Showing posts from July, 2020

From the downs

When this pyralid moth turned up in the MV yesterday morning I couldn't place it, so it was potted up, photographs taken and then analysed in the early evening. It seemed to me that I was looking at a Delplannqueia dilutella , but on trawling the internet the water got murkier, as I then found out that this moth had been found to comprise two species - along with D. inscriptella . Disection is required to separate them. The next course of action was to send an image to Bill Dykes, who has become my go-to moth man - serves him right for being so proficient and helpful! His reply was to suggest that the moth was, in fact, Moitrelia obductella , a rare inhabitant of chalk downland in Kent and Surrey. He hadn't experience of this species himself and suggested getting a second opinion, which came from both Nigel Jarman and Sean Clancy - both in agreement that it was  obductella indeed! My thanks to all three of these expert lepidopterists, who make the life of those of us less-p


During this morning a single page view took the North Downs and Beyond 'page view' stat counter over the million mark. It's taken ten years, and 2006 posts to get here. I have no doubt that many of these page views have come courtesy of various bots, directing false traffic towards the site. However, for those that are genuine, thank you very much for taking the time to visit, and a few of you for going the extra mile and leaving a comment. ND&B did exist for an 18-month spell between 2008-2010, but in a fit of pique I deleted it. My loyalty to the current version has been tested on a few occasions, but my resolve is to leave this blog alive even if I do decide to stop producing it. This year has seen a big increase in visits, particularly after lockdown when the ND&B version of the #BWKM0 garden challenge was being 'curated'. During this spell between 1200 -1500 hits a day was the norm, and since then this has rarely dropped below the 1000 mark. V


Now, what's this tree? An oak. Yes, but which oak? Sessile? Pendunculate? Red?? No, that's Sessile. Covered in leaf mines. Moth or fly? Better take a leaf to check back at home, see if the mine is tenanted. Oh, and there's a gall - I'll take a picture of that. And the leaves have rusts and smuts on them... they'll need identifying. And so will that fungus growing at the base of the trunk. And those flies on the nearby vegetation. And those spiders. What about the wasps. And.... And then my head explodes. I return home with a camera card full of images and the likelihood of several hours at the computer, trying to identify everything before me. No, it's no use, I'll own up. It isn't fun. I can handle a day or two of this, full on, but after that it all becomes relentless. It becomes a game of numbers. Joyless. A chore. Homework. Enough. So. The Circle. Just birds, plants, Lepidoptera and Odonata. Honorable mention to anything else that g

A July Hen

Canons Farm is currently playing host to a ring-tail Hen Harrier, the fifth site record following hot on the heels of birds in 2010, 2011 and two in 2013. Needless to say, a July record is exceedingly rare in Surrey. My 'harrier ageing library' is not up to date, hence my inability to confidently call this a 'juvenile male', although there are several eminent birders who confidently are. The bird turned up on Friday and, apart from Saturday, has been seen on each subsequent evening, although today it has been on site, on-and-off, all day, but has gone 'missing' for hours at a time. I spent the afternoon on the farm (sans harrier) but was more than happy with up to 200 Common Swifts, 45 Swallows and a House Martin drifting in the airspace, which they shared for a time with a Hobby. I went back this evening and was delighted to see the Hen Harrier on a number of occasions, quartering the fields widely across the farm. At least 20+ birders had also decided to des

The circle

The central blue dot is home, and the white outer circle shows 5km distance. Within it lies a number of my regular haunts. The question is, how many species can I record here in a year, purely on foot - starting from tomorrow? Another half-thought-out crackpot project, but something that I can do in-between other things. Why do it? Well, firstly, for my own entertainment. But also as an illustration as to what can be found close to home - any home. Granted, it isn't in the middle of a city, but one look at that map reveals an awful lot of building. What lurks between? Most effort will be placed on birds, butterflies, moths and plants, although I will keep an eye out for other life-forms, if they grab my attention. I don't have a target in mind although I'd be disappointed if 1,000 species isn't reached. 1,500? I doubt it, but let's find out.

Bears on Banstead Downs

Banstead Downs can be reached by foot within 10 minutes from home, yet it is a place that I strangely neglect. Ornithologically it doesn't have a lot going for it, although had I been there on May 21st 1956 I would have seen a Lesser Grey Shrike. However, botanically it has its highlights, and can boast a long and notable list of invertebrates. My three hours spent meandering across the area yesterday morning was most rewarding. I pointed the camera at whatever took my fancy and then attempted to identify the subject matter on returning home. The big drawback to this method is that an awful lot will remain unidentified - this doesn't bother me too much, as it can be highly educational whittling a species down to just its family level. Surprises abounded. A largish colony (1,000+ plants) of Betony. A clump of Bear's Breech a good mile or two away from the closest garden. Another Graphosoma italicum on the same stand of Hogweed as earlier in the week. The amount of Hemp


Covid 19 and the subsequent lockdown has focused everyone’s minds on the very essence of what it is to be a functioning social being in the 21st century. Having to ‘think‘ before we ‘did’ added a novel layer of thought to our daily routine. For many who did not possess a connection to the natural world, this enforced ‘reckoning’ was a wake-up call. Almost overnight the ranks of gardeners, birdwatchers, astronomers and aesthetes were swollen. Never before had the blossoming of trees, the song of birds and the muffling of man-made noise been so keenly observed and appreciated. Those of us who already knew of such things started to settle down into a deeper contentment and realise that we hadn’t really known the world around us as well as we thought we had. The birders amongst us largely withdrew into a much smaller ornithological domain - a garden, balcony or window became our realm, a place to watch from. Social media allowed us to share our observations, to voice our feelings in what

Grass seeds and arable gold

It was an absolute pleasure to welcome Paul and Bridget James to the arable plant fields of Langley Vale today. We walked far and wide across the area and managed to find most of the notable species that we had targeted, including Night-flowering Catchfly, Blue Pimpernel, Field Gromwell, Field Woundwort and Red Hemp-nettle. The dry spring and early summer has certainly taken its toll on many species, with some crisped and stunted, while others that we expected to be in full flower were already clearly over. However, a most enjoyable day was had and it now remains for us three intrepid botanists to start picking all of the grass seeds out of our socks and footwear... Field Woundwort Red Hemp-nettle Round-headed Rampion Scarlet Pimpernel (blue flowered)


Chalkhill Blues are, to me, redolent of sunny warm skies. We are lucky here on the Surrey chalk downs that in a good year the slopes can shimmer with milky-blue as thousands dance above the sward - but not this year. They seem to be in depressed numbers. The downland flora has been rather compromised this summer, with the dry and warm March, April and May ensuring that little flowered and left behind stunted and dried up blooms. The Chalkhill Blue food plant, Horseshoe Vetch, can carpet large areas of the slope at Denbies Hillside, but on my visits this summer it has been in short supply. This is where today's photograph was taken. Talking of the weather,  The Hairy Birder blog  mentioned his dissatisfaction with the online weather forecasts, and how they vary. I have noticed this as well. I check three sources - Met Office (often wrong), BBC (correct more often than not) and XC Weather (not bad but always over-estimating wind strength). How three sources, using similar, expen

More stripey shieldbug action

Banstead Downs is within a 10-15 minute stroll from home. My mission this morning was to try and track down the colourful shield-bug Graphosoma italicum , a species that is starting to appear in southern Britain. I had tried to find it earlier in the summer, when an individual was found close to the downs. Although I failed then, reward came courtesy of several Lixus iridis , a scarce weevil. I was some way short of the italicum site when I checked a stand of Hogweed, and BINGO!, there it was, just the one, in all its glory. I could only stay a short while, so whether or not there are others present is good reason for me to return.

A returning micro

I was chuffed to find this is the garden MV this morning, Lyonetia prunifoliella, which has an interesting history in the UK. Here's what the excellent UK Moths website says about it: "Formerly locally resident in parts of southern and central England, this moth seemed to have died out as a British species, and had not been reliably encountered since around 1900. The first recent record appears to be in 2007, since when it has been encountered with increasing frequency in a number of counties including Dorset, Norfolk and on the Isle of Wight, Hampshire." My photograph is not up to scratch, being taken under dark skies and a slight drizzle, and this moth is tiny. Still, it gets across the delicate markings that clinched the identification.

Moist ginger cake

I first realised that my eyesight was becoming in need of 'a little help' when assisting Barry Banson in checking his Greatstone moth trap. My moving of the egg-boxes back and forwards for my eyes to better focus had him imploring me to give in and buy a pair of reading glasses. That was in 2012 and I was 53 years old. The purchase swiftly followed. For a number of years it was just the reading of small print and the observation of micro-moths that needed a pair of spectacles to be utilised, but over the past 12 months my close vision has been getting steadily worse. Unless the printed word is of a fairly robust size I will struggle with it. And as for micro-moths... It has come to the point where I can see the micro-moth, but make very little detail out on it, bar a general ground colour or obvious mark. The modus operandi is to pot them without any attempt at identification and put them aside. Obviously there are familiar, or large micros that will not be potted, so o

Two steps forward, one step back

There I was yesterday, in a quietly modest way, considering that I'd had quite a good day with the micro-moths. I'd tweeted a few out, composed yesterday's blog post and all was well. This morning my identification frailties have been exposed. In a very polite message, Bill Dykes (who really knows his stuff) pointed out that my tristrigella was, in fact, an ohridella, and that the Gypsoma that I'd called a dealbana was an aceriana. These have now been rectified. However, I was able to get one positive confirmation from Bill as I had sent him a picture of a moth that I suspected was Recurvaria nanella. Thankfully he agreed. It can be frustrating this moth business. Macros are normally - but not always! - forgiving, whereas micros are just a multitude of tiny scales that vary considerably even within a species. They call for a cool head, an analytical mind and patience. I've just placed an order for all three! In the meantime, here is a smart micro that I am prett

600 in the garden

The garden MV has not been all that productive so far this summer, although last night did provide some interesting micros, a few of them featured below. Last night also saw the passing of 600 species of moth for the back garden - it sounds a lot, but I did start recording here in 1987. As always, if you think I've made a schoolboy error on any of the identifications, please let me know. Catoptria pinella Dichomeris marginella Gypsoma aceriana Parachronistis albiceps

Nemophora metallica

This is Nemophora metallica , a local species found on chalk downland, that is partial to a spot of loafing on scabious - here they are 'hanging out' on Field Scabious. Most of yesterday morning was spent photographing invertebrates on flower-heads, followed by an afternoon scratching my head as I tried to identify them. Was it a success? For me, yes, as I was able to add seven species to my pan-species list. We just won't mention the many photographs from the session that currently reside in the 'mystery' folder on the computer desktop...

Loss and partial gain

In all honesty it started three autumns ago. My fellow birders were picking up Tree Pipit calls and I was failing to do so. This was unusual, as I had quite a good ear and had never had any trouble picking Tree Pipits up before. I began to get a little concerned when, whilst standing next to somebody who picked up a couple of birds calling overhead in quick succession, I hadn’t heard a thing. Last autumn I partook in a lot of vismigging and was surprised that the Redwing flocks were not calling as they passed through. I was even more surprised when they were not calling at night, even at times when others were reporting heavy nocturnal passage with much calling being heard. I wondered why the skies above my house remained silent, but deep down my suspicions were being aroused. So far this year I have seen plenty of Swifts, enjoying their flocks racing overhead in numbers that have been up on recent years. Funny thing is, none of them have been calling... This afternoon we visited

Awakening moribund listing

Although I'm not a competitive lister, I am a keeper and maintainer of them. I love lists, but just for my own amusement you understand... A few years ago some bright spark (step forward Mr Telfer) had the idea of putting together a league table of naturalists who admitted to being pan-listers. What is a pan-lister and what do they do? Well, this is what their very own web-site says: 'A pan-species list is a list of all the animals, plants, fungi and protists you have seen in Britain, Ireland and the Channel Islands. Whether a Daisy or a Death's-head Hawk-moth, a Killer Whale or a Killer Shrimp, all species count as equal on your pan-species list. Although this may seem like the trivialisation of natural history to the accumulation of a big list, it's what is behind the list - how you get there - that makes this approach to natural history so powerful.' I was one of the early adopters of this idea, in as much as I submitted my list way before most of the other

Part Five - night and day at the reservoir

The latest round of 'The Good Old Days' harps back to 1975, and is dedicated to that hoary old Welsh English birding veteran of Selsey Bill, Owen Mervyn Jones. Staines Reservoir had a reputation as one of London’s top bird watching sites. My dog-eared copy of ‘Where to Watch Birds’ by John Gooders was full of praise for it and generous in its suggestion as to what might be seen on any given visit. It was a place that boasted a list of rarities that was more befitting a coastal headland and appeared to have enticed generations of top bird watchers to partake in the ornithological offerings that would be, as far as I could tell, always available. I had successfully twisted the arm of a birdwatching friend to take me there. The drive through south-west London was a monotonous one, a flat and virtually treeless 1930’s suburbia, with the odd flyover and office block attempting to give a little height to the surroundings. We arrived at Ashford, where we parked up alongside an o

Swifts on the downs

Epsom Downs is less than a mile - south-west - from our house. I have spent more time here looking at the flora rather than the birds, although ornithologically it does come up with the odd highlight. Being at height, it commands rather fine views looking northwards, taking in the Chiltern Hills and, especially, London (see above). It looks ripe for being a worthwhile vismig spot. Much to my shame I have not really given it a fair go in this department, although I have experienced a few days of good hirundine and pipit passage while sitting in the 'lookout' car park, and during the Honey Buzzard autumn of 2000 saw a group of four birds pass overhead. This morning, with Common Swifts having been recorded passing west of me, I decided to get myself up there and give it another go. Epsom Downs is a large site, but even so has remarkably few places that afford clear, unbroken views - the heavy undulations in the landscape are the reason for this. However, the 'lookout'

Part Four - struck dumb

The next instalment of me raiding my old notebooks and adding a bit of embellishment... it is now 1975. Epsom Common was a sedate place to go bird watching. I would catch a bus from Sutton and alight at the edge of the common on the Ashtead road. I had a set routine. Crossing the railway-line I would work my way through scrub (which often provided close views of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers) until reaching the edge of the woods. A wide ride then took me up through the mature trees – always stopping half way for lunch – until reaching its end that abutted the farmland at Maldon Rushett. A loop back to my starting point was made via a check on the stew pond. I always recorded Willow Tits and I saw my first Little Owl during one memorable late afternoon at the top of the ride. This encouraged a few of us to make, and erect, an owl nest box in the very same area. Whereas a visit to Beddington was one of heightened expectation, these Epsom Common trips were laid back affairs, the time being

Nature notes

Yesterday was taken up by wandering the Surrey Hills, mostly in the company of brother-in-law Bill. A cool dawn start at Box Hill saw a modest westerly passage of Common Swifts (59) with single Sand Martin and Swallow going in the same direction. The first sign of Woodpigeons flying purposefully south off of the scarp was also evident - there will be thousands doing the same thing by October and November. An 11-mile hike across the landscape was then enjoyed, starting and finishing at Denbies Hillside, taking in Ranmore Common, Polesden Lacey, Leatherhead, the River Mole to Westhumble and finally back up the hill along the side of the vineyard. A few highlights: Greater Dodder - this rarity was found on two nettle patches, at Leatherhead and Westhumble A family party of Swallows were being fed by their parents along the banks of the river A brief spell of sun saw a patch of brambles come alive with butterflies, including this battered White Admiral

The return of Naked Noc-mig

Way back in late March, at the very start of the Covid lockdown, a few of us joined forces and kept each other sane by linking our garden sightings under the #BWKM0 heading. One of the unexpected side-shows was the effort that many of us put in to listening out for the calling of overflying birds after nightfall. This was christened (by Gavin Haig I do believe) as Naked Noc-migging - a reference to the fact that we were not using recording devices to check on the bird calls, but just our very own ears. The results were not far short of revelatory. Many of us added Common Scoter to our inland garden lists, plus other wildfowl and waders such as Teal, Wigeon, Brent Goose, Moorhen, Coot, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Redshank, Bar-tailed Godwit - I could go on. It was enough for some of us to order sound recorders and microphones to take the 'Naked' away from the 'noc-mig’. I have yet to fall under the spell of the machine, but intend to start up the naked noc-miggery again very so

Can I still just go birding?

Time and again in recent weeks I’ve found myself watching old footage on the TV and becoming wistful for what were far simpler times. It isn’t just a case of these times being pre-Covid, although that certainly has a major impact on such feelings. You could call them thoughts that are indicative of an ageing individual, looking back at times that are comforting through familiarity. But that would be too simplistic. Can you remember when birding was about, well.... birding? It has now become politicised. There is now (at least within the realm of social media) a suggestion that we measure our activity against our carbon footprint. That we have to have an opinion on whether or not we are inclusive enough towards race, gender and sexual preference. That we know exactly where we stand on driven grouse shooting, owning cats, bird photography, twitching, patch birding, noc-migging, etc, etc, etc. Of course, some of these subjects are important. But... sometimes the want to turn bac

Meeting the butterfly people

They stood in small groups. Mostly men, and mostly of a 'certain' age. Cameras at the ready, a few carrying binoculars. They had their own areas to patrol, a few hundred metres of a path or a clearing in the woods. Quite a few knew each other and spoke of previous glories or looked up at the sky to discuss the weather. Some were earnest to the point of being lost in their own little world. Others looked around and sought communication with likeminded souls. They were, quite simply, groupies of the Purple Emperor butterfly. Last week this was all a bit of an eye-opener for me. It was my first time at Bookham Common and so never before had been exposed to this sort of adulation for an insect. On the first day I saw only the best of them, including a kindly gent who was full of local information and was keen for me to know exactly where to look and at what time I should be doing so. He knew all about the behaviour of HIM (His Imperial Majesty) and when I picked a male up abo