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A few recent back garden invertebrates

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First up is the smart looking tortrix moth Agapeta zoegana . It is relatively common, the larvae feeding on knapweed, and is met with annually in the garden MV. However, it comes in two forms. The one usually encountered is a real looker, a concoction of banana-yellow and milk chocolate. The other, known as ferrugana replaces the yellow with a frothy cappuccino brown (above, right). I hadn't knowingly seen this form until last week, both handily coming to the MV on the morning of August 9th. 'The Smaller Moths of Surrey', published in 2012, suggests that ferrugana "occurs occasionally in the county at a low density." My checking of the MV during this hot weather has not really produced the hoped for 'good' migrant or wanderer, but this disappointment was suspended on the morning of August 5th when this bizarre moth was trapped - a gynandromorph Gypsy Moth, half female, half male. The male half in the above images is exhibited on the left hand side of the

Cattle Egrets and Marsh Mallows

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In February 1981 a carload of birders made the journey from Surrey to Anglesey to twitch a rare species of southern heron. We arrived at Aber to watch a Cattle Egret, making its way through a herd of livestock in a roadside field. Many of our fellow observers that day joined us in ticking the said species, a good lifer, one not to be underestimated - after all, they didn't come along all that often... Fast forward 41 years, and I am standing on a footpath that runs alongside the River Arun in West Sussex. From where I am I can see across the Arundel Wildfowl Trust reserve, and, scanning the far tree-line, it is possible to make out a number of white shapes perched within them. I counted 20, maybe 22 - every single one a Cattle Egret. 22! What a number - but I am expecting more. This is a known roost, and the numbers reported joining it each evening are higher still. My reckoning was that if I arrived early enough in the morning I could count them leave and so gain an accurate, simi

When the birding and football worlds collide!

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Red Kite - nowadays easily seen from football pitches across the nation Back in April I was watching the Sutton United v Crawley game in the company of Jake Everitt (Brighton and Hove Albion season ticket holder and a top Sussex birder) when we started to list birds that we had observed whilst watching a match - we swapped Little Egrets, Red Kites and Peregrines - and there and then we devised a challenge for the 2022-23 season. These are the rules: The winner be the person who has observed (or heard) the highest number of birds species during the 2022-23 season, from football ground premises whilst attending a match. Birds seen prior and post kick-off will count, but hanging around outside of the ground does not! Confined to games that involve at least one club from Steps 1-6 in England and Wales (Scottish equivalent permitted.) Friendlies, league, cup and play-offs allowed. No optics, just eyes and ears. There is no prize, just the ownership of bragging rights for the following seaso

Butterfly balm

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Yesterday, on a gloriously sunny and hot afternoon, Gordon Hay and myself spent several hours wandering the rides and footpaths that criss-cross Bookham Common, an area of outstanding Surrey butterfly real-estate. Our aims were to see if there were any Purple Emperors on the wing and to luxuriate in amongst one of our favourite species, the White Admiral. On arrival I met one of the National Trust rangers who told me that the Emperor had first been seen on June 17th - it looked as though, with a fair wind, our luck might be in. We didn't have to wait long before we knew that our visit was going to be blessed. The well-known 'master' trees, on the higher ground at Hill Farm, were playing host to three Purple Emperors, with much sparring, circular flights and easily observed perching indulged in (above, from 12.30 - 14.30hrs).  We were also fortunate in coming across a further individual - at 16.23hrs, some way from the favoured area - that was grounded. This butterfly was fi

Low times and a Purple Heron

The past few months have been a bit of a struggle for me. It started last summer, when a very close family member became ill, and we had an unpleasant and uncertain spell when their treatment was being discussed and the possible outcomes were uncertain. You never want to see someone that is so close to you frightened and in danger. Fortunately, touch wood, we seem to be in a good place right now, thanks to the wonderful staff at the Royal Marsden Hospital. Our NHS is nothing short of wonderful when the chips are down. Throughout this whole episode I was able to keep it all together, to stay strong and positive - but it has come at a price. I'm now shot to pieces. My confidence has never been lower. My mojo has shrivelled up. Anxiety and worry rule my days. This has manifested itself in many ways, turning my ever-so-mild OCD into a fully blown case. After 63-years on this earth I am finally able to understand that those suffering from mental health are not in a good place at all. It

The paths less travelled

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This is the first in an occasional series of posts that will visit some of the least travelled footpaths that are out there and waiting to be explored. Many of them will have no obvious merit to the naturalist, but, with a lit bit of time being spent along them, all will open up and reveal their treasure! So, as a starter, let us walk along Freedown Lane in Banstead... The Freedown is an area of Banstead Downs that was selected by a group of worthy late-Victorians to build, what they called, a lunatic asylum. Banstead Mental Hospital closed in the late 20th century, with the land being sold to the Home Office. Two high security prisons were then constructed on site - incarceration of a different kind. Freedown Lane (FL) is accessed from the B2218 that runs from Banstead to Belmont. FL is a narrow road that soon becomes an unmade track, the very few houses that are present sharing their space with horse paddocks. If arriving by car, it is best not to park along the lane, with the closes

The art and reason of blogging...

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I was given a wake-up call yesterday, when visiting a pub (The Dolphin at Betchworth), whilst out on a long walk with my brother-in-law Bill. As we stood at the bar, I glanced through into the room beyond  and spied somebody who I used to work with (seemingly in a previous life). Beers purchased, I went to say hello to Sandy, who I hadn't seen for seven years. It was lovely to make contact again, and to meet her twin sister. She then introduced me to the other couple at their table - Alan and his wife (who I have shamefully not remembered her name). Alan stood up and shook my hand - he is an avid reader of this very blog. I was, of course, flattered. He then mentioned that some of my posts had alerted him to the presence of various footpaths, the large Brambling flocks near Reigate... it made me realise that blog posting sometimes has a positive end result, beyond my scratching of an ego. It also got me thinking of the audience that it might well reach. Sometimes it can be easy to