Sunday, 26 August 2012

Beginner's luck

How do you p*** off the local birding fraternity? This is how...

Do not bird for weeks on end. Bowl up to the local patch with an air of nonchalance and without your telescope. Listen to them regale you with how much effort they have put in for not a lot of return. Wander off on your own and within an hour have a fly-over Honey Buzzard that is a patch first. Leave an hour later to go home for lunch.

I know, what a mean, jammy way of going about things. However, I could suggest that had I lucked into a Montagu's or Pallid Harrier then I might feel a tiny bit more guilty.

Sorry David and Ian, but over the course of the year you will both give me a good ornithological kicking! And you can always claim that I'm stringing...

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

A bloody good moan

This blog used to be about things other than 'what I have seen recently'. Apologies for my slipping into the safety of uploading images of moths from the back garden and neglecting the seething inner me. Such internal energy needs to be released...

My first moan is about the books to be found populating the natural history section in 'all good bookshops'. Whoever orders what appears on the shelves needs to go on a course designed to inform them on what the customers really want. My local Waterstones is a curious mix of the bleedin' obvious, with titles such as 'Johnny Kingdom's 100 species of large mammal to see before you die', 'The RSPB book of Quaint Garden Birds' and 'Bats - they are really nice and not at all scary' vying for attention alongside a plethora of natural history writing which has been infiltrated by a trend in reprinting the flowery diaries of long-dead Victorian gentlemen. If you wanted to buy a selection of field guides to start off exploring and identifying the natural world in Great Britain you'd be hard pushed to find a bog standard field guide for anything. Therefore fewer people will bother to do so, but more will become celebrity presenter stalkers and follow Kate Humble on Twitter.

Pan-species listing
This activity has me hating myself on a regular basis. Am I really kidding myself that I can possibly identify even a small proportion of the fungi, beetles, flies etc, etc that I come across. Should I confess to being totally incapable of using identification keys. Should I come clean and admit that I have to leave quite a few tortrix moths alone, particularly the ones that look like bird shit. Am I big enough to accept that there must be quite a few stringy identifications on my pan-species list. And does it matter?

My lovely Swarovski scope lies neglected in a cupboard. Even though it came down to Dungeness with me for the month of July I hardly used it. I didn't bird much to be honest. I was looking at plants, insects, watching the Tour de France and imbibing in the odd pint. Call myself a birder? I used to...

Bird food manufacturers
Do they think we're stupid? In the good old days we used to put bread, fat and peanuts out for the birds and the population levels were OK. Now they suggest that we buy all sorts of exotic seed mixes to cater for 'Goldfinches with delicate stomachs' and 'Gluten intollerant titmice' and charge us top dollar to do so. And what happened to buying small bags of the stuff? You need a fork-lift truck and a 7.5 tonne van to get the bloody sacks home! And another thing - we used to spread it out on the grass and let the birds come down and feed. But now we are invited to buy bird feeders that are designed to look like ornate ironwork stolen from the Paris Metro.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Moth patch turns purple

Friday night's MV trap produced the garden's first Jersey Tiger, Saturday night was even better and provided me with my first ever Gypsy Moth and last night a proper migrant turned up in the guise of a Vestal (pictured above). I have recorded this species once before here in Banstead, back in August 2003. Mothing has a habit of throwing up good species in clusters, so I'd better keep switching that bulb on each evening.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

A gypsy in the garden

It was oppresively muggy last night, the temperature here in Banstead not dropping any lower than 18 degrees C. I woke from a fitful sleep at about 3AM and decided to get a drink of water and, while up, check the moth trap in the back garden. The MV is placed against a white wall and this wall was well populated by resting moths - mainly Willow Beauties, but also an individual that set my alarm bells ringing - where had I seen that before? It then registered that it was a male Gypsy Moth, a species I hadn't in fact seen anywhere, macro number 389 for the garden!

With the current weather conditions and plenty of migrant activity on the south and east coasts I would like to think that this is a primary migrant. However, there is a small population of this species in South London that DEFRA are trying to eradicate, so it could conceivably be a wanderer from there, although if I were a betting man I would bet against it. For all I know the men from the government have killed them off already.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

I've been expecting you...

One of the delights of moth trapping is the 'not knowing' what is going to turn up. You don't have to rely on wandering migrants to give the trap an injection of surprise as there are plenty of residents that decide to go for an excursion away from their normal habitats. Increasingly we are witnessing species that are starting to colonise from the continent, or some that used to hug the coast but are now heading inland. Over the past few years Small Ranunculus, Toadflax Brocade and Tree-lichen Beauty have done just that (I have recorded them all from my Surrey garden). There remained two others that have also done so, colonised areas around where I live, but had yet to grace my Banstead MV. One is Cypress Carpet. The other decided to come and pay me a visit last night and it is pictured above in all its glory - Jersey Tiger.

If there are any moth-ers out there trapping Cydia amplana and have a few to spare, please send them my way. I'm drawing a blank.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Dewick's and Rosy

Dewick's Plusia

Rosy Wave
You might be getting a bit tired of these Dungeness moths by now (at least those of you that are still left visiting this ailing blog), so I promise that this will be the final revisiting of my 'summer sojourn'. The first image is a bit of a cheat as the Dewick's Plusia actually came from Sissinghurst, some dozen miles inland. I had seen this species before, back in 1988, from Greatstone, where it had settled on the glass of a lit window of an estate agents shop. The second moth is of one of three Rosy Waves that were trapped in Barry Banson's Greatstone garden. I helped him process his two traps each morning which was tremendous fun and very rewarding. Back to more local stuff from now, and with a scorchio weekend promised maybe something of note will come along...

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The garden still provides

Tree-lichen Beauty - the second succesive year that I have recorded this species. I've seen it nowhere else except for my back garden.
Toadflax Brocade - a resident now in its third year. I have found larvae on Purple Toadflax by the garage door
If you wait long enough the species will ultimately come to you. It's not that long ago that Toadflax Brocade was a coastal specialist and now it has colonised parts of London and Surrey. And it wasn't that many years ago that Dave Walker, warden at Dungeness Bird Observatory, let me know that he had just trapped the first UK modern day record of Tree-lichen Beauty. I considered driving 90 miles to look at it, but decided not to. I only have to walk 10m from my back door to the MV now to see one. Strange days...

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Box Hill, Straw Belle, Wiggo and Cav

When it was announced that the 2012 Olympic cycling road race route would include the Box Hill zig-zag there were understandable concerns. Such an event would attract a large crowd, but how could they be accommodated without widespread damage to the chalk downland and its accompanying rare species? I was present two weekends ago to witness the event first hand. I had tickets for the lower slopes and we were led to the roadside vantage points without the need to walk across the fragile slopes. Further up the hill was another viewing area, rather knowingly called 'Straw Belle slope', named after one of the species that there were concerns over. On the day I couldn't see how the disturbance had effected the habitat further up, but today I went to take a look...

The first thing that struck me was how little of the grassland showed any disturbance at all - a single path led from the lower zig-zag car park up to the 'Straw Belle' viewing area. Here the roadside exhibited an area of flattened grass of no more than 30m x 10m. Disturbance had indeed been minimal. But what about the wildlife?

I checked the area of the zig-zag that is the well-known haunt of the rare Straw Belle moth. Would I find one? No, I found four. I didn't really need to look for them as the moths were quite active and came to find me. The strong sunlight and easterly breeze made photography difficult, although one happily sat in an open pot and allowed the image above to be taken. In this same area were three Silver-spotted Skippers.

If you want to go and look for yourself, find the 'Kiss My Cav' message painted on the road (left over from the Olympic road race, see top picture). The moths (and butterflies) were alongside this message on the upper slope. The organising committee should be congratulated on keeping its promise to not damage the habitat around Box Hill. I have it on good authority that habitat improvement is the legacy of the Olympic visit.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Goat Moth

I've always hankered after seeing an adult Goat Moth. They have something of the unobtainable about them, being a species that has a low population level and can be difficult to track down unless you know of a larvae infected tree that might just bestow upon a visiting lepidopterist an imago sitting on the trunk. I came across the rather stunning individual pictured above in an altogether easier fashion - it was brought into the RSPB reserve at Dungeness by a member of the public. Result!

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Nowt to do with natural history

I was sent this bit of prose that appeared on a Fulham Football Club related website - it does say an awful lot that I wouldn't mind betting that many others would agree with. I'm not a knocker of football - it is my number one sport of choice although I am beginning to pall with the whey-faced spud-heads that get payed such obscene amounts of money to perform with such pedestrian ability. That they get paid well is not an issue, but the current salaries are just out of hand. Our society has created it, along with high property prices and big business greed. Enough of that, over to Fulham FC... I may not agree with every sentiment, but it does get me agreeing along with most of it.

I FEEL so sorry for our professional footballers – icons of our times, or so they believe – as they get ready for a new, exciting season. I don’t think since l888, when the first football league started, have our pro players been so utterly embarrassed, humiliated and shown up. How can they ever hold up their arrogant heads again, compared with our Olympics lads and lasses? We footie fans, suckers besotted by the Premier League, have led ourselves to believe that our football heroes have it hard. We know, poor things, that most days they have to get into their Baby Bentleys by the crack of 9.30am, reaching their training ground by 10. They sit around in their flip-flops, have some breakfast, natter to their mates, ring their agents, arrange their sex lives. Then they go through two hours of training, sometimes even getting up a sweat.

By one o’clock, latest, that’s it. The rest of the day is their own. Then, of course, there are all those awful pressures they are always telling us about. If they are in an international tournament, representing their country, the public hopes they will try really hard, which is so unfair. We can’t expect them to perform at their best, despite their fame and fortunes, or take half decent penalties, or give interviews, or be charming to fans.

No wonder they spit and swear all the time. Ooh, it’s so tough being a pro player. We fans have grown to accept all that behavior, as our heroes try to rub along somehow on £150,000 a week. We give them respect, which is something they are very hot on, nay demand, feeling it is their due.
Even dafter, some of us have even considered them as role models.

Dear God, how could we have been so deluded?

But now, thanks to the Olympics, our eyes have been opened. All those lovely, humble, ungreedy, unselfish, sweet young men and women have shown us how sportsmen can and should behave. For four years, most of them have been up at five in the morning slogging away in the dark and cold, often on their own, for no money, little encouragement, with no fame, no fans, no groupies, no security screen around them. And yet, they have ended up not just nicer, more admirable humans — but also more SUCCESSFUL.

When representing the nation, they have actually won things, beaten the rest of the world. When did our footballers last do that, eh? Back in l966 is the answer. I wonder if our top footballers will now feel so guilty that they will all decide to donate nine-tenths of their income to charity, to promise to work harder when playing for their country and stop making excuses for rubbish results. No chance, of course.

In which case, we, the lumpen, pathetic fans should all decide that football will no longer be our national sport. What is the point of a national sport if we as a nation are no good at it? I think a vote is called for. We should decide that from now on that cycling is our national sport. Or sailing. Or rowing. Anything really, apart from football, which will have to go back to before the 1880s and become a purely amateur sport. That would learn them.

I was thinking about subscribing to Sky Sports again for the coming football season. But here at North Downs and Beyond we are going to say 'No'...

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

More moths

L-album Wainscot - not in Surrey
Archer's Dart - not from my back garden
Dark Tussock - and neither is this.
If you think that I've run out of moth images from Dungeness, then think again. I've not even used the best one yet - I bet you cannot wait (stop yawning at the back there...) Anyhow, here are three species that are local, none of which I've seen away from the Kent coast.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Big blue beastie

This big blue beastie is Helops caerulens, a large darkling beetle that can easily be found after dark crawling over the wooden railway sleepers some 50m east of the bird observatory. I knew to look because Mark Telfer told me about them. I did find some smaller beetles that defied identification. Where's a coleopterist when you need one?

Thursday, 2 August 2012

The Great Flowering

The resident botanists are refering to it as a once in a lifetime event. I am just grateful that I was able to witness it. Due to the wet, cool spring and early summer, Dungeness was blessed by a late and profuse flowering of many species, the quantity of which was only surpassed by the vigour of the blooms. When I arrived the Nottingham Catchfly was peaking, the subtle scent charging the evening air. Cat's-ear, Sheep's-bit, Viper's Bugloss, Mouse-ear Hawkweed and even the normally shy Dodder were putting on a spectacular show. After a week went by the modest Wood Sage burst into life, millions (literally) of plants carpeting the shingle with great rafts of off-white flowers. But, nothing lasts for ever... when I left Dungeness the Catchfly was all dried seed head, the Sheep's-bit looking sad, the Wood Sage browning at the edges. The following images cannot capture the event, but apart from my memories it's all that I can offer.

Wood Sage - dominated the vegetation in more open areas of shingle.
Nottingham Catchfly - hard to believe that this species is found in only 37 ten km squares in the UK

Cat's-ear - if I had taken a picture to the left, right and behind there would have been a similar number on show.
Sheep's-bit - in places it created a blue haze above the shingle.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

They came, they saw, they colonised

Moths have a good habit of jumping from the European mainland and colonising the south-east of England, mainly thanks to global warming, a weak Euro and a wish to escape from bland Europop. Dungeness being just about as south-east as south-east gets on this island of ours therefore gets to paw these colonisers before most other places.

Take this Plumed Fan-foot for example. In 1995 Barry Banson checked his Greatstone-based MV (just north of Dungeness) and spied an unfamiliar moth. It was the UK's first Plumed Fan-foot. I was lucky enough to visit Barry on a daily basis during my stay and to go through his two MVs. We recorded four individuals which pleased me no end.

Cypress Carpets may be old hat now, but I still don't see that many of them. We recorded this species frequently enough at Barry's and the bird observatory to make mention of it almost pointless. How times change.

Evergestis limbata hasn't quite got to the level of making lepidopterists yawn yet, although I wouldn't mind betting than within five years they will be treated with contempt. A very smart pyralid, this has gone from a screaming rarity to an expected catch within a matter of four years.