Monday, 29 July 2013

Time flies, trees grow and we all get a little older

I spent quite a bit of time birding on Epsom Common in my youth (although the word 'birding' wasn't in use in the UK back then). I would get a bus to the Wells Estate (on the Ashtead side) and walk across the railway line and onto open scrub, populated by Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers and, in summer, Grasshopper Warblers. My walk would continue through mature woodland along magnificent wide rides until meeting the boundary with open farmland. After a loop round the stew pond (there was just the one at the time) I would wander through an open woodland scene, then further scrub, to the Cricketer's Green.

About five years ago I revisited this place after a gap of twenty years. I was stunned. I couldn't find my way around as it had all changed. Where once had been scrub there was now woodland. I stood looking about me like a lost soul. It had changed to the point that there was no familiarity at all. I tried to find the stew ponds (another had been created in the early 1980s) but I got hoplessly lost. I found this disturbing - a part of it was my 'loss' of a cherished beginner's birding site, the other was the clear demonstration of the passing of time. In my birding lifetime head-high scrub had matured into full-blown woodland. The Grasshopper Warblers had gone (along with the Willow Tits that I saw on every visit).

I then wandered into a parallel universe when stumbling upon a great clearing. This had once been mature woodland and, according to a notice, had been felled to try and encourage the remnant heathland flora to survive. Had I been brought here blindfolded and then had my ties removed, I would not have been able to tell you where I was - and this was a place that was one of my birding homes between 1974 - 1982.

The same has happened to me (to a lesser extent) at Dungeness, where the trapping area of my youth had sallow bushes no higher than head height and you could clearly see the top of the mist net poles across the site. Today, you could stand four birders on top of each others shoulders and still not see across the treetops.

Last night, at home, I went out to check the moth trap and felt some drips of water on my back. Looking up I relised that the ash tree in the garden has grown out and over the trap site - not long ago it seemed to be half way up the garden and nowhere near the trap. The need for tree surgeons beckons.

Time flies, trees grow and we all get a little older.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Moths before the (promised) rain

With the Met Office promising 'my' part of the south of England 'biblical rain' by lunchtime, I did the MV trap with speed so as to get in a small amount of time looking for Purple Emperor butterflies in Banstead Woods. The males are meant to have a morning spell in which they come down from the tree-tops to feed at lower levels. I was on site between 10.00 -11.15 but drew a blank. I had a pleasant time though, and walking back along the open southern flank of the woods revealed a fair number of butterflies on the wing, including several Chalkhill Blues and Marbled Whites.

Back to the garden moths. Two highlights were the garden's fifth Waved Black (top photo) and eighth Rosy Minor (bottom photo).



Friday, 26 July 2013

End of term report



Pupil: Steve Gale
Class: North Downs and beyond

Subject: Birds
Steven has tried hard to be taken seriously as a birder. Sometimes this has paid off, such as the discovery of a large Hawfinch flock in deepest Surrey. It was, however, noted that this find was during a non-birding interlude. His wife was able to find the best bird of the term in their back garden (a male Black Redstart) which, although subsequently being seen, he could not claim as his own. Members of staff at Beddington, Holmethorpe and Canons Farm report irregular attendance.
Work:B+ Effort:C-

Subject: Moths
A cold spring meant that his trap counts from the garden were very low, but all pupils suffered similar results. Since June however Steven has doubled his efforts and can possibly be considered unfortunate in a continued poor return. He should be congratulated on a fine Royal Mantle just before the end of the school year. The pheromone investment that he made showed initiative, but so far this has not been backed up by any showing of practical skills.
Work:C Effort:B-

Subject: Plants
A bitty year, full of vague walks and sketchy recording. A certain amount of success was obvious in June and July, but all finds were known by the Surrey Botanical recorder, although a last minute discovery of White Mullein at Chipstead Bottom gained him some much needed marks.
Work:C Effort:D

Subject: Blogging
Blogger has reported a magnificent attendance from this student this year, with a steady 15-20 posts per month. Viewing figures and comment numbers are up. It reports a tendency to post about non-natural history matters which is worrying. He also needs to understand that it's not big to try and be funny, and that we are laughing at him, not with him.
Work:B Effort:A-

Subject: Pan-listing
Steven's master in this subject (Mr. Telfer) was very disappointed with his showing in this school year. After last years magnificent effort he has added very few species, exhibiting a lack of effort and enthusiasm. With so many younger members of the school showing such passion for the subject, Steven should be very concerned indeed if he wishes to study this subject in the future.
Work:D Effort:D

Headmaster's report
Steven has been a cause for concern this year. We had high hopes for him last year, but these have rarely come to fruition. If ever the term 'should try harder' was relevant in a report, then this is it!

Thursday, 25 July 2013

If you had to come back as a bird

A well-known resident of Littlestone recently asked me "If you had to come back as a bird, what species would it be?"

Now, I like questions like that!

He said that he wanted to come back as a Bonxie  - to quote - "so I wouldn't have to take any shit from anyone"

My choice was altogether more twee and feeble. I would like to come back as a Common Swift. Why? Well, they look great, all sweeping arcs and scythe-like wings, screaming in the summer air, looping-the-loop, dive-bombing, chasing across the roof-tops and then becoming specks in the sky as they rise up and up to sleep on the wing with all the cares of the world beneath them. They spend all of their time in the warmth (apart from those foolish early individuals that arrive in mid-April - I would make sure that I didn't arrive until mid-May). My choice of summer residency would be the south coast of England, so I could hammer along the chalk cliffs of Sussex and Kent, fly around the spire of Chichester cathedral, spend lazy afternoons floating above the downs and maybe hawk over the gravel pits of Dungeness on overcast days.

It would be my luck to come back as one of those ropey town feral pigeons, spending my day feeding on crumbs whilst grovelling amongst the detritus of humanity, hobbling about on deformed legs, roosting on shop-front ledges in a world lit by 24-hour street lighting and lulled into fitful bouts of sleep by constant traffic noise.

As you can see, I haven't given this much thought...

I have added Wealdgirl's blog to my list of worthies on the right hand side of this page. If you are a Dungeness regular you will know her identity!

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Pine hawk-moth


For those of you who visit this blog for a quick, fast-food fix of natural history, here's a picture of a Pine Hawk-moth for you, one of the two-three that I record annually. This morning's was the second this year.

This moth was once considered to be a regular in only Suffolk and Dorset, but by 1907, according to the publication of 'South', it had begun to expand into Hampshire, the Home Counties and Cambridgeshire.  The recent distribution maps show a further expansion over the intervening 100 years - into Norfolk, East Midlands, Humberside and a few extra 'dots' on the edge. For lepidopterists elsewhere in the UK, this would still be a stellar moth!

When I first took an interest in moths, the hawks - and particularly Pine Hawk - were species that I hankered after more than all the others. My first Pine (from the garden MV in 1992) was a very special capture indeed.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

A big anticlimax

The Phoenix - one of the few moths that bothered to turn up to the gathering last night

With low cloud, oppressive mugginess and the promise of thunder, I switched the MV on at dusk and rubbed my hands together in an act of anticipation and excitement. There was no moth beyond the bounds of possibility in such conditions!

Such expectation was further fuelled when I took a break from the 'Royal-baby-TV-lovefest' that was dominating all 268 channels that I can receive, and found 30+ moths dancing around the light and resting on a nearby wall, including a Beautiful Hook-tip and two Small Emeralds. I went to bed full of hope and even set the alarm to go off a bit earlier as I was bound to take longer to process the massive catch that would be there in the morning.

When morning came I near as damn it ran to the MV. The first sign that all had not gone according to the script was a virtually empty wall by the trap - when numbers are good there can be 30-40 moths resting here. I peered through the clear plastic funnel and could see the sparsely populated egg boxes. This was not good. It did not take me long to process the 100+ macro moths present. There was not much of note, apart from there being not one Heart and Dart or Large Yellow Underwing, only two Dark Arches and a few piffling Uncertains and Rustics - these largely 'brown jobs' are the bulk staple biomass of MV traps up and down Britain.

Where are they?

Monday, 22 July 2013

I now get reverential


Dungeness Bird Observatory - committee meeting in 1967

I wanted to write a bit more about the 'old boy' birders who were gathered at Dungeness on Saturday. In my last post I suggested that these people invented the birding template that we all still adhere to, and that is no exaggeration.

I was talking to Mark Hollingworth (Dungeness debut 1964) about this yesterday. Birding in the 1950s was, by and large, a middle and upper-class leisure activity. Those that plied their trade in such things were 'ornithologists'. The birding scene was academic. Outside influences were rare and discouraged - it was all a bit dry and dusty. These may be sweeping statements but they are, according to contemporary witnesses, closer to the truth than not.

Sometime in the late 1950s and early 1960s a new wave of birdwatchers came onto the scene, baby-boomers from the second world war era and the first generation of working class kids with, if not disposable income, leisure time to burn. A swathe of Londoners adopted Dungeness - Bob Scott, Peter Grant, Ray Turley, Mark Hollingworth - plus many others from the south-east, such as Dick and Pete Burness, Tim Inskipp, Dave Holman, John Clements, Tony Greenland, Tony Hutson, Pete Kinnear, Rod McCann, Pete Clement... I could go on. There are names in that list that trailblazed a way of birding that still survives to this day. They travelled abroad, something that few before them had done, and by this I don't mean the wanderings of colonial collectors, but pure birding. They came back armed with unique field craft skills, boy's own adventures and the confidence to start identifying species that were beyond the scope of previous birdwatchers - from unravelling juvenile tern plumages to taking on asian phylloscopus warblers and American waders. Birding became a social focus. These people populated twitches, observatories and pubs. They opened up a way of life to a whole raft of teeneagers in the 1970s and 80s who found birding to be not only fascinating, but cool! I can remember with a vividness that is unnatural the first time I met these long-haired, laid-back birders who looked more like Marc Bolan than Robert Dougal and, as an added bonus they could bird! They could drink Oliver Reed under the table!! They had birded on Mars!!! (OK, they hadn't, but Iran, Nepal and Thailand were as far away as Mars to me back in 1976). 

Just take another look at the names above - apart from most of them being exceptional birders they became professional ornithologists, museum curators, reserve wardens, authors, illustrators, tour guides, bird report editors, members of the national rarities committee and shapers of what we have today.

I'm sure that there are (and I know that there are) other observatories and regions that can lay claim to such alumni. These people are often forgotten about in today's largely shallow birding scene, where celebrity is but a pointless 'twitch' away. As I've said before, to become a legend you need to do things that are great, things that are unique, things that are worthy.

Like those fine people mentioned above.

(I can confirm that no money has changed hands with the writing of this obsequious post)

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Where old birders go to swap medical histories


Where can you get a surfeit of food, drink, Tom Petty and The B52's? If you happen to spend the weekend with a certain resident of Littlestone in Kent, such rewards will be yours... but you will also have to put up with Ashes cricket coverage, a few jokes and much chat, but someone has got to put up with it and I bravely accepted the invitation to do so. Thanks Mark!

After admiring his beautifully tended and stocked garden I spoilt its ambience by putting out the MV trap. Despite Saturday night being breezy we recorded 35+ macro species, including Coast Dart and L-Album Wainscot (above).

During Saturday afternoon we dropped into Dungeness Bird Observatory where there was a gathering of the 'old-timers' from the 1950s, 60s and 70s (plus some newbies who have only been going to the shingle for thirty years). And what did the assembled ornithological minds talk about? Moult in gulls? Pipit identification? The demise of the Turtle Dove?. No, the subjects ranged from hip and knee replacement, blood pressure readings, cholesterol levels, bladder control, insulin dependency and falling libido. For once in my life I felt young and healthy! Someone pointed out that, when people get to a certain age and are asked how old they are, they will respond with "I'm sixty two next birthday", rather than actually give their current age. Young children also do this. Draw your own conclusions. Joking apart, it was marvelous to catch up with old friends or meet for the first time old legends. This generation were truly the birding pioneers who set the template that we all follow to this very day.

There was a great surprise for me when I returned home this afternoon, as a male Chalkhill Blue was feeding on the lavender in the back garden. I watched it for a couple of minutes before going to get my camera. You know what happened as I haven't posted a picture - it had buggered off when I returned.

Friday, 19 July 2013

The rise of the footmen

When I started moth trapping, the likes of Orange, Hoary, Buff and Dingy Footmen were certainly not expected in my Surrey garden. Times have changed. Although none of them could be described as common, they are annual. The two species pictured below were trapped last night.

Buff Footman - 'flat' winged resting posture with contrasting orange head and lacking orange costal edge to wing.
Hoary Footman - wings wrapped up in resting posture.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Hot weather wanderers


Whenever a 'heatwave' is experienced I can almost guarantee that the garden MV will be graced with a few 'resident' species that don't normally turn up in the garden. Yesterday's Royal Mantle was a fine example of that, and so too were the sixth and seventh records of Beautiful Hook-tip (above), making it three in a week. With no let-up in sight I can hope for a few more surprises.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

By Royal appointment


I was more than a little pleased to see this beautiful moth at rest on an egg box in the MV this morning - Royal Mantle. Before today I've only seen this species on the North Downs in the Ranmore area, so can only assume that the hot weather has sent this individual off on a wander. Also recorded was the second garden record of Pine Carpet, a True-lover's Knot and a Pine Hawk-moth, the last two species being just about annual. With the warm, muggy nights set to continue, it makes checking the trap in the mornings that bit more exciting.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Fondling little lepidoptera

I've been taking a look at the micro moths that have been coming to the MV. Regular visitors to this site may recall that I blow hot-and-cold with these smaller moths (but then again I'm sure that you've got more important things to remember than whether or not I fondle little lepidoptera).

I have added another three species to the garden list, all shown below. I won't bore you with the other photographs that are housed in a folder called 'Mystery'. When I have time, most probably in deepest December, I may revisit them...

Acleris forsskaleana

Acleris logiana

Ypononeuta evonymella

Monday, 15 July 2013

A right old round-up

Small Ranunculus - if you haven't had one yet, you will soon.

Pheromones
After last week's success with Six-belted Clearwings I thought that I'd knock off a few more species. Armed with a virtual arsenal of lures, I set of last Saturday (in the company of Nick and Russell Gardener) to visit a number of sites that harboured the requisite clearwing food plants. The net result was not a bloody sniff! Had I not already been successful last weekend I would have doubted the veracity of the lures, but the same 'Six-belted' pheromone that was successful last Sunday drew a blank this weekend. Must be down to my placement, or the funny season, or the fact that where I went the clearwings don't.

Plants
Really pleased to find 12 flowering White Mullein plants along Chipstead Bottom valley. A check of Fame's Rough a little further along (for the umpteenth time this summer), once again drew a blank on both Ground Pine and Cut-leaved Germander. Both did well last year and the same site still looks good enough for them. Why are they absent? A Saturday afternoon visit to Headley Heath resulted in finding the Martagon Lily population in full flower, if a little shaded out.

Pan-listing
My 'slow burn' approach to this may result in far fewer lifers but they do still tick along. The longhorn beetle Leptura quadrifasciata was a welcome addition on birch stumps at Headley.

Moths
Hot, muggy nights always means plenty in the MV trap. The garden has been interesting, but still refuses to provide that 'marquee' moth. The 4th Small Ranunculus and 5th Beautiful Hook-tip have been the stand-outs. I'm experiencing another burst of micro-enthusiasm which resulted in three new species for the garden list last night. All of them common and previously overlooked.

Youth
Last Saturday was a real 'kick up the backside' for me. As already mentioned, I spent Saturday in the company of Russell (who is in his mid-teens) and already has a UK bird list larger than mine. He has recently developed an interest in botany (along with his Dad) so I spent most of my time testing his identification skills. He got everything that I threw at him right, even the plain, boring ones! He now also runs an MV in their Wallington garden and already possesses a fine knowledge of moths, this after a very short period of time. It was him (not the doddery old duffers alongside) who picked up all the decent butterflies we saw and found the longhorn beetles. I felt like a blind fool in comparison. It made me feel old and feeble...

Sport
What a great weekend for the South African English cricket team who beat Australia in the first Ashes test by that traditional method of new technology. Special mention must be made of Chris Froome, the Kenyan British leader of the Tour de France who stormed up Mont Ventoux for a famous stage victory (where, incidently, I saw my first Rock Bunting and Citril Finch back in 1983). All this after a Scot Brit won Wimbledon and the Welsh British and Irish Lions beat the Wallabies. Makes you proud to be Danish German Norse British

Saturday, 13 July 2013

BOU to 'stump' the cheating birder

"Mr Gatting, I must insist that you remove the Olive-backed Pipit from your list. You were clearly still eating a cheese and pickle sandwich in the dressing room at the time."

In a move that has sent shockwaves through the birding community, the BOU has revealed that it intends to implement new technology to address the perennial problem of stringing in birding. After studying the 'third' umpire arrangement adopted by some cricketing authorities, a spokesman from Britain's premier birding gestapo said "It is time we smoked the charlatans out of birding. They are cheating scum and they need to be exposed as such."

Although they will not be drawn on specifics, we at North Downs and beyond believe that the following plans are being considered:

*All birders to wear specially adapted spectacles that are fitted with 'actual vision' camcorders. Any birder claiming a lifer will have to submit the footage of the event for a panel of experts to assess whether or not they have truly seen enough of the bird.

*Ankle-tags to be mandatory so that the exact GPS reading of the whereabouts of a birder can be cross-checked against a claimed rarity sighting. This will stop birders claiming a Pacific Swift over Cley when they are, in fact, at a Little Chef in Stevenage.

*All birders to undertake a lie detector test to re-evaluate all past sightings. This has prompted a response from the UK400 Club, claiming that such an act will necessitate them rebranding as the UK325 Club

*Two appeals (in a calendar year), will be allowed by any birder who believes that the BOU have unfairly docked them of a bird. A special panel of 'crusty experts' will be wheeled out to view line-ups of birders who are contesting such old time rarities as Houbara Bustard, Brown Thrasher and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. A police artist will be on hand to illustrate the claimants 'as they might have looked' at the time of the rarities appearance.

A spokesman from Littlestone has commented: "It is about time that these birding parasites, liars and cheats were run out of birding. Just don't question me about my Bimaculated Lark on Scilly, or the Rufous-sided Towhee at Spurn. I was there... or at least in a pub nearby. Close enough to claim the little buggers."

Thursday, 11 July 2013

It's (not) all about the list - or maybe it is(n't)

Some people are surprised that my UK bird list is so modest. It currently stands at 376 which, considering I've been an active birder since 1974, is pretty mediocre. My attempts to chase a list (and actively twitch) were limited to the late 1970s and early 1980s, with brief spurts of enthusiasm since (but these spurts really were brief, believe me). I hit the 300 mark in 1981. I thought my march to 400 was just a matter of time. Not thirty-odd years worth of time. I've become reconciled to the fact that, if I continue gathering lifers at my current rate, I will never reach 400. I'm not worried by that at all.

The last bird I truly twitched was a drake Canvasback at Dungeness. The year? 2000. So that means that I haven't gone for a bird for over thirteen years. I have had the odd tick however - a couple of Scottish lifers on botanical forays, a few armchair splits and a White-tailed Plover that happened to turn up at Dungeness while I was there.

So, why did I abandon listing? The seeds of desertion were sown on one of the greatest twitches...

November 1982. Cornwall. Driving rain at dawn. I lifted my binoculars, took in the Varied Thrush and, for the next hour, obtained further views whilst getting very wet. I cannot remember whether we moved on because the bird had disappeared, or we wanted to get out of the worsening weather. What I can tell you is that we then drove to a reservoir (the details are in an old notebook but I cannot recall which one - probably Stithians). By now the rain was biblical. We stayed in the car which was full of birders and was steaming up like a Turkish baths, as were our optics. A most unhappy hour was spent staring at a Long-billed Dowitcher through a sea of arms and a virtual fog. We all had the right old hump. It was dark by 2pm. We decided to go home. I volunteered to drive back to London, the journey of which was accompanied by articulated lorries and volumes of spray. Visibility was so poor that I drove by guesswork. I had a thumping headache. By the time I got home I went straight to bed and vowed never again to go on a twitch. It was unfulfilling. This after seeing a first for Britain.

If I'm being honest I was looking for an excuse to stop. I disliked everything pre-twitch - the gathering of 'gen' (not like it is today); the angst of worrying if the bird would still be there; the inevitable dips when they occurred (the hit rate back then was worse than it is now due to primitive communications); the feeling of 'what next' as soon as the bird was in the bag. I had even got into the habit of wishing a potential target species to have gone before I could make the journey, all to save myself the bother of the whole process. This is not birding for pleasure.

However, I like lists. I'm a maintainer of them but not a chaser. I like gathering them, compiling them, nurturing them, all neat rows in old fashioned ledgers. They are for nobody else, just for my own amusement and memory. If I lost them I would feel lost myself.

So it is about the list after all. isn't it?

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

A moth you can never tire of


Over the years I must have seen hundreds of Buff-tips, but it is still an absolute pleasure to see one. The opportunity to take a photograph of this 'snapped-off twig' mimic is too hard to resist as well.

The warm weather has certainly seen an increase in moth numbers and diversity at the garden MV, but I still await that 'killer' moth, an individual that gets the adrenaline going. There seem to be a fair few Red-necked Footman appearing in odd places at the moment, so one wandering into the garden would be most welcome.  That's just jinxed that...

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Breaking news: rare bird hoaxes!

In a sensational interview given to North Downs and Beyond, a lapsed birder from Surrey has admitted to a series of rare-bird hoaxes that have fooled the nation.

The middle-aged man, who wishes to remain anonymous, has revealed a series of stunts that has seen released cage birds, remote controlled models and even a child in fancy dress fooling the UK twitching elite.

"I was fed up with the whole birding scene" he admitted. "I hated birds and I loathed birders. They just annoyed me, so I thought that I'd have a bit of fun to cheer myself up. I looked through the classified pages of Cage and Aviary Birds last autumn and purchased a Dusky Thrush which I released in Margate last November. Nobody found the damn thing even though it was remarkably tame and confiding, and then it went missing. I thought that little jape was over and forgot all about it. However, this spring it was found, only a few miles away from the initial release site. There are plenty of birders that have now ticked an escape. That made me very happy indeed."

Encouraged by this belated success, he found a supplier of remote-controlled toy Needletails in Taiwan. "That was the best thirty quid I've ever spent" he told me. "I spent a few days flying it around Cornish headlands, but again nobody saw it. I was going on holiday to Scotland, so took it with me and bingo! It was all over the pagers like a rash. The best bit was when the battery died and it fell out of the sky alongside a wind turbine. No birder that went to pick up the body noticed the wires hanging out of its backside - they were too busy shaking their fists at the propellers!"

His highlight came last week.

"I persuaded my four-year old niece to dress in a onesy that I had converted into something that looked a bit like a frigatebird. And for the price of a bag of Jelly Tots she agreed to sit out on the quay for an hour. When I saw those dudes snapping away at her, I could have cheered! If you look at the photographs of the 'bird' carefully, you can see the zip!!"

His only disappointment came when his released Great Black-headed Gull (obtained from a Russian bird dealer), was only seen by a few non-named birders who didn't carry cameras. "That would have been excellent" he said wistfully "if a full-framed image had been produced by the birders who actually saw it. All those big-listers would have been apoplectic". He claims to have drugged the gull in the hope that it hung around for at least a day. "Next time I will up the dose".

When asked if these pranks will continue, he would not be drawn. However, he hinted that he has recently purchased some decoy Murrelets from Canada, a Condor-shaped glider and some stuffed Scandanavian owls with a built in sound system, which, at night, "can fool Lars Svensson!".

Monday, 8 July 2013

A welcome return


When I started back garden MV moth trapping in 1990, Eyed Hawk-moth was an annual, albeit single figured component of the year's tally. Then, from the mid-1990s numbers fell. From the turn of the millennium it disappeared altogether, so the individual above, (trapped last Thursday), was a most welcome surprise. Of the non-migratory hawk-moths, Privet is still the rarest here, with only two individuals recorded.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Smash and grab clearwing

The very poor image to the left is nothing more than a celebration of the fact that my clearwing pheromones do actually work. After several failed attempts for various species I was beginning to wonder if I had a duff lot. You could blame my choice of habitat, or, more likely, the lateness of the season.

This weekend has been one of family commitments. On Friday, the weather forecast looked good for lepidoptera, but I knew that yesterday would be out of the question for any field work as a university visit to Southampton with my younger daughter was booked in.  As for today, a late morning start was on the cards to visit relatives at Shooter's Hill in south-east London. I sat in the garden this morning looking up at the perfect weather for clearwings (sunny, warm, light breeze) and then at the freezer where the pheromone lures wait. I checked the time - realised that I had an hour and a half spare - picked out the API lure (the pheromone with Six-belted Clearwing in mind) - and headed off to Chipstead Bottom, a place with plenty of this particular clearwings food plant, Bird's-foot trefoil. And, reputedly, it flies in the morning.

On arrival I suspended the lure (itself wrapped in a piece of net curtain) from a branch that was pushed into the ground. After seven minutes a single Six-belted Clearwing arrived and spent a couple of minutes flying around and settling on the lure. My attempts at photography were poor and I only succeeded in frightening the moth away. Another six minutes passed before a further moth arrived (a bit brighter than the first) and this stayed only fleetingly. I would have loved to have stayed longer, but I needed to be elsewhere. Job done!

Now, here's an opportunity. Shooter's Hill is only a short distance from Greenwich Park, which I happen to know has a healthy population of Yellow-legged Clearwing. I wonder if I can swing it?.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

The post in which Bananarama are singing to me

An English summer's evening. The sky has taken on the pastel hues of blue, green and gold. The air is still and warm. I sit down, take a deep breath and smell the lazily drifting scent from the profusion of flower. I listen to the slow melodious meander of a Blackbird, the distant scream of a party of swifts and the discordant 1980s pop of the all-girl band Bananarama.

It's not from a radio, or a nostalgia-driven householder with the windows open. It's actually them, the band playing live. Just for me? No, not quite...

I live maybe one and a half miles from Epsom race course. For the past four years there have been a series of summer concerts held in front of the grandstand during July. The first of them (Bananarama) is today, followed next week by ex-Spandau Ballet crooner Tony Hadley and then the week after by weedy rock band Mike and the Mechanics. You can see that these gigs do not entice Springsteen, The Stones or The Arctic Monkeys to take on the Epsom massive, but are attractive to have-beens who are wringing out a few more quid before they are finally found out. That's is a bit unfair - after all, the three acts I've mentioned all made a tidy career out of music 'back in the day' and Mike Rutherford is a multi-millionaire from being in Genesis before he swapped little Phil Collins for some geezers who fiddled with car engines.

If the weather is kind during these performances - no wind, or a southerly breeze - I can clearly hear the bands from my garden. I can just about hear the girls as I'm typing this ("Really Saying Something", as it happens). In this fashion I've heard The Beach Boys (but not Brian Wilson), Blondie (all present and correct), Simply Red (unfortunately) and JLS from the comfort of a garden chair.

And, I like to think, just for me...

I now hope to hear "It Ain't What You Do, It's The Way That You Do It", preferably with Terry Hall as guest vocalist, while I drink my cup of tea.

How quaint.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Do photographs help us or hinder us?

Do we spend a disproportionate amount of time taking pictures of wildlife rather than observing and appreciating what is before us in all its glorious reality? I think that quite a few of us are guilty of such actions.

A camera can be a lazy man's tool. We snap away at a plant, moth or butterfly which will then be appreciated and consumed at a later time. Something that I constantly find myself doing is, when confronted with a 'prize', panic until I have the pictures in the camera, by which time the moth, butterfly or beetle has most probably flown or scuttled away. Plants are not so problematical, but if the first reaction upon seeing them is to reach for the camera, then our mind is not really attached to the personal moment of initial contact. We have lost something. Can I be accused of using wildlife as a commodity to consume, catalogue and forget, to then move on to the next thing in line.

Admittedly, the picture can be used as proof of our having seen what we are claiming, or a crucial aid in being able to identify a tricky species. They do have uses beyond a 'capture' to own what we have found.

I'm aware of looking through my fairly extensive photographic library of plants (I've taken 600+ species) and realise that, in some cases, my recollection of having seen the plant boils down purely to the images that I have taken, and no more. I can recall where and when, but not necessarily how. In contrast, species that I have seen but not yet photographed almost without exception play vivid filmic memories of my encounters with them.

It's a bit like a family Christmas gathering. If you've got a handful of photographs from thirty years ago of such an event, it is these that your mind will refer to, and these inform and colour our memory. If you have no pictures from the same gathering does not mean that you will lack memories of it, but have a more honest and detailed recollection of the time. Could we be doing ourselves a disservice by constantly trying to take images of what we see and where we go?

Spotted Rock-rose on Jersey. Can I really remember seeing it?



Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Guilty Pleasures

Birding without too much stuff
I dislike being weighed down by a telescope and tripod, a rucksack full of camera equipment and a bag full of books. To me, the chance to wander in the field with just a pair of bins is freedom. All the other stuff is an inconvenience. Of course, there are times when a scope is needed to clinch an identification or to appreciate more fully what's before you. I've been caught out more than once without the extra magnification, but - I'm in my element when it's t-shirt, shorts, binoculars and a compact camera tucked in a pocket. Birding for pleasure and leisure, not an assault course.

Musical chairs.
To admit to certain musical tastes can be as embarrasing as admitting to being a bad driver, crap in bed or even a poor birder! So it is with much trepidation that I must confess a fondness for ELO, Supertramp and Wings (the latter who Alan Partridge considered to be the band that The Beatles could have become had they not broken up too early). You need to work hard to cultivate a reputation as a serious student of music, so to open up and 'come out' musically risks the undoing of all earlier efforts.

Leaving well alone
It's liberating not trying to put a name to everything. With plants I tend to leave grasses, sedges and rushes alone, but - between you and me - I also go through phases of 'not being arsed' with such groupings as willowherbs, crucifers and ferns. I can do them, but sometimes I don't want to key them out or look through a lens, so do you know what I do? I walk on by...

A seat with a view
A good walk spoiled is one without carefully selected seating to admire a view. Many has been the time when I've got to the top of a steep climb and cheered at the site of a bench. A good excuse to sit down, make notes, have a sandwich, a cup of coffee - or to get my breath back. I'm not getting any younger you know.

Not going out at all
There was a time that if I had downtime then it needed to be spent out in the field. I can now not do so without feeling any guilt at all. I don't even need an excuse, but recently my reasons for neglecting the wildlife has included watching the British Lions Test, the Tour de France, gardening, going for a drink and having a lie-in. Maybe I need to reassess the subject matter of this blog.