed me to set up my Robinson trap in her grounds at Carnmore, Badicaul, Kyle on several occasions and this has proved to be an important site. Roy Leverton, MarkYoung and Tom Prescott have helped with the identification of some of the trickier moth species, Roy and Mark particularly with micro moths although these have not been included in this report.
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