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Speaker – Paul Forster – Natural History Highlights 2014

Paul Forster has had a lifelong fascination with Natural History which he has combined with photography and is now a member of the Royal Photographic Society. His interests include Botany, Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) and Mycology (the study of fungi). He has maintained a moth trap for 30 years and is active in butterfly conservation. He gave a talk on his activities during 2014 with beautiful photographs of many Natural History subjects.

He first showed a photograph of a 12 feet long Dabberlock, an edible seaweed, found by Edward George at Whitby in 1866. This is of particular interest, because it is commonly found on beaches in north west Scotland, but only seen rarely on the east coast of England.

In January, he took stunning photographs of flocks of starlings in murmuration at Saltholme. Paul estimated that there were about 10,000 birds in the flock.

It became clear that he often needs to make long journeys before dawn and long waits in a hide, with no guarantee of success. A good example was photographs of a kingfisher taken from a hide at Clara Vale on South Tyneside in February.

In March, a visit to the RSPB site at Bempton near Bridlington produced several stunning photographs of gannets. Paul had taken pictures of the birds courting, mating and looking after their young. He suggested that the best time to visit is when the wind is from the north west. This allows the birds to hang motionless.

Good sightings of birds locally included pictures of chaffinch, greenfinch, goldfinch and lesser redpoll at Lockwood Beck. Claybank carpark is a good place to see siskins. April trips produced a photo of a black grouse at Cow Green, and of a grey wagtail at Grosmont.

In May, Paul travelled to Wood Walton Meadow near Peterborough, bringing back startling pictures of the Grizzled Skipper butterfly, which feeds on wild strawberries. This is also a good site for dragonflies. Also in May, he visited Minsmere and Pensthorpe in East Anglia, to capture images of bittern, reed warbler, bearded tit and turtle dove.

June saw trips to Finglandrigg on the Solway Firth to see butterflies and to Foulney Nature Reserve on Morecambe Bay to take pictures of Caloplaca, a bright yellow lichen. Nearer home, Paul took pictures of the Broad Bodied Chase dragonfly near Yarm.

In July, White Satin moths were seen in Redcar cemetery. These are rare, but there were thousands of them last year. Paul took a female Hawk Moth home and successfully reared most of the offspring from 150 eggs before releasing them back into the wild. Later in the month, he captured an image of a Red Kite at Wallington Hill south of Oxford.

August found Paul in pursuit of the Cloudy Yellow butterfly near Studland in Dorset, oblivious that his wandering took him on to a nudist beach with a camera and a telephoto lens!

In the Autumn, trips to Lockwood Beck, Cragside and Goathland yielded photos of numerous fungi, including the Magic Mushroom, which yields a Class A drug.

The final picture was of St. Mary’s lighthouse near Whitley Bay at sunset on 9th December.

In reply to questions, Paul said that research had established that magpies do not cause major problems to other wildlife. Changes in the environment are the biggest influence.

The differences between butterflies and moths are that only butterflies have clubbed antennae. They only fly during the day. About 25% of moths fly by day.

Paul has expensive photographic equipment so that he can produce good A3 sized prints. He enters international competitions and sells prints. He uses high quality Epson paper and pigmented ink for printing. He aims for 20 good photographs per year.