Monthly Archives: July 2015


I put the moth trap out last night next to the lovely purple buddleia, instead of the nettle patch, and was rewarded with some gorgeous new species in the moth hotel this morning:

Swallow tailed
Swallow-tailed moth, which usually have eye-spots on the tips of the wings to confuse predators, who peck at those rather than the moth’s actual face. This one has raggedly tails, suggesting the eye-spots have indeed been pecked.

A lovely Scalloped oak

Brimstone moth, I’ve had these before, a very bright and striking moth

This one was interesting – is it a Treble-bar or a Lesser Treble-Bar? Both species are very similar in appearance. Many similar-looking moth species can only be separated reliably by close inspection of other body parts under a microscope. Fortunately, these two can be separated by the shape of the male’s abdomen –

And a careful inspection showed I have a male, with a narrow, pointy abdomen, so this is a Treble-bar moth!

As well as these, I got a handful each of the familiar Light Emeralds and Mottled Beautys, all looking a bit worn out as they approach the end of their season. Different moth species emerge from pupae at different times of the year, and most only stick around for a month or two. One of the (many) wonderful things about moth-trapping is seeing how the composition of species regularly caught changes throughout the year.


In September, I am due to start work in the Republic of Georgia as a volunteer co-ordinator of the Batumi Raptor Count, in Batumi, a lovely city on the Black Sea Coast near the border with Turkey. I have visited Georgia before, in 2011, and found the people, scenery and food absolutely brilliant, so I am really excited to be returning!

Signaki, in the West of Georgia

They speak Georgian in Georgia (obviously) which looks like this:
მე ვერ წავიკითხე ეს, რომ აღარაფერი ვთქვათ საუბრობს

I do like learning different alphabets, but so far all I’ve ever properly learnt was Cyrillic and Greek; both of which, with Latin alphabet, have loads in common – the “pi” sound is π in Greek and п in Cyrillic, for instance.

Oddly, for someone who went to a urban state comprehensive, I learnt Russian at school. I don’t know why our school taught Russian alongside German and French. Perhaps because Newcastle City Council was run by left-wing commies wanting a youth ready for the inevitable revolution?

Despite lovely Mrs Ivkin’s best efforts and a fascinating school trip to Russia in the mid-90s, I wasn’t very good at learning Russian and only got a D-grade at GCSE. But one thing that did stick with me was the technique we were taught to learn the alphabet, and to learn the alphabet before learning any of the language. It makes things a hell of a lot easier in the long run. In 2004, when I worked in Greece for 6 months, while my colleagues thought I was wasting time, I spent a lot of effort learning the Greek script first.

Cue a few months later, lost in the mountains somewhere near the border with Bulgaria, my colleagues angrily try to work out which town we are in, and completely ignore me as I point out the name on the sign, which they are trying to find on a map, actually just reads “TOWN HALL”

ho ho ho.

I think if given enough time, I could learn the Georgian script, but with only 6 weeks to go, I’m not confident I could start from scratch and pick up enough of the language to get by.. but I already have a tiny bit of GCSE grade D Russian, which is widely spoken across Georgia.

So, armed with The New Penguin Russian Course and the Memrise flashcard-type app on my phone to brush up my Cyrillic, and I am pleasantly surprised at how much I can remember, and how enjoyable I am finding it. And Russian is slightly more useful than Greek!

As for the beautiful Georgian script – there’s a memrise app for that.

And you have NO IDEA how excited I am at the promise of eating ხაჭაპური once more.


I don’t normally ID micromoths, because I have enough trouble as it is with macromoths and they are big and bright and there’s only about 900 species, unlike micros, which are tiny, grey, need a microscope to identify correctly, and there’s thousands of species.

But some in the moth trap this morning looked lovely, so I got the internet to ID them for me:

 Lozotaenia forsterana
Lozotaenia forsterana

Eudonia lacustrata
Eudonia lacustrata

Also had a few of the usual – Light Emerald, Mottled Beauty and The Ghost, of which I always seem to only get females, no males – wonder what that is about?

The Ghost

St Kilda Bird List

Tables are terrible in WordPress. Here is my thrilling list of birds from 3 weeks on St Kilda, because some people are interested in that sort of thing; and yes it is alphabetical and not taxonomic because I have yet to earn my millions devising a way to get Excel to sort a list of birds correctly.

Black guillemot Cepphus grylle 
Black-headed gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 
Bonaparte’s Gull Chroicocephalus philadelphia

yes yes, Excel can do “custom sort lists” but there’s a 255 character limit on them.

Brent Goose Branta bernicla
Canada Goose Branta canadensis 
Carrion crow Corvus corone 
Collared dove Streptopelia decaocto 
Common chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita 
Common Guillemot Uria aalge 
Common gull Larus canus 
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 
Dunlin Calidris alpina 
Eurasian Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 
European Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria 
European Storm-petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 
Great black-backed gull Larus marinus 
Great northern diver Gavia immer 
Herring gull Larus argentatus 
Hooded crow Corvus cornix 
House martin Delichon urbicum 
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 
Leach’s Storm-petrel Oceanodroma leucorhoa 
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 
Lesser redpoll Acanthis cabaret 
Long-tailed duck Clangula hyemalis 

there’s 9,059 characters in the BOU bird list

Long-tailed Skua Stercorarius longicaudus
Manx shearwater Puffinus puffinus 
Meadow pipit Anthus pratensis 
Northern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 

I bet you could do it with a visual basic thing

Northern Pintail Anas acuta 
Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe 
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus 
Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba 
Pigeon Columba livia domestica
Pink-footed goose Anser brachyrhynchus 
Puffin Fratercula arctica 
Razorbill Alca torda 
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator 
Redwing Turdus iliacus 
Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula 
Rock pipit Anthus petrosus 
Sedge warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus 
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 
Snipe Gallinago gallinago

or a macro

Spotted flycatcher Muscicapa striata 
Swallow Hirundo rustica 
Tree pipit Anthus trivialis 
Tufted duck Aythya fuligula 
Turnstone Arenaria interpres 
White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla 
Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus 
Willow warbler Phylloscopus trochilus 
Woodpigeon Columba palumbus 
Wren Troglodytes troglodytes hirtensis
Yellow wagtail Motacilla flava 

Ben Macdui

I thought I’d take advantage of the weather and go climb Ben Macdui, the second highest hill in the UK after Ben Nevis. Also, thinking about it, also the second highest hill I’ve ever climbed, after Mount Olympos in Greece, which is more than twice the height!

For various reasons, I reached the car park at Linn of Dee way later than planned, so after a couple of hours walking through hot, muggy Glen Lui, I decided to camp on the shoulder of Sron Riach.

Camp.. in my new tent! A Wild Country Zephyros 2. Although quick and easy to put up in the rain, I struggled to get it really taut, so it would be a nightmare in a wind. The inside is very spacious, it’s a 2 person tent, but very light at 1.8kg.

Anyway, the other interesting thing is that I saw a Black Mountain Moth! They are spread throughout Europe, but only found above 600m.


The next morning broke with a beautiful, clear dawn. I set off at 6ish to the summit of Ben Macdui, spotting a Ptarmigan on the way.

It was a long walk down, particularly the walk along Glen Derry, which was just a bit knackering. I couldn’t get my rucksack to sit right and as a result developed a very sore shoulder muscle on the descent, still with about 12 miles to go. Luckily the views were stunning and more than made up for it.

The weather really was perfect, but I think my next walk won’t have such an epic walk in, at least not until I’m feeling fitter and have remembered how to work my backpack.

If you’re really interested, I have uploaded this walk to ViewRanger, where you can have a look and download the gpx.

Butterflies and moths and spreadsheets

Back home after a month on St Kilda, I have already had the moth trap out twice and today the lawn was alive with butterflies while I mowed it (but leaving about half of it unmown for nature, not because we have about half an acre and oh my god it’s 30C out here).

Dark green fritillery
Dark Green Fritillary


And a few from the moth trap..

Moth bros
Golden-Y and a Map-winged Swift

Poplar Hawk Moth
Poplar Hawk Moth

I also wanted to start keeping a good record of things sightings, so I had a search online for hints on setting up a good and useful spreadsheet. I’ve heard of MapMate before, a biological recording software. I didn’t think I’d need that just yet, but it would be good to arrange data in a way that would be easily imported into it. Happily, the MapMate Beginner’s Excel tips has a layout. Spreadsheets! so exciting!