Thursday, 17 January 2019

Where once were many Tree Sparrows

This morning saw me teaming up with Beddington-birder Steve Thomas - a key-holder to the magic kingdom of the farmlands! After Tuesday's panic to see the Glaucous Gull today was a far more leisurely affair. The gull was once again present (on the tip and north lake). The morning's main quest was to hunt down a Tree Sparrow, something that could be done with little effort just a few years ago at Beddington. But times change, and the sewage farm population has fallen, and with it the number of over-wintering birds. We saw just the one, feeding on red millet at a bird feeding station (photo above taken a few years ago). Below is a summary of my personal records for the Uber-patch to add some context.

First recorded at Beddington SF and River Mole, Leatherhead (1975), Seears Park, Cheam (1983), Holmethorpe (1991). The breeding colony at Beddington SF is (or was) well-known, and counts could be high throughout the year, with a peak of 200 recorded on 25 February, 22 March and 26 November 1978. However, by the end of 2012, counts were much lower, sometimes only 20+ being made and by 2014 reports were that numbers had plummeted. At Holmethorpe, between 1991 – 1997, this species was not unexpected, but not quite annual, with a peak count of 25 on 25 January 1997. Since the latter date there has been only one further record, a single on 9 April 2005.

My highest count in the UK was of 820 moving north-west on 17th October 1983 at Dungeness in Kent. Such numbers now are the stuff of fantasy.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

The return of the ND&B Wheatear Trophy!

Jono Lethbridge's award winning white-arse from 2015

IT'S BACK! After a two year break the ND&B Wheatear Trophy has been taken out of the attic, given a firm dust and loving polish, and is ready to be presented to the person who loves all things 'white-arse' above everything else.

The previous winners of the trophy are:

2013 Gavin Haig
2014 Martin Casemore
2015 Jono Lethbridge
2016 Lucy@ A Natural Interlude

The categories and rules are as follows:

Earliest posting
Whoever posts the earliest image of a 2019 UK Northern Wheatear wins this one. Blog posting only.

Numbers champion (the big one!)
Whoever posts the most images of Northern Wheatears between now and the end of April 2019. A photograph of five birds together will count as 5 images! Get snapping!!! No repeat images, and that means you, Peter Alfrey!! Blog posting only.

Best photograph
The best image of a UK Northern Wheatear in 2019 (up until the end of April), to be judged by as yet unannounced members of the BBC's Countryfile team - (likely to change) - will be the winner. Or Matt Baker. Or David Lindo. Possibly Bill Oddie. More likely to be me. It might be used on the 2020 Countryfile calendar - might. Or as a nifty t-shirt design to be worn by Chris Packham during live transmission of BBCs Springwatch - outside chance. And, as the other categories, blog posting only. 

So, to recap: Northern Wheatear only. UK only. 2019 only.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Glaucous Gull

This morning I took a trip to one of my old stamping grounds, Beddington Sewage Farm. If I'm being honest, due to the presence of a Glaucous Gull I panicked and went early, as I have a visit already lined up to the farm this coming Thursday. I had yet to record this species at Beddington - and, as a big bonus, it was also a Uber patch tick! For some reason Glaucous Gulls have eluded me locally, whereas Icelands have been easier to come by:

1994    Mercer’s Farm, Holmethorpe
             An adult roosting on the fields on 2 January 
1997    Mercer’s Lake, Holmethorpe
             An adult at first light on 1 January, apparently having roosted overnight with several thousand other gulls
2010    Beddington SF
             A first-winter on the north lake on 27 December
2012    Beddington SF
             Three birds, (a first-w Kumlien’s and two second-winters) on 18 February; a first-summer on 28 April and 5 May
2016    Canons Farm, Banstead
             A first-winter on 28 February

Success! The bird appeared at the top of the landfill banking at approx 09.30hrs and was still present three hours later. We were able to approach the bird fairly closely, managing to obtain a few images with the bridge camera. The flight shot comes courtesy of Peter Alfrey, who together with Frank Prater allowed me to join them within the magic kingdom.

Pale iris and tipped bill a good feature of 2nd-winter birds

Other highlights included a Little Egret, 150 Teal, a Water Rail, two Green Sandpipers, a Kingfisher, seven Water Pipits and a brief burst of Cetti's Warbler.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Then and now

This morning, a fellow blogger posted his delight at observing a flock of Greenfinches in Norfolk - the first time that he had seen this species gathered together in any number. Old hands like myself are lucky enough to remember the days before Trichomonosis decimated the UK population of this finch - my highest flock counts are below:

1977  Beddington SF, Surrey
        2 October, 1,000+
1982  Dungeness, Kent
        27 October and 27 November, 1,300 

The Beddington flock was feeding across several settling beds that were packed full of seed-bearing wild flowers, mainly Fat-hen. They remained on site for just a few weeks. As for the Dungeness flock, that was faithful to the beach just east of the power station, and just like the Beddington birds were taking advantage of copious amounts of seed. Greenfinches were found annually in good numbers here from early autumn right through the winter months. Needless to say, such counts as these are a thing of the past. Today, if you were to visit the shingle beach, you would be hard pushed to find a single bird. The image above is the only one of a Greenfinch that I have, taken at Priest Hill last summer. Another case of 'Record shot my arse'...

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Record shot my arse

There is a Twitter account named 'Record shot my arse'. It features photographs tweeted from birders across the country that bemoan the quality of the images that they have shared, even though the said pictures are very good indeed. False modesty, fishing for compliments or bloody-minded perfectionists - you decide. The image that I share with you today is, without a doubt, a genuine 'record shot', that is a photograph that has little quality beyond being proof that I did indeed see what was before me.

Taken through a small opening in a barn door, in the dark and at distance, the image never really had a chance of being anything other than poor. This Barn Owl has been roosting in this same barn for several weeks and seems to be settled. The barn door is by a footpath and the owl is quite happy to have the odd birder peeking through at it. Whilst I was watching it, a pack of dogs ran past barking, which made the owl shuffle along the strut and hide in the barn's extreme corner, almost totally out of view.

Friday, 11 January 2019

In praise of a humble sign

Forget about the metal post and fixings - I'm sure that they were once wooden - just look at the sign. Look at how alive it is. Breathable wood. Flaking paint. Showing the passage of time and weather. Hand-painted lettering. The care taken to produce it. Upper Caps. Lower Caps. Tiny Caps. Somebody thought about this. Crafted, although the simplicity can hide such a thought. How long has it been there? Burnt by the summer sun. Drowned in heavy rain. Encased in snow and ice. Rocked by the wind. What has perched on it? Flown over it? Who has looked up at it and, being helped on their way, grunted in thanks as they headed off to Walton-on-the-Hill, thinking about that welcoming pint or slice of cake when they got there?

Apart from falling in love with this sign (on Walton Downs,) I still found time to record a Woodcock, two Common Snipe (flushed from open fields), 120 Skylark, 240 Redwing and just the two Fieldfare. I also caught up with local birder Paul, who I hadn't seen for a few years. A good day.

Thursday, 10 January 2019


This path does not qualify as a 'holloway' - it would need to possess higher and steeped banks to do so - but the impression of a tunnelled-out thoroughfare, worn by years of animals being herded and carts being driven along the narrow confines, is present. It speaks of age and tradition. This is the sort of thing that I find comfort and inspiration in.

(Image taken yesterday at Juniper Bottom, near Mickleham.)