Archives for the month of: March, 2013

I found this video of a wild european glass lizard last week. I’m becoming increasingly obsessed with it.

It moves like Dale Winton’s disembodied arm thrashing through a bush.

It looks like a penis that has been cursed by a witch.

When it starts to swim it looks a brown condom possessed by the spirit of a sea serpent.

It’s like a poorly designed anamatronic snake rallying against its programming.

I’m not a fan of the name European glass lizard. It doesn’t quite convey how different it looks like to other legless lizards. I’m going to champion a new name, possibly “The Blight”. I reckon that’ll envoke it’s sad eyes and anger at a cruel creator.

The Blight

6 – The Clifden Nonpareil

Clifden Nonpareil, credit to Harald Süpfle, via Wikipedia

The Clifden Nonpareil (also known, rather obviously, as the ‘Blue Underwing’), Catocala fraxini, has been ‘known in Britain since at least 1740’ (Heath, 1983). The earliest account I can find of this moth is from 1749, in Benjamin Wilkes’ wonderful, succinctly titled book  – The English Moths and Butterflies : together with the plants, flowers and fruits whereon they feed, and are usually found ; all drawn and coloured in such a manner, as to represent their several beautiful appearances ; being copied exactly from the subjects themselves, and painted on the best atlas paper ; together with an attempt towards a natural history of the said moths and butterflies.

I was planning on quoting the bit about the Clifden Nonpareil below, but I think a picture actually does the text better justice:


Wilkes' original description of the Clifden Nonpareil

Wilkes’ original description of the Clifden Nonpareil


As can be read above, the moth was first found in Clifden (or ‘Cleifden’, as Wilkes spells it) in Buckinghamshire; in modern times now spelt ‘Cliveden’. The ‘Nonpareil’ part of the name comes from the French for ‘without equal’. Essentially, in modern-speak, the moth is ‘Cliveden’s moth without equal’. Good name. (Interestingly, ‘nonpareil’ shares the same French root word as ‘umpire’)


This early record, however, probably does not relate to a resident individual. Indeed, the Clifden Nonpareil was probably only ‘temporarily resident [in Britain] in aspen woodland probably from about 1935 to 1964.’ (Heath, 1983). This expansion in range was probably due to favourable climatic conditions in the first half of the 20th century. In the 50’s and 60’s the climate again deteriorated, and ‘Several moths that had colonised southern England during the preceding period of favourable weather, now became extinct’ (Hawksworth, 2001).

It’s not all bad news though! There are possible indications that there may be a few, small fledgling colonies in Suffolk. Perhaps we are now in the grip of a recolonisation by this absolutely stunning beast.


EDIT: As always, I shun rewriting articles. After writing the text above, I contacted the moth recorder for Sussex regarding the current status of the moth in the county. Colin Pratt, the aforementioned recorder, provided me with a wealth of information and I am now forever in his debt.  The following quote from his book summarises the current status of the Clifden Nonpareil in Sussex:

A scarce immigrant now well established in both vice-counties since 2001 or 2005, the species continues to be repeatedly reported in the far east and freshly in the south-western corner of Sussex’ (Pratt, 2013)

So this post has actually ended up being about the recolonisation of a former resident – perhaps the Clifden Nonpareil would be better termed a ‘transitory resident’?

The larval foodplant is aspen, Populus tremulosa, and the adult moth is/was on the wing from August to September. And, speaking of wings, the wingspan of this rascal is in the range of 75 – 95mm. I’d love to see one someday in future.  I can’t shake the idea that if you licked it, it would taste of Parma Violets. Hopefully I will have the strength of will to resist the urge to find out.



Hawksworth, D. L. (2001) The Changing Wildlife of Great Britain and Ireland, Taylor & Francis Ltd., London.

Heath, J. (1983) The Moths and Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland: Noctuidae (Cuculliinae to Hypeninae) and Agaristidae, Harley Books, Essex.

Pratt, Colin (2013) Supplement Number Two to A Complete History of the Butterflies and Moths of Sussex, self-published.

In my leisure time, I enjoy reading Victorian natural history reports; I assume everyone does. During my reading yesterday I came across a wonderful account that I thought would be worth sharing on the blog.

The following quote comes from the Proceedings of the Royal Physical Society of Edinburgh, 22nd December 1858:

The stomach of a large pike was exhibited, which contained a water hen, Gallinula chloropus, and a water ouzel, Cinclus aquaticus, both apparently swallowed very shortly before the fish was captured. The pike weighed 30 lbs., and measured 4 feet 4 inches in length. It was taken on the estate of the Duke of Atholl, in Perthshire, and is now preserved in the valuable Anatomical Museum of the University.’

If I had gone for a walk in East Yorkshire and had only seen a dipper and a moorhen during that time, I’d count that as a decent bit of birding (Dipper being very thin on the ground there).  So that pike ate essentially the equivalent of a decent bit of East Yorkshire birding. Well done.

Killers from the egg: the malevolent aged grin.

They dance on the surface among the flies.


Or move, stunned by their own grandeur,

Over a bed of emerald, silhouette

Of submarine delicacy and horror.

A hundred feet long in their world.

I also found this video which our readers may like. Or hate. We seem to be very keen on the ‘ducklings being eaten’ side of things at the moment. 

In ponds, under the heat-struck lily pads-

Gloom of their stillness:

Logged on last year’s black leaves, watching upwards.

Or hung in an amber cavern of weeds


The jaws’ hooked clamp and fangs

Not to be changed at this date:

A life subdued to its instrument;

The gills kneading quietly, and the pectorals.


And here’s a video for all you Ted Hughes fans out there:

With a sag belly and the grin it was born with.

And indeed they spare nobody.

Two, six pounds each, over two feet long

High and dry and dead in the willow-herb-


One jammed past its gills down the other’s gullet:

The outside eye stared: as a vice locks-

The same iron in this eye

Though its film shrank in death.


–          Extracts of poetry are from Ted Hughes’ ‘Pike’. Blame him for the pretension in today’s post.

5 -The Norfolk Damselfly, Coenagrion armatum

Male Norfolk Damselfly, by Sulka, from Flickr

Male Norfolk Damselfly, by Sulka, from Flickr

The Norfolk Damselfly was discovered in 1902 or 1903 (accounts vary) in, surprise surprise, Norfolk, by Professor William Alexander Francis Balfour-Browne. It was first recorded from Stalham, and was subsequently discovered at Sutton and Hickling Broads. Most accounts give the year of discovery as 1902; but unfortunately I can’t find any early accounts of the discovery to confirm or deny this.

Coenagrion armatum was approx 32mm long and its flight season spanned from late May to mid July. Visually, it resembled a Blue-Tailed Damselfly. Males could be distinguished by their ‘strikingly long, curved inferior appendages’ (Brooks, 2004) as well as the top of their thorax being ‘almost entirely black’ (Brooks, 2004). Female Norfolk Damselflies can be distinguished from the Blue-Tailed Damselfly by their ‘broad emerald-green antehumeral stripes and prominent greenish-blue patches at the base of the abdomen’ (Brooks, 2004).

There does not appear to be much information available about the decline and extinction of the Norfolk Damselfly, and some of what does exist appears contradictory. Hawksworth states that ‘The population went into decline in the 1950s as the breeding sites began to dry up and became over-grown with reed, sallow and alder carr; this species was last seen in 1957’ (Hawksworth, 2001). Conversely, Tait & Tayler claim that ‘the Norfolk Damselfly was unable to survive the pollution of sites where it had previously thrived’ (Tait & Tayler, 2005). A slightly different view comes from Maclean, who quotes dragonfly expert Cynthia Longfield as saying the Norfolk Damselfly was ‘exceedingly rare’ in 1937 – which seems counter to Hawksworth’s view that declines started in the 1950’s. Maclean also adds the interesting point that the restricted range of the damselfly might indicate that it was in fact a ‘relatively recent migrant from the near continent’ (Maclean, 2010).

I personally wonder whether Tait & Tayler have possibly confused the fate of the Norfolk Damselfly with that of the Orange Spotted Emerald, which certainly seems to have met its end at the hands of pollution (perhaps the subject of a post another day?).

The idea that the Norfolk Damselfly was a recent colonist is an interesting one; it would certainly be a good reason for its restricted range in the UK. As the European range of the ‘Norfolk Damselfly’ is from the Baltic eastwards, recolonisation does seem unlikely. However, a population was rediscovered in the Netherlands in 1999, and only approximately 120 miles of North Sea separate the Netherlands from East Anglia. So if the population in the Netherlands was to increase, and given some suitable vagrant weather, and if some suitable habitat was to exist somewhere in the south-east of England, then possibly maybe perhaps the Norfolk Damselfly could recolonise. Lot of ifs.

Brooks, S. (2004) Field Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Great Britain and Ireland, British Wildlife Publishing, Hampshire.

Hawksworth, D. L. (2001) The Changing Wildlife of Great Britain and Ireland, Taylor & Francis Ltd., London.

Maclean, N. (2010) Silent Summer: The State of Wildlife in Britain and Ireland, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Tait, M & Tayler, O. (2005) The Countryside Companion, Think Publishing, London.

Another month has passed so we all know what that means. CHAAAAAAAARTSSSSSSSSS.

February bar chart February pie chartsThe more eagle-eyed of data enthusiasts will notice that Richard Comont’s score has gone down. This isn’t due to nefarious deeds or some benevolent lord penalising his efforts, it’s my absurd in ability to notice simple things. I misread his spreadsheet. Let’s all agree to forget it ever happened.
People seem to building up numbers impressively but not quite at the same rate as last month. My imagining this is largely due to poor weather, and most of the species present will be largely the same as last month. The few warm days that one would hope for February seemed few and far between. A few people have had the first amphibians of the year pop up, and a smattering of spring insect life has been seen.
Whereas last month birds seemed to the make the majority of species seen, this months biggest increases seemed to be plant life.  Africa has been particularly rampant botanically, nearly tripling an already impressive amount of greenery.
Species of particular note from the last month included-

The first odonata (in the form of common blue and azure nymphs) from my goodself

Dipper from Mr. Harding-Morris

Red Kite from Stacey

Alexandrine Parrot from Jess

Next month should see a big increase of inverts, hopefully some bees and the vast drippings of spring migration to arrive back.

Current tallies can be seen here



A snappy title I know.

So I was going to go along a similar theme to James’ recent heron post but then I reached a dilemma. His post had herons eating things slightly out of the ordinary. Greater Black Backed Gulls (hereby referred as GBBGs) eat awesome things all of the time. They seem to particularly like puffins. Like in here and here.  In fact, these videos show how adept they are at plucking charismatic auks from the sky.

Obviously restricting yourself to puffins when plenty of other adorable auks are going about with intact souls seems rather foolish.

It almost certainly didn’t want this to happen

This guillemot probably wanted to open a school for orphans.

Ducks are fair game, and often eaten in the sea, as if mocking a duck for daring to take on the sea.

Go on. Taste the salt water.

I’m fairly sure most birds are fair game. I’m not expert but this probably a cassowary chick (ok, its a bar tailed godwit, but nonetheless impressive. This mallard probably had a family just out of shot. It’s ok, as the GBBG helped the orphaned youngsters learn to fly. HAHHAHHAHA no it didn’t, it ate them.

I think this is a water rail, but it doesn’t really matter, as it’s essence was drained through it’s eyes as it drew it’s final breath. Shearwaters are treat similarly.

Probably best of all is this GBBG preying on an adult grey heron. A simpleton might thinking it’s trying to nab the fish, but that would be a basic for my taste.

This was probably done for a laugh. Impressive team work though. High fives all round.

It might seem impressive that a heron can eat a rabbit. Well it’s more impressive when a GBBG does it, because it’s probably just showing off or scaring a nun. Or explaining tidal patterns.

Of course, what would be the best way for a GBBG to harvest the most souls? Eating lots of small things? Obviously not, as the amount of soul is based on the size of the animal and krill have no moral compass. No, obviously the best way to get a lot of hearty nourishing souls quickly would be to just eat another GBBG.  Unfortunately it’s not quite as easy as it sounds. It’s basically watching gods fight while us mere mortals look on in pathetic terror.

Other gulls are fair game though. Especially when backed by the warm glow of the setting sun.

I like the wilted sigh of the cameraman towards the end. It perfectly captures the sense of bleakness GBBGs leave us with.

They can’t be all bad though. Some seem to enjoy some light puppetry.

Dance for me, my pretty

They can also dabble in other arts. It seems to be telling me something about the futility of being.

Edit –

Africa Gomez reminds me of this beauty. Optometrist to the sea