Author Interview: Gavin Thurston, Journeys in the Wild: The Secret Life of a Cameraman

© Gavin Thurston.

Award winning Blue Planet II and Planet Earth II cameraman Gavin Thurston took some time to sign copies and answer our question about his new book, Journeys in the Wild and his adventures filming the world’s most charismatic animals in spectacular and remote locations.

 

 

© Gavin Thurston.

1. Could you tell us a little about your background and how you got interested in filming and photographing wildlife?

 

 

My first childhood memories are when growing up in Petersfield in Hampshire. A green and leafy part of England. My sister and I used to go and stay with my grandparents who lived near the village of Selbourne close to the South Downs. This was home to the 18th Century literary naturalist Gilbert White. My Granny had a shared interest in nature and had great knowledge of the wildflowers, butterflies and trees of the area. I believe it was her enthusiasm that set the seed to grow a passion for nature in my inquisitive young mind.  As a young frustrated artist, I found an outlet in photography, and later on, in moving images, combining the two passions to spend much of my career filming wildlife.

© Gavin Thurston.

2. What inspired you to write your book?

Mostly due to my career. I have had so many wonderful experiences and adventures around our planet. I have witnessed more of nature’s wonders than anyone has the right to do. When I told stories to family or friends the most common response was ‘You should write a book!’. So, before I got too decrepit to remember the details, I tried to get on with it. It’s only when I was contacted out of the blue by commissioning editor Emily Barrett, from Orion Publishing, with a book offer, that I signed a contract and then had to bloody well get on and finish it!

© Gavin Thurston.

3. What contribution does wildlife photography and filming make to conservation?

Hopefully the films I work on help to instill in viewers both an interest and then a passion for the natural world. Just as my Granny did for me by showing me the beauty and intricacies of nature firsthand. Once someone takes an interest in what wilderness and wildlife we have left, then there’s more chance that they will take measures to reduce their impact on Earth. The more passionate and driven viewers may well then go on to either donate, campaign or volunteer on conservation projects. It’s only once we know what is out there and why we stand to lose it, that an informed audience can then make a choice on how to stop the decline of habitat and biodiversity.

© Gavin Thurston.

4. If someone was inspired to pursue a career filming wildlife, what advice would you give them to get started?

Spend as much time observing nature as you can. Get outside and see it for yourself. Explore and discover. Take photographs, or if you have the talent, then sketch the natural world. Britain has an amazing variety of species. Animals and insects are playing out life and death dramas all around us daily. Teach yourself how to document these engaging stories. Most teenagers have a smart phone these days, and most of these phones have pretty good cameras for photos and videos. Get out there and use them. Discover the natural world and your hidden talent.

© Gavin Thurston.

5. What is your favourite habitat to film in and why?

I can’t say I can pin down a favourite habitat. I love nature’s variety. Whether that’s dark, dense tropical forest or a rugged coastline, snowy Arctic expanse or vast sandy desert. All I can say is that I’m a big fan of truly wild places. The less human influence or signs the better.

© Gavin Thurston.

6. What is the biggest challenge when filming wildlife in the field?

The biggest challenge is to do the animals and habitats justice on screen without affecting or influencing their often already difficult lives.

 

© Gavin Thurston.

7. When writing your book and looking back over your career, was there one incident or animal encounter that stood out as exceptional?

 

 

I have experienced many extraordinary animal encounters, so it is difficult to single out one. There are a few in my book, so read ‘Journeys in the Wild’ and judge for yourself!

 

© Gavin Thurston.

8. Have you got any future projects planned that you can tell us about?

In this age on non-disclosure agreements I can’t say too much about future projects. I can hint though at one project I’ve been working on for the last year with Sir David Attenborough. It is conservation led, and hopefully will have far reaching influence on how we humans need to change our habits to try and restore natural balance on our planet. Watch this space…

Gavin signed copies of  Journeys in the Wild The Secret Life of a Cameraman for NHBS: order now while stocks last

Hardback| August 2019| £13.99 £16.99

 

Further Reading

Gavin’s book, Journeys in the Wild, is out now and available from NHBS.  If you want to discover even more about filming wildlife: BBC Wildlife Documentaries in the Age of Attenborough explores the history of wildlife television in post-war Britain and Untangling the Knot, Belugas & Bears by acclaimed wildlife cameraman, Mike Potts are both published in November.

 

 

Author Interview: Jens H Petersen and Thomas Læssøe, Fungi of Temperate Europe (2-Volume Set)

Authors,  Thomas Læssøe and Jens H Petersen have spent the last five years creating the wonderful two volumes set: Fungi of Temperate Europe. They have taken the time to answer our questions about this monumental and daunting project.

Could you tell us a little about your backgrounds and how you got interested in mycology?  

 

We both dived into the mycological forest sometime in the late seventies and subsequently studied mycology at the Danish universities of Aarhus and Copenhagen. Since then, we have both tried to make mycology accessible to a broader audience, both through countless excursions and mycology courses and through books and photography (the present work includes photographs from the very first years of this 40 years period). Check also the book, The Kingdom of Fungi by Jens H. Petersen.

Two volumes, totalling over 1,700 pages must have a been a considerable undertaking; can you let us know a little of the process and how long it has taken for this book to come to fruition? 

 

We have worked with the books for five years. Firstly, we made a long list of taxa we wanted to include and Jens started to develop the first identification wheels. We had the first dummy layout in summer 2015 and made the first version of the wheels for the Basidiomycota during autumn 2015. The asco wheels and the layout of the species pages followed in 2016. By summer 2017 we had a layout ready, but without text.

While Jens did wheels, layouts and photo-shopping Thomas produced the Danish texts online in our Danish Fungal Atlas database (www.svampeatlas.dk) and these were more or less finished during spring 2017. Then followed the long process of proofreading texts and editing them into the layouts. By summer 2018 this was finished and we started to do the translation into English. Fortunately, we had a couple of skilled UK copy editors who corrected mistakes and improved the language. The English edition was ready in April 2019.

The whole process was terrifying with respect to size which no one involved realised before they were deeply immersed in the books. The solution was to keep a tunnel vision most of the time, and just try to finish the one little piece of the puzzle in question and only on rare occasions emerge to the surface to look around and consider the distance to the goal line.

Who do you envisage using Fungi of Temperate Europe – what readership is it aimed at? 

Everyone with a basic knowledge of fungi.

The book uses ‘form group’ to identify and present the fungi rather than exclusively strict taxonomic groups; what influenced you to use form groups and fungi wheels?  

 

 

Scientists using modern DNA methods tend to split fungal genera into more and more narrow entities. As these are based on base pairs they may be absolutely devoid of morphological characteristics and thus impossible to work with for non-scientists. Thus any attempt to approach fungal identification in a strictly phylogenetic way will fail. It is for example impossible to construct a well functioning identification key to genera of fungi (we have been there several times, tried that and failed). This lead us to develop the multi-access computer key MycoKey (www.mycokey.com) and now later to try to convert the learning from MycoKey into book form.

What was your most surprising discovery whilst researching Fungi of Temperate Europe?  

That fungi are difficult but beautiful.

What is the biggest challenge when studying fungi?  

That fungi are mostly invisible to the naked eye unless they develop fruitbodies and when they do, the morphological plasticity of these fruitbodies is baffling. Thus good pictures are often worth more than detailed, lengthy descriptions.

After such an endeavour you surely deserve a rest, but have either of you got any future projects planned that you can tell us about?  

 

We are working on a book with new identification keys to Danish Basidiomycota. The overall structure of this will be built on the form group identification wheels from the present work but the species keys will be dichotomous, analytical keys with lots of illustrations. We believe that the two projects will supplement each other.

We would both like to dive deeper into the world of Ascomycota and possibly return to tropical mycology.

Fungi of Temperate Europe (2-Volume Set)
Aug 2019 £74.99 £94.99
The culmination of five years work from authors, Thomas Læssøe and Jens H Petersen

OUT NOW

 

 

NHBS Guide to small mammal survey equipment

Small mammals are common and widespread across many of our terrestrial ecosystems. They play a crucial role in ecosystem food-webs as key prey species for many carnivores and are also useful as indicator species for agricultural change and development. Consequently, surveys of small mammal populations can be a useful tool for ecologists, researchers, and conservationists alike.

Small mammals are most commonly monitored through the use of live traps. These allow a range of species to be monitored simultaneously and also allow biometric data such as weight and sex to be collected. In addition, estimates of population size and structure can be calculated using capture-mark-recapture (CMR) techniques. However, other more passive monitoring techniques such as dormouse nest tubes, hair tube, and footprint tunnels are also available. Below we will take a look at some of the most popular small mammal survey equipment.

Longworth Traps

Longworth traps have been widely used in the UK for many years. They are made from lightweight yet durable aluminium and have been consistently well documented in scientific literature and ecological reports.

The trap consists of two parts: a tunnel which contains the door tripping mechanism, and a nest box, which is attached to the back of the tunnel. The nest box provides a large space for food and bedding material to ensure that the trapped animal is comfortable until release. The sensitivity of the trigger mechanism can be adjusted depending on the target species, although Pygmy shrews have been known to be too light to trigger the mechanism. The door can be locked open for pre-baiting for ease of use.

The Longworth trap comes as two options: with a shrew hole or without a shrew hole (Please note that shrews are a protected species so ensure you are aware of the relevant laws in the country in which you are trapping).

Sherman Traps

Sherman Trap

Sherman traps are another popular live-trap which can be folded flat for ease of transport and storage. They work by a trigger platform which causes the entrance door to shut when an animal runs into the trap. Sherman traps are formed of one compartment and because of this, it can be difficult to add food/bedding into the trap without interfering with the trigger platform. The traps may also distort over time with repeated folding. Sherman traps come in a variety of sizes and lengths so that you can find a trap to best suit your target species and can be purchased as either an aluminium or galvanised version which is more resistant to rusting.

NHBS Water Vole Trap

If you are looking to trap and survey water voles, we offer a water vole trap which comprises an extra large (XLK) Sherman trap with its rear door removed and an attached nesting compartment. This trap is suitable for water vole survey, such as capture, mark, recapture studies, as well as water vole relocation projects.

 

Footprint Tunnel

Footprint tunnels are a less invasive method of surveying small mammals. Species presence/absence can be determined by examining the footprints made by mammals that have walked over an ink pad to reach the bait left in the tunnel. This method is especially useful for determining the presence of hedgehogs that are not otherwise easily ‘trapped’. The tunnel comes with a UK mammal footprint identification sheet; however it may be difficult to distinguish between some species of smaller mammals.

Squirrel Hair Traps

Squirrel hair traps are another non-invasive survey method that is designed for red squirrel survey. When squirrels pass through the baited trap, their hair is collected on sticky tabs within the tube. These hairs can then be analysed to determine whether red squirrels are present in the area.

 

Dormouse Tubes

Dormouse nest tubes are a cheap, easy and very popular method of determining the presence of dormice within a habitat. The tubes consist of a wooden tray and a nesting tube. Dormice make nests in the tubes and it is these that are used as indicators of their presence in the habitat. Dormice are legally protected in the UK and must not be handled unless you have a licence to do so. Nest tubes can be set up and checked without a licence until the first evidence of dormouse activity is found. After that, only a licensed handler can check them.

Dormouse Footprint Tunnel

Dormouse Footprint Tunnels offers a very low disturbance method of detecting dormouse presence in a habitat. Dormice passing through the tunnel have to cross over inked pads which cause them to leave characteristic footprints on the card or paper inserts. The Suffolk Wildlife Trust and CIEEM have suggested that footprint tunnels may be a more effective survey tool within scrub and hedgerow habitats than dormouse tubes, and equally as effective in high canopy woodland.

Accessories

Listed below are some of the essential accessories which are required for surveying small mammals:

Small Mammal Holding Bag
£2.50

Pesola Light-Line Spring Scales
From £35.00

Pesola PTS3000 Electronic Scale
£126.00

Heavy Duty Extra-Large Polythene Sample Bags
£0.70 per bag

Animal Handling Gloves
£5.69 5.99

Marking Flags
£2.50 for 10

Field Guides and Books

There are many excellent field guides and books available which can greatly assist with reliably identifying and surveying small mammals in the UK.

Live Trapping of Small Mammals
Paperback| Jul 2019| £7.99
Published by  The Mammal Society, this compact guide is the essential text for anybody looking to survey small mammals in the UK. It contains detailed practical instructions on survey methodology, complemented by colour photographs and illustrations.

Britain’s Mammals
Paperback| Apr 2017| £17.99
The perfect companion for anyone interested in watching mammals. This field guide combines concise descriptions of species life-history and distribution along with detailed colour photographs to help you reliably identify the mammals of Britain and Ireland.

The Analysis of Owl Pellets
Paperback| Apr 2009| £4.99
This handy booklet provides information on how to identify and analyse the undigested small mammal remains found in owl pellets.

 

Britain’s Mammals 2018
Paperback| Jun 2018| £17.99
This review uses more than 1.5 million biological records to provide the best available assessment of population size, geographical range, temporal trends, and future prospects of the 58 British terrestrial mammal species.

A note on licensing

Please note that some small mammal species are protected by law (e.g. shrews and dormice in the UK) and you must obtain a license from Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage or the Natural Resources Wales if you set traps with the intention of trapping any species of shrew. Please ensure you are aware of and meet the requirements of any relevant laws in the country in which you are trapping. Please visit https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/survey-or-research-licence-for-protected-species for more information.

Penguin Random House South Africa: Publisher of the Month for August

Penguin Random House South Africa is the leading specialist Natural History publisher in southern Africa. Written by the region’s respected authorities in their fields, they are essential reading for anybody visiting, or fascinated by its unique and spectacular flora and fauna. In 2015, Random House Struik  and Penguin Books South Africa merged to form Penguin Random House South Africa and their publishing out-put has been going from strength to strength.

Recent and forthcoming

 

 

 

 

Recent publications have included: an update to the Field Guide to Common Trees & Shrubs of East Africa, a new title describing South Africa’s Scorpions and a guide to Fungi of South Africa and one for the region’s Dragonflies, both published soon.

Bestsellers

Our top five bestselling Penguin Random House South Africa titles:

SASOL Birds of Southern Africa
Paperback| Oct 2011| £12.50 £15.50
Meticulously illustrated, with labels pinpointing key differentiating features. Distribution maps show the relative abundance of a species in the region and also indicate resident or migrant status.

Stuarts’ Field Guide to Mammals of Southern Africa
Paperback| Oct 2017| £13.99 £16.99
Detailed descriptions of each species, offering insight into key identification characters, typical behaviour, preferred habitat, food choice, reproduction and longevity.

 

Field Guide to Succulents of Southern Africa
Paperback| August 2017| £14.50 £17.50
User-friendly, richly illustrated field guide features more than 700 southern African succulents, focusing on the most interesting and commonly encountered species.

 

Field Guide to Butterflies of South Africa
Paperback| August 2005| £15.99 £18.99
The introduction discusses biology, behaviour and anatomy, and a comprehensive section on individual butterfly species provides a wealth of information.

 

Baobabs of the World
Paperback| August 2016| £9.99 £12.99
An extraordinary and majestic tree found principally in Madagascar, and peripherally in Africa and Australia.

 

We are delighted to feature Penguin Random House South Africa as our Publisher of the Month for August and look forward to them continuing to publish books celebrating southern Africa’s remarkable wildlife heritage.

And, with some great price offers in August across all their UK distributed titles, now is a great opportunity to discover South Africa’s flora and fauna.

All price promotions valid until August 31st 2019

 

 

 

Biodiversity News

Hope for ‘lost’ shark

A television crew have apparently confirmed the continued existence of the Pondicherry Shark, which was feared to be extinct having not been seen with certainty since the 1970s. This small species resembles the more familiar reef sharks, and is known from very few scattered records in shallow coastal waters and rivers in southern Asia. If it does survive, the Pondicherry Shark is likely to be extremely rare, but it is hoped that this discovery will pave the way for targeted conservation effort and further monitoring.

Butterfly invasion

The UK is experiencing an invasion of migratory Painted Lady butterflies in what is being described as a ‘once in a decade’ event. The offspring of butterflies that reached Britain earlier in the summer are now beginning to emerge in great numbers, and this is being boosted further by the continued arrival of migrants from continental Europe. It remains to be seen whether the current invasion will top the last ‘Painted Lady year’, in 2009, during which an estimated 11 million butterflies arrived in the country.

New albatross species

A new species of long-extinct albatross has been described after the discovery of a skull dated from the Pliocene period, around three million years ago. The species, Aldiomedes angustirostris, was far smaller than any modern-day albatross, and had a much narrower bill, which suggests that it was a specialised fish-eater. This finding shows that albatrosses were formerly more diverse, but smaller species may have disappeared as competing fish-eating seabirds, such as cormorants and gannets, became more common.

 

The Big Butterfly Count 2019

It is that time of year again when every garden, hedge and field seems to come alive with butterflies. As we approach the height of summer many of our resident butterfly species will continue to emerge, reaching peak numbers in July and August, when temperatures and weather patterns are typically at their most favourable. Unfortunately, due to the ongoing effects of climate change, habitat fragmentation and the intensification of agriculture, many of our most common species have declined across the UK. These declines are worrying for many other species too as some butterfly populations act as ecosystem monitors, whereby their successes and failures may allude to the overall health of our ecosystems.

To monitor and mitigate these declines, Butterfly Conservation started the Big Butterfly Count in 2010. This annual programme asks members of the public to spend 15-minutes recording the butterflies that they see in their favourite spot and submit their records afterwards. These data are collated and analysed, allowing us to look at how butterflies have fared for the year. In the long-term these records allow us to track trends in butterfly populations. With this information researchers and conservation bodies can identify and act to protect some of our most vulnerable species.

The Big Butterfly Count of 2019 will take place from the 19th July to the 11th August. To take part, all you need to do is download the Big Butterfly Count App onto a smartphone or tablet, or print out a recording sheet from the website, spend 15 minutes counting the butterflies you see and then submit your records online at at https://www.bigbutterflycount.org or via the free Big Butterfly Count app.

The Big Butterfly Count asks you to record sightings of seventeen butterfly species and two day flying moth species. Here at NHBS we have compiled a short guide on which butterflies you are likely to see during your surveys as well as some tips on the features by which you can distinguish certain species.

Gardens

For many of our target butterfly species we need look no further than our back gardens. In the UK many generalist species of butterflies can survive in the patchwork of gardens that stretch out across the country. These species are drawn in by the bountiful supply of nectar offered by flowering plants such as Buddleia, which are seldom without a visiting Red Admiral or Peacock. Gardens with unmanaged patches are even more favourable as these can provide larval host plants such as thistles and nettles, the latter of which is used by four different butterfly species.

Look out for:

1. Large White: Large and often found near brassicas & nasturtiums
2. Small Tortoiseshell:
Medium sized, often bask in open sunny spots
3. Red Admiral:
Large and territorial, with unique black and red colours
4. Painted Lady:
Large fast flyers  with very angular wings
5. Small White: Medium size with yellowish under-wings, feed on brassicas
6. Peacock:
Large, dark butterfly with distinct eye spots on its wings

Grasslands, Parks and Fields

Grasslands are an incredibly valuable habitat to many of the UK’s moths and butterflies. For our target species the relevant habitats include areas of semi-natural grassland, pasturelands, arable land, urban parkland and any areas with rough unmanaged grass. In the height of summer these areas can be teeming with Skippers, Common Blues, Ringlets and Meadow Browns. Be sure to inspect any flowering plants (particularly thistles and knapweeds) as these can act as vital nectaring points for many butterflies. Pay close attention for the fast and subtle movements of smaller species as these can often disappear against such a busy environment. A prime example of challenge is the Small Copper which is notoriously hard to spot due to its minute size, fast flight and discrete colouration (when its wings are closed).

Look out for:

1. Meadow Brown: Very common, with dull orange patches on the wings
2. Green-veined White: Have a distinct green colour around the wing veins
3. Small Copper: Small and fast, have deep brown & bright orange wings
4. Common Blue:
 Small with a vivid blue colour and unbroken white border
5. Six-spot Burnet: Has distinct patterns and colours, often feed on Thistles
6. Ringlet: Common, wings can appear black and have distinct yellow rings
7. Marbled White: Large slow flyers with a unique chequered pattern

Hedgerows and Woodland-Edge

Edge habitats are well known for their butterfly diversity and abundance, housing many threatened and elusive species. For the Big Butterfly Count there are a few species which you are likely to see in these areas, however species such as the Brimstone, Speckled Wood and Gatekeeper can occur in several other habitats. Sunny areas with flowering shrub such as Bramble are hotspots for activity, particularly for Gatekeepers. Holly Blues may be hard to spot as they are mostly arboreal, only descending to feed on flowering plants such as Ivy. Woodland interiors are unlikely to yield many butterflies, particularly those with little light and/or limited forest floor plants, however open sunny glades are worth visiting.

Look out for:

1. Brimstone: Large with a powdered yellow/green colour and slow flight
2. Comma:
Large with a uniquely scalloped wing edge and fast flight
3. Gatekeeper: Small size, often found around hedges with bramble growing
4. Holly Blue:
Very small, flying around tree tops, especially those with Ivy
5. Speckled Wood
: Medium size, very territorial and regularly sun bask
6. Silver-Y: Very fast flying with a distinct silver ‘Y’ on the upper wing

Related products at NHBS

While you do not need any additional equipment to complete the Big Butterfly Count, there are a few items at NHBS which can make it a bit easier to help you tell apart some of the more fiendishly similar species.

Binoculars

Having a good pair of binoculars to hand is great for identifying butterflies from a distance; allowing you to quickly pick out distinguishing features. Binoculars with a short minimum focus distance (termed ‘close focus’) are an excellent choice for butterfly work.

 

Opticron Explorer Compact Binoculars
£59.00 inc VAT | 223738

 

 

 

Hawke Optics Nature-Trek Binoculars
£132.95 inc VAT £149.99 | 212966

 

 

 

Kite Caiman Binoculars
£249.95 inc VAT | 239178

 

 


Kite Lynx HD+ Binoculars

£519.00 inc VAT | 247915

Field Guides

Investing in a decent field guide is an excellent way to learn more about the butterfly species you are likely to see during your count. They provide you with detailed illustrations or photographs along with in-depth descriptions of butterfly development and behaviour for all 59 species found in the UK.

Guide to the Butterflies of Britain and Ireland
Unbound | January 2019
This collection of illustrations by renowned wildlife artist Richard Lewington are an excellent aid for quickly identifying the UK’s butterflies.
£3.99

 

Pocket Guide to the Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland
Paperback | January 2019
This beautifully illustrated pocket sized guide gives detailed information on the distribution and life stages for all UK butterflies in an easy to use layout.
£8.99  £10.99

 

Britain’s Butterflies | A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Britain and Ireland
Paperback | March 2015
This comprehensive field guide details the complete life history for all butterfly species found in Britain and Ireland, and includes a wealth of colour photographs for reference.
£12.99 £17.99

Collins Butterfly Guide | The Most Complete Field Guide to the Butterflies of Britain and Europe
Paperback | April 2009
This extensive field guide is an essential text for those looking to further expand their knowledge of UK butterflies as well as those species that are found throughout Europe.
£13.99 £18.99

Please note that prices stated in this blog post are correct at the time of publishing and are subject to change at any time.

Butterfly Conservation

Thanks to Butterfly Conservation for letting us use their images throughout this article. For more information on UK butterflies and how you can help them please visit Butterfly Conservation.org. As the organising charity behind the Big Butterfly Count they have a wealth of information to help you find and identify butterflies and moths. They also host butterfly counts and moth trapping events across the country, which are great to attend if you want to learn a bit more about these charismatic insects.

 

Author Interview: Mike Toms and Garden Birds

The latest addition to the New Naturalist series is a timely study of the ways in which birds use our gardens.  Garden birds provide a connection to nature and wildlife and  a huge increase in the use of feeders and nest-boxes is a testament to their value.  Author, Mike Toms has worked with the BTO since 1994 and his work on projects such as the Garden BirdWatch scheme makes him the perfect author for Garden Birds

Mike, signing Garden Birds

Mike Toms has taken the time to signed a limited number of first editions hardbacks of Garden Birds and answer a few questions about his work for the BTO and his interest in garden birds.

 

Can you tell us a little about your background and how you got interested in garden birds?

When I joined the BTO back in 1994 I had been working on owls, hence the earlier New Naturalist volume on the subject, but after working on a range of topics I took on the BTO’s Garden Ecology Team in 2001. Over the following years, through long term projects like BTO’s weekly Garden BirdWatch and the seasonal Garden Bird Feeding Survey, plus some one-off targeted surveys, our team began to explore how birds use gardens and the resources that they provide. This work, which in more recent years expanded to examine the impacts of diseases, such as trichomonosis and paridae pox, and the broader urban environment, has resulted in a great deal of new information, much of which is presented in the book. Gardens have always fascinated me because they are the place where people most often encounter elements of the natural world. Garden birds are common currency for conversation for many people, just like football or music are for others. This means that we have an opportunity to understand birds lives through citizen science surveys, and to inform decisions about how we garden and how we shape our urban environments for their benefit.

What are the biggest changes to populations and distributions of garden birds within the last ten or twenty years?

As our recent paper shows, the communities of birds using garden feeding stations have changed dramatically since the 1970s, when we first started monitoring them through BTO surveys. The provision of a growing range of foods now presented at garden feeding stations has increased the diversity of birds visiting, with feeders no longer dominated by just a handful of species. Changes to feeder design have also played their part, providing access to species that were previously unable to take advantage of them. Long term figures, viewable on the BTO Garden BirdWatch and Garden Bird Feeding Survey (GBFS) web pages reveal the winners and losers over time – GBFS data show the long-term decline of House Sparrow and increase of Woodpigeon particularly well. Perhaps the most dramatic change has come from the emergence of finch trichomonosis, a disease that brought about the sudden collapse in Greenfinch populations. We have been able to monitor the emergence of this disease, and its impacts at a population level, thanks to those who participate in BTO surveys.

 

What single thing or activity can be a hinderance to birds living in, or wanting to live in gardens?

Gardens include both opportunities and risks for wild birds and it would be wrong to single out a single factor, not least because the system is fundamentally more complex than this. We need to remember that gardens are an artificial environment, and it is the opportunistic and generalist species that tend to do best in them. As the book explores in its early chapters, the garden environment can alter bird behaviour, breeding ecology and survival in many different ways.

What role can citizen science play in surveying and monitoring garden birds?

Citizen science is absolutely central to the work being done to survey and monitor garden birds. Gardens are private in their ownership, so if we want to find out what is happening within them then we need to involve the owners of those gardens in collecting the information needed. Through BTO surveys like Garden BirdWatch we have been incredibly successful in this, but as the recent Gardenwatch projects – carried out in partnership with BBC, Open University and BTO – have shown, there is a huge army of citizen scientists out there, willing and able to help us increase our understanding of birds and the garden environment.

While writing your book; was there one surprising fact or discovery that you didn’t previously know that you’d like to tell us about?

There was an interesting study of House Sparrows breeding on an off-shore island that surprised me in its relevance to how birds cope with the built environment. We know that background noise can impact on urban birds, and indeed those living close to airports and roads, but it can be difficult to test such impacts experimentally. The House Sparrows breeding on this island varied in their breeding success, with pairs nesting close to the island’s generators showing reduced breeding success. The noise from the generators reduced the ability of the parent birds to respond to the food begging calls of their chicks, reducing the amount of food provided and lowering chick survival. The generators only ran for part of each day, so the researchers were able to prove the impacts of the noise by watching how provisioning rates changed depending on generator activity.

What are your hopes for the future for garden birds?

There is still a great deal that we need to understand about birds living within the built environment. We need, for example, to understand the impacts of urban living on birds (and other wildlife) so that we can minimise the impacts that planned towns and cities have on biodiversity, but we also need to better understand the impacts that providing supplementary food has on their populations. Evidence relating to the latter is mixed, with some work showing negative impacts on wild birds and some showing positive benefits. Given the scale of food provision in the UK, this is something that we urgently need to address

Do you have any new projects in the pipeline that you’d like to tell us about?

I am currently working with YOLOBirder on a project that is seeking to raise funds for BTO and RSPB research into red-listed Birds of Conservation Concern. The book brings together an artist and a writer for each of the 67 red-listed species. As well as contributing a text, I am putting the book together and, with luck, it should be out in time for Christmas.

 

Garden Birds: New Naturalist Series Volume: 140
Hardback| July 2019| £52.99 £64.99 (limited signed copies)
Paperback| July 2019| £27.99 £34.99

We have a limited number of signed, first edition hardbacks, allocated on a first-come-first-served basis, so order now to reserve your copy.

 

New Firmware update for the Anabat Scout Bat Detector

Titley Scientific have released a new update for the Anabat Scout Bat Detector. The firmware update (Version 1.0), is an important update that should be applied to all detectors as soon as possible.

The Version 1.0 fixes the following bugs and introduces the following changes:

  • Fixed volume adjustment bug fixed, allowing the detector to remember user-set volumes.
  • Added a trigger min event to settings window.
  • The max memo file time is now set to 10 minutes (was 10 seconds).
  • Added a warning message when clock battery gets low.
  • Disable the audio output when recording a memo; reducing and preventing interference.
  • Fixed a bug that sometimes causes log files to be created in the root directory of the SD card.

Titley Scientific are continually improving the software to add features, remove bugs and address performance issues. It is vital that you install new updates as soon as they become available to ensure your detector runs smoothly.

 

How to perform the update:

Step One – The Anabat Scout is updated by downloading the new software onto an SD card. Simply download the update file using this link (.adx file) and copy this file, in its original format, in the root directory of the SD card. Make sure the file is named scout.adx. You can use the same SD card to update multiple Scouts.

Step Two – Insert the SD card and fresh batteries into your Scout then power it on. After a short period the message: “Firmware update 1.0 available. Would you like to update now?” will appear. Press the “Yes” key (top right hand soft key) to start the update. Do not remove the batteries or power off the detector while the update is being installed. Two squares will scroll across the display while the update is being installed and then the detector will restart. The update is now complete.

Note: To check that the update was successful or that the latest firmware is already installed on the Scout go to: Menu, Other, Update and check the version is 1.0

If any further assistance or advice is required, please get in touch with our equipment team at equipment@nhbs.com.

 

 

 

British Dragonfly Week – Author Interview with Dave Smallshire

Broad-bodied Chaser

In order to celebrate Dragonfly Week (13th – 21st July 2019), we interviewed Dave Smallshire, the renowned dragonfly expert and co-author of the excellent Britain’s Dragonflies field guide. Dragonflies and damselflies form the order Odonata and are some of our most iconic insects, with a fascinating life cycle. Damselflies are weaker fliers than dragonflies and have four almost equal length wings that they usually fold up when at rest.

Dragonflies have shorter hind wings and tend to keep their wings out when at rest. Primarily associated with glittering, iridescent glimpses at ponds and wetlands, dragonflies actually spend the vast majority of their lifetime (up to five years) as nymphs in rivers and other water bodies. Both the adult and nymph forms are ferocious predators. Adults are able to move each of their four wings independently and have exceptional vision, giving an astonishing aerial ability that allows them to select a single insect from a swarm.  Meanwhile the nymphs are able to jet propel water behind them and use their extendable hinged jaw (labium) to capture prey at lightning speed.

Johanna Huber

Dragonfly week is organised by the British Dragonfly Society and offers a range of activities designed to celebrate these amazing insects, including the Dragonfly Challenge where you can search for six species and submit your records to the BDS.

Interview with Dave Smallshire by Nigel Jones

1. Could you tell us a little about your background and how you got interested in dragonflies?

As a child I have fond memories of playing around water: dipping into ponds and canals and later fishing (without much success). As a teenager, birds became a passion (they still are), but other things with wings began to attract my attention, notably butterflies and dragonflies. Working in an agricultural entomology department in the 1970s, I was conscious that insect identification keys were useless in the field and it wasn’t until half-decent field guides appeared that I really got to grips with dragonflies and had seen most species by the mid-80s. Soon after, my colleague Andy Swash and I started leading a long series of weekend courses for the Field Studies Council in Surrey/Sussex. When Andy and Rob Still began producing the first of the WILDGuides ‘Britain’s Wildlife’ series, it was a natural progression for us to start work on a field guide to dragonflies.

Banded Demoiselle Copyright 2019 Sarah Clarke

2. Can you give a brief insight into the time and work that goes into producing a field guide such as Britain’s Dragonflies?

First and foremost, writing and producing such a complex book as Britain’s Dragonflies takes twice as long as you think it will! In addition to drafting all the text, we had to source all the images, which for the first edition (2004) meant viewing hundreds of slides and scanning the best. For subsequent editions, it’s been equally laborious to search the internet and choose the most suitable from many thousands of digital images. Then we had to get permissions and high-resolution files from the photographers. I spent many days with Andy editing the text so that it is absolutely clear and concise – not an easy task! On the publication side, Rob Still was guided through his production of both the illustrations and the amazing photomontages. It’s been hard work, but a real honour to be able to be involved in producing one of the best series of field guides available anywhere.

3. Dragonflies are iconic and familiar insects; how are they faring in terms of population numbers and distribution in the UK?

Until recently, we only had occasional atlas maps to show changes in range, but the British Dragonfly Society, in conjunction with the Biological Records Centre, has worked on a method to use ad hoc records from observers to produce national trends using occupancy modelling. We knew that climate change was aiding northerly spread of some species within Britain and colonisation attempts by species from continental Europe (which makes for exciting times to be out watching dragonflies), but we had little objective information on how our ‘resident’ species were faring. The latest analyses support the obvious increases in species such as Migrant Hawker and colonisers such as Small Red-eyed Damselfly, but also much less obvious decreases in ‘northern’ species such as Black Darter. There seem to be more winners than losers, but next year will see a full analysis for a State of Dragonflies 2020. The generally improved water quality and increase in the extent of wetland creation has no doubt helped many species – a general picture which is in stark contrast to the fortunes of other insects, and wildlife in general.

By Sensei Minimal

4. What actions could people take, either within their gardens, or in the wider community to help maintain or increase dragonfly numbers?

In gardens, the obvious answer is to dig a pond – I have two in mine, and they are a constant source of pleasure! Supporting the creation and ongoing management of wetlands in general is also important, so supporting local and national conservation bodies is a good thing. It’s also very important to gather records of dragonflies and help to monitor them, and everyone can help by submitting their sightings (the BDS website gives information on how to do this, as well as how to create a pond for dragonflies).

5. What was your most surprising discovery whilst researching Britain’s Dragonflies?

I have been astonished at how many images on the internet and in social media are misidentified. Even the experts get it wrong sometimes! Take care not to believe everything, and of course buy a good identification guide to help ….

Banded Demoiselle Copyright 2019 Sarah Clarke.

6. What is the biggest challenge when studying dragonflies in the field?

That’s hard to pin down, because I’m aware of so many potential pitfalls! Correct identification is fundamental. Finding out where to see the scarce species to expand your skills is hard, but easier with modern communications. Dragonflies are wary and not easy to approach, so close-focus binoculars and/or a camera are vital – the advent of good quality digital cameras has been a huge benefit. I’ve used a sequence of zoomable Lumix ‘bridge’ cameras over the last 10-15 years to help study wildlife of all kinds, both in the field and back at home. The British weather can be challenging too: a warm, sunny day makes all the difference!

7. Have you got any future projects planned that you can tell us about?

Andy and I have been working for about five years on Europe’s Dragonflies – which is now close to completion and is due for publication next spring. Like all the WILDGuides books, it’s based around high-quality images – in this case over 1,100 of them! It will be presented in a similar way to Britain’s Dragonflies but cover an extra 77 species.

 

Britain’s Dragonflies by Dave Smallshire and Andy Swash is available as part of our Field Guide Sale. For more reading on Dragonflies & Damselflies, browse our Odonata books

Britain’s Dragonflies: A Field Guide to the Damselflies and Dragonflies of Britain and Ireland
Paperback | August 2018
Focuses on the identification of both adults and larvae, highlighting the key features.
£12.99 £17.99

 

Atlas of Dragonflies in Britain and Ireland
Hardback | May 2014
Represents five years work by volunteers and partner organisations to map the distribution of damselflies and dragonflies in Britain and Ireland
£28.99

 

Our top picks for observing dragonflies in all their life cycle stages

Opticron Discovery WP PC Binoculars 

  • Free shipping for this item
  • Great value waterproof binoculars
  • Ideal for close focus work
    £169

 

Kite Caiman Binoculars

  • Exceptional close-focus
  • 15 year warranty
  • Entry-level binoculars with all-round performance
    £249.95

Professional Hand Net with Wooden Handle (250mm Wide)

  • Sturdy yet light and easy to use
  • Available in a variety of mesh sizes
  • Conforms to Environment Agency specification
    £61.99 £62.94

 

NHBS Pond Dipping Kit

This kit contains everything you need to collect freshwater aquatic life in one easy package. £31.99 £38.15 

 

Author interview – Dave Goulson

Dave Goulson is a Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex and nature writer, with a particular passion for bees. Bee Quest and A Buzz in the Meadow were bestsellers, and his latest book, The Garden Jungle is all about the wildlife that lives with us: in our gardens and parks, between the gaps in the pavement, and in the soil beneath our feet – an insight into the the wildlife that lives right under our noses.

 

Dave visited NHBS to meet the team and sign a few copies (now sold out) of The Garden Jungle.   He also answered a few questions about the inspiration behind his new book and his hopes and ambitions for the gardens of Britain.

 

  1. How did your interest in the natural world begin?

I’ve no idea! I have been somewhat obsessed by wildlife, particularly by insects, for as long as I can remember. When I was only five or six years old I remember collecting cinnabar caterpillars from the weeds on the edge of my school playground and rearing them up on my bedroom windowsill in jam jars. I never grew out of my interest, and have been lucky enough to find a way to make a living out of it.

2. Could you tell us a little about the research that went into writing The Garden Jungle?

I’ve been both gardening and studying insects for all of my adult life. The two go hand in hand, for if you grow the right plants, and garden in the right way, you can attract all sorts of insects to your garden. I’ve often done my scientific experiments from home, for example studying bee behaviour and the flowers that they choose. I also try out many of the techniques that are said to help wildlife for myself; my garden is full of more than twenty homemade bee hotels, two ponds, nine compost heaps, four or five log piles, a wildflower meadow area, half a dozen ‘hoverfly lagoons’ and more.

3. What fauna and flora gives you the most pleasure to see in your garden?

It is hard to beat the excitement of seeing the first brimstone butterfly of the year, a flash of bright yellow usually seen on the first warm day in late February or March, a sure sign that spring is coming. But bees are my real obsession, particularly bumblebees, colourful, furry, and endearingly clumsy insects that bring the flower borders to life with their buzzing activity.

4. Are you a keen gardener yourself?

I love gardening. When I’m not at work or asleep, I am somewhere in my two acre garden in the Sussex Weald, growing veg, fruit and flowers, and looking after the birds and the bees. It is my own little piece of heaven.

5. Have there been any changes over the past fifty years – either for the benefit or to the detriment of wildlife in the way people view their gardens?

There has certainly been a great increase in interest in encouraging wildlife into our gardens, for example via bird feeders, tit boxes, bee hotels and by planting bee-friendly flowers. Many of us believe that gardens can be places where people and nature live in harmony. On the other hand there have been many detrimental changes too; Astroturf lawns, decking, hard paving, and a huge increase in the number of chemicals available for use. Gardening has become big business; nowadays many people’s idea of gardening is to drive to some vast garden centre and fill the back of their car with annual bedding plants grown in peat-based composts, drenched in pesticides and sold in disposable plastic pots. There is nothing green about that approach to gardening.

6. If someone wanted to link gardens together for the benefit of wildlife, what would be your advice to enlist the neighbourhood’s cooperation?

Often the best way to convince people to change is to show them the alternative. If your garden is wildlife-friendly, invite your neighbours round for a coffee and show them the butterflies nectaring on flowers, the bees busy stocking their bee hotel, and the flowers in your not-too-tightly-mowed lawn. Offer them some seeds or cuttings of bee-friendly flowers; I give comfrey roots to anyone willing to grow them, it is one of the very best plants for bumblebees and I’m trying to encourage everyone to have a clump of it somewhere.

7. Do you have any new projects in the pipeline that you’d like to tell us about?

With colleagues at Sussex University I recently launched the Buzz Club, a nationwide organisation which is working with the public to do experiments to test interventions for garden wildlife. For example, we are asking people to test out creating a ‘hoverfly lagoon’, miniature ponds intended to provide homes for the offspring of some types of hoverfly. Find out more here: https://www.thebuzzclub.uk/.

Signed copies

A very limited number of The Garden Jungle, signed by Dave Gouslon are available from NHBS. *Signed copies are now sold out*

 

 

The Garden Jungle
Hardback | July 2019| £14.99 £16.99

The wildlife that lives right under our noses, in our gardens and parks, between the gaps in the pavement, and in the soil beneath our feet.

 

Discover other titles by Dave Goulson, on special offer until the end of August 2019

Bee Quest
Paperback | April 2018
An endearing account of the search for rare bees. – The Observer £7.99 £9.99

 

A Buzz in the Meadow
Paperback | April 2015
A fascinating look at the insect world found in one field in France – NHBS
£7.99 £9.99

A Sting in the Tale
Paperback | April 2014
A very readable introduction to the remarkable world of bees and bee conservation. – Good Book Guide
£7.99 £9.99

All prices correct at the time of publication.