Saturday, 6 February 2016

Nature conservationists should care about nature data. And when it is ignored.

One of the last things I remember the sadly-missed John Sawyer talking about, in the week before he died, was how during the NBN Strategy refresh consultation everyone wanted to talk about collecting more data. Getting more people out in the field! Convincing the public wildlife recording is important! Engaging more people in wildlife by getting them to record what they see! Using cool new apps to capture data! Citizen Science!

Far fewer people expressed views or interest in extracting more worth from the data that already exists - primarily biological records, but also habitats and sites spatial information, collected by skilled professionals and amateurs and volunteers and the ordinary person with a passing interest in wildlife.

Knowing What Wildlife is Where is Important

Naturalists almost always care about nature conservation, altruistically, because they love the natural world and/or selfishly, because they love experiencing the natural world. So let's assume if you are reading this you care about nature conservation. Here are just a few examples where I think you might therefore care that the best available nature data is being used:

  • Commenting on, responding to or deciding on a major development or planning application. (What impacts will there be on wildlife? What aspects of the mitigation hierarchy need to be applied?)
  • Weighing up different land management options for a nature reserve or other place trying to not have negative impacts on biodiversity. (Which species occur that need coppicing? Dead wood? Disturbed Ground? Nesting areas? More Grazing? Less Grazing? More Trees? More Open Space? Intervention? Leaving alone? Which species are depending on which microhabitats here, and how important is this site to them - are they rare or declining locally or nationally or internationally?)
  • Planning a new national trail or footpath. (Are there very rare or sensitive species or habitats which you might need to route around, to ensure they don't suffer too much disturbance in certain places?)
  • Deciding where to focus limited resources. (Where will grants, subsidies, projects for biodiversity do the most good?)
  • Strategic planning for housing and infrastructure. (Are there options which won't later involve lengthy battles over destroying natural heritage or involving a lot of biodiversity loss?)
  • Identifying special places that need protecting for wildlife. (Which places might need survey to determine if they should be notified as SPAs, SSSIs, Local Wildlife Sites?)
  • Reviewing the (changing) status of species and habitats. (Without this it is impossible to interpret biodiversity data for everything else.)


I agree with all that. Isn't that what happens?

Unfortunately not always, and the situation appears to be getting worse. There are lots of UK organisations out there working very hard within the National Biodiversity Network to make sure that more information is collected for all the valid reasons mentioned in the beginning and that all the information that is collected is put into standard formats so it can be "collected once, used many times".

This does need a certain amount of resource and support to make happen. Some of this is work is done at a local level, because it is in their local environment that most people are engaged and record, and at a local level that the most detailed data needs to be used. A successful model has been developed in the UK of bringing together resources from the public sector (e.g. local authorities, country agencies), voluntary sector (e.g. the country Wildlife Trust, local volunteer natural history societies) and private sector (e.g. environmental consultants) in Local Environmental Record Centres so that all parties get better information and greater value for their limited resources. The Centres share the data collected by each organisation (and also negotiate access to data from many other recorders and recording organisations) and have staff to put those datasets together, so that they can be used efficiently by the partners and clients as well as researchers and naturalists. The staff also work with many other national organisations to increase the data available and support volunteer recording, as described in this blog from one of the national hoverfly scheme organisers.

One of the major, long-standing partners for English Local Environmental Record Centres has been the statutory country agency for nature conservation, Natural England. This week it was announced that they are withdrawing from their Memoranda of Agreement with the Centres, citing lack of open data. There is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about what the term open data means in this context, perhaps a subject for a future blog. And there has been concern expressed about the impact this decision will have on the future of wildlife recording in this country.

But I don't want to focus on those aspects of the announcement. Instead I'd like you, as someone who probably cares about preserving wildlife today for future generations, to recall Natural England's statutory responsibilities in protecting England's nature, to re-read those examples of when it might be important to use all the best available nature data, and to reflect on the potential consequences for wildlife of not doing so.

Volunteer Recorders at a CBDC-organised Recording Day at Duddon Valley SSSI in 2015 ©CBDC/Teresa Frost

Friday, 28 August 2015

How Dreadfully Common

A 1980s Coventry bus. (c) Clive A Brown CC BY-NC 2.0
"Don't say that, it's dreadfully common!" - or words to that effect - was a phrase I sometimes heard as a child. I can remember my grandmother telling me it was unladylike to whistle in public and to this day, I cannot unselfconsciously say "Cheers!" instead of a prim "Thank you!" when I get off the bus.

I sometimes feel similarly judged for using "common" language now by naturalists. If you're a wildlife enthusiast of any persuasion, I suspect you have had this conversation yourself too, in the pub, or its virtual equivalent, in the Great Name Controversy.

Here's why I think Common Names should be used, celebrated, catalogued - and even <gasp> invented - as much as Latin Names.

Names' Names

There are basically two types of names, and the names of the names are controversial in themselves - of course!

Latin Name

Taking the more recent invention first, we have the Latin or Scientific name of a taxon (species/genus/family....). In the case of species names Wikipedia recommends these are called binomial names or binomens (the latin name for latin name?!).

When I was a naive young naturalist, I called these "Latin Names", and a recent popular tome on the subject does too, John Wright's outstandingly named 2014 book The Naming of the Shrew: A Curious History of Latin Names. He explains, better than I could,
"Many, perhaps most, scientists prefer the description 'scientific names'. Neither is entirely satisfactory: Latin names are more often of Greek or other non-Latin derivation. (they are merely 'Latinised'), while 'mass spectrometer' is as much a scientific name as Quercus robur (European Oak). 'Latinised scientific names of biological species' is accurate, but hardly convenient." 

Still, the opinion against Latin Name is strong enough that, working in a Local Environmental Records Centre producing lists and records of species, I have tended to go with the safer option of Scientific Name as my default field header - for a quiet life.

Common Name

Everything else we English-speakers call the flora and fauna around us, outside the dead language of taxonomy, is referred to as Common, English or Vernacular name(s). 

As a naive young naturalist, I called these "Common Names" but I got cuffed for that pretty rapidly when I started working with naturalists. "They aren't common as not everyone uses them!" or words to that effect, is the complaint. Turning to John Wright again, he says of Common Name,
"not in the sense of being vulgar (although they can be that too...) but in the sense of being everyday names for things."
So these people are taking the first definition of the adjective Common in my dictionary ("frequent, familiar") as applied to the name itself - and therefore the synonym as "Everyday" as John Wright did. I on the other hand understand "Common" to apply to the language used - if you are reading this blog, then English is our common language (in both the first definition in my dictionary, "familiar", and the second, "shared by two or more people"). To me Common Name is short for Common Language Name in the way that Latin Name is short for Latinised Binomial Name. The synonym then is English or Vernacular. 

Despite my preference, I use English Name as my default field header - for a quiet life. Vernacular ("the form of a language as commonly spoken, as opposed to the formal language") is fairly clear, but I think comes across as rather pompous, don't you? I didn't even know what it meant until I was quite old. 

In Defence of Common Names

John Wright says that Common is not in the sense of being vulgar. But my suspicion is that connotation  influences the views of some naturalists on non-binomen names, as does my dictionary's 8th definition of Common: "not of high class - the common people". 

There is an undeniable snobbery around the use of Common Names once you leave the realms of butterflies, birds and some common wild flowers. If you do use them, you are not doing natural history properly. Well if you haven't already guessed, I don't agree with that at all! Both Names are important and have advantages and disadvantages. As long as you are aware of the limitations, I think you should use whichever you find works for you.

For me, this is the Common Name 95% of the time. I sadly have always found learning vocabulary a huge barrier to speaking other languages. Similarly my brain just doesn't cope well with Latin Names. A few are catchy and I remember those. To me they essentially become Common Names - but sometimes only the specific name, not the full binomen. I remember Meles meles (though familiarity of doing data requests for ecological consultants), Rhagium mordax (sounds like Mordor in Lord of the Rings and Rhagium rolls off the tongue) and Carex diocia (Carex like the soap, and diocia I was told because unusually for a sedge the male and female are on separate plants). Sadly though despite working with Latin names every day for eight years, the names like this that are nice and short and I can remember are few and far between. For me, learning Latin names is a big barrier to being able to look at something and recognise it and record it.

Make no mistake, Latin Names are one of science's most brilliant inventions. I really enjoyed reading The Naming of the Shrew and finding out about how names are chosen, the grammatical rules and what some of the words mean, especially the puns. Taxonomy is a wonderful thing and being able to look up names and see which species are together in a genus is vital. Being able to communicate without translation problems about a particular species to any language speaker in the world is marvellous. Being able to clearly determine a species in a database or a collection is essential. But does that mean I personally need to remember them? Nope.

I want to learn names of things because then I understand the world around me better. It helps my brain process the world around me. The more names I can learn, the more I can learn. I find English names easier to learn. So by learning Common names, I grow to know nature better. 

It's not like in practice using Latin Names is without its problems. Tachydromia calcarata (Strobl, 1910) is a different species to Tachydromia calcarata (Collin, 1926) which as it happens is the same species as Platypalpus pseudociliaris (Strobl, 1910). I don't think I've come across a naturalist who has said to be "oh I don't know the common name for that" without following it at some point with "I don't know the modern  [scientific] name for this". The trouble with Latin Names is that they vary in time, as taxonomy moves on and species are moved around the biological family tree, split, lumped or old/foreign overlooked species descriptions come to light (as presumably happened with the example above). That is part of the science of taxonomy... But being able to call something a Water Vole rather than remember if its Arvicola amphibius or A terrestris or if a Great Tit should be Parus palustris or Poecile palustris is rather nice.

PLEASE use Common Names in Field Guides and Checklists

In the UK, we are fortunate to have the National Biodiversity Network's UK Species Inventory, run by the Natural History Museum. This catalogues together various checklists and synonymises them, an amazing achievement, especially because it does this for Common Names as well as Latin Names. For birds there are internationally standardised English names. For dragonflies for example, various English names are available and most odonatists will now use them when talking to everyday folk, even when they themselves prefer the Scientific Names they first learned.

As someone who has taken up moth recording I have found the situation with moths especially odd, where a single field guide will include the English names for some species and not others based on whether they are in a "macro" family or "micro" family. This appears to be because none of the authors of the most popular field guides have taken the plunge in adopting the micro moth names by Jim Porter which are in the UK species inventory to my knowledge, with the exception of Britain's Day-flying Moths (2013). Nor have they suggested alternatives.

Similarly I've found it really frustrating that a recent book like Britain's Hoverflies: A Field Guide doesn't have English names in it. I find it means that I learn where in the book a species is, not a name apart from perhaps knowing what it begins with.

I am sympathetic to the plight of people who have learned names, in their case scientific, struggling to learn these new names - after all I am pleading a laughable inability to learn names myself. However I dislike the condescension one sometimes finds when one dares to use properly catalogued vernacular names, especially online where converting from one to another and back again is easy (use the NBN Gateway or the NHM site). 

I don't give a fig who made up the name or when. So for those species that don't yet have Common Names - please schemes, societies and authors follow the examples of Jim Porter, the British Mycological Society, and even the Guardian newspaper. We are going through a technological revolution in natural history and the subject is more accessible than ever before as people use the internet to access information before spending a lot of money on a lot of books. Those at the forefront of UK taxonomy and identification should be helping people get in to the wonderful world of wildlife, not putting barriers in their way because it somehow proves your worth as a naturalist. Being able to spell Glyphipterix fuscoviridella doesn't necessarily mean one can correctly identify it.

I am not the only one who finds the English names of moths one of the greatest delights of the hobby (Uncertain, or just Confused? The joy of moth trapping). Richard Mabey put the argument much more eloquently than me below. I will only add that as someone who cares about nature data, curating the common names is as valuable as curating the scientific ones, and I would like to thank everyone who so far has listed and catalogued our names for our species.
The invention of common names for moths continues among entomologists (partly for PR purposes) and now it's moved into the field of the micromoth, has become positively baroque. Recent gems include the large gold case bearer and the liquorice piercer. Mycologists are doing the same for the even greater numbers of fungi presently trapped with off-putting Latin IDs...
it's in the common English names that the real richness and fascination lie. Here are wild organisms' hues, habits, habitats, histories, and humans' histories and curiosity, too. It's not stretching meanings to say that the vernacular lexicon is part of the ecosystem, a living and growing web which links us with all other species.
Richard Mabey on the art of giving species their common names, The Guardian 11 June 2011.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

A 2013 tale: One Family's One Hundred Bird Race

#18 Smew - Talkin Tarn, Cumbria
It might just be an impression from higher visibility thanks to social media, but there does seem to have been a recent trend for new variants in this game we call biological recording - from the challenge of identifying 1000 species in a 1km square to vying to be high-up the iSpot rankings. I have indulged in this this past year too, by racing my family to try and be the first to tick off a list of 100 bird species. Recording wasn't the main aim, but it has reminded me of the enjoyment of getting out and spotting stuff and that is where it all starts.

#32 Wigeon Wigeon Pigeon Wigeon - Caerlaverock, D&G
My family and I are not particularly experienced or knowledgeable naturalists, but we do all like
birdwatching. My parents "lit the flame" buying a bird book on a family holiday in Ireland in the late 1980s to identify a heron, and from there onwards family holidays were often designed to expand our West Midland horizons to extend our life lists. When my now husband and I first met we spent much of our time roaming the coast and countryside of mid-Wales in search of birds. Birdwatching has been a big part of my life and determined my career path into the world of nature data.

#86 Black Guillemot - Loch Ryan, D&G
These days I have broadened my interest, and now know even less about even more when it comes to nature. We have spent a lot less time in the pursuit of birds in the UK in the past few years, becoming immersed in moths and trees here and reserving birdwatching for trips to places such as the Cevennes, the Alps and the Ebro delta in Europe. So at the end of 2012 when my sister suggested a way that we might rekindle that early "building a life list" bird hunting incentive, it seemed like it might be a fun way to spend a year when we knew we wouldn't be travelling abroad.

The Players


Elaine, Tim and my Dad - Mullet, Co Mayo - July 2013
Main: Me. My sister Elaine. My dad. My husband Tim.
Supporting characters: My mum. My mother-in-law.

The Challenge


Identify (see or hear) all the 100 birds listed in Britain and Ireland in 2013.

The Birds


What 100 birds? We did some negotiating after Elaine first had the idea. The concept was that every bird on the list should be a nice to see bird. We wanted a mixture of common and widespread species and some more challenging or rarer ones. But what they all had to have in common was that spotting them should bring a gasp of delight, a shout of joy or a simple smile to your face.

We each nominated species. I live in Scotland near the Cumbria border, Elaine in Cardiff in Wales and my Dad in the West Midlands in England, so some species would be easier geographically for each of us than others. I must admit to nominating one or two things like black grouse where I knew I would have the edge! But this wasn't really about racing against each other, but just seeing how close to the magic 100 each of us could get.

Our target list, finalised in the 2012 inter-Christmas-New Year lull, was as follows:
Avocet; Barn Owl; Barnacle Goose; Bearded Tit; Bewick's Swan; Bittern; Black Grouse; Black Guillemot; Brambling; Brent Goose; Bullfinch; Chough; Common Gull; Common Sandpiper; Common Scoter; Common Tern; Crested Tit; Crossbill; Cuckoo; Dartford Warbler; Dipper; Eider; Fieldfare; Firecrest; Fulmar; Gadwall; Gannet; Garden Warbler; Garganey; Golden Plover; Goldeneye; Goosander; Grasshopper Warbler; Great Crested Grebe; Great Northern Diver; Green Sandpiper; Green Woodpecker; Grey Wagtail; Hawfinch; Hen Harrier; Hobby; Jay; Kingfisher; Kittiwake; Knot; Lapwing; Lesser Spotted Woodpecker; Linnet; Little Grebe; Little Gull; Little Owl; Little Ringed Plover; Little Tern; Long Tailed Tit; Manx Shearwater; Merlin; Nightjar; Nuthatch; Osprey; Peregrine; Pied Flycatcher; Pintail; Puffin; Purple Sandpiper; Raven; Razorbill; Red Grouse; Red Kite; Red Legged Partridge; Redstart; Redwing; Reed Bunting; Rock Pipit; Ruff; Sanderling; Sand martin; Sandwich Tern; Scaup; Sedge Warbler; Shag; Smew; Snipe; Spoonbill; Spotted Flycatcher; Swallow; Swift; Tawny Owl; Teal; Tree Creeper; Tree Sparrow; Water Rail; Waxwing; Wheatear; Whooper Swan; Wigeon; Willow Warbler; Wood Warbler; Woodcock; Yellow Wagtail; Yellowhammer

Quite a challenge, considering I'd never seen a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Dartford Warbler, Hawfinch or Scaup and only seen Crested Tit and Firecrest on the continent.

Winter: January - March 2013


New Year's Day
Not on the list!
#20 Red Grouse - Leadhills, South Lanarkshire
#27 Purple Sandpiper - Workington, Cumbria
#36 Barnacle Goose - Caerlaverock, D&G
Tim and I planned our first move. We usually go birdwatching on New Year's Day, there is something about getting that year list off to a flying start! Reviewing the target list, we settled on Lindisfarne as our destination, with the target species being Brent Goose. We saw a skein fly over - job done! And it turned out to be a fabulous choice, a beautiful day and plenty of birds. By the end of the day we were already at 13 of the 100, and we had of course seen some wonderful birds not on the list including very close-up views of a long-tailed duck in a pool right next to the path.

Over the next few weeks we got some great birds at Arkleton where we live - hooting tawny owls and nuthatches on the garden peanuts - and nearby. Occasionally one or the other of us would nudge ahead slightly - the parks of Carlisle were quite productive for me at lunchtimes. We'd venture further away when we could. Our very first twitch for the list was to rush to Tindale Tarn in Cumbria in pursuit of a reported Smew. We walked around the whole tarn and didn't see it... but stopped at nearby Talkin Tarn on the way home and there it was, phew!

We set up a Facebook Group for those of us taking part to keep each other update with our tally and latest record shots. For example a post of mine from January: "#20 Red grouse. We went north of Moffat chasing the sun from the Solway mists and found red grouse, also flock of twite, #21 Black Grouse (two flew just over us) and after a stop at Tesco in Lockerbie #22 a Barn Owl sitting on a post on the side of the road home." The nice thing about this of course is that although my family is spread out, it really felt like we were doing something together.

The challenge proved to me just how good the Borders region is for birds. Since moving up here I've been repeatedly told that Cumbria is great for wildlife - as long as you are prepared to work at it! And indeed, I got more ticks in Cumbria than any other county at 22 - just - beating Dumfries and Galloway by one.

A trip to Workington on the west Cumbrian coast gave great but cold views of purple sandpiper, one of my favourite birds: such characters with their silly yellow feet. Scaup was one of those birds Tim and I felt we should have seen, having lived near the Solway for a couple of years, and yet in the end it wasn't the visit to a supposedly good site for them, Powfoot on the Scottish Solway where we tracked them down (wasn't a wasted visit though, we ticked off pintail there in February). Instead Tim did one of his signature spot-bird-from-car-and-safely-stop-in-time-to-show-Teresa manoeuvres as he managed to clock one whilst driving home alongside Ullswater in mid-March after dipping on Hawfinches at Sizergh. Here it is, bobbing merrily along. Unexpectedly finding one of the birds on the list like this peppered the year with moments of childish excitement.

It became imperative on trips away to get out and look for birds which were proving harder closer to home. Spoiler alert - I didn't see the full hundred birds on the list. Bittern proved one my downfalls, despite multiple attempts at Stodmarsh in Kent, Leighton Moss in Lancashire and Kenfig in Glamorgan. Surprisingly the only place I saw Hen Harrier the whole year, despite hen harriers nesting successfully on the moors next to the valley where I live now, was at Stodmarsh in East Kent where I moved from in 2010. Slightly more predictably green woodpecker and red kite were easy enough to find by putting a few hundred miles under our belts, and Little Owl was another screech-to-a-halt drive-by in Cambridgeshire on a geocaching diversion from the A1 in early March.
#48 Waxwing - Alkborough, Lincolnshire

The winter ended for us with a trip to Alkborough in Lincolnshire to visit Tim's aunt. The Alkborough Flats are wetlands being created by a breach in the Humber sea wall, and every time we visit there is more to see. Knot and snipe were appreciated but not unexpected in such a wetland. But I had given up hope after chasing the ghosts of waxwings all winter, so for a single bird to turn up for five minutes in the back garden at dusk was a very welcome parting gift from Boreas.

So at a neat 50 birds out of the original 100 safely under my belt, I declared winter at an end on Good Friday March 29th as we headed to the Highlands for an Easter (i.e. early spring) holiday.

Spring: April- May 2013


Not on the list!
#52 Crossbill (Common, I think) - Culbin Forest, Moray
#58 Wheatear - Arkleton, D&G
#69 Pied Flycatcher - Ynyshir, Ceredigion
#75 Spoonbill - Middlebere, Dorset
So perhaps a snow bunting in the snow stealing sandwiches to the consternation of child skiers isn't the most spring-like of scenes, but it was only April. It was my first ever visit to the Scottish Highlands, so of course I had a lovely time and was pleased to be able to tick off both crested tit and golden eagle on my British List, although only the former was on THE list.

Back home, and I was eagerly looking out every day for the first spring migrants. A key part of every year, but this year there were rankings to be had! 15th April 2013 was the day, with flocks of hirundines suddenly back above the Esk, the river I follow from home to work. The next few days were wonderful, in quick succession those classic harbingers of warmer days to come - the cascading melody of the willow warbler, the chirpy sight of a wheatear and of course the two tone of the cuckoo.

The early spring bank holiday was spent in Pembrokeshire with Elaine and my Dad for Elaine's birthday. I gave Elaine a book on hoverflies and a net - a challenge for 2014 perhaps? A chance for us to compare notes. Tim and I were ahead, but Elaine was not far behind. And of course, Wales does offer some fantastic birding including trickier species like chough.

I heard, and saw, a wood warbler. The sound of a wood warbler is something that always makes me grin like an idiot. They say it sounds like a spinning coin. It does. Here is the first I heard this year, at my favourite RSPB reserve, Ynyshir on the Dyfi estuary,doing exactly what a wood warbler should, viz. sounding like a spinning coin. Two weeks later I was on the edge of our garden trying to photograph a garden warbler (number 71, in case you were wondering) when I heard that unmistakeable spin of a coin again. Hearing a wood warbler at Arkleton was really one of my nature highlights of the year, although sadly our woods weren't big enough for it to stay.

We headed south again at the end of May to Tim's home turf of Dorset. After many years of missed opportunities, I was determined not to be defeated by Dartford Warbler again. We went to Arne after the required spoonbills eventually rocked up at Middlebere. Tim's parents saw a DW. We didn't. But, goaded, the following morning we got up early and went to Tadnoll, a favourite spot where I saw my first nightjar some moons ago. The Dartfords didn't make it easy but then a female alerted us to her presence. And we were treated to spectacular tree pipit song flights (here's a vid); yet again the persuit of the list meant enjoying all of Britain's Best Birds.

Summer: June- July 2013


#78 Spotted Flycatcher - Arkleton
...came to stay...
...and multiply

Summer! And the last of our regular summer migrants returned to Arkleton on the very day there was a mass visible migration reported from Portland Bill, with Bird Track data showing they were at least two weeks late. In previous years we suspected the flycatchers nested in the nearby walled garden. We bought a nestbox to tempt them into our garden, which they inevitably ignored in favour of a old swallow's nest which has been unused for at least two years right outside our backdoor. It was the first time I've been able to watch any bird nest at such close quarters. Only one egg didn't hatch and four birds fledged.

We had one more major "guild" of birds on the list, so we headed to the seabird colonies of St Bees on the Cumbrian coast. This was a new site for us, with the list again offering an incentive to get out and explore nature. We saw three puffins. Popular puffins. Too gauche for me? Nope - seeing such ludicrous beasts on my (relative) doorstep was simply delightful.

For me the evocative sound of Nightjars is the soundtrack of June. We were fortunate enough to hear them from our garden in east Kent once a few years back, when the wind was in the right direction. Up north, tracking them down was a more challenging prospect. Luckily a friend had found a couple churring not too far away, and we made the pilgrimage on my birthday on June 26th. We waited as darkness fell. And waited. And waited. It's my birthday - surely I wasn't to be disappointed? And sure enough, I wasn't.

Autumn: August - October 2013


#87 Sanderling - Tramore, Donegal
My Mum and Dad tick off Bewick's Swan at Slimbridge
A wader's autumn starts early and the pace of the list additions slowed  too as only the harder birds remained. A week's holiday in northern Ireland and Northern Ireland only added to the tally by two, a black guillemot from the ferry as we left Scotland and a flock of Sanderling on Tramore Stand in Donegal near glorious Machair alive with butterflies.

Tim had seen a hobby whilst we were at Tadnoll in May, so it was with a great deal of relief that I caught him up when my mother-in-law spotted one circling over the forest whilst we were having lunch at Bedgebury in Kent at the end of August and once again we were level pegging with each other, with Elaine only a few birds behind. On the morning 5th September I left for the bus slightly early so was able to stop and stare from the Bridge over Ewes Water at Arkleton. Time always well spent, especially when a streak of electric blue appears from beneath you. I couldn't believe kingfisher had been so elusive all year! And for a few days it meant I was ahead, although I was of course pleased when Tim saw it a few days later on Arkleton burn... Pleased.

Our last trip of the year was in November to the Forest of Dean, with my fellow players, so a chance for us all to try and get a few more species ticked off. With perseverance, we all saw hawfinch at Nagshead, my third "lifer" from the list. On the way home a trip to Slimbridge, a place I spent some happy weeks during my PhD, was of course a must - not many Bewick's swans were back, but it only needed one. En route we tried for a firecrest, but it wasn't to be.

Winter: November - December 2013


That little speck over Warwickshire is #94 flying away!

#94 Great Northern Diver - Draycote, Warwickshire

With the reed hiding experts having expertly hidden all year and one or two summer migrants missed through inadequate planning, the 100 remained tantalizingly out of reach. But in the dying days of 2013, back in the West Midlands where I first started birding, I still managed to tick off one more species, the Great Northern Diver. Aptly, we saw it fly away*.

Great Northern? My 94th species of the 100 Challenge. Close enough, a 6% error. I was happy. I am happy. And in 2014 the family players will see who can mop up their few remaining species first. So if you can give me any tips on Bittern, Bearded Tit, Firecrest, Little Tern, Little Gull or Lesser Spotted Woodpecker...

*I am pleased to say others reported it did come back!

Elaine, me and Tim next to #94

Where and When - My 94. 



My list


1 Common gull 01 Jan Hawick
2 Reed bunting 01 Jan Lindisfarne
3 Brent goose 01 Jan Lindisfarne
4 Linnet 01 Jan Lindisfarne
5 Raven 01 Jan Lindisfarne
6 Goldeneye 01 Jan Lindisfarne
7 Eider 01 Jan Lindisfarne
8 Shag 01 Jan Lindisfarne
9 Teal 01 Jan Lindisfarne
10 Lapwing 01 Jan Lindisfarne
11 Red legged partridge 01 Jan Road to Lindisfarne
12 Fieldfare 01 Jan Road to Lindisfarne
13 Redwing 01 Jan Road to Lindisfarne
14 Dipper 05 Jan Auchenrivock
15 Woodcock 05 Jan Auchenrivock
16 Tawny owl 08 Jan Arkleton
17 Goosander 09 Jan Tindale Tarn
18 Smew 09 Jan Tindale Tarn
19 Nuthatch 10 Jan Arkleton
20 Red Grouse 11 Jan Leadhills
21 Black grouse 11 Jan Leadhills
22 Barn owl 11 Jan Lockerbie-Langholm Rd
23 Long Tailed Tit 16 Jan Carlisle
24 Grey wagtail 16 Jan Carlisle
25 Treecreeper 17 Jan Carlisle
26 Rock pipit 02 Feb Workington
27 Purple sandpiper 02 Feb Workington
28 Bullfinch 03 Feb Arkleton
29 Peregrine 08 Feb Bowness
30 Great Crested Grebe 17 Feb Kenfig
31 Pintail 23 Feb Powfoot
32 Wigeon 23 Feb Powfoot
33 Brambling 23 Feb Caerlaverock
34 Whooper Swan 23 Feb Caerlaverock
35 Yellowhammer 23 Feb Caerlaverock
36 Barnacle Goose 23 Feb Caerlaverock
37 Golden Plover 23 Feb Caerlaverock
38 Merlin 23 Feb Caerlaverock
39 Tree sparrow 23 Feb Caerlaverock
40 Red Kite 01 Mar A1 Yorkshire
41 Water rail 02 Mar Stodmarsh
42 Gadwall 02 Mar Stodmarsh
43 Hen Harrier 02 Mar Stodmarsh
44 Green woodpecker 03 Mar Wingham
45 Little owl 05 Mar Marholm
46 Little grebe 05 Mar Cuswoth Hall
47 Scaup 10 Mar Ullswater
48 Waxwing 16 Mar Alkborough
49 Knot 17 Mar Alkborough Flats
50 Snipe 17 Mar Alkborough Flats
51 Common Scoter 30 Mar Nairn
52 Crossbill 05 Apr Culbin Forest
53 Crested Tit 06 Apr Loch Garten
54 Swallow 15 Apr Road to Work
55 Sand martin 15 Apr Road to Work
56 Willow warbler 19 Apr Carlisle
57 Common Sandpiper 19 Apr Carlisle
58 Wheatear 21 Apr Arkleton
59 Cuckoo 27 Apr Elterwater
60 Redstart 03 May Dinefwr Park
61 Gannet 04 May Tenby
62 Sandwich Tern 04 May Tenby
63 Sedge Warbler 04 May Tenby
64 Chough 05 May Stackpole
65 Razorbill 05 May Stackpole
66 Fulmar 05 May Stackpole
67 Wood warbler 06 May Ynyshir
68 Jay 06 May Ynyshir
69 Pied Flycatcher 06 May Ynyshir
70 Swift 08 May Carlisle
71 Garden warbler 22 May Arkleton
72 Avocet 22 May Leighton Moss
73 Common Tern 23 May Brandon Marsh
74 Little Ringed Plover 23 May Brandon Marsh
75 Spoonbill 25 May Middlebere
76 Dartford Warbler 26 May Tadnoll
77 Grasshopper Warbler 30 May Arkleton
78 Spotted Flycatcher 01 Jun Arkleton
79 Osprey 08 Jun Threave
80 Kittiwake 10 Jun St Bees
81 Manx shearwater 10 Jun St Bees
82 Puffin 10 Jun St Bees
83 Nightjar 26 Jun ***
84 Green Sandpiper 26 Jul Longtown
85 Yellow Wagtail 26 Jul Longtown
86 Black Guillemot 27 Jul Loch Ryan
87 Sanderling 01 Aug Donegal
88 Ruff 21 Aug Stodmarsh
89 Hobby 27 Aug Bedgebury
90 Garganey 28 Aug Rutland Water
91 Kingfisher 05 Sep Arkleton
92 Hawfinch 17 Nov Forest of Dean
93 Bewick's Swan 18 Nov Slimbridge
94 Great Northern Diver 27 Dec Draycote Water




Scaup, Dartford Warbler, Hawfinch.

Regional Breakdown


North England 37
South Scotland 27
Wales 11
South England 11
Midlands 4
North Scotland 3
Ireland 1

County Breakdown

Cumbria 22
Dumfries and Galloway 21
Northumberland 9
Pembrokeshire 6
Kent 6
Scottish Borders 4
Ceredigion 3
Warwickshire 3
Lincolnshire 3
Gloucestershire 2
Dorset 2
Moray 2
South Lanarkshire 2
Rutland 1
Donegal 1
Glamorgan 1
Cambridgeshire 1
South Yorkshire 1
North Yorkshire 1
Lancashire 1
Highland 1
Carmarthenshire 1

Monday, 20 August 2012

Curves are In this Season - part one

In software such as Recorder 6, you can plot seasonal patterns in records of a species. But what if you want more flexibility over what records are included or to display species phenology (phenology is the change in the timing of natural events)? You could while away a PhD exploring data in this way with all kinds of different methods (well, I could) but I thought I'd blog about some graphs I made to illustrate a talk on dragonflies given by the Cumbria odonata recorder at Carlisle Natural History Society earlier this year. This isn't a detailed how-to guide, more an attempt at "inspiration"...

© Cumbria Biodiversity Data Centre

Thursday, 9 August 2012

QGIS: Free Dots on Maps

This is a quick rough and ready tutorial aimed at giving a recorder with little or no GIS experience a simple method for creating a basic species distribution map in QGIS like this one:

 © Cumbria Biodiversity Data Centre. Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Blurring and plotting OS Grid References

This is a post about a quick and easy method for turning a list of GB Ordnance Survey grid references into "eastings & northings", so you can plot them on a map. If you want, just skip the details and download my Excel Conversion Utility spreadsheet that can:
  • convert your grid references into Eastings and Northings
  • tell you the distance of all your records from another grid reference (i.e. a site centroid)
  • dumb down your grid reference to 1km, 2km, 10km or 100km resolution.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Making a county base map

Cumbria Relief Map
Since starting work at CBDC I have found one of the most useful layers is a simple raster layer - a relief map of the county giving some of the main geographic features that is useful for putting underneath species distribution maps.

Common Hawker from Virtual Fauna of Lakeland