Showing posts from February, 2014

Moss bros

The low, scudding cloud, keen wind and drenching rain disappeared at about the same time as Graeme Lyons, Seth Gibson and I arrived at the top of Ditchling Beacon this morning. We were then joined by Tony Davis who made up a quartet of pan-listers - our aim?  - to be schooled in the ways of moss, by our tutor for the day, Graeme. It all worked rather well. Graeme showed us the typical species of bryophyte to be found on chalk grassland, explaining the features to look out for and the confusion species to be aware of. After half-an-hour of this came mini-tests, then a full-on exam as we tried to show each other what we had been shown. I must admit that, at last, some of this moss lark had stuck in my mind! For a most enlightening account of the mosses of Ditchling Beacon's north face, please see here for an earlier post of Graeme's . After the 'moss-fest' we then started on a new pastime for me - sieving vegetation for invertebrates (and anything else that happened

Am I becoming a pan-species tourist?

This is how my 'pan-species' list has been compiled: Firstly, through many years of birdwatching, I had gathered a British list. Secondly, an interest in butterflies (and then moths) mushroomed into another list. Thirdly, a decision to look at plants became an obsession that took me all over Britain, gathering - yes, yet another list. I put all of these together to produce my first 'pan-list' (although I didn't think of it as such back then, just another list to join all the other lists). Curiosity then got the better of me and I tried to recollect all of the other life forms that I had seen. This comprised mostly large, easy to identify species - mammals, a handful of fungi, dragonflies, that sort of thing. Then things took off. Mark Telfer's collation of such listers got me all excited and I tried my hand at other things, such as fungi. Up until this point most of my records were self-found and self-determined. Then things became more difficult. If I

Of moss and men

I spent a most enjoyable day on Epsom Common, taking part in the LNHS bryophytes field meeting that was lead most successfully by Peter Howarth. As a virtual beginner in this area, it was most instructive to be shown a succession of common species and being talked through the identification of them in an unhurried and patient way. My scribbling into a notebook of the latin names was aided by clear annunciation, as my transcribing was done phonetically and not one name caused me a problem when I deciphered my notes this evening. I won't list them all here, suffice to say that I was most probably shown 45+ species. Now comes the hard part - going through my mosses and liverworts field guide, to try and ensure that some of what I've been shown today will stick. I was doubly fortunate as I finally met up with all-round good bloke and fellow pan-lister Seth Gibson (that's him taking a picture of a tree trunk full of bryophytes). His sharpness in the field was regularly demon

Can I count it? Er, sometimes...

Sussex Emerald - fortunately seen away from pots and fridges Recently, within the pan-species listing community, there has been some discussion as to the rules and regulations behind what is acceptable as a lifer. For example, is it enough to identify (and count) a leaf-mine (without seeing the life-form that actually created it?). Should you be allowed to 'have' a moth that someone shows you in a pot in a fridge? Can you count a bird that is only seen whilst being ringed? And does it all matter? If you are part of a professional enterprise, if you are taking part in an competition or are a member of an organised society, then you are agreeing to abide by the rules and regulations of that body. When you play such 'sport' there are agreed rules to adhere to, to ensure that the playing field is a level one and that any result and resulting league table has credibility and meaning. With pan-listing (at the moment), there does exist a list of rules but comes with a

White-spot Groundling

My plea for help in identifying a mystery micro-moth was accepted by Bill Dykes who named it as the Gelechid Neofriseria peliella , also known as White-spot Groundling. It is an extremely local species in the UK, the NBN Gateway suggesting that it is only to be found in the Dungeness and Rye Harbour area. It's food plant is Sheep's-sorrel. Dave Walker, warden of Dungeness Bird Observatory, tells me that it is extremely abundant there. This all came about when I stumbled upon a folder from 2012 full of images from my stay at Dungeness in July of that year. These moths had puzzled me but remained unresolved - that is, until Mr Dykes lent me his expertise...

What's this moth?

Last July, at Dungeness, I came across a number of micro-moths that were active in the catching-box of a heligoland trap. This was during daylight hours and the moths were flying up against the clear perspex cover of the catching box. Had they all just emerged and were trapped? There were maybe 15-20 of them, all very jumpy and all of the same species. I managed to get the photographs above. I have so far been unable to identify them. The nearest I can come to is a species of Swammerdamia ,   Paraswammerdamia or a Batrachedra praeangusta   (the latter my favourite, but any pictures I've seen of this species do not exhibit such a large and prominent white spot on the forewing). Any ideas anyone?

Back garden safari

Lepthyphantes tenuis - unless you know otherwise With a spare hour this afternoon I went out into the garden, beat a bit of Ivy and Euonymus with a stick, collected the beasties that fell onto a handily placed sheet on the ground and added three species to my pan-list* - Empoasca vitis ( a leafhopper), Clubonia corticalis (a spider) and Lepthyphantes tenuis (a spider). All appear to be common and have so far eluded my detection only because I've rarely looked at these groups before. I've often thought that if I borrowed Jonty Denton for a day he could most probably find me a couple of hundred new species in my back garden. Spurred on by this, I disturbed some leaf litter on the ground and found at least three different species of springtail, but could only feel confident in naming one of them, the hairy Orchesella villosa* It's all out there, hidden from view, awaiting to be found and catalogued. I'm obviously not trying hard enough. * If you detect any schoolb

The post in which I admit to quite like birding

I have been asked on more than one occasion why I bother with birding, as I obviously don't enjoy it. I can understand why some people may come to this conclusion - after all, I do moan a lot about 'birdy' things, be they twitching, the 'modern' ways or the pseudo-science of identification (there, I've just had a little dig, I just can't help it). Well, I have news for you if you think that I am anti-birding and birder - I'm not! I love it and them! Yes, I do find a lot of what goes on today as absurd, but then a lot of this is a generational thing. Identification is an evolving field in which you can either immerse yourself wholeheartedly, you can totally ignore or, like me, pick and choose what you try and take in. I can pick a Caspian Gull out of a gull flock, I'm not too bad on redpolls, but just don't try and get me engaged in a meaningful conversation about Thayer's Gulls. They are as familiar to me as fifth-century Mongolian potter

In a classroom in Hythe...

St. Evans Infant School, Hythe PC R. Dear is talking to a classroom full of six-year olds about road safety Now, who can tell me what is happening in this photograph? There are people standing watching a lorry sir Well, almost, look again. They're not actually watching it, are they. They are all looking across the road in the same direction, paying no attention to it at all. And look at those two people standing on the right-hand side of the road. In fact, they are standing in the road. They are paying no attention to the lorry at all. Now, who can tell me what the lorry is doing? It is swerving away from those two people. That right! Well spotted. Because they are standing in a silly place they have forced the lorry driver to move out into the road to avoid hurting them. But can you see what is in the road walking towards the lorry? A man and a dog. Yes, a man and a dog. And why is the man and a dog having to walk in the road? Because there's a gang of s

What is your pan-species list?

A few years ago I sat down and tried to work out how many species I had recorded in the UK - what I had seen comprised mostly of birds, plants, dragonflies, butterflies and moths. A trawl through my notebooks (plus a dredging of my memory) pieced together additional species, from such obvious groups as mammals, fish (from when I briefly went fishing) and large, showy and easy to identify insects (such as Stag-beetles). My total meant little other than I had a working list plus had kindled a curiosity to add to it - after all, when you start to look through any book on a group of species that you know little about, it is easy to fall under their spell. It was some time later that I came across Mark Telfer and his collation of such lists from a handful of naturalists. I referred to my own list and was surprised to see that I had a competitive total. I sent him my list and saw it proudly enter the chart (it wasn't known as pan-listing then) at number seven. A dizzy height that I

Will birding ever be 'cool'?

Birding - that is, birdwatching as an obsession - has always been slightly tainted. Birders are a fairly recent phenomena and with such a short history most probably have still to find steady ground on which to bed-down and mature into a coherent statement. The first 'birders' (as currently understood), were most probably that swathe of young men (for they were mostly men) that appeared in the late 1950s and early 1960s, largely working-class and very different from the accepted face of ornithologists at the time. These lads were as close to a sub-culture (and as such 'cool') as birders have come. They were independent thinkers who blazed trails into field identification and birding beyond the confines of the UK and Europe. They attracted a small band of like-minded souls and, having been fortunate to meet many of them, I quickly realised that they also embraced other elements beyond birding which were an important part of who they were: the music, the recreational st

My 'mystery' folder

Being an incompetent pan-lister means that, on a more regular basis than I care to admit, I take photographs of living forms that I cannot identify in the field. These are mostly fungi, or beetles, or mosses, or flies, or lichens, or... you get the picture. On my return home, I load these images onto the computer and place them in a desktop folder called 'Mystery'. And here they live until I get around to looking at them, by then armed with reference material. Once identified, (and if the photo is good enough), it will then be filed. But the mystery images in the 'mystery' folder are always being topped up - and it is never empty. At the end of 2013 I decided to empty the 'mystery' folder. There were mosses and flies from 2010 that had taunted me for too long. I realise that even a cracking photo might not be enough for a positive identification anyhow. You cannot take a spore print from pixels. I surrendered. I deleted them. A great sense of calm came over

Birding and musical genres

I was watching a BBC4 programme about the music of the 1970s and the discussion entered into a dissection of the differing musical genres from that decade. This got me thinking about which species of birds would be placed into these same categories, by dint of plumage or jizz - see what you think... Punks The Johnny Rottens and Sid Vicious' of the birding world are those species that punch above their weight and get on the nerves of the other species around them. My choice is the Water Rail, which will terrorise all else in a reed bed, is an obnoxious small bird that will attack larger species for the sheer hell of it and squeal away with the vocal sharpness of most punk singers. Plus, Water Rails possess attitude. New Romantics The genre full of 'dandy' highwaymen and coiffured barnets. Think Spandau Ballet prancing the stage in tights, Adam Ant deciding whether or not he was a pirate, and Simon LeBon miming from the deck of a yacht - but it could have been summer-pl


One of the more preposterously named plants, but a welcome splash of exotica and colour this morning at Bourne Hall, Ewell. The flowers will space themselves out from this tight cluster over the coming weeks. A naturalised species that naturally occurs as close as south-east Europe.

Murdering the English Language

Now, I'm no professor of linguistics, and I understand that a language evolves, but is it just me that gets annoyed by the blatant raping of our Mother tongue? Today's example came from BBC presenter Clare Balding, who suggested that the best way of staying in touch with all of the sporting events in 'The Winters' was by using the red button... THE WINTERS! By this she meant to say the Winter Olympics... During the 2012 Summer Olympics (not the Summers) the media invented two new verbs - 'to medal' and 'to podium'. I was shaking my head then and still do so now. This is not so much language evolving as language being kicked in the head. Even us birders are at it. My first item of evidence is the use of 'rares' to denote a species of rare bird. At least text speak has yet to enter general printed communication or the spoken word, ffs... soz... (I couldn't help but use Google (note - not googled) to look up 'soz', and the Urb

More from south Devon

DAY TWO was spent in the Slapton Ley area, the highlight being that of paying my respects to the screaming rarity, Strapwort. But I want to take you straight on to DAY THREE, which will remain as a special day in my life. There were no major plant highlights -the day was special because of the alignment of several factors - the weather, the scenery and my own feeling of an utter mental and physical well-being. I floated through the day, walked the best part of twenty miles on the glorious coastal path and felt at times as if I had stepped into a parallel universe. I left Torcross in the early morning, heading south (and westwards). My first pleasant surprise was to be looking down at this: Beesands. What a great place to have as a birding patch, a freshwater body that hugged the sea and was but a stones throw from a headland! Beyond it was the small village (with a pub!) and then further beyond that the ghost town of Hallsands, largely abandoned after a storm breached its sea de

An antidote to this miserable weather

We are currently going through an unsavoury period of weather - even those of us in the cosseted south-east are experiencing winds and rainfall more akin to an outlying Scottish isle. As an antidote to all of this, and a promise of things to come, I thought I'd share with you a few days spent botanising in South Devon back in late June 2009. The weather was simply perfect - calmness, warmth and sunny skies - and the wildlife played ball so that my many plant targets were largely met. But what was most stunning, and memorable, about my few days was the scenery. DAY ONE First stop was Berry Head (left). The cliff tops and faces were a veritable hanging gardens of vegetation, including some national rarities. Small Hare's-ear had eluded me in the past, but on this particular morning I found up to 20 small plants with ease. My self-congratulations were tempered when I found out that the Berry Head population of this tiny flowerer is estimated to be between five and six th

A soundtrack to your birding?

My birding history is totally wrapped up in other cultural reference points. It is impossible for me to consider my early Dungeness birding years without an accompanying soundtrack that summons up the good birding and the class social scene - The Doors, Neil Young and Kevin Ayres may have been briefly usurped by Joy Division and Siouxsie and the Banshees, but even today, thirty odd years later a couple of bars of Hyacinth House or Cinnamon Girl hurl me back to those carefree days in an instant. And it isn't just the good music that can do it. Iffy stuff works as well! When I hear Rasputin by Boney M I'm in a car on an overnight drive to Cornwall on a twitch; Buggles  Video Killed the Radio Star sees me on the quay at St. Agnes waiting for a boat back to St. Mary's; Tightrope by ELO finds me at Pagham Harbour enjoying some of the most exciting birding that I ever experienced. The music is as much a part of the experience as the birds were. And sometimes the music over

Not good enough yet

Bonfire Moss - thanks Andrew! I seem to get to this same point at least twice a year - get all 'pan-species' keen but then get knocked-back and re-group my natural history interests. The culprit, again, is moss. There is a rather fine field guide - Mosses and Liverworts of Britain and Ireland - published by the British Bryological Society. I've got a copy and quite often flick through it. I've even taken it out into the field with me, together with an eye-glass and plastic bags to gather mossy samples in. The book alerts you to one of the problems that any budding bryologist will face, that of enormous diversity and plenty of similar looking species. My efforts to identify what I find to species level has been, quite frankly, poor. In some ways this doesn't seem to bother me with mosses. I quite often wander through damp woodland and marvel at the sheer profusion of them and can appreciate the differing shades of green and the varying forms. But as for 100

Phytomyza hellebori

Never heard of it? No, neither had I. It's a fly that leaves tell-tale mines on Stinking Hellebore leaves. I only know this because pan-listing professional (yes, another one) Graeme Lyons blogged about it last week. I went looking and found these - they seem to match up with photos on the web. I have no idea how common this species is, but the first group of plants I looked at all had these mines. I have recently seen plenty of signs from another Phtyomyza fly, this time on Holly. Thanks Graeme!