Showing posts from February, 2012

Who finds the bird?

One of the perks of birding/watching is coming across a rare species. It is, by definition, a rare event. You can never predict it. You can help narrow down the chances of it happening to you by picking your birding arena carefully, and targeting the spring and autumn during helpful weather conditions. But even then you are not guaranteed anything. I'm not one of those birders who has regularly found rarities. When I was particularly active in the late 70s and 1980s I reckoned on getting between one-three mentions in the BB rarities round-up (and 90% of these would have been 'commoner' rarities). Since then my appearance in that publication has been as regular as Lord Lucan's (before anybody points it out, I am aware that you actually need to go out birding to find something in the first place). I was always interested in the type of birder who got the goodies - they were not always the ones that you would expect. It would be a fair assumption to make that a highly

The false split

Stewart Sexton's recent rant on the practice of splitting moths into micros and macros has got me thinking (not a bad thing, I know). Splitting them is something that I am guilty of. Stewart is quite right in pointing out that there is no sense behind doing so - they are all moths! It is comparable to splitting a list of birds into passerines and non-passerines.In fact, if we are to be pedantic, a pure list of lepidoptera includes butterflies in the order, being placed between micro moths and macro moths in the systematic list (with a few macro moths appearing before the micros to prove what a debacle the micro/macro split really is). From my own experience, this division really started when I first took an interest in moths. Apart from The Observer's Book of Moths, the first identification guides I possessed were the two volumes of South's which I obtained in 1981. There were no micros illustrated. Therefore I was not in the best position to tackle them, so ignored t

Reigate Heath

The top of Reigate Heath. In the distance is the North Downs. Beyond the gorse in the foreground is a slope that is full of Climbing Corydalis and I was surprised to find some flowering this morning. I collected some moss from the sandy heathland and will try to ID them at my leisure. About half-a-mile from this spot is the cricket/football pitch that boasts a fine flora in the summer months (including Annual Knawel). Today, 22 footballers and a referee where running all over them - maybe this is exactly what the plants need, roughing up and disturbance, and they certainly seem to like it. Maybe Plantlife could budget for putting on a game of football at a few of their reserves to help certain threatened species. A beautiful day, apart from what went on at the Emirates stadium...

Micro flush

The MV sprang into micro life last night with four micro species (pictured) being recorded. They are, from the top, Argonopterix heracliana, Acleris ferrugana/notana, Ypsolopha ustella and  Tortricodes alternella. Also present was a single Chestnut and two Hebrew Characters. It was great wandering around the trap in a t-shirt, chasing little-flying-things instead of looking at empty, cold air. Spring really seems to have arrived, but I've been here before. We could be knee-deep in snow within a fortnight... If there are any visitors to this blog who are thinking of getting involved in recording moths then I can recommend visiting any of the county moth groups web sites that have been set up to help them on their way. Many of them exhibit a 'what's flying tonight' page that lists species that are likely to be seen at that given time. I've found the Hants Moths site really useful in that respect for micros. It saves an awful lot of time if you can review the

Dude moth ticking

The MV trap didn't produce the egg-cartons full that I hoped for, but never the less, three species were recorded, including an out-and-out lifer. Before you start wondering if I've jammed in on a Levant Blackneck, let me remind you that I'm looking at micros this year, and there are many, many common species that I've yet to record - so that is why Agonopterix heracliana is new. Also last night were Tortricodes alternella and Hebrew Character. 2012 GARDEN MOTH SPECIES TOTAL: 5 (Macro: 2 Micro: 3)

More potpourri

Sarah Raven's excellent TV series, 'Bees, butterflies and blooms' finished last night with her attempts to turn Birmingham into a city that boasted wildflower meadows within its concrete heart. She and the Brummie councellors succeded to a point. The cameras also visited Leeds and Liverpool where some simply stunning transformations had taken place. Sterile grass banks and prim and proper flower beds had been turned into billowing masses of Corn Marigolds, Cornflowers, vervains and a host of other flowers that encourage pollinating insects to subsequently proliferate. The series has made me think about how we treat our modest garden here in Banstead. We are on chalk and the opportunities are many to encourage the sort of plant species that insects love. I posted about a similar scheme in Cheam Park last June (click here).  I'm looking forward to donning the gardening gloves, searching out the trowel and attacking our chalky soil in the very near future. I'll keep y

Odds and ends, bits and pieces, this and that

This post is nothing but a round-up of the bits and pieces that are currently in orbit within my head at the moment. So expect the cerebral equivalent of 'carpet sweepings'... Micro-moth field guide . The latest issue of British Wildlife lets slip that 'The Field Guide to the Micro-moths of Great Britain and Ireland' is coming soon! No publication date as yet, but the wording suggests that it will be soon. The team behind it includes Phil Sterling, Mark Parsons and Richard Lewington. Can't wait! Pan-species. At the start of the year I swore that I would leave mosses alone. I've been out in the field a few times and have come across luxurious banks of mosses that look so, so inviting. I'm weakening. I actually want to start on them in earnest. I've got the field guide. I've got a hand lens. I've got small plastic bages to collect them in. Watch this space. Other blogs. I'm going through a bout of blog envy at the moment. It seems to

Kumlien's Gull

I thought it about time that I went along to Beddington SF to join in the 'white-winger' festival that is currently on tour there. Yesterday there were 5 Iceland Gulls (including a Kumlien's) plus a Glaucous Gull, making this England's hot-spot for such beauties. If you want a feather-by-feather account of them, visit Johnny Allan's blog . Today we managed to locate three Iceland Gulls, including the Kumlien's. Numbers of gulls at Beddington are boosted by the operations taking place on the refuse tip - Monday to Friday being good for numbers, Saturday not so good because the tip only operates for half a day, and Sunday normally poor as it is shut. Today's haul was, therefore, commendable. By the hide is a feeder set up for the Tree Sparrows. This Water Rail has taken a liking to the spilt seed beneath it.

Back to the birding womb

The time-line of my birding life is rather interesting (well it is to me, anyhow). It goes like this: Local park - local sewage farm - day trips to the coast - observatory regular - twitcher - observatory regular - day trips to the coast - local sewage farm - local farm. What seems to have happened is that my progression from novice to the heady heights of fairly knowledgable twitcher has regressed back down the ladder to where I started. I might not have reverted to novice, but I'm the first to admit that I'm not as good a birder as I was 'back in the day'. And do you know what? It doesn't bother me too much. That former birding prowess has been watered down by my other natural history interests taking up my time and space in my ever shrinking brain. What now appeals to me is very simple - it's almost like going back to the start, when an illustration of a Green Woodpecker or a Jay in a fieldguide would get my ornithological juices flowing. I'm quite gr

The snowfields of Banstead

My perverse approach to birding surfaced once again as I elected to turn my back on multiple Iceland Gulls at Beddington and also treat the Holmethorpe Smew in similar fashion. Instead, I spent most of the day at my other local birding patch, Canons Farm/Banstead Woods. The thermometer in my back garden was registering -8.8C at 07.00hrs. Instead of driving on the icy roads I walked to the farm, which only takes 25 minutes. Once on site I immersed myself in the task of counting everything that I came across. This is the sort of simplistic ornithology that I enjoy, meandering about fields and woods with a notebook in hand, counting the mainly common ensemble set before me. There were highlights: the two noisy Crossbills flew low to the east; a Woodcock was noisily flushed from underneath a Yew tree; a loose flock of 25 Great Tits that fed on the ground underneath beech trees just like Chaffinches; the vibrance of colour in the reflected light and the fact that the birds seemed to be

Still blocking after all these years

Picture the scene, Old Father Time Steve is sitting in front of a public house's roaring fire, a battered copy of British Birds at his feet, a foaming glass of beer in his hand and a young, eager twitcher at his side... Young twitcher: What did you do in the war when you went twitching Steve? Steve: (Chortles) Oh we didn't have pagers and mobile phones then you know... YT: (looks up in the air and tutts) Cut out all of that 'we had it bad' guff and tell me about the birds S: Yes, well, er, most of them are commoner now you know. When I went to see an Alpine Swift at Fairburn Ings in 1979 it was an unblocker! Even the 'big boys' hadn't seen one. People still ran for Pallas's Warblers! YT: (looking interested) Tell me about the blockers S: (Glassy-eyed, staring into the distance with a smile) Ah, the blockers. I'm glad you asked me that. There are some of the old twitches that still have value now, that can get most birders all agit

Munro bagger for a day

A munro is the name given to a Scottish mountain whose peak reaches 3,000 feet or more. There are 283 in total.  Yesterday I had a grand plan - to climb all of them. To become a munro bagger and a munroist. This would combine my love of mountain flora and spectacular scenery. It would keep me fit. It would add adventure to my otherwise safe life. This morning I decided to look at this challenge in a bit more detail and started to consider the task a shoe-in, a done deal, not a problem at all. Then I came across this on Wikipedia: "The usual ascent of the Inaccessible Pinnacle itself is by its long east ridge, a climb of 50 metres vertically involving two roped 30m pitches . Although graded Moderate (the lowest grade now in use in the British grading system ), with good holds, the ridge is narrow and exceptionally exposed. This route was described by an early climber as "a knife-edged ridge, with an overhanging and infinite drop on one side, and a drop on the other side

Of flowers and Ravens

I have just spent a most enjoyable and informative hour watching 'Bees, Butterflies and Blooms' on BBC2, presented by Sarah Raven. The aim of the programme (and series) was/is to highlight the plight of Britain's wild flowers - not only the fact that their decline is one that is an aesthetic loss to us, but more importantly the worry that our insect population are in freefall and that this in turn reduces the number of pollinators of many of our important crops. It was a joy to see flower-filled meadows and actually have a botanist, on prime-time television, showing off the delights that such places harbour. I was immediately reminded to plug Sarah's latest book (pictured left). You could at first mistake it as nothing but a coffee-table book, but you would be wrong. Inside you will find stunning photography, particularly the habitat spread shots that will leave you looking deep into them for several minutes before being enticed away to read the individual species

Winter Heliotrope

Nothing gladdens the heart on a winters day more than a bank of flowering Winter Heliotrope (OK, I can think of several things that do, but for grammatic effect I will choose to ignore them). These plants were cascading over a bank of dumped topsoil close to Reigate Hill. Flowering was not in profusion, but plenty of the tassel-like flower heads were present. This species is naturalised in Britain and can often be found on roadsides, the large rounded leaves giving the plant away long before the flowers do.

Dream time

I regularly have this dream. I am at a bird observatory. Sometimes it is Dungeness and at other times it is Portland. If it is Dungeness, the observatory building is in an old house that has many levels to it and is quite well furnished. The habitat immediately outside the building is as Dungeness actually is, but the further I walk away from the sea it becomes luxurious woodland with grassy glades. If my dream is at Portland then the observatory building is a much smaller affair than it really is and it is situated on a massive cliff headland, not dissimilar to Gibraltar (the British protectorate, not the observatory in Lincolnshire). The fields are disected by deep rutted tracks. Most of the time I am just about to start my holiday at whichever observatory the dream is featuring, or just about to depart from it. Quite often I have forgotten my optics. There is never, ever, any birding involved. When I wake up I long to return to the observatory dream, maybe I have this longing becaus