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


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.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

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. There are no rules other than what I see from the ground during match days (or queueing up for cup tickets!!) counts. I can envisage future lurking in the car park extremities to try and add such mundane species as Dunnock and Blue Tit to the list.

There are two other birder's present at all of these games, with Beddington's very own Frank Prater and Kevin Guest fellow followers of the Amber and Chocolate, so I need to be careful with what I claim.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

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 June 2016, which peaked with 784 on 7th.

Plutella xylostella reached a peak of 784 on June 7 2016
One of the joys of recording moths at an inland site is the knowledge that you stand a very good chance of welcoming uncommon or rare migrants into your MV. Much of this is weather dependent and usually coincides with high numbers of migrants being recorded at coastal sites. Any wind with a southerly component that has its origins from the continent (the further south the better) is best for Banstead. Below is the complete record so far and all images are from the garden:

Syncopacma polychromella
One on December 19 2015

One on June 7 1996

Small Mottled Willow
Singles on 10 October 1995 and 7 August 2015 (below)

Striped Hawk-moth
One on September 1 2006 (below)

Hummingbird Hawk-moth
Not quite annual, but in 'good' years a few can be seen nectaring at flowers in the garden

Bordered Straw
Between June 8 - September 9 1996 a total of 14 were recorded, including six on the first date. Interestingly, these numbers were higher than coastal spots where recording had taken place on the same night. The only other record is a single on June 15 2017

Scarce Bordered Straw
Singles on October 16 1990, August 17 1996, August 9 2000, September 9 2006, September 14 2006 and September 22 2006 (below)

Singles on August 6 2003, August 19 2012, October 4 2013 and July 5 2015 (below)

Blair's Mocha
One on October 28 2006 (below)

Rannoch Looper
Part of a national influx - singles on June 3 and 4, plus two on June 6 2011

Monday, 10 July 2017

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 time on earth looking at our natural world, the past plays a big part in it.

'Nostalgia' is too fey a word to explain what this is all about. To me, nostalgia is overly sentimental and usually involves a wish to return to a time or place with happy personal memories. Sometimes my dwelling 'on a past' will not involve me at all. For example, at Dungeness there are the foundations of an old school, out on the open shingle. I have walked across and past these for over forty years. As time goes by I more frequently stop at them. I trace out the rooms, search the rusting bric-a-brac, and can still find bits of floor tile, crockery and glass that are mostly remnants from that time. Without any effort at all, I can hear the children, learning the alphabet, reciting times tables. The wooden desks form before me, the schoolmistress is standing in the corner of the room, with bustling dress and hair in a bun. What were their names? Where did they go and what did they do? They must have looked out of the windows and up into that big Dungeness sky - daydreaming of steam engines or skipping ropes as they idly watched the approaching weather; their play time shared with flitting migrant birds in spring and autumn. They would have heard about the death of Queen Victoria, spoken about the Great War as it unfolded and marvelled at seeing a motor car or an airplane. There would have been no power station and just one lighthouse. A 360 degree open vista allowed unbroken views for miles - a sea of education and domesticity in a truly wild place.

The school was founded in 1876 and was used up until the start of World War Two, when evacuated. The pupils never returned. The building slowly deteriorated owing to a combination of the weather and vandalism, with the ruins finally being demolished in the 1960s in an attempt to tidy up the peninsula due to the visit of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh.

And here it is, intact, the pupils and teachers looking out at us from the mid-1920s, on a sunny summer's day. You can see the upright railway sleepers to the left of the building, some of which still exist. These are not my ghosts, but those of people that I have never met and, as far as I'm aware, had no connection with. But, regardless of that, I sit in the ruins and time travel back to be with them.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

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!

Saturday, 8 July 2017

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.

Friday, 7 July 2017

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.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

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

Sunday, 2 July 2017

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.