Monday, 24 July 2017

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 not least, (and exhibiting its attraction to bees), was a stand of Blue Globe-thistle on Epsom Downs. I've known this species from here for almost 20 years. I always drop by to pay my respects.

Friday, 21 July 2017

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 alone and not by form, such a novice am I in all things equine. I lost 1-0.

At 21.10hrs the band came on stage, and they were excellent. For the next hour and a half we were treated to all of the hits plus a few cover versions. Boy George was in fine voice, the band played very well indeed. I was pleasantly surprised. We were raised above the stage and also the majority of the audience, looking out across the race course and onto Langley Vale Farm. Of course I bird watched while all of this was going on - it seemed the right thing to do being in the open air! I couldn't do better than a Swallow, that swept past the band mid-way through 'I'll Tumble for You". I did allow my gaze to linger on the fields over on the farm, particularly those rising up to the south, where I named to myself the rare arable plants to be found in each and every one. I don't think I said these out loud, but if I did my mumbling would have been thankfully lost in the music.

Maybe I could start a gig - sorry, concert - list.

They'll have to be outdoors though.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

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

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Phasing


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 pottering around, drinking tea, chatting (not about birds!) and reading (not about birds!!). It is a version of recharging my batteries, pushing a reset button. I have found that if I bird, full-on, for several days, I start to get 'call blindness' - I lose the ability to pick out calls clearly. You would think the opposite would be true. I will, after hours (or days) in the field, start to lose focus and engage in bouts of day-dreaming. That's no way to nail a Blyth's Pipit.

I'll admit to not being a manic birder. I used to think I was, but no, that title is for others. I know a few. Some of them are out, for days on end, but for different reasons. To some, they just love birding so much that they can think of nothing more pleasurable to do. For others, it's a reason to not be at home. To some, they worry that their place in the birding world might be compromised if they are not seen to be putting the time in. For such a sedate and passive pastime there are layers of reason (and angst) to be identified.

I can lose interest. I will adopt patches, bird them avidly and then drop them just as quickly. Sometimes I'll return to them but others abandon for good. This is my way of staving off phasing. When I have pursued a project for too long I can get close to that 'point of no return' when complete abstinence is a distinct possibility.

I have been told that I think too much about the why's and wherefore's of all this birding lark. Maybe so, but it's what comes naturally to me.

Monday, 17 July 2017

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).


Saturday, 15 July 2017

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.

Friday, 14 July 2017

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 considered to be a coastal species of southern and south-east England. But it started to appear inland, particularly in London and the Home Counties. I discovered a larvae in the garden feeding on Purple Toadflax on August 16 2009, with the first adult being recorded on May 23 2010. Since then it has been annual, but in small (2-5) numbers.


Tree-lichen Beauty (below)
I love to tell the tale of how, in the early 1990s, I received a call from Dave Walker at Dungeness, excitedly telling me of his capture of the exceedingly rare Tree-lichen Beauty. I thought about driving the 90 miles to see it... as it happened, I save myself the bother. The moth colonised the south-east during the early 2000s and then started to move beyond. My first was on August 2 2011, with a handful the following year, then annually recorded in increasing numbers (with four on August 10 2013 and a peak of 10 on July 26 2014). During July and August it is now of daily occurrence.


Jersey Tiger (top image)
I travelled to Devon to see my first one in the early 1990s, and would have scarcely believed back then that it was destined to become a firm fixture of London and northern Surrey gardens. How it arrived here is open to conjecture, although it has also spread eastwards along the south coast. After singles on August 17 2012 and August 1 2013, it has became a regular visitor to the MV, peaking at six on August 13 2015.

White-point (below)
Once considered an immigrant, this is another species that seems to have made the south-east its home. After the first on September 4 2013 I can expect to see several each year, with three together on June 20 2014.


Cypress Carpet (below)
From a first UK record in 1984, this moth has become established in southern counties of England. I had to play a waiting game to get the garden's first, as it was popping up all around me, but on June 25 2015 it finally put in an appearance, and has since been recorded in both 2016 and 2017.