You may remember back in the summer I was lucky enough to have a Purple Emperor visit. Emps are the Holy Grail of butterflies; many people spend a lifetime looking and never find one. Well, the Moth World has a similar Holy Grail species, one that is considered enough of a rarity in these Isles for their appearance to provoke huge excitement among moth'ers. It is another species that enthusiasts spend lifetimes hoping to see, and I was over-joyed (small understatement there) when one turned up here in our back garden about 10pm last night.
The Clifden Nonpareil was first recorded in England in 1749 at Cliveden House in Buckinghamshire. It was then briefly recorded as a resident in the UK in the 1930s in the Norfolk Broads, and between 1935-1964 in Orlseton Forest near Hamstreet in Kent. This residency was probably the result of the climate warming sufficiently during these years for it to live and breed successfully here.
In the fifties and sixties the climate cooled again and the moth became extinct as a resident. Since then, it has only been recorded as a reasonably rare migrant gracing the coastal counties of East and South East England in small numbers, most but not every Autumn. This suggests the main population source for UK migrants is Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and Siberia, although it is found in Central Europe as far West as Spain. Its arrival is often associated with that of Camberwell Beauty butterflies (who also come from Scandinavia and can, in a good year, be found across the British Isles), Great Brocade moths (another East Coast migrant) and Barred Warblers.
To give you some idea of its rarity, it was seen in less than half the years between 1850-1935 and recent exceptional years have only numbered 19 in 1976 and 22 in 2006, so you can hardly call it numerous.
It is without equal in the UK because it is the only UK moth that contains the colour blue. It is this colour (a gorgeous soft smoky lilac) that gives the moth its other name of Blue Underwing. It is a moth I have long wanted to see, but didn't ever seriously expect to, so you will be able to imagine my surprise and pleasure (and to be honest slight shock and disbelief) when I went out to check the moth box last night and discovered this beautiful moth sitting calmly inside it.
The Clifden is a big moth, one that rivals the Hawks for sheer size and impressiveness, but it is also a gentle soul and this one sat happily on my hand for ages having his picture taken. We had to take a piccy for J who is currently in France and sent it to her with the caption: 'I think this might have flown past you on its way' as it is likely that this moth has come across the sea from Continental Europe rather than Scandinavia, given that Hampshire is on the South rather than the East coast of the UK.
They are fairly nondescript when their wings are closed, being of a dull grey/brown colour with a lighter grey zigzag pattern, but once they open their wings that soft lilac band is unmistakable and glorious.
It was a real honour to see him and I will treasure the memory, because it may be that, as with the Purple Emperor, I will never see another Clifden NP again in my lifetime.
Have a good weekend all,