Showing posts from September, 2015

Chiffchaffs! Why?

The three great mysteries of science: what is dark matter?  how did life begin? what's behind the green door? To this can be added a fourth: why do Chiffchaffs chase other birds? It's something I see very frequently at this time of year. Typically a Chiffchaff will watch a  Blue tit and wait for it to take off. The Chiffchaff then chases the tit around the garden, exhibiting a piece of behaviour known as 'giving it merry hell'. Why do they do it? They seem to expend a huge amount of energy on this, seemingly, frivolous pursuit. I've puzzled over this for, literally, decades.  Back in the 90`s I wrote to Jim Flegg at the BTO about this - he replied 'That`s easy - it`s defending a feeding territory'. To me that just doesn't ring true. For a start they aren't fussy about their targets - I've seen Chiffchaffs chase a whole range of species including a Great-spotted Woopecker on one occasion.  It's like the feisty small boy at


The unprepossessing creature (unkind people might call it 'drab') on the right, is possibly the rarest living organism I’ve ever seen. I caught this tiny moth in the trap and took a couple of photos. However, the ‘micros’ are hard work. Usually the process is as follows: skim quickly through the book and don’t find it look more carefully through the book and don’t find it by the third pass I’ve usually narrowed it down and by a process of elimination I sometimes find it Occam’s Razor and swear words often do the trick. On this occasion the third, fourth and fifth scans of Micro Moths of Great Britain and Ireland failed to reveal the identity of the tiny chappy. Often I’m convinced that  it isn’t in the book, but on this occasion I was proved  right - it wasn't. After handing it over to the experts it turned out to be Blastobasis rebeli. There are just 3 previous Lancashire records and not a  lot in the whole country. It is fairly new to s

In praise of getting up early

There are several disadvantages in getting up early – the main one is that you have to get up early. The light is often poor for photography, fewer insects are active, and furthermore you have to listen to Farming Today on the radio – that’s right you have to. On the other hand, the first light brings some magical  sights - ephemeral things that only you are privy to. As I walked onto the old golf course, I could see a small  patch of mist suspended over the Ragwort, grass and thistles. Suddenly the sun broke through the sentinel row of fir trees. Rays illuminating the water droplets  gave a fantastic spotlight effect. They were like a natural version of the 'Super Troopers' Abba sang about…that time. I walked down the bank to get a closer look - like the kind of person who thinks they can get to end of rainbow - or ‘simpleton’ as they’re more commonly known. I walked back and watched as the sun rose, continually  breaking through higher and higher branches –

Donald Pleasence and the Roe Deer

I always look forward to going to The Beacon at  first light. The view is never the same and is quite often wonderful. If, overnight, a global apocalypse had befallen the world causing a massive rise in sea levels – it might have looked like the  scene that  greeted me.  An ocean of mist  had engulfed  a huge area - all the  way to the horizon.  South Lancashire had been completely flooded. I watched the developing mistscape, changing minute by minute as the sun rose. The colours were subtly altering – starting off with  rosy hues then becoming sepia. When the lightshow had played itself out I made my way to the darkly wooded, North West corner of the patch. On my way I passed the flooded former quarry. This seems to be exactly the kind of  place  Donald Pleasence was  talking  about in  The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water ,  the famous public information film of the seventies. TV Talking Heads seem to be forever reminiscing about how this film scarred their

Compare and Contrast

Two members of the polygonacae family. On the left Broad Leaved Dock, its leaves eaten away and reduced to skellingtons (or skeletons if you prefer words written correctly). On the right Japanese Knotweed, growing in its pristine pomp. It's unmblemished as the Centre Court at Wimbledon before they inexplicably allow ‘tennis players’ to run on it. The difference is, of course, one is a native plant the other is an alien. All native plants have their own ‘pests and diseases’. These are organisms that have evolved alongside the plant, quite often specialising in just the one foodplant. Usually there is a balance, the plants aren’t wiped out but are kept in check by their pests. Japanese Knotweed has its fair share of diseases in its place of origin. As an alien, on the other hand, it has no such enemies, so it grows rampantly -  an unstoppable army - the Mongol Hordes of the plant world. This, in turn, gives the incomers a massive advantage over their homegrown rivals. The

Let OsPrey

Adult Osprey - it's a 'record shot' so it doesn't matter that it's really, really bad...apparently A Bonelli's warbler at nearby Billinge Hill had encouraged me to get out early and look for some migrants. I wasn't dissapointed.  While looking down towards Rough Park Wood, scanning the bushes a huge raptor appeared. An Osprey! I watched it for about an hour - just enjoying the whole good-bird-on-patchiness of the scene. It seemed in no hurry  to move on and it's possible that it  had been fishing in one of the nearby lakes. I took a few distant 'record shots'.  As life is just like it is in the films, I was happy in the knowledge that when I got home I could 'digitally enhance' these - turning a faint, out of focus, blob into a beautifully crisp (probably prize winning) Osprey portrait. Movie spies are always doing this kind of thing - how hard can it be?! The local Crows and Magpies were predictably unimpressed by this intrude