Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Bergerac joins pan-listing demonstration

I was pleased to see that naturalists from all over the UK gathered at St.Helier on the Channel Island of Jersey to protest against Mark Telfer's cruel discrimination against the islands as not being considered a part of the pan-listing kingdom.

John Nettles, old Bergerac himself, gave an impassioned speach to the crowd of several thousand Frenchman in which he pointed out the absurdities of allowing entry for the Isle of Man "their cat's haven't even got tails!" and the Republic of Ireland "it's only allowed in because he's seen White Prominent there!"

Monique Le Seur, of Monmartre Chateau on the Rue de la Tete commented that Jersey "is as English as I am".

Among those signing the petition being gathered were Bill Oddie, Kate Humble, Terry Nutkins and that bald bloke from the One Show. It was left to John Nettles to some up the mood of the demonstration - "If Telfer thinks that he can get away with this, he's got another thing coming. I'll hide his bloody hand-lens and that'll sod up his beetle examination for a bit..."

Monday, 30 May 2011

Jersey Liberation Front!

Mark Telfer, he who holds the keys to all that is 'pan-species listing', has just posted a set of rules on his website, to guide those of us crazy enough to take part and keep us on the straight and narrow. I was happily taking it all in until I came to the section marked 'Geography' which says:

'The biogeographical unit of ‘the British Isles’, i.e. Britain, Ireland and the Isle of Man, including the seas around the isles (defined for the UK as the UK Economic Exclusion Zone of 200 nautical miles (370 kms) or midpoint between the UK and any neighbouring country). The Channel Islands don’t count.'

I read that last line again:



I've got a nice little package of plants that I've seen on Jersey, and nowhere else, all happily sitting on my pan-species list. You see, if you are a member of the Botanical Society of the British Isles,they allow you to count the Channel Islands. So do the Wild Flower Society.

Mark is suggesting that you CAN count species seen in Eire, altogether another country and one in which our bird administrators, such as the BOU, don't recognise. But, confusingly enough, the botanists and the lepidopterists do. Atropos, the worthwhile magazine that covers the moth, butterfly and dragonfly scene is active in its embrace of both the Channel Islands and Eire. So, I am starting a North Downs and Beyond campaign to get the CI's accepted as part of the recording unit. Join me in insisting that the land of Bergerac, millionaires, Matt LeTissier, new potatoes and cows are not victimised by Mark. I just see it as a cunning plan to derail my attempt to overhaul Jonty Denton at number one!!

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Busily doing nothing...

... a bit harsh really, but that is what it feels like. A day out in the field thwarted by wind, headache and homosexuals.

Beddington Sewage Farm
I put in a three hour shift conducting my grandly advertised 'plant survey'. I've divided the farm up into unscientific chunks and am recording every species within 'said' chunk. OK, when I say every species I am bending the truth a little. I do the grasses when I'm in the mood, I'm not checking every one of the ubiquitos yellow-flowered Melilots down to species, and I am getting fed up with the yellow crucifers. The ground was dry, the vegetation looks like it has been through a hot summer and I started to get a headache. At the end of the year I should have a tidy list that will be available to the LNHS survey, BFBG members and anybody else who is interested.

Howell Hill, Ewell
A lovely little chalk grassland reserve, good for orchids, Knapweed Broomrape and several exotic cotoneasters and firethorns. Headache worsened, wind got up, enthusiasm waned.

Epsom Common
I thought I'd search for Lesser Marshwort, a species that I've yet to see and has been reported from the stew ponds here. The site also has a reputation as a 'gay' pick up place. I could see a couple of chaps who were possibly trawling for pleasure when I arrived, but I scowled a bit as I wandered past, sure that a rucksack combined with my poor dress sense would suggest to them that I wasn't up for it. Wrong! I was followed into the bushes where my prone position trying to photograph some Marsh Speedwell had obviously registered on his 'Gaydar'. I beat a hasty retreat, quicker than Lionel Messi waltzing through a Mancunian defence and decided not to hang around any longer...

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Spring of the Ox-eye

This seems to be the spring of the Ox-eye Daisy. In spite of (or maybe because of) the dry weather, great rafts of this underated flower have been obvious wherever I have travelled in the south of England. The picture above was taken this morning at Nork Park, Banstead.

Apart from good numbers of Goats-beard (a few now gone to seed) and a little Meadow Vetchling, the meadows in the park were not overly productive, although I was tempted to get the camera out for this Bird's-foot Trefoil, exhibiting why one of its popular names is Bacon and Eggs.

With the bank holiday before us, the weather has turned cool, breezy and damp, even down here in the parched south. I think another plant foray at Beddington is called for tomorrow. Maybe I will bring you an update on how the 'survey' is going - you lucky people...

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Birding methods

Steve Gale (to young birder): Are my birding methods unsound?

Young birder (to Steve Gale): I don't see any method at all ...

Tuesday, 24 May 2011


In the grand scheme of things, (when considering world peace and a cure for all illness), our prowess as natural history hunter-gatherers is of little consequence. However, we all carry an ego, even if there is but the faintest smidgin of one...

Whilst at work this morning I received a text from David Campbell, who was, as usual, birding at Canons Farm. Attached to the text was a photograph that he had just taken of a butterfly. It was of a 'blue', and he was uncertain as to its identity, wondering whether it might be a Chalkhill Blue. To be fair he knew that it wasn't quite right for that species, as it exhibited some anomalies, but the ground colour of the upper wing was of a milky blue, with a thick black shading to the edge of the forewing - so much so that I texted him back saying that it probably was one.

But within a minute or two I knew that was wrong...

Today is May 24th. Chalkhill's shouldn't be on the wing until early July. Apart from the milky blue colouration and extensive black shading, what else had pointed to Chalkhill? Even though I should have been working, I had to trawl through internet references to answer the question as to what this butterfly was. It certainly wasn't a typical specimen of any UK butterfly, and aberrations aren't all that uncommon. After a while it became clearer that this was most probably a very colourful female Common Blue. I could still be wrong and have yet to look at the pictures on anything other than an i-Phone. But it left me troubled.

By now I would have thought that a photograph of a species of UK butterfly could not trip me up like this. I did feel defeated and felt that my so-called knowledge of such things had been exposed as a sham. Harsh, maybe, but that's how it felt.

My struggles with other insects have also been one of learning of my limitations. There is nothing more frustrating (but also liberating) to discover that life-long coleopterists still have to walk away from certain individual beetles. I think what rattled me more about that butterfly is that I know of several people who would have looked at the photograph and called it correctly without a moments hesitation.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

All hail the Quail

This is the field at Canons Farm in which a Quail decided to set up home today. Found by David Campbell late morning, it was still singing into the late afternoon, but you needed to be patient as it took frequent breaks from doing so. I was very lucky, as myself and another birder actually saw it as it sang, albeit just a head and upper breast view for maybe 45 seconds.

Headley Heath was also visited, with the long dry spell burning off most of the grass and moss. I do apologise to my northern friends who seem to be suffering from constant weather fronts dumping water on top of them in Noah-like deluges, but down here in the pampered south its becoming like the Namib desert! One species that could still muster a flower was this Sand Spurrey.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Orange Footman

The highlight of an uninspiring back garden MV haul was this Orange Footman. Over the past three-four years there has been a change in the status of several footmen in Surrey, with Orange, Dingy, Hoary and Buff all expanding, and all now appearing in the garden, albeit in small numbers.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

A letter from Attenborough

Steve is told by Nurse Humble that his pan-species list is full of string
The following post was dictated by Steve Gale to Nurse Humble:

I have settled into the Attenborough Home for Confused Naturalists as well as can be expected. I am in a room with two other patients - both, not surprisingly, middle-aged men. Colin is a steam railway enthusiast who recites the Settle to Cumbria 'Fells Rocket' timetable from 1955 incessantly. Last night, Sister Humble caught him with a piece of 00 gauge model railway track that he had hidden in his pyjama bottoms and this caused quite a rumpus. Colin was dragged away by two porters and we haven't seen him since. The other chap is a science fiction geek who says that his name is 'Quark, Lord of the Sith' although I know that he is really called Reginald and is an accountant from Reigate. Together we muddle through the day, being read to by doctors from a B&Q catalogue.

I realised that I had a problem when I was served supper. I tried to convince myself that the lamb chop, cabbage and potato before me were three additional species for my pan-species list, and became agitated when I couldn't decide if the gravy was, in fact, tickable. After a soothing injection I was placed in a chair facing a poster of that nice Monty Don from Gardener's World.

This morning I attended my first 'reasignment' module. I was taken into a room where there was a strange metal vehicle that Doctor Masters called a 'supermarket shopping trolley'. I was taught how to control it, how to place items within it and also how to converse with the other people that I would find sharing the same habitat as the trolley.

I was woken in the night with Nurse Humble attacking something on the floor by my bed with a rolled up newspaper. Within seconds two doctors had joined her, and they gathered something up in a tissue, all looking my way with worried looks on their faces. I thought that I heard someone mutter something about "it being lucky that he hadn't seen it", but in this pleasantly fuggy state I find myself in, I'm not sure what they meant. That's all for now, I have to go now to find out what a wife really is and what a wife expects from her husband. I seem to distantly remember that I have one...

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

An announcement

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, the writer of this blog, Steve Gale, was taken away by the authorities and placed in a secure unit at the Attenborough Home for Confused Naturalists. His wife called in help when Steve was found hanging upside down from the rafters of the loft, in the belief that he could entice Horseshoe Bats into the roof space and thus onto his pan-species list.

His wife has revealed that Steve has been exhibiting bizarre behaviour on an increasing scale: "Since he started this bloody stupid pan listing he has been insisting that I keep the kitchen as filthy as possible to entice cockroaches, I haven't been able to wash so that he can check me for fleas and he has hired a digger to excavate the garden in his search for all sorts of creepy-crawlies."

Doctor Geoffrey Masters from the Packham wing at Attenborough was quite confident that Steve will be returned to society in a fit state once again: "We need to keep him away from any visual stimuli that can excite the glands in his body that switch on the newly identified 'Pan sensor'. No TV, no computer and no curtains are to be opened in the room."

Steve's treatment will include life lessons such as 'An introduction to your family', 'Car cleaning for beginners', 'DIY and a man's tool box are your friends' and 'How to embrace pushing a trolley around a supermarket'

It is hoped that he will return to blogging in the near future.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Why are pirates cool? Because thet arrrrrr...

What does a land-lubber of a pan-lister do when they visit the sea-side with their family? They run straight out to the tide line and rock pools and add seaweeds to their list. This Spiral Wrack was one of seven lifers that gave themselves up to the marauding marine field guide. Shiver me timbers!

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Alsike as a parrot

Beddington again, this time sans telescope so that I could concentrate on recording the flora. Frankie once again joined me, hastening much mockery from the birding hardcore ('Bill and Ben, the flowerpot men' was the kindest moniker given). We went forth regardless...

Quite a bit was new for the year, a few highlights being Grass Vetchling, Lucerne, Caper Spurge, Blue-water Speedwell, Meadow Vetchling and Alsike Clover (pictured above showing off the long stalked infloresence; and the leaf shape below).

Birds were not totally ignored. Both Wood Sandpiper and Ringed Plover showed well on the Northern Lake, a 'Commic' Tern flew through southwards and a Spotted Flycatcher performed on the western perimiter fence.

I made sure that I was back home in time to watch my late Father's football team, Stoke City, take on the Sheik's XI from Moss Side. It would have been good to see the Potters turn them over, but they didn't really turn up. Stoke's reward however is the poisoned chalice that is the Europa League. I want Tottenham to lose to Liverpool tomorrow so that we don't have to enter it and put up with a season littered with Thursday night trips to Latvia followed by Sunday afternoon drubbings in the north-west.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

2713, as if you care...

2713. That's my new pan-species list total. A proper, and I mean proper overhaul of my lists saw some winners (five additional species of bird!) and losers (three fewer moths). The bird additions were all splits from the past few years that I just hadn't added - and I dare to call myself a birder...

There was big excitement in the garden when a ground beetle was foolish enough to hide under some old rush matting. Armed with Luff and a hand lens I confidently identified it as... truth be told I bottled it. I was pretty certain on the id, but a couple of things weren't quite right. I had visions of Telfer and Lyons looking over my shoulder, checking on my ability, scornful that a bit of stringing just might be about to be perpetrated. So, my ground beetle virginity remains intact for the time being.

I am hoping to top 3000 by the years end. If I can grasp beetles, lichens and mosses, then it will be a shoe-in.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Canaries and cress

A very early start at Beddington Sewage Farm last Saturday, with more than a little hope for a bit of ornithological action - low cloud and showers was the forecast and at this time of year that normally means good birds at BSF. Although the weather was spot on the birds just hadn't read the script, and it was all a little deflating. Never mind, there's always other things to look at...

A wander onto the mounds, where the murky world of landfill meets the dirty world of dumped soil, I found two alien plants. Above is the not unattractive head of Canary-grass and nearby was Garden Cress, a species that I had not seen before.

I carried on looking down (rather than a birdless up) and was pleased to discover some Pink Water-speedwell growing on the shoreline of the southern lake.

Back at the watchpoint, the gathered birders, with little birding to do, embarked on a surreal passage of discussion which centred on a Penis museum based in Iceland (go and Google it, it does exist!). The Dock Bugs above must of heard us, because one of them appears to be using their's...

Friday, 6 May 2011

Elytra dreams

Time to stop messing about. After spending far too long trying to 'do' insects with a simple generalist field guides and an internet search engine, I've finally bitten the bullet and added a bit of weight to the North Downs and beyond library. Pictured above is the answer to my ground beetle questions - a copy of 'The Carabidae of Britain and Ireland' by Martin Luff (with thanks to Josh for the tip off). I have also acquired the full set of John Walter's and Mark Telfer's visual guides to beetles, available here. Hopefully there will be more to come.

Also arriving on the bookshelf was 'Lichens' by Frank Dobson and 'Wasps of Surrey' by David Baldock. I ordered all of the three books mentioned in this post from Subbuteo Books and all three arrived within 48 hours - excellent service.

Now, where can I find a ground beetle....

Monday, 2 May 2011

Steinbeck visits the North Downs

The past couple of days I have become a normal member of society once again.

No bins. No scope. Just a little bit of hanging on to the compact camera  just in case. In fact, no case did arrive. I did sort out one plant problem though, when I least expected it. A few weeks ago I came across a bush with deeply cut leaves and a flower head reminiscent of Elder. Today I discovered that there is, in fact, a cultivar of Elder that does indeed exibit such foilage. Job done...

North Downs and Beyond land has been subjected to a couple of days of a warm, desicating easterly wind, sunshine that has manifested itself in a headache inducing glare and swirls of dust that belong in a Steinbeck novel. If it doesn't rain soon the vegetation will start to brown off before the end of May and a hosepipe ban will put pay to the garden attracting Carpenter Bees, Ant-lions and nectaring hawk-moths from the Mediterranean.