Monday, 29 August 2016

Recent garden moths

I've been largely negligent as far as recording the garden moths here in Banstead this year. The MV has rarely been operated, and I don't really know why. However, with the recent heat, and with it the accompanying muggy nights, I have been stung into action. Migrant wise it has been the expected fayre - a few Silver Y, xylostella, ferrugalis and noctuella. Tree-lichen Beauty, White-point, and Jersey Tiger are all present and correct still. A few Maiden's Blush (there has been some forum discussion that some of these might be migrants, but I usually record a few here every summer).

This morning saw the years first Orange Swift (top) and a micro that I have not knowingly recorded before, even though it is very common, Celypha lacunana (left). As always, I am open to correction.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Panning for patch gold

A dreary, blustery morning was spent trudging over the downs and heaths just south of Banstead. That sentence contains more than its fair share of negative and despondent words, but that is how I felt. A lot of effort for little reward. There were many hedgerows, copses and fields apparently devoid of birds, with even the distant call of a Chiffchaff bringing forth bursts of excitement that were disproportionate to the event itself. But us inland (water-body free) patch birders are hardened to this sort of stuff, so I plodded on. After all, it is the season of surprises...

When I got to Mogador things did pick up a bit. This area of farmland, paddock and rough grassland has become a bit of a favourite of mine. It is good for passage chats, and during the winter there is normally a sizeable Redwing and Fieldfare flock. One day this place will turn up something very good indeed. But not today, although single Whinchat and Spotted Flycatcher (left) are not to be sniffed at.

Locally, I burnt myself out last year by spending far too much time (and often entirely on foot) thrashing areas that were, at best, moderate for birds. The trouble is, some of them look quite good. Colley Hill is a case in point: it is at elevation; with a steep scarp slope; offers commanding views to the south (all the way to the South Downs); with very birdable scrub... all that is missing are the birds. My hours spent there have turned up just a handful of Red Kites and the realisation that visible migration bypasses it entirely. It is good for plants though!

To counter the threat of another dose of 'enthusiasm loss', this year I have been taking it very easy. Only going out when I've really fancied it. Stopped flogging dead horses. And it's kind of worked. The mini-uber bird list for 2015 checked out on an underwhelming 95 species. As of this morning, 2016's total is already one better, with a few 'shoe-ins' still to come. What has helped is a run of hard-to-get local rarities, such as Egyptian Goose, Gadwall, Honey-buzzard, Goshawk, Iceland Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Woodlark, Tree Pipit, Ring Ouzel and Dartford Warbler. Looking at that list, I've got a nerve to complain about the area at all! But each of those has been a jewel hidden amongst one very large hill of crap. But that is the birders lot wherever they may be. I bet they still moan about such things on Fair Isle...

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Whinchats to the rescue

The hedgerows and isolated trees of Canons Farm were not dripping with migrants this morning. To be honest, it was hard work. However, the area just north of Reeds Rest Cottages was playing host to a group of four Whinchats (one of them above), and they stayed put for at least a couple of hours, unfortunately keeping their distance from the footpath. Always a pleasure, one of my favourite birds.

Apart from meagre numbers of Whitethroats, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs, all the migrant action was in the sky, with three Common Swifts, two Sand Martins and 80+ Swallow feeding above the barley fields.

Friday, 26 August 2016

A bridge camera too far

A few weeks ago, my two-year old Nikon Coolpix P600 bridge camera decided that it had had enough of me and died. The LCD monitor was lifeless, even though the camera was 'on'. However, without the monitor you cannot use the settings, so it was a case of seeing how much the repair would cost - into the realm of three figures as it turned out. It was time to say goodbye.

I had always been impressed with the results that Steve Broyd had coaxed out of his Canon PowerShot SX50, especially those of birds which I rated as superior to mine that had been taken with the Nikon. The upgrade on the SX50 (which is no longer available) is the SX60 HS, and after several weeks of deliberation I bit the bullet and bought one.

A quick power up and point and shoot out in the garden this evening was encouraging, with the zoom lens trained on a couple of Woodpigeon, and the macro setting tested on the micro moth Agriphila geniculea (both images below). Those Canons Farm Red-backed Shrikes and Wrynecks are no longer safe from my 65x optical lens and the resultant papping!

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Additions to the library

It's been a busy few weeks for the purchasing of natural history books - Mrs ND&B has quipped that we will need more shelf space for them, but the answer to that one is simple - she needs to ditch some of her gardening and cookery books...

First up is the Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of the Western Mediterranean by Chris Thorogood (Kew). It is a weighty tome, and I was loathe to actually take it out into the field with me when in Majorca recently. However, armed with specimens or photographs, this really is the first stop when trying to identify those plants that you come across inbetween watching Bee-eaters, Audouin's Gulls and Woodchat Shrikes. At 600 plus pages long, it is packed with photographs and line drawings of over 2,500 species, largely from the camera and hand of the author. It is a monumental undertaking for a single person, and obviously was the fruit from a labour of love. If you visit the area on holiday, or just like to hold and enjoy a well produced book, then it is worth your investment.

Britain's Birds (WildGuides/RSPB) Another bird guide? With a Robin on the cover?? Jointly published by the RSPB??? I wasn't tempted. And then I looked inside it... my folly was soon exposed, and this may well be the best guide to birds ever produced. There were clues to suggest that this would be a publication from the very top drawer, with Hume, Still, Swash, Harrop and Tipling as the named authors. It is beautifully laid-out, a stunning photographic celebration of every single species on the British and Irish list - each one a photoshop masterclass showing all ages, sexes, races and sub-species clearly pictured, carefully labelled and with the identification of each succinctly explained. Difficult groups are treated together, with side-by-side comparisons; flight plates of skuas, ducks and waders will get even the most jaded birder off their seat; even that cultish world of gulls is demistified. There are a few line drawings to sort out some of the tricky identifications (along with tables of key features). The authors, photographers and designers have come together to capture all that we know about identifying our birds, and present it in an easily accessible and understandable format. If you think that you are expert enough to not need to purchase this book, think again!

I have to admit to having not yet read Mountain Flowers by Michael Scott (British Wildlife Publishing/Bloomsbury) - in fact, it only came into my possession this morning. However, this is the fourth book in the BWP series, and the first three were highly readable and accessible. The author is well known in the botanical world and has spent a lifetime in search of my favourite plants of all, those of our mountain tops. It is a work that is as much a celebration of the allure of these high dwellers as it is a guide to what can be seen and where to go to find them. I have twice had the pleasure of visiting Scotland, walking the western Highlands (where I paid homage to Diapensia) and the Breadalbane Hills (including the incomparable Ben Lawers and the charismatic Ben Vrakie). Scott's book isn't Scotland-centric - he also takes us on a journey across the Welsh and English uplands, where a surprising amount of mountain flora is on show for the adventurous botanist. I know that I will be planning all sorts of trips whilst reading this - Glen Clova, the Cairngorms and Snowdonia are calling, and I haven't even read a single word yet...

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Return to Canons Farm

It's been a clear three months since I've birded at Canons Farm. Lured out by the (imagined) promise of passerine migrants, I toiled under a hot sun for close to six hours, and was scantly rewarded with a Wheatear, a Willow Warbler and low level counts of Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps, Whitethroats and Swallows. Just as well I don't wear 'birding blinkers'...

Butterflies to the rescue? Well, yes and no. Numbers were pants. However, two Clouded Yellows (Reeds Rest Bottom and Fames Rough) were a delight, especially as these were fully coloured-up individuals, unlike my previous two records from here, which were both of the pale helice form. A briefly showy Brown Hairstreak presented itself along a hedgerow by Woodpecker Meadow, and a tatty Silver-washed Fritillary was just about flying at Fames Rough. None of those to be sniffed at.

Botanical highlight was, without doubt, a mass-flowering of Devil's-bit Scabious. The whole of Sheep Brow seems to be covered in literally hundreds of thousands of plants. The area is currently cordoned off (due to livestock issues) but they can easily be seen and photographed from the 'correct' side of the fence. The top photograph hopefully gives you a flavour of what it was like, although if access is allowed in the next week or two I will try and get back for a proper photo opportunity. A single flower head (below) is as much a thing of beauty.

Monday, 22 August 2016

The tale of some knotgrass, plus a local meeting

Last week, whilst wandering along the top of the beach at Sidmouth, I spied several 'fleshy' knotgrass plants lying prostrate on the shingle. I had no camera, no eyeglass, no nothing. I suspected that they might be Ray's Knotgrass, a species that I have only seen once before (further east along the coast at Charmouth). It was a hot day, there were holiday-makers sitting on their towels only feet away from the plants in question and I didn't want to invade their space to collect a piece for later identification. So I left them, but felt that if they were Ray's, then it was something that might just be noteworthy. I wouldn't be going back to Sidmouth any time soon, but I knew of a 'blogging virtual friend' who lived right on the doorstep...

I sent an email to Karen Woolley, author of the excellent blog Wild Wings and Wanderings. She has a deep interest in botany, soon went along to have a look, and indeed they were Ray's and a tick for her to boot! Joy all round!! This blogging lark does have its positives...

And talking of such positives, through this very medium I finally met up with local natural-historian Tim Saunders. We spent a most pleasant couple of hours wandering over Langley Vale Farm and in the process gathered quite a list of arable plants. The three Red Hemp-nettle plants are looking robust and healthy, as too were several Small Toadflaxes. A single Silver-washed Fritillary was my first for the site.

Small Toadflax obviously flourishing in the habitat... was this Red Hemp-nettle.
UPDATE: at 13.50hrs a juvenile Honey-buzzard flew low, south-west over the garden. This is my third record here (since 1987).