Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Invert interlude

A morning that started as a search of the many horse paddocks to the north of Banstead (which failed to yield the hoped for chats and wagtails) and ended up as a successful hunt for invertebrates, mainly due to my checking of the Lixus iridis Banstead Downs location. To the uninitiated, this is a rare, southern-European species of weevil, large in size and of indeterminate status in the UK. Whether it is here under its own steam is in question, but now that it maintains a foothold in northern Surrey, we may see it expand further (image above).

At least six were found in a small area of Hogweed with casual searching over 30 minutes (no sweeping or beating). This site is also 'home' to Striped Shieldbug, although none were forthcoming, and I also checked a further site where I had recorded this rare hemipterid last summer. No joy there either. There were good numbers of Dock Bugs, with smaller counts of Sloe, Brassica (below) and Pied (bottom) Shieldbugs. 

Friday, 30 April 2021


A search of the scrub at the bottom of the North Downs scarp, at Denbies Hillside, could only reveal a handful of Whitethroats and none of the passage migrants I was hoping for. My effort this spring has not, on the whole, been rewarded - no doubt a sentiment shared by many birders up and down the country. Some consolation was had with the number of species of flower that are now coming into bloom, particularly the ground flora of the woodland. In amongst the Bluebells at the top of the hill it was a pleasure to revisit the Early Purple Orchid colony (below). Another month starts tomorrow, and my first appointment in the morning is my second COVID jab, at Epsom Downs racecourse. I might just take my binoculars along...

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Not through want of trying

Today saw a 12-hour birding session at one of my former regular patches - Holmethorpe Sand Pits. It was a day orchestrated by a chill north-easterly breeze, dirty grey cloud and frequent light rain showers. It ended with me feeling damp, achy and underwhelmed. I was joined in this most worthy of ornithological quests by 'Mr. Holmethorpe' himself, Gordon Hay. We tried. Honestly, we tried...

The area is characterised by several waterbodies, farmland, copse and a barren ridge that was once landfill. Our list of today's 'highlights' will not overly impress - 1 Little Egret, 2 Teal, 3 Gadwall, a Little Ringed Plover, a Lapwing, a Common Snipe, a Greenshank (above), a Common Sandpiper, 15 Swift, a Kingfisher, 150+ Sand Martin, 50+ Swallow, 25+ House Martin, 5 Yellow Wagtail, 2 Cetti's Warbler, a Sedge Warbler, 5 Reed Warbler, a Lesser Whitethroat, 8 Common Whitethroat, 30+ Blackcap, 4 Garden Warbler, 7 Chiffchaff, a Willow Warbler and 10+ Yellowhammer. Hardly a red-letter day. We kept at it, especially after the Beddington Boys (10 miles to the north) had two Arctic Skuas sail by. Such is birding. On another day, it could have been our glory - at least, that what we are telling ourselves.

Sunday, 25 April 2021

Garlic buntings

A chilly north-easterly wind, clear blue skies and a harsh sunlight all added up to provide an underwhelming morning's birding. Again, perversely, I chose to bird 'the road less travelled' which equated to a few hours of seeing very little, although this is what is to be expected when the places I visit are not all that 'birdy'. If I'm staying local it just seems a more adventurous option than to visit the crowded footpaths at Beddington or Holmethorpe. There are plenty of eyes already watching these north-Surrey hotspots - all I would do is add to that mass (although I plan to visit them both soon enough).

This morning's highlight was botanical, as down by the banks of the River Mole, close to Mickleham, one of spring's highlights was unfurling - the mass flowering of Ramsons (above). These bright white flowers zing out against the oh-so green leaves, the whole experience joined with the unmistakable smell of garlic. This show will look even better in a day or twos time when the flowers are fully opened. Today's bird interlude comes courtesy of a couple of buntings that posed for the camera on my South Downs walk last week: Corn Bunting (top) and Yellowhammer (bottom). 

Friday, 23 April 2021

Ouzel map

Yesterday's Ring Ouzel got me looking back at my past Uberpatch records for this charming thrush. First recorded at Beddington SF (1976), Seears Park, Cheam (1984), Holmethorpe (1991), Headley Heath (2005), Canons Farm, Banstead (2011), Priest Hill, Ewell (2017), Colley Hill (2018), Box Hill (2019), Little Woodcote (2020), Epsom Downs and Walton Downs (2021). Extreme dates: Spring passage; 29 March 2017 (Priest Hill, Ewell) – 1 May 2017 (Canons Farm, Banstead); Autumn passage; 13 October 2012 (Canons Farm, Banstead) - 7 November 1976 (Beddington SF). Highest counts: eight on 21 October 2019 at Box Hill; three on 13 October 2012 at Canons Farm, Banstead. And here are the sighting locations marked on the Uberpatch map (I didn't feel up to drawing a mini-Ouzel so a star will have to do.) I need to spend more time down in that south-westerly corner - there are no Ouzel stars there!

Thursday, 22 April 2021

Keep on keeping on

Since I swore off birding locally I have been birding locally (apart from the escape to the South Downs on Tuesday). That is quite typical of me, full of declarations, plans and ideas that somehow go to pot within the blink of an eye. And how quiet these sessions have been! Scarcely a migrant to be had, even after hours of scouring the fields, hedges and copses of Epsom and Walton Downs, full of hope, topped up with patience and a resolve not to go home empty handed. And to a lesser degree it has been a success. Each session has ended with at least a handful of Wheatear, once a male Common Redstart and on three occasions a male Ring Ouzel (all different birds). This afternoon I was near the end of a sunny, breezy, and birdless session (not even a Wheatear), when this popped up in front of me...

I will never tire of Ring Ouzels. For us southerners they are just passage migrants, and you've had a good day when you are graced with their presence. So, the lesson is clear. Keep on ploughing that birding furrow, even on a day that promises nothing. Today, a Ring Ouzel - and tomorrow? Who knows...

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

An audience with an eagle

I spent the day wandering along the South Downs footpaths between Chantry Post, Kithurst Hill and The Burgh. Beautiful weather, plenty to look at (including Grey Partridges and Corn Buntings, both missing in action from Surrey) with a scattering of Wheatears. But it was a raptor which stole the show. There have been two of the Isle of Wight White-tailed Eagles hanging around the area, so I was certainly on the look out, but the manner in which I bumped into one of them was unexpected. Coming across a picturesque scene, at the mouth of a rolling valley, I wandered along the bottom to get a better photographic composition when I was aware of a strange 'haystack' not 100m from me. I lifted the binoculars, thinking to myself that it would be good if it were an eagle, and this came into focus:

After watching it for several minutes the bird flapped lazily away and alighted on a nearby tree. I was able to take some video, through the heat haze. An hour later it was circling above the valley, only to alight in the middle of an open field.