Never work with children or animals they say. Perhaps my friend Jamie and I should have kept those words of wisdom in mind on our recent expedition to do some moth trapping in the Italian Gardens. We knew it might be a bit early in the year but buoyed on by excitement at trying out Jamie’s swanky new kit and reasonably favourable conditions off we headed.
We set up the trap to the curiosity of a number of passers-by then sat back to wait for darkness to descend which as anyone who has spent time the Italian Gardens will know is no hardship. As it was not quite dark yet the bird feeders were still in use with droves of small birds getting in a little extra energy to see them through the encroaching night. The tree canopy which enshrines the gardens was alive with song, the robins and blackbirds providing the lead vocals whilst the wood pigeons “boo boo hoo hoo” repetition provide the more languid backing track.
As dusk began to settle over the gardens so too did the birds, gradually taking to their roosts, overhead we could see the silhouettes of birds of a feather as they flocked to their preferred nesting spots and a gang of gulls noisily made their way out to sea after a day inland.
And with that the gardens were quite but for a solitary blackbird who seemed to have taken exception to our presence and new sounds emerged along with the lengthening shadows. The crashing of waves against the sea wall far below us, a sound which had been drowned out by our feathered friends only minutes before, was a hypnotic change of ambiance which took us both by surprise as it’s easy to forget you are in a garden built into a cliff side bordering the sea when you’re immersed in so much song.
Suddenly something darted past too fast and agile to be a late roosting bird and we had our first night predator, a bat on the wing looking for its breakfast. This we agreed quite aside from being a huge treat to see was also an encouraging sign for surely where there are bats there must be bat food.
As night finally fell we approached the trap with cautious optimism, admittedly it was still not as dark as we would have liked but the traps bright bulb must be proving an enticing invitation to some nocturnal insects we hoped. But no, nothing not even the smallest fly or an inquisitive beetle. We waited a while longer, then a bit more, then took a wonder because everyone knows a watched kettle never boils, after what felt like a suitable interlude we snuck back, surely with the deepening darkness something must have fallen for our carefully laid out lure. But nothing, zero, zip.
We reluctantly had to agree that on this occasion we had been bested by beasties but it really didn’t matter. Moths had got us off our respective sofas and into nature and instead of finding our intended target we had instead enjoyed a privileged few hours in an idyllic setting enjoying the company of so many other fascinating species. It was still a win.
As for the moths, to paraphrase The Terminator “we’ll be back” because where there are bats there are bugs and we are determined to find them, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow but soon…
South Cliff Gardens Community Engagement Officer