Monday, 28 November 2011

Next year, I will be mainly doing...

I know that it isn't December until this coming Thursday, but my mind is already wandering towards 2012. So much for carpe diem...

What I'm thinking about is this. Where do I concentrate my efforts next year? So far my choices are:

Pan-listing: go for it. Blast the hell out of everything on offer, blitz the list and assault 3500. The downside would be plenty of stringing and a feeling of treating natural history as a product to consume and spit out.

Beddington love-in: embrace the smelly plot and study its undoubted wildlife in a celebration of urban diversity. The downside would be getting very muddy and possibly having to endure plenty of gripping off from the hard-core birders skywatching from the hide as I potter about looking at the ground mostly.

Go birding: Do I remember that? The days when I looked at birds and little else? I could finally get over 400 and look at some of the upstarts in the face again. Downside? I don't like many birders...

Botanical proficiency: my time spent with plants has often been botany-lite - I've largely steered clear of grasses, sedges, rushes, yellow crucifers - I could go on. So why not embrace them and become more of an all-rounder? Downside: I might get fully sucked-in.

North Downs Year: One year I'd like to just wander my beloved section of the downs and just watch without aim. See what comes along. Photograph it and get all Clare or Mabey about it. Write a book about the experience, start a religion, big stuff like that. Downside: confiscation of Beddington key, end up talking to myself as I 'wander lonely as a cloud', etc

So, in truth, I haven't a clue as to what I might do next year. Any suggestions?

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Old tennis shoes

I was flicking through a field guide to trees last night when I came across this description of the smell of the fallen leaves of the Tree-of-heaven:

'old tennis shoes'

This quaint and twee statement had me looking at the front of the book to see when it was written (surely in the 1930s) but was surprised to find out it was in 1982 - more like 1882 I reckon with such a turn of phrase. Why tennis shoes? Does the author distinguish this niff from 'old ballroom pumps' or 'tired businessmen's brogues'? He could have been more elitist and original with the description such as 'wet labrador dog in front of a log fire' or 'matron's apron after a morning washing old bed linen'

If I were to update the guide then I could bring it bang up to date with a more accurate and less polite description. The Tree-of-heaven, at a certain time of year has about it the unmistakable smell of


Saturday, 26 November 2011

Birding, for a change

After all of that pan-species malarky I thought that I'd better get back out birding before my bins and scope were confiscated and I was publicly pronounced 'lapsed'.

Beddingtom Sewage Farm was my venue of choice. The birding reflected the weather, being non-descript and dull with the odd bright spell. A single Water Pipit gave itself up along with 7 Green Sandpipers. A feature of the farm these days is the gathering of feeding and loafing Grey Herons, no fewer than 88 being on show, mostly on the islands of the north lake. As always, Tree Sparrows took advantage of the well-stocked feeders.

I did grill the gulls although nothing got the pulse racing. I read two colour rings - TJ6T black lettering on red, left leg of an adult Lesser BB Gull - plus AV71 black lettering on orange, left leg of a first-winter Herring - but my quick look on the European colour ringing website failed to identify where they might have been ringed.

The first-winter Common Gull (above) is a gift to a certain red booble-hatted Devonian birder who likes his gulls almost as much as he likes his Giant Chocolate Buttons. Which reminds me, he still owes me a bag...

Friday, 25 November 2011

The Dusty Lurker

English bird names just haven’t had the same amount ofimagination or free-form thinking  put into them as some other natural history orders have. Moths  ( The Alchemist, Merveille du Jour , The Suspected) and fungi (Destroying Angel, Slippery Jack, Dead Man’s Fingers) certainly have. They sound like characters from the works of Tolkien and Dickens.

Compare them to Dunnock. What a dull name. It is, it must be said, not a remarkable bird to look at even if it has a very interesting sex life (look it up if you are curious). The derivation of the name ‘Dunnock’ is, according to Wikipedia:
“this usage(Dunnock) has much to be said for it, based as it is on the oldest known name for any of the species (old English dun-, brown, + -ock, small bird: "little brown bird"), and a much more euphonious name than the contrived "Accentor".

So, in some ways Dunnock does exactly what it says on the tin. But we can do better than that. What about Dusty Lurker. Or Drab-coated Dandy. Or even The Unremarkable.

All better than Dunnock any day

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Made it!

It may not be a spectacular looking species, but Bitter Bracket became my 3,000th pan-species yesterday morning whilst on the hunt at Reigate Heath. I would have liked that honour to have gone to Ceratiomyxa fraticulosa, a species of slime mould that I was rather taken with, but that came in at 2,998. That's it to right of Sir Winston (above). Before any of you go thinking that I've suddenly become an expert in slime moulds, I haven't. I know as much about them as I do 19th century Russian ballerinas - it just so happens that this species is illustrated in a mycology book that I own, and my double-checking online suggests that the identification is correct. Reigate Heath also supplied White Brain, Liver Milkcap, Yellow Fieldcap and Turf Mottlegill. Above all of this fungi action, two male Crossbills entertained me feeding in conifers only yards away.

I then went on to Juniper Bottom, taking in Box Hill and Juniper Top. The new fungi species kept on coming, with Cabbage Parachute, Lemon Disco, Green Elfcup (pictured left), Scarlet Bonnet, Sheathed Woodtuft, Matt Bolete and some interesting white furry thing called Coprinopsis stercora growing out of cow dung. The pan-species list is now 3,012.

I had set myself the task of reaching 3,000 by the end of this year back in the spring. There have been times when I've gone for it and others when I've let it slide, but the past month has seen me targeting the 'low hanging fruit' that is fungi. There are lots of them and plenty are easy to identify. I've enjoyed it immensly and can add fungi to my list of groups that I will count as favourites. I am mindful that this pan-species listing can water down my deeper knowledge of other groups - to be perfectly honest since diversifying away from birds my prowess as a birder has fallen. My ability to name moths and plants on sight has also taken a step back (although a year of immersing myself back into them should bring that back).

What of the pan-species future? I will continue to keep the list, but maybe resist the temptation to take on groups that will provide lots of ticks (mosses, lichens, 'other' insects) as the time spent becoming proficient with them is time that I don't have at my disposal. It's going to be time better spent getting back into the birding, mothing and botanising. But mosses do look interesting...

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Scarce Umber

To prove that I haven't given up looking at anything that isn't a fungus, here is a Scarce Umber that I put up whilst at Ebernoe Common last Saturday. I followed its weak flight for maybe thirty seconds until it alighted on the leaf litter.

Trawling of photographs has yielded further new species of fungi, but this has its limitations as I cannot possibly check all the salient details to clinch certain identification on many. 2995 now....

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Back to Ebernoe

The dry spell for much of southern of England has ended, and I have been seeing quite a bit of fungi springing up. Mindful of the possibility of night frosts killing off what fungi are currently on show I thought I would make a return trip to Ebernoe Common in West Sussex.

Any regular visitor to this blog will know that I have adopted fungi as my 'new passion' this autumn and have managed to progress from a complete mushroom novice to a partial mushroom novice. I'm slowly getting to the point where I can find a place in the field guide where the mushroom that I am looking at will be found (at least to a family - but not all the time!). I can appreciate the need to note cap, gill and stipe colour, texture, and form, plus to take in what the fungi is growing on and the habitat that I'm in (that last point is the easiest to answer...)

I was lucky to bump into a knowledgable mycologist in the middle of the afternoon who was helpful in helping me identify some species that I was struggling to put a name to. He also tempered my increasing sense of competence by warning me of 'juvenile' stages to fungi, and pointed out that my hefty guide contained only 'some' of the species that I would find...gulp!! Help may be at hand with the publication of a guide (Buczacki and Shields) early next year that claims to cover every macro species of mushroom in Europe.

How did I fare? Well, I was happy to identify 23 new species, including such obvious ones such as Purple Jellydisc, Wood Blewit, Scarlet Waxcap, Parrot Waxcap (pictured), Snowy Waxcap, Magpie Inkcap, Garlic Parachute, Giant Funnel, Amethyst Deceiver, Glistening Inkcap and Shaggy Parasol.

With a few other additions since my last post, my pan-species list now stands at 2990. My aim to reach 3000 by the years end should be attainable. Even if I do not go out into the field again in 2010, I have a folder of 'mystery' photographs sitting on the computer awaiting my scrutiny, all taken during the summer and autumn. Surely I can turn some of these into firm identifications.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Listing dilemmas and ladybirds

Graham Lyons posed the following question in his latest post - could he tick a potted Red-headed Chestnut on show at a moth group meeting? He suggested not and for what it's worth I agree with him. However, it opens up a dilemma attached to any listing that we might get involved in, and that is one of having clear rules to what we can - and cannot - count on a list.

I have two rules for listing. The first is that I can count whatever I want to on my closed, private list. Rule two is that if I keep a competitive list, where other peoples lists are also taken into consideration, then I need to abide by the rules of that particular group. For example, the Beddington Birders maintain a league table of birds seen on the site. On this list I have not included Common Redpoll, because when I saw my only Beddington sighting in 1980 I did not submit it, so it was never formally accepted. Only formally accepted records count on the league table. My private Beddington list does include it.

More extreme is the fact that my private British bird list includes a species not even on the British list. I was one of a handful of observers of the 1989 Dungeness White-cheeked Tern. It wasn't accepted by the BBRC and I abide by that judgement when it comes to comparable listing even though I'm convinced it was one. It sits quietly on my personal British list but not my pan-species list.

Back to the potted moth conundrum. If you are inspecting a moth trap with a friend, who finds a Crimson Speckled at rest nearby on a bush, you would walk over and tick it. The same situation, where your friend pots up a Crimson Speckled out of your eyesight and then presents it to you would, I suggest, end up with you ticking it. But what if he was a mile away from the trap site and brought it to you? Or phoned you up from his house and invited you over to see it? What if you lived next door to him - would that be different to having a twenty mile drive to see it? What if it had been potted in a fridge for a day? Two days? There are many shades of grey to this situation, which probably exposes the futility of ticking and keeping lists in the first place...

I would like to 'big-up' the latest book to enter the North Downs and Beyond library - The Ladybirds (Coccinellidae) of Britain and Ireland by Helen Roy, Peter Brown, Robert Frost and Remy Poland. You need never sweat over ladybird identification again and gives a bang up to date account of the status and distribution of these popular beetles.Available from all natural history book websites now.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Back garden ticking

This is an earthtongue, that I reckon is Geoglossum cookeanum, based on the fact that it hasn't got a hairy, tapered stem. Just in case a knowledgable mycologist has stumbled across this humble twaddle, and they think that I'm incorrect, please let me know. This is a new species of fungi for me, and was found growing out of the soil in a pot where a Viburnum tinus is planted, only yards from the back door.

This handily demonstrates one of the positives of pan-listing - you can always find something that you haven't identified before even where you live. You needn't go outside!! This week I've found a spider and three species of fungi in the back garden that I've not knowingly seen before, although all are common and no doubt previously ignored/overlooked.

I was too busy (couldn't be bothered) to look critically at a few snails and slugs that came out during the recent wet weather, but I suspect a few of them might be new. With the total creeping up to 2959 I need to tackle them (and some nearby mosses) if I want to get to 3000 by the end of the year.

A wander along the north downs at Gatton handily produced a dozen species of fungi of which several were new - Common Inkcap included. There are still a large number of common fungi that I haven't identified yet, either through my novice status, ignorance or not having been in the right place at the right time. There's still plenty of scope here in the next few weeks.