Friday 19 December 2008

New moth book

OK, this is an unusual post in that a) it’s nothing to do with birds, and b) it’s serious! Apologies if that disappoints anyone.

I received my copy of Chris Manley’s new book ‘British Moths and Butterflies’ today. This 350 page paperback, published by A&C Black, contains around 2400 photos of some 850 species of macro moth, 74 butterflies and an impressive 500 micro moths (about a third of the British total). There are also photos of larvae, pupae and eggs covering 314 species. All the images are of living insects photographed in their natural resting positions.

I wouldn’t normally plug a book that I’d had any involvement with, but my contribution to this one was so insignificant (just the two photos of the Concolorous on page 242) that I can honestly say I’m being completely unbiased in recommending it. If you have any interest at all in moths, this book is essential. And if you aren’t interested in moths, buy it to see what you’re missing! I think it’s officially out early next year.

A&C Black are to be congratulated for having the courage to produce a book on Lepidoptera which is mainly concerned with moths rather than the more popular butterflies. A few years ago I tried to interest Dorling Kindersley in something similar, only to be told ‘we don’t think there is a market for such a book.’ Well, DK were wrong, and I’m sure that ‘Manley’ will now become a classic to rank alongside ‘Townsend, Waring & Lewington’ and ‘Skinner’. In fact I’d go so far as to say that it’s possibly even more important than either of those two books because of the coverage it gives to the much neglected micros.

Tuesday 16 December 2008

How to get Merlins accepted

The following article is reproduced from Stringing magazine by kind permission of the Editor, Mike Hunt.

I often get letters from birders living in crap counties such as Leicestershire complaining that their local records committee insists on a description for Merlin. This is obviously very annoying for the keen county lister. Merlin is virtually impossible to twitch in a county like Leicestershire, so you’ve got to ‘find’ your own. But there’s a problem – it’s quite rare. Fortunately there is an easy solution – Sparrowhawks look a little bit like Merlins if you don’t see them very well, and they’re very common.

But how do you convince the records committee that your badly seen Sparrowhawk was actually a Merlin? Here’s a list of do’s and don’ts to guide you through the minefield of writing Merlin descriptions:

1. Unless you live out in the sticks somewhere, DON’T claim to have seen a Merlin in your garden. Descriptions along the lines of “a Merlin flew across my garden in the middle of Leicester and landed on the fence, where it remained for 10 minutes” will instantly go in the 'bollocks' pile.

2. DO make sure you at least attempt to age and sex it, even if it’s only the convincingly vague “female/immature.” An unsexed, silhouetted Merlin stands little chance of being accepted.

3. For fuck’s sake DON’T mention “barred underparts.” Yes, it has been known! No, really, it has.

4. DO keep it brief. A ‘textbook’ description including the claw and iris colour of a bird that you saw for 3 seconds as it flew over the road in front of your car is going to look well dodgy. Again, it has been known.

5. DON’T try and be funny by saying it had a pointy hat with stars and moons on it. Records committees are not generally noted for their sense of humour when assessing descriptions.

6. DO make sure you fully eliminate Sparrowhawk (see note 3). Even if it was actually a Sparrowhawk.

7. DON’T include a photocopied page of ‘field notes’ from your notebook. Records committees know damn well that no-one really writes notes in the field any more, and they ALWAYS look fake.

8. Finally, DON’T put the names K***h B*****y, R****t M***s or S***e G****r (sorry, I’ve had to asterisk these for legal reasons) at the top of the description, as that’s just asking for trouble.

As always, look at the text in a good field guide, and re-write it in your own words. Unless you use words like “long sticking out bit at the end” for “tail” or “pointy bits that make it fly” for “wings” of course. These will just make the records committee think you’re retarded (or taking the piss) and reject the record anyway. And if you must trace the pictures and try to pass them off as field sketches, at least make sure you’re tracing the right species.

Good luck, and happy stringing!

Next month – 'Three Species for the Price of One': how the humble Sparrowhawk can also double up as a Goshawk...

Thursday 11 December 2008

New magazine

I was intrigued by a magazine title I saw in WHSmith this morning. I didn’t have time to investigate it fully, so I searched the Internet when I got home and found their website:

Sounds interesting - this is the latest edition: