Jessica’s Birthday / Coronavirus

By Moths

My very dear friend Jessica Jenkins requested for her birthday that her friends send her as birthday gift a text / poem / picture about coronavirus. This was my response.

My offering to you for your birthday request in this time of coronovirus requires a meandering explanation.

The explanation comes with a photo of a moth, a Small Bloodvein, Scopula imitaria found one night in our outside toilet. I have been deliberately leaving the light on for a little while each evening to see which moths flutter in.

The weekend of the 7 / 8th of March was perfect. My friend Dave Grundy came to visit to set up his moth traps, bringing with him his friend Kevin. Dave is a moth expert, we became friends last year after I wrote to him saying that I didn’t know much about moths but that I was curious and interested and did he want to come and visit my friend Stephan and I. To my delight he said yes, he came to stay with us a few times, we set up moth traps and became moth friends. He spent Christmas with my family, we had Christmas morning moths. We made plans to meet again in Spring and this weekend of early March was our first meeting this year.

But really this story of moths starts two years earlier with my dads friend Tim “the Moth Man”. Tim Barker is a graceful long haired beer drinking Yorkshireman, also a moth expert, with the enviable title of the County Durham Moth Recorder. Tim encouraged my curiosity by setting up moth traps for me in my parents garden introducing me to moth world. So perhaps things first started there, sat under the apple tree by a moth trap, moths flying into me in their erratic reaction to the light. I emailed Tim regularly over the years sharing photos of moths I found in Spain and asking him questions. It was through Tim I found Dave on the internet, I saw he came from England to survey moths in Andalucia in Spring. Dave is big on Twitter.

This early March weekend also coincided that my friend Luci and Richard were coming to visit, in their converted UK ambulance home, bright yellow emblazoned with a heart of blue stars and a “Make Love not Brexit” banner hand-painted on the side. I met Luci at my language school when she came to study Spanish and I loved her right away. Her husband Richard is a rocket scientist (really! And sort of..) he is an astrophysics engineer who built satellites and worked on the Mars rover. They had spent a weekend with my family a few weeks earlier before heading on their journey to Rhonda. I had asked Richard to help me build a geodome which I wanted cover in the plant dyed materials I had been making for the past year, which I envisioned as a sort of botanical map of my area. I’d imagined this up a log time before but didn’t have the resources or brain for calculating the angles to make it happen. Richard was like a gift from Mars, he was interested and looking for projects. Everything seemed to be coming together.

But the funny thing with this was that through a strange twist of fate I emailed Richard but wrote his address wrong. I waited for a response and didn’t get one. I was busy with another project but I wondered occasionally why he hadn’t answered. We’d all got on so well and became good friends, when Adam had said goodbye to them at the beach he said it felt like one of those goodbyes where you’ll definitely meet again very soon. So it was odd that they didn’t answer. Then one day I looked back at my emails and realised my error so I sent another message to the correct address, he answered right away and they said they’d come that very weekend. That this happened to coincide with the Dave Grundy moth weekend I’d set up was quite overwhelming. I didn’t mention earlier it was also Carnaval weekend and Martha was parading as a dalmatian. The culmination of all these things made me giddy with excitement, I couldn’t contain myself. It was like I had inadvertently orchestrated a convention of physicists and biologists.

The weekend was perfect. Richard and Luci fell right in with the moth plan and Dave, Kevin and Stephen. We left traps at Stephens house, at my house and at my neighbour Carolines house. Gaona and Rafa, two Spanish moth enthusiasts also came from Los Barrios and La Linea. Gaona is a hardcore rocker, big and dark, covered in tattoos and he loves moths. He has a deaths head hawk moth tattooed on his hand and he’s very sweet. We ate pizza, we set moth traps and looked at moths. I made a nut roast, we played board games and looked at the orchids on Stephens hillside. We saw cream-spot tigers and hebrew characters. I made geodome plans with Richard, we ordered wood. Martha was a dalmatian. It was an idyllic weekend.

I think back to this weekend a lot because corona was there, on the horizon, in our minds, in the news. Bea and Noah had been to Rome mid February on a school trip, it was there in the background looming… but somehow this weekend was like the age of innocence. Pre corona.

Then there was corona. I had seen it coming for such a long time yet still it came as a surprise, like waking up to another world.

Luci and Richard are now on a hillside in Rhonda. We are in contact, they were inspired by the moth weekend and have ordered a UV light and plan to make a DIY moth trap in quarantine. Dave is at CIMA, (Centro Internacional de Migración de Aves) in Tarifa, luckily having arrived there just before the lock down came into place. He was due to be there surveying, he can set his moth traps every night to carry out his surveys and be quite peaceful there. Stephen is his usual hermit like self on his hillside in the next village from me.

Dave, Stephen and I have a WhatsApp group “Santa Lucia Moths” from when we first made our arrangements to meet. We talk daily of moths and quarantine, clove oil, cars, our trips to the outside world, insects and birds. I order the Spanish field guide to moths that Dave had recommended and I ask Dave for moth exams, he sends photos and I try to identify the moths. It is fun and it becomes a daily thing. Stephen orders the book too and together we try to identify the moth photos Dave sends. The lock down moth exam, usually three photos a day. Some days it is difficult and spills over into the next day but I keep a record of the daily moths. It becomes a sort of grounding daily ritual in the corona crisis, like doing a daily crossword. After 19 days I find I am getting better at it, I know where to look in the book, the lines and patterns that distinguish different species.

As this virus pours through the world never before have we been so connected,to witness this take hold on a global scale, humanity looks so delicate. And whilst we see that we are connected we are forced apart with social distancing and isolation. I find myself connected daily to these moth friends. And through this distanced connection to these people there is a growing connection to an other, the moths. As I turn through page upon page of wings, colours, patterns, disruptive, variable, cross referencing with the German moth forum (considered the moth encyclopedia), as I do this I forget momentarily to worry about my parents, or Brazil or India, or think about the tent hospital set up in Central Park, about the virus and the mounting death toll, about the data so well presented on the charts and maps I look at every day.

There are many theories but no one knows why moths are attracted to light. Are they attracted to the moon and fly to light confused? Do they use the moon and stars to orientate? It is a mystery. The fatal lure of the moth to the flame. Moths are in decline, and being an indicator species this has implications for a whole network of other wildlife. Including ourselves. These pollinators, these subtle yet vital others which tell us about the health of our environment. Moths in the time of coronavirus.

So my offering to you is this moth, it isn’t particularly rare or special by moth expert standards, but it turns up in my toilet and I like it. Look there goes a scopula imitaria!

Daily Moth Exam

By Ecology, Moths

Santa Lucia Moths is a group I share with my friends Dave Grundy moth expert and Mr Stephen Knapp. In early March we had a idyllic weekend together, Dave came to visit with his friend Kevin to trap moths with us in Santa Lucia and La Muela. We were joined by my friends Richard and Luci who had come for a geodome building plan we had and enthusiastically embraced the weekend moth adventure. We didn’t know then how serious the coronovirus pandemic would become and just after this weekend we all found ourselves isolated and confined in different places. Dave had luckily just moved to CIMA Tarifa (Centro Internacional de Migración de Aves) where he will be studying moths for the next couple of months. We maintain an amusing communication via a WhatsApp group about clove oil, moths and quarantine. Dave sends us moths each day to try to identify, like a moth exam. It becomes a grounding daily ritual in the crazy of the virus crisis. Kind of like doing a daily newspaper crossword. Some days I am utterly stumped. I record here the quarantine moths.

Day 1: 16.03.2020

Shadow theatre.

Day 2: 17.03.2020

R and B make chocolate cake. I make Fire Cidre.

Day 3: 18.03.2020

Day 4: 19.03.2020

Day 5: 20.03.2020

Day 6: 21.03.2020

Day 7: 22.03.2020

Day 8: 23.03.2020

Day 9: 24.03.2020

Day 10: 25.03.2020

Day 11: 26.03.2020

Day 12: 27.03.2020

Dye experiment with azofeifa root.

Day 13: 28.03.2020

We measure everyone in the morning and the evening. B shrinks 4cm during the day. N and R are the same height at the end of the day even though R is really a 1cm taller.

Day 14: 29.03.2020

Plant lettuces.

Day 15: 30.03.2020

These drove me crazy. The Menophra abruptaria which was referred to as “the toilet moth” (as it was observed in my outside toilet) and moth 2 (from Daves trap) the Menophra japygiaria, similar but different was a real challenge. And it took a long while to get to the final identification.

Day 16: 31.03.2020

The moths of the previous day were not all identified until today.

Day 17: 1.04.2020

Day 18: 2.04.2020

Day 19: 3.04.2020

Day 20: 4.04.2020

Moth day off.

Day 21: 5.04.2020

I wake up to the sound of bee-eaters flying through. The first I hear this Spring. The sky is full of their chirruping.

Day 22: 6.04.2020

I go shopping to Vejer and see that the swifts have returned to their nesting colony. Bee-eaters and swifts pass through all day.

Day 23: 7.04.2020

Time lapse animation with Martha.

Day 24: 8.04.2020

Hundreds of bee-eaters. A mongoose crosses the road in front of me. No moths today.

Day 25: 9.04.2020

No moths. Nightingales sing in the night.

Day 26: 10.04.2020

Day 27: 11.04.2020

Fridays moths take two days to identify. Make a really good lasagna – red lentils, fried aubergine and vegetable tomato sauce. Shibori paper folding and dyeing.

Day 28: 12.04.2020

Day 29: 13.04.2020

Dave is busy with moths having set 7 traps the previous night. He counts 83 species after checking only 3 traps by 1.30pm. A package arrives for Stephen and I with our UV disco light for making an improvised moth trap. Exciting but I can’t find a cardboard box.

Day 30: 14.04.2020

Now there are more moths to identify. There were more than these six. I had left the UV light with some white material as I didn’t have time to make a trap so just photographed what I saw flittering aorund. The Arctia villica is from Stephens trap. It was a busy day so I wasn’t able to keep up with all the moth identifying that was going on in our group chat.

I did however find time to improvise a moth trap. Behold:

I edit a video of hands folding paper.

Day 31: 15.04.2020

Bad moth trap news. Last night was thunderstorms and crazy lightening. I brought the moth trap under the cover of the porch and it was busy with moths. When I went to bed I left a wood board over the trap but in the morning there were only 3 moths! Every one of them had somehow managed to escape. Still what I was left with were Arctia villica and Phyllodesma kermesifolia so I was happy. The Acronicta psi was one of the only ones I managed to identify from the evening as it sat outside of the trap, but it was gone by the morning.

Day 32: 16.04.2020

Me the moths, the owls and the nightingales. I go to sit by the light and moths fly chaotically around me. I like the way their eyes shine in the night. Mostly they sat on top of the trap but I take photos of some in the night and some in the morning. I make adjustments during the day, cutting perspex to make a better top and entrance to the trap.

Day 33: 17.04.2020

Day 34: 18.04.2020

Day 35: 19.04.2020

There is a huge spider in the moth trap this morning. Samosas.

Day 36: 20.04.2020

Moth day off. Rain. Tooth ache (Stephen) tired low energy day (me).

Day 37: 21.04.2020

Inspired by Beethoven’s 5th Symphony begin piano learning project with Martha. Martha and I make star constellation projectors.

Day 38: 22.04.2020

Day 39: 23.04.2020

Today is very windy, my head spins.

Day 40: 24.04.2020

Stephens moths. I start reading The Jungle Book with M. We both cry a tear at the end of the first chapter. Stormy windy day.

Day 41: 25.04.2020

Day 42: 26.04.2020

Freedom! Or a certain type of new found liberty in the form of an hour walk with children under 14.

Interestingly this coincides with a day of huge migration. At first I see swifts and Griffon vultures then I notice higher in the sky hundreds and hundreds of Black kites. It is the biggest number of migrating raptors I have seen since Spring migration started.

Stephen had a deaths head hawk moth this morning.

Day 43: 27.04.2020

I surprised myself by identifying these correctly first time. The nightingales sing loudly in the night. I read that it is the males who haven’t found a partner that sing, which gave the song a whole different feeling / meaning.

Super wonderful walk with M.

Day 44: 28.04.2020

Day 45: 29.04.2020

Day 46:30.04.2020

Day 47: 01.05.2020

Leopard moth. I am busy working on the urban nest mapping project making a workbook for children.

Day 48:02.05.2020

Today will be the last day I record here. Things have changed. From today we can go out for walks and confinement feels… less confined. I am busy with urban birds. I end with the Passenger, Dysgonia algira. We now have an active way of recording our moths in a closed group. Luci and Ricard have joined us there too as they have also made a makeshift moth trap and bought the field guide. Moth life goes on.

Moth Trapping

By Ecology, Moths

My first foray into the world of moths was when Tim “the moth man” Barker local moth expert set up a moth trap in my parents back garden. I sat in the evening with the bright light of the moth trap, moths fluttering around me, fascinated.

The crowd of curious enthusiasts was ever growing as neighbours and friends heard about what we are doing and joined our early morning moth reveals. It helps to have a master in our midst, Tim whose knowledge is awesome and inspiring.

Tim is the moth recorder for County Durham. For 10 years he set up a moth trap every night above the Tap & Spile pub recording the night life above the night life below.