Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Amazon & Wildguide: Britain's Hoverflies

I have heard from various people that their Amazon order for the WILDGuide has been cancelled. I have investigated with our publishers and they don't understand what is going on either. They suggest that the likely reason is that there have been several delays and that as a result Amazon may have a process that kicks in to cancel orders. But, in truth we just don't know why this is.

As an update, Rob Still, the designer is expecting to receive page proofs in the near future. Assuming they are ok, then the button will be pressed and the presses will roll. After that it is an agonising wait for the container to reach the UK and then  for the books to reach distributors (including me!).

So, whilst the book won't be in Christmas stockings this year, it can be expected to accompany your Easter Eggs - just in time for the new field season.

Happy Christmas everybody!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Dipterists Forum Summer Field meeting 2013

It has been quite a challenge finding accommodation for next summer's field meeting. I have finally reached a solution with a venue based at Lancaster University that I hope will be OK.  We will be in self-catering accommodation, which is a bit of a departure from recent years.  However, my feeling is that it should be a good venue and that we will have a great time.

What I am struck by is the note I got back from Peter Chandler who reminded me that this next summer would be the 40th anniversary of the first field meeting. That calls for a celebration I think! It is hard to imagine that the field meetings started so many years ago and that several members still attend meetings!

My first meeting was in 1985 when a group visited Charterhouse in Somerset. As my memory serves me, the cook failed to turn up and Jane Stubbs and Christine McLean took on the role of cooks. My goodness how we owe them for that effort. It was a bit of an ordeal for me as a relative novice surrounded by people with lots of experience and including several (lots) of well-known 'names'. I only stayed for three nights I think, and during that time I made several lifelong friends - Roy Crossley, Mike Pugh, and Austin Brackenbury immediately spring to mind because they were so friendly and welcoming.

Today, the composition of the group has changed but I like to think that its general behaviour is much the same. If you are a novice you will be welcomed and embraced in a group rather than being left to fend for yourself. It is anything but elitist and many of us remember our first trip as novices surrounded by much more experienced Dipterists. We remain very egalitarian and welcoming.  The meetings were originally devised as a means of both training and square-bashing. These days we are far less avid square-bashers and far more avid proponents for developing people's interests. If there is a pub, we will even find time to go there! Speaking personally, all I want to see is people having a great time and looking forward to next year's meeting with old friends. My test for a meeting is to hear people saying - 'see you next year'.

Now, of course, that raises the question of whether it is an 'old' group? It is not. Last year in Scotland we had members aged 25 to 70+ attending. But nobody is old or young - it is just a group of friends on holiday. Ken Merrifield describes it as 'Alan's Holiday Club' - and he is not far wrong. Having said that, I must comment that there are times on DF meetings when it seems like 'last of the summer wine'. Who knows which bog Malcolm will fall into? And it is not just Malcolm - I have been known to end up sitting in a river with my haul of flies drowned rather than asphyxiated!

Forum field meetings are open to all entomologists who want to visit interesting places, although as a rule we tend to be better suited to daylight hours rather than those who favour the night and scaly jobs!

Come and join us. We will be in Lancaster from 6-13 July 2013 assuming all goes well.

A favourite photo of mine - Eric Philp and Stuart Ball bird-watching at Martins Haven, Pembrokeshire - who said we have to look at flies?
A retreat into Rob Wolton's barn during the Forum visit to Devon in 2011. It rained that day!

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Hoverfly Wildguide - it is at the printers!

I got a call from Stuart this morning (well actually yesterday morning if one is pedantic). He had spotted a quite significant glitch in the book after it had gone to the printers! A quick mail to Rob Still with the bad news. Oh goodness we hope this can be corrected and the printers are not too quick off the mark.

A couple of hours later and a further call from Stuart - apparently Rob had spotted the problem and had corrected it before he sent the book to the printers. Relief!

Well, it has been a long process but we really have got to the end of what we can do. Once the book arrives I have a fair block of work sending out pre-publication copies to the 120 or so people who took up the Dipterists Forum offer we made so very long ago - was this early 2011??? I think those that took up the offer will actually have done pretty well because the book is around 20% bigger than when it was advertised, and it is also RRP £24.95 as opposed to £17.95.

I look forward to seeing the finished result. It seems very strange to not having the job hanging over us and this gives us space to get on with new jobs.  We have still to prepare the supplement to Stubbs & Falk that we planned for this winter - I will get on with drafting this over Christmas so that Stuart and Alan have something to work on. The other job we need to do is to finalise the Species Status Review that has been sitting awaiting publication. This will be published in Pdf form rather than hard copy, but I think DF may arrange to print a number through Print on Demand and make them available at a reasonable rate. So, it would be useful to know if readers would want a cpy?

Friday, 7 December 2012

Hoverfly Wildguide

Well, we have got as far as is practicable. The book is finished and we must wait to see what it finally looks like. I think it will be fine and hope that readers think it worth the money. Examples of past pages are provided on previous pages.

Take a look - I think it will be excellent

Arrival date - sometime in March - probably towards the latter end

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Wildguide - nearly there

There has been pretty frenetic activity this last week and it looks very much as though we will have the book finished in a few days time. It has now been through the proof reader who spotted very few glaring errors. We remain in trepidation that we have inserted a wrongly identified fly!

Anyway, here are a few illustrations of the species pages just to give a taster of what it will look like. As you can see we have done our best to illustrate features that cause people problems!

Hoverfly course in South London

Stuart and I will be running one our very successful two-day training courses in Whitelands College, University of Roehampton on Saturday 12 and Sunday 13 January. There are at least four spaces to be filled and so anybody who is an absolute novice and wants to get to grips with hoverfly identification is welcome to book a place. More details will be supplied closer to the time for those who have booked.

We think the costs will be around £10-15 per head but I've yet to finalise this. It is a bit cheaper than normal because London is a short distance from Peterborough and we will be able to use my mother's home as a base - thus minimising accommodation costs. Anybody wanting to attend should let me know at roger dot morris at Pipex dot com - I will put you in contact with the organiser Amanda Morgan.
Hoverfly identification course run at Yarner Wood near Exeter in March 2012


Our approach is to run courses in the winter months using specimens that have been collected specially for this purpose. The species we tend to use are those common ones that you are most likely to see. We have found this to be a far more satisfactory approach than running courses during the summer and relying on specimens caught by students. We usually do a weekend course – timing generally to suit the venue:

Morning 1 Start around 9.30

  •  Introductory talk - the Syrphidae (lasts about 2 hours)
  • Talked-through run through the key to Tribes - this usually takes up the final bit of the morning.

 Afternoon 1 end around 5pm

  •  Pupils work through specimens - taking a wide number through the key to tribes (duration depends upon ability of the group)
  • Variable - may do a talked through run at keys to species (dependent upon ability of the group).

 Morning 2 start 9.30

  •   Talked through run at keys to species /pupils run specimens to species
  • Session stops at various points to explain features e.g. wing venation
  • Talk on preparing specimens etc.

Afternoon 2 end around 4 pm

  • Talk on 'finding hoverflies'
  • Further specimen ID
  • Talk on the Recording scheme etc.

The programme tends to be a bit fluid to take account of abilities and the need to give people a break from microscopy. We bring all ID materials etc plus as many copies of Stubbs & Falk as possible - pupils should bring their own if they have them. We take breaks for tea/coffee as appropriate.

We will provide:

  •  12 Microscopes
  • 12 Sets of course literature (charged at £6.00 per person)
  • All specimens & broader collection
  • Powerpoint presentations - we usually bring a computer

What the organisers need to provide 

  • Venue
  • Sufficient bench space for 12 students – layout ideally in a standard classroom format.
  • Powerpoint projector & screen (if advised in advance we can provide a projector)
  • Tea/Coffee facilities

Please note we can only accommodate 12 students as the specimens we carry are only sufficient for this size group and we will only have sufficient microscopes for such a group.

 Costs etc - we charge for:

Fuel, tolls etc
At cost
Overnight accommodation
Work on £70-80 per night for a twin room + £30 per day for subsistence = £220
Cost of course handouts - a new version of the key to tribes in colour + a package of additional information
£6 per set per person - with a class of 12 (max) this would be £72

So, we reckon the costs for a single weekend are in the order of £350 for venues within a 250 mile radius of Peterborough. Of course that depends upon fuel costs and guest houses. We will travel as required, but clearly more remote venues may cost a bit more, especially if they involve a very long journey on the Sunday.

What usually happens is that the organising venue charges pupils at a suitable rate - usually around £30 per head. If groups decide to charge to make a profit we usually ask for a donation to Dipterists Forum.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Developing local hoverfly groups

Stuart and I spent today with a group of hoverfly enthusiasts from Northamtonshire - part of the Northants Diptera Group. It was great to see seven people who had specimens to have checked and wanted to get a better understanding of tricky genera - Platycheirus and Cheilosia.

What is very apparent is that a combination of factors are needed to get a group mobilised and enthused. The influence of the local Wildlife Trust's continuing interest in training is very apparent. They have several venues where courses can be run, and also have microscopes available. Perhaps other Trusts could consider doing the same?

However, the biggest factor is that one person (John Showers who is Dipterists Forum's Membership Secretary) has organised field meetings and has given the group clear leadership. It would be great to see other groups doing the same. A similar level of interest has been developed in Shropshire through the Field Studies Council's 'Invertebrate Challenge' at Preston Montford. This sort of investment will hopefully yield long-term benefits with new active recorders in formerly poorly recorded counties.

We are keen to play our part. We are always happy to run courses for novices and can also run follow-up meetings if called upon to do so. We can supply most if not all of the necessary equipment but need a local organiser to handle the venue and take bookings. As I have previously blogged - our approach is to charge the basic costs and no more - a two-day weekend course usually works out in the region £300-£350 depending on the distance from Peterborough and the local cost of guest house accommodation. Does anybody fancy developing a hoverfly group in their area? If so, let us know and we will see what we can do to help move it forward.