Upper Thames Branch Moths

  • Getting Started
  • Sightings
  • UTB Moth Species
  • Moth Identification Resources (Books, Websites, Getting Help)
  • Recording Moths
  • 'Difficult' Moths
  • What's Flying Tonight?
  • Upper Thames Moths blog

  • Getting Started

    If you've never recorded moths before then a good starting point is to look for some of the most common and easily identifiable moths. These include moths which can be seen nectaring on flowers and actively flying during the daytime and also those which can frequently be disturbed while out walking. At night you can find moths which are attracted to house lights.

    Butterfly Conservation's Moths Count website contains a wealth of information on how and why we should record moths. We would recommend that anyone new to moths and moth recording pays a visit to the website and reads the fact-sheets available under the "Recording" tab, where there is information on everything that you might want to know about getting started on this fascinating pastime.

    The table below shows some of the most common moths which are easy to identify, but one of the best and most enjoyable ways to find out about moths is to attend a moth trapping evening. Lights are used to attract moths so that they can be seen, identified and released. Upper Thames Branch organises a regular programme of moth evenings and the very popular Berks Moth Group meets once a month. For Buckinghamshire, moths are an integrated part of the Bucks Invertebrate Group (BIG) who also run general invertebrate field meetings and moth trapping evenings within the county. For more information contact Martin Harvey.

    See our Events programme for details of organised moth traps. Everyone is welcome to join these friendly and informative evenings.

    Moth Sightings

    The Upper Thames Moths blog at upperthamesmoths.blogspot.co.uk allows you to post your own moth reports, ask for moth identification, and post comments. If you would like to post your own reports, click on the site's "Getting Started" tab to find out what to do (you'll need a Google account). Dave Wilton is the site Administrator.

    Moth sightings prior to 2014 can be found in the sightings archive.

    UTB Moth Species

    There are some 900 British macro-moths, two thirds of which can be found in Berks, Bucks and Oxon. As at November 2014 our own Holtspur Bottom reserve had recorded a remarkable total of 511 species, including several classified as "Nationally Scarce". The full list (a pdf file) can be found on the "Moths and Other Insects" page of the Holtspur website.

    Go to:
    Angle Shades
    Brimstone Moth
    Elephant Hawk-moth
    Hummingbird Hawk-Moth
    Mother Shipton
    Small Magpie
    Yellow Shell

    Photo © David Redhead
    Angle Shades (Phlogophora meticulosa)

    Description: A very distinctive nocturnal moth which is common in gardens and can be found at rest with its wings folded over its back.
    Flight Period: Has been found in every month of the year, but most frequently seen from May to October.

    Photo © Tony Croft
    Blood-vein (Timandra comae)

    Description: Flies at night, sometimes found resting by day, when the blood-red markings help break up its shape and make the moth hard to see amongst the vegetation.
    Flight Period: Found from June to September.

    Photo © Richard Soulsby
    Brimstone Moth (Opisthograptis luteolata)

    Description: A distinctive species, fresh specimens are very brightly coloured. Not to be confused with the duller yellow of the Yellow Shell. Of the two, the Yellow Shell is more often seen by day.
    Flight Period: Flies at night from April to September.

    Photo © Alastair Driver
    Cinnabar (Tyria jacobaeae)

    Description: A conspicuous nocturnal and day-flying moth which is frequently disturbed from the grass during the day.
    Flight Period: They are mainly on the wing from May to July.

    Photo © Martin Harvey
    Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor)

    Description: A very distinctive species, and generally considered to be one of the most attractive moths. It has a wingspan of approximately 60-70mm. The related Small Elephant Hawk-moth is similar but smaller with a wingspan of 45-55mm.
    Flight Period: Flies at night during June and July.

    Photo © Dave Ferguson
    Hummingbird Hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum)

    Description: Frequenting parks and gardens, this is a very fast-flying moth which can be seen in the daytime hovering in front of flowers such as buddleia to sip nectar. It has often been mistaken for a real hummingbird!
    Flight Period: This is a migrant moth which can turn up at any time of year, but is most often seen from June to October.

    Photo © Wendy Campbell
    Magpie (Abraxas grossulariata)

    Description: Used to be a familiar garden moth but has become less common in recent years. It flies at night in but can be found at rest during the day. Compare this moth with the smaller (and unrelated) Small Magpie moth.
    Flight Period: July and August.

    Photo © UTB
    Mother Shipton (Callistege mi)

    Description: Named from the markings on the wings, which resemble the renowned prophetess of the same name. Flies by day in grasslands, often in company with the Burnet Companion moth, the Dingy Skipper butterfly and the rather similar Grizzled Skipper butterfly.
    Flight Period: May and June

    Photo © Mike Wilkins
    Small Magpie (Eurrhypara hortulata)

    Description: This small moth has a yellow and black body with black and white wings. It's seen fairly frequently and is sometimes confused with the unrelated Magpie moth.
    Flight Period: June and July.

    Photo © Jim Asher
    Yellow Shell (Camptogramma bilineata)

    Description: A rather variable moth, from yellow to brown via orange, but the markings are constant. Flies by night but also very easily disturbed from hedgerows and shrubs during the day. Not to be confused with the Brimstone Moth, the Yellow Shell is more often seen by day.
    Flight Period: June to September.

    Moth Identification Resources


    If, as a newcomer to moths, you are searching for an identification guide then you need look no further than the third edition of The Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland by Paul Waring and Martin Townsend (2017, Bloomsbury Natural History, ISBN 978-1-4729-3030-9). First published in 2003, this field guide was fully revised in 2009 and again in 2017. It contains artwork by Richard Lewington that depicts the 900 or so larger British moth species in their natural resting positions. Available in both paperback and hardback form, the recommended retail price of the paperback is £29.95. A cheaper alternative is the Concise Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland by the same authors (2007, British Wildlife Publishing, ISBN 978-0-9531399-6-5). This is a spiral-bound, cutback version with all of the illustrations of the original 2003 volume but with only the bare minimum of text. The recommended retail price is £12.95.

    The other standard work on British macro-moths is the third edition of the Colour Identification Guide to Moths of the British Isles by Bernard Skinner (2009, Apollo Books, ISBN 978-87-88757-90-3). This book was also updated in 2009 under its new publisher. The illustrations take the form of photographs of set specimens, which means that the hind wings (often important for identification) are clearly shown. Prices vary between retailers but you should be able to find it for about £48. If you can afford to have both this and the Waring & Townsend volume then you'll find that they complement each other.

    So far as the roughly 1,600 micro-moths are concerned, The Field Guide to the Micro-moths of Great Britain and Ireland by Phil Sterling and Mark Parsons was first published in 2012 and covers just over 1,000 of them (British Wildlife Publishing, ISBN 978-0-9564902-1-6). Similar in style and format to the larger moth field guide and once again illustrated by Richard Lewington, the paperback version can be found for about £25.

    At the local level there are as yet no county atlases or even recent county lists available for Buckinghamshire or Oxfordshire. The book Butterflies and Moths of Berkshire by Brian Baker (1994, Hedera Press, ISBN 0-86096-025-0) is now considerably out of date and is nowhere near as user-friendly as the volume against which all county atlases are now compared, namely Colin Plant's Moths of Hertfordshire (2008, HNHS, ISBN 978-0-9521685-7-7). Covering a county adjacent to the Upper Thames Branch area, the Hertfordshire atlas would certainly be a useful, if expensive (at around £45), addition to the serious local moth enthusiast's bookshelf.

    Web sites:

    The most comprehensive coverage of all British moths available on the Internet is the UK Moths website run by Ian Kimber. Some 2,000 of the 2,400 species on the British list are currently illustrated there. Several of the regional moth groups have also developed excellent web-based resources to help with identification and those of the Hants Moth Group and Suffolk Moth Group are particularly useful. Other useful information, such as 'Moths by month' and 'Common moths through the year' can be found on the Berks Moth Group website by clicking on their 'Resources' menu option.

    Getting Help:

    There are two UK-wide "Yahoo!" e-mail groups dealing with moths, one concentrating mainly on the larger species (http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/ukmoths/) and the other on the micro-moths (http://pets.groups.yahoo.com/group/ukmicromoths/). Both can be very useful indeed for getting help with identification problems. It is necessary to join up as a member but this is normally just a formality. Neither group permits e-mail attachments but pictures can be uploaded to the photo section of each with relative ease. Several regional moth groups also have their own "Yahoo!" e-mail community, including the Berkshire Moth Group (http://pets.groups.yahoo.com/group/berkshiremothgroup/). Other places where identification help can be obtained include the Back Garden Moths website and the Open University's iSpot facility.

    Recording Moths

    The Upper Thames Branch has three County Moth Recorders, one for each of the counties covered by the Branch. Please send your moth records to the appropriate County Moth Recorder. The County Moth Recorders can help you to identify moths, but they may need to see a good quality photo or the moth specimen to confirm identifications. If you think you have found a rare moth then please contact your County Moth Recorder as soon as possible.

    The vital information required by the County Moth Recorders in order to add a moth record to their database is:

    • Species name
    • Location, preferably giving an OS grid reference or detailed address or postcode
    • Date of sighting
    • Name of person doing the recording

    Note that biological recording uses the "vice-county" system, which means that county boundaries are roughly equivalent to those in use before 1974 (see the map below). Some towns might not be in the counties you expect!

    Abingdon : VC22 (Berkshire)
    Caversham : VC23 (Oxfordshire)
    Didcot : VC22 (Berkshire)
    Eton : VC24 (Buckinghamshire)
    Faringdon : VC22 (Berkshire)
    Goring : VC23 (Oxfordshire)
    Oxford : VC23 (Oxfordshire) (but across the Thames it's VC22).
    Slough : VC24 (Buckinghamshire)
    Stokenchurch : VC23 (Oxfordshire)
    Streatley : VC22 (Berkshire)
    Wallingford : VC22 (Berkshire)
    Wantage : VC22 (Berkshire)
    Windsor : VC22 (Berkshire)

    The biggest difference is that much of what we now call south-west Oxfordshire (i.e. from the Thames south-westwards) is in vice-county 22, Berkshire, for moth recording purposes. Similarly, Slough is in VC24, Buckinghamshire, and Stokenchurch is in VC23, Oxfordshire.

    A useful website is 'Herbaria at Home'. This enables you to enter a grid reference to find the corresponding vice-county.

    Computerising your own moth records can be very helpful, not least because it saves the moth recorders from having to retype everything. Please contact your county moth recorder for further details. The excellent MapMate database, which allows easy exchange of records, is one of the most popular moth recording databases.

    Finally, it is very useful if you can supply some information about how you identify your moths. Moths can be difficult to identify and it is important that the Branch does what it can to ensure that all records are as accurate as possible – records form the basis of our conservation management advice and rare species monitoring. It is very helpful if you can let the recorders know what books you use for identification and whether you have photos or specimens of any of the moths you have seen.