Showing posts from May, 2013

"The world isn't like The Wind in the Willows"

Guess who said: "There's much more reality here (in New Zealand). Everyone's much more clued up to diseases. The world isn't like The Wind in the Willows." and "I get slightly bored with these rather high-profile public entertainers sort of bossing around on this stuff." Yes, it's Cabinet Minister for the Environment Owen Paterson, speaking in New Zealand about the proposed badger cull in the UK and a very thinly veiled attack on Dr Brian May. This is the same minister who stormed out of a debate on the cull in the House of Commons saying "I can't stand any more of this". Well, do you know what matey, I can't stand any more of you pal. If you cannot discuss this cull like an adult, if you cannot talk with reason, if you cannot behave like the public servant you are meant to be, then please resign. And take your self-serving mate Benyon with you. Wildlife is not a commodity . Listen to the impartial scientific expert

Is this why you blog?

A good friend of mine, after considering that my recent posts were of a 'reflective' nature, asked me if I was OK. This took me by surprise, so I asked my wife (who also finds the time to read my waffle) whether she thought that his observation was correct. She agreed with him, adding that my posts often betrayed a whiff of 'unfulfillment'. Blimey... I took a look back through the past few months worth of my posts and I have to agree with them. There is a lot of wistful thinking, looking back, shoe-gazing and self-analysis. Is this something to concern myself about? Is it healthy? Am I guilty of doing it right now? (No, yes and very much so are my answers to those questions by the way). This blog has never been about 'went there, saw that'. There is nothing wrong with those sort of blogs at all, especially when they are backed up by superb photography and boys-own adventures in the field. If I followed that format I would very soon have nothing to say! I'

Cameras are the new guns

With the rise of ownership and ease of use of digital cameras, the number of birders wandering the field armed with the means of taking a photograph has never been higher. The quality of the results is, as to be expected, mixed - from the professional quality seen on some blogs to those blurred shapes that float in a sea of noise defying identification. This vast tide of image has had many benefits, one of them being a number of good species that have been nailed, that would have, in the past, got away... Beddington Sewage Farm has been fortunate to have Roger Brown patrolling the lakes with, rather than a telescope, a telephoto lens (that is longer than most small children). He is also blessed with the sharpest pair of eyes that I have come across. Small dots in the distance to most mere mortals appear as frame fillers to him - and he most probably was able to pick these dots up a quarter of a mile further away than the rest of us. But I slightly digress. Roger has a habit of seeing a

Green Hound's-tongue

With the south-east having been awash with good birds - Roller, Red-rumped Swallows, Terek Sandpiper - I did the sensible thing and went looking for plants - I'm nothing if not utterly predictable in my perverse choice of where to go and what to do. My location of choice was Juniper Bottom (where the Hawfinch flock was earlier in the year). The flowering season is, without doubt, behind where it should be. The Bugle (pictured above) was showing well, with plenty of spikes offering themselves for insects to feed upon. The trouble is, the insects are largely missing. Only a few bees were seen, and butterfly numbers, too, were depressed. I did see two Dingy Skippers and a single Grizzled Skipper, but it was hard work. Moth-wise up to a dozen Speckled Yellow were on the wing. Along the road by the car park there is a major botanical rarity - Green Hound's-tongue. A few plants were starting to flower, the picture above showing the muted dusky-pink colour of the petals. It

So we beat on...

"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." That is the final sentence from F Scott Fitzgerald's book 'The Great Gatsby' . In my humble opinion it is one of the finest 'last lines' in literature - economic in structure and oh so true. Why do so many of us reminisce and frequently visit the land of nostalgia? This is not something that everybody that I know indulges in. Some people shun it at an act of neediness or a clear sign that the present is not fulfilling enough. I quite enjoy wallowing in the past, and find myself doing so as a celebration of happy times - notice I didn't use the word 'happier'. Today's good moments will, with the passage of time, become tomorrow's nostalgia. When I look back at my own cherished 'natural history' moments, very few are about rarity. They are largely about feeling at peace, at ease or at one with a place, with the plants, birds and/or insects becomi

You couldn't make it up

So, Richard Benyon, the government minister responsible for wildlife protection at Defra (Department Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), puts the welfare of the introduced Pheasant, (and the wishes of the shooting lobby), ahead of the legally protected Common Buzzard. You can read all about it here . The article spells it all out - Mr Benyon is a monied landowner with interests in shooting and fishing. What possessed 'the powers that be' to employ this sort of person to look after our wildlife when that very same person has vested interests in suppressing (or controlling) said wildlife for personal gain is beyond me. A bit like asking bankers to police the banking system...

Last night's moths

Least Black Arches - a total of five, this being the strongest marked. This species has taken off locally over the last three years - it used to be quite notable for the garden. Pale Prominent - just the one Waved Umber - a single trapped

Closed Door

I was saddened to learn that Ray Manzarek, co-founder and keyboard player of The Doors, had died. The Doors music was very much the soundtrack to my early Dungeness birding days. Many a night was spent in the company of their albums, beer and like-minded friends. His keyboard practically took the place of a lead guitar in the band, and where as Jim Morrison was always my focal point, Manzarek was the stabilising influence that kept them, along with John Densmore and Robbie Kreiger, together as a unit. He also sported a wicked pair of side-burns...

Picture this

Sometimes - and not very often when I'm involved - a picture can capture 'the moment'. This is, in my humble opinion, such an image. I was walking along a footpath in deep shade along the banks of the River Mole near Mickleham. It was late morning and the sun was still low enough to be illuminating the woodland with an ethereal light. Above, the leaf canopy had unfurled to help diffuse this light further, which in turn lit an enormous patch of newly flowering Ramsons to perfection, capturing the pristine condition of the plants, all fresh greens and brilliant whites. If you take a deep breath you can almost smell the garlic scent from your chair...

Time to take stock

There are plus and minus points about trying to identify everything that you come across. On the plus side is the fact that you end up looking at things that, ordinarily, you would totally ignore. It also makes you appreciate the stunning diversity that exists in even the humblest of habitats. For me, the main negative aspect is that, without years of experience, without access to mountains of literature and without the luxury of copious amounts of spare time, you cannot tame a great majority of what you will see. The correct identification of thousands of species - no, tens of thousands of species - will be beyond me. Having said that, it doesn't stop me from having a go. Neither does it diminish my amazement at what is out there. The need to be pragmatic is paramount. Take beetles for example. I have a few guides (and good internet resources) that enable me to realistically name a fair number of species. For those groupings or families that need keying out or are beyond the

Clovers and Crowfoots

I started off the morning by visiting Blake's Pond on Epsom Common, a charming small waterbody that looks as if it has a touch of the past about it. I can imagine that geese, horses and Victorian raggamuffins used to poach its edges to enable all sorts of good plants to survive. Most of these agents of disturbance have gone now, replaced by dogs and Elizabethan raggamuffins who deposit empty cider bottles into the water instead. All is not lost however - there is still a fine selection of plants present, hence my visit. First target was Adder's-tongue, which evaded me even though I carefully checked all of the cleared areas around the edge. Next I examined the flowering Water Crowfoot, expecting Common (R. aquatilis) but seemingly finding Pond (R. peltatus). The floating leaves were not deeply lobed (see picture) and the petals on the flower were 11-12 mm long (they should be shorter than 10mm on Common apparently). So, have I got it wrong or are both species present? Any h

Literally Star Wars

News has broken that there was trouble at the UEA campus when attendees of a Star Wars convention crossed swords (or should that be light sabres) with similar enthusiasts who were attending a Doctor Who covention being held at the same place. You can read all about it by clicking here . I was tempted to use the word geek in the opening sentence but realised that, as somebody who squints at moths genitals through a hand lens, this would be a bit rich and also a case of 'pots and kettles'.

A message from Blogger

It has come to Blogger's notice that the following blog North Downs and beyond has violated the bloggers code and exceeded the number of complaints that we consider within a reasonable range. This company believe in transparency, so hereby publish some of these complaints in the hope that other bloggers do not err as has the individual who maintains the named blog. Complaints: 178 Nature of offences: rudeness, intolerance, pomposity, subject deviation, lack of knowledge, delusion Examples of complaints and complainer: "I am a birder, a middle-aged man and find his constant sniping at my demographic most unfair. He ought to look in the mirror himself, he's got to be at least eighty! His suggestion that we are all Mummy's-boys who don't possess social skills and hide behind our telescopes to mask this is just rubbish" KingTickerBigScope1963 "He never tells us what he sees, just slags off those that do. An imbeccile." PipitBagger &quo

10 things

What is currently 'getting my goat' 1. The Sainthood of Sir Alex Ferguson - less fuss would have been made if The Queen had murdered Barak Obama with her sceptre. 2. Adult birders giving themselves Twitter names like 'TopBirder74' or 'KingTickerBoy'. Grow up. 3. This cold, shitty weather. 4. The incestuous back-slapping that goes on between birders, congratulating each other on 'brilliant id skills' and bestowing the title of 'legend' on anybody that has been birding longer than 12 months. Come back in 40 years time and claim such things, by all means. 5. Me. What a miserable, bitter fool. 6. Simon Cowell.He cannot tell a Tree from a Meadow Pipit imho. 7. Text shorthand like 'imho' - ffs!! 8. Upward inflection at the end of a spoken sentence when it isn't a question. 9. The change in shape of Cadbury's chocolate bars - now all curved and smooth rather than sharp-angled chunks. 10. Lists like this. It's creative lazin

Of moths and druids

This morning found me at Norbury Park, an area of woodland and chalk downland between Mickleham and Bookham. I can't say that I really enjoyed myself. It was cool, not much was happening and I was in a fog of listlessness and despondency - I don't know why. Anyhow, the sign above always cheers me up. It is to be found well off the beaten track and mentions moths (which I like) and Druids (who I don't really have an opinion about). Close to this spot is Druids Grove, so I imagine that the Victorian gentleman quoted was wary of the 'goings on' there and wouldn't dare to search locally for moths so close to the witching hour. In these more enlightened times a bit of pagan worship taking place close to an MV or sugar rope would be seen as a 'Brucie Bonus'...

The Ten Commandments

You shall have no other Gods but me . In other words, leave plants, bugs and such stuff alone, you won't be able to take it all in and as such you will become an even worse birder You shall not make for yourself any idol, nor bow down to it or worship it . Lee Evans, Bill Oddie, that bald bloke on the One Show - do not weaken to the lure of the celebrity however much it seems to be a good idea at the time. They will, one day, fall. Fame is a fickle thing You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God . Don't say that you knew Peter Grant when you didn't You shall remember and keep the Sabbath day holy. So, put away your optics on this day and do things like normal people do Respect your father and mother. Don't keep nicking their car and money and remember that goodwill is a two-way thing - David... You must not kill. If they are older than you the chances are that you will, at sometime later, overhaul their lists when they die naturally, so bumping them off will j

Mooching about

A day of mooching here and plodding there. A day of the weather not deciding which season it is. A day of rediscovering the joys of overturning logs to find things like this... Carabus problematicus and not C. violaceus - owing to ridges on the elytra - I hope... And this... Hylobius abietis - a weevil and I like weevils!

Sea watching and the games that 'men' play

Sea watching can be a dull affair. One of the frustrations (and joys) of this sport is that a sudden change of wind direction can kick start birds to move. So, if there is the promise of an onshore wind, it is best to be in place before it actually happens - after all, you don't want to miss anything. Sometimes you would wait... and wait... and the hoped for change never happened. If you are really keen on seawatching however, you may well stare out across the waves regardless of the weather conditions just in case... I used to seawatch an awful lot, 99% of this being at Dungeness. I'm pretty sure that between 1976 - 1991 I most probably saw the same individual birds move east in the spring and west in the autumn on an annual basis. Part of the joys of this particular branch of ornithology is the unpredictability of what will happen, the fact that the birds come to the observer (like an avian conveyor belt) and it is also the ultimate test of one's identification prowes

Take a look at these...

My first recommendation today is for the second book in the British Wildlife Collection series, the subject being Meadows ( click here for details) . If it is half as good as the first (Mushrooms) it will be well worth purchasing. I'm not on commission by the way, but I am keen for independent publishers like British Wildlife to succeed, as it benefits those of us who like natural history books that are well produced, are written for the informed amateur and that add something worthwhile to the body of  literature. Secondly, please take a peek at Parus's blog ( click here ). I do like to read about other's birding experiences, especially when they are laced with humour and self-deprecation. This site does exactly that. It is now May (just in case you hadn't noticed). When I used to do nothing but bird (as opposed to look at other things that are in the wild), May was second only to October as my 'favourite' month. Now, what with other interests vying for