Showing posts from June, 2013

Stag Beetle

Female Stag Beetle - found crawling across the grass in the back garden by my elder daughter Rebecca. Lesser Stag Beetle, taken last year, for comparison

Needletail overkill

I think I might be on a hiding to nothing, but here goes... There has been an awful lot of coverage about the demise of the White-throated Needletail on Harris. Too much coverage to be frank, with the word, 'tragic', to the fore. Let's just look at the facts. A lost bird, thousands of miles from home, and destined to fly the skies of northern Europe on its own, collides with a wind turbine. This act, of a bird fatality at a wind turbine, takes place many times a day. For statistics, there are plenty on the internet to digest, such as here.  A White-throated Needletail is, beyond doubt, a most sought after species for any birder, let alone a lister. But, is the loss of this individual any more important than that of a Meadow Pipit that may have been breeding nearby? I could argue that it is of less concern. The Needletail wasn't going to breed and it wasn't going to get home. No collective fuss is made of the loss of other birds killed by wind turbines, at least

These are a few of my least favourite things

Rare geese Cackling Canada, Richardson's Canada, Greater Snow - I'm struggling here to keep my eyes open I'm so underwhelmed. A small rare goose in amongst a gathering of hundreds of commoners does nothing for me. Champagne Expensive and over-rated. The bubbles get up my nose, give me heartburn and then later a headache. Non! Basketball As a spectator sport, mind-numbingly boring. A team of tall freaks run down one end and aim a ball at a hoop. Then the other team do the same but up the other end. Over. And. Over. Again. Sometimes one of them misses. Final score - who gives a damn. Motorbikes Maybe I have never been blokey enough to become a biker, either an oily rough one or a clean Goldwing owner. I just about get cars, but that is only so that I can differentiate them by their colours, not the model. Staines Reservoir . This place has received absolute devotion from regular observers down the ages, who swear by its magical abilities to entice rare birds to l

Time out

This afternoon, the Harris White-throated Needletail was seen to fly into, and collide with, a wind turbine, resulting in its death. I am now expecting a number of irate birders calling for the closing down and removal of such facilities. It might be worth reading this link before coming to such a conclusion.

Afternoons with Swifts

This particular post has been prompted by Paul Trodd over at Plovers Blog... Midsummer at Beddington Sewage Farm back in the 1970s frequently meant trying to catch Swifts. For such a fast-flying (and generally high-flying) species, trying to catch them is not an easy task. It takes cunning, it takes guile, it takes... well, to be honest, it takes a bit of muggy or cloudy weather to bring the birds down low so that they feed only inches above the ground. Because Beddington was one big insect attractant (rank vegetation, sewage settlement) it was also a virtual cafe for insectiverous birds. If the Swifts were low, then Beddington would be hosting them in their hundreds, possibly thousands. We still had to catch them though. Running after a Swift with a giant butterfly net would have been futile, so we used to call upon the services of a mist net. If you haven't seen one, a mist net looks like a giant elongated hair-net (most between 20 - 60 feet long and up to eight feet deep). T

What a difference 50 miles makes

Visiting friends who were staying on the West Sussex coast at Bracklesham Bay, I was surprised by how much more advanced the roadside vegetation was here. The Hemlock was head high, the Common Mallow well out and a medley of thistles on the go. Back home the Hemlock is knee-high, the Common Mallow is only just beginning and as for the thistles, they're more stop than go. I can only assume that being 50 miles further south equated to a milder and kinder few months for these plants, hence a more normal flowering time. North Surrey is still catching up.

Longest day

Today marks the Summer Solstice, the longest day. Although being a person with no fixed religious beliefs, I can, however, understand and identify with the 'spirit' of the wild - the power of the sun, the moon, the weather, the seasons - and have almost adopted the longest and shortest days as a sacred time. Maybe it's my Wessex roots bubbling to the surface, even after a 120-year absence (my Great Grandfather left the Vale of Pewsey at the end of the 19th Century and headed to London). I've been to visit that part of Wiltshire many times and it does exert a hold on me. It just feels special.    It was a medieval custom to collect flowers on the longest day, which was considered to bestow upon them additional healing properties, thus apothecaries would make special efforts to gather such herbs on this very day, including (so the historical record states) St John's Wort, Chamomile, geraniums, Thyme, and Penny-royal. This year the St.John's Wort is hardly in

Yes, it's Homoeosoma sinuella!

The MV haul gets larger and more diverse by the day, but still not up to the levels expected by mid-to-late June. Today, rather than feature one of the more colourful or characterful species, let us celebrate the 'small brown job'. So, please give a round of applause to Homoeosoma sinuella!

Day-flying moths

At last some hot, sunny, dry and calm weather. Ranmore was my place of choice, with the slopes at Denbigh's and White Downs being checked. There was a lot more insect activity than of late, but butterfly numbers were still poor, although these did include 4 Adonis Blues. Day-flying moths were to the fore, with 100+ Five-spot Burnet, 4 Lace Border, 3 Burnet Companion and single Mother Shipton and Clouded Buff. I was pleased to finally catch up with Woundwort Shieldbug, found on Hedge Woundwort. A smart little fella. Lace Border - restricted to the North Downs in Surrey and Kent, plus outlying colonies in Gloucestershire and Norfolk Burnet Companion - foodplants are clovers, trefoils and vetches Mother Shipton - named after the outline of the old crone's face Five-spot Burnet. Why isn't it Narrow? Don't ask me, but earlier flight time and habitat would point to this species. Woundwort Shieldbug on a Hedge Woundwort leaf

Turning on, tuning in and dropping out

Headley Heath didn't really produce the goods this morning. It was warm but dull, so insect activity was suppressed (or should that be depressed). Even walking through vegetation that would normally unleash squadrons of disturbed flying things yielded little. Plants, too, were not playing ball. I even wandered over to the Martagon Lily site (which I have seen fully in flower by early June in some years), but could only find tight buds on up to 25 plants. It has been known from here since the early 19th century. Shame I cannot show you a bloom as it is rather fetching. I sat down close to a fine specimen of Hound's-tongue (above) and huffed a bit - the morning had not been inspiring. However, the view from where I sat was magnificent, the air was warm, so I closed my eyes and let my senses take over. Bird song filtered up to me from the valley below, the chalk downland herbs were sending delicate wafts of scent my way - life wasn't so bad after all. Opening my eyes the

Man Orchids and maybe a thousand Green Hound's-tongues

I'm guilty of taking Man Orchids for granted. In 'my' part of Surrey they aren't exactly common, but there are quite a few places that you can go to and expect to see them at the right time of year. Today saw me visiting one such place, a small meadow not far from Box Hill. I could only find the one, but that was good enough. The number of Common Spotted Orchids here was low and Fragrant Orchids were only just starting to show themselves. An hour later found me on the other side of Box Hill where I came across 39 more spikes of Man Orchid in a place that I hadn't recorded them before. This site had moderate numbers of Common Spotted and Fragrant Orchids - Common Twayblades were in fine number across the greater Box Hill area. Other botanical highlights included Common Figwort, White Helleborine, Greater Butterfly Orchid (17 spikes), Sainfoin, Common Hound's-tongue, Tutsan, Hieracium maculata (in profusion at Brockham Quarry), Viper's Bugloss, Yellow-

More worthy links

I have added three further links to my blog list (see right). They are Gilbert White's Ghost (Hampshire based all round natural history); Matt Eade's Blog (young Sussex birder cum twitcher) and The Trappings of Success  (Bedfordshire moths). All are worth a look in your moments of idleness, or in a need to get away from pictures of my bloodied eye.

My eye and moths

In the grand tradition of all blues singers, I woke up this morning - trouble was, my right eye felt a bit odd. I looked in the mirror to be astounded by the fact that the white of my eye had turned entirely purple-crimson! It felt dry and itchy and my vision was blurred. So, instead of going off to look for plants this morning I was at Epsom Hospital (via a very efficient 111 call). Before all of that, I had put out the MV last night, so, one-eyed or not, they needed doing. A slightly better haul than of late (but that is all relative, it's still pants). Highlight (!) was a Shoulder-striped Wainscot (above). Back at the hospital, the doctor informed me that I had apparently suffered a subconjunctival haemorrhage - not uncommon and not serious. I just look like an extra from the Walking Dead . Last June it was a tick and suspected Lyme Disease - maybe next June I can go for bovine TB. Nice eh? I won't be winning any 'Bonny Baby' competitions for a while, wil

Wish list

I tell you want I want, what I really, really want... I've just typed that realising that there are some younger visitors to this blog who will not understand that cultural reference. And there will be plenty more who will dispute that it has any cultural content at all. If I could bestow upon myself a single bird, plant and moth, what would they be? The rules are simple - it must be feasible (so no Hawk Owl perched on top of a Ghost Orchid), it will be self-found and it has to be local. Bird: Stone Curlew. Preferably one March or April morning, sticking out like a sore thumb on a stony field. Canons Farm or Epsom Downs will do. Added bonus would involve a bit of flying around and a bit of calling. Plant: Lady Orchid along 'my' bit of the Surrey North Downs. There are historical records, they do occur both west and east of here and the odd Lizard Orchid still pops up to surprise botanists, so why not? I'm sure a hidden plant or a bit of wind-blown seed from

June (it rhymes with moon)

Thundry Meadows in Surrey, taken last June... honestly Gavin Haig over at Not Quite Scilly has recently posted about the month of June and what it means for gull watchers. Plagiarism is really a form of flattery, so, not one to mind stealing another's good idea, I thought that I'd do something along the same lines... JUNE AND THE ALL-ROUND NATURALIST Birds Spring migration has finished hasn't it? No more falls, sea-passage has gone dead, so it's time to get around to reading all seven volumes of the Game of Thrones saga? Think again pal! This is the period to expect the unexpected. A day's birding might comprise 3 Spotted Flycatchers and a Reed Warbler, but the fifth bird is just as likely to be a Bee-eater or a Woodchat Shrike as it is a Cuckoo. Observatory log books are full of June days that were very low on quantity but bursting with quality. This is no time to have another cup of tea as opposed to bashing the bushes or staring into the sky - what d

The bee's knees

The latest book to tickle my fancy is Dave Goulson's ' A Sting in the Tale '. Dave is an academic who has studied bees since he was knee-high to a grasshopper (or should that really be knee-high to a bee?). This study has taken him, at times, to the other side of the world, and although such trips are recalled, they are usually done so in the context of the UK's bumblebees. This book functions on many levels - it is an accessible life-history of UK bumblebees but also pure entertainment, in that it is written in such a jargon-free style and the author's enthusiasm for the subject comes across - he wants us to embrace the bee. Whether or not the reader is 'into' natural history this book works. It has changed my perception of bees - after reading this work you cannot look at them again in the same light. The book is cleverly constructed so that the reader is not bombarded with facts - make no mistake, these are there and in plenty, but the narrative whi

Martin Down

Yesterday was spent wandering over the chalk downland reserve of Martin Down in Hampshire. The sun shone, it was pleasantly warm and a stiff north-easterly kept me cool. It was altogether most agreeable! I had been here once before (in 1981) in the company of Alastair Forsyth, after we had spent a day's birding in the New Forest. After a few beers in a nearby pub we slept in the reserve car park (me in his car, Alastair in his tent) and awoke to Barn Owl and Stone Curlew. I began by parking at the car park on the A354 and walking the entire western length of the reserve along the Bokerley Dyke, a Romano-British defence ditch. This area appears to be as rich in plants and butterflies as anywhere else on the reserve, so if your time here has to be brief, concentrate here. Very soon I was finding Field Fleawort and Burnt Orchid (above). Apart from Horseshoe Vetch there was not a lot of the 'indicator' plant species of chalk downland out in flower. By now I would expe

A party political broadcast on behalf of moths

Moth numbers are undoubtably depressed. Back garden mothing has taken on a whole new ball game, with vacant egg-boxes and empty pill-boxes being the normal state of affairs. At the moment I'm not even bothering - the night's are decidedly chilly and those brave lepidopterists that are switching on regardless are not being rewarded for their efforts. I thought I'd look back twenty years to see what sort of numbers I was able to record then - all counts being of macro moths coming to a single 125W MV trap in my suburban Surrey garden. I stopped counting every moth in 1994. There are times when I wish that I had continued to do so, as I would now hold data for 26 continuous years from the garden. The following represent the highest count gathered from the first 10 days of June: 1990 - June 9th: 435 of 38 species 1991 - June 7th : 65 of 25 species 1992 - June 7th: 225 of 39 species 1993 - June 8th: 253 of 39 species As can be seen, 1991 was a cool and dull spring.


You always open yourself up to failure and are on a hiding to nothing when announcing a project or admitting to setting targets. Such is this post. I have a couple of weeks off work and am setting aside a handful of days to go looking for specific species - here they are: Moths Wood Tiger, Narrow-bordered Bee-hawk, Cistus Forester, Scarce Forester, The Forester and possibly Black-veined Moth. All would be lifers. I have sites for them all but they are somewhat weather dependent, all being day-flyers. This weekend looks the best bet for these as the longer term weather forecast is unsettled. The other spanner in the works is the late season. Are the forester species on the wing yet? Has the late spring affected the numbers of Wood Tigers and Bee-hawks? No doubt I'll find out soon enough. Also I will be giving my newly purchased clearwing pheremones an airing - I have had a few half-hearted attempts already, but the weather has not been ideal and, of course, flight emergence may have

Aw shucks!

I've noticed across blog-land that if you post something of a serious nature (badger cull, buzzard nest blasting, environmental doom, Turtle Dove massacre or political shenanigans) you will get no comments, or hardly any comments at all. Yet, if you put up a picture of a Robin on a spade, or a butterfly sunning itself, half-a-million Americans will comment "Aw shucks!" So, in an attempt to alienate my stateside visitors, and to be satirical, cop a load of this:

Plastic not fantastic

Please take a couple of minutes out of your day and read this article by John Lister-Kaye about our failing environment. I hope it's wide of the mark because, if it's correct, things are going horribly wrong. Thanks to Alan Tilmouth for tweeting about this yesterday.

Back garden MV

Living in suburbia and running an MV trap do not make good bedfellows. There is a lot of extra light pollution to contend with (which may reduce the effectiveness of the MV) but the main problem is that of running such a bright light in the vicinity of other peoples houses. I'm lucky in as much as my immediate neighbours are highly tolerant of my activities. I do try to lessen the impact of the MV however - it is placed behind a garage, up against a wall and is also shielded from other house's windows by a mature ash tree. Although this cuts down the area from which the light can be 'seen' by moths it hasn't stopped this site producing some very good migrants over the years, plus (when moths seemed more plentiful), 500-600 macros in a night. The garden macro list currently stands at 389. Micros are work in progress... I still get excited when I go to check the trap. At the moment counts are very depressed. This morning, after a cloudy and quite mild night, my h