Friday, 9 September 2016

Chalcolestes viridis Willow Emerald Damselfly, a new Norfolk garden arrival

[full text to follow]

Chalcolestes viridis, Willow Emerald Damselfly began to colonise the UK only a few years ago. The first British record was a dead adult found at Pevensey, E Sussex in 1979, followed by a larval exuvium collected at Cliffe Marshes, N Kent in 1992. Adults were seen near Felixstowe, Suffolk in 2007, but in 2009 there were at least 400 reports from N Essex, E Suffolk and S Norfolk, and in subsequent years the species has pushed westwards.

Having never seen its widespread British cousin, Lestes sponsa, in our garden I have never expected to encounter this new arrival. First seen yesterday, but it took flight and disappeared before I could get photos. Despite the stiff breeze it was on the same low perch today, 50 cm up next to bushes, well away from water.

Chalcolestes viridis current UK distribution (Biological Records Centre)

Chalcolestes viridis current UK distribution (Biological Records Centre)

2016 and pre-2016 UK records of Chalcolestes viridis (British Dragonfly Society)

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Norfolk moths: Rocklands School Playing Fields Moth Breakfast, 16 July 2016

The moth whisperers (Simon Best)
To coincide with a Friday night camping event on our village playing fields organised by Rocklands School Council, I ran a moth trap so that pupils, parents and villagers might have a chance to see some of our local moths. Although it was warm (17°C minimum), humid and overcast, the strong breeze at this exposed site and losing the first hour in order not to irradiate the barbecue (light was on from 23h00) made for a slightly smaller haul than expected. I turned off the trap at 04h00, but had been beaten to the moths by an early-rising Blackbird. We opened the trap at 8 am and examined our catch, as we juggled our bacon and sausage butties. In the morning turmoil, with moths quite flighty in the sunshine, the list was not complete, but thanks to our scribe we did manage to note down most of the catch.

Trap full of moths (Ian Scholes)
The first to catch everyone's attention were several showy Swallow-tailed Moths, but they were immediately eclipsed by Elephant Hawk-moths. A fresh Peach Blossom and a Buff Arches that had settled outside the trap, just below the bulb, were next; then two striking Brown-tails, white micro teddy-bears with feathery antennae. Common, Buff and 'melon seed' Dingy Footman obligingly posed almost side-by-side. Early Thorn perched butterfly-like with wings pressed together over its back. Small Magpies were a favourite with the children.

Shaded Broad-bar Scotopteryx chenopodiata (Ian Scholes)
Shaded Broad-bar is a UK Biodiversity Action Plan species, being common and widespread, but rapidly declining (by 73% over the last 35 years). A couple of species that were new for tetrad TL99Y: Brown-tail and Peach Blossom.

Swallow Prominent Pheosia tremula (Ian Scholes)

Elephant Hawk-moth Deilephila elpenor in good hands (Ian Scholes)

The moth breakfast in full swing (Simon Best)
I had not realised that several dozen Lesser Black-backed Gulls use the playing fields as a roost, leaving behind blizzards of moulted feathers. 

Click on the links to see photographs from the superb Norfolk Moths website, managed by Jim Wheeler.

Macro-moths (81 moths of 34 spp.):-

Thyatira baits Peach Blossom 1
Habrosyne pyritoides Buff Arches 1
Deilephila elpenor Elephant Hawk-moth 2
Idaea aversata Riband Wave 2
Scotopteryx chenopodiata Shaded Broad-bar 1
Opisthograptis luteolata Brimstone Moth 2
Selenia dentaria Early Thorn 1
Crocallis elinguaria Scalloped Oak 2
Ourapteryx sambucaria Swallow-tailed Moth 7
Lomographa temerata Clouded Silver 1
Pheosia tremula Swallow Prominent 2
Pterostoma palpina Pale Prominent 1
Hypena proboscidalis Snout 1
Euproctis chrysorrhoea Brown-tail 2
Spilosoma lutea Buff Ermine 3
Eilema depressa Buff Footman 1
Eilema griseola Dingy Footman 1
Eilema lurideola Common Footman 4
Herminia tarsipennalis Fan-foot 5
Subacronicta megacephala Poplar Grey 1
Hoplodrina octogenaria Uncertain 7
Apamea monoglypha Dark Arches 4
Mesapamea secalis agg. Common Rustic agg. 4
Lacanobia oleracea Bright-line Brown-eye 1
Melanchra persicariae Dot Moth 3
Mythimna conigera Brown-line Bright Eye 3
Mythimna impura Smoky Wainscot 3
Mythimna ferrago Clay 4
Agrotis exclamationis Heart and Dart 3
Axylia putris Flame 1
Noctua pronuba Large Yellow Underwing 3
Noctua fimbriata Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing 1
Noctua comes Lesser Yellow Underwing 1
Xestia triangulum Double Square-spot 2

Micro-moths (7 moths identified, of 3 spp.):-

Pseudargyrotoza conwagana Yellow-spot Tortrix 5
Anania hortulata Small Magpie 5
Pleuroptya ruralis Mother of Pearl 1

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Norfolk moths: Rockland St. Peter garden, 8 July 2016

It has been a cool, wet summer, so 20°C made a respectably warm day, and with partly cloudy skies in the evening it looked to be a good night to get out the trap. The temperature held up, with 17.5°C when I turned on the MV light at 22h00 and 13°C when I turned it off at 04h00. A light E breeze. Waxing new moon.

New macro moths for the garden were Blue-bordered Carpet, July Highflyer, V-Pug, Small Yellow Wave, Short-cloaked Moth and Poplar Grey. Large Twin-spot Carpet, Sycamore and Beautiful Hook-tip are local species. All moths were rather flighty, and none posed for photographs.

Large Twin-spot Carpet Xanthorhoe quadrifasiata

Eudonia lacustrata

Macro-moths (102 moths of 43 spp.):-

Hepialus humuli Ghost Moth 1
Hemithea aestivaria Common Emerald 1
Idaea aversata Riband Wave 9
Xanthorhoe quadrifasiata Large Twin-spot Carpet 1
Cidaria fulvata Barred Yellow 1
Plemyria rubiginata Blue-bordered Carpet 1
Hydriomena furcata July Highflyer 2
Chloroclystis v-ata V-Pug 1
Pasiphila rectangulata Green Pug 3
Hydrelia flammeolaria Small Yellow Wave 1
Lomaspilis marginata Clouded Border 5
Opisthograptis luteolata Brimstone Moth 4
Ourapteryx sambucaria Swallow-tailed Moth 2
Biston betularia Peppered Moth 1
Peribatodes rhomboidaria Willow Beauty 6
Cabera exanthemata Common Wave 1
Lomographa temerata Clouded Silver 3
Laothoe populi Poplar Hawk-moth 1
Deilephila elpenor Elephant Hawk-moth 1
Pterostoma palpina Pale Prominent 1
Euproctis similis Yellow-tail 1
Eilema lurideola Common Footman 5
Spilosoma luteum Buff Ermine 9
Tyria jacobaeae Cinnabar 1
Nola cucullatella Short-cloaked Moth 1
Axylia putris Flame 2
Ochropleura plecta Flame Shoulder 1
Xestia triangulum Double Square-spot 3
Melanchra persicariae Dot Moth 2
Lacanobia oleracea Bright-line Brown-eye 4
Mythimna impura Smoky Wainscot 1
Acronicta megacephala Poplar Grey 1
Acronicta aceris Sycamore 1
Apamea monoglypha Dark Arches 3
Apamea lithoxylaea Light Arches 1
Hoplodrina alsines Uncertain 6
Hoplodrina blanda Rustic 2
Caradrina morpheus Mottled Rustic 1
Paradrina clavipalpis Pale Mottled Willow 1
Laspeyria flexula Beautiful Hook-tip 3
Hypena proboscidalis Snout 1
Zanclognatha tarsipennalis Fan-foot 5
Oligia strigilis agg. Marbled Minor agg. 1

Micro-moths (9 moths identified, of 4 spp.):-

Dipleurina lacustrata (Eudonia lacustrata) 1
Eurrhypara hortulata Small Magpie 6
Phlyctaenia coronata
Aphomia sociella Bee Moth 1

Monday, 30 May 2016

Book review: Listening to a Continent Sing by Don Kroodsma

Listening to a Continent Sing. Birdsong by Bicycle from the Atlantic to the Pacific

Donald Kroodsma

Princeton University Press | 2016
336 pp. | 16 x 24 cm | 125 line illustrations
Hardcover | £22.95 / $29.95 | ISBN: 9780691166810

Listening to a Continent Sing documents a ten-week cycle trip made by Don Kroodsma and his son David across the USA from the Atlantic to the Pacific – east to west against the wind in order to best take advantage of the advancing season – “lingering and listening to our continent sing as no one has before”. A taste of the coast-to-coast journey, made during the summer of 2003, can be found in the NPR clip Searching Out 'The Singing Life of Birds', recorded a couple of years after the trip. The author's pure joy, his sense of wonder and curiosity, combined with scientific rigour, so evident in Elizabeth Arnold's interview, are qualities that infuse the resulting book. The text takes the from of a travelogue, but it is more immediately an exploration of rural back routes, a celebration of nature, and a wonderful appreciation of bird song. As a travel diary, it is an easy and entertaining read. But for those who want to take the subject further the book serves as an introduction to learning bird song: the QR codes sprinkled throughout link to 381 recordings that really bring the trip to life and are a great way for the reader to gain familiarity with some of North America's finest songsters. This and much more material is provided on the author's Listening to a Continent Sing companion website. A handful of recordings make up an audio archive documenting some of the characters that the cyclists met en route and their relationship with birds: family store owner Charles Haupt on his Purple Martins in Charles City, Virginia, bubbly Park Naturalist Terry Owens on the avian delights of Breaks Interstate Park, far western Virginia, or Rev. James R. Love on his local birds (maintaining that birds sing because they are happy) in Eastview, Kentucky.

Listening to a Continent Sing will be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in the outdoors, by cyclists (David Kroodsma is himself an experienced cyclist and author of The Bicycle Diaries), and above all by birders. I have only just begin reading the book, but I already suspect that it will turn out to be one of the outstanding popular bird books of the year.


Don Kroodsma at work in the Mérida Andes. Photo: Don Kroodsma
I first met Don Kroodsma in 1995 when he had quickly acquired a reputation as an eccentric gringo professor studying, together with student Viviana Salas, endemic Mérida Wren Cistothorus meridae, a scarce bird restricted to a tiny range in the Venezuelan Andes. This species was a key target for visiting birders and was not all that well known ecologically, so I was surprised to find that Don knew so much about the population at the head of the Santo Domingo valley: where to find them, how many territories there were (over a dozen!), and of course how many songs formed the repertoire of each male... He was a fount of fascinating information on the species – and one of his tips helped us obtain superb views of the bird, which can be a tricky business when the weather is inclement.

A year or two later, I was lucky enough to be invited to take a Cornell LNS bird sound workshop with Don, Greg Budney and Dave Ross at the joint ABA/AFO conference in Costa Rica. Their combined experience was formidable and really got me hooked on professional sound recording (prior to that I had been using a cheap and inadequate Sony video microphone feeding into a budget dictaphone).

Being taught by one of the world’s experts in bird vocalisations together with one of the premier recordists was a real privilege. On our field trip to Tipantí National Park we were accompanied by a friend of Don’s, the late Dave Stemple (husband of children’s author Janet Yolen), with whom I was later to spend a lot of time recording bird songs and through whom I kept in contact with Don.

In 1998 I was able to repay Don for his efforts in teaching the workshop, when, while living in Managua, I noticed that the Three-wattled Bellbirds Procnias tricarunculatus of the Nicaraguan highlands sang very differently to their Costa Rican relatives that I knew fairly well. I suspected that Don might be interested in this, and through Dave, I was able to send Don some extended sound recordings of the Nicaraguan birds, which helped him document song learning in a suboscine passerine. This exciting discovery is described in Don Stap's Birdsong. A Natural History.

Over the years I have kept up with Don’s research – he is, after all, an authority in the field of bird song and his discoveries demand to be read by anyone with an interest in bird vocalisations. I was able to procure a copy of the superb The Singing Life of Birds and occasionally come across radio interviews. Another NPR interview, with Terry Gross, Understanding Birdsong — and Its Fans was made on the launch of The Singing Life of Birds. A useful 2009 interview in the ABA's Birding magazine contains plenty more links to cuts of North American birds.

There’s this wonderful Zen parable. If you listen to the thrush and hear a thrush, you’ve not really heard the thrush. But if you listen to a thrush and hear a miracle, then you’ve heard the thrush.
— Don Kroodsma in Searching Out 'The Singing Life of Birds' (NPR interview with Elizabeth Arnold, 13 June 2005)

Monday, 9 May 2016

Book review: A Summer of British Wildlife by James Lowen

A Summer of British Wildlife: 100 great days out watching wildlife

Bradt Travel Guides | 2016
256 pp. | 13.5 x 21.6 cm | abundant colour photographs
Paperback | £15.99 | ISBN: 978 1 78477 009 9

Three years ago, James Lowen wrote 52 Wildlife Weekends to wide acclaim. The book 's aim was to suggest a wildlife-themed agenda for every weekend of the year and its target readership was wide: anyone with an interest in British wildlife. Those with television sets are used to watching superb-quality wildlife spectacles on the BBC, but it seems that we are less inclined to actually get outdoors and find the subjects of those wonderful documentaries in the flesh. Indeed, research shows a major disconnection between young people and their natural environment. To some extent, the book set about remedying the situation by offering unique excursions targeting our characteristic flora and fauna throughout the year. I have used that book regularly, though I confess to having butchered James's itineraries to fit the time available. Nevertheless, it has been a very handy resource.

This new book largely follows the successful approach and format of the previous guide, but this time James provides ideas for day trips rather than weekends (perhaps more realistic if young families are to be encouraged to use it). The suggestions comprise 100 summer days out – enough for three or four (or more!) British summers. Each is linked to a particular day covering the period from May 15 to August 22, beginning with spring-flowering bluebells and closing the summer with some of Norfolk's localised damselflies. The locations stretch from Shetland to the Scillies.

Each wildlife site receives an enthusiastic write-up based on the author's first-hand experience – and be assured that James is keen to make sure that field experience informs his selection and descriptions, so there is nothing in the book that the author has not tried. Directions to each location are provided, together with OS grid references and helpful websites, an indication of how much leeway the visitor might have in terms of dates and suggestions for either turning the day trip into a weekend or for alternative sights at which to encounter the featured wildlife. 

With summer only just begun, I have not had time to field test the book, but I know it will see some use over the coming months. In fact, I relish the thought of trying some of the unfamiliar experiences suggested. So if you are a nature-lover looking to explore Britain's wildlife over the summer, this guide will answer your questions. Where to go? When to visit? How to get there? What to do? What to look for? If you already own 52 Wildlife Weekends, will you need this book as well? I checked for overlap, and there is very little. Yes, one or two of the experiences, such as diving with sharks in Cornwall, are mentioned in both guides, but only because they are too good to miss.

So what are you waiting for? Get a copy, get out and enjoy a summer of British wildlife while it lasts!

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Norfolk moths: Rockland St. Peter garden, 9 October 2015

After a sunny day, completely clear skies all night made for a temperature of 12.0°C when I turned on the MV light at 19h00 and 9.1°C when I turned it off at 06h00. A light E air, felt as a slight but persistent chill breeze by dawn. Two buzzing Hornets in the trap had me turn off the trap before dawn (I have a thriving Hornet's nest in a bird box just a few metres from the trap). Waning crescent moon.

Nothing unfamiliar, and something of a relief to have so little morning work!

Macro-moths (17 moths of 11 spp.):-

Chloroclysta truncata Common Marbled Carpet

Epirrita sp. Epirrita species

Colotois pennaria Feathered Thorn

Agrotis segetum Turnip Moth

Aporophyla nigra Black Rustic

Lithophane leautieri Blair's Shoulder-knot

Allophyes oxyacanthae Green-brindled Crescent

Agrochola lota Red-line Quaker

Agrochola lychnidis Beaded Chestnut

Xanthia togata Pink-barred Sallow

Xanthia icteritia Sallow


Sunday, 23 August 2015

Neotropical Birding 17 is out!

Neotropical Birding 17 is printed and has been available at the UK Birdfair since Friday. I was there today and enjoyed seeing the Neotropical Bird Club stand. This issue has been assembled in record time – six weeks – but is nevertheless one of the most satisfying numbers I have put together. Photos of what will now be recognised as a "new" species of owl for North America (Strix sartorii), the article on Sierra de Perijá and the nice image of PterodromaStercorarius interspecific social dominance mimicry (ISDM) are my highlights. I had some really nice unsolicited comments from people at the Birdfair - thank you all! 

Welcome to issue 17 of Neotropical Birding! 

You've heard of Africa's Big Five and Big Seven, but the average birder prefers the Big Six. Where in the world? Of course, it's the Paraguayan Chaco. Our veteran ornithologists Paul Smith and Rob Clay take us on a tour that targets the Chaco Big Six – figuratively, although they will literally be taking a group there on one of our regular NBC Fundraising tours later this year. They might even throw in a couple of extras that could one day make a Paraguayan Big Eight!

For a break from the heat, try some Andean birding in the isolated mountain range of Perijá on the Colombia-Venezuela border. This little-visited and relatively neglected range has been explored with some difficulty from the Venezuelan side, resulting in some remarkable discoveries in recent years. Travelling to the Colombian side, Trevor Ellery takes us to ProAves' newly-established Chamicero del Perijá (Perija Thistletail) Reserve. The lodge gives access to birds that were the stuff of dreams about only three or four years ago, including what will almost certainly be recognised as an endemic “Rufous” Antpitta, Grallaria (rufula) saltuensis, as well as the eponymous thistletail.

The second of our Birding Sites is the Río Bigal Biological Reserve in eastern Ecuador, a favourite of Juan Freile, Vincent Mouret and Mathieu Siol. Nestled in the Andean foothills, the reserve enjoys the best of both worlds, with a heady avifaunal mix of Amazonian and Andean species – and some really special birds characteristic of these elevations like the poorly-known, but stunning Pink-throated Brilliant Heliodoxa gularis.

In our last issue, Steve Howell examined Markham's Storm Petrel identification at sea. This time Fabrice Schmitt dispenses with the dramamine and takes us to recently-discovered Markham's Storm Petrel breeding colonies in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. The nest sites of Ringed Storm Petrel remain a mystery – but for how long?

Sticking with seabirds, Alex Lees, Fabio Olmos and Alberto Campos go pelagic birding off the coast of NE Brazil. Their targets? Trindade Petrel Pterodroma arminjoniana tops a list that could include just about anything. Their article includes quite a few species for which there are only a handful of Brazilian records.

But if a handful of records is not exclusive enough, and you have a penchant for those really elusive birds, then they do not come much more enigmatic than Mexico's mystery Cinereous Owl Strix (“varia”) sartorii. Birding at the Cutting Edge, Nathan Pieplow and Andrew Spencer present the first photographs and sonograms, and tell us all about one of the most exciting encounters in North American birding for some time.

Our Globally Threatened Bird, the Colombian endemic Chestnut-capped Piha Lipaugus weberi, was only discovered in 1999 and is already Endangered – perhaps even Critically Endangered. This reinforces an idea that crops up with alarming regularity in Neotropical Birding: species becoming extinct even before we know them.

Alex Lees' invites you to “Get your lists out!” one last time for his final thoughts on Splits, lumps and shuffles. This is the column that turns everyone into an armchair taxonomist, providing fuel for arguments over the sanity of the AOU or IOC, Clements or HBW / BirdLife. Birdwise, it's the usual suspects once again: Pyrrhura parakeets, woodcreepers and Splitalopus. But should you have been paying more attention to those Grey-necked Wood Rails and Red-crowned Ant Tanagers – a probable future armchair tick or two for anyone who has been to both Central and South America?

As ever, Jez Bird brings us his regular NBC Conservation Awards Update. NBC continues to finance vital projects to conserve Neotropical Birds. Please join the Club if you would like to support our valuable work.

And finally, I would like to thank all our contributors, many of whom supplied unique material to meet a very tight schedule, writing articles, answering requests and sending photographs directly from the field. Thank you for sparing the time to make NB17 possible. I owe a special debt of gratitude to those who provide first class text and images for every issue, helping us unconditionally – you know who you are, and our readers do too!

Happy Neotropical birding!

Christopher J. Sharpe, Senior Editor

Neotropical Birding 17: contents

Sharpe, C. J. (2015) Welcome to issue 17 of Neotropical Birding. Neotrop. Birding 17: 2–3.

Schmitt, F., Barros, R. & Norambuena, H. (2015) Markham’s Storm Petrel breeding colonies discovered in Chile. Neotrop. Birding 17: 5–10. [Oceanodroma markhami, Oceanodroma hornbyi, Oceanites gracilis] E-mail: fabrschmitt at yahoo dot com

Lees, A. C., Olmos, F. & Campos, A. (2015) Here be gadflies: pelagic birding off north-east Brazil. Neotrop. Birding 17: 11–18. [Pterodroma arminjoniana, Calonectris
borealis, Oceanodroma leucorhoa, Stercorarius pomarinus; nice image of PterodromaStercorarius interspecific social dominance mimicry (ISDM)] E-mail: alexanderlees at btopenworld dot com

Lees, A. C. (2015) Splits, lumps and shuffles. Neotrop. Birding 17: 19–27. [resume of recent publications on taxonomy and systematics concerning multiple taxa] E-mail: alexanderlees at btopenworld dot com

Sharpe, C. J. (2015) Chestnut-capped Piha Lipaugus weberi. Neotrop. Birding 17: 28–31. E-mail: sharpebirder at gmail dot com

Pieplow, N. & Spencer, A. (2015) Finding Mexico’s mystery owl—Cinereous Owl Strix (varia?) sartorii. Neotrop. Birding 17: 34–39. [Strix sartorii, Strix varia, Strix fulvescens] E-mail: npieplow at gmail dot com

Smith, P. & Clay, R. P. (2015) Birding the Paraguayan Dry Chaco—The Big Six. Neotrop. Birding 17: 40–46. [Eudromia formosa, Chunga burmeisteri, Dryocopus schulzi, Strix chacoensis, Spiziapteryx circumcincta, Rhinocrypta lanceolata] E-mail: faunaparaguay at gmail dot com

Freile, J.F., Mouret, V. & Siol, M. (2015) Amidst a crowd of birds: Birding Río Bigal, Ecuador. Neotrop. Birding 17: 47–55. [E Andean Ecuadorian foothill specialities, e.g. Heliodoxa gularis] E-mail: jfreileo at yahoo dot com

Ellery, T. (2015) The Serranía del Perijá—an exciting new destination in Colombia. Neotrop. Birding 17: 58–67. [Perijá endemic taxa, e.g. Metallura iracunda, Metallura tyrianthina districta, Coeligena (bonapartei) consita, Grallaria ("rufula") saltuensis, Scytalopus perijanus, Asthenes gularis, Synallaxis unirufa munoztebari, Anisognathus lacrymosus pallididorsalis, Arremon perijanus, Atlapetes (latinuchus) nigrifrons] E-mail: trevor_lotan at hotmail dot com

Jeffers, R. (2015) Club news. Forthcoming NBC fundraising tours. Neotrop. Birding 17: 70. 

Bird, J. (2015) NBC Conservation Awards update. Neotrop. Birding 17: 71–74. [Vultur gryphus, Pyrrhura griseipectus] E-mail: jezbird at gmail dot com