17 May, 2013

Be Right Back, Just Going to Fair Isle...

Just a quick update on the patch year list front, which finally passed the 400 species milestone with the scarce Oak feeding micro moth, Caloptilia leucapennella, netted from a blossoming hedge last week. The poor weather this past week has rendered any evening trips to Stokes Field completely useless, but a brief visit yesterday added a few new flora/fauna to the challenge list, bringing it up to 409.

400- Caloptilia leucapennella (Micro moth)
401- Tingis ampliata (Hemiptera)
402- Speckled Bush-cricket Leptophyes punctatissima (Orthoptera)
403- St. Mark's Fly Bibio marci (Diptera)
404- Sitona sulcifrons (Coleoptera)
405- Sitona lineatus (Coleoptera)
406- Harpocera thoracica (Hemiptera)
407- Common Green Shieldbug Palomena prasina (Hemiptera)
408- Syndemis musculana (Micro moth)
409- Spanish Bluebell Hyacinthoides hispanica (Plant)

Caloptilia leucapennella...

Syndemis musculana...

Spanish Bluebells- note how the flowers are present on all sides of the stem, keeping the stem relatively straight, unlike in 'English' Bluebells...

Harpocera thoracica (a female)...

Only a very quick one today I'm afraid, as I'm heading off to Shetland this evening for a bit of late-spring hardcore birding; situated at the bird observatory on Fair Isle for a week, before stopping off on the mainland for a couple of days (with Red-necked Phalarope and Storm Petrel in mind), and then heading back on 28th. It's going to be absolutely rubbish. Probably won't be any birds at all, especially not rare ones. In the unlikely event that I do happen to stumble across anything decent, you can bet you're bottom dollar I'm going to be tweeting about it like mad, and I certainly wouldn't suggest following me on twitter @billsbirding for up-to-the-minute bird action. Oh no.

Been planning this trip for ages now, but in true fashion, have saved all the sorting out to the last minute. Just measured my 40x36x20cm camera bag up against the 40x35x18cm hand-luggage requirements of Logan air... FRUSTRATION.

See you on Fair Isle!

13 May, 2013

Bookham Survey

A productive day was had at Bookham Common on Saturday for the on-going LNHS ecological survey- more information on which can be found here: http://www.lnhs.org.uk/surveys.htm

There was a fairly decent turn-out for the survey considering the weather, and it was nice to catch up with the Bookham regulars; Stuart Cole, Tristan Bantock and Sarah Barnes, as well as meeting fellow 1000for1ksq-er Rob Wallace for the first time. It's always a privilege to spend time in the field with experts, and with the guarantee of some decent invertebrates, and a good bit of banter in the LNHS hut over lunch, Bookham is the place to do it.

The sun attempted to shine though on a couple of occasions, but generally there was a steady drizzle that didn't make ideal conditions for searching out invertebrates. Bird action was pretty good though, with a Nightingale singing to the west of the LNHS hut, and a cuckooing Cuckoo remaining long enough on an exposed perch at Little Bookham Common for a grainy sound recording to be made...

A lot of time was spent surveying in Great Mornshill Wood, an under-recorded section of the Bookham recording area.

Diaperis boleti on it's host, Birch Polygore (Piptoporus betulinus). A previously rare and restricted species that has started to increase it's range in the last couple of years, and is now quite common on birch fungi throughout Bookham Common...

A bird-dropping mimic weevil, Cionus alauda, swept from Figwort (Scrophularia sp.) at Mornshill Wood...

Another weevil on Figwort, in the company of the above species, was Cionus hortulanus...

Whilst I could only provide the moral support when it came to identifying beetles, there was a few day-flying lepidoptera to keep the camera, including the first Adela reaumurella, Nematopogon swammerdamella and Esperia sulphurella (below) of the year...

10 May, 2013

Weevils for Everyone

Curculio glandium- on oak

Attactagenus plumbeus- swept from damp grassland

Sitona suturalis- swept from willowherb

Rhinoncus pericarpius- swept from a damp meadow

Trichosirocalus troglodytes- crawling around on Ribwort Plantain

Rhinoncus pericarpius- Very common on nettles

Here are just a few of the weevils that have found their way into the net on my recent rounds of the patch. Out of the 600 or so species known in Britain, I've so far managed to identify about 10. Good going, eh? The six that I've represented above have been fairly numerous on the patch, especially around patches of nettles, and in damp wildflower meadows. So far, only Attactagenus plumbeus has turned out to be anything remotely 'notable', having an apparently patchy distribution in England, with records up to Carlisle.

Out of all the different Coleoptera families, weevils (Curculionoidea) have got to be the most loveable.  They are just so variable, and don't have the un-cooperative tendency to scuttle away at the first sight of a human, unlike those damn Carabids. There are big weevils, little weevils, fat weevils, thin weevils, red weevils, green weevils, black weevils with white spots; there's a weevil for everyone.

Unfortunately, with so many species in one family, it's inevitable that many are going to show extreme similarities to one another. I've got my eye on a few books that should come it handy with getting to grips with the more obscure genura, namely this interesting German resource. In the meantime though, the Watford Coleoptera Group website provides a very helpful photographic archive of a healthy representation of British species, which makes it fairly easy to at least reach genus level with an identification.

On another note, plenty of Cuckoo Flower coming into flower recently. No Cuckoos though. Bit of a let down.


08 May, 2013

The Long Process of Reporting a Rare Moth

Promising weather conditions prompted me to put the moth trap out in the garden last night, and amongst the usual haul of Common Quakers, Hebrew Characters and a Clouded Drab was this nationally scarce monster of a moth. It's a Dotted Chestnut, and is the very moth that has acted as my motivation for trapping through the poor weather this spring. The rough order of events as they unfolded this morning...

Wake up; go downstairs; unlock the back door; go into the garden; chase away Robin; yawn; stare into moth trap; lift up egg box; see Dotted Chestnut; do a doubt take; do another double take; realise it's a Dotted Chestnut; swear with joy; run to fetch camera; take pictures; run back into house; upload pictures onto laptop; resize pictures; upload pictures onto internet, add satisfying boastful text about how I've caught a Dotted Chestnut; have breakfast.

And it's that rush of morning adrenaline that keeps me, and indeed every other moth-trapper, coming back for more.

05 May, 2013

Ode to a Nightingale

Found myself heading off to Bookham Common yesterday evening to catch up with a bird- or rather a bird sound- that I've been hoping to hear for years. Up until yesterday evening, I've never heard the song of a Nightingale. It's one of those sounds that everyone needs to experience in their life at least once, and with almost one fifth of my life gone, I'm running out of time fast.

It's no secret that Bookham is one of the best sites in Surrey for Nightingale, and on this occasion, I wasn't disappointed. Almost immediately upon stepping out the car at Little Bookham car park, a distant male started up amongst the late evening dusk chorus. Initially locating the source of the song was easier said than done, with a loud mix of Blackbird, Song Thrush and Blackcap all singing from various perches throughout the maze of bushy scrub, not helped by the fact that the Nightingale would often go silent for long periods of time, before starting up again further down the path.

I eventually pinned him down to a row of blossoming Blackthorn hedges, where he sang uninterrupted for a good fifteen minutes. It was absolute bliss to listen to. I've heard various recordings, but nothing compared to the real thing- blossom, sunset and all. Sublime.

I attempted a few grainy sound recordings; the first time I've tried with the D300s. The camera picks up quite a bit of annoying wind, as well as a nearby Blackbird competing with the Nightingale for the title of loudest songster in Bookham, but you can get the gist of things. If you want the full shebang, have a listen to this. Here are the attempts though, just for the record. The bird went a lot quieter in the second clip, but I liked the signature burst of Nightingale at the end.


*Queue compulsory copying and pasting of the final part of that random old-fashioned romantic poem about a Nightingale written by that bloke in the olden times to make the post have more effect and seem more emotional and intellectual and stuff* ...

Adieu! Adieu! Thy plaintive anthem fades,

Past the near meadows, over the still stream,

Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep

In the next valley-glades:

Was it a vision, or a waking dream?

Fled is that music:- do I wake or sleep?

03 May, 2013

Birding, Nostalgia and Old Winchester Hill

Having spent the last few weeks either birding the same old patch of urban woodland that is Stokes Field, or stuck at work, I opted for a change of scenery back on Tuesday, and headed down to an old favourite spot of mine in the South Downs; Old Winchester Hill.

Nostalgia hits hard whenever I visit, and that's part of the reason why I love it there. Being only a slight detour from the main motorway route down to Portsmouth, in the distant past we used to stop off at the Hill for brief walks whenever visiting the grandparents by the sea. I've got fond memories of spending warm spring mornings standing on tip-toes to get views of some rare American sparrow in the car park, listening to Yellowhammers singing from the scrub, and watching Dingy Skippers flying about the chalk slopes. The latter two species can be found easily enough in Surrey, but a combination of beautiful scenery and sentimental attachment just made the long trek worth it; every time.

Times change though, and for various reasons, we found ourselves going down that way less and less. Driving down by my own on Tuesday was the first time I'd managed to get down there in good couple of years, and it was still as great as I'd remembered it. Willow Warbler, Bullfinch, Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Linnet and Yellowhammer were singing from the scrub by the car park as I rolled up at 8am, just as they'd always been.

A Kestrel was hunting above the Hillfort, and a low flying Red Kite made a brief pass though, slowly rising up on the warm air currents...

An unexpected Firecrest gave a few bursts of song from deep within the woods, but apart from that, bird life was pretty standard. Despite the warmth, the only butterflies on the wing were a few Peacock butterflies; certainly no sign of any signature spring species - Orange Tip, Grizzled Skipper etc.

Still, the views and company more than made up for it, as did the Ploughman's Lunch down at the Shoe Inn, in East Meon. A nice little part of the countryside, and somewhere that will always be important to me. Don't take my word for it though, just ask the sheep...

"Love it"

"Yeah, not baaaaaaad"

"They've got nice fence posts"