Is Scythris grandipennis recolonising - or has it remained here all along, undiscovered? Either way, a remarkable and fascinating record - and one that would have been impossible to put forward for adjudication without the combination of sweep-net, curiosity and excellent field guide. As local boy Alan Partridge might say, to mark the Norwich City's resumption of the Premiership with a crashing home defeat... "Back of the net!"
This week demonstrated to me why nets are so vital to moth-ers. The first, admittedly, was in Will Soar’s net. He, Sarah, Justin and I had ventured onto Gunton Lane meadows, ostensibly to check on the Gold Swift lek that I had found a few weeks earlier, but also to follow a hunch that Ghost Moth would lek there too. The former lek was still active, with perhaps a dozen males performing. Forty-five minutes later, we were pumped to discover two leks of Ghost Moth in the same area, with low double figures of psyche males doing their will o’ the wisp dance. All this sorcery to a tune of a super-close, super-loud Grasshopper Warbler. Wondrous stuff – even without use of nets.
For three weeks, since trailing through suaeda on Blakeney Point, I have been divest of sweep-net. At some point that day, the net first snapped then parted company from its oner. For three weeks I have had to sneak up on perched micromoths and rush them with a pot. For three weeks I have had to ignore flying micromoths as unattainable, unknowable. On Monday, Jon Clifton of AngLeps came to my aid, when the COVID-hit factory he uses were able to supply a replacement device. Lord, how I have missed the badminton-flick of wrist that ensnares a mystery aeronaut, allowing it to be identified, conceived, confirmed then released again to continue its life.
Talking of Marsh Carpet, four nights later, we reunited (with the addition of Dave 'lucky charm' Andrews) for a crack at the species on the Yare Valley at Earlham, where Will and Sarah had discovered a large population of the food plant Common Meadow-rue. Omens were good; Will had caught one at his nearby home in mid-June two years previously, and the screengrab below appeared on the Norfolk Moths website at the precise moment I logged on to check that very date! Sadly, the night proved chilly and dewy on the marsh, with relatively little flying. We shall try again, for sure, but in the meantime had to sate ourselves withBrachmia inornatella, effectively a Norfolk wetland speciality - netted, of course.
That evening we netted and observed other pleasing things, including a strong population of Grass Rivulet (a local species in Norfolk, which is also having a great run in my garden this year - five records so far), lots of Dotted Fan-foot, Pseudopostega crepusculella (nationally scarce; we caught one during our July 2019 Marsh Carpet discovery night at the adjacent Hellesedon fish farm site), Phtheochroa inopiana and Eupoecilia angustana (new for me, it appears).
With a net, however, Will netted several Elachista sp., all similar in appearance. He and Sarah took one (only one, which was an error, in retrospect) back for perusal, and it proved to be E. stabilella – only the 4th ever in Norfolk. Wow!
Not many dots on the Norfolk Mothsmap.
Already nets were proving their value this week - even if not mine. Yesterday evening changed all that. Sharon, Maya and I joined Justin and daughter Ruby for a socially distanced walk at Horsford Woods, north-west of Norwich. Mike McCarthy lives nearby so dropped in. As we wandered past gorse on a heathland/pine forest ride, I netted a black moth that none of us could identify. I thought it was a Scythris, but had never seen one that large, so remained bemused even as to its family. Immediately upon returning home, however, I reckoned it looked a dead ringer for Scythris grandipennis - a massive member of its genus. Even in the cold light of day, it is bang on. Definitely a Scythris. Size alone rules out congeners - it's twice the size of the candidate S. crassiuscula that Will showed me earlier in the week. Lovely sharply pointed wings. Black to the naked eye, but camera flash and sun revealing dark bronzy tones (and perhaps even some paler scales) noted by Sterling and Parsons. Caught by gorse, the food plant of grandipennis; in heathland, its habitat; and in June, its flight season. Judging fro the Norfolk Moths website (screen grab below), there has been just one Norfolk record of this Nationally Scarce species since World War II broke out (and this only last year in NW Norfolk).