Monday, 9 December 2013

Norfolk moths: Rockland St. Peter garden moths, 8 December 2013

After a day of fairly strong south-westerly winds, the night was similar to the preceeding one, with a moderate breeze from dusk until dawn. Fairly warm: 7.8°C at 17h30, 7.6°C at 20h00 and 6.2°C at 07h00. Once again, a partially cloudy sky with a last-quarter moon.

Nothing in the trap, but a solitary Emmelina monodactyla saved the night by coming in to rest on the kitchen window in the early evening.

No macro-moths; micros (1 moth of 1 sp.):- 

Emmelina monodactyla Common Plume 1

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Norfolk moths: Rockland St. Peter garden, 7 December 2013

A slightly warmer night than the preceeding few: 3.8°C at 17h30, 4.6°C at 21h30 and 5.2°C at 07h00. A moderate south-westerly breeze strengthened through the night and was blowing leaves around by dawn dawn. A partially cloudy sky with a last-quarter moon.

There was only a solitary Winter Moth in the trap by morning.

Macro-moths (1 moth of 1 sp.); no micros:- 

Operophtera brumata Winter Moth 1

Friday, 29 November 2013

Norfolk moths: Rockland St. Peter garden, 28 November 2013

Another fairly warm, humid night: 5.3°C at 17h30, 6.4°C at 21h00 and 6.6°C at 07h00. Dead calm at dusk, the breeze rose over night becoming southerly and strong enough to sway branches by dawn. Partially cloudy sky with a thin, last-quarter moon.

A Winter Moth was resting on the wall above the trap in the early evening. These moths are frequently seen in car headlights as I drive arond the winter roads and often come onto the lighted windows, but although they are common this is the first time the trap has attracted one. A Scarce Umber was photograhed this time. No Mottled Umber yet...

Once again, Andy Mackay has been kind enough to look over moth photographs and confirm ID, as well as providing helpful tips for future identification.

Winter Moth Operophtera brumata

Scarce Umber Agriopis aurantiaria

Macro-moths (6 moths of 3 spp.); no micros:- 

Poecilocampa populi December Moth 4
Operophtera brumata Winter Moth 1
Agriopis aurantiaria Scarce Umber 1

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Norfolk moths: Rockland St. Peter garden, 27 November 2013

A few minutes after sunset, at 16h04, Rocklands Mere track.
After an impressive sunset, with a highly conspicuous Venus, it was a relatively warm, humid night: 6.0°C at 17h30, 4.7°C at 21h00, falling to 3.8°C at 07h00. There was no breeze, a partially cloudy sky and a little mist by early morning. The thin, last-quarter moon was clearly visible before dawn in the southeastern sky.

December Moths were in evidence from early evening, with half the individuals on the walls and ground outside the trap. Morning revealed a single each of Chestnut and Dark Chestnut, the former new for the trap.

Chestnut Conistra vaccinii & Dark Chestnut C. ligula - note the difference in wing tip shape.

Macro-moths (13 moths of 3 spp.); no micros:-

Poecilocampa populi December Moth 11
Conistra vaccinii Chestnut 1
Conistra ligula Dark Chestnut 1

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Norfolk moths: Rockland St. Peter garden, 23 November 2013

The night of 23 November was relatively warm: 8.7°C at 17h30, 4.9°C at 22h30 climbing to 7.0°C at 07h00. A light southerly breeze dropped away by early morning, and by 05h30 a light drizzle was falling on the trap, but the moon - commencing its last quarter, was clearly visible over the rooves.

By 21h00 a conspicuous dark moth had settled on the wall of the lean-to. It had the familiar textbook shape of the Peppered Moth Biston betularia, but turned out to be an early Pale Brindled Beauty. South (1908) gives the season as "the first two or three months of the year, but it has been noted in November and December", while Skinner (1984) mentions that "in mild weather the first specimens can appear in late autumn"; Waring, Townsend & Lewington (2003) state that it is "occasionally found in late December".

A neat December Moth was tucked in the corner of the trap. No further moths were caught during the remaining nine-and-a-half hours of trapping.

Pale Brindled Beauty Phigalia pilosaria

Macro-moths (2 moths of 2 spp.); no micros:-

Poecilocampa populi December Moth 1
Phigalia pilosaria Pale Brindled Beauty 1


Skinner, B. (1984) Colour identification guide to moths of the British Isles. Viking: Middlesex. x + 267 pp.

South, R. (1908) The moths of the British Isles, second series. Frederick Warne & Co.: London. 388 pp.

Waring, P., Townsend, M. & Lewington, R. (2003) Field guide to the moths of Great Britain and Ireland. British Wildlife Publishing: Hook, Hampshire. 432 pp.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

RSPB Strumpshaw Fen

Autumn reed beds and water meadows, Strumpshaw Fen
River Yare at Strumpshaw Fen
Guelder Rose Viburnum opulus
Field Maple Acer campestre
Crab Apples Malus sylvestris - Fieldfare food
Giant Puffball Calvatia gigantea
Greylags & Teal, Tower Hide, Strumpshaw Fen
Getting dark at half-past three, Tower Hide, Strumpshaw Fen

Norfolk moths: Rockland St. Peter garden, 16 November 2013

The night of 16 November was the warmest dry night for ten days or so and nearly windless. After an empty trap on 7 November, I had decided to avoid using it on the cold nights, and I steeled myself for the results. It was 8.1°C at 19h30, 6.0°C at 22h00 and 6.3°C at 06h30. A full moon made for a bright start to the night - it was still shining brightly when I turned in at 23h00 - but by 05h30 a light mist was falling on the trap and the moon was obscured.

Despite the reduced catch, there were two new species. By 19h00, I had already seen a couple of December Moths resting outside the trap. At 05h30 an attractive bright orange geometrid came into the light and then settled on the gravel a few feet from the trap. This proved to be a male Scarce Umber, which unfortunately flew away while I was trying to photograph it later in the morning.

December Moth Poecilocampa populi

Macro-moths (4 moths of 3 spp.); no micros:-

Poecilocampa populi December Moth 2
Colotois pennaria Feathered Thorn 1
Agriopis aurantiaria Scarce Umber 1

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Norfolk moths: Rockland St. Peter garden, 25 October 2013

The night of 25 October was clear and cloudless with a bright half moon and a moderate southerly breeze. The temperature at 06h00 was 11°C.

No new species today.

Feathered Thorn Colotois pennaria      

Macro-moths (22 moths of 7 spp.); no micros:-

Epirrita sp. November Moth agg. 5
Colotois pennaria Feathered Thorn 3
Aporophyla nigra Black Rustic 1
Allophyes oxyacanthae Green-brindled Crescent 4
Agrochola lota Red-line Quaker 1
Agrochola lychnidis Beaded Chestnut 7
Phlogophora meticulosa Angle Shades 1

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Remembering Ted Parker (& Paul Schwartz)

Gregg Gorton has just posted his reflections on Ted Parker on the ABA blog. This short article is well worth reading because of the care with which the author is preparing his biography of the legendary birder and ornithologist. Gregg's earlier work has included an excellent article on another pioneering bird recordist, Paul Schwartz*, product of some very diligent research interviewing a couple of dozen people in the US and Venezuela who knew him. This article is a spin-off of the Parker biography (Parker dedicated his Voices of the Peruvian Rainforest cassette to Schwartz).

Ted Parker, with signature Nagra recorder and Dan Gibson parabolic microphone, Explorer's Inn, 1978 (photo: Paul Donahue, from Gregg Gorton's ABA blog)
Looking at the sources for the new biography, it is clear that Gregg has been just as methodical in his search for first hand information from those who knew Ted Parker - the names mentioned in the blog article read like a roll call of Neotropical ornithology. He has talked to an enormous number of individuals and unearthed a wealth of fascinating new information. Several of the photographs, including Paul Donahue's image of Parker at a 1978 Explorer's Inn (which looked almost the same a decade later), are new to me.

Last year Gregg kindly offered to write an article on The early years of bird sound recording in the Neotropics for Neotropical Birding magazine, something we very much look forward to publishing. 

*Almost forgotten today, Schwartz amassed what remains the second largest collection of recordings of Neotropical birds, most of which were made in Venezuela and archived at the Rancho Grande Biological Station (the original Nagra reels are now housed at the EBRG Museum in El Limón, with copies at the Cornell Lab’s Macaulay Library). He was also a pioneering bird photographer (and movie-maker). Careful observation led him to produce a key paper demonstrating that Northern Waterthrushes winter at the same Neotropical puddle year after year, while his knowledge of bird sounds gave rise to a series of papers suggesting that vocalisations could be used to separate visually similar species such as Tinamous, Forest-falcons and Nightjars. He is honoured by the naming of Chamaeza turdina "Schwartz's Antthrush". 

Norfolk moths: Rockland St. Peter garden, 21 October 2013

Despite the clear skies, a strong southerly breeze kept the temperature just above 13°C  on the night of 21 October: it was 13.3°C at 22h00 and 13.1°C at 05h30. A waning gibbous moon made for a light night. By 05h00, the trap and surrounding area were damp, and a very light drizzle was falling - but not enough settle on the rainguard above the hot bulb.

No new species for the third consecutive trap night. Is it time to call it a year?

Macro-moths (17 moths of 7 spp.); no micros:-

Epirrita sp. November Moth agg. 7
Agrotis segetum Turnip Moth 1
Agrochola macilenta Yellow-line Quaker 1
Agrochola lychnidis Beaded Chestnut 5
Xanthia aurago Barred Sallow 1
Phlogophora meticulosa Angle Shades 1
Hypena proboscidalis Snout 1

Saturday, 19 October 2013

West Runton & Wells Wood (serendipitous birding)

With a low pressure dominating the British Isles, Saturday looked to be a mild day with southerly winds and a few showers - perfect for a day at the coast with the boys. They had long been asking me to take them to a place to search for fossils; an Internet search had thrown up West Runton, a small town on the north Norfolk coast, on the west side of Cromer, but we never seemed to have the right tides for a visit. A full moon today brought the promise of a low spring-tide at mid-afternoon, which would give us a chance to scour the lower shore for fossils and unusual marine life.

Arriving at 11h30, the first thing we saw was a 2nd-winter Med Gull that flashed in front of the windscreen as we parked the car. It then gave us some good opportunities for photography - even with a basic point-and-shoot camera - as it teed up alongside.

2nd-w Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus

Getting out of the car, a large, pale Wheatear flushed from the dunes. Resisting the impulse to chase what was surely Isabelline, I hurried to catch up the buys as they scurried down the slipway to the beach. After a bit of rockpooling, we noticed a small group of gulls at the water's edge and as we approached them another Med Gull flew over - this time a beautiful adult. Once again, a very obliging bird, which swam just offshore as the boys splashed through the shallows and hurled stones.

Ad-w Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus
The day was warm and overcast with a good southerly breeze carrying just a touch of drizzle. Every so often a flock of Starlings would fly in off the sea, battling against the wind. The only other movement was two Brent Geese passing E (S) followed by three going W (N).

After exploring further pools and finding several fossils - a couple of belemnites and two large echinoids - it was time for lunch. As we drove to Wells, larger and larger flocks of Starlings pushed in off the sea. Some of them had dropped down at the roadside and dozens of them were foraging in the grass verge by the busy coast road. Over the half hour's drive to Wells, we must have seen a couple of thousand of these birds arriving.

After fish and chips at the harbour, we headed for an afternoon in the dunes at Wells Wood. A couple of hundred metres in, a group of birders were congregated under the pines at a spot where I've whiled away many a happy hour in the past. Their target - a Yellow-browed Warbler that had not shown for over an hour - was surely beyond the patience of the refuelled boys, so we headed for the beach; then some tree-climbing and cone-grenade throwing in the dunes.

Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus (Thorburn)
After the boys had flushed or rolled on a half-dozen exhausted migrants, it was time to wander back to the car park. Passing the toilet block, a purely hypothetical question occurs: could a kids' toilet break possibly be long enough to snatch a glimpse of a Yellow-browed Warbler - just for old times sake? The order goes out to use the toilets, fill the canteens, then meet me "next to those people down the trail with cameras and telescopes - and take as much time as you need". The guy in the shiny golden tracksuit, with the medallion and cigar who hangs around the toilets is obviously harmless, so I feel I can make a quick dash for the pines again (I've screwed on those canteen tops pretty hard, but the clock is ticking). But there it is: an easy view of a lovely Yellow-browed quietly foraging just above eye-level in a nearby sycamore. I soak up as much as I can, while putting other visitors onto the bird, but as heads jerk round at the sound of scuttling feet, I decide I won't push my luck any further today...

As we drive back home I remember the first Yellow-browed I saw: at Spurn, in the early 1980s, on a school bird club trip. It was a lot harder to see. A quick sketch from my field notebook above.

Norfolk moths: Rockland St. Peter garden, 18 October 2013

A layer of cloud and southerly breeze made for a mild 18 October night - several degrees warmer than the past few nights. The full moon was only occasionally visible as a white glow. The evening began with a moderate SE breeze and temperature of 12.5°C at 20h00; by 06h00 the temperature was a similar 11.9°C, with a light S breeze. By 05h00, the trap and surrounding area were wet and the drizzle continued for a further half hour.  

No new species today and a lot fewer moths.

Macro-moths (13 moths of 9 spp.); no micros:-

Larentia clavaria Mallow 1
Chloroclysta truncata Common Marbled Carpet 3
Epirrita sp. November Moth agg. 1
Colotois pennaria Feathered Thorn 1
Xestia c-nigrum Setaceous Hebrew Character 1
Allophyes oxyacanthae Green-brindled Crescent 1
Agrochola lota Red-line Quaker 2
Agrochola litura Brown-spot Pinion 1
Agrochola lychnidis Beaded Chestnut 2

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Norfolk moths: Rockland St. Peter garden, 15 October 2013

The night of 15 October was clear and cloudless with a bright waxing gibbous moon and a light northerly air. The temperature at 19h00 was 9.2°C, dropping to 4.6°C by 06h00. By the time I turned off the trap at 06h45 the air was warming and a light mist had just begun to obscur the dawn.

No new species today and much fewer moths than yesterday. 

Macro-moths (24 moths of 8 spp.); no micros:- 

Chloroclysta truncata Common Marbled Carpet 1
Epirrita sp. November Moth agg. 10
Colotois pennaria Feathered Thorn 1
Noctua pronuba Large Yellow Underwing 1
Aporophyla nigra Black Rustic 4
Allophyes oxyacanthae Green-brindled Crescent 2
Agrochola lota Red-line Quaker 1
Agrochola lychnidis Beaded Chestnut 4

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Norfolk moths: Rockland St. Peter garden, 14 October 2013

After a week of cold, wet and windy weather, the night of 14 October was rather more congenial to moths. It was overcast and calm with a dusk temperature of 8.5°C at 18h30 and a similar 8.9°C when I turned off the trap at 06h45. Checking the light at 21h00 and 22h00, I could see no moth activity at all, so this morning I was pleasantly surprised to find that all the egg cartons within the trap were occupied. This is the first night without a Large Yellow Underwing and may have been the first without a new species for the trap. However, three sublime Merveille du Jours - one on gravel outside the trap, one buried deep within the egg cartons, and the other hanging on to the perspex entrance slit - made up for that.

Merveille du Jour Dichonia aprilina   

Macro-moths (70 moths of 11 spp.); no micros:-

Larentia clavaria Mallow 2
Chloroclysta truncata Common Marbled Carpet 1
Epirrita sp. November Moth agg. 4
Aporophyla nigra Black Rustic 2
Allophyes oxyacanthae Green-brindled Crescent 4
Dichonia aprilina Merveille du Jour 3
Dryobotodes eremita Brindled Green 1
Agrochola lota Red-line Quaker 4
Agrochola macilenta Yellow-line Quaker 2
Agrochola litura Brown-spot Pinion 3
Agrochola lychnidis Beaded Chestnut 44

Monday, 14 October 2013

Book review: The Warbler Guide by Tom Stephenson & Scott Whittle


The Warbler Guide

Tom Stephenson & Scott Whittle
Drawings by Catherine Hamilton 
Princeton University Press | 2013
560 pp. | 16.5 x 22 cm | 1,000+ colour illustrations. 50 colour distribution maps
Paperback flexibound | £19.95 / $29.95 | ISBN: 9780691154824

Last month, Princeton University Press kindly sent me a review copy of The Warbler Guide. Being a long-time admirer of American warblers, or Parulids, and fortunate enough to be able to feast my eyes on an assortment of them on a regular basis, I was eager to get my hands on this book. I had already looked greedily at some of the material on the authors' website and had read some of the reviews and comments elsewhere. When I finally got the chance to flick through the book at the UK Birdfair, I realised that this new guide had taken American warbler identification to a higher level – and I found it hard to drag myself away! This is definitely my kind of guide!

I already have Curson, Beadle and Quinn's superb New World Warblers and Dunn and Garrett's Peterson Field Guide to Warblers of North America. The latter is as close as one might reasonably expect to a definitive guide to Nearctic Parulids: my copy is well-thumbed and has seen service everywhere in America except for the United States and Canada! Neither of the previous works are diminished by Stephenson and Whittle's efforts; they are different reference tools with different functions, each has passed the test of time and they remain indispensable. But The Warbler Guide is something else.

More than a guide, this is an identification compendium, an encyclopaedia. With over 550 pages of high-quality paper, The Warbler Guide weighs in at 1.3 kg (almost 3 lbs) – about the same as Sibley. Even so, if I were learning these birds, I would still heft this into the field with me. I can see it being used at bird observatories, migration watchpoints, banding stations and birding lodges across the Americas. It will be a home reference for almost every keen birder in North America and, notwithstanding its geographic coverage, many from outside the region.

Why so big? The main reason is the huge number of photographs and figures: to illustrate with the species account of one of my favourite Parulids, there are 58 photographs of Blackburnian Warbler, as well as a pair of good-sized range maps and a double spread of sonograms. Another example, American Redstart, is here. In addition to the species accounts, there are also over 150 introductory and supplementary pages – and these are not 'fillers' but useful syntheses of comparative data for field identification. To get an idea, have a look at the 'quick finders' on the Princeton University Press blog.

So, over a thousand photographs make this a highly visual guide. A picture being worth a thousand words, sonograms are a big and fairly unusual feature of this guide. They may be daunting for those who have not come across them before, but the helpful annotations and 38 pages of introductory text on vocalisations should ease the reader into the art of interpreting them. Some very nice, original mnemonics of the songs are also provided for those who do not want to get into too much detail. But, like it or not, songs and calls are vital in identifying warblers.

Apart from the introductory chapters, text is kept to a minimum. It is short, concise and used to summarise ID points or emphasise particular ID features in photographs. This is just what an identification guide requires. Excellent!

The maps have two innovations. First, unusually for a North American guide, the maps show wintering ranges south of the US-Mexico border. This not only broadens the knowledge of the North American reader, but greatly enhances the utility of the guide outside the Nearctic – in the Neotropics, where most of these warblers spend most of their time! Secondly, where appropriate two maps are used to illustrate both spring (northward) and fall (southward) migration routes. Subspecies are clearly indicated on the range maps, using scientific names – another welcome feature.

Any downsides? I have already mentioned weight, and some will find this a hindrance. As for me, unless I actually intend to take a book deep into the field, I prefer a weighty tome that aims to be exhaustive: and at £15 per kilo, this is better value than most things you'll find in the supermarket. The other slight detraction concerns the order of the species. I am not an advocate of following strict systematic order, since this changes over time – sometimes quite dramatically – and there is often disagreement over the order at a particular time. However, alphabetic ordering seems to me to be even less natural. I would have preferred to have closely-related species grouped together, with those that present a particular ID challenge laid out consecutively. This would have put, for example, Black-throated Green and Golden-cheeked together, grouped Blackpoll, Pine and Bay-breasted, and avoided splitting the waterthrushes. The authors get over this by repeating information on each species account – it works.

Who will buy this book? Those with an interest in identification of Nearctic birds will find it essential. Since the majority of these birds move south after breeding, at which time they sport their rather less distinctive first year or non-breeding plumage which can be a challenge for birders (not least because many Latin American field guides opt to leave out the 'familiar' Nearctic breeders), Neotropical ornithologists will also find much of utility here – that's where I will be using my copy. With a good scattering of these birds hitting Palaearctic shores this autumn, I suspect that British and European birders will not want to be left behind.

A wonderful book that has been a joy to explore. I anticipate many happy hours using this guide in earnest, and perhaps many more as I indulge at home. Congratulations to the authors on producing such a marvellous resource. More information, including free downloads, from Princeton University Press and from the authors.

The Shorebird Guide next?

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Book review: The Crossley ID Guide: Britain and Ireland by Richard Crossley & Dominic Couzens

bookjacketThe Crossley ID Guide: Britain and Ireland

Richard Crossley & Dominic Couzens
Princeton University Press | 11 October 2013
304 pp. | 16 x 24 cm | 300+ colour plates. 250 colour distribution maps
Paperback flexibound | £16.95 / $27.95 | ISBN: 9780691151946

I have just received a review copy of the new Crossley ID guide from the kind folks at Princeton University Press. I am a big fan of photographic guides – especially Kenn Kaufman's North American series and WILDGuides pioneering UK-centred field guides. I have also greatly enjoyed Crossley's excellent eastern North America guide and love the new Warbler Guide. I've almost worn the cover off my copy of Steve Howell's astonishing Hummingbirds of North America. So I was excited to see the first photo guide to the birds of the country I grew up birding in. With some reluctance, not to say embarrassment, I have to admit to being disappointed. The Britain & Ireland book is not as well crafted as the previous Crossley guides and appears to have been rather hastily finished. As a life-long birder, I find it unconvincing. I wonder what the stated target public – beginner and intermediate birders – will make of it?

Nice layout of images, text and map - these are the plates at their best

A book like this is the product of decades of field experience and years of hard work, and the end result is never perfect, so I hesitate to be critical in order to avoid doing the authors and publisher a disservice. Let's celebrate the positive aspects first.

1. The guide is limited to the UK avifauna, so beginners in Britain will not be confused with a host of extralimital European vagrants. The number of species is about half of those that make up the British list - leaving out the scarcest birds that beginners are unlikely to encounter or to successfully identify.

Song Thursh - and confusion species
2. The use of digitally-manipulated images in a UK bird guide is certainly a novel approach, though one that was pioneered years ago and has been perfected by other exponents of the art.

3. The order of species in the book puts similar-looking species together, rather than trying to follow an ever-changing, artificial 'systematic order'. The utility of the ordering of field guides is something that Crossley and others have championed elsewhere.

4. Birds are shown in their typical habitat. Often this will clinch ID, and also helps reinforce the association between bird and habitat.

Excellent maps
5. Population figures help separate commoner species from rarer lookalikes (e.g. there are now more than ten times the number of Marsh Tits in the UK as there are Willow Tits). The sources are the most recent available: the 2013 assessment of the Avian Population Estimates Panel for the UK and the New Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland (Irish estimates are now over 20 years old). These important primary data rarely appear in bird guides.

6. The accompanying maps are the perfect size and easy to interpret.

7. The photographs are generally good and the text is written by an expert. This book presents the combined experience of two leading birders and should, at the very least, serve as a teaching guide. With hundreds of photographs of birds collected in one book, there is plenty to enjoy here. This is a great book for armchair birding.

So what's not to like? Well, perhaps I have been spoilt by the likes of Kenn Kaufman, WILDGuides, Steve Howell, Stephenson & Whittle, and Crossley himself. Knowing the quality of Princeton publishing, I was expecting a definitive guide for beginners – as well as something that I might use as a field guide.

1. At 16 x 24 cm, this is not a field guide – although the authors make no claim that it is: Crossley states that his guides are “a halfway-house between traditional field guides and being in the field”. However, this halfway-house does leave wide open the niche for a proper, well-executed photographic field guide to the UK's commoner birds...

2. From my recollection (although I do not have a copy to hand), the size of the photographs is relatively much smaller than those used in the Crossley eastern North America guide, so there is somewhat less bird per plate. Sometimes this is critically important in identification.

Better view desired...
3. Photographic quality varies from excellent to, frankly (in a minority of cases), inadequate. There must be plenty of images of what has a claim to be the world's most photographed avifauna, and I am surprised that the authors did not source them. Scarcer birds like Short-toed Lark are poorly served, while some common species, like Garden Warbler, do not enjoy even one decent photo. Good comparative images (showing similar species under comparable light conditions and in the same pose) are usually lacking. If photo guides are to compete with those that use painted plates, this must be addressed.

4. Photo editing. Some of the birds appear at odd angles, in an unnatural perspective, with disconcerting shadow effects, or truncated legs. One has to make allowances for technology, but other guides have coped with the design challenges much better to produce more seamless birdscapes. Looking at some of the critical species for field identificationsay, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff, or Willow and Marsh TitsI wonder how much these plates will help the beginner. The main photograph of Willow Tit is of a bird that appears to have a glossy cap and a pale base to the upper mandible, features more characteristic of Marsh Tit; conversely the main photograph of Marsh Tit is of a bird showing a long bib, which tends to be an (unreliable) indicator of Willow Tit. In the case of the Willow Warbler, shadowing makes some of the birds appear to have (atypical) dark legs. Of course, these are all photographs of real birds under field conditions – and birds do not always conform to the field guides. Nevertheless, judicial manipulation of the photographs would have produced images more typical of each species, exhibiting the salient field characters mentioned in the text.

5. The authors set much store by size estimation – and so they should – yet I find gauging size to be one of the major drawbacks of the book. I naturally expected to have difficulty estimating size from the main plates (Redstart could be anything up to grouse size here), but the comparative plates in the introduction offer little help, even though they were apparently “carefully measured”. To point to just a few examples, the Mistle Thrush looks about the same size as the Nightingale, Coal Tit looks similar to Nuthatch, Starling and Yellowhammer look similarly sized, Woodpigeon appears a bit slighter than Rock Dove, House Martin and Swift have comparable wingspans, Little Owl looks just a tad larger than Barn Owl and Red-footed Falcon is huge! These plates really need to be corrected.

6. The text is very good, but it does not seem to mesh very well with the photographs, almost as if the two were separate, parallel efforts. Thus I suspect the beginner will struggle to find the field marks to separate Grey and Golden Plover, for example (although they are there in the plates and text), and will have little chance of identifying the much scarcer American Golden Plover. It would have been more useful to integrate the text into the plates, with annotated pointers. Far from revolutionary, this has been fairly standard in bird guides since the time of Peterson.

7. I find the use of BTO codes a minor annoyance and I suspect that beginners will too. I still cannot figure out which species is preyed upon so frequently by Great Black-backed Gulls ("AMCO" – familiar as the alpha code for American Coot in the North American BBL and AOU systems).

In sum, a photographic guide is a welcome addition to the British birder's library of field guides. However, I am not convinced that this guide really capitalises on the available image base and contemporary technology. With a number of species, the photographs are such that an artist could have done a better job. I also have my doubts as to whether it is a guide for beginners. Nonetheless, the authors have fulfilled their objective of producing a useful learning tool: this is a handy collection of photographs and texts that will undoubtedly help birders hone their skills away from the field. This is certainly a book that I will enjoy dipping into over the coming weeks – but I will probably still continue to buy one of the RSPB pocket guides when choosing presents for my non-birding friends, and I doubt that I will use this guide as a primary identification reference. 

As I see it, there's still a need for a proper photographic guide to the UK's birds... 


Gibbons, D.W., Reid, J.B. & Chapman, R.A. (1993) The new atlas of breeding birds in Britain and Ireland: 1988-1991. T. & A.D. Poyser: Calton, Staffs. 536 pp.

Musgrove, A., Aebischer, N., Eaton, M., Hearn, R., Newson, S., Noble, D., Parsons, M., Risely, K., & Stroud, D. (2013) Population estimates of birds in Great Britain and the United Kingdom. British Birds 106: 64-100.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Norfolk moths: Rockland St. Peter garden, 7 October 2013

The night of 7 October began with light cloud and ended overcast. There was a light breeze and no moon. After a day-time high of close to 20°C, the temperature had dropped to 11.8°C by 21h00 and was only slightly cooler at 9.2°C when I turned off the trap at 06h45.

There were three new species: an Epirrita which I did not identify, a striking Pale Pinion and a single shiny little Dark Chestnut.

November / Pale November Moth Epirrita sp.
Two views of Pale Pinion Lithophane hepatica
Dark Chestnut Conistra ligula

Macro-moths (75 moths of 18 spp.); no micros:-

Larentia clavaria Mallow 1
Chloroclysta truncata Common Marbled Carpet 6
Epirrita sp. November Moth agg. 1
Noctua pronuba Large Yellow Underwing 6
Xestia c-nigrum Setaceous Hebrew Character 4
Aporophyla nigra Black Rustic 4
Lithophane hepaticaPale Pinion1
Lithophane ornitopusGrey Shoulder-knot1
Lithophane leautieri Blair's Shoulder-knot 1
Allophyes oxyacanthae Green-brindled Crescent 4
Conistra ligula Dark Chestnut 1
Agrochola litura Brown-spot Pinion 6
Agrochola lychnidis Beaded Chestnut 33
Xanthia togata Pink-barred Sallow 2
Xanthia icteritia Sallow 1
Phlogophora meticulosa Angle Shades 1
Hydraecia micacea Rosy Rustic 1
Hypena proboscidalis Snout 1

Monday, 7 October 2013

Norfolk moths: Rockland St. Peter garden, 6 October 2013

After a glorious warm, sunny day, the night of 6 October was cloudless and cool with neither wind nor moon. After a day-time high of close to 20°C, the temperature had dropped to 10.2°C by 21h00 and was 7.5°C when I turned off the trap at 06h30. The only sound in the pre-dawn was the call of a solitary Redwing, flying south - the first of the year for Rocklands.

The cool night reduced moth activity slightly. There was only one new species, the long-awaited Merveille du Jour, which is every bit the marvel its name suggests. It came in early: by 21h00 it was perched on the perspex entrance to the trap, just below the light. I gently nudged it into the trap, but by dawn it was back in its original spot, having escaped! This common species, whose larvae feed on oak buds, flowers and leaves, is probably new for me since I have not trapped into the autumn in the UK before.

Merveille du Jour Dichonia aprilina

Macro-moths (62 moths of 18 spp.); no micros:-

Larentia clavaria Mallow 1
Chloroclysta truncata Common Marbled Carpet 4
Thera obeliscata Grey Pine Carpet 1
Colotois pennaria Feathered Thorn 1
Noctua pronuba Large Yellow Underwing 3
Xestia c-nigrum Setaceous Hebrew Character 3
Aporophyla nigra Black Rustic 3
Lithophane leautieri Blair's Shoulder-knot 1
Allophyes oxyacanthae Green-brindled Crescent 1
Dichonia aprilina Merveille du Jour 1
Agrochola lota Red-line Quaker 2
Agrochola litura Brown-spot Pinion 4
Agrochola lychnidis Beaded Chestnut 31
Omphaloscelis lunosa Lunar Underwing 1
Xanthia aurago Barred Sallow 1
Xanthia togata Pink-barred Sallow 1
Xanthia icteritia Sallow 2
Hydraecia micacea Rosy Rustic 1

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Norfolk moths: Rockland St. Peter garden, 4 October 2013

The night of 4 October was overcast and mild with a very light breeze. Dusk temperature was about 17°C (at 19h00) and had only dropped to 13.7°C by dawn at 07h00. The trap reflected this with a large number of caddis flies, shield bugs and several species of ladybird as a good crop of moths. There were seven new species, partly a product of having not been able to trap for a week. They were the striking Feathered Thorn (2), Grey Shoulder-knot (immediately separable from the Blair's Shoulder-knot by its resting posture), three fresh Green-brindled Crescents, Red-line Quaker and Yellow-line Quaker, Barred Sallow and a Beautiful Hook-tip. Beaded Chestnut was the most numerous species, comprising a third of the total catch.Oddly there were no Lunar Underwings - and I checked every last Beaded Chestnut.

For the first time in three weeks, Golden Plovers were not moving as I inspected the trap. Instead half a dozen Meadow Pipits and a couple of Mistle Thrishes flew over and a solitary Chiff Chaff called and then sang as it moved southwards through the pre-dawn garden.

♂ Feathered Thorn Colotois pennaria, with a different resting posture to the Ennomos thorns.
Grey Shoulder-knot Lithophane ornitopus   
Green-brindled Crescent Allophyes oxyacanthae   
Red-line Agrochola lota & Yellow-line A. macilenta Quakers   
Barred Sallow Xanthia aurago
Beautiful Hook-tip Laspeyria flexula   

Macro-moths (117 moths of 24 spp.):-

Larentia clavaria Mallow 2
Chloroclysta truncata Common Marbled Carpet 13
Thera obeliscata Grey Pine Carpet 1
Colotois pennaria Feathered Thorn 2
Campaea margaritata Light Emerald 2
Noctua pronuba Large Yellow Underwing 2
Noctua comes Lesser Yellow Underwing 2
Xestia c-nigrum Setaceous Hebrew Character 1
Aporophyla nigra Black Rustic 7
Lithophane ornitopus Grey Shoulder-knot 1
Lithophane leautieri Blair's Shoulder-knot 9
Allophyes oxyacanthae Green-brindled Crescent 3
Agrochola lota Red-line Quaker 3
Agrochola macilenta Yellow-line Quaker 1
Agrochola litura Brown-spot Pinion 13
Agrochola lychnidis Beaded Chestnut 40
Xanthia aurago Barred Sallow 6
Xanthia togata Pink-barred Sallow 2
Xanthia icteritia Sallow 2
Hydraecia micacea Rosy Rustic 1
Gortyna flavago Frosted Orange 1
Rhizedra lutosa Large Wainscot 1
Hoplodrina ambigua Vine's Rustic 1
Laspeyria flexula Beautiful Hook-tip 1