Thursday, 20 December 2012

Winter Heliotrope

Not posted for a while due to work commitments. I have also given on to getting a phone that does more than make calls so this is a bit of a test.

Winter heliotrope is currently in flower everywhere here. Nice to see some flowers at this time of year but it is a bit of a pity that this plant is so invasive! My eradication efforts obviously haven't worked......

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Quiet weekend....

....mostly spent looking through BHGs after Andy saw a small gull with a small black bill briefly on Saturday morning. The light was really nice this morning and the birds were really cooperative:

Uncropped Robin

Highlight was a Black Red at the point.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Another good day

5 year ticks for Wembury in two days now! Early vis mig watch this morning was a bit of a damp squib with two Brambling being the highlight. At least two of the Firecrests were still present as were 12 Wigeon, 3 Mute Swan and 3 Teal.

Best I could manage at 1/30 of a second

Patch highlight this morning!

My wife then suggested a day out and the Soar area came to mind for some reason (actually, I have never been to those areas before and wanted to be nosy and work out why they get so much more good stuff than Wembury)? First stop was Thurlestone/South Milton where the best bird was a Sanderling on the beach.

After some helpful directions, off to Soar where I started to understand just how much good looking and accessible habitat there is compared to Wembury. A single Jay was a bit surprising near the car park. The Sibe Stonechat was showing really well and close when I got there and then promptly disappeared:

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Long standing thrush problem finally resolved

Four years I have birded Wembury and of the several shockingly common things I have yet to see here, Ring Ouzel was high on the list of really embarrassing. No more! One around the stables. Also saw 4 Firecrest today but everything was against the sun so no photos. Even better (in some ways) were 6 Wigeon - proper Wembury Megas!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Forgetting things is good for your waistline...

...... at least according to the Landauer Limit. A wonderful bit of maths and entirely useless until you get to computers. The Landuaer Limit suggests that the minimum amount of energy required for any computation (creating or destroying one (information) bit) is 2.85 zJ (zepto Joules, 1 x 1021 Joules or 0.000000000000000000000285 Joules). To give an idea of how much that is, a teaspoon of sugar contains about 64000 Joules of energy. That mean that if you manage to forget 22.5 million million million million things, you can work off the cup of tea you just had! A Big Mac, on the other hand contains about two million Joules of energy requiring about 700 million million million million bits of forgetting.

What was I on about?

Monday, 22 October 2012


This is scary. Six Italian scientists sentenced to jail terms for giving "inaccurate" information. My understanding of Seismology is scant at least but I don't really see many earthquake warnings managing to save lives. Seismology is really about studying what happens during earthquakes in order to try to predict - maybe in the future - when an earthquake might happen rather than prediction. <rant> Scientists are paid a fraction of what doctors are paid and do their job largely because it keeps them out of the pub and from needing to find a proper job. We predict, hypothesise and guess but with no level of certainty more than stats can pretend we mean.  That does not mean that we are a waste of time but if you need us to be exact then give us reasonable funding, working conditions and some respect! </rant>

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Armstrong Limit

Sometimes it takes a popular event to realise something about science. The recent skydive stunt (I say stunt but am still slightly scared getting in the lift where I work!) brought out a wonderful bit of science - the Armstrong Limit.

As most people are aware, the boiling point of water at 100 degrees is only actually true at sea level (and this is actually the definition of 100 degrees C like the freezing point of water is the definition of zero degrees). Thus, as you go higher, the boiling point of water decreases (as the pressure decreases, water finds it easier to evaporate and boil) to the point where water boils at 71C on the top of Everest). Extending this, it means that there will be a certain altitude where water boils at body temperature (37C). That point is the Armstrong Limit (or Armstrong line) and is found at about 19 km above sea level. If you were to get up to that height without any type of pressure suit, your tears, snot, saliva and lung fluids would start to boil spontaneously............ Despite not being a doctor, that does not sound good!!

Monday, 8 October 2012

Garden Cannabis

This story from the BBC reminded me of something similar that happened to me a few years ago. An old couple who bought a plant at a car boot have managed to grow the largest Cannabis plant seized by Beds police! My mother managed the same feat but, according to her, the seeds must have grown form some bird seed she had thrown out:

Cannabis sativa

Perhaps the first time that someone has ever had to complain that their mother was growing Cannabis plants?? If I had come up with the same story, do you think my mother would have been quite so understanding?

House Martins 7/10/12

After witnessing the mega HM passage of yesterday (in the fog today and just a few heard) and seeing reports form around Devon, I'd be interested to hear of any number of HM on 7/10/12 (or in previous days) from the south west or otherwise. It is apparent that the reports on the Devon Birding site refer to quite a small area and there seem to be no notable counts from west of Plymouth or east of Torquay. I am interested in any high counts particularly but equally useful are small counts or observations such as "not more than normal at this time of year".

If you have any sightings, please leave them on the comments including place (+county), number, date and time (my own sightings suggested a developing phenomenon throughout the day).

I hope to stick together the data into some sort of graphic for no other reason that it will amuse me. Thanks in advance for any sightings!


Sunday, 7 October 2012


A good weekend and nice to finally get out and do some birding. This morning looked promising with a nice easterly.

It soon became clear that there was not much new stuff around. Still plenty of Meadow Pipits (500+), Linnet (200+) and Goldfinch as well as a single Jay and a Crossbill.


At about 9 AM, the first groups of House Martins started to appear and they just didn't stop all day. By the afternoon, clouds of House Martins were moving through with all available fields of view containing 20/30. Estimates from further east (where they were heading) were of 50,000 and while I have no way of even getting close to an estimate, that figure does not seem excessive. Weirdly, there were very few Swallows and just a single Sand Martin with them. Will be good to see how far east and west of here the passage arrived.


Couple of new moths last night

Black Rustic
Beaded Chestnut?

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Out and about

Very little time this weekend so just some short visits to the patch. Mipits dominated and are now moving in good numbers. A few Skylarks and small groups of Siskins livened things up a bit but the mega Sibe must have been lurking unseen. Ringed Plover was a sad addition to a paultry year list!

There was a lot more insect action than in the last few weeks mostly on the Ivy:

Colletes hederae - very late out this year?
Leycesteria formosa - Himalayan Honeysuckle

Curry Moor - Premier birding site!

It doesn't look like much and is very very underwatched but Curry Moor (my old Somerset patch) has produced the goods again, this time with a Lesser Yellowlegs! Unfortunately, I have not been able to get up to see it.....

For an inland site, the list of rarities is quite impressive (and possibly unique for an inland site?):

Tundra Swan
Black-throated Thrush
Ring-necked Duck
Black-winged Stilt
White Stork
Lesser Yellowlegs

On the bad days it can be soul destroying like any patch but that list proves that it is at least worth looking at regularly.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Pentillie Bioblitz

On Saturday I had been invited to a Bioblitz at Pentillie Castle near Saltash. Apparently, I was the only birder available! Not a huge number of people wanted to make the trek down to the quay to see some birds when there were moths, Dormice and reptiles just by the car park. Fine by me as I got to do something I haven't been able to do in ages - sit on my arse and quietly watch an area for three hours! Nothing startling but 5+ Common Sands, a Teal, a Peregrine and plenty of Buzzards and Ravens were nice. The moth traps also held two ticks (Dark Sword Grass and Orange Sallow) and more importantly, lots of moths that I identified exactly the same as the experts!

My view

The bathing hut - people were actually swimming....

One the commonest species

The "castle"

Friday, 21 September 2012

In the pink....

Another pretty new moth amongst the measly fare (and numbers) of Large and Lesser Yellow Underwings, Setaceous Hebrew Characters and Common Marbled Carpets - Pink Barred Sallow

Despite this being quite striking, it took a long time to find in the book as it was very very small compared to the (life size) illustrations - confirmation or otherwise greatly received.

The great bit about my job is that it is really undefined. Being a biochemist means that almost everything I do can be related to any living organism. I do tend to take advantage of this where possible as I am meant to be teaching Biomedical subjects. The chance to get out and look at some more interesting stuff is too attractive to give up easily! Thus, as part of the induction week for the new students, I organised some activities at Mt Edgcumbe in Cornwall to keep them amused. These were based around the OPAL surveys and included looking at Lichens, leaf litter inverts, aquatic inverts and worms. These surveys are designed for the general public and are easy and fun. If you haven't done one, I encourage you to do so. Why? Because you can contribute to a massive data set on water, air, soil or hedge quality that scientists could not do on their own. Have a look at the website for more details and to order a survey pack or to look at your local data - they are great for keeping children entertained as well!

Having asked a massive favour from OPAL to give me all of the survey packs, I find myself doing a Bioblitz at Pentillie Castle in Cornwall tomorrow - tough life!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Everything's Rosy

A new moth from last night - Rosy Rustic

Also, this large Hoverfly - anyone any ideas on what it might be?

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Back to life, back to reality

Back to the here and now. As there was very little in the way of bird excitement today, here are some moths and some plants!

Trapping has been pretty unspectacular but there have been a couple of new species:

Large Ranunculus

Frosted Orange (a moth not an ice cream)
And some plants:

Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus)
Sea Aster (Aster tripolium)
Vipers Bugloss?
An apparently important event of the week

Scared of DNA

Normal service resumed after returning from the Azores - nothing to write home/blog about on the last couple of days bar some excellent food, Caipirinhas and very little sleep! Head down till Xmas now!

Anyway, I had been landed with organising our bit of the annual Science and Technology Showcase event on the Hoe this year which was on Tuesday. To amuse the school children, one of the activities that we did was extraction of DNA from a Banana. The children loved it but some of the older members of the public who attended didn't. Some of them seemed angry and confused as to why we might want to isolate DNA and a few seemed scared!

This summary of some research reported in the Pittsburg Post Gazette (although it was in America) might point to the fact that ignorance is the problem!

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Another Azores update

Last full day tomorrow before coming back on Saturday and seething slightly that I have managed to miss three patch ticks while here!!! If anyone is interested in what I am doing here, I am blogging on our Biological Sciences blog.

Still not having too much time for birding and the species diversity is also really low. The last few days have been mostly dealing with plants and lab work. Glances out to sea have revealed plenty of distant Corys and lots of Common Terns as well as Azorean Gulls.

Island Canary

Lots of endemic subspecies too:

Fringilla coelebs moreletti - bad photo - you get the idea!

Motacilla cinerea patriciae

Columba palumbus azorica

A trip to Pico da Vara also yielded 6-7 Azores Bullfinch but I didn't manage a photo although a colleague did (Grrrr). We were monitoring a reforestation project for the Bullfinch.

Laurisilva forest regeneration project that we were monitoring
Azores Bullfinch (Photo - John Moody)

Plenty of good insects too including the island endemic Grayling.

Sao Miguel Grayling (Hipparchia miguelensis)
Unknown Moth - Something like a Gothic?

Unknown moth

Only pumillio - didn't get time to look for hastata

As I said, most of the last few days have been concentrating on plants - Here are some endemics and invasives.

Laurus azorica

Juniperus brevifolius

Vaccinium cylindraceum

Ilex perado

Erica azorica
Hedychium gardneranium - Invasive Ginger Lily