Showing posts from June, 2014

Information junkies

I once knew a birder who spent most of the day - almost every day - in the field. But most of that time was not spent looking through his optics. He would spend it peering at the screen of his smart phone, or responding to the bleeps and whistles that came from a small device that I assumed was a pager. These two objects (phone and pager) dictated his birding life, from where he would be birding in the next hour right through to what he would do when he got there. Also, his awareness of those other birders around him was but periphery, such was his concentration on those devices. He had divorced himself from the reality of where he was and who he was with. However, such behavior, rather than being extreme, is actually quite common. Being able to communicate instantaneously is something that a bloke of my age does not take for granted. Who reading this can remember the run to a phone box after finding a rare bird, the frantic feeding of coins into the slot and the hope that the pers


Basil-thyme (Clinopodium acinos) is not a plant that I've seen very often and certainly not locally. I had known of its existence on Banstead Downs for a while now but had never got around to paying it a visit - until today. A largish patch was out in flower and appears to be the only population present. It isn't common anywhere in north Surrey as far as I'm aware. It's a smart flower, not too showy but the white horse-shoe marking making it distinctive. You really need to be on chalk to find it, the UK distribution map suggesting that the North and South Downs, plus the run of chalk up from Dorset to Norfolk being prime habitat - but make no mistake, this is not a common species and it is local across a lot of its range. I couldn't resist posting a picture of this Fox-and-cubs (or Orange Hawkweed if you prefer), one of several hundred that I saw in flower in a meadow close to the River Mole at Leatherhead. They always brighten up any stroll.

Luis Suarez transferred to Birdguides for undisclosed sum

It was announced this afternoon that Birdguides , the UK-based birding franchise, has secured the services of the disgraced Uruguayan footballer Luis Suarez. The deal is believed to cover the period  that FIFA have banned him from playing football, after he once again exhibited his homo-erotic habit of nibbling the shoulders of sweaty men dressed in tight fitting sports wear. Although Birdguides was not forthcoming as to how they were going to utilise Mr Suarez' services, it is believed that he will be used to police twitches, actively biting photographers that get too close to the Booms and Rares. A birder who wishes to remain anonymous told North Downs and beyond : "The twitching scene is getting out of hand. Although the crowds aren't what they used to be, the number of birders who bring big lenses to twitches is increasing, so much so that they get in the way of the normal birder, jostling for position to get decent shots to put on their boring blogs, getting too c

CK and P Dunkley

Mr and Mrs CK and P Dunkley most probably don't mean that much to you. You may have never heard of them. But if you were to pick up any Surrey Bird Report from the 1960s and 1970s you would find their initials written all over the systematic list. They were avid patch birders. What I now have to tell you is a tale of my callow youth, in not knowing how things really were and in my having a misplaced sense of importance - for, in the mid 1970s, I came across the Dunkleys and dismissed them as irrelevant to my birding world. Let me explain… As a teenage birder, with little money and no car, I travelled to the better birding destinations by way of begging lifts or going on organized trips. The latter option was, I'm ashamed to say, considered beneath me, as I had to sit on a coach with 'dude' birders, mostly old and mostly not 'proper' exponents of birding. You can now see what an arrogant little shit I was. The Surrey Bird Club ran such trips and these see

Recent moths

A couple of recent back garden moths... Reddish Light Arches. A species 'of the chalk', fairly regular in the garden MV. Small Yellow Wave. Not quite annual here.

Bastard-toadflax and other stuff

After 36 hours of being without TV and internet connection (thanks Virgin!) I am now firmly back in the 21st century and as a family we can stop gathering around a piano, stop sewing and stop having to talk to one another... whatever next? Highlights from the past couple of days have been... Bastard-toadflax on Walton Downs... Bladder Senna in Banstead Woods The fifth garden record of Festoon (they always seem to be tatty)

Botanical foray

This morning found me haunting the chalky slopes of Chipstead Bottom, as one of a band of fellow botanists and all-round naturalists who were part of Peter Wakeham's organised walk. As usual, Peter shared with us his knowledge of the area and expertise with the plants - you always come away the richer and wiser from his forays. And there were a few familiar faces in our number: local boys David Campbell, Ian Magness and Paul Goodman; Beddington absconders Nick Gardener and Peter Alfrey; plus I finally got to meet Bill Dykes, fresh from his 'second for Britain' micro moth success. I began a bit earlier in the day walking the rides of Banstead Woods in the hope of a Purple Emperor. They have been seen already this year on Bookham Common, but I drew a blank. Compensation came in the form of plenty of Marbled Whites, a firm favourite of mine. Other lepidoptera that gatecrashed the botanical party was a Blackneck (disturbed from vegetation but then on show for all to see),

Watch this!!

I have just finished watching one of the most interesting and thought-provoking television programmes that I have seen for quite a long time. 'I bought a rainforest' is a three-part BBC2 documentary which follows a year in the life of wildlife photographer Charlie Hamilton James as he comes to terms with his purchase of a few hundred acres of Peruvian rain forest. His reason for sinking £6000 of his own money into this small part of Amazonia (which borders a protected national park) is to safeguard the land from logging and to stop the illegal transportation of felled wood from the nearby park through it. In each episode we accompany him as he visits 'his' land and hear what his thoughts are about the wildlife within it, the local people who still use it and what he plans to do about protecting it. Things are complicated from day one. Day two dawns no more brighter. As time goes on, Charlie quickly comes to the conclusion that he had absolutely no idea about the re

Kidney Vetch 1 England 0

Kidney Vetch looking stunning against the tall grasses of mid-summer. A visual offering to compensate for another uninspiring performance by our national football team. Taken at Epsom Downs last Tuesday.

Meet the pond

If you have a garden, but not a water feature within it, then I urge you to put that right this summer. It doesn't have to be a pond  - a sunken or stand-alone sink will suffice - plant it up and sit back to await a whole wealth of wildlife that will make a bee-line for your watery offering. Our own pond is small, some six feet at its widest. When we moved here (pre-children) the pond was already a living thing, full of newts and frogs, damselflies and dragonflies. When our first daughter was born we filled it in as a safety precaution. When our second daughter stopped toddling we excavated the infill, relined it and filled the resulting hole with water. Within an hour a pond skater was on the water surface and the air above was full of gnats. It didn't take long for the wildlife to find it. I ensured that a few shelves were built into the pond's construction and placed planted containers full of Pendulous Sedge, Water Mint, Marsh Marigold, Greater Spearwort and wat

Fridge ticking moths

Goat Moth - guilty of being 'fridge-ticked' Britain's first record of the noctuid moth Aedia funestra made the lepidopteran headlines this weekend. Trapped by Nigel Jarman at Kingsdown, Kent on June 13, it was then taken on a short journey to Dungeness where it was on show to all who wished to see it. There would have been a number of people who travelled a few hundred miles to do so, even if they had made the same journey less than a week before to see Britain's second Banded Pine Carpet, trapped by Barry Banson in his Littlestone garden. This 'exhibition' of rare moths is not confined to Dungeness - most permanent coastal MV's (such as those run at bird observatories) will let it be known when a rarity has been trapped and be more than pleased to share it with those who wish to see it. Even inland trap operators will find themselves being visited by lepidopterists to share in their good fortune - Bill Dyke's second for Britain Euchromius cambridge

From the Chipstead Bottom of my heart

A brief wander along Chipstead Bottom this afternoon was balm to the soul. Soporific weather, enough butterflies to feel joyous and a handful of good plants which only goes to reinforce what a marvellous area it is botanically, lead by Yellow Bird's-nest (below), Greater Yellow-rattle and Bee Orchid - and I wasn't really looking that hard. Back at home the moth trap was quiet, although this female Ghost Moth was most welcome. Tonight is shaping up to be cloudier, muggier and dare I even suggest, moth-ier...

The bigger picture

One criticism that has been levelled against me on more than one occasion is that I think too much about how I go about my natural history study. That might be true. My post yesterday (about my current malaise) prompted Neil and Ali to respond (thanks chaps!) I had touched upon 'pan listing' as being a possible reason for my dissatisfaction and Ali (a fellow PSL member) wrote: PSL enlightens me to how many million things I don't know. When you are working in one group you are always going forwards. With PSL you expand your awareness of ignorance so it can feel that you are actually going backwards. Or maybe it feels too much like a job. Nothing cools my interest in something more than the feeling that I "have to" do it This struck several chords with me. In fact, it did more than that, it gave me at least two really feasible reasons as to why I feel the way I do at the moment. The 'expansion of awareness of ignorance' point is something that I've n

June doldrums

For some reason I just cannot get my natural history engines firing on all cylinders. Whatever I look at doesn't really excite me (including those two Spoonbills that flew over the garden!). Everything is a chore, from writing notes to checking pugs, from hanging up pheromone lures to examining grasses. It's not a case of not wanting to, more a case of 'can't be arsed'... This pan-listing has a lot to do with it. I just cannot retain enough information in my crumbling brain to be out in the field and pretend to be informed on a lot of stuff. This has watered down my abilities in groups that I used to have a good hold on - my birding prowess was pants in May, I've forgotten most of the pugs so I tend to (ahem!) ignore them at the MV, and sometimes I stare at a plant and cannot remember its name, even though I know it. What's the answer? I've toyed with a break from it all. But I don't want to do that. Stop blogging? No, I still enjoy posting. My

Spoonbills over Banstead

My pheromone failures continue, but the back garden has been kind to me over the past couple of days. Firstly, the MV provided both Peach Blossom (above) and Scorched Wing last night, neither of which are annual here. And secondly, whilst lolling about on the back garden lawn yesterday evening (17.50hrs) I looked up to see, unbelievably, two low flying Spoonbills heading north-west. I was surprisingly calm as they disappeared out of view. Needless to say, a new species for the garden.


I'm developing a hatred of pheromones. I've spent too many hours staring at the bloody things hanging from a tree/bush/stick waiting for the patter of tiny wings to arrive. Today I targeted a good area of young birch (for White-barred Clearwing), cleared birch (for Large Red-belted Clearwing) and oak parkland (for Yellow-legged Clearwing). I know that one of the sites I visited has recorded the target species before (including last weekend) - so what am I doing wrong? The flight times are OK. The habitat is OK. I've started to wonder if my pheromone bungs have not been impregnated with the magical chemicals at all! But, having said that, I know that my Six-belted Clearwing lure works OK as that provided my sole success last summer. I'm leaving the lure out for 20-30 minutes. It's always been a sunny day (with at least a slight breeze). I'm beginning to lose patience... but, of course, I must not give in. Today wasn't a moth-free zone as I recorded the

Pan's People come to a web site near you!

The Pan-species Listing Web Site has now been officially launched and is open to the great unwashed out there in cyberspace! Please click here to access a world dominated by the geek, the obsessed, the driven and the plain weird - some of those you will meet answer to all four of those accusations! Seriously though, the all-round naturalist was a dying breed, but not any more! It is heartening to find that many of those naturalists who have been brave enough to submit their lists are under 30! Not all of them are men!! And I've met a few of them and some of them are normal people!!! Congratulations must go to Graeme Lyons and the team for organising and constructing the site. If you feel inclined to do so, do join in. But please don't do so if your list is larger than mine - I'm slipping down the league table on an almost daily basis, and there's only so much a man can take. I might even have to pull my finger out and start to make an effort to bump those numbe


I am currently re-reading " Blood Knots ' by Luke Jennings. Here is a book ostensibly about angling but it is far more than that - far, far more. The parallels between fishermen and birders are uncannily close. There is a passage in his book where he discusses the part of ritual and anticipation in angling. This is also true of birding. I still get excited when I prepare for my time in the field - even if it is just a sky-watch from the back garden. The ritualistic cleansing of the optic lenses, the picking up of the notebook and pen, the arrival on site when the first scan is full of optimism - even after forty years of doing so, I still get a shiver down the spine. But why? My hope of a rarity, of a big viz-mig watch, and of hope for the unexpected is not really there - I do always hope, but realism and pragmatism kicked in years ago. It is all to do with the ritual. It is all to do with the fetish qualities of the tools I use. It is a trip back in time to those early days

London Calling

I've been keeping my head down of late. In fact, I've been back in the land of the earning, plying my trade as a freelance designer, working for a Holborn-based publisher. This has necessitated my becoming a commuter - and boy, is that an eye-opener... I've always lived around the edge of London, rarely venturing into it. But age has seen my feelings towards our capital city become far more positive. I love the architecture, the theatres, the galleries, the museums and the pubs. Its wildlife has never really registered with me, so I've always looked upon those birders that work it with a mixture of awe and bewilderment. I follow one particular exponent - Des McKenzie - on Twitter, and feel that all of his sightings are that much more hard-won and worthy than my own. He even wanders the 'pavements of gold' searching for exotic species of tree. True dedication. Last Saturday we visited our eldest daughter Rebecca who currently lives in Bromley-by-Bow, and walk