Sunday, 23 June 2013

Just looking

Grass snake.
I'm reaching the age when I go to open a cupboard or enter a room, only to find I've forgotten what I went there for. The day is not far off when I will be found doing this in someone else's house by mistake.

In the Falkland Island town of Port Stanley everyone has a Landrover. They are all the old box-shaped 110's and they only come in two colours; green or white. I had a white one. No-one locks their car or house and the keys are often left in the ignition. Early one morning I drove off to birdwatch near the old slaughter-house where you could find caracaras, turkey vultures and stink-birds (giant petrels) all fighting over offal. I pulled up and reached behind me for my telescope only to find it wasn't there. Instead I found a baby seat. Fortunately there was no baby in it.

Four-spotted chaser.
It had taken me half an hour to realise I was in the wrong Landrover. Of course I took it back immediately and no-one was any the wiser. I have never told anyone about this until now, but it illustrates my lack of attention to detail.To me all Landrovers look alike and I'm not really bothered about it.

Birds, on the other hand, do interest me and I pay close attention to the minor differences between species. I'm less good at insects and flowers, but I make an effort to identify them. Once you have sorted out a species, you have a mental image of it, know it's field characteristics and so it is easier to find the next example. After a while, you just know what it is without being able to explain why. You just know.

Scarce chaser.
This week, we have all been concentrating on dragonflies and damselflies. The discovery of over 30 larval cases from Britain's rarest dragonfly, the Norfolk Hawker, has brought out the Odonata twitchers in force. Standing along-side these people you can learn a lot.

While watching a gathering of four Norfolk Hawkers in the company of four or five enthusiasts, we were able to sort out scarce chasers, four-spotted chasers, black-tailed skimmers and southern hawkers, Then we started on damselflies, identifying common blues, blue-tailed, red-eyed, azure and variables, all in the same spot. I also saw a toad and two grass snakes.

You just need to get your eye in. Expert help is the best way to learn, but a good field guide will do the trick if you read it carefully. Then you need to follow up with more encounters to re-enforce your visual memory. It worked for me and I've finally got variable damselfly into my head.

Impossible photo of a
Norfolk Hawker in flight.
This week was a good one for butterflies too. There are quite a few fresh speckled woods about and there have been sightings of small copper and brown argus. At Barford Road Pocket Park we saw a lot of small heaths on the wing. I guess the fact that this has been a damp and cool spring has led to a magnificent show of wild flowers that benefit all insects, especially bees.

Badgers do not benefit bees. Have you noticed all the holes where bees nests have been dug up at night?

By the start of July you should be able to go on our new dragonfly watching platform. Now that we are happy with our pond-liner we have re-filled the pond from Heronry South lake. Already I have seen a smooth newt in it and plants are germinating around the edges. Hopefully dragonflies will lay eggs in it this summer. Water beetles, water boatmen and many other freshwater species will introduce themselves as they can fly between ponds. Some others will have come in through the pump.

Variable damselfly
The thought behind building a viewing platform is that, if you stand still and actually concentrate on looking, you will be surprised at what you notice. My wife says the same is true if you stand in front of a cupboard and look properly you will find your own medication without having to ask for help. Looking is an activity like any other; you can stand and casually scan around and maybe you will find something, but to see properly, you need to engage your brain. That's what she says, anyway.