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Fri 16th August 2013

Posted on August 17, 2013 at 3:45 AM

The big news of the first half of the holidays is that I have completed my challenge - 1000 species seen in my home 1km square in 2013! After three days on 999, waiting for something mega to hit a thousand with, I finally pulled a superb Bordered Beauty from the moth trap, a suitably stunning species to hit the target with.

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Bordered Beauty - garden, 14 Aug 13

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I am really surprised that, in the end, I managed to hit the target with relative ease. I do not mean that it wasn't difficult - I have had to learn a lot and have spent quite a lot of time with the keys at the microscope - I mean that it has been quite easy to find 1000 identifiable species in just an ordinary area. My square covers an inland area which is mainly gardens, with a few accessible fields and areas of waste ground. There are no ponds or lakes, just a few douits and marshy spots. No accessible woodland, just a few larger trees dotted around. No specialist habitats, the majority of the species have been found in my garden and from just walking the lanes. The area is centred on Baubigny, from Oatlands junction in the north to the Prison in the south, from the Pony in the West to Duveaux Lane in the East.

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As can be seen from the breakdown above, the moth trap has been the key to hitting the target with up to two-fifths of the total being moths. Surprisingly, a quarter of the total are plants, I think I have done better than expected, locating 250 species of plant in the square. I have found and identified 63 species of beetles whereas before this year, I probably only had recorded 10 species of beetle before ever. As I mentioned before, I have learnt so much, and smashed through the barrier!

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Since late July and early August have been generally hot and sunny, the moth trapping has been excellent, probably the best since the last very hot year of 2006. In just the last month I have had at least 12 new species for the garden. Below is a selection of the best ones.

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Dingy Mocha - garden, 31 Jul 13 - a new species for Guernsey, and quite rare in the UK, restricted to a few sandy heaths.

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Antler Moth - garden, 11 Aug 13 - second Guernsey record - A stunning species, the only other time I have seen it was in the pinewoods of Deeside.

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Ethmia bipunctella - garden, 31 Jul 13 - I've been wanting to see an Ethmia for a while - this did not disappoint.

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Scarce Chocolate-tip (left) and Chocolate-tip - garden, 6 Aug 13 - both these species used to be mega-rarities here but now I am getting them regularly. I've had 6 or 7 Scarce Chocs, a species which is cripplingly rare in the UK.

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Ant-lion - garden, 11 Aug 13 - not a moth but a majorly exciting species - looks like Dr. Frankenstein has got hold of a Damselfly and gone to work on it.

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And there were plenty of other great species found, so many that I just didn't have time to get decent photographs of everything.

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There was just one exciting bird sighting this last few weeks. I was just about to go to the doctors when a grapevine message told me about a Purple Heron sighting at Rue des Bergers. The docs was already half-way there, so afterwards I went down for a look. Nothing was showing until it suddenly appeared sat up in a tree at the back of the pond.

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juvenile Purple Heron - Rue des Bergers, 29 Jul 13 - a very poor photo, but there are better ones on the Guernsey Birds website.

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It wouldn't move and I had to get back, but later that morning two juvenile birds appeared and performed brilliantly in front of the hides (apparently!).

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In other news, I was really pleased to come second in the Birding Frontiers mystery bird competition (see here). There were 10 photos to identify to subspecific level,and I got 9 out of 10. So did three others, so we went into a play-off, when I id'd 2 out of the 3 extra ones. It is not coincidence that the only ones I got wrong were large immature gulls, which I know virtually nothing about. But I was really pleased to do so well, especially since I had not seen any of the species shown for at least 15 years!

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I was flicking through an old book about flies when I happened upon this picture of a fly's body. Which film springs to mind?

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Well, that film (assuming it's the same as mine) came out 16 years after the book was published. Surely this can't be a coincidence? (answer - Yes. Yes it can you fool)

Sun 21st July 2013

Posted on August 8, 2013 at 4:30 PM

The summer holidays are here, so I am looking forward to long days lounging around and relaxing in the sun. And then I wake up and remember that the "holidays" are just as busy as working days are. Just as tiring. Just as hectic. But they started nicely as, on the way home from work on the last day, I saw a family of Swallows alongside the road at Oatlands. The young birds were on the fence and the adults were still feeding them. I managed to creep up ninja-style to two of these juvs and got really close. The sun was in just the right place to shine on the blue upperparts, and I got some great photos, probably one of the best sets of photos I've ever taken (click on the pics to see them full-size).

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Swallows - Oatlands, 19 Jul 13

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This summer I celebrate my Silver Birding Anniversary - 25 years since I became a birder. As a young boy I was always a casual birdwatcher and, with my dad, went out birdwatching every now and then. It was usually to a bird reserve, and I read Birdwatching magazine, was a YOC member and I kept a list of all the birds I'd seen. But in 1988 I made the step from part-time birdwatcher to serious birder.

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As well as now being 15 and starting to be more independent, there were two main spurs to this change. Firstly, I received a sample copy of the journal Birding World, and unlike the magazines I'd read before, here the focus was on seeing and finding rare and uncommon birds, which I clicked with straight away. Secondly, I read the book "Gone Birding" by Bill Oddie, in which he talks about his birding exploits when he was a young man, and I realised that I wanted to do all those things too.

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One of the key differences between a birdwatcher and a birder is the information that is collected in the notebook. When I was a junior birdwatcher, I still had a notebook, but I used to simply make a list of all the species that I had seen on the trip. Below is the earliest example that I could find, when I was 12. Dad had heard from a bloke in the pub that he had regularly seen Peregrines whilst fell-walking in the Lakes. One weekend we tagged along, as I really wanted to see the species, which in those bygone days was still really rare in England. And we saw one!

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As you can see, it is just a list (of not many species!) - the "F" stands for 'first', which I still use now in my notebooks to represent a lifer. Note that we seemed to visit a pub 4 times during the weekend and for some reason I thought that this was vital information!

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When you become a birder though, the notebook becomes more important, almost a sacred text. With counts of species, directions of flight, flock sizes, age and sex of birds seen, comments on ID, thumbnail sketches etc. I am a bit lazy nowadays to be honest, and my teenage self would be quite ashamed about the lack of detail in my current notebooks, but I was able to spend more time in the field then. I have kept them all, and being able to write very small, some of these notebooks lasted years.

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Just flicking through these old scruffy books really takes you back to some magic days, much better than any spreadsheet would do. So, although I am not a luddite, and I realise the importance of smart-phones and bird recording apps, I strongly suggest that birders continue to record their birding adventures in notebooks. Looking back, feeling the old, discoloured pages, and seeing the actual pencil-strokes that you made whilst out in the field, is much more satisfying and emotional than looking at impersonal, blinking pixels through a sheet of glass. Notebooks are the essence of birding and always will be.

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My notes on my first White-rumped Sand that we saw at Chew when I was a student. We didn't find the bird, but it had been found just minutes before we arrived in Stratford hide, so we made lots of notes in case it flew off.

 

Sat 20th July 2013

Posted on August 1, 2013 at 3:45 PM

GERMANY TRIP - part 2

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In the afternoon we visited the spectacular castle of Burg Hohensollern, hanging over the forest like something from a fairytale. I was hoping that we would have a nice leisurely stroll through the trees to get there but we seemed to be a bit late and so we all set off up the steep path like paratroopers in training. Even with the shade of the leaves above us, it was fiendishly hot and the steepness of the track made it a tough ask. Of course, I led the way with the older boys and got up there in no time, and had to wait for the other slowcoaches. This turned out well as the trees around us had loads of butterflies flying around them, including Commas, White Admirals, and two new ones for me - White-letter Hairstreak and Map.

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Comma - Burg Hohensollern, 16 Jul 13

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White-letter Hairstreak - Burg Hohensollern, 16 Jul 13

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Map Butterfly - Burg Hohensollern, 16 Jul 13

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When, eventually, everyone caught up and we went inside, the castle was very impressive and the views were immense. Despite the very wooded area below us, the only birds of prey visible were Buzzards. A german lady gave us a guided tour which was very 'factual' and we had to wear some comedy giant slippers to protect the wooden floor. Imagine having your breakfast every morning sat at this window:

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Back at the hotel for tea, it soon got dark, but managed a short stroll by the river at dusk. I left the light on and the curtains open in my room to attract moths to the window. It did attract thousands of tiny flies, caddis-flies, a few May-flies, but few moths - a Beautiful Carpet and 2 European Corn-borers.

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Next day, we were up early - and saw another excellent Dipper right below the bedroom window - then packed up, ate breakfast, and we were soon heading home. Our destination today was the "Europa Park" theme park and the route took us through the smaller towns of the Black Forest and the windy roads which I enjoyed a lot. I was hoping that, since we were spending all day there, the theme park may have some nice wildlife-friendly corners that I could explore. But no. It was a wildlife desert. A White Stork appeared overhead a couple of times, but even that seemed to get out of there as soon as possible as if it had made a terrible mistake. The only saving grace was that there was a fast-flowing stream through the park, right next to where we set up camp, which had lots of Banded Demoiselle dragonflies bouncing around the banks. I cannot remember ever seeing these beauties before, and so I was very impressed.

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Banded Demoiselles - Europa Park, Germany, 17 Jul 13 - male above, female below

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And then in the evening we were gone. Back out of Germany, through Strasbourg, past Paris, west across the country, and then to St. Malo by morning. A full night on the coach and I did NOT sleep very well. It was such a short trip - too short really - but the kids were terrifically patient and kept good spirits. I enjoyed it a lot. It was just nice to get away, and see new things and new places, and it was a good laugh. One of the german teachers asked me why do english visitors always laugh so much at these signs (below). I explained, and she said, "but why is that so funny?". I sniggered again.

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Fri 19th July 2013

Posted on July 30, 2013 at 12:25 AM

GERMANY TRIP - part 1

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During school Activities Week, I was due to assist on a trip to London but, with a few weeks to go, I was swapped onto a different trip - Germany. This was great, as I had never been to Germany before. Well, not properly. Twenty years ago, Andy, Mike and I spent 2 hours in the middle of the night on Aachen railway platform on our way to birding in Norway, trying very hard not to be associated with the raucous England football fans that we were sharing the train with on their way to Euro '92.

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Our destination was Oberndorf in the Black Forest where we were to visit a school there. It was to be a very long coach journey and a very short stay in Germany, but I was looking forward to the travelling and seeing some new places. Of course, I had no expectations for wildlife-watching, since I was to be supervising the children all the time, but at least this meant I would appreciate what I did see.

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Hurtling through the french countryside on the coach. I was able to ignore the teenage jibba-jabba by listening to the Alan Partridge audiobook - "Back of the net!"

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We set off on Sunday afternoon, the 14th, and the first notable sighting was a Med Gull from the ferry just outside St. Malo harbour. We spent the evening travelling East across France, stopping for tea near Caen, before heading for our stopover hotel in Paris. I think I impressed the pupils with the fluency of my French as I ordered their tea for them ("Les frites et un cola, s'il vous plait"). Buzzards were very common indeed at the roadside and a Green Woodpecker flew over the road. The best sighting of the evening though was a family of Wild Boars, quite close, in a field, with a massive male looking over them.

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It seemed to take ages to arrive in Paris - (I don't think we took the quickest route across the country!) - as it was well after 10pm, but just as we did, we were greeted by firework displays as it was Bastille Day. The less said about the hotel the better. It was clearly in the middle of renovations, but rather than shutting during this time, it just carried on regardless. When the morning came, we were pleased to get out of there, especially as we woke up to no electricity.

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My hotel room, on floor 8, overlooking the fine vista of a Parisian industrial estate. Note the window handle lying on the desk, which came off in my hand when I opened it!

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Again the journey seemed to take an unlikely length of time, but I enjoyed looking out of the window at the scenery and again, the large numbers of Buzzards. Other soaring birds by the roadside in northern France were two (probably) Red Kites and two White Storks. We had a few rest stops at service stations and lay-bys and I poked around finding some Essex Skippers and a Satin Lutestring.

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This rather splendid weevil landed on me as I sat in my seat on the coach. I don't know what it is but it accompanied me into Germany where I set it free.

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After the horror of the French hotel, we were really pleased with what we found in Germany when we arrived in the evening. The hotel was in a small village in a nice wooded valley, next to a fast-moving river. The owner was really great and we enjoyed a 'refreshing' drink when the kids had all gone to bed. All the way through the trip, the pupils' behaviour was fabulous which was helpful to us all. When I woke the next morning, from my balcony I watched a couple of Dippers on the river, which I presume were 'Black-bellied' Dippers (race cinclus). There was also a Black Redstart on the car park, and a Kingfisher and a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew by.

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Hotel an der Glatt - My balcony is the one on the first floor on the left

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There was no time to enjoy the scenery though, because as soon as we finished breakfast we were off to visit our partner school in Oberndorf. The school was incredibly relaxed. Whereas, in the UK, there seems to be a desire to make schools more and more formal, everyone seemed very casual there. The facilities and the building were very poor however. The German teachers were incredibly friendly and they presumed that I was a Games teacher because of my athletic build (yes, that did actually happen!). We wandered round the town and had lunch in a small park where it was incredibly hot, at least 30'C. I had a male Serin singing from a town centre aeriel and two or three Red Kites soaring overhead. In the park, a fast White Admiral butterfly flew by, and there were also White Wagtails and another Black Redstart.

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male Serin - Oberndorf town centre. I managed to record a little of the song (below)

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Red Kite - Oberdorf

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After our lunch we headed off for a trip to visit a rather spectacular castle, which I will talk about in the next post.

Sat 13th July 2013

Posted on July 20, 2013 at 6:10 AM

Still no rare birds to twitch on the island, but I did twitch a plant. This may seem rather odd since plants don't move, but some species are very unpredictable and suddenly appear after years of absence. The species was Yarrow Broomrape which was discovered growing just up the road in the grassland by Vale Pond car park, where it was last seen about ten years ago. Why it doesn't just grow up every year I don't know. There is plenty of Yarrow there and the habitat doesn't really change. I wonder this Spring's poor weather conditions have made them appear.

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Yarrow Broomrape - Grandes Havres, July 2013 - the purple flowers distinguish this rare species from the abundant Ivy Broomrape and uncommon Common Broomrape which also occur on the island.

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My 1 km square challenge total has made massive jumps as the summer has suddenly started, and the weather has been sunny finally. I am now over 800 species and am 100% confident that 1000 species will be straightforward (...?). Below are a few highlights.

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Argyresthia cupressella - Garden, 25 Jun 13 - a new species for Guernsey, an alien breeding on garden conifers and very small!

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Thiodia citrana - garden, 9 Jul 13 - a new species for the garden, seen it just twice before.

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Goat Moth - garden, 8 Jul 13 - seems to be rather rare in the UK now, but I still get a couple a year. 

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Cryptocephalus vittatus - Epinelle Road, 10 Jul 13 - this species of 'pot-beetle' is a continental species and does not occur in the UK.

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Poecilobothrus nobilitatus - Hougues Magues, 1 Jul 13 - flies are one of the biggest headaches since I've seen a massive variety of species that I can't get anywhere near identifying. Sometimes I've lucked out though, like here, when I chance upon a photo on the internet and the species is distinctive.

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Silky Wainscot - garden, 9 Jul 13 - It's been a few years since I've had one of these in the trap, and this is the first I've seen of the 'central-striped' form, wismariensis. 

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Yponomeuta evonymella, or Bird-cherry Ermine - Garden, 9 Jul 13

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Being distracted by all the other wildlife and it being boring July, birds are taking a back seat at the moment, in fact they're in the boot. One superb sighting though was a recently-fledged Peregrine which, calling, came really low down over the garden, and momentarily hung in the air at about roof height above me. Splendid.

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Meanwhile, Mister Pickles loves it when a plan comes together.....

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