NHBS: In The Field – SiOnyx Aurora and Aurora SPORT

SiOnyx Aurora

The SiOnyx Aurora and Aurora Sport are two new night vision monoculars that offer ‘colour night vision’ – something new to night vision technology. A night vision scope is a handy tool for both the professional ecologist and the keen naturalist, especially at this time of year as the evenings draw in and the light levels fall. We wanted to test the Aurora’s night vision capabilities, along with the other features it offered to see if it lived up to expectations.

We tested the Aurora and the Aurora Sport. Both use an Ultra Low-Light CMOS sensor and should perform the same in low light settings. The main difference between the two models is that the Aurora has a built-in GPS, accelerometer and compass, and comes with an extra year warranty, whereas the Aurora SPORT is a budget version without these features and a 1 year warranty. Both cameras have up to 2 hours of battery life on a fully charged internal battery and records in 60 frames per second in either 360p or 720p resolution. The cameras also have a host of extra features including burst mode, time-lapse, panoramic view, self-timer, loop mode, slow-mo (shutter control) and HDR (High Dynamic Range) mode.

The SiOnyx Aurora SPORT (pictured left) and the SiOnyx Aurora (pictured right)

Setting Up

We ventured out to test the Aurora in daylight, twilight, and night conditions to see how the camera performed. The Aurora was very simple to use with each setting requiring a simple twist of a dial. Even the accompanying smartphone app was intuitive and quick to set up, allowing multiple users to easily view and record footage without needing to look through the device itself. The camera also had a tripod mount thread which was useful when wanting steady shots.

What we found

The Aurora was most impressive at dusk. Even at light levels when a phone or digital camera is no longer any use, the Aurora’s Day Mode footage is still surprisingly bright, if a bit noisy. Once switching to Twilight mode, the reduction in visual noise and clarity of bright footage was outstanding and is where we think this camera really excels.

The night mode would have been more useful if used with an IR illuminator, something that we would recommend if you are looking to use this camera in complete darkness, but it is still a very useful tool for when your own low-light vision starts to fail you. For example when watching deer, only a slight silhouette of a single deer could be made out by our own eyesight, and it was only with the use of the Aurora that we were alerted to the presence of the rest of the herd.

Our Opinion

The SiOnyx Aurora and Aurora Sport are two great night vision cameras. We were surprised at how easy the camera was to use and we were impressed by its low-light capabilities. The video and photo quality is at a lower level than most camera technology currently, but it is respectable for a night vision recorder. It is also worth noting that when viewed through the view-finder, the footage looked clear and crisp.

The app was a great feature when walking with other people as it meant everyone could see what the camera could view without fumbling around to pass the camera amongst each other in the dark. For watching more timid wildlife, the app was too bright and the camera’s start-up chime needed to be turned off avoid spooking animals.

Our favourite mode was definitely Twilight Mode. This was especially useful when we could see subjects with our own eyes, but details were hard to make out and ordinary spotting scopes or cameras were struggling. The night mode was best when our eyesight began to fail and the camera highlighted subjects we would otherwise have missed. Without using an illuminator, the camera was ineffective as it became completely dark. An illuminator would greatly improve the performance of the scope in Night Mode and we would highly recommend one if you are thinking of using the camera as both a low light and night vision camera.


The SiOnyx Aurora and the SiOnyx Aurora Sport are available through the NHBS website.

To view our full range of night vision and thermal cameras, visit www.nhbs.com. If you have any questions on night vision or would like some advice on the best camera/scope for you then please contact us via email at customer.services@nhbs.com or phone on 01803 865913

Watching Wildlife – Our New and Favourite Camera Kits

The Hedgehog camera kit

Our brand new Hedgehog Camera Kit includes a high-quality wooden hedgehog nest box, designed and tested by the Hedgehog Preservation Society. It also includes a tiny camera that can easily be screwed to the roof or side of the box with no modifications required. The camera then transmits footage from inside the hedgehog box to your TV or smartphone (3 versions are available) for you to view your hedgehogs from the comfort of your home. With the use of a USB Capture device (sold separately), you can also view footage on your computer/laptop and set the camera to record with motion detection, meaning you won’t miss a thing overnight.

If you already have a wooden hedgehog nest box and would like to attach a camera to it, please feel free to contact us for advice on 01803 865913 or at customer.services@nhbs.com.

Nest Box Camera Kit – Wired Camera

The Wired Nest Box Camera kit is a great choice if you haven’t used a nest box camera before. The kit comes with everything you need to get started, including a camera-ready nestbox. A wired camera produces reliable footage and is easy to set up following the step-by-step instructions.

 

IP Nest Box Camera

For those who have used nest box cameras before, or want more from their camera, an IP nest box camera is a good next step. With a bit of setup, you can livestream the footage from this camera to anywhere in the world.

 

Bushnell NatureView Live View

A NatureView Live View is a great camera for garden wildlife. It features a plug-in screen that helps you get your camera positioned correctly when setting up, and also comes with 3 close focus lenses for when you would like to record smaller animals such as birds or small mammals. It features a quick 0.2 second trigger speed and takes 14MP with 1920 x 1080p footage.

 

Browning Dark Ops Pro X 20MP

Browning’s Dark Ops Pro X 20MP is another great trail camera with some impressive specifications for its price. It records HD videos (1600 x 900 HD+) and 20MP images and has a 0.22 second trigger speed – great for capturing faster wildlife such as foxes or deer. It also features a built in viewing screen for easy setup and No-Glow IR LEDs that are invisible to humans or wildlife.

Starter Bundles

If you are looking to buy a trail camera and want to start capturing images and videos as soon as it arrives, then you may want to take a look at our starter bundle options. These bundles come with a memory card and batteries to ensure you have everything you need to get started.

Would you like some more advice on which trail camera or nest box camera is most suitable for you? Contact us on +44 (0)1803 865913 or email customer.services@nhbs.com . Alternatively, reply below and we will get back to you.

Biodiversity News

Greater evolutionary diversity in the Amazon is associated with higher forest productivity

An international team of researchers from the University of Leeds have discovered that Amazon forests with the greatest evolutionary diversity grow faster. The team studied the long term records of 90 plots from the Amazon Forest Inventory Network (RAINFOR) and ForestPlots.net to track the productivity of individual trees across the Amazon. By comparing these records with DNA sequence data – revealing evolutionary relationships between all the species – the team examined the links between growth rate and diversity. The results showed that the plots with the greatest evolutionary diversity grew a third faster than areas with less evolutionary diversity.  

 

A tree in Brazil’s arid northeast rains nectar from its flowers

When studying bat pollination in the Caatinga region of Brazil, researcher Arthur Domingo de Melo discovered flowers that produce ‘sweet rain’. Hymenaea cangaceira is a flowering plant that produces so much pungent nectar from its ivory flowers that it overflows and drips down onto the forest floor below. This shower of nectar only happens after sunset during the reproductive season and is thought to entice bats close enough to be dusted with the plant pollen. Scientists believe that the ‘sweet rain’ is so nutritious, it enriches the soil below and keeps the trees healthy. 

 

Scientists recreated volcanic lightning by blasting ash out of a cannon

Using a form of fragmentation bomb, scientists from the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich have come a step closer to discovering how volcanic lightning is formed. It was thought that the collision of ash particles was involved but the details eluded researchers. In a study published in the journal, Geophysical Research Letters, the research revealed that generally drier ash produces more lightning, however, outside of laboratory experiments, more factors could be at play.  

Introducing the NHBS Moth Trap

The NHBS Moth Trap is an exciting new lightweight and highly portable Skinner moth trap designed and manufactured onsite at our Devon workshop. It is constructed from lightweight plastic panels covered with a light-coloured nylon material, and is assembled using Velcro. Once assembled the trap container has two panels which help prevent trapped moths escaping. The electrics are added by sliding the light holder into the wall supports.  When fully assembled the trap measures approximately 30cm wide x 30cm deep x 50cm tall, it is mains powered and will run a single 20W Blacklight bulb. A benefit of these bulbs is that they will not shatter in contact with rain, however, like with every moth trap we would advise against using it during adverse weather.

The NHBS Moth Trap is designed with portability in mind. It comes supplied with a lightweight carry bag that you can use to transport and store the trap when not in use. This bag measures approximately 30cm wide and 45cm tall when all trap components are included. The complete trap only weighs around 1.6kg; much lighter than the typical solid plastic assemblies of other Skinner traps.

Butterfly Conservation’s review of the trap

In August 2019 we sent our trap to Phil Sterling, one of Butterfly Conservation’s leading moth scientists and author of the ground-breaking “Field Guide to the Micro-Moths of Great Britain and Ireland”. Phil was kind enough to set out our trap over six different nights and offer his feedback on how it fared.

“The trap is very good, and comparably better in my view than equivalent 20W tube traps on the market currently though I haven’t run comparative studies as such. However, I do regularly run a similar sized black plastic trap with a similar 20W bulb, along with a Robinson 125W mercury vapour trap several metres away, as my standard night time trapping in my garden. Using the NHBS trap in an identical position, the NHBS trap has been surprisingly good, consistently catching more moths than I would expect each time, comparing it with the catches in the black plastic trap.

I like the NHBS Moth trap because it is covered with white nylon, which glows with UV light at night when the light is on. I think this helps attract the moths, and critically, by being fairly light inside the trap itself, the moths readily calm down and rest until morning. I also like the portability of the NHBS trap, and particularly that it doesn’t need a rain shield.

I would definitely recommend this trap.”

Phil Sterling’s haul from a night’s trapping in August

The NHBS Moth Trap is now available on the NHBS store here. We are grateful to Butterfly Conservation and Phil Sterling for their generosity in reviewing our trap.

To view our full range of entomological equipment please visit www.nhbs.com. If you have any questions on moth traps or would like some advice on the best trap for you then please contact us via email at customer.services@nhbs.com or phone on 01803 865913.

Author Interview: Mark Carwardine, Handbook of Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises

 

Mark Carwardine, on location in Nunavut.

Mark Carwardine is a zoologist, TV and radio presenter, wildlife photographer and bestselling author. He’s written over 50 books about wildlife, travel and conservation including bestsellers like Last Chance to See and Mark Carwardine’s Guide to Whale Watching in Britain and Europe. In his latest book, an outstanding field guide, Mark  Carwardine details the identifying traits and distribution of all 90 species and subspecies of Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises.

 

Mark Carwardine, signing his new book

Mark Carwardine has taken the time to sign a limited number of first edition copies of the Handbook of Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises and answer our questions about the book, his life studying whales and humanity’s role in their survival.

 

 

  1. In your recent books, you’ve given us an insight into the world of whale watching. What motivated you to study cetaceans?

I’d just finished studying zoology at university (I couldn’t have done anything else – all I’d ever wanted to do since I can remember was to work with animals) and I had my first whale encounter. I was 21 years old, on a half-day trip from Long Beach, California, when a grey whale suddenly breached right in front of me. In my mind’s eye, I can see it leaping out of the water and remember deciding – at that very moment – that I wanted to spend as much of my life with whales as possible. Now I am a self-confessed whale addict and need to see a whale at regular intervals just to survive normal daily life.

Also, I think it is an incredibly exciting time to be a cetologist. These enigmatic marine mammals are incredibly difficult to study – they often live in remote areas far out to sea and spend most of their lives out of sight underwater – yet we now have access to space-age technology that, at last, is revealing some of their best-kept secrets

 

  1. You must have many stories about whales, dolphins and porpoises. What is your most memorable encounter with cetaceans?

I think it would have to be with the friendly grey whales in San Ignacio Lagoon, Baja California, on the west coast of Mexico. These 14-15-metre whales literally nudge the sides of our small whale-watching boats and lie there waiting to be tickled, scratched and splashed. Incidentally, if you’re wondering if it’s a good policy to encourage people to touch wild whales, consider this: if you don’t scratch and tickle them, the whales simply go and find a boat-load of people who will. Even the local scientists approve.

Yet it’s hard to believe that these very same grey whales once had a reputation for being ferocious and dangerous; when they were being hunted they fought back – chasing the whaling boats, lifting them out of the water like big rubber ducks, ramming them with their heads and dashing them to pieces with their tails. Nowadays, they positively welcome tourists into their breeding lagoon. Somehow, they seem to understand that we come in peace and, far from smashing our small boats to smithereens, they are very gentle and welcome us with open flippers. They seem to have forgiven us for all those years of greed, recklessness and cruelty – and trust us, when we don’t really deserve to be trusted. It’s a humbling experience, to say the least. I’m very lucky – I have been to San Ignacio more than 70 times over the years – but it still blows me away. It’s got to be one of the greatest wildlife encounters on Earth.

 

  1. Whales and other cetaceans are beloved worldwide, what is it about these charismatic creatures that humans connect with so strongly?

No one ever says, ‘I can’t remember if I’ve seen a whale’. A close encounter with one of the most enigmatic, gargantuan and downright remarkable creatures on the planet is a life-changing experience for most people. At the risk of sounding irrational and unscientific, a close encounter with a whale simply makes you feel good. Actually, it’s more than that. Just a brief flirtation with a whale is often all it takes to turn normal, quiet, unflappable people into delirious, jabbering extroverts. On the best whale watching trips, almost everyone becomes the life and soul of the party. Grown men and women dance around the deck, break into song, burst into tears, slap one another on the back and do all the things that normal, quiet, unflappable people are not supposed to do. I have seen it so many times.

It’s not really surprising: whales and dolphins are shrouded in mystery, yet the little we do know about them is both astonishing and awe-inspiring. They include the largest animal on Earth (the blue whale – the length of a Boeing 737) and some of the oldest animals on Earth (one bowhead whale was 211 years old when it was killed by aboriginal whalers – who knows how much longer it might have lived?) as well as the deepest diving mammal, the mammal with the longest known migration, the loudest singer, the largest carnivorous animal, and many other astonishing record-breakers.

Southern Right Whale, Handbook of Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises
  1. What advice would you give to the naturalist interested in cetaceans and wanting to learn more?

Read my new Handbook of Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises (I couldn’t say anything else, could I?)! It includes everything you could possibly want to know about all 90 species.

 

  1. What was the most challenging thing for you when creating this guide?

Well, it dominated my life for six years. I used to lie awake at night, worrying about whether to describe something as ‘blue-grey’ or ‘grey-blue’. I decided to go back to original sources for everything, which meant reading 11,000-12,000 scientific papers, poring over decades of my own field notes, and studying untold numbers of photographs and video clips. I also corresponded with species experts all over the world; they were all incredibly generous with their information and advice, often giving me new data before it has been published in the scientific press. I worked with three outstanding artists, too – Martin Camm (who did most of the illustrations), Toni Llobet and Rebecca Robinson – who, between them, produced more than 1,000 original and meticulous artworks. And as for the distribution maps… some of those took several days each. But, I have to say, it’s incredibly satisfying to see it all come together in this one book.

 

  1. What are your concerns or hopes for the future of cetaceans?

Sad to say, human impact has now reached every square kilometre of the Earth’s oceans. In particular, commercial whaling and other forms of hunting, entanglement in fishing nets and myriad other conflicts with fisheries, overfishing, pollution, habitat degradation and disturbance, underwater noise, ingestion of marine debris, ship strikes and climate change are some of the main threats being faced by whales, dolphins and porpoises around the world. We’ve already lost the Yangtze river dolphin, from China. The next to go is likely to be the vaquita, a tiny porpoise from the extreme northern end of the Gulf of California in western Mexico; there are probably just 10 survivors clinging on against all the odds. But the good news is that, with proper protection, we can make a difference. Whaling pushed the humpback whale to a population low of fewer than 10,000, but now there are at least 140,000 and counting.

 

  1. You say this will be your last book: now this guide is complete, are there any other projects in the pipeline?

Ah, yes, I did promise my family and friends that this would be my last book (by way of an excuse for never having any free time)! It feels like the culmination of a life’s work with whales and dolphins – and it will be my sixtieth book, which seems like a nice round number to finish on. But the trouble is that I love writing and have lots more ideas! In fact, I am working on a photographic book about the polar regions with the landscape photographer Joe Cornish (he is providing the landscape pictures, me the wildlife ones) – so I’ve already broken the promise. Apart from that, I’ve been setting up some new whale watching trips and am planning to do more radio programmes (I’ve missed doing radio), among many other things; and, of course, there is an awful lot to do on the conservation front that will keep me busy for a long time yet.

 

Handbook of Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises
Hardback,  Nov 2019,  £29.99 £34.99

This outstanding new handbook to Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises is a comprehensive and authoritative guide to these fascinating mammals.
With almost 1,000 detailed, annotated illustrations, this new handbook describes all 90 species and subspecies.

Signed copies available, while stocks last.

Browse our full range of cetacean books.

How to Choose a Pair of Binoculars

 

With the return of overwintering waders and ducks to the UK, it is a fantastic time to get out with a good pair of binoculars and enjoy the spectacle of thousands of water birds using our estuaries. A good pair of binoculars is an invaluable part of the naturalist’s field kit and they provide some of the most memorable wildlife encounters. There is an overwhelming array of sizes and specifications and it can be difficult to choose between them when purchasing a new pair. In this post we will provide a summary of some of the key features of a pair of binoculars, to help you find the best pair to accompany you on surveys, whilst travelling or when enjoying your local wildlife.

Once you have decided on your budget, there are a few key metrics that will help you decide which pair of binoculars will suit you best. With binoculars it really is worth paying as much as you can afford as the glass, lens coatings and specifications improve with every step up in price. All of the binoculars in the NHBS range are roof prism binoculars, they are all waterproof and come with a case and neck strap.

Magnification

Binocular models generally have two numbers in their description. The first of these relates to the magnification. (For example, 8 x 42 binoculars will have a magnification of 8x). In general, binoculars have a magnification between 8x and 12x. As you would expect, the higher the magnification, the larger objects will appear when looking through them. As magnification increases, the field of view can be reduced and you will need to ensure that you have steady hands or use some kind of support.

Lens Diameter

Larger diameter lenses provide brighter images at dawn and dusk. Photo credit: Paulo Valdivieso – www.flickr.com

The second number in the binocular model description (e.g. 8 x 42) refers to the diameter of the objective lens. Standard size binoculars tend to have objective lenses of 32mm to 42mm whilst lenses in compact binoculars usually measure 25mm. Larger lenses can dramatically improve low light performance and are particularly good for use at dusk or dawn. The trade off is that larger lenses are heavier. The most popular size of binoculars for birdwatching was traditionally 8 x 42, but with advances in manufacture and lens performance, 8 x 32 binoculars now offer fantastic specifications in a more compact body.

Glass Type

The type and quality of glass have a huge impact on image quality. Image by Bicanski via Public Domain Images

The type of glass used to manufacture the lenses can vastly affect the quality of the image. Two types of glass to look out for are extra-low dispersion (ED) and fluoride (FL) glass. These reduce chromatic aberrations giving clearer and sharper colours and reduced colour “fringing”.

 

Fringing is the blurring that can occur between light and dark parts of an image. If your budget allows for an upgrade to ED glass binoculars, you will notice a distinct improvement in clarity compared to binoculars without ED glass. Affordable pairs of ED binoculars include the Hawke Optics Endurance ED, the Nikon Monarch 5 and the Opticron Explorer ED.

Lens and Prism Coatings

The primary difference in performance and the brightness of images between different pairs of binoculars is often due to lens and prism coatings. Light is lost as it travels across every surface inside a pair of binoculars and the aim of a good pair of binoculars is to keep light transmission as high as possible between the objective and the ocular lens. Lens and prism coatings reduce the amount of light that is lost helping to produce a brighter and sharper image. Lenses that are multi-coated have multiple layers of lens coatings. High quality binoculars are fully multi-coated which means that they have multiple layers of coating on all lens surfaces. Roof prism binoculars have a particular problem with “phase shift” where the polarisation angle of the prism causes the light passing through to be split into two slightly out of phase beams. This results in an image which has lower resolution and may look slightly blurred. Prism coatings correct this problem by forcing the split light back into phase. Look out for binoculars with Phase Correction (PC) prism coatings.

Dunlin (Calidris alpina). Photo credit: Ron Knight – www.flickr.com
Key Comparison Metrics

Comparing some of the performance metrics of a pair of binoculars can help when deciding which pair would best suit your purposes. In particular field of view will be useful if you are looking at large landscapes (e.g. whale or sea watching) and close focus is very important if you are looking at insects.

Field of View – The field of view is how wide an image can be seen at a specified distance (usually 1000m). A wide field of view is useful for large landscapes and for fast moving animals. Models with a particularly wide field of view include all of the Kite Optics range, the Opticron Discovery, Traveller ED and Explorer ranges, the Bushnell Prime and Forge ranges and the Swarovski EL and SLC binoculars.

The Opticron Discovery range of binoculars has a fantastic field of view and great close focus.

Close Focus – The close focus is the minimum distance at which the binoculars are able to focus. People interested in viewing insects using their binoculars would be advised to choose a model with a small close focus distance. Models with particularly low close focus include the Opticron Discovery and Traveller ranges, the Swarovski EL and the Kite Caiman binoculars.

Weight – The weight of the binoculars is incredibly important, as it is likely that you will be carrying them around for long periods of time. Higher quality models of comparable specification will tend to be lighter than entry-level models, and those with larger objective lenses will weigh more than those with smaller ones. Binoculars that are particularly lightweight and excellent for travelling include the Opticron Traveller range, the Hawke Optics Nature-Trek and Endurance ranges, and the Nikon Monarch 5 range.

Eye Relief – This is the maximum distance from the eyepiece lens that the eye can be positioned at which the full width of the image is visible without vignetting (darkening of the image around the edges). Longer eye relief is useful for those who wear glasses.

If you have any queries regarding binoculars then our Customer Services team and trained Wildlife Equipment Specialists would be delighted to assist on 01803 865913 or via email at customer.services@nhbs.com.

Recommended Models

Entry Level

Hawke Optics Nature-Trek
One of our most popular models, lightweight with good optical performance

 

 

General Purpose

Opticron Discovery
Phase-coated prisms give optical performance that is a step above entry level, fantastic field of view and close focus

 

Hawke Optics Endurance ED
These affordable binoculars have ED glass to provide crystal clear images, representing great value for money.

 

Travelling

Opticron Traveller BGA Mg
The perfect binoculars for travelling, they have good field of view, great close focus and are amazingly lightweight and compact. For an even more exceptional optical performance try the Traveller ED range.

Mid range

Kite Lynx HD+
These binoculars have an astonishing field of view and exceptional close focus with ED glass for excellent colour reproduction and scratch resistant lens coatings.

 

Nikon Monarch 5
With ED glass for good colour reproduction and dielectric multilayer prism coatings, the Nikon Monarch 5 binoculars provide fantastic optical performance in a lightweight body.

 

Top of the Range

Swarovski EL
The EL binoculars range is hand made in Austria with field flattener lenses, fluoride glass and Swarobright coating to provide an unparalleled optical experience.

 

Banner image features Northern Lapwings (Vanellus vanellus). Photo credit: Tony Hisgett – www.flickr.com

Author Interview: Peter Eeles, Life cycles of British & Irish Butterflies

NHBS recently attended Butterfly Conservation’s 2019 AGM in Shrewsbury. The event was highly enjoyable, with many excellent speakers, and we were excited to unveil the brand new NHBS Moth Trap at our stall; lookout for a blog post on this new product shortly.

During the day we also caught up with Peter Eeles, creator of the UK Butterflies website and author of the ground-breaking Life Cycles of British & Irish Butterflies to talk about his fascination with Lepidoptera and the process of writing this incredible book. Peter was also kind enough to sign a number of copies of his book which are now available to purchase here.

1) Could you tell us something about your background and how you first became interested in butterflies?

I grew up on the southern side of Cheltenham, on the edge of the Cotswolds, an area rich in butterflies and other wildlife. It was all rather idyllic and I remember with some fondness the time spent out in the countryside with my fellow explorers! My father and my ‘uncle Fred’ encouraged this interest, but it was watching a Garden Tiger moth emerge from its chrysalis, and seeing scores of Red Admiral feeding on rotting plums, that tipped me over the edge and into a butterfly-filled life.

 

2) How long did it take you to put Life Cycles of British & Irish Butterflies together?

Two years to write, 20 years to obtain the photos needed, and a lifetime of study! I should say that the book would not have seen the light of day were it not for the contributions of many others, especially members of UK Butterflies (a website that I set up in 2002), the team at Butterfly Conservation, and various experts in their chosen field, such as David Simcox, project manager of the Large Blue reintroduction programme.

Life cycles of British & Irish Butterflies

3) In your introduction to the book, you detail its aims in relation to Frohawk’s landmark text, Natural History of British Butterflies. You say that Frohawk is one of your heroes: was his work the driving force for you wanting to take on your own project?

I wouldn’t say it was the driving force, but it was certainly a huge inspiration in terms of understanding the ‘art of the possible’, and the amount of field observation and research that would be needed. The driving force was a desire to produce something different yet useful, especially a work that would contribute, in some small way, to the conservation of our butterfly fauna. Something ‘clicked’ when I read several research papers that relied on the identification of a particular larval instar (the period between moults), and I realised that anything that could help the army of butterfly recorders identify each instar and the immature stages more generally would be a great help, with the potential to open up a whole new dimension of butterfly recording.

 

4) What was the most challenging butterfly lifecycle to document?

That’s a harder question to answer than you might think! Chequered Skipper was challenging due to the amount of travel involved, although a work placement in Glasgow for two years, on and off, really helped! Mountain Ringlet was a challenge due to the remoteness of its sites, its short flight period and its tendency to disappear deep into grass tussocks in anything other than very bright conditions. The Large Blue, which spends most of its life in an ant nest, was always going to be a challenge, and my thanks go to David Simcox, Jeremy Thomas and Sarah Meredith for their help with this tricky subject.

Chequered Skipper life cycle – Life cycle of British & Irish Butterflies

5) There is evidence that butterflies are already being influenced by climate change – what worries you the most about this? Are there any species that you will be excited about seeing more frequently in the UK in the future?

My biggest concern is with less mobile species that are unable to move to suitable patches in our increasingly fragmented landscape, as their habitat becomes unsuitable, or is lost due to development or agriculture. Conversely, it would be nice to see semi-regular visitors, such as the Long-tailed Blue and continental Swallowtail, gain a foothold, just as the Red Admiral and Clouded Yellow can now be considered resident, with records of successful overwintering each year in southern England.

 

6) Have you any new book projects in mind for the future?

No plans as yet, but never say never!

Life Cycles of British & Irish Butterflies
Hardback,  Sept 2019,  £29.99 £34.99

With detailed descriptions and photos of the adult, egg, caterpillar and chrysalis of each species, this book reveals in detail the fascinating life cycles of the 59 butterfly species that are considered resident in – or regular migrants – to Britain and Ireland.

Signed copies available, while stocks last.

Browse all our books covering insects and other invertebrates.

Author Interview: Richard Mabey, Turning the Boat for Home: A Life Writing about Nature

Richard Mabey is often referred to as the father of modern nature writing. His latest book is a retrospective of occasional writings compiled by the author over the last couple of decades. In the author’s words; ‘a sketchy reflection of a life’s work does emerge‘  He has taken time to sign copies of his latest book and answer our questions about fifty years of nature writing.

 

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

I was one of that generation of kids allowed to run wild out of doors. We had a hundred-acre abandoned landscape park at the end of the garden, and in it, I saw my first barn owls, smelt my first storm-splintered wood and ate my first hawthorn leaves. Later I was a boy-birder, and by my teenage years began attaching huge symbolic importance to them. The first chiffchaff had to sing in a particular ash clump, the first swifts had to appear on May Day, and I held my blazer collar for luck on the walk to school to will them back. I did my first nature scribblings then, essays and over-romantic poems, shamelessly aping Richard Jefferies and Dylan Thomas.
I went to Oxford to read biochemistry despite never having done a mite of formal biology- but recoiled in horror from the curriculum and changed to philosophy and politics in my first fortnight. I’ve never regretted the change, for the perspective it gave me, or for the fact that school made me just about scientifically literate.

2. Your new book looks back over a life’s work and features a collection of ‘occasional writing’; how did you decide which works to include?

I realised I had got a good portion of the work already done. Over the past 20 years, I’ve done a fair amount of writing – essays, introductions to other writers’ books, radio programmes – which contain autobiographical elements. So, a long think piece I wrote for the Guardian about the history of foraging in Europe contains an account of how I came to write my own contribution, my first book, Food for Free. A BBC Radio 3 talk I delivered live from Bristol (as part of a Nature and Music festival) became an exploration of the relation between birdsong and human music. I worked a lot on most of the pieces, extending them and cutting out overlaps, and strung them together so that they made a rough sketch of a working life.

3. Is there one ‘nature writer’ that has been an inspiration to you?

There are dozens. But the one who struck most sparks is Annie Dillard. Her Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) uncoiled new mycorrhizal links between imagination and the physical world. Pilgrim is a poetic interrogation of evolution, done through an acute contemplation of the natural life of a remote Appalachian creek. Why should anything – light, love, leaf – be the way it is? Dillard’s style is mischievous, gleeful, explosive- just like creation itself. I’ve long been a fan of American nature writing- Barry Lopez, Gretel Ehrlich, Gary Snyder, back to the master Henry Thoreau. The States’ vast untrammelled landscapes seem to nourish a similar freedom in its writers, in contrast to our own corseted acres. The British writers who have most inspired me tend to be radicals who set themselves against this ordered and orderly back cloth; eg John Clare and his poems of solidarity with commoners of all species; Kenneth Allsop, firing broadsides through conventional “country writing” in the 1970s.

4. Do you think the genre of nature writing has changed during the time you have been writing?

I’ve been writing for more than fifty years, so have the luxury of a long view. But I think the idea that the nature writing of the last ten years is in some essential way “new” suggests a great forgetting of our tradition. Current nature writing is a very broad church, from lyrical science to introspective memoir. Yet even the most conspicuous trait – the personal “journey” – has deep roots. I’m no fan of his work but think of Gavin Maxwell in the 60s or John Buxton in the 40s and WH Hudson at the beginning of the 20th century. One of the most exciting trends is the emergence of fiction with strong affinities to the agendas of nature writing, as in Richard Powers’ astounding epic The Overstory (but this too was happening in pre-WW2 fiction).

5. You have won awards and many accolades for your writing; what is your proudest achievement as a nature writer?

I think it would have to be Flora Britannica (1986) not least because it incorporates the voices and stories of many thousands of contributors as well as my own. When I set out my plan to try and survey where wild plants stood in our culture in the late 20th C, I was met with heavy scepticism at first. “Nowhere” was the implied response. When the contributions began to pour in from the general public they were heart lifting, not just for their passion but their diversity. There was very little of the rehashed Victoriana usually passed off as “folklore”. Instead we had deeply felt personal stories from individuals, families, children’s gangs, about the importance of wild plants in their lives: plants used in weddings, and tossed onto a parent’s coffin; outrageously inventive playground games with invasive aliens; favourite local trees used as landmarks, hideaways, sites for lovers’ trysts.
The four years I spent working on this book were certainly the most rewarding of my writing life. I toured the UK meeting contributors, looking at locations, and then in the long writing process (it is a quarter of a million words long) trying to relate these contemporary experiences to the plants’ social histories and ecologies.

6. The loss of nature seems to be more prominent as a newsworthy subject; do you think nature writing can help towards restoring nature and if so how?

The language of loss is as hard to create as to read. I know I’m far from alone in finding that my head and my heart can pull in opposing directions. My intellectual understanding of the terrible collapse of nightingale populations cannot co-exist with the rapturous in-the-moment experience of listening to its song. But I’m encouraged by what has been happening in the last couple of years when the crises of climate change and extinction seem to have revealed not just the vulnerability of the natural world but a new appreciation of its resilient vitality. To paraphrase Amitav Ghosh is his powerful book The Great Derangement (about the implications of ecological catastrophe on writing) it is as if the improbable events that are happening to us have brought about a recognition that humans have never been alone, but live alongside beings who share with us elements we have always assumed were uniquely ours: sentience, will and above all agency. The challenge writers face is how to express this more-than-human agenda in human words.

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

Age creeps on, and ideas are scarcer fruits. I have no particular plans but hope I’m not written out. Maybe I’ll do a short philosophical meditation on the concept of human-nature “neighbourliness” which I begin to explore in Turning the Boat for Home. Ideas from readers most welcome!

 

We have a limited amount of signed copies available of Turning the Boat for Home: A Life Writing about Nature

Turning the Boat for Home: A Life Writing about Nature
Hardback, Oct 2019,  £15.99 £18.99

Due to be published in 2020

Birds Britannica
Hardback, due March 2020,  £42.99 £49.99

Fifteen years after the very successful first edition, Mark Cocker and Richard Mabey return for the second edition of Birds Britannica, paying homage to the strong bond the British have with birds.

 

Browse all our Richard Mabey’s books.

 

 

NHBS: In The Field – Bushnell CORE DS Low Glow

Bushnell CORE DS Low Glow

Bushnell trail cameras have always been popular among ecologists and researchers alike, but their famous Aggressor range of cameras has become outdated as trail camera technology has advanced. New for 2019, the Bushnell CORE range features four high specification trail cameras with the latest technology (more about the differences between the four cameras can be found here). We wanted to test one of these new cameras to see how it performed.  

We tested the Bushnell CORE DS Low Glow Trail Camera (DS standing for ‘dual-sensor’). Bushnell’s dual sensor system promises better day and night photos/videos, with one sensor dedicated to each. A 30MP image size and 920×1080 HD videos also indicate sharp, high-quality footage, but this is not always the case. The best way to see the true image/ video quality is to view sample footage from the camera.

Setting Up

We set the CORE up at a badger latrine in a wood in Devon. The camera was simple to set up, and the colour viewing screen came in very handy when trying to get the best angle. Without this feature, it can be very difficult to ensure that the camera is pointing in the right direction. The screen also displays a simple and user-friendly settings menu which was easy to navigate and check. The settings we used in this instance are as follows:

Mode: Video
Video Size: 1920×1080 (30fps)
Video Length:  15 seconds (the videos below are trimmed from originals)
Interval:3 seconds
TimeStamp: On
Video Sound: On
Sensor Level: Auto
Camera Mode: 24 hrs

As we were leaving the camera in a public woodland, we secured it in place with a compatible Python cable lock. The No Glow equivalent might also be a camera to consider if you are setting a camera up on public land and you want extra security.

What we found

The Bushnell CORE caught several videos over the one evening that it was set up. These clips can be viewed in the video below. The black and white IR footage was very impressive. We found it beautifully clear and very smooth, even at 30 fps (the camera has an option of 60fps). The IR flash illuminated the subject without any wash-out whilst remaining bright enough to reveal plenty of detail.  The low-light and day colour footage wasn’t as crisp but was still lovely and smooth. The fast trigger speed was especially apparent in a clip showing a herd of deer running across the river. The first deer are barely halfway across the screen before the video starts, despite the speed at which they were running. 

Our Opinion

We were impressed with the Bushnell CORE DS Low Glow Trail Camera, especially with the night videos. The front-facing colour screen was a key feature that made set-up and camera positioning much easier and is something that we think can either make or break a filming session. The dual sensor is definitely worth the price difference for the night videos. The colour videos were not as crisp but the camera is still excellent quality with an outstanding trigger speed and perfectly suitable for the needs of most researchers and ecologists.

 


The Bushnell CORE DS Low Glow is available on the NHBS website.

To view the full range of Bushnell CORE cameras, along with other ranges of trail cameras, visit www.nhbs.com. If you have any questions on camera trapping or would like some advice on the best camera for you then please contact us via email at customer.services@nhbs.com or phone on 01803 865913.

Celebrating 30 years of British Wildlife!

With the publication of the October issue of British Wildlife, the magazine has reached 30 years in print. British Wildlife found its home here at NHBS in February 2016, but it owes its existence to founders Andrew and Anne Branson, who first brought it to press back in 1989. In our 30th anniversary issue, we were delighted to learn more from Andrew about the earliest days of the magazine.

Andrew Branson, founder of British Wildlife magazine

A shortened version of Andrew’s piece, ‘British Wildlife – how it all began’, is included below. To find out how to read the full article, see here.

Taking ‘the path less travelled’ has often been a failing of mine. In early 1988, after another week of commuting up to London as a publisher for a large multinational publishing house, I came to the conclusion that there must be a more enjoyable way to earn a living. Perhaps not such an unusual thought, but what surprised colleagues were that I then effectively headed off into the ‘undergrowth’ of rural Hampshire to set up British Wildlife Publishing, with the support of my wife, Anne. My work had allowed me to spend days in the field with some great naturalists, and through discussions with those it became obvious to me that there was a need for something different that captured the expertise of some of our best field naturalists, provided up-to-date information on the rapidly changing world of conservation and, importantly, was also a first-class read. 

First published in 1989, the covers have remained largely unchanged

In the 1980s it was still the case that, by and large, people were much more blinkered in their interests. For example, birdwatchers seldom took note of other groups of animals and plants and the entomologists were generally a small, tight-knit group of specialists. I was looking for something that would break out from this bunker mentality and act as a showcase for the great work being done in British natural history.

There were, of course, numerous scattered membership magazines and journals for the various specialist societies, each promoting its own agenda, but how could you find out what was happening with wildlife around the country? Sometimes the journals reported on events years after they had happened. And remember, this was before the days of emails and social media. Communication was all about telephone calls and letters; networking was down to attending conferences and field meetings. In the end, I worked from the premise that, if it excited me and I would buy it, then others, too, would do the same.

I was also increasingly aware of the work of the Nature Conservancy Council (NCC), not only in advising the government on contentious issues but also in producing detailed research documents. At an early stage in planning the magazine, therefore, I visited this important hub of expertise in Peterborough. A good working relationship with this team was critical and I received a warm welcome from Philip Oswald, the communications boss, who introduced me to several people who became key contributors.

Bringing all this together in 1988, I decided to create a completely new magazine that would cover all aspects of wildlife and nature conservation in Great Britain and Ireland, and that, despite its broad geographical remit, it would be called ‘British Wildlife’. The watchwords of the publication were to be accuracy, independence of view and quality. The proposed contents were to include a mix of articles and news which deliberately juxtaposed information on subjects as diverse as bryophytes and birds, flies and flowers, conservation news and reserve management. Planning the potential contents was relatively straightforward, but coming up with a team of people that would put it together was another thing.

The first issues

The first issue of British Wildlife went to print in October 1989

The first issue of British Wildlife came out, after a long hot summer (one computer caught fire!), in October 1989. We printed 5,000 copies and initially sold just under 2,000, but within a few years, they had almost all been sold. In addition to the various in-depth articles, the first issue included the wildlife reports, pretty much as they are today, with, extraordinarily, still some of the same contributors: here we find the butterfly news written by Nick Bowles, moths by Paul Waring and flies by Alan Stubbs. Peter Marren, then working for the NCC as a writer, and his inimitable column ‘Twitcher in the swamp’, appeared in the fourth issue and there he has remained, with the odd holiday, right up to today. After struggling at first to find a hero to take on the herculean task of sifting through newspaper cuttings and press releases to produce ‘Conservation news’, Sue Everett came to the rescue in 1991 and has ever since been ably riding the waves of news, including, more recently, the tsunami of information that now floods the internet.

Herein lies one of British Wildlife’s great strengths: a reliable team of highly knowledgeable and talented contributors that have been with the magazine, through thick and thin, for decades. I take my hat off to them all.

Some great names and articles

Happily, many people understood what British Wildlife was trying to achieve, and we soon had articles from some of the seminal voices of the time. Derek Ratcliffe first wrote for the magazine in its second issue. This was a stinging rebuke to the government concerning the breaking-up of the NCC (BW 1: 89–91) – I can still remember the fire in his eyes as he described what was going on. Later he authored two masterful articles on ‘Upland birds and their conservation’ (BW 2: 1–12) and on the ‘Mountain flora of Britain and Ireland’ (BW 3: 10–21). Chris Mead, of the British Trust for Ornithology, was a great voice for birds and conservation, and enthusiastically backed British Wildlife from the start, contributing the birds report until his untimely death in 2003. Another important commentator on conservation was Colin Tubbs of NCC/English Nature. He took a much wider view on matters than most, and several of his contributions in the 1990s introduced a more international flavour to the magazine.

The familiar white cover first appeared in 1992, at the start of volume 4, and has remained more or less unchanged ever since.

Often, important topics were being raised in British Wildlife years, if not decades, before they became part of the general discourse of the national media. A good example of this is a superb article by Alan Rayner published in 1993 on the ‘Fundamental importance of fungi in woodlands’ (BW 4: 205–215), in which Alan explains the intricate nature of the relationship between such things as mycorrhizal fungi and woodland health. We published an article on ‘Climate change and British Wildlife’ back in 1994 (BW 5: 169–179). An early article that caused much controversy was one on woodland management, ‘Biodiversity conservation in Britain: science replacing tradition’, by Clive Hambler and Martin Speight (BW 6: 137–147). British Wildlife has always been open to occasionally ‘stirring the pot’, but this piece boiled over into a debate that reached the national newspapers. It precipitated several excellent articles in response, including from Martin Warren, who had regularly written on the conservation of butterflies from the first volume. Also gathering impetus in the early 1990s was the idea of creating ‘wilderness areas’, as opposed to using more traditional farming practices. Contributions from Tony Whitbread and Bill Jenman (‘A natural method of conserving biodiversity in Britain’, BW 7: 84–93) and a reply from Colin Tubbs (BW 7: 290–296) are an example of an early skirmish from almost a quarter of a century ago.

It was pleasing to introduce Robert Burton, with his regular column, ‘Through a naturalist’s eyes’, in 1995. Each of his columns is a wonderfully crafted piece of natural history observation. Bill Sutherland, now Miriam Rothschild Professor of Conservation Biology at the University of Cambridge, first started the ‘Habitat management news’ section back in 1992 and his renowned evidence-based approach to wildlife management was clear even then. Some of the identification articles have been illustrated by Richard Lewington’s wonderfully accurate artworks and, indeed, were occasionally a testbed for some of the field guides that we were later to publish.

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Discover British Wildlife here.