Thursday, 24 July 2014

Interesting times

I doubt that there has ever been such an interesting time to be a naturalist in the UK. It seems as if we are living through an unprecedented era of 'loss and gain'. Land use, climate change, edge of range - they all get the blame (or take the credit) for what we observe. Let's just take my back garden moths as an example of how things have evolved. I moved to my current home in August 1987, and, almost 27 years later, am still recording in it...

This is an area that shows up the changes the clearest. When I first put a moth trap out in the garden, I would record such species as Garden Tiger, Red Underwing and Golden Plusia with some regularity. I haven't seen any of the mentioned species for at least 15 years here in Banstead. But a whole cast of moths have moved in, that, back in 1987, were but foolish dreams: Small Ranunculus (first recorded in 2004), Toadflax Brocade (2009), Tree-lichen Beauty (2011), Jersey Tiger (2012), White-point (2013). I'm still waiting for a Cypress Carpet and it can't be long as they are all around me. There are other species that, whilst not being colonists from the 'coastal fringe or beyond' have lately become far more regular in the garden - such as The Coronet, Orange Footman, Dingy Footman, Hoary Footman and Buff Footman. Rather than local conditions being more favourable for them I get the impression that these are genuine range expansions. And the list of possible additions continues - all you have to do is read the latest addition of Atropos to realise that there are plenty of species colonising the southern and south-eastern coasts of England and, once they have a firm base, might be heading north!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

You can have any colour, as long as it's orange or yellow...

Jersey Tigers are on the wing down here in sunny, hot and tinder dry Surrey. Three were in the garden this afternoon (the three liberated from the morning's MV without doubt) and one of them was of the form lutescens that exhibits an underwing which has a yellow base colour rather than the usual deep orange. I took a photograph of each as a comparison - both were taken in the shade and are actually quite a good representation of the actual colouring. I don't know the percentage of each form, whether or not it varies regionally or even if it is dependent on local conditions - somebody out there knows, no doubt.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

An agreeable stagnation

I'm 21st in the pan-listers league table with 3332 species. That's me that is, dropping like a stone as each week progresses, watching the latest addition to the 'pan-family' go straight in above me. My last additions were Hairy Mock-orange and Bladder Senna on the 24th of June (that's almost a whole month ago!). Admittedly there has been a great deal going on in those four weeks, some pretty momentous stuff, and other stuff that has been time consuming, but still I have had the luxury of spare time in which to go out and look...

And I have looked. I've looked for butterflies. I've searched for plants. I've done a bit of birding, but none of it - none of it at all - has been driven by the need for lifers, the want for a tick, the scratching of an itch that only a brand spanking new observation will stop. My time in the field has been so laid back that I've been virtually horizontal. And I like it. I like it a lot. Whatever comes my way will do so and if I see it, if I nail the identification (or not) then all is well and good.

I see my fellow pan-listers posting, tweeting and commenting with such intensity it is difficult to keep up with them. Some of them seem to be in a different corner of the UK each day, regaling us with another long, juicy list of the rare and the obscure. I once would have been with them (or at least planning next weekend's field outing with targets in mind). At the moment I find all of that, if not pointless, certainly not fulfilling. To gobble up nature as a commodity to feed a constantly swelling number is not tickling my fancy right now. That others do so is nothing other than commendable - they are adding to knowledge, finding valuable data and mostly dealing in orders that have very few people studying them. It's all good stuff - just not stuff that I want to do at the moment.

The autumn is here - the waders are already moving, late summer plants like Harebells are in full flower, and the last of the year's butterfly species that emerge are about to do so. I'm looking forward to a bit of birding. Not necessarily rarity, but maybe a bit of visible migration, possibly a small fall. I don't need anything else at the moment. I'm in a strange place, best summed up as being the willing participant in an agreeable stagnation.

Tree-lichen Beauty

From a UK screaming rarity to a 'nightly' back garden moth, the Tree-lichen Beauty has had its status re-written several times over the past twenty years. I have started to trap it on most nights now, and during last summer had a peak of four on one evening. The individual photographed above shows a particularly colourful moth - some of them can appear almost monochrome.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Dylan time

Blogs. One of the great things about them is that they vary so much. In the 'natural history' department of blogland we have the 'went there, seen that' type; the photographic showcase; the site specific and the stream of consciousness variety. There is a place for them all, but I enjoy mostly the latter. These blogs are like lucky dips - you just don't know what the post is going to be about and whether or not you will be informed, entertained, annoyed or delighted (or, at times, all four!). I still lament the demise of Gavin Haig's 'Not Quite Scilly' but I have a replacement, and that is Dylan Wrathall''s 'Of Esox and observations'. You can access it quickly by clicking here.

Dylan might rock a few boats and could be accused of telling it like it is, shooting from the hip, posting before thinking about the consequences and being provocative, but this is all good in my book. It shows that he cares, that he has an active mind and that he has a soul. I look forward to each new post with some excitement. Blogs like these make you think about what we do, how we do it and why we do it, often coming from a fresh angle. Sometimes you feel vindicated that somebody out there thinks the same way that you do and at other times a post can make the penny drop in your head and answer a question that you have been mulling over for weeks.

Any life is a journey, whether the road taken is as straight as a die or a meandering lane that has dead-ends, trees fallen across the path and places where the view is brilliant. The way that people approach natural history is no different. I'm constantly assessing what interests me, how much effort I put in and what is important to me. To some that is a waste of effort - surely it's enough to look at a Robin and bathe in its wonder - sorry, but that not what it is about for me. If I'm wasting brain cells in evaluating all the time then so be it - but I do genuinely enjoy the process - a bit like Dylan it would seen.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Festoon frenzy

Alright, a frenzy is a bit of an exaggeration, but this summer I have trapped four Festoon in the back garden, where as my total between 1987 - 2013 was also four. It's not as though mature oak and beech woodland has suddenly made a dash towards my garden, is it...

Also last night saw the year's first Toadflax Brocade at the MV, a recent colonist to the garden. There was a time when Dungeness was the only place that I saw this species - Dave Walker told me recently that this has become a much scarcer capture in the bird observatory moth traps - some turnaround.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Just butterflies

I spent this morning and early afternoon in the Juniper Bottom/Top/Box Hill area, otherwise known as 'Hawfinch Valley'. None of the monster-billed finches were seen or heard, but the butterflies were out in force. At least 60+ Silver-washed Fritillary (above), 8 Dark-green Fritillary and a single White Admiral were the highlights. The zig-zag downland was, however, disappointing, with little on the wing and my hunt for an early Straw Belle proved to be a failure. However, in such glorious surroundings and in matching weather it would be churlish to complain.