Monday 20 May 2024

Recent Garden Moths

Things have picked up well in the rental property moth trap in Oxfordshire since getting back from Azerbaijan. Here's a few highlights below. Moth garden year list now on 127- nearly 80 new species in the last couple of weeks. We are in the period where there are new species every night. 

The Mullein 
Double-striped Knot-horn, Crytobables bistriga
Oak Carl, Tischeria exelbladella
Triple-spot Dwarf, Elachista maculicerusella with Daisy Bent-wing, Bucculatrix nigrocomella in foreground 
From Stephen Palmer on Irecord: This is either Bryotropha basaltinella (the most likely candidate) or B. dryadella (unlikely). The two black dots on the forewing at one third along are one above the other and merged in this case. The only other species with similarly placed dots is B. domestica and it is not that species. Worth discussing this with your County Moth Recorder to check if a dissection is required to confirm basaltinella. (I checked with the CMR team and they supported the identification of basaltinella as any alternative would be so unlikely in this region). 
New Oak Slender, Caloptilia robustella 
Spotted Shoot Moth, Rhyacionia pinivorana
Not sure if this is just a worn Red Twin-spot Carpet. 
Dewick's Plusia 
Small Clouded Brindle (above and below). This is a species I often string Common Rustic for. I think I might have finally got one right? 

May Highflyer 
Clouded-bordered Brindle 
Eyed Hawkmoth- also been regular Poplar Hawkmoths and the odd Lime too. 

Saturday 18 May 2024

NEW CHAPTER - MOVING TO SUSSEX

In late 2021/early 2022 we headed off in a new direction. After decades of working in community groups, stakeholder groups and social environmentalism we changed tack in light of the new tail winds in nature conservation promoting private nature conservation and natural capital (fundamentally as a result of the phenomenal success of private rewilding projects and post-EU exit green finance initiatives). The aim was to buy land and set up private nature reserves so we set ourselves the aim to buy a 5-10 acre homestead in the UK by around 2026 and to develop our Bulgaria project where we already owned about one acre and planned to expand there. We therefore started an investment drive to raise about £2 million HERE . 

Things did not at all go to plan and a few months into 2022 interest rates started soaring rendering borrowing to invest largely unprofitable, I discovered quite soon that  I was pretty useless at investing in green stocks and shares and at the beginning of 2023 we were faced with eviction from the family home as a result of death taxes being due following a sad bereavement. So scraping together money from the sale of the family home and some successful investments we were pretty much forced to bring our homestead plans forward but scale down the ambition. 

So instead of a ten acre private nature reserve, yesterday we completed on about an acre homestead on the Selsey Peninsula about 5 minutes from Pagham Harbour Nature Reserve. So a lot smaller than we originally hoped for and a lot sooner too. After visiting today to get some balls rolling we are seeing out our tenancy agreement in Oxfordshire for the next two weeks while the builders go in to refurbish and plan to move in in early June. 

So even though its small we are super excited about our bite size project and plan to create a wonderful private mini-nature reserve. It should actually be quite manageable on the pretty small budget that we have.  Hopefully we can aim for scale at our Bulgaria site where land is much cheaper as we hope eventually  to own enough 'natural capital' to be a nature and carbon positive family. I think we have something like a 40 tonne a year family carbon footprint (average UK person has a 10 tonne carbon footprint per year), the equivalent of needing to own something like an excess of 3200 mature trees which store one tonne of carbon over 100 years (or the equivalent in grassland, wetland etc) to mitigate for say an average life span of 76 - 80 years. That's why we need something like 10 acres or so. So far we got about 2 acres here and at the Bulgaria project. So a long way to go yet but not a bad start.  

Here's a few photos of the new project site and watch this space to see how it unfolds. Hopefully not too many more disasters on the way! Really looking forward to having Pagham Harbour as my new local birding patch (I have desperately missed having a birding patch) and already re-structuring work and family stuff so that I can get at least one day or two days out in the field again. Really excited about that and especially finally having a decent patch on the coast. 


There's a nice sized space in the main back garden to do some nice wildlife gardening . Will be a lot of fun designing and planting this up to maximise biodiversity but will also need to consider adequate wild play area for the boys. We should be able to plant several hundred hedging trees along all the borders and plant several specimen trees . 
We are planning to do a mini eco-tourism project on this part of the site which is to the side of the property
The front garden already has a wet ditch so are planning water themed wildlife gardening here

Thursday 16 May 2024

Bulgaria Project Update

Unfortunately due to the water company taking nearly 18 months to connect the water (we still haven't got a tap though) our working party to the Bulgaria project this Spring to complete the pond was postponed to the autumn.  As our family is moving house and then going to Australia this summer unfortunately won't be able to do a summer visit either. 

However got a couple of photos from Dimiter recently on how the plot looks. Thanks Dimiter! The meadow is looking lush and there is even a bit of natural water in the pond- a few drops anyway. We need to line this pond but interesting that it is naturally holding a little bit,  Considering we are going to miss the Spring and Summer visits there is going to be a lot of work to do in the autumn not only reclaiming the pond but also in the meadow management. Will be interesting what 'wilding' impacts there will be in the meantime. Even though we aren't there working, nature is working 24/7. 



Tuesday 14 May 2024

Georgia 2003 Throw back

Our visits to the Caucasus in Azerbaijan over the last couple of years has generated a fresh perspective on the mind-blowing trip we had to the neighbouring country of Georgia in 2003. Our trip was a recee for Sunbird, the first western bird tour company to start tours to the Caucasus following a period of unrest in the region following the collapse of the USSR. The team was Graham Tucker, Chris Bowden, Darryl Spittle and myself and in early May we visited two areas; Kazbegi in the mountains and David Gareja Monastery in the southern steppes of the country. A write up of the trip was published in Birding World HERE and also in Birdwatch magazine in an article by Graham called High Hopes. 

On reflection now, that trip was absolutely sensational. Several bird tour companies in recent years have found it increasingly more difficult to find two of the main target birds in Georgia, Great Rosefinch and Guldenstadt's Redstart due to birds ascending to inaccessible altitudes earlier and earlier in the season. Presumably this is related to climate change? When we visited nearly twenty years ago we recorded tens of Great Rosefinches and Gudlenstadt's Redstarts at close distance literally all over the outskirts of Kazbegi village. At the time there was extensive snow fall (see images below) and this was presumably keeping birds in the valley at lower altitudes while they waited to ascend higher to their breeding areas. When Dominic Mitchell visited a year later he couldn't even get into Kazbegi due to avalanches but they still found the target birds concentrating on the snow line. 

So fast forward twenty years at exactly the same time of year and on our recent trip we were not greeted with snow in the Caucasus mountains but fine sun and the only snow was on the highest parts of Mount Shahdag and surrounding areas. The Rosefinches and Redstarts had already ascended to the highest altitudes so we did some exploration in Azerbaijan in the recent trip. Elvin took us to a remote high altitude area where we quite easily recorded several Great Rosefinches and Guldenstadt's Redstarts while meanwhile several bird tour companies failed to locate them in Georgia. Maybe our recent exploration will shift the focus of bird eco-tourism to Azerbaijan Caucasus in the future if this area remains reliable. 

Here's a few photo highlights of that epic trip in 2003 (digiscoped shots- I love that retro quality) and also while I was trawling through the archive of this trip I found a few herping lifers and a mammal lifer too. Interesting to note how my budding interest in other wildlife was developing twenty years ago (I considered myself to be a strict birder at the time) and luckily I at least took photos of other things that caught my eye and now have got the interest to identify them.  


Male (above) and female (below)  Great Rosefinch

Male (above) and female (below) Guldenstadt's Redstart 

Caucasian Snowcock- as a result of our 2003 trip, this species entry in the Collin's Guide (and most Western Palearctic field guides) needed revision as our first photos of this species for the western birding community showed this species to be more similar in appearance to Caspian Snowcock than previously believed. If you have a copy of the original Collin's Guide a much more red/rufous bird is depicted which was amended in subsequent versions. Caucasian Snowcock only differs significantly from Caspian in the breast patterning which is spotted in Caspian and more vermiculated in Caucasian. 
Mountain Chiffchaff
We also found this first for Georgia, an Eastern Black Redstart, phoenicuroides. A write up of this appears in Dutch Birding 28:2.
East Caucasian Tur (above and below). Despite this being one of the main targets for Vincent on our recent trip we failed to locate these in Azerbaijan. 

Alpine Chamois- a mammal lifer lurking in my archives 
Not sure if we ever worked out whether this was a Persian Squirrel or a form of Red Squirrel
There are several species of viper listed for Georgia- Darvesky's, Dinnik's, Caucasus, Steppe, Meadow and Transcaucasian Sand Viper. We saw this in the Steppe at the Monastery which I presume is a Steppe Viper. 
There are tens of lizard species listed for Georgia and without a decent field guide on these I wouldn't know where to start 
Presumably this is a Caucasian Agama 
Glass Lizard- my first one
The snow covered Kazbegi village- this snow was key to our success in 2003.

Mount Kazbegi (above and below) 

One of the monks at the David Gareja Monastery (above) and a view from Monastery over the Azerbaijan steppes (below) 

Monday 13 May 2024

Azerbaijan Spring 2024- People pics

A few team pics from our recent trip. Thanks a lot to Elvin Mammadsoy from Birding Azerbaijan HERE and HERE for sorting out the logistics particularly to track down Great Rosefinch and Guldenstadt's Redstarts this time of year which have ascended to high altitudes.

This trip's team was Vincent Legrand (Photographer), Rene-Marie Lafontaine (retired biologist from Brussels NHM) , Harry Murphy (WP lister) , Elvin and myself. A great trip , which we have a dubbed as a wonderful disaster as we dipped two of our main targets which was East Caucasian Tur (for Vince)  and Caspian Seal and the only rarity we found was a hybrid. After dipping Omid twice in Azerbaijan, we are used to missing our main target out here and are already planning the next trip.  





Vince and Elvin. Elvin is the founder of the first eco-tourism company in Azerbaijan and can arrange any eco-tourism/birding trip at excellent value (e.g. we paid about £550 each for a week of food, accommodation, several off road vehicles, drivers, park entrance fees, police 'fines', guiding and full logistic arrangements). The food was a delicious wide range of local food. Contact Elvin through Birding Azerbaijan HERE
Vince posing for his ambassador of Kite image stabilisation binoculars promotion pics. To see Vincent's professional photos from this trip see HERE (when he posts them). Vincent is one of the top Western Palearctic rarity photographers (he and Daniele Occhiato are the field leaders) with hundreds of published photos across WP birding literature, particularly in the Handbook of Western Palearctic Birds (Shirihai and Svennson). His gear weighs over 20kg. 

Sunday 12 May 2024

Azerbaijan Spring 2024- Other Wildlife

The focus on our trip was Spring birding but naturally we also kept an eye out for other wildlife too. My moth trapping plans got a bit scuppered as I couldn't recharge the battery between stopovers and then when we did settle down at a hotel it was in the middle of Baku and zero moths around. However I did get the moth trap up in Laza and also we were able to find moths in the traditional ways of outdoor lights and toilet blocks. 

There wasn't many butterflies on the wing (a bit early in the season and windy too) and we didn't do any targeted herping (although planning a specific trip for this). We dipped both East Caucasian Tur and Caspian Seal and didn't have many mammals except the usual Goitered Gazelles at Shirvan (and one at Absheron) and Brown Hare at Absheron. There was a bit of decent odonata action at Gizilgaj when we went south to twitch Shikra. 

Hopefully the next trip to Azerbaijan will be herping and lep focused, which is probably best in later May. 

World list of the species group I 'collect' is now on 4956 HERE (several more unidentified moths and a dragonfly too from this trip) 

Caspian bent-toed Gecko, Tenuidactylus caspius. We found two of these that had trapped themselves in a bucket at Shirvan.
Mesobuthus zarudnyi at Shirvan- a species of scorpion only described in 2022 from Azerbaijan Paper Here (Thanks Zulfu for info and id). 
Levantine Viper, Macrovipera lebetinus. Unfortunately it wouldn't put it's head up. Fortunately Vincent got a better of one later (below). We also had Montpellier's Snake and Dice Snake at Absheron. 

Swallowtail- quite a dark one 
Synaphe moldavica at Shirvan
Aspen Lappet, Phyllodesma tremulifolium from the Laza trap
Paington Snout, Hypena obesalis from the Laza trap
Banded/ Hebe Tiger Arctia festiva at the Griz Homestay
Cream-spot Tiger- quite a few at Shirvan and the odd one else where. Quite a lot of variation, i.e. this was one of the palest
Grass moth sp from Shirvan
Not sure what this is, Black Darter or Black Pennant maybe?
Green-eyed/Norfolk Hawker