During the autumn we are all familiar with the departure of our summer visitors such as swallows, to warmer climes and while they leave by the front door, birds such as wild geese and swans are arriving through the back door from the high arctic to spend a relatively mild winter here.

Thursday, 15th October 2020, 12:00 am
The Convolvulous-Hawkmoth up close.

It is not just birds that are on the move however. Lepidoptera, the butterflies and moths, are also active..

One of the most exciting species of migrant moth that can be found in our area from late August into October is the Convolvulous Hawk-moth. This is one of our largest and most impressive moths. It rarely breeds in the UK as it cannot survive our cold, late autumn temperatures but most years see one or two arrivals to Northumberland. This moth is a specialist feeder, hovering in front of tubular shaped flowers and feeding like a hummingbird with is very long tongue. It recently featured on the BBC’s The One Show where they showed some great slow motion film of it feeding on its favourite garden flower, the tall white Nicotiana or Tobacco Plant.

We have looked for them every year for the past 11 years, planting Nicotianas each summer hoping for a result but we were always disappointed. Even regular use of the moth trap came to nothing. Until this year.

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One night last week shortly before 7pm, it was getting dusk so I was out putting the moth trap on. As I stepped out of the door, a large moth buzzed past me below waist height. It flew the length of my car and I lost it as it left the beam of the head lamp.

I knew it could only be one thing at this time of year but had my eyes deceived me? We have one or two nicotiana flowers on their ‘last-legs’ in the garden so these were checked first. We wandered around but there was no sign. There was clearly an arrival of Silver Y moths on other plants but there was no trace of ‘the biggie’. I was about to give up then thought how there were very few flowers suitable for a hawk-moth in our village right now, so it might be worth another lap of the garden, it might just come back?

In the front garden I slowly checked along the house windows with the torch. Nothing. Then I heard a fluttering behind me. I turned and there it was! A lovely Convolvulous Hawk-moth at the nicotianas!. A quick sweep of the butterfly net and he was secured.

Over the years I have seen several. My first was at our old house where it was attracted to an outside light so I got a sweeping brush, reached up high, and persuaded it into the bedroom window. We also found one randomly on the hub cap of a Vauxhall Astra in a pub car park at Blakeney, Norfolk one year while we were on a holiday, but to get a nice one in our garden is still amazing.

After a few flash lit photos we placed him, it was a male, back into the nicotiana thicket and left him to continue what time he has left. You can be assured there will be even more nicotiana plants in the garden next year. If you have any of these in your garden, keep a look out at dusk.

Stewart Sexton, author of ‘Stewchat’ a Northumberland wildlife blog. It can be found at