Thursday, 24 April 2014

Tart's tick on gorse

I have to admit to 'ticking' a terribly common micro-moth today, one that swarms on gorse and of which I most probably saw three figures worth this morning - Cydia ulicetana. I can almost feel the mocking looks coming my way from fellow lepidopterists and pan-listers who find it hard to believe that someone - such as me - who pretends to have at least half a finger on the pulse of our wildlife can have got so far in this game without knowingly having clapped eyes on something so hideously common. I saw it on Banstead Downs by the way...

Later in the afternoon I joined David Campbell for a most agreeable wander over Canons Farm, Banstead Woods and Fames Rough. The birding was hard work, but we did see Dingy Skipper and Green Hairstreak at Fames Rough.

Green Hairstreak, on Wild Strawberry at Fames Rough
Cydia ulicetana - shame on you Gale...
Gorse Shieldbug - dig the red antennae!

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

A sodden moth trap

Last night seemed mild enough to expect a bit of moth action in the garden, so out went the MV and down came the rain. It was still bucketing down when I stirred in the early hours and was still raining when I switched the MV off at about 07.00hrs. The total catch was poor and lacking in variety, not unusual for the garden when it doesn't stop raining. Best of a poor bunch was this Mullein, always good to see. So far, whereas other Surrey gardens have been pulling in Blossom Underwings and Dotted Chestnuts, I have been under-achieving here in Banstead. But it only takes one moth to turn that scenario around...

Sunday, 20 April 2014

The pipes of pan and listing

It's all out there - you've just got to open your eyes and LOOK

Lists. I've never hidden my fascination with them, my upkeep of them, but have always pointed out that I'm not a chaser of them. Maybe this is unusual, in as much as if you are nerdish enough to list all that you see, then it is highly likely that you will also go out of your way to keep on adding to them with a manic need. Maybe my need is purely passive - having a list to record my efforts is enough in itself.

My biggest list - both in scope and number - is my pan-species list; that is ALL of the living things that I have seen in the UK. As a listing project this is about as wide-ranging and challenging as you can get. It has become my one and only list in a way as it comprises all of my other lists combined. So I have to service all of the 37 sublists that feeds it.... confused? Don't be... go online and visit the new pan-listers website and take a look. You can find it at

It is still in its infancy, so there are going to be some teething problems. You can look at the recorder rankings, see who has been spending far too much time looking at smuts and rusts and who really needs to get out into the field a bit more. And you never know, you may be tempted to dip a toe into the water - it is very warm and welcoming!

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Koch's Gentian and being hypocritical

I've got a bloody cheek really. I drone on about the abuse of Wheatear imagery on blogs but then do the same with pictures of Koch's Gentian. Yes, for every year that I've been bogging, sometime during the month of April, I will go and visit the Buckland Hills, seek out Koch's Gentians, take some photographs and post them here. I'm a hypocrite...

These were planted c1960 by a homesick Swiss employee of the chemical firm Beechams. They have happily taken to this section of the Surrey North Downs, and have even spread a little. For some time they were identified as Trumpet Gentian (Gentiana clusii) but have since been re-identified as Koch's Gentian (Gentiana acaulis). And if you do keep lists, be they pan-species driven or not, these plants are countable...

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Birding Quiz. Who are YOU?

What kind of birder are you? Answer these simple questions to find out... you must choose the answer closest to your honest response.

You find a Blue-cheeked Bee-eater. Do you
(a) tweet, Facebook and text everybody that you can think of
(b) thank the birding Gods for being so generous
(c) look the other way and continue to count Dunnocks
(d) wonder what that strange, colourful bird is before you

A friend offers you a lift to go and twitch a Houbara Bustard in East Yorkshire. Do you
(a) tell your friend that you are already on your way
(b) politely refuse because you saw the Westleton bird in '62
(c) ask them if there might be some Dunnocks in the area as well
(d) say no thanks and then try to find it in the Observer's Book of Birds

The Hythe Chinese Pond Heron. Was it
(a) without doubt, a proper lifer
(b) who knows, but then again who cares
(c) bigger than a Dunnock
(d) a made up bird name, a bit similar to 'our' heron but probably with yellow bits in the plumage

What is your UK life list?
(a) Between 450-550
(b) Not sure, gave up counting several years ago
(c) One. Prunella modularis.
(d) At least 50, possibly as high as 60.

What do you associate with the word BOOM!
(a) the appearance of a rarity
(b) annoying f*ckwits
(c) a population explosion among Dunnocks
(d) a First World War howitzer

Which birder would you most like to be compared to
(a) Lee Evans
(b) Peter Grant
(c) The bloke who wrote the Dunnock account in BWP
(d) Tony Soper

Seawatching. Is it
(a) something you sometimes need to do to string a rare pelagic
(b) something to be savoured
(c) something that you don't stand a chance of seeing a Dunnock on
(d) a chance to watch a few ships passing

What do you wear in the field
(a) combat gear, army surplus, green stuff, kill....
(b) whatever old stuff is out at the moment and fits your expanding frame
(c) tweeds - like muted Dunnock greys and browns
(d) safari jacket, cravat, monocular in top pocket

If you answered mostly A
You need to get a life - or a girlfriend. Ditch the camo gear and do something for yourself for a change, rather than driving all over Britain because everybody else that answered 'A' is also doing so. Or it might just be that you are Lee Evans.

If you answered mostly B
You are a well-adjusted birder, most probably good looking, have many friends and are shit hot in the field.

If you answered mostly C
You are a Dunnock. Or a member of the BTO. Or both.

If you answered mostly D
You are Tony Soper. Have you thought about taking up rambling as a side-line? Or even brass rubbing?

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Somewhere in the Surrey Hills...

Sometimes you need to engineer a change to get your enthusiasm back, to recharge your batteries or to keep your mind sharp. So far this year my local birding has been, well, predictable. Last week saw me take part in - and enjoy -  an organised visible migration watch from Leith Hill Tower (see here).  This made me try something different this morning, so rather than head for the 'same old, same old',  I took an OS Map, my binoculars and headed for the outer Surrey Hills, to explore places that I only vaguely knew, or hadn't visited at all. It was just what the doctor ordered...

It was a glorious morning. The woodland ground flora is well advanced, with lots of Bluebells already in flower, with plenty of Wood Anemone, Greater Stitchwort, Cuckooflower and even a patch of Yellow Archangel colouring the scene. Around me were calling Cuckoos, singing Willow Warblers and Firecrests. Venturing out onto more open ground, a few hirundines were heading north, with Swallows and House Martins arrowing northwards while above them up to 20 Common Buzzards were wheeling, displaying and soaring. They were not the only raptors. 4 Sparrowhawks, a Red Kite and best of all both male and female Goshawks were recorded, the latter species showing particularly well, the female an enormous beast. An area of heathland held displaying Tree Pipits, singing Siskins and loafing Common Crossbills. Most agreeable.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Back to work

After three months of bone-idleness I find myself back at work for the next fortnight - employed as a graphic designer in a small studio. My freelance career is thus launched. With a mixture of nervousness and excitement I entered the fray yesterday morning, but soon got into the swing of things. It helps that the other designers are very friendly and are kindly spoon-feeding me projects to work on.

I have hardly checked my phone for the past two days and 'summer migrants' are but a figment of other birders imagination, as I have seen precisely Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Sand Martin so far this spring - utter pants for April 8th! However, think of the adrenalin rush that I will get when I do wander out again in several days time, to be surrounded by singing Reed and Sedge Warblers, calling Cuckoos, displaying Bee-eaters, flocks of scything Alpine Swifts, lurking Bluethroats...

I'd better stop now.