2016, the ninth year of Migrant Watch, yielded at total of 3,907 Humming-bird Hawk-moth and Painted Lady records; the second highest total since 2011 but a considerable decrease on 2015 (when over 10,000 records were submitted). In all, 2,728 people contributed sightings during 2016 and we are very grateful to all of them.
For the first time since 2009, Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) sightings outnumbered those of the Humming-bird Hawk-moth. Painted Lady had its third best year since Migrant Watch started in 2008; only 2009 and 2015 were better. A total of 2,179 Painted Lady records were submitted by 1,304 people in 2016 (see map below).
Following the typical pattern, the first major influx of Painted Ladies arrived in the UK in early June. Between 3rd and 12th June, 887 records were submitted (41% of all the year’s records), including from as far north as Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles. The best single day of the year for Painted Lady occurred during this period, on 5th June (236 records), and there were also some reports of high numbers of individual butterflies (e.g. c.100 seen along the south coast of the Isle of Wight on 7th June).
Further, but smaller, peaks in Painted Lady records occurred at the end of July and in late August (the best of which being 60 records on 26th August). In general, this resembled the pattern in 2015, which also saw a strong initial arrival of Painted Ladies in June, but disappointing subsequent months.
One notable feature of 2016 for the Painted Lady was the arrival of a small, but significant number of butterflies during exceptionally mild weather at the very start of the year. Sixteen reports were submitted to Migrant Watch in the first week of January, mainly from south-west England, but also with sightings on the coasts of Suffolk and Cumbria, as well as on the coast of South Wales, near Cardiff, and County Down in Northern Ireland. These very early arrivals were accompanied by scarce immigrant moths and most likely originated in North Africa.
After two good years, the Humming-bird Hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) sightings were down in 2016. The total of 1,728 records (from 1,583 people) was only a quarter of the number submitted in 2015 and just over half of the 2014 total. The majority of 2016 records occurred in two main periods, one in early summer, particularly 22nd - 27th June (with a high of 41 reports on 24th), and the other in early autumn, principally the first three weeks of September (with peaks of 35 reports on both 11th and 14th).
Sightings of the spectacular moth were widespread across southern England, but increasingly scarce in the north (see map below). Thus, while the species was recorded right up to Shetland in 2016, sightings were few and far between in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
All the sightings submitted to Migrant Watch each year are passed back to Butterfly Conservation Branches and County Moth Recorders to feed into local and national recording schemes, conservation and research. We very much hope that you will continue to submit sightings of these two amazing migratory insects during 2017.