Friday, 17 April 2015

Mid-April round-up

Locally, the past few days has seen a great improvement on the bird-front. I have been putting in the miles, walking across farm, heath, wood and hill with no great reward as far as rarity goes, but happy enough to come across good numbers of Northern Wheatears - with counts of between 6-8 at three sites, plus a fine male Whinchat at Mogador and a bonus Black Redstart at Canons Farm. The local patch challenge list rises to 88.

My efforts with the MV in the garden have not been whole-hearted. Last Tuesday night it did pick up a bit, with the first real assortment of moths to look through, including Early Thorn (pictured), Brindled Beauty and Scalloped Hazel. I also had a single Zelleria hepariella, a smart micro that I have previously overlooked.

Botanically things are a little behind. The chalk slope at Buckland Hills normally has, by now, Milkwort in flower in good number, but on Wednesday I could find none. The local exotic, Koch's Gentian, was also behind, with only one flower fully out. I did come across this Summer Snowflake at Canons Farm, the first time that I've recorded this alien here.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Battle of the Wheatears!!

And I thought that the North Downs and beyond Wheatear trophy had already been decided.

I totted up the white-arses from my worthy blogs this evening to find that there has been a mid-month surge from a certain Surrey blogger...

Wanstead Birder (Jono Lethbridge) Essex   17
Non-stop Birding (Peter Alfrey) Surrey   16
Cowboy Birder (Tony Brown) Essex   7

Peter has cunningly used the 'multiple Wheatears in one image' rule to bump up his score. I now expect a certain lensman from Wanstead to hit back big time. Even the Kent boys have awoken from their slumber, but are still not bothering the leaderboard. It all comes to an end at midnight on April 30th.

It's shaping up to be a classic encounter.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Meet a hypocritical blogger...

Sorry, couldn't resist it, even though the image wouldn't get an E+ in a photographic exam.

Canons Farm was a 'warm slog' this morning, in the company of David Campbell and Geoff Barter. Migrant wise a little livelier, with a female Common Redstart at The Slangs, a flyover Yellow Wagtail, six Swallows, a House Martin, 4 Northern Wheatears and a Willow Warbler. The odd Chiffchaff and Blackcap were in the wooded areas. As if to warn us that winter hasn't quite finished with us yet, there was a single Brambling in the Canons Farmhouse area.

Patch challenge total now reaches 86 (86%). Already running out of likely additions...

Monday, 13 April 2015

Red Kite interlude

Locally, there seems to be a bit more avian action, although I have only managed to add House and Sand Martin to the year list, both birds accompanying 2 Swallows as they moved rapidly northwards across fields at Mogador - a neatly packaged collection of hirundines. My only other observation of note was a Red Kite at Colley Hill. It alighted on the steep slope and picked up a dark object which, at first, I could not identify. Then the kite gained height before dropping said object and then catching it, repeating this process several times. What was it? A tied plastic bag that I would guess was full of dog mess...

STOP PRESS: an evening visit to Priest Hill, Ewell revealed eight Northern Wheatear together in the largest paddock, plus a my first Common Whitethroat of the year close by (no. 84)

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Powdered Quaker

Unsung, modest, always the bridesmaid... that just about sums up a Powdered Quaker. When the moth PR machine goes into overdrive at this time of year it is always the Pine Beauties, Oak Beauties and Yellow-horneds that get all of the accolades. But there is an understated class about Powdered Quakers - subtle, with the look of artisan dusted blond wood. It is annual here in Banstead, but not in great number. The pleasure was all mine when this individual popped up in the MV this morning.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Back on track

After yesterday's post that careered madly into self-analysis and self-absorption*, I got up this morning, dusted myself down and just got on with it - a birding trip to Canons Farm!

The Met Office predicted a warm day of hazy sunshine, but by early afternoon cloud cover had largely won the battle and a f2-3 south-easterly had a little bit of a nip to it. The air certainly betrayed the presence of continental pollution, with the mid-distance appearing hazy and the horizon line murky indeed. But what about the birding? At long last a Northern Wheatear appeared before me, a smart male on one of those ideal looking fields. A single Swallow headed east without stopping and the edges of Banstead Woods was enlivened with the song of Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler. My prediction that the Linnet flock was about to disperse was incorrect - it has now increased to 250 birds.

As far as the Surrey v Northumberland patch challenge goes, the list is now up to 81 species (81% of target).

* My wife read this over my shoulder and said, "this blogging is like therapy for you, isn't it". I cannot argue with that.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

A birding template

The older I get the more I cannot see the point in running around after other people's birds. Don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-twitching or even suggesting that birders should not chase target birds, but for me to do so lacks - how should I put it - a certain amount of art. Time, money and a sat nav can set anybody up as a competent lister - just check the news feeds and burn rubber as soon as something takes your fancy...

I used to do just that, many moons ago now. National twitches, obsessive county listing, manic site list compiler, but in reality I couldn't compete with the most rabid exponents of the 'art' and found that I was a ball of stress waiting to get to a bird and not much better after connecting with it. It had been relegated to a tick on a list, one that was no longer needed, a product that had just been consumed. There, I said it, the bird was just an object to be collected, collated, chewed up and spat out. Well, maybe that's going a bit far, but you get the picture.

I reference this little bit of wisdom from Eckhart Tolle:

'The ego identifies with having, but its identification in having is a relatively shallow and short-lived one. Concealed within it remains a deep-seated sense of dissatisfaction, of incompleteness, of  "not enough". 

Want some more?

Having - the concept of ownership - is a fiction created by the ego to give itself solidity and permanency and make itself stand out, make itself special. Since you cannot find yourself through having, however, there is another more powerful drive underneath it that pertains to the structure of the ego: the need for more, which we could also call "wanting". No ego can last for long without the need for more. Therefore, wanting keeps the ego alive much more than having. The ego wants to want more than it wants to have. And so the shallow satisfaction of having is always replaced by more wanting. This is the psychological need for more, that is to say, more things to identify with. It is an addictive need, not and authentic one."

Some of you reading this might be more mentally well-balanced than me, but I got to the point where the act of getting ready to strike out on a birding mission (i.e. to twitch or list) became an unhappy experience. I was already getting myself ready for the inevitable dip in my emotional state (and maybe a dip on the bird itself). To counter this I retreated into moths, plants and butterflies for a while, before trying to reinvent myself as a local birder, one not driven by the need to collect. I do still keep lists, but I don't chase them. I maintain them. There is a big difference. This has meant a big fall in my ornithological expectations, I don't see as many species as I used to and I certainly don't find as much (not that I was a prolific finder anyway). My prowess in the field has also taken a dive as I am not honing my skills on a regular basis at the coast - north Surrey does limit my ability to watch and listen to 'difficult' species.

Now my birding is more about the purity of the act, trying to understand the field craft, the reading of the weather, immersion in the habitat and trying to put myself into the mind set of a bird (pretentious, or what!)  Maybe we all evolve into this benign birding state. We start by wanting to just watch birds, anywhere and anytime. Then we want these birds to be rare, special and exciting. And then, when this wears thin, it's the manner of the birding that counts, where it takes on a philosophical and spiritual edge. And with this the joy returns.

Or maybe I'm just reading too much into it. As usual...