Sunday, 30 December 2012

One thing to piss me off before I die

I found myself wandering around Kingston-upon-Thames town centre yesterday afternoon. Along with a tide of humanity that seemed hell-bent on spending even more money on such necessary requirements such as DVD boxed-sets, CDs, books and shiny electrical appliances. Recession? Not here, pal...

I was there under duress, not in the best of moods, but to salve my increasingly furrowed brow I walked into Waterstone's the 'book' shop. Oh dear.

I was met by a display of book titles, all themed "One thousand things to do/see/hear before you die". I picked up the tome dedicated to telling us what music we need to consume before we are carted off to where ever we are destined to end up - I think I know a bit about music - and was singularly unimpressed with most of the choices. I scowled at the other books, suggesting what printed word we need to read, what places we need to visit and I remembered that there are at least two natural history books based around this same, lazy, vacuous premise - bird species that we should seek out otherwise die failures and natural wonders of the world that, should we shuffle off this mortal coil without visiting, would result in our lifetime being deemed a failure.

You may think that I'm over reacting here. They could be considered to be harmless books that might just encourage someone to get interested in the subject. I see them as lazy publishing. I bet they have been created by some marketing wallah who was given a 'stretch task' to come up with 10 ideas to create a new publishing stream. In those books dealing with natural history, it's just packaging these precious things as commodities to consume, burp, and then move onto the next comestible. It's so in tune with our time that it makes me want to weep.

Rant over. 2013 will be filled with positivity and light...

Saturday, 29 December 2012

An Englishman in Florida

The latest worthy blog added to my list (see right) comes from Andy Wraithmell (Limeybirder), an ex-pat who now lives in Florida. I met him a few years ago when he was assistant warden at Dungeness Bird Observatory, and if memory serves me correctly he found a few goodies in that time. It will be interesting to read a Brits-eye-view on Stateside birding, plus marvel at how he will now bust a gut to see those European waifs that have become, to him, rarities. Not long ago he wouldn't have got out of bed for them...

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Still ticking along


Boxing day. Full of comfort food and alcohol. Triumphant from success at family Yahtzee. Listening to one of my Christmas present CD's (B52s 'Wild Planet' - a bit of retro vinyl replacement) I took the 'Insects of the New Forest' from the book shelves and started to browse... and there it was.

I took the photograph above at Dungeness in July this year and hadn't got around to identifying it. It resides in a folder of 'mystery species' that I maintain and that I periodically try to solve. That New Forest book has solved it. If I'm not mistaken it's a Heath Assasin-bug (Coranus subapterus). Another one for the pan-species list...

That's the palm of my hand that the insect is residing upon. If you are a palmist and can tell me my fortune from the photograph above then please let me know whether or not:

I'll ever get to 4,000 species

Be able to confidently identify mosses and lichens

Take other birders seriously.

I hope you enjoyed your Christmas...

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Books of the Year

This little beauty found its way to me as a recent birthday present - Mushrooms by Peter Marren. The author is one of my favourite wildlife writers, as he possesses a deft touch with words which marries authority, accessibility and humour to the effect that his copy is an intelligent and entertaining read. What is even more exciting about this particular book is that it is the first of a series to be published by British Wildlife Publishing, the same people that have given us so many cracking field guides recently (particularly the micro moths guide back in the summer). This new series will hopefully be a more colourful (in more than one sense) version of the long established New Naturalists series. I've yet to read it, but flicking through it has already won me over.

This book has made it onto my 2012 'Favourite Natural History Books' list. The others are:

Moths of Great Britain and Ireland by Sean Clancy
Do we need another moth book? Well, I find myself constantly referring to this book, not only for the new images (of live and set specimens) but also for the clear identification pointers. It is expensive, but I feel worth it for adding knowledge to my entomological arsenal.

Field Guide to the Micro Moths of GB and Ireland by Sterling, Parsons and Lewington
The first proper field guide that has attempted to bring together those neglected moths to enable most species to be identified with some certainty. It is clear in its limitations, as 'gen det' is a necessity for many species to be confidently identified and this book will help you get close (at least to family level). As a starting point to help de-mistify micros, it is nothing but a success. My copy is already well worn.

Collins Fungi Guide by Buczacki, Shield and Ovenden
There are quite a few field guides to fungi, but they show a small and varying number of species. This is the Daddy of them all, with almost 2,500 species. The illustrations are a joy to look at and, like the micro moth guide, the book does not hide from the fact that not all species of fungi are identifiable in the field.

Insects of the New Forest by Paul Brock
Part social history, part site guide, part photographic identification guide, this soft-back is a delightful thing to browse through, whether to drool over the images of longhorn beetles or to plan trips this coming summer.

Smaller Moths of Surrey by Palmer, Porter and Collins
The Surrey Wildlife Trust excel again with the latest in a long line of Surrey-themed family atlases. A large group of eager recorders (including myself) can now refer to up-to-date distribution maps of all micros recorded in the county. The more specialised (or rarer) get specific record treatment. Next year will see me checking my putative identifications of micros in the garden against this fine book.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Class of 2012 plus more worthy blogs

I finally caught up with some of the 'Waxwing Class of 2012' yesterday morning. Up to 34 birds were taking advantage of a 'champagne-pink' berried rowan in Ewell. I bowled up, found them sat at the top of a conifer, took up my position perched on a low wall and then had close encounters as they came down to the rowan tree to feed. A Carrion Crow spooked them off and I was flushed away by twitching curtains in a nearby house - I hate birding in residential streets.

Lee Dingain's blog has been added to my list of 'worthies'. He only lives about three miles from me but I don't know if we've ever crossed telescopes before - ridiculous really, seeing that we share so much common interest. Where as I'm becoming more sedentary, Lee seems to spend as much time in South America as in North Surrey, so vicarious thrills for us all! It also came to my attention that I hadn't put Benny 'Boy' Mothman's blog on my list even though I regularly visit it, so that has been put right. It's well worth a visit to see what's going on just north and east of London and is a real treat to browse through. What are you waiting for? Go and visit them...

Friday, 14 December 2012

Blog recommendations

I said that I wouldn't post again until next year, so, true to my word, here I am posting again in 2012. I've added a couple of additional blogs to my 'worthy' list.

The first is Marcus Lawson's bird and moth blog from Poole in Dorset. He's just moved there from Kent, where he was a terribly keen and active birder, so Dorset had better watch out. It will make a change if someone regularly finds something special away from Portland.

Second is a blog based on Morgan's Hill in Wiltshire. I have a soft spot for these chalk downs having spent quite a few happy hours on nearby Pewsey Downs in the company of Burnt Orchids, Adonis Blues and flocks of declining farmland birds. I'll be intrigued to read what occurs on Morgan's Hill next year.

I'm on the look out for some other blogs to add to the 'worthy' list that will add a bit of spice to my surfing which does not necessitate the clearing of my web history...


Most of my recent posts have not been backed-up by any photographs - most remiss of me. Therefore I give you the roots of a beech tree, looking very Tolkienesque and slightly topical seeing that 'The Hobbit' has just been released at the cinema. This was taken on my beloved North Downs, just below Mickleham Downs. In the summer months there would be Bird's-nest Orchid here.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Decorators have been in

Ahead of time, this modest blog has received its 2013 make-over. I aim to watch on a more local level next year, hopefully discovering a few natural history gems along the way. If I were to create a wish-list it would be a simple one, based on the hope of experiencing a sound enjoyment of the 12-months ahead. That should be enough for any of us and something that I increasingly do not take for granted.

Hopefully I will see you in January.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Thoughts for the day

When I look back on 2012, one thing dominates, and that was the summer month that I spent at Dungeness. It was a pleasure and privilege to be able to walk away from my work and live the life of a 'birding bum'. Having said that, I spent most of the time looking at plants and moths. To be a free spirit and wander across the shingle was, in a way, an exercise in time travel, as it recaptured the summers of the late 1970s when I did exactly the same. Age has given me an appreciation of other natural history orders and an understanding that to be able to act in such a carefree way is something that should not be taken for granted. Once I was back in the office the break took on a golden glow...

Blogging, tweeting, texting - they are all useful technological tools. I have found myself a slave to them all but at the same time bored by them. Too many banal messages (I'm as guillty as anyone else), repetitive images (Waxwings, Waxwings, Waxwings) and unfunny in-jokes have driven me to the edge of giving up on the whole bloody lot. But then again somebody does something useful with it and I am brought back to the realisation that it has its place after all.

Unless something stunning happens I will not post again until the new year. The blog will undergo a bit of a rethink. I have ideas for 2013 which are terribly modest but will reconnect me with my 'study' at a far more basic and useful level.

Thanks for dropping by. Have a good holiday period and I'll hopefully see you again soon.