Showing posts from September, 2012

Ground Pine still fine

A visit to Fames Rough to check on the rare plants was made yesterday morning. The Cut-leaved Germander has gone over, each plant now a ghostly pale coffee colour that makes it stand out a mile. Several of the Ground Pines still exhibited the odd flower (as above) with most plants looking washed out and yellowish. I came across a large patch of Apple Mint back on Canons Farm which has, up until now, evaded my detection. I then spent the next ten minutes wandering around sniffing the crushed leaves between my fingers - nice...


Just to put us pan listers in place, recent research into the oceans plankton has revealed that there are considerably more than the 30,000 species that were estimated to be on earth - this has been increased to a staggering one and a half million! You can read and see all about it here. While on the subject of pan listing, MapMate, the UK's natural history recording software of choice, lists 56,000 species on its database. The pan-listing leader, Jonty Denton has only just got past 10,000. One lifetime is just not enough...

Then and now - painful birding

Regular visitors to this blog (all three of you) will recall that I spent most of July at Dungeness. I've posted a fair bit about the plants and moths that I saw, but so far have not mentioned birds. There's a good reason for that - it was very poor for them. In July 2010 a week at Dungeness provided for me a White-tailed Plover (NOT Lapwing thank you very much), Purple Heron, Great White Egret, Roseate Tern and up to 70 Mediterranean Gulls in one sitting. This year was a case of playing 'Spot the Med Gull'- they must have had a poor breeding season close by - and looking at high water levels on all of the pits that kept the waders away. There were two sudden adrenalin rushes however, when a Little Swift was claimed one murky morning over ARC (we spent an hour searching through a thousand low-flying swifts) and also when a Black Stork was watched drifting above New Romney and I waited at the point, in considerable heat for a few hours, hoping to pick it up drifting s

Gripping Gannet

When Derek Coleman embarked on a Grey Heron count at Beddington Sewage Farm this evening he didn't expect to be extracting a juvenile Gannet out of the seventy odd herons strewn across the lakes. Johnny Allan was his usual efficient self and got the information out via text and twitter - this was one species that I couldn't miss as it is a local rarity, what with Surrey being land-locked and the nearest bit of 'coast' being the tidal Thames some way away. I hadn't been to the sewage farm for a few months so my arrival induced a fair bit of good-humoured ribbing. The bird was still present, and stayed until dusk, no doubt to be found at first light if anybody couldn't get there on time this evening. However, it was quite listless and I only hope that it is not found in a dead heap tomorrow. There have been at least six records of Gannet at Beddington, not bad for a land-locked site which is not a reservoir. The rarity-starved regulars are hoping that this bird, p

The Smaller Moths of Surrey launch

It was my pleasure to attend the launch of the latest book in the Surrey Wildlife Trust's ground-breaking series - that of 'Smaller Moths of Surrey' by Bob Palmer, Jim Porter and Graham Collins. All three authors were present along with the guest of honour, John Langmaid. Bob and Jim gave short speeches and afterwards a discussion took place on the state of micro moth recording in the UK and where the micro effort in Surrey should now go. Most of those gathered (including myself) were contributors to the book and it was pleasing to be able to hold and appreciate something tangible that is testament to everyone's efforts. My own record input is dwarfed by most of those other contributors, in particular the authors who have spent countless hours not only in the field but also hunched over keyboards and page proofs. They thanked the back-up team of which every publication relies upon and who so often remain anonymous. I was lucky enough to find myself sitting next to Jo


When it comes to my natural history studies I cannot help but plan things which will have a start date of January 1st. Even if I come up with an idea for a project in mid-March, my tidy mind (OCD?) will want to wait until the beginning of the following year to implement it. I start to visualise a neatly produced report that encapsulates a set of observations made over a 12 month period (or 24, 36, 48 - neat and tidy, you see). Why not be able to initiate such things on September 14th? Or July 3rd? Or December 31st for that matter. I used to stop birding between Christmas and the New Year because I'd grown fed-up with the current years 'campaign' and restless to start the next one. Any time birding in this dead period was seen as wasteful, as if doing so was 'using up' energy. Yes I know, daft. I have a couple of ideas for new projects. Nothing grand, but things that have got me excited. My track record means that I will probably start one (or all) of them on Janua

Puss in willows

What on earth is this staring at us?  Ah, it's trying to merge into its surrounding s now  It's starting to move again - look at the horns on that! This Puss Moth caterpillar caused quite a stir when I found it on a sallow bush at Dungeness back in the summer. Some species look better when not an imago and this is one of them. When I first saw it I showed my ignorance of the larvae of the UK by assuming it must be a hawk-moth. I suppose there are quite a few people out there who think that they know their moths as adults but who would struggle to identify them as larvae, chrysalis or eggs - I'm one of them.

Oppen Pits

If you visit Dungeness today you will come across a lot of fresh water. Gravel extraction has created many large holes that have been filled with the stuff. The Long Pits, ARC, Lade, New Diggings, Burrowes - I could go on. More are being dug and flooded as I type. It wasn't always like this. It used to be the case that fresh water could be found in one place only, naturally ocurring, well away from any track or road. The Oppen Pits are on the RSPB reserve, roughly half a mile north-east of the Dungeness B power station and but a pebbles throw from the south-eastern side of Burrowes Pit. There are two main pits, neither very large, maybe the size of  a football pitch, although the open water on both is reduced by the infringement of reeds and willow. I first visited them in 1976 when access was more relaxed. It was where I saw my first Long-eared Owl. Over the following four years I frequently trod the shingle between them and the observatory, across a virtually untouched Du

The rarest plant in Kent

This is Forked Spleenwort, a plant of mostly western and northern distribution in the UK. It is also found rarely in Devon and from one site in Kent. The Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI) consider the Kent record to be introduced. The modern Godfather of Kent botany, Eric Philp, disagrees. He suggests that it is a naturally occuring species that has arrived from continental wind-blown spores. Either way, it is small, not showy and in a Kent context exceedingly rare. I took this picture back in July on the low brick bridge that straddles a stream close to the village of Brenzett.

The bee's knees

July 1979 - I'm twenty years old and acting as Assistant Warden at Dungeness Bird Observatory. I am joined by two young biologists attached to a UK university (I cannot remember which) who spend a week studying the bees of Dungeness. They tell me that the bee assemblage at Dungeness is famous for its species diversity and number. Bees to me are just stripy things that might possibly sting you. During the week the biologists show me many species, either in the field or in pots. When they depart they tell me that they have had a terrific week and I've (as a by-product of their stay) seen a wealth of bees. I wave them goodbye and return to looking at birds, the things that fly that I can identify. July 2012 - I'm fifty three years old (no surely not - oh gawd, yes I am) and, once again, I am staying at Dungeness Bird Observatory. I have regularly thought back to that 'week with the bees'. Since starting up the pan-species list I've often rued the fact that I di