Thursday, 30 June 2011

A rosy glow


Rosy Footman - one of my favourites. This week has not produced much in the MV, although a Small Rufous was only the second garden record and this Rosy Footman only the fourth.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Emperor's new clothes

A cousin of my wife phoned yesterday afternoon to say that he had taken a photograph of a rather striking butterfly in his Slinfold, West Sussex, garden. Would I mind taking a look, he wondered? As I waited for the photograph to be emailed to me, I pondered as to what it might be. I knew that he has more than a passing interest in wildlife, so thought that at least a photograph of a Painted Lady may arrive, possibly a hairstreak. I didn't expect this...


Slinfold is a village well endowed with trees, although I do not know exactly how close the nearest colony of Purple Emperor is. All I know is that I would have turned cartwheels had one chosen to alight in my modest suburban plot.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

BFBG goes botanical

Under blue skies and in high temperatures, a motley collection of Beddington birders gathered for a botanical wander across our fair sewage farm. Johnny Allan, Peter Alfrey, Frank Prater and Keith Miller joined me in looking down, rather than up, for a few hours. We were briefly joined by Grant, Tank and the Prof.


Recent rain has given the vegetation a much needed boost, and there are parts of the farm that are virtually impenetrable, with chest-high nettles, mallow and hogweed making progress slow and tricky. However, our route around the south lake, along the stream, through the mounds to 100 acre, (via Pongo Park) rewarded us with a good mornings plant list. Highlights were Marsh Dock (a population discovered last year on a bed on 100 acre), Dittander (by the northern enclosed lagoon), Narrow-leaved Water Plantain (south lake), Fool's Watercress, Horseradish and Water Figwort.

The boys spent a great deal of time quizzing me on identification features of melilots, sowthistles, willowherbs and other confusing groups. Frank showed his increasing knowledge by putting me right a couple of times...

The Beddington SF plant list is coming along nicely. At the end of this year I will collate all the information that we are gathering and produce a 'half-term' report. I reckon we have a good couple of years left before a more definitive document will be ready.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Birth of a hawker


This adult Southern Hawker was found in its final stage of leaving the larva earlier this morning. Shortly after the photograph was taken it took its first flight.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Botanical time travelling


On the border between Nonsuch and Cheam Park, some kind-hearted soul has decided to create a wildflower meadow. I stood mesmerised by the sympathetic and frankly exciting mixture that had been chosen - Corn Chamomile, Cornflower, Corncockle, Corn Marigold - all that was missing was Corncrake!
This is how I imagine all field edges appeared when John Ray wandered the countryside in the late 17th century. Simply stunning.

Corncockle
Cornflower - the colour of summer skies...
...with the sun in the middle, courtesy of Corn Marigold

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

On my knees at Reigate Heath

Knotted Clover - in good number
Birdsfoot - I've never seen so much
Burrowing Clover - hidden amongst the dwarf vegetation
Annual Knawel - still going strong
As you leave Reigate on the A25 heading towards Dorking, you will see a cricket pitch on your left hand side, flanked on one side by a row of chocolate-box cottages. This is the edge of Reigate Heath. Now park up and walk towards the bus stop that you can clearly see not 100m away. Now turn towards the cricket square and walk no more than 10m. At your feet you will find a marvellous selection of all the plants pictured above. If you carry on further, maybe another 70m, you will start to find Chamomile. All of these are diminutive plants in stature and all are doing well if todays visit is anything to go by. Maybe they all like dry springs followed by a wet, cooler spell. But hurry - they can all be burnt off if the sun returns!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Agapeta time


The back garden MV was enlivened by two easy to identify tortrix moths, Agapeta hamana (top) and Agapeta zoegana (bottom). As much fun it might be to spend time examining plain micros, it makes for an easy life to come across such colourful and distinctive species as these.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Not Quite Scilly - RIP

Gavin Haig has pulled the plug on his blog of three years, Not Quite Scilly. I had several reasons why I took to his blog. Firstly, he was a London lad who had escaped to forge a new birding life in South Devon, something that I would have loved to emulate. Secondly, he was about my age, and I knew of him as a Staines Reservoir regular. Thirdly, and most importantly, he had the knack of writing his posts with wit and enthusiasm that required me to open a new post with genuine anticipation. And lastly, he was one of the first unsolicited bloggers that made contact with me when I first launched North Downs and Beyond back in 2008.

I admire all bloggers, however their posts are constructed. They open up their worlds to us and have a wish to share their passions with complete strangers. With Gavin, you didn't just get an update on what he, or other birders in the Seaton area had seen, you also got to share in his thoughts, his hopes and his history. There is plenty of room for nostalgia and opinion in this sphere, but those blogs that successfully demonstrate our love of natural history in multi-faceted ways are few. And now it is one fewer.

However, maintaining a blog is a commitment. The joy and initial rush that we can get from sending out our missives to the world can lose their gilded edge with time and, to be honest, if it all becomes too much of a chore then why would anyone want to carry on? So, my search is on to find another in the same mould. Any suggestions will be investigated thoroughly.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Jamboree bag

When I was a child, way before the sweet shops sold 'fun-size' this, 'jumbo' that, and the marketing men decided that 'our' confectionery needed to be rebranded to keep in line with the north American market (Snickers were Marathons and Starbursts were Opal Fruits), our choice of loose sweets in glass jars was enlivened by Jamboree Bags. These bags were made of cheap paper and coloured in muted reds, blues and greens. You couldn't see what was inside them, so every purchase was as much a risk as a surprise. A good bag might contain a sherbert dip, a giant toffee and a strip of caps (ask your parents if you don't know what caps are). A poor bag would have Parma Violets, a plastic whistle that didn't work and a sheet of paper with a few jokes printed on it. This post is my version of a virtual jamboree bag - a place to sweep up all the loose ends and package it neatly to then dispose of it to your good selves...

Pan listing.

Total now stands at 2795. My week at Sandwich Bay added 49 species with a few awaiting verification. The picture above is of a beetle that looks distinctive enough, but I cannot find anything to match it with. Can you help? The biggest gains were with moths (20, including two macros, Grass Rivulet and Lead-coloured Pug) and flora (12, including Whorl-grass, Long-bracted Sedge and Narrow-leaved Ragwort). Insect highlight was Dune Tiger Beetle, mainly because it is spectacular and easy to identify.

Other blogs
Has Gavin Haig really deleted the marvellous 'Not Quite Scilly'? I've tried to get on the site but Blogger tells me it no longer exists. I do hope that's incorrect. I am belatedly adding three more blogs to my list of worthies, all are from Surrey birders. The first is from Pete Alfrey, who you may have heard of as he is one of the pioneering birders who put the Azores on the map as the Western Palearctic hot spot for yankee vagrants. He also has a wide-ranging interest in the development of Beddington Sewage Farm and the general area. Secondly is the laid-back camera-work of Roger Brown, who puts together entertaining videos from time to time demonstrating the gems on offer at Beddington. he is also one of the few birders I know who is aware of the musical genius of Lemon Jelly. Last, but not least, Neil Randon, who has the unenviable reputation as a dipper of birds. He is a fellow paid up member of the graphic designer club.

General guff
When I went to Sandwich Bay, I took loads of reference books with me. I thought that I would spend hours poring over mosses and lichens to bump the pan list up. As it happens, I did none of that. Even though I was free to do what I wanted for as long as I wanted to, I found that my time spent birding, botanising and looking for moths, butterflies and dragonflies kept me more than occupied. I was also aware that I needed to concentrate fully on trying to sort out the grasses, rushes and sedges that I found. The upshot is that I have come to the conclusion that I cannot possibly 'do' everything - time spent on beetles, flies, lichen, mosses etc is time spent away from my main, core interests. So, although I will maintain a pan-list, and although I will still try and identify 'other' living things, I will not spend too long doing so.

Books
A couple of recommendations for you, not natural history books per se, but books that someone with an interest in the the welfare of our planet and what it is made from would find valuable reading. First up is 'Here on Earth' by Tim Flannery. Also 'Periodic Tales' by Hugh Aldersey-Williams.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Broomrapes and beer


A further meeting of the bloggers took place yesterday evening when I pootled along to Walmer to meet up with Steve 'Kingdowner' Coates. He generously gave me a whistlestop tour of the coast, showing me sites for Sea Pea, Narrow-leaved Ragwort, various Stonecrops and Oxtongue Broomrape (above). This was rounded off with a couple of beers in a Kingsdown pub where we were joined by Nigel Jarman, Kingsdown moth-er supreme. We even managed to kick up a Bright Wave moth. It was a wonderful evening spent in good company in a lovely part of east Kent. Thankyou Steve. And yes, I quite agree with you - you have more than a passing resemblance to George Clooney...

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

When North Downer met Kingsdowner


It had to happen. When one blogger wanders onto the territory of another a meeting seems to be the only civilised thing to do. So this evening saw Mr Kingsdowner himself, Steve Coates, drive the short distance to Sandwich Bay to take part in an evening stroll to the point with yours truly. It was a pleasure to meet him and we have arranged to do it again in Kingsdown tomrrow evening, so neither of us frightened the other too much. Observations were secondary as we chatted away about this and that - I only hope that I didn't rant to excess. He might have also been surprised that I don't look like a cross between George Clooney and Brad Pitt as I suggested that I do...

The picture above is of a rather smart Dune Tiger Beetle, found scuttling on the dunes, just as it should. My other highlight today was Whorl Grass, several plants found in a muddy ditch on Worth Marshes.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Wi-fi back


After last nights wi-fi no-show at the bird observatory, tonight it's all systems go again. Above is the Lizard Orchid photo that you didn't see as a result of Saturday nights Blogger picture uploading failure...

Anyway, yesterday saw me giving pondweeds a good grilling (best served with a pinch of sea salt), failing to kick up any Foresters (or rather, carefully scanning the correct field to negative result) and discovering a room at the obs with a television (Bang & O if you please).

Today I embarked on the long walk to the point that supplied me with a fine cross section of saltmarsh plants (including Sea Milkwort, below) and two Rest Harrow moths (also below)


Saturday, 11 June 2011

Greetings from Sandwich Bay

I've swapped the north downs of Surrey for the flatlands of east Kent for a week, booking myself into - no, not rehab - but Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory. And guess what...it's clean, it's modern, I've got my own lockable room and it's got wi-fi!! Just like being in London...

And what a friendly, lively place it is. The only dampener was a two hour thunderstorm that drove most of us to embark on a marathon tea drinking session mid-afternoon.

I took things at a leisurely pace, paying my respects to the Lizard Orchis (which were largely over), Bedstraw Broomrapes (even more over) and Marsh Helleborines (just a few coming out). An evening Barn Owl was the birding highlight and I had several micro moth ticks. A most satisfactory first day.

My only problem is that Blogger doesn't seem to want to upload images, so you'll have to imagine the picture of the Lizard Orchid that I had lined up.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Coming up...

Above, a visual clue to whet your appetite for future posts. No, I'm not going to embark on an internship at the nearest branch of Subway, rather I'm going to be staying at a bird observatory - no, sorry, a field centre - that is well known for Lizard Orchids, Open Golf and a twitchable Sharp-tailed Sandpiper back in 1987.

As has become an annual event, I'm leaving the family and mutt behind to wallow in all things natural history for a few days. I have no expectations other than the hope that it won't pee down all the time, blow a gale and that my optics remain fully functional. If they have wi-fi (some hope) then I might even be able to post.

Rather perversely for a so-called birder, the last thing I want when I stay at an obs is for something incredibly rare to turn up. I want to have a bit of space when I visit one, not share it with a mob of blokes carrying ladders. So, unless I stumble across something just as I'm about to leave, I sincerely hope that I don't jam in.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Like buses


You wait years to see one, and then the following day another pops up. This morning the garden MV produced another male Rannoch Looper, this one a little paler and smaller than yesterdays. Over the last two days, this species has been recorded from Suffolk all the way round to Cornwall, so now might be a good time to go out and record it - unless you fancy a long trip to Scotland to see the resident population!

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Blog off Blogger

Is anybody else suffering from not being able to comment on other peoples posts, or even being allowed to reply to comments being left on your own blog? I keep getting sent into a spiral of signing in...

Of course, if everyone is having this problem then nobody is going to respond to this post, are they...

By the way, my Rannoch Looper this morning (see last post) was one of several caught in the south of England today. It was my 386th species of macro recorded in the garden, since 1987. What's the chance of reaching 400?

Rannoch Looper

Last year's mini-invasion of Rannoch Loopers in to the south-east of England past me by, but this morning one of the first moths in the MV that caught my attention was this little beauty. The lack of strong markings would suggest that this moth is a male, but please bear in mind that this is based on my only experience of the species being this very moth - it's a lifer!

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

VICTORY!



This morning, North Downs and Beyond was delighted to receive the following communication:


"After agitation from the North Downs and Abroad and angry scenes on the streets of the Bailiwick of Jersey, there was an emergency meeting held at Pan-species Listing Central last night. A bleary-eyed spokesperson emerged this morning to declare a shock change to The Rules: the Channel Islands count! Insiders believe this heralds a new era of political and economic unity between the UK and the Bailiwicks, with HM Revenue and Customs anticipating that the islands wealthy inhabitants will be expressing their gratitude through voluntary tax contributions. Mark Telfer said: “I’m relieved to have averted this schism in the Pan-species Listing community. But it is a symptom of its success now that a massive 10 listers are participating. It is a major responsibility to try to keep everybody happy”. But celebrations over the news were clouded by rumours that a militant lister is now planning holidays to Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands."


This blog acknowledges Mark's pragmatic approach to the problem, his willingness to find common ground, and a hint that Barbary Ape and Snowy Sheathbill may soon be countable.