Saturday, 31 August 2013

Not Quite Dorset

I've just spent a week in Dorset with the family, in which the world of natural history was put to one side, apart from a single day when I took the coastal path out of Lyme Regis and headed westwards to meet a tall stranger with a penchant for Cadbury's Chocolate Buttons...

I arrived at Seaton, just over the county boundary into Devon, where Gavin Haig (he of Not Quite Scilly fame) met me for a most enjoyable tour of the birding patch that he is lucky enough to have on his doorstep. The small band of regular birders (some of whom I ticked) have turned this sleepy edge of the county into a birding hot spot. We started at Seaton Hole, where we viewed the very bushes that were once haunted by a Hume's Warbler, while scoffing Lemon Sponge Cake and a mug of coffee - us that is, not the warbler. From here we could also gaze along the cliffs to Beer Head, the site of yet more birding successes.

The jewel in the crown of the area must be Black Hole Marsh (above), a recently created reserve to which the local council deserves heaps of praise. It was full of waders, including Little Stint (2), Curlew Sandpiper (5), Greenshank (1), Ruff (1), LRP (2), Turnstone (1), Green Sandpiper (3) and Black-tailed Godwit (50). If we got bored with watching the waders then there were Little Egrets, Yellow Wagtails and even a Cuckoo (good patch bird apparently) on show as well.

By the time we reached Colyford Common, we had both reverted to type and took on the mantle of grumpy (or wise) old boys and put the world to rights on many subject matters. To save my legs from the seven and a half mile walk back along the under cliff, Gavin then kindly drove me back to Lyme Regis.

Thanks Gavin, it was a great way to meet a new patch and finally put a face to a name, even though we probably scowled at each other along Staines Reservoir causeway some time 'back in the day'. A nicer and more knowledgable chap would be hard to find - you, that is, not me...

Gavin is available for guided tours throughout the autumn, rates varying from the basic 'Bag of Buttons' package through to the 'Single Malt' special. But a word of warning - do not mention the Solitary Sandpiper.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Another kick in the guts

I would urge you to read Peter Alfrey's post here. He wrote it before the Mayor of London gave the Beddington incinerator the 'thumbs-up', but in his post he clearly sets out how big business - in this case Viridor - have failed to meet previous environmental promises to the Beddington Sewage Farm area.  Despite this failing, they have now been granted permission to construct and operate an incinerator on the site. Any compensatory promises towards the provision of 'wildlife' areas cannot be taken with anything but a pinch of salt.

I first went to Beddington as a schoolboy birdwatcher in 1974. This was during a 'quiet' period in its birding history, as the flooding of large fields had been stopped and most of the drying out of sludge took place in small banked beds. However, the hedgerows, dykes, charming brick-built outbuildings and mature willows, oaks and elms were still present and bestowed upon the site a feeling of being in a time-locked piece of countryside. The Tree Sparrow population was healthy, Lapwings and Yellow Wagtails bred freely, the open fields hosted small winter flocks of Ruff (and sometimes Golden Plover) and Short-eared Owls were a 'given' during most winters (with up to 12 during the winter of 1978-79). This is the place where I cut my birding teeth. I still allow my mind to wander back to those carefree and stimulating days. During the late summer and autumn of 1975 I have never - and I mean never - felt so excited by birding as I did during those few weeks. The passage of waders in that period was varied and most visits saw me crawling up the banks of one particular bed on 100 acre almost shaking in anticipation at what would be on show when I got to the top - Greenshank, Wood Sandpiper, Knot and Spotted Redshank being found amongst the commoner wader species that were also present.

Beddington of recent times may get the birds, but the place is not the Beddington that I want to remember. A large incinerator will not improve that at all. The Lapwings and Tree Sparrows are just about hanging on, but for how long?

A settling bed on 100 acre. This part of the farm looks just as it did when I was a schoolboy birdwatcher.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Unexpected pan list ticks

18-spot Ladybird - you can see how small it compared with a finger tip

Leith Hill was the venue for an afternoon of wandering the greensand slopes in the company of my family, plus an obligatory stop at the tea room in the tower for some excellent National Trust cake - oh, so Surrey - I could almost be an extra in Downton Abbey don't you know (albeit sent downstairs once my true station in life was discovered). As always on such walks I took my binoculars and camera just in case. I didn't expect three lifers!

The first is a bit of a cheat. Monkey-puzzle is found on the upper slopes of Leith Hill, looking terribly naturalised - this species appears listed in the botanists bible Stace, so I'm having it. The second is a commonly naturalised plant that I must have walked past time and time again - Shallon. There are virtual forests of the stuff at Leith Hill. The third tick was a little more pukka, being an 18-spot Ladybird found by my eldest daughter Rebecca as we sat under a Scot's Pine (which happens to be its foodplant).

I need to clear up a long-standing family disagreement. Back in 2011, I claimed on this blog to have found a Strawberry Anemone in the rock pools at Bude, Cornwall. I must now right that claim as it was, in fact, found by my younger daughter Jess. She has never forgiven me for my blatant stealing of her rightful claim as finder.

Shallon - large banks of the plant are found at the top of Leith Hill

Sunday, 18 August 2013

A moth miscellany

Rosy Rustic - signs that autumn is on the way...

Alliteration - don't you just love it? I could have gone further - 'A massive moth miscellany' or 'My meagre marvellous moth miscellany' but then that would be over-egging the pudding, wouldn't it?

Back to the reality of the MV trap haul this morning. Numbers were depressed and by far the best species recorded was the autumn's first Rosy Rustic (I don't trap that many to be honest). It is shaping up to be a good time for Straw Dot - I recorded eight yesterday which is my highest single night count in Banstead, and another couple this morning.

There are certain moths that evoke the passing seasons. When those cold winter mornings start to give up Brindled Beauties and Twin-spotted Quakers, I know that spring is on the way. When late April catches start to include prominents and Lime Hawk-moths, then summer is just around the corner. For me, it's high summer when Scalloped Oaks and Marbled Beauties appear. And autumn is upon me as soon as Flounced Rustics put in an appearance, followed quickly by a host of sallows. This mornings Rosy Rustic shouted out "autumn" as much as the smell of a leaf-burning bonfire. No doubt we all have our own seasonal triggers.

Yesterday, whilst in correspondance with Sean Clancy over my Fan-foot query, we were reminiscing about his old Wallington back garden. Sean has not lived there for over thirty years, but as a teenager used to run an actinic trap with some success. As much as we were marvelling at the new suite of moth species now obtainable to the 'London' lepidopterist (Tree-lichen Beauty, Jersey Tiger, Cypress Carpet, Toadflax Brocade, Small Ranunculus to name but a few), he mentioned two species that he used to record back then which you would be hard pushed to do so today - V-Moth and Golden Plusia. Regular visitors to this blog might remember me revealing that I have never seen a V-Moth. But Sean's mention of Golden Plusia made me realise that I haven't seen one here in Banstead for maybe 15 years. They used to be annual here in small numbers. When our new species arrive, they do so with a bang, but those that leave us often tip-toe away from the scene with barely a whimper...

Saturday, 17 August 2013

A mystery Fan-foot?

I trap The Fan-foot and Small Fan-foot quite regularly in the garden, so when, this morning,  I first laid eyes on the individual pictured above I was at first unsure as to its identity. There didn't seem to be an outer cross line on the upper wing so was it a worn Clay Fan-foot? Looking at my photographs I'm not convinced that the outer cross line is missing after all. But there still seems to be something about this individual that doesn't seem right. Isn't the gap between the 'S' shaped middle cross line and the straighter inner cross line quite wide? Any thoughts?

UPDATE: The moth-lord himself, Sean Clancy, has identified this individual as The Fan-foot.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Another common micro says hello

Another MV trap to check and another new species of micro says hello - this is Lathronympha strigana, a common moth that feeds on St.John's Wort (particularly Perforate). I really should take more time to identify the micros that I trap, rather than just take notice of the more bizarre and colourful ones. Pan listing gold...

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Blogs that you should read

On the right hand side of this blog you will see 'My blog list' which is basically a collection of other blogs that I really like and enjoy visiting. I use it to quickly access them and hopefully to also tempt visitors to North Downs and beyond to spend a little more time in other peoples cyberspace. This miscellany of sites will educate, entertain and exasperate in equal measure...

I thought that I'd do a little round-up of them, to big them up (they all deserve it) and try to tempt the casual visitor to embrace them further.

The old guard
These are the blogs that I have been following for a number of years, and some of them were kind enough to link to my own blog in its early days.In no particular order Cabinet of Curiosities is Phil Gates micro take on the natural world in the north-east. His ability to capture the minute detail of its wildlife is marvellous and his knowledge is deep. Alan Tilmouth is the most serious of my links and I do at times feel rather foolhardy when comparing myself to his grasp of the political machinations behind environmental issues and his passion for hard core bird identification.From the Notebook belongs to Stewart Sexton, somebody who I believe may have been a twin brother that I was unaware of, so closely do our thoughts and interests match. Unfortuneately I do not possess his brilliant illustrative skills which he shares now and again on his blog. Not Quite Scilly is Gavin Haig's most entertaining take on birding on the south Devon coast (when he's not cycling and eating chocolate that is). A new post from him is always a joy and never disappoints. Tony Morris's St. Margaret's at Cliff was the blog that inspired me to get started, and the fact that he lives where he does has given him more than enough material to carry on blogging for the number of years that he has. Kingsdowner (Steve Coates) is not as prolific as he once was, but he was an early connection and through this medium we have met up on a few memorable occasions - to see Stinking Hawk's-beard, Oxtongue Broomrape, quaff beer or compliment each other as being dead ringers for George Clooney! Skev's Blog and The Lyon's Den are both the work of avid pan-listers (Mark Skevington and Graeme Lyons) and any visit to their sites makes me only too aware of my identification shortcomings as both are highly knowledgable chaps - and I've had the pleasure of meeting both out in the field.

The all-rounders
Mark Telfer has seen more species in the UK than all bar three others (and he will no doubt not stop until he gets to number one). His blog is a jamboree bag full of pan-listing facts and figures, insect keys and field reports. You can spend a day on his site alone.Flora Cantiaci is Mel Lloyd's highly detailed account of her time spent in the field - the only trouble is that her posts are not all that often at the moment, but when she does post they are virtual books full of links and information on all aspects of the natural world - more please Mel! Andrew Cunningham's Devon's Wild Things is (usually) a monthly round-up of his findings in that fair county, although recently he must be drowning under the weight of specimens to identify as he hasn't posted for a while.Wealdgirl's Nature Diary (hello Gill!) and Biodiversity Gatwick both celebrate the natural world in Kent and Sussex and will bring you anything and everything in varied posts. Jerry Blumire's The Great Outdoors is a more spiritual take on the wonders to be seen in nature, the inspiration to be taken from it, but also he's not too shy about using nature to feed and drink from!!

The photographers
Both Wanstead Birder (Jono Lethbridge) and Reculver Birder (Marc Heath) are exceptional photographers whose work is of a professional standard.One blog is more laid back and opinionated (but I love that Jono) and the other more reportage from the field. Both will have you throwing away your own photographic gear in a fit of impotence.

The birders
A number of my links are to birders (some seem to have no jobs as they seem to be out in the field all the time, lucky beggars) from whom I get my vicarious thrills from - Devil birder (Surrey-based David Campbell, avid patch watcher, rabid twitcher, fledgling mother); Non-stop Birding (Peter Alfrey, Lord of Beddington and The Azores), Dodgy Birds (Beddington stalwart Roger Brown who could have made the photographer category above), Matt Eades Blog (Sussex-based), Literate herring (Alastair Forsyth, ex-Dungeness and now haunting the Scottish Islands), Plovers Blog (Paul Trodd, tramper of the shingle and Joker-tamer); Randon's Ramblings (Neil 'Factor' Randon who spends his time between Holmethorpe and Staines via Beddington and Tice's Meadow); The Cowboy Birder (Tony Brown, mostly Thames Estuary but currently in the Med); Parus - I don't think anybody reads this (Essex-based birding with a lovely dollop of jaundice); Almost Birding (Lee Dingain who cannot make his mind up whether to bird Staines Moor or the Brazilian rainforest); Limeybirder (ex-Dungeness Andy Wraithmell, now an ex-pat in Florida); Bill's Birding (Surrey based Bill Dykes, now a Fair Isle convert and moth fondler); Plodding Birder (More Dungeness-based birding thrills from the man with a camera, Martin Casemore); Gilbert White's Ghost (follow the success- or otherwise- of nesting birds in the New Forest); Poole Birds and Moths (does what it says on the tin via the keyboard of Marcus Lawson).

Just moths!
Get gripped off with the trap results from Essex Moths (Ben Sale's comprehensive accounts) and The Trappings of Success (moth fun from Bedfordshire). Stewart Sexton gets a sneaky second entry as he also has a moth blog called The Orthosia Enthusiast...

So, there you have a round-up of my worthy blogs. If I've missed you off, I'm sorry, let me know and I'll add you to the post. Also, if you happen to have my blog on a link and I haven't reciprocated please tell me and I will rectify it. By the way, I haven't linked all those blogs in this post, you'll have to click on the list to the right.

Happy reading!

Monday, 12 August 2013

The Magic Roundabout

Sutton town centre is pedestrianised and during the summer months a children's fun-fair roundabout is present.It is what you'd expect from such a ride - small cars, buses, planes and horses for the little tots to sit on as they are propelled in gentle circles - but the music that accompanies them is not!

My head was first turned by the use of 'People are Strange' by The Doors - not the normal expected fayre of 'Laughing Policeman', 'Agadoo' or 'The Birdy Song'. When I returned fifteen minutes later it seemed as if the proprietor was playing the 'Strange Days' album in its entirety. Two days later The Crazy World of Arthur Brown were belting out 'Fire', a few days after that I heard Led Zeppelin's first album and today it was some weird West-Coast American psycadelic rock that I couldn't identify*.

I checked out the bloke in charge of the ride and he looked blissfully unaware of the music and didn't look like the sort of person who would be into that sort of stuff. So, where has the musical choice come from? And do the kiddies on the ride have nightmares about 'faces coming out of the rain' and people 'wanting them to burn'? Bizarre.

Just in case you're wondering what this has to do with natural history, there is a parrot painted on the side skirting of the roundabout. And a Pied Wagtail was walking about taking in the sounds.

*Talking to a work colleague about this, he reported hearing 'Paint it Black' by The Stones blasting out from the roundabout last week.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Greater Dodder and a micro with a long name

Greater Dodder (both pictures) on Common Nettle, banks of the River Mole, Mickleham

I found myself along the banks of the River Mole at Mickleham this morning, searching for Greater Dodder. I had found the plant here before, but my recent searches had drawn a blank, so I was delighted to come across four healthy patches, all on Common Nettle. Also recorded was Water Chickweed, Arrowhead and Yellow Loosestrife.

After wards I headed up the hill and into Norbury Park, where Broad-leaved Helleborine and half-a-dozen Silver-washed Fritillaries were the highlight.

The garden MV was quieter than of late, although a Dark Sword-grass was noteworthy. A common micro was welcomed to the list, Aspilapteryx tringipennella (below)

Saturday, 10 August 2013

From rarity to commonplace

When I purchased the first edition in Skinner in 1986, it did not include Tree-lichen Beauty. I was blissfully unaware that this species even existed until a few individuals started to appear on the south coast in the very early 1990s. By the time that the British Wildlife Moths Guide was published in 2003, there had been at least 40 individuals recorded.

Fast forward 10 years and Tree-lichen Beauty has established itself along the Kent coast; parts of the Sussex, Essex and Suffolk coasts; and the London area. My back garden can be included in the latter. My first only appeared in 2011, to be followed by seven more up until the end of 2012. This morning I had four come to the MV. It is clearly established in the Banstead area. There was quite a bit of variation with the four trapped - the image above is of the two extremes. This species feeds on lichens found on trees, so there seems no reason for it not to spread further. The latest distribution maps do show some outlying dots on the north Norfolk coast, Devon, Dorset and the east Midlands, so lepidopterists beyond the core sites should be on the lookout.

This species, along with Small Ranunculus, Jersey Tiger, Toadflax Brocade and Cypress Carpet, demonstrate the dynamic changes in distribution that some 'southern' moths are undergoing. There will be more to come I'm sure, which will go some way to balance the losses. For example, when I started looking at moths, The V-moth was something that I half expected to come across. I never did, but assumed that, one day, it would happen. I'm still waiting - and looking at the latest distribution maps it may be some time (if ever) before I do.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Confessions of a tweeter

I have a love/hate relationship with Twitter. For those of you who are unsure as to what Twitter is, it is an online social networking and microblogging service that allows users to post 'tweets' (messages) that are allowed to contain no more than 140 characters.

I was an early user of this service as, working with journalists as I do, a number of my colleagues adopted it as a means of gleaning information. Further down the line they realised that they could use it to spread their work to a larger audience. I, on the other hand, found out that I could gather natural history information.

It was not until last autumn that I came to the conclusion that I needed to take it far more seriously, as a large number of local birders were sending out any 'scarce bird alerts' by tweeting rather than texting, which had until then been the prefered means of information dissemination (that sounds very media savvy, doesn't it). Without Twitter I was finding myself out of the loop.

So I bit the bullet and set up a new account, promptly following a couple of hundred other accounts (mainly south-east birders, rare bird information groups and national natural history bodies). Once you follow an account, everything that they tweet comes to you. Some people are manic tweeters. They can tweet 50 times a day, and not just about birds. You have to wade through their thoughts on every subject under the sun just to get to the tweet that you followed them for in the first place - "Little Stint still at Beddington" - or something along those lines.

This had two affects on me. Firstly I was checking my Twitter feed too many times a day that was healthy to do so. I became, very quickly, a Twitter junkie. Secondly it increasingly annoyed me. One of the problems with following someone is that, especially if you follow their own followers (which you tend to do if they are birders), you end up reading their conversations several times a day that can be as tedious as:

"Just off to Staines Res"

"Nice one mate"

"Thanks, are you coming over later?"

"No, thought I'd try for Nightjars"

"Nice one, heard KingDipperBollocks69 had two last night. Most probably Woodcocks lol"

"Yeah, he's got a wooden cock alright ;-)"

You get the picture - in-jokes, drivvel, just the sort of thing to spark off my puritanical hatred for all this sort of guff.

After several months I'd had enough and deleted my account. But, of course, I was then no longer in 'the know' and after only a few days realised that there was a very useful side to Twitter after all. My answer was to create another, but anonymous account and follow just the most useful people, those that put out good information with the minimal amount of trite waffle. I also wanted to have a bit of fun, so created 'Birding Eye'...

This alter ego allowed me to send out controversial statements, jokes, satirical takes on current birding events and gathered quite a following. Local birders were trying to guess who it was (although I was rumbled by the Canons Farm crew). I hadn't enjoyed myself so much for ages. But after maybe six weeks the 'joke' had worn thin so I deleted that as well (just before the libel lawyers caught up with me).

Do I have a current Twitter account? Yes. I anonymously follow just a few selected people and hardly tweet at all. I use it to gather mainly local information, but also to keep abreast of the national rare bird news. I have managed to keep my checking of tweets down to half a dozen times a day. It's all under control.

Monday, 5 August 2013


Common Dodder, modest flowerer and to see such a show is not that common 

No, not the shambling walk of the elderly, but a parasitic plant that is an unsung member of our flora. It is one of those species that isn't common, but can be prolific in a small area. Yesterday's walk around Chipstead Bottom revealed a lovely flowering patch at a site the locals have christened Sheep's Brow. There were plenty of small insects nectaring on the blooms. I wonder if any of them are as local as the plant is?

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Clouded Yellow steals the day

Clouded Yellow of the form helice, a welcome surprise this morning.

The first CFBW Bird Group ‘Butterfly and Plant’ walk was held today, which I co-lead with Paul Goodman. Our group comprised 20 in total, with familiar faces such as Peter Wakeham, Peter Alfrey, Neil Stocks, Ian Jones and his wife, Ian Magness and, of course, David Campbell (who ensured that there were at least one pair of eyes trained onto the sky). We basically walked along Chipstead Bottom and then looped through Banstead Woods before retracing our steps back to the Holly Lane car park.

It was a great success, with a total of 23 species of butterfly being seen, including a magnificent helice form of Clouded Yellow, which performed immaculately for the cameras. Also seen were a Painted Lady, 3 Silver-washed Fritillary, 50+ Chalkhill Blue and 5 Purple Hairstreak.

Plants were not to be outdone, with a single (unflowering) Cut-leaved Germander, a new White Mullein plant being found at a new site, Pale St.John’s Wort (after much searching), Goldenrod, Autumn Gentian, Dodder (in some profusion of flowering), Round-leaved Fluellen, Yellow Bird’s-nest (all past it’s best) and Devil’s-bit Scabious (yet to flower). All of the usual chalk downland suspects put on a good show, with recent rain no doubt helping to freshen everything up after the hot spell. 

Birds were not really looked for, but a calling Crossbill had us all looking into the sky as it passed overhead. 

It is amazing what can be found in a small area when like-minded people get together and share their knowledge and enthusiasm. It is also a reminder to us all what a special area we live in.

Chalkhill Blue trying hard not to be outdone by the Clouded Yellow above

Friday, 2 August 2013

Jersey Tiger

Cannot be bothered to write much today, so please make do with a photo of this Jersey Tiger, second garden record, trapped this morning.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

A few migrants

The back garden MV provided 13 Silver Y and a Dark Sword-grass last night. Apart from the odd xylostella it has been a migrant-free zone so far this year.

Two irregular moths were also recorded with the garden's fifth Rosy Footman and seventh Ear Moth (below).