Who am I?

An individual, of no great importance, who is unable to see the natural world as a place for competition. I catch fish, watch birds, derive immense pleasure from simply looking at butterflies, moths, bumble-bees, etc - without the need for rules! I am Dylan and this is my blog - if my opinions offend? Don't bother logging on again - simple!


Thursday 30 June 2022

Back at school

Way back, in the summer of 1994 aged ten, Benno needed a project to keep him occupied during the school holiday. All that mattered was that he kept a diary, of sorts, during the recess thus ensuring he didn't forget how to read and/or write. The brief was simple, he could make the project cover any subject he wished but, it had to be finished in time for the start of the new school year. Now whilst other kids, in his class, wrote about their holidays or growing sunflowers in their gardens, Benno knew exactly what he wanted to do. Thanks to the staff at Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory, Andy Johnson, Paul Brown and Tim Bagworth in particularly, we'd already been introduced to the wonders of moth trapping. His project, therefore, revolved around the building and running of a very basic moth trap in our tiny garden in the village of Ash. 

Using just a 60w light bulb the catches were nothing to get excited about but, as it was our very first experience with moths, still hugely enjoyable. The highlight, for Benno, during that project was the capture of our very first Hawk-moth, a Poplar, which he wrote about with great passion. His primitive artwork, which accompanied the tale, just adding to the excitement we felt about this monumental occurrence. The primitive trap was soon superseded by another, home-made, version but this time incorporated a 125w MV bulb and associated electrical gizmos. By the time I moved away from Ash and settled, with Bev, at our current address mothing had become part of the annual cycle. Aided by some highly gifted moth enthusiasts, my knowledge developed as the various experiences were played out. It could have been Pete Forrest at Ham Fen KWT Res or with Craig Sammels in the woodlands around Crecy, in Northern France. My involvement with mothing was elevated to another level. I owned portable generators and several traps, moths have the ability to do that to obsessive characters like myself. 

The early years, here in Dumpton, were rather exciting, as new species were added to our garden list. Obviously Bev didn't have a "Scooby" about moths and mothing, so it was nice to be able to share some of the adventure with her. Our first Convolvulus Hawk-moth was taken in October of 2001 and we were both stood in the back garden looking for the International Space Station to pass overhead when this huge insect crashed into the trap. Bev couldn't believe the noise it made, let alone the sheer size of the creature involved. My return to angling has somewhat dampened my enthusiasm for garden moth trapping, although not extinguished the flame entirely. With retirement has come another dimension to how I'm able to spread my effort. That gardening has been elevated from a chore to a pleasure is something which I could never have foreseen, likewise, the renewed pleasure of garden mothing has given me even more options for enjoying my encounters with wild life.

However, with this renewed enthusiasm has come a realisation of just how little about moths I actually know. The first incarnation revolved, almost solely, around the capture and identification of macro moths. In 2022 micro moths are fully established as part of the scene and, as such, I have so much more to learn, to the point that I'm almost back in the classroom.

Euzophera pinguis - Ash-bark Knot-horn

The incredible id assistance provided by the modern internet facilities are mind blowing when compared to those times when a copy of "Skinner" was as good as it got. Oh, and you might have been fortunate to have access to a copy of "British Pyralid Moths" by Barry Goater. I still have both on my bookshelves and now wonder how any of us managed to id anything using these publications for reference? Still, I've also both volumes of "The Moths of the British Isles" by South, dated 1965 thus a reprinted edition and, even more out of touch, a series of five volumes of Lloyd's Natural History, dated 1876 - yes that is correct 1876!, by W.F.Kirby on Butterflies (Vol 1 - 3) & Butterflies and Moths (Vol 4 & 5). Absolutely wonderful items to own, next to bloody useless for reference purposes.

One of the Coleophoridae group. 
That I require to kill it to ascertain a positive id ensures it will remain "un-id'd"

Crassa unitella - Golden-brown Tubic

With this renewed interest has come a realisation that my camera skills and techniques require some drastic improvements. I can't justify further expenditure on equipment, purely for this purpose, so will have to up my game with the kit I already own. New moths and advanced camera skills? Yes, indeed, I certainly feel like I'm headed back to school.

Friday 24 June 2022

My words can't do justice

There are many skilled wordsmiths who's written accounts have painted pictures, so vivid, that, whilst reading, I feel able to touch them. In some cases it is purely fictional but those accounts, which really hit the spot, are generally by folk involved with the natural world, of which I'm involved. Chris Yates and Len Head have penned many a word which captivated my imagination, such is their ability to convey far more than information within a sentence. Jim Gibbinson, likewise, can write about a fishing experience with such intensity that I feel as if I'm part of the event. Such talent makes me realise why I should have paid more attention whilst at school!

I've now undertaken three sessions on, the C&DAA stretch of, The Stour and have just seven Bream landed for my efforts. I knew it was going to be a struggle, even more so because Benno wouldn't be around. Have I learned anything? Well, only that I'm not good enough - if that's a lesson. Swim choice, bait presentation and rig mechanics; all of these things are important but, if you can't find the Barbel completely irrelevant. Way back in 2013 our campaign, behind Willow Close, was just as testing so I'll happily continue to use stubborn perseverance over limited ability.

If you don't use a centrepin - you ain't a Barbel angler 

Meanwhile, the garden moth trapping is getting silly. I turned the light off at 05.00 hrs, this morning, so was a bit late! As soon as I'd removed the funnel and bulb I could see that there was a crazy number of Elephant Hawk-moths inside the trap. I placed a cover over the perspex dome and put the trap beside my study doorway before returning to bed for another four hours! When I eventually got around to examining the night's catch I was blown away! Eighteen Elephant Hawk-moths along with three Privet Hawk-moths; bloody insane. 

Not too much to get excited about, after the crazy Hawk-moth count, but I did add The Delicate and an Obscure Wainscot to the 2022 garden list along with a Small Yellow Wave. It would seem that I might be struggling to catch a Barbel but can certainly trap a moth! And there, in that very simple sentence, is a summary of the skill-set I possess? Can't catch a fish which I'm targeting but have no problems with moths whilst I'm asleep and the flowers can excerpt their influence - more power to the watering can!

Although I try to downplay the role of garden moth trapping there can be no denying the pleasure I'm deriving from the current situation. I must also say thank-you, at this point, to a number of fellow bloggers who've. unknowingly, assisted with my camera techniques. The use of extension tubes with my basic 18 - 55 mm Canon lens has allowed me to record a few images which, previously, I couldn't have attempted. Many thanks to all out there in cyber land.

Garden Grass-veneer (Chrysoteuchia culmella)
Common as muck but seen by very few members of the general public!

Thursday 23 June 2022

Some beauties and a couple of beasts

 Overnight the 125w MV attracted a nice selection of moth species, the vast majority of which are to be expected almost everywhere in the UK. Hawk-moths were represented by a single Privet and nine Elephant, so a pretty good result, in my opinion. Migrants were rather hard to come by but I did record the first Vestal of the year plus a couple of Silver Y's. 

Burnished Brass is always a nice species to see whilst the "bad guys" were represented by a couple of Box-tree Moths. An Asiatic species which was first recorded in the UK in 2007 and has fast established itself to the point that it is now considered a pest!

Back down the river, tonight, for another session in search of those elusive Stour Barbel. Until such time as I manage to encounter one of these mythical creatures it would appear that garden moth news will provide the bulk of my blog content?

Wednesday 22 June 2022

Flower power

It would seem that garden moths (& mothing) are, currently, a very common subject for posts amongst the regular bunch of bloggers with whom I feel an affinity. Whilst my own involvement is but casual interest, there are a whole bunch of folk, out in blogland, who treat their mothing with a great deal more commitment. Ever since the start of the pandemic, my interest in gardening has taken on a new meaning. Yes, I've always cut the grass and pruned a few bushes as way of keeping the place looking tidy - ish? Now, however, thanks to the period of furlough I've gotten much more involved with actual plants and how the garden appears to visitors. It's not become an all consuming passion, just a way of using my time between other things I enjoy doing. I couldn't tell you the names of most of the plants that are growing in the various planters (home made), wall-mounted, and hanging, baskets plus assorted pots but do know the majority have been chosen due to their attractiveness to insects. 

It's not difficult to keep on top of the job, once the basics have been completed. Keeping the plants watered is now part of my daily routine and, around every ten days, or so, the added boost of a dose of Miracle-Gro plant food seems to be producing results. Out at the front of the bungalow there is a low wire fence which seperates our drive from that of the neighbours. It is along this boundary that a true wild garden exists. Red Valerian and Wild Spurge have created a superb boundary along this fence line and, although not planned, has proven to be a great draw for the local insects. Under these circumstances I can take zero credit whatsoever?

The wild boundary between the two drives.
Red Valerian is a superb attraction for many species of insect,
Wild Spurge? I live in hope.

Getting back to moths and all things garden moth trapping. In my own, skewed, little way I've probably exhausted any obsessive interest in moths in much the same way as I have "twitching" and circuit water "speccy hunting". I think the term "phasing", as coined by Gavin Haig, certainly fits the bill here. Been there, seen it, got the "T-shirt" Today I'm absolutely at ease, and just as passionate, about my involvement with our natural world, yet, it has to be done my way or not at all.  My garden mothing, therefore, isn't full on - "I must id every critter I set eyes upon" sort of thing. Instead, I remain curious, interested certainly, but not to the point where enjoyment is replaced by fanaticism. The micro moths I see are certainly an aspect of the hobby about which I have massive scope for learning. That these insects remained overlooked/ignored for such a long time is testament to the high degree of skill involved in getting a positive id. That some folk are prepared to execute their captures in order to ascertain genetailia detail speaks volumes about how sad/desperate those spread sheet/pan listing naturalists have become! It's natural history not a bloody sporting league table. If I'm unable to confirm an id from a photo, or potted moth, then I don't get an id - a very simple concept. My life still goes on and so does that of the unknown insect. 

One of the Momphidae clan, but I'm buggered if I can clinch it!

There must be a correlation between age and perception of what is important? Although I'm convinced it would be different for each individual involved in the equation? For me, therefore, the experience has to be about enjoyment as opposed to pushing boundaries. Sure, the "always learning" mantra will remain as I continue to explore the wonders of the environments I encounter along life's pathway. That I fail a few exams won't cause me any angst, and of that I'm certain! One thing that is of note about the current situation around our bungalow is the massive increase in the numbers of hawk-moths that are being recorded. So far, in 2022, these are my garden totals :-

Poplar Hawk-moth - 1

Lime Hawk-moth - 5 

Eyed Hawk-moth - 7

Small Elephant Hawk-moth - 2

Privet Hawk-moth - 3 

Elephant Hawk-moth - 37 (including 14 on 17/18th June)

To top this off, Humming-bird Hawk-moths are daily visitors to the Red Valerian in the front garden along with several butterfly species. I might never be a botanist, or gardener, but do know that, armed with a watering can, maintaining the flowers will do nothing other than assist with the catch returns of the garden 125w MV Robinson moth trap.

Tuesday 21 June 2022

Starting out and a garden mega!

Due to a medical issue which is Benno's story to tell, not mine, I'm starting out on this latest project alone. The quest for another Barbel from The (Kentish) Stour will remain a solo mission until the doctors give him the okay to resume normal life. Please don't get overly concerned, he's broken an arm; nothing more sinister or life threatening. The latest diagnosis suggests it will be another month, at least, before he will be able join in the fray. Until such time it will be me against these particular Barbel thus, the learning process, a journey of personal discovery as I push boundaries in search of answers.

So, as with any new venture, it has to start somewhere and late on Sunday afternoon I parked the van in the club car park prior to my first session. I spent over an hour walking the stretch before settling upon a swim that looked promising. I'd not seen any signs of fish, but that is very much part of the conundrum. Watercraft and experience played a major role in our previous campaign. Not that it made a great deal of difference as blanks were the norm and every Barbel, landed, truly hard earned. Eight years on, what's changed? That is the question which I'll be unable to give a reasoned answer until the first one is coaxed over the rim of my landing net. Until such time it is another leap of faith into uncharted territory.

I did manage three fish on my first visit but, sadly, they were all Bream shaped and not the streamlined torpedoes I was seeking. Got two more sessions planned for this week, so more chances to learn about the nuances of this wonderful river and those secretive inhabitants that I so desire.

So on to the garden mega, for what it's worth. These days garden mothing is nothing more than a sideshow, a way of enjoying the local wildlife without needing to get out of bed. There was a period when running the moth trap was a far more serious hobby but, happily, now long gone. Of course I still enjoy the daily ritual of checking the egg trays and, on occasion,  find myself getting quite excited when setting eyes upon a particularly well marked or scarce visitor. This morning I hit the jackpot with a proper "rare". An Eastern Bordered Straw, which is my second for the garden, was discovered on the second to last egg box I examined. Happy days and let's hope that kind of luck is capable of being transferred across to my Barbel chasing?

Sunday 19 June 2022

This one's for you Val

Valerie and Deb were two other guests, staying at the Irene apartment complex in Agios Gordios. Just like Bev, they were on holiday to do little more than chillax and get a tan. The Irene pool was, therefore, the hub of all things associated with this chosen pursuit. That these two, lovely, ladies were fully paid up members of the "happy-clappy" branch of the God Squad was a nice way to establish some mutual understanding. I still, proudly, wear Mum's St. Augustine's cross, around my neck, despite my own beliefs about that fairytale contained within the Bible. It was my explanation of the number 597, which is etched on my cross, which set us chatting about many things over the course of the holiday. It turned out that Val had an allergy to wasp stings. Basically if she got stung by a wasp, she could die if medical assistance wasn't rapidly forthcoming. In her bag was a syringe containing the medication required to combat the effects but, it wasn't a cure just a way of allowing some time to get assistance. 

The Irene pool and bar area where the social aspect, of being on holiday,
 was just as important as the sunshine. 

Given that this was the situation some might question the wisdom of Corfu being the chosen holiday destination and, even more so, sitting scantily clad around a pool. Val was acutely aware of any flying insects and treated them all as enemies, so that's where I fitted in. I was able to assure her that day flying moths, hoverflies and chafers were of zero concern. I was also able to reassure her about the local Ichneumon wasps being harmless, to humans, despite their ferocious appearance and lengthy stings. 

On my wanderings, I'd pot up odd specimens, in order to show them to Bev and the girls. A couple of moths and a Praying Mantis were par for the course but, I did catch one huge insect which I had absolutely no idea about. After the customary spell in our fridge I produced the creature for inspection, convinced that it was a wasp mimic species of some description. At nearly 6 cm in length it was certainly an impressive insect and I said to Val that I'd attempt to get an id when back at home. So that's what I did and boy did I make an error with my initial guess? It was, indeed, a wasp and the largest species in Europe to boot! With the scientific name of Megascolia maculata maculata - The Mammoth Wasp - I had Val absolutely intrigued with the creature contained, although rather subdued because of time in the fridge, within the open topped pot she was holding. So there you have it, a cautionary tale about taking any notice of a long-haired twat you meet on holiday!

Saturday 18 June 2022

We're back

Bev and I have been on holiday for this past week. We stayed in the resort of Agios Gordios, on Corfu, and had a superb time. Weather was everything you'd want and the company first class. Can't say that I put much effort into my natural history explorations, yet still managed thirteen additions for my self-found year list. Plenty of insects to distract attention and I must say that I rather enjoyed this aspect of the time spent on my wanderings. I will get round to writing up some type of trip report but, for now, will just post a few photos to set the scene.

The barbel of The (Kentish) Stour now require some attention. It's been a while and I'm rather excited about the prospects. I'm going down for a recce this evening, without any kit, but hope to get a bait in the river after the opening weekend rush has subsided.

Wednesday 8 June 2022

Back to square one

Well, as I had posted recently, Benno & I secured our C&DAA membership for the 2022/23 season and are now looking forward to renewing acquaintance with the Barbel of The (Kentish) Stour. It was August 2014 when I last experienced the thrill of such an encounter and an awful lot has changed in the intervening period. Brand new membership cards in our possession, my club sticker prominently displayed on the windscreen of the van, we drove the short distance from the club HQ to the river for our first look at the new section we've selected. "Jungle Warfare" might best summarise the challenge we have set ourselves but am sure that, between us, we've the ability to unravel enough of the puzzle to see a few fish landed? 

July 2013 - Benno lands our first Stour "double" - 11 lbs 6 oz

As we walked the bank our conversation was all about the challenges we foresee and how they might be overcome, or at least reduced? The physical effort involved in getting to the section ensures that any other angler(s) we encounter will be just as mad(?) about their quarry as we are. A pair of shears and secateurs will be just as important as rod and reel during the early stages of this campaign.  Neither of us have set any targets, purely because we are entering the unknown. Just as in the earlier campaign, behind the infamous Willow Close, we have a blank canvas on which to make our own mark. 

August 2013 - 13 lbs 5 oz
Willow Close memories are all about the successes not the struggle.

A recent chat with Dave Haworth, whilst down at Camo's Carp Cabin, revealed the capture of a 14 lbs + Barbel from the river just behind Fordwich Lake. That's not a million miles away from where we are targeting and such a specimen would be a PB for us both. Plenty to look forward to as the season approaches and, at a personal level, it will be nice to have something to focus on again. Ever since leaving the Heronsview Syndicate I've been at a very loose end. 

A Barbel from the Compound Swim on the Royalty Fishery (Hampshire Avon - 1985)
taken under the guidance of Fred Crouch - Mr Barbel himself! 

Quite how I'm going to approach this campaign will be governed by the early sessions as we seek an insight into the challenge we have set ourselves. One thing is for certain - I won't be pointing two rods into the heavens as if I were on Deal Pier. My Barbel fishing introduction was via the mentoring of the "Greatest" Barbel angler ever too have fished. Fred Crouch is why I got into Barbel angling and all he taught me revolved around watercraft and finesse. Attention to detail was his hallmark, absolutely meticulous about everything he did. Whilst mass baiting with maggots might not be on the cards, there is so much more that he taught me which remains relevant in current times. Sea fishing doesn't cut the mustard, however much in vogue the style is on The Severn or Trent where these fish are introduced aliens! (Just as they are in The Kentish Stour before you bother posting a comment)

Saturday 4 June 2022

Odds, sods & bloody moths

My struggle to find enthusiasm, to publish(?) blog content, continues. Although the rapidly approaching start of the new river season certainly gives me hope that my "mojo" will return! Benno and I are already hoping to get back down to The (Kentish) Stour to resume a Barbel quest which we last attempted in 2014. Ben now has his own business to run whilst, obviously, I don't have any such distractions thus, hope to be able to reap the rewards of my current situation. I've not set eyes upon the section of river we have in mind but, if it all goes to plan next Tuesday, should get a wander along the stretch prior to that hallo'ed 16th June resumption. One nice bonus, of fishing the river, is the presence of a population of very decent sized Chub. As my PB stands at a very modest 5lbs 2oz, I won't be too worried if a "brassy flanked chevin", or two, distract me from my main target. I've also got the added bonus of free time thus, an ability to react to weather conditions, making the most of opportunities as they arise.

The garden moth trapping continues to fascinate and frustrate, in equal measure, as I now look at miniscule insects which had previously been ignored. With the assistance of books and the internet I manage to id a reasonable percentage of those encountered. Failure and mistakes don't cause me any concern as it is just a way of enjoying our local wildlife, not my job or obsession. One really pleasing spin-off from this night time activity is the ability to show some of these wonderful creatures to my neighbours. The utter amazement registered by someone setting eyes upon a hawk-moth for the very first time is brilliant to be part of. That I've shared such moments with many of the residents along Vine Close is an absolute privilege. Sadly, despite the current influx, Striped Hawk has been conspicuous by its' absence - I've still not taken one! However, the resident species have been very cooperative and provide that certain something which causes adrenaline moments whenever a new egg tray is picked out of the MV trap.

The garden bird feeders have taken on a new role due to the incredibly successful breeding season our local, resident, species have experienced. I've altered what is on offer, somewhat, and removed two of the sunflower heart feeders; replacing them with a fat ball and peanut version. Happily these changes have proven to be a positive decision with constant activity at both new offerings. Starlings, Great & Blue Tits have had good first broods, yet the House Sparrows have taken it to another level. There are regularly in excess of one hundred individuals assembled around the feeders, 70% being juveniles. Parakeets and Magpies have also got youngsters in tow, although I've yet to spot any juvenile Green, Gold or Chaffinches.

Once it gets dark, although the garden is illuminated by the 125w MV moth trap, out goes the Hedgehog and Fox offerings. I use two different bowls with their contents supposed to be catering for the species intended. Obviously neither the regular Fox or the numerous Hedgehogs have read the script and will eat whatever they encounter first. The most surprising observation has been that of a Hedgehog refusing to yield to the Fox, actually raising it's spines and uttering a vocal protest, as the larger animal approached. A proper individual with attitude so no surprises it visits my garden?