Poor old Gilbert is getting restless. Despite the fact that there is more interest in wildlife than ever before, it seems that most of the so-called conservation organisations are losing interest in species. Instead they prefer to babble on about landscape scale conservation and ecosystem services (whatever they are). Could this be because most of their staff don't have any knowledge about species if they don't have four legs?
This is my attempt to encourage an interest in good old-fashioned natural history.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Pointless twitching?

I'm not a great fan of twitching. At least, not twitching as most people think of it - hundreds of birders trashing a place and taking no notice of anything else in order to just tick something off a list.

Pan-species twitching is somewhat different. Firstly, the number of people taking part rarely, if ever, reaches double figures so there is hopefully no damage to habitat or non-target species. Perhaps more importantly, most participants treat it as part of a learning process which will improve their biological recording skills. Even if that isn't the case in a specific instance, I think a bit of twitching for pure enjoyment is justified if you make a positive contribution to conservation in other ways.

So, having tried to justify my 'pointless' twitching, here is what I saw during a couple of recent sessions! A trip to north Hampshire in mid-September produced the hoped-for Copse Bindweed.

The plants are located on a non-descript roadside bank and it is hard to comprehend why it is such a rare species.

A few days later I teamed up with a friend for a mega-twitch around south-east England. We started off at Box Hill where my friend wanted to see the rare micro-moth Phyllonorycter scabiosella and the formerly rare (but now spreading rapidly) Box Bug Gonocerus acuteangulatus. Having successfully completed that mission, we moved to Epsom where there is a colony of Fire Bugs Pyrrhocoris apterus along a footpath next to an industrial estate. A few adults and many larvae were found in one very small area.

To keep the diversity of taxonomic groups going, we travelled further east in Surrey to try for the Hop-garden Earwig Apterygida media. My friend had dipped this species at the site before (possibly the only person ever to dip on an earwig!) but we quickly beat several individuals from the hedgerow.

Things were running so smoothly that we had some spare time before our next 'appointment' so we decided to try for Saltmarsh Goosefoot. We didn't have any specific locations to try, just a tetrad map that pointed towards the north Kent marshes being a good area. We decided to have a try at Elmley RSPB reserve as we at least knew that there was public access there. After checking a couple of places without success, we came to a cattle trampled ditch with bare mud that looked a plausible site. Sure enough there it was, together with the similar Red Goosefoot for comparison.

Red Goosefoot (left) and Saltmarsh Goosefoot
Still no dips by early evening and the pressure was on me as the next two targets were species that I had promised to my friend. First stop was on the Medway to look for Marsh Mallow Moth. I helped my friend set up his trap at the well-known site then headed off to a lesser known site a few miles away to try dusking for the species there. I found two individuals fairly quickly and texted my friend to see how he was getting on - no luck so far, oh no, what do I do now? Relief came quickly with another text saying that he'd got one. By the time I got back he'd seen at least four plus a Hop-garden Earwig!

Marsh Mallow Moth - not the most stunning species!
Next came a long drive, followed by a long walk to a 'secret' site for the legally protected Fisher's Estuarine Moth. As this species is on Schedule 5 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act, it is an offence to 'disturb' it. We searched the foodplant by torchlight and easily found two adults, neither of which were 'disturbed' - both sat quietly where we found them whilst we took our photo's. The use of flash doesn't create a good effect with moths but there's no option to take this species away to photograph in daylight.

The final twitch of the day took us to Sheerness docks where we hoped to see a stunning creature. We arrived around midnight and spent over an hour searching the dock walls without a sniff of our target. Just as we were losing hope and the rain was starting to fall, my friend spotted one hidden in a crack in the wall. Ok so we'd seen it but it wasn't very satisfactory. Very quickly we found two more but they were also hiding in the cracks, then finally......

Yellow-tailed Scorpion

Finally arrived home well after 4am. So, pointless twitching? Not for me, one of the most enjoyable days natural history that I've had.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this blog post as a recent convert from birding to the pan-species malarkey. It did remind me of a round robin twitch for birds but made me pause and think that I do this sometimes with a couple of other good pan-species listers in Devon now and then.

    It doesn't hurt anyone and makes us happy.