Sunday, 2 August 2020


I’ve recently updated you on my diminishing hearing capabilities (with grasshoppers joining the list of disappearing sounds) and not too long ago I confessed that my sight is somewhat compromised in low light. But what about a sense that I possess which still seems to be functioning as it should? Step forward smell!

In fact, my sense of smell is famous throughout the family for being hyper-sensitive. I can pick up on odours (good and bad) way before anybody else, and if you give me a glass of wine or a single-malt whisky I will be dismantling the bouquet into its constituent parts - plums, liquorice, tarmac, apricots, toffee - within seconds. Needless to say from that last sentence, my accompanying taste buds are more than up to scratch as well.

One of life’s pleasures is to take the time to sniff the wildflowers. There are some top smells to be had, small free hits of olfactory wonder. Never walk past Fennel without taking in the aniseed; various labiates that will sooth you with mint, lemon and various herbs; Tansy is another, and that will have the additional effect of making you salivate with its hits of rosemary and accompanying roast dinners. Most plants are worth a sniff and a foliage squeeze. I don’t do it enough, especially since it is the one sense that I am doubly blessed with.

But beware! Some plants are not your friend! Crush Black Horehound and your fingers with smell of a rancid bonfire. Other plants are poisonous or will cause blistering of the skin. You have been warned!

Friday, 31 July 2020

From the downs

When this pyralid moth turned up in the MV yesterday morning I couldn't place it, so it was potted up, photographs taken and then analysed in the early evening. It seemed to me that I was looking at a Delplannqueia dilutella, but on trawling the internet the water got murkier, as I then found out that this moth had been found to comprise two species - along with D. inscriptella. Disection is required to separate them. The next course of action was to send an image to Bill Dykes, who has become my go-to moth man - serves him right for being so proficient and helpful! His reply was to suggest that the moth was, in fact, Moitrelia obductella, a rare inhabitant of chalk downland in Kent and Surrey. He hadn't experience of this species himself and suggested getting a second opinion, which came from both Nigel Jarman and Sean Clancy - both in agreement that it was obductella indeed! My thanks to all three of these expert lepidopterists, who make the life of those of us less-proficient moth-botherers all the easier...

Can you remember when I used to blog about birds?

Thursday, 30 July 2020


During this morning a single page view took the North Downs and Beyond 'page view' stat counter over the million mark. It's taken ten years, and 2006 posts to get here. I have no doubt that many of these page views have come courtesy of various bots, directing false traffic towards the site. However, for those that are genuine, thank you very much for taking the time to visit, and a few of you for going the extra mile and leaving a comment.

ND&B did exist for an 18-month spell between 2008-2010, but in a fit of pique I deleted it. My loyalty to the current version has been tested on a few occasions, but my resolve is to leave this blog alive even if I do decide to stop producing it.

This year has seen a big increase in visits, particularly after lockdown when the ND&B version of the #BWKM0 garden challenge was being 'curated'. During this spell between 1200 -1500 hits a day was the norm, and since then this has rarely dropped below the 1000 mark. Visitor numbers are just that - a statistic that really don't say that much - but they are visits that are pleasing to receive. I have forged many virtual friendships through this blog, and have even met up with a few in 'real life'. There have been chance meetings in the field, the introduction being along the lines of 'I read your blog'. It is humbling and heartening when that happens.

Another million? If that is to be achieved, it may be some time in the late 2020s. Will I still be blogging? Will I still even be here? That is up the the Gods of fate.

Wednesday, 29 July 2020


Now, what's this tree? An oak. Yes, but which oak? Sessile? Pendunculate? Red?? No, that's Sessile. Covered in leaf mines. Moth or fly? Better take a leaf to check back at home, see if the mine is tenanted. Oh, and there's a gall - I'll take a picture of that. And the leaves have rusts and smuts on them... they'll need identifying. And so will that fungus growing at the base of the trunk. And those flies on the nearby vegetation. And those spiders. What about the wasps. And....

And then my head explodes. I return home with a camera card full of images and the likelihood of several hours at the computer, trying to identify everything before me.

No, it's no use, I'll own up.

It isn't fun.

I can handle a day or two of this, full on, but after that it all becomes relentless. It becomes a game of numbers. Joyless. A chore. Homework.


So. The Circle.

Just birds, plants, Lepidoptera and Odonata.

Honorable mention to anything else that gets my attention.

How these top Pan-listers keep sane and keep relationships going is beyond me...

Skev, 41st place is all yours mate.

Fly thing. Or is it a wasp? A bee? Someone out there WILL know...

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

A July Hen

Canons Farm is currently playing host to a ring-tail Hen Harrier, the fifth site record following hot on the heels of birds in 2010, 2011 and two in 2013. Needless to say, a July record is exceedingly rare in Surrey. My 'harrier ageing library' is not up to date, hence my inability to confidently call this a 'juvenile male', although there are several eminent birders who confidently are. The bird turned up on Friday and, apart from Saturday, has been seen on each subsequent evening, although today it has been on site, on-and-off, all day, but has gone 'missing' for hours at a time.

I spent the afternoon on the farm (sans harrier) but was more than happy with up to 200 Common Swifts, 45 Swallows and a House Martin drifting in the airspace, which they shared for a time with a Hobby. I went back this evening and was delighted to see the Hen Harrier on a number of occasions, quartering the fields widely across the farm. At least 20+ birders had also decided to descend on Canons, the most I've seen on site since the famous Dotterel trip of 2012.

Day One of the 'Circle' and already a rather unexpected bird is gracing the highlights package!

Monday, 27 July 2020

The circle

The central blue dot is home, and the white outer circle shows 5km distance. Within it lies a number of my regular haunts. The question is, how many species can I record here in a year, purely on foot - starting from tomorrow?

Another half-thought-out crackpot project, but something that I can do in-between other things. Why do it? Well, firstly, for my own entertainment. But also as an illustration as to what can be found close to home - any home. Granted, it isn't in the middle of a city, but one look at that map reveals an awful lot of building. What lurks between?

Most effort will be placed on birds, butterflies, moths and plants, although I will keep an eye out for other life-forms, if they grab my attention. I don't have a target in mind although I'd be disappointed if 1,000 species isn't reached. 1,500?

I doubt it, but let's find out.

Saturday, 25 July 2020

Bears on Banstead Downs

Banstead Downs can be reached by foot within 10 minutes from home, yet it is a place that I strangely neglect. Ornithologically it doesn't have a lot going for it, although had I been there on May 21st 1956 I would have seen a Lesser Grey Shrike. However, botanically it has its highlights, and can boast a long and notable list of invertebrates. My three hours spent meandering across the area yesterday morning was most rewarding.

I pointed the camera at whatever took my fancy and then attempted to identify the subject matter on returning home. The big drawback to this method is that an awful lot will remain unidentified - this doesn't bother me too much, as it can be highly educational whittling a species down to just its family level.

Surprises abounded. A largish colony (1,000+ plants) of Betony. A clump of Bear's Breech a good mile or two away from the closest garden. Another Graphosoma italicum on the same stand of Hogweed as earlier in the week. The amount of Hemp Agrimony coming into flower is delightful and will surely be worth checking over the coming weeks. Here's just a taster.

Bear's Breech
Large stands of Hemp Agrimony are coming into flower... is Wild Parsnip
No hiding place for this Graphosoma italicum on Hogweed