Saturday, 19 April 2014

Koch's Gentian and being hypocritical

I've got a bloody cheek really. I drone on about the abuse of Wheatear imagery on blogs but then do the same with pictures of Koch's Gentian. Yes, for every year that I've been bogging, sometime during the month of April, I will go and visit the Buckland Hills, seek out Koch's Gentians, take some photographs and post them here. I'm a hypocrite...

These were planted c1960 by a homesick Swiss employee of the chemical firm Beechams. They have happily taken to this section of the Surrey North Downs, and have even spread a little. For some time they were identified as Trumpet Gentian (Gentiana clusii) but have since been re-identified as Koch's Gentian (Gentiana acaulis). And if you do keep lists, be they pan-species driven or not, these plants are countable...




Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Birding Quiz. Who are YOU?

What kind of birder are you? Answer these simple questions to find out... you must choose the answer closest to your honest response.

You find a Blue-cheeked Bee-eater. Do you
(a) tweet, Facebook and text everybody that you can think of
(b) thank the birding Gods for being so generous
(c) look the other way and continue to count Dunnocks
(d) wonder what that strange, colourful bird is before you

A friend offers you a lift to go and twitch a Houbara Bustard in East Yorkshire. Do you
(a) tell your friend that you are already on your way
(b) politely refuse because you saw the Westleton bird in '62
(c) ask them if there might be some Dunnocks in the area as well
(d) say no thanks and then try to find it in the Observer's Book of Birds

The Hythe Chinese Pond Heron. Was it
(a) without doubt, a proper lifer
(b) who knows, but then again who cares
(c) bigger than a Dunnock
(d) a made up bird name, a bit similar to 'our' heron but probably with yellow bits in the plumage

What is your UK life list?
(a) Between 450-550
(b) Not sure, gave up counting several years ago
(c) One. Prunella modularis.
(d) At least 50, possibly as high as 60.

What do you associate with the word BOOM!
(a) the appearance of a rarity
(b) annoying f*ckwits
(c) a population explosion among Dunnocks
(d) a First World War howitzer

Which birder would you most like to be compared to
(a) Lee Evans
(b) Peter Grant
(c) The bloke who wrote the Dunnock account in BWP
(d) Tony Soper

Seawatching. Is it
(a) something you sometimes need to do to string a rare pelagic
(b) something to be savoured
(c) something that you don't stand a chance of seeing a Dunnock on
(d) a chance to watch a few ships passing

What do you wear in the field
(a) combat gear, army surplus, green stuff, kill....
(b) whatever old stuff is out at the moment and fits your expanding frame
(c) tweeds - like muted Dunnock greys and browns
(d) safari jacket, cravat, monocular in top pocket

If you answered mostly A
You need to get a life - or a girlfriend. Ditch the camo gear and do something for yourself for a change, rather than driving all over Britain because everybody else that answered 'A' is also doing so. Or it might just be that you are Lee Evans.

If you answered mostly B
You are a well-adjusted birder, most probably good looking, have many friends and are shit hot in the field.

If you answered mostly C
You are a Dunnock. Or a member of the BTO. Or both.

If you answered mostly D
You are Tony Soper. Have you thought about taking up rambling as a side-line? Or even brass rubbing?

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Somewhere in the Surrey Hills...

Sometimes you need to engineer a change to get your enthusiasm back, to recharge your batteries or to keep your mind sharp. So far this year my local birding has been, well, predictable. Last week saw me take part in - and enjoy -  an organised visible migration watch from Leith Hill Tower (see here).  This made me try something different this morning, so rather than head for the 'same old, same old',  I took an OS Map, my binoculars and headed for the outer Surrey Hills, to explore places that I only vaguely knew, or hadn't visited at all. It was just what the doctor ordered...


It was a glorious morning. The woodland ground flora is well advanced, with lots of Bluebells already in flower, with plenty of Wood Anemone, Greater Stitchwort, Cuckooflower and even a patch of Yellow Archangel colouring the scene. Around me were calling Cuckoos, singing Willow Warblers and Firecrests. Venturing out onto more open ground, a few hirundines were heading north, with Swallows and House Martins arrowing northwards while above them up to 20 Common Buzzards were wheeling, displaying and soaring. They were not the only raptors. 4 Sparrowhawks, a Red Kite and best of all both male and female Goshawks were recorded, the latter species showing particularly well, the female an enormous beast. An area of heathland held displaying Tree Pipits, singing Siskins and loafing Common Crossbills. Most agreeable.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Back to work

After three months of bone-idleness I find myself back at work for the next fortnight - employed as a graphic designer in a small studio. My freelance career is thus launched. With a mixture of nervousness and excitement I entered the fray yesterday morning, but soon got into the swing of things. It helps that the other designers are very friendly and are kindly spoon-feeding me projects to work on.

I have hardly checked my phone for the past two days and 'summer migrants' are but a figment of other birders imagination, as I have seen precisely Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Sand Martin so far this spring - utter pants for April 8th! However, think of the adrenalin rush that I will get when I do wander out again in several days time, to be surrounded by singing Reed and Sedge Warblers, calling Cuckoos, displaying Bee-eaters, flocks of scything Alpine Swifts, lurking Bluethroats...

I'd better stop now.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Vis-migging for the hard of seeing


There are birding places that are famed for the sheer spectacle of the avian migration that appears above them - The Bosphorus. Eilat. Falsterbo. The Straits of Gibraltar. Leith Hill. Hold on, what was that last place mentioned? Leith Hill? That pimple of a hill to be found in deepest, darkest, southern Surrey?

National Trust ranger and Indiana Jones look-a-like Sam Bayley has set up a migration watchpoint from Leith Hill Tower (the top of which measures in at a dizzying 1026 feet above sea-level). Big for us southerners, laughably small to you northerners. This morning was the first organised watch and eight motley Surrey birders (including myself) gathered out of a mixture of enthusiasm, nosiness and a belief that our much-maligned county has a migration hot-spot waiting to be discovered.

We gathered at 05.45hrs in the dark. And in the fog. The picture above was taken at 07.00hrs, in the fog. You can just see the sun fighting a losing battle with the stuff. We were still fog-bound at 09.30hrs. Then it cleared. Not the most auspicious start to this brave new enterprise. But, when all was wrapped up at 13.00hrs we had recorded Peregrine, Common Buzzard, Raven, Firecrest, Crossbill and  Brambling among others. None of these were actually moving through though - to be honest little was moving, although a Swallow did nip through northwards and three Lapwings coasted west.

However, it was an enjoyable morning, the fog-shrouded (and mostly bird-less) hours filled with much banter and preposterous predictions as to what might be seen from here in future watches. Black Kite seems to be the most realistic of the suggestions. Watch this space...

Friday, 4 April 2014

Bohemian 'Chinese Pond Heron' Rhapsody


RIP Chinese Pond Heron - found dead last week in Hythe (with apologies to all fans of Bohemian Rhapsody and Queen)

Is this a real tick?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in confusion,
No escape from reality.

I open my eyes,
Look up to Hythe and see,
I'm just a twitcher, I need your sympathy,
Because I'm not easy come, easy go,
I tick a few, but some say no,
Anyway the splits go, it really does all matter to me, to me.

Someone, just killed Pond Heron,
But took away its head,
Left some feathers, now he's dead.
Pond Heron, life-list had just begun,
But now you've gone and died and flown away.

Pond Heron, ooh,
Didn't want to see you die,
If your not back on my list this time tomorrow,
I'll carry on, carry on, although it really, really matters.

Too late, your time had come,
Sent shivers down Birdline,
The Grim Reaper calling time.
Goodbye, Pond Heron, you had to go,
Gotta leave us all behind to find the truth.

Pond Heron, ooh (anyway the wind blows),
Didn't want to see you die,
I sometimes wish you'd never turned up at all.

I see a little silhouetto of a man,
Lee Evans, Martin Garner, will you do the identification?
Remiges and retrices,
Very, very frightening me.
(Can I tick it?) please tell me.
(Can I tick it?) please tell me.
Can I put it on my list?
Magnifico!

I'm just a poor birder nobody understands me.
He's just a poor birder divorced from his family,
Spare him his life-list from this monstrosity.

Easy come, easy go, but will you let me tick?
It's a Squacco! No, we will not let you tick. (Let me tick!)
It's a Squacco! No, we will not let you tick. (Let me tick!)
It's a Squacco! No, we will not let you tick. (Let me tick!)
Will not let you tick. (Let me tick!)
Never, never let you tick
Never let me tick, oh.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no.
Oh, Mr Evans, Mr Garner (Evans, Garner, let me tick.)
Chinese Pond Heron has a tick put aside for me, for me, for me.

So you think you can fool me and blind my birding eye?
So you think you can deny me and leave me to cry?
Oh, Pond Heron, can't do this to me, Pond Heron,
Just gotta tick, just gotta get a tick outta this.

(Oh, yeah, oh yeah)

Nothing really matters,
Anyone can see,
It's a Chinese Pond Heron,
That's all that matters to me.

Anyway the wind blows.

(Dedicated to those of you who spent far too much time sitting in a car on top of that Hythe hill waiting for the pond heron to 'fly in')

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

In a world of wounds

In George Monbiot's latest post (click here), he writes:

To understand what is happening to the living planet, the great conservationist Aldo Leopold remarked, is to live “in a world of wounds … An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”


In my ignorance, I have only vaguely heard of Aldo Leopold. I was intrigued to see from where this quote was taken. It comes from his book 'A Sand County Almanac' and was published in 1949. 


I had to read that date of publication again. 1949. The quote seems so fresh, so now. It only goes to prove that the realisation that our planet is not well because of the hand of man is not a modern phenomena. It's just that, in the intervening years since Mr. Leopold's observation, very few of those in a position to do so have done much to alleviate the planet's ailing health.