The Moth beyond compare

September has been an amazing month for one rare moth in Devon. Catocala fraxini, which has the wonderful english name Clifden Nonpareil (nonpareil meaning unparalleled or beyond compare), is a rare immigrant species, usually only seen once or twice a year in the county. According to the Devon Moth Group database, the best ever year here for Clifden Nonpareil was 2007, when there were three sightings. Last year there was just one and 2015 yielded two.

However, during September 2017, six records (of a total of seven individual moths) have already been reported in Devon. These have occurred throughout the month (from the 4th to the 27th) and right across the south of the county from Axminster in the east to Bere Alston in the Tamar Valley in the west. One lucky recorder, Nick Roach, found two at once, one in his garden moth trap and another on the wall of his house.

This impressive moth, with a wingspan approaching 10 cm and a stunning violet-blue band on the hindwings (giving rise to the alternative vernacular name of Blue Underwing) is currently colonising several areas of southern England and is regularly caught nowadays in parts of Dorset, indicating the presence of resident populations.

With luck, the big increase in sightings in Devon this autumn may also herald the arrival of local breeding colonies of this wonderful insect.

Clifden Nonpareil (Nick Roach)

Clifden Nonpareil seen near Culmstock on 26th September 2017 (Nick Roach)

Clifden Nonpareil (Nick Roach)

Migration month

Autumn can be a time of great excitement for Devon’s moth recorders as moth migrate northwards from the continent and arrive on our shores. In some years, little arrives but in others (most recently 2013 and 2011) an amazing variety of common, scarce and downright rare immigrant moths come in, to the delight of wildlife enthusiasts.

So far this year, most of the migrant moth excitement has been among moth recorders on the east coast of Britain. However, the South West hasn’t missed out entirely. Perhaps the pick of the crop so far have been two records of the large and dramatic Clifden Nonpareil (Catocala fraxini) – a moth that would feature on most moth recorders’ bucket lists. The first was caught by visiting moth expert Dave Grundy at Prawle Point on 27 August, while the second came to Mike Lockyear’s moth trap in Crediton on 17 September. Both are shown below. The species has also been reported from other locations around the English coast from Dorset to Northumberland in the past few weeks.

A range of other immigrants have been seen in Devon in recent weeks including the massive Convolvulous Hawk-moth, Delicate, Vestal, Scarce Bordered Straw and Ostrinia nubilalis.

With mild conditions forecast for the week ahead, it would be well worth looking out for rare visitors to our county.

Clifden Nonpareil (Dave Grundy)

Clifden Nonpareil (Dave Grundy)

Clifden Nonpareil (Mike Lockyear)

Clifden Nonpareil (Mike Lockyear)