Saturday, 29 April 2017

Wildlife' Recording: Can Anyone Submit Records?

The Subject came up recently viz. Can Anyone submit Records or do you really have to 'Know Your Stuff'?

Well: the Simple Answer in Our View, is that Anyone can submit Records (we do!) but we would qualify this seemingly Bold and Careless Assertion by saying that you must, if Requested, be able to provide Proof of the Sightings (for us, Photographs) and be prepared to be Questioned and Corrected.

For us, Collecting/Submitting Records provides a focus for Wildlife Outings, although we have to admit there are times when it's nice not to bother with Recording, unless of course, something unusual pops up. To our minds, Recording mustn't become the be-all and end-all. Looking for Wildlife &c. is not simply about numbers. Initially for us perhaps it was but certainly not now.

We currently submit Records of Birds, Butterflies and Wild Flowers to various Authorities: including Butterfly Conservation (the Kent Branch), GiGL and the Kent Botanical Recording Group.

Most of our Sightings are recorded in the London Borough of Bexley: the London Borough of Bexley and immediate Surrounding Area falls within Metropolitan Vice County 16 (West Kent) for 'Biological Recording Purposes'.

It all started during late-2010 with Birds. One of the first Bird' Species we saw were Ringed Plovers viz.

beside the Thames in the Belvedere area. They are still there and we secretly refer to them as, 'our dear little', Ringed Plovers!

At High Tide they fly Inland. We had always wondered how they knew it was OK to return to the River with the Tide receding until one day we saw them flying out from their High Tide Refuge at High Tide: they promptly returned to their Refuge. So it's Guesswork! Which we found slightly disappointing.

And when we saw our first Little Ringed Plover on the Erith Marshes, we were disappointed it wasn't a Ringed Plover!

We also specifically remember seeing Black-Tailed GodwitsRedshanks and Teals during these early days: also our first Wheatear, seen on the Sea Wall beside the Thames.

We cheerfully admit to being slow learners. We vividly recall being told after a couple of years or so, that there was a Whinchat on the Marshes. We thanked the person who told us, hopefully convincingly, since at the same time we were also wondering, what the heck do they look like!

Subsequently, during the Summer of 2013, we had been bicycling on the Thames Path from Thamesmead to Woolwich and back, firstly making a visit to the Outfall of the Crossness Sewage Works and on a whim, popping back to the Outfall before going home. Immediately below us amongst the hundreds of Black-Headed Gulls swimming in the Thames (it was High Tide) was one that looked slightly different.

We were aware of the existence of Bonaparte Gulls from a previous local Sighting and vaguely wondered if our new acquaintance might be one but the idea seemed totally Preposterous and Far-Fetched. We took some pictures and then went Shopping. On arriving home, we sought confirmation of the Bird's Identity. And Wow: she/he was indeed a Bonaparte's Gull viz.

Which goes to show that even Blunderbusses like us can find something Really Unusual.

Last Year we nominally participated in the National', 'Patchwork Challenge': our 'Patch' being a short stretch of the River Thames and a couple of very small nearby Inland areas. We managed a total of 74 Bird' Species which in turn, Surprised, Amazed and Super-Pleased us. We are repeating the exercise again this year although our Target is 60 Bird' Species, since we feel last year's total to be Exceptional, at least for us.

There were of course lots of Birds we probably should have seen (we reckon on seeing around 70% of the Birds that 'Proper Bird People' see) but we did see some Birds we hadn't expected such as a Marsh Harrier (a chance glance upwards), a Buzzard (another chance glance upwards), Bar-Tailed GodwitsEgyptian Geese, a Little Grebe (swimming in the Thames), a Wheatear and a Kingfisher viz.

But we still have a long way to go viz. towards the end of last year we were Super-Pleased to see some Black-Tailed Godwits on the mud beside the Thames on the 'Patch' (returning over-Wintering Birds we assumed). Except, our picture on Twitter was of Bar-Tailed Godwits. Whoops. In our defence we were expecting to see Black-Tailed Godwits which explains the confusion and hopefully, saves our blushes: well, it does, sort-of, but not particularly convincingly.

We next moved on to Butterflies: in theory, with less Butterflies than Birds it should be much easier. But that Ain't Necessarily So. For example, we often have trouble differentiating between Green-Veined White, Large White and Small White Butterflies. Somewhat disconcertingly, we seem to be generally alone in experiencing these problems!

With regard to Sightings of Unusual Butterflies we initially appeared to have Hit the Bucket a couple of years ago or so when we chanced across a Marbled White Butterfly viz.

fluttering around on the Holly Hill Open Space: seemingly the first confirmed sighting of a Marbled White Butterfly in the London Borough of Bexley. Well done us we thought. But of course, Pride comes before a Fall. Within a few Days our 'First Sighting' was relegated to 'Third Sighting'. Oh well.

And then we moved on to Wild Flowers; or Botany!

It was with considerable trepidation that we joined the Kent Botanical Recording Group, having been encouraged by a fellow Twitterer to do so.

But it was with even more trepidation that we submitted a list of Sightings in a local Monad.

Questions were asked about a number of the Sightings; any Credibility we might have had, was lost after we identified English Scurvygrass as Danish Scurvygrass! Another Whoops. But we had gained in Confidence enough to submit another batch of Records for another local Monad. And Wow: we passed the Test.

We tend to stick to certain specific local areas in our searches for Wild Flowers. This means that we know in advance many of the Plants we are likely to see. This has allowed us to build up a list of Plants that we are generally comfortable in Identifying with the ever present possibility of Identifying something else. But we are very much aware that for every Plant we recognise there are half a dozen, probably more, that we can't. Many Plant' Families are Mysteries and if truth be known, will probably remain so.

But we have our Moments. An Interesting Find during 2016 was of Golden Dock and Marsh Dock, both growing on the former Thamesmead Golf Course viz.

[i] Golden Dock:

[ii] Marsh Dock:

According to Kent Botany 2016, 'Either of these, especially [Marsh Dock], would have been unusual records for metropolitan vc16. For both of them to occur together is exceptional. It is likely that these species are spread by wildfowl, but may not have the opportunity of germinating without changes in water levels.'

Thus demonstrating that you don't have to be a Tip-Top Botanist to find unusual Plants.

But Birds, Butterflies and Wild Flowers are our limit.  Bees, Dragonflies &c. must, for us at least, be forever, Little Critters. But we can live with that.

Heck, we can't even differentiate between the Common/Harbour and Grey Seals that we see by/in the Thames. There is a 50/50 chance of a correct Guess (sorry, Identification) but after three wrong Guesses (if we are to be Honest about it) on the trot, we now just refer to, Seals. Unless we see one pretending to be a Banana viz.

in which case, it's odds-on, apparently, to be a Common/Harbour Seal.

It is probable, that if anyone who receives our Records sees this, they will now entertain grave misgivings about the reliability of anything we submit. However, although acutely aware of our considerable limitations, we possibly know a little more than we give ourselves credit for. At least we hope so!

And hopefully, we have demonstrated that Anyone can, with the necessary Due Care, submit Wildlife' Records.

Heck: if We can, then Anyone can!

Footnote: we are totally indebted to a number of people for their Kindness, Patience and Encouragement. We do not propose to name Names but we couldn't have achieved what we have achieved (little as it may be) without them. So: thank you…