Showing posts from July, 2017

Silver Lime

I'm feeling quite sorry for the hundreds of thousands of families currently on their British holidays. No doubt when they booked up their hotel/B&B/cottage/caravan/tent earlier in the year they imagined themselves splashing in the sea, eating ice cream and luxuriating under a blazing sun. The past couple of weeks have seen nothing but unsettled weather, punctuated by heavy rain and unseasonable strong westerly winds. Having had some of the holidays of my youth blighted by bad weather, I know how much it can affect what should be 'happy times', but there again, I do recall our flooded tent (at both Bude and the New Forest) with a certain amount of nostalgia... My recent trips to Priest Hill have been a question of 'dodging the showers' and any passage migrants have been largely missing. Bird numbers are quite woeful, bar a roving flock of Starlings, that number between 150-250 strong. They spend much of their time feasting on blackberries (top) and wheeling

Back to Priest Hill

The UK autumn may really have started several weeks ago (with failed or non-breeding adult waders moving through), but in ND&B land we have only just declared the season open! To be honest, once I start to see Harebells, Clustered Bellflowers and Common Toadflax flowering, and Copper Underwings and Flounced Rustics in the MV, then I know that the summer is starting to think about ushering in the autumn. In all reality, this seasonal thing is not straightforward, as they overlap, merge and share many aspects. Serves our right for trying to label and pigeon-hole everything. Anyway, my sudden acceptance of all things 'autumn' has mainly been driven by my return to Priest Hill SWT Reserve. You may remember that I adopted it as a patch at the end of last autumn, and my time there has been gratefully rewarded, with such highlights as Cattle Egret, Woodcock, Jack Snipe, Common Snipe, many Red Kites, Peregrine, a good passage of Wheatear, Stonechat and Common Redstart, Ring Ou

Long hot summer

Part 12 - April - July 1976 On returning to Beddington SF, the spring passage was well underway. On April 18 th the scratchy, agitated song of a Sedge Warbler greeted me, along with a pair of displaying Redshank, vying for attention with several pairs of tumbling Lapwings – these birds dominated the soundtrack to my sewage farm days during this period. Two days later, both a Little Ringed Plover and a Corn Bunting were newly arrived. Three visits were made to Pagham Harbour, the lure of the coast and its avian promise too much to resist. Garganey, Spotted Redshank, Whimbrel, Greenshank and Common Redstart were all seen, but it was a single Little Tern that stole the show. Up to twenty were present, flying like clockwork toys along the beach, this being accentuated by their ‘cartoon-like’ chattering, but one tern in particular had taken a liking to a ditch parallel to the shoreline at Church Norton. It patrolled this thin ribbon of water as I sat on an earth bank, just f

Sunshine on a cloudy day

It has hardly got light here in Banstead today, a stygian gloom more reminiscent of mid-winter. But, after an almost full day spent decorating (well 'full' as far as I'm concerned), I hot-footed it up onto Langley Vale Farm for a spot of botanising. I chose to check the fields at the base of the slope close to Nohome Farm. It was all quite pleasant. The Wild Carrot was wonderful, as the two images above show. This field has been chosen by the Woodland Trust as a 'wildflower' meadow, and what pops up here is a mixture of species that were here before and those courtesy of seeding. I'm sure the Wild Carrot is a mixture of both sources. Although cloudy, it was muggy, so a few butterflies were on the wing. Highlight - by a country mile - was a single Clouded Yellow (top image), my first this year. I was also pleased to find a robust Round-leaved Fluellen (above and below), a brute of a plant, nothing like the weedy stems I usually find. Last but

Red, gold and green...

Last night Katrina and I joined a few thousand other souls up on Epsom Downs racecourse to (a) watch a few horse races and (b) attend a Culture Club concert (I don't like using the word 'gig' - we never called them that 'back in the day'). In fact, come to think of it, I don't like using the term 'back in the day'... I must admit to two things. Firstly, I don't like horse racing. And secondly, I've never been a big fan of Culture Club. But when an opportunity comes along it seems churlish to turn it down just because you're not that keen on it! I could have stayed at home and cleaned the moth trap, or daydreamed about what rare birds I am going to miss this autumn, but no, Mrs ND&B has a soft spot for Boy George, so off we went. We only caught the last couple of races. Neither of us bet, so we just both chose a horse from each race and stood to gain nothing but bragging rights if either of them won. My two horses were chosen on name a

Big hoverflies

We were in the garden a couple of days ago when Katrina suddenly backed away from me (I cannot blame her) and exclaimed "I don't like the look of that!" She had just seen this... I was able to immediately put her at rest by telling her that it didn't sting, although it was very big and looked like a hornet - it was, in fact a hoverfly - Volucella zonaria , a hornet mimic. They are magnificent insects and illustrate how varied the hoverflies are, with some in comparison being tiny wisps of things. I've recorded two other Volucella in the garden, both large, arresting and most probably responsible for many a sudden panic in back gardens up and down the country.. Volucella pellucens Volucella inanis


Both the Not Quite Scilly and Wanstead Birder blogs have touched on this subject recently, and I'm not one to pass over the opportunity to nick a good idea... Phasing -  the lessening (or even dropping) of time spent bird watching. Most long-time birders have gone through spells of it. I certainly have. In fact, because of my other natural history interests, birding has sometimes taken a back seat for months on end. I don't quite accept that as phasing however, as I'm still out in the field, still looking at and identifying living things, but instead of birds they are plants, butterflies, moths or dragonflies. No, to phase is to completely close down. I've certainly lessened birding time in the past, but have I ever 'retired' from it? I'm not so sure. Whenever I go on a long birding trip (a fortnight on Scilly, a month at Dungeness) I cannot bird at full throttle throughout. I slow down, I need a change, my mind demands it. That can mean just potter

Holmethorpe damselflies

It may only be eight miles from home (and they may have been there for a few years), but I had yet to pay my respects to the Holmethorpe colony of Willow Emerald Damselfly, a recent colonist of our shores. Too laid back? Not keen enough? Whatever the reason, my visit this morning coincided with warm and sunny weather. It took a good couple of hours to find one, and after a quick look at the ridge dewpond (see below), an early afternoon return found a further four individuals. None of them were anything other than flighty, with most taking themselves up into the top of the mature vegetation that flanks the perimeter path of Spynes Mere (above). The dewpond (above) that I referred to is most probably too grand a term for this small water body, a depression on old landfill that holds seasonal water. It was alive with odonata this morning, including a minimum of 20+ Small Red-eyed Damselfly (below).

No two the same

I've recently had reason to mention one of my favourite moth species, the newly resident Tree-lichen Beauty. If you do not have the pleasure of seeing this species on a regular basis, the images above are of individuals trapped here in Banstead. They vary enormously and, together like this, are reminiscent of a tray of jewellery. Like July Highflyers or Common Marbled Carpets, part of their charm is in their variety.

30 years: the colonists

Living in the south-east of the UK does have its compensations, none more so than being in a geographical hot-spot for the welcoming of colonising species of moth, whether they be from the continent or breaking away from a previous coastal distribution. Global warming might be a convenient reason behind such movements, but it is most probably more compilcated than that. The species outlined below would have all been the subject of pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking when I first switched on the Banstead moth trap back in 1987... Small Ranunculus (below) This species used to be a resident in the south-east of England until the early part of the 20th century, when it suddenly disappeared. It was then rediscovered along the Thames Estuary in the 1990s, slowly spreading eastwards and reaching the garden on August 5 2004. It is almost annual here now, but no more than 2-3 are recorded in a single year. Toadflax Brocade (below) I used to see this species at Dungeness when it was cons

The Amber and Chocolate list

If you are a regular sufferer of this blog, you may remember that I spent quite a bit of time at Gander Green Lane last season, home of Sutton United Football Club. My season ticket, apart from allowing me to watch the footy, also opened up the sideline of birding during moments of non-activity on the pitch. There were three notable sightings - Little Egret, Common Buzzard and Lapwing. With the new season having started last Saturday (and a new season ticket safely in my possession), it was time to launch a new initiative - The ND&B Gander Green Lane 2017-18 season list! My efforts during Saturday's match (a friendly versus Coventry) were half-hearted, although I made a special effort to get Common Swift onto the list. I also noticed a Blackbird and Collared Dove, so, with a shaky start, the bird list is currently on three. I also  witnessed three species of butterfly - Large White, Comma and Small Tortoiseshell - so it would be rude not to start a butterfly list as well. The

30 years: the pure migrants

A few posts ago, I mentioned that this coming August sees the 30th anniversary of moth trapping our Banstead garden. This is the first in a (short) series of posts looking back on what has been recorded. First up, the migrants. The bread-and-butter migrants, those that we can all expect to record wherever we may be, are Silver Y , Dark Sword-grass , Pearly Underwing , Rush Veneer ( Nomophila noctuella ), Rusty Dot Pearl ( Udea ferrugalis ) and Diamond-back Moth ( Plutella xylostella ). All have been annual here, but vary greatly in number each year. 1996 was a good summer for migrants, and from early June Silver Y, noctuella , ferrugalis and xylostella were plentiful. Silver Y counts regularly reached 50-100 during that summer, with a count of 2,000 in Nork Park on June 9 showing the true numbers locally (the park is only 800m away from the garden). One other 'event' is worth mentioning from this group of commoner migrants, that being the invasion of xylostella during J

So we beat on...

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” F Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby I'm compelled to look back into the past. I always have. As a young boy my Mother would quite often get very old pennies in her change, and I would take a hold of these coins, examining the darkened and worn surfaces, mesmerised by the faded head of Queen Victoria, wondering who had once held them, what were they spent on and I would then construct imaginary histories for them, involving such things as being put in piggy banks, lost down the back of sofas and other mundane, but to me, fascinating scenarios. If only these coins could talk... Our family holidays often involved side-trips to castles, standing stones and museums. The past couldn't be more clearly on show and my young mind took it all in - together with dinosaurs (also long gone) there was little else that owned my imagination so fully. So there is little wonder that, as I wander through my tim

You don't need colour to be beautiful

One of my favourite species - Scallop Shell - was a welcome addition to the garden MV this morning. A beautifully marked, yet sober, moth. Also, rather surprisingly, another Blastobasis rebeli, the third Surrey record. They are obviously on the move, keep a look out!

Another moth getting a toe-hold

This is Blastobasis rebeli , a moth originally from Madeira (in fact, the species is only known from that island), that has somehow found its way to our shores. The first UK record was discovered in Hampshire in 2008, followed by another in Swansea, and then others from the south coast that suggest that it has become a resident. Its breeding regime, and food plant(s), are unknown. In fact, it's difficult to get any up to date information about the species, and my individual may well be a first for Surrey (although the county recorder will no doubt put me right on that one if I'm wrong). The garden MV has been lively over the recent spell of hot weather, with plenty of moths to sift through - although nothing too exciting - until the rebeli this morning. The first Tree-lichen Beauty of the year (below) and the less-than-annual Shaded Broad-bar (bottom) were two highlights.

Fritillary slopes

The slopes of the Box Hill zig-zag (above) were alive with butterflies this morning. It was hot, but a slight breeze did make the time spent out in the field not too oppressive. Undoubted highlight were the numbers of Dark Green Fritillaries - at least 140 were recorded, mostly low over the top of the short chalk downland sward. They were in all states of wear and tear, but only a few settled, and those that did were low in the vegetation, making photography a challenge (below). At least 25 Silver-washed Fritillaries were nearby, more likely to be found in the woodland rides and edges. After watching both species for several days, it becomes quite easy to identify them in flight, the Dark Green smaller and sedate, the Silver-washed (below) larger and dashing. There were also good numbers of Comma (bottom), similar of colour to the Fritillaries but that much smaller in flight.

In-between days

The start of July sees a lull in the number of species of butterfly on the wing, with more than a few of them being between broods. I spent the morning/early afternoon at Park Downs, Banstead Woods and Chipstead Bottom in glorious weather, and, regardless of the 'butterfly trough', still recorded a fair few species (and in good numbers), including two White-letter Hairstreak, 2 Dark Green Fritillary and 15+ Silver-washed Fritillary. Brimstone - second brood starting to emerge Silver-washed Fritillary Ringlet - up to 100 present Dark Green Fritillary

The ultimate 'record' shot

Oh yes...  poor, isn't it. One of the six White-letter Hairstreaks that would not come down from the top of Wych Elm in Banstead Woods this morning. The photo below gives you some idea of just how far away they were - they stayed in the very tops of these trees: Far more accommodating were several Silver-washed Fritillaries, that knew just how to behave in front of an admirer with a camera... I have still yet to see a 'Banstead Woods' Purple Emperor. Another was seen today. This has now become personal.