Friday, 17 November 2017

Cat-like owl

It looked like a big fat Tom cat, small ears pricked up on a broad face, dazzling eyes lazering in on anyone and anything. Its head was just proud of the severely cut field crop, swivelling from side to side, at times rotating full circle to ensure that nothing was about to disturb its roost site.

This Short-eared Owl had been picked up by David Campbell in one of Canons Farm's larger fields. His diligent scanning had detected a large clod of earth that surprisingly moved and through a scope revealed itself as the owl. He kindly sent a text message out to the Canons Farm faithful, which saw me change direction from Epsom Downs and up onto the high farmland. I didn't expect it to still be there when I rolled up some twenty minutes later, but it was, and stayed hunkered down and unmolested by the local corvids for the two hours that I was present.

A small gathering of local birders in the warm sunshine made for a most enjoyable morning - plenty of chatter, a few birds passing overhead and, maybe a hundred meters away, the cat-like owl that we had all come to pay our respects to.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

A lack of Marsh Tits

This morning I spent at least three hours roaming the woodland that is draped across Gatton Park, Reigate Hill and Colley Hill. It was exceedingly quiet, save for a flock of 75 Redwings. There were times when I could stand still and fail to see or hear a single bird. Most worrying was the lack of Marsh Tits. It is close on five years since I have recorded one in this general area. Come to think of it, my last few visits to nearby Walton Heath has failed to turn up this tit either. Maybe its local range is contracting - seemingly lost from Banstead Woods, possibly going that way in the Reigate area, hard to come by at Walton Heath... but it's not all doom and gloom. The small populations in Great Hurst and Little Hurst Wood are hanging on (albeit becoming quite isolated) and it remains quite common at Headley Heath, Mickleham and Box Hill.

I have to remind myself that when I first started birding in these places back in the mid 1970s, Willow Tits were quite easy to come by. It would be quite upsetting if the Marsh Tit went the same way.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Field work

Yet another visit was made to Headley Heath yesterday afternoon. I have been checking elsewhere for 'you know what' but have so far come up with blanks - Juniper Top, Juniper Bottom, Box Hill, Mickleham Downs and Norbury Park, but in the process have been able to reacquaint myself with some beautiful parts of northern Surrey. Whereas there might not have been any H*******, there were plenty of Marsh Tits, Bullfinches and Redwings, so it was time ornithologically well spent.

Back to yesterday afternoon. The 'big bills' we're still present, but not as numerous as they have been. 15 was my estimate, with a largest flock of five. No birders seen, funny how the lure of such events does quickly wear off, but that's fine by me, as I wandered the quiet valleys and had a couple of close encounters, both dull females. I also flushed a Woodcock. As the light started to fade I couldn't help wonder how much longer these testosterone-fuelled finches will remain, whether they will fade away in the coming month or decide to hang around for the winter. Whatever happens, it's been a tremendous influx to observe.

Friday, 10 November 2017

No show beech

The 'no big computer' trial period has claimed its first blog post no-show. Yesterday was spent walking through some of the finest beech woodland along 'my' part of the North Downs. The forest floor was carpeted with a virtually unbroken run of rich orange leaves, the sparseness of the under storey giving far reaching views, with a soft light being allowed in through the diminishing canopy. I managed to obtain some half decent photographs and started to compose a piece on the true wildness of such places - the slope of this part of the downs has never been cleared and farmed, so has most probably been clothed in beech, yew, box, ash and holly since the Ice-age. But... I do not have an SD card adapter for an iPad, and without the images such a post would be sadly lacking (although I seem to have done half a job above).

A replacement computer cannot be far away, and with Black Friday happening in under two weeks time, it might be financially prudent to wait. By the way, Black Friday, like Halloween, is another unwelcome piece of American consumerism that I could do without. But then again here am I about to partake in its greed. Go figure.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Trial period

Our big 'grown up' computer has finally died - it was one of those shiny silver Apple towers that was state-of-the-art when it came out in 2008. The fact that it has lasted NINE years is testament to its robustness. But now that the dreaded time has come we find ourselves looking at the corner of the room where the tower and monitor used to be and not being in any hurry to get a replacement. The reason being is that we can do just about everything on our iPad and iPhone (apologies to any anti-Mac or PC officianados out there).

Sending and receiving Emails, browsing the Internet, and being able to send items to print are all catered for. I have not got access to any of my creative software packages (Photoshop, InDesign) but haven't had the need to yet. I can download images from an SD card onto an iPad and do some rudimentary photo manipulation if I want. So, apart from a bigger screen, do we really need another big computer?

We are living a trial period at the moment to see how we get on without one. If we do decide we need a replacement then we will plump for an i-Mac and not a laptop, and we will then need to wrestle with the choice of monitor size and type of hard drive. I'm not 100% sure how all of this will go, but wouldn't mind betting that any lengthy copy writing will be a pain without a keyboard (yes I know the i-Pad Pros have one as an option) and I may start to wish for a big screen to properly edit my images on. The fact that this post is sans a picture is highly relevant...

There is a big part of me that would be happy to never switch on a computer/tablet/phone again - rediscover the joys of talking to people face to face, of writing letters, sitting down and researching stuff in a library, not knowing the football scores until the classified check on the radio, walking around all day without knowing the answer to a question, having to find a call box (and a fistful of change) when out.... no, maybe not....

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Moths in winter

I used to pack away the MV for the winter after giving it a good clean and checking that my supply of bulbs and egg boxes were topped up in readiness for the spring. But now, the moth trapping season never closes, migrants from the south can turn up in the depths of December and you need to have your wits about you (or belong to the excellent Migrant Lepidoptera Facebook group that will give you prompts) so as not to miss these winter windows of migration opportunity.

But it's not all about migrants - there are some hardy species that turn up on milder winter nights, and now, in late autumn, there are still Feathered Thorns, Blair's Shoulder-knots, Mottled Umbers and Green-brindled Crescents (above) to keep you going. I might not bother too much until next February, unless we get a plume of southern Mediterranean air come our way - my Banstead mid-winter fare does tend to be largely comprised of Light Brown Apple Moths and Chestnuts, neither species of which gets the pulse racing.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Birder on non-birder action

This afternoon I took myself off to Juniper Bottom, looking for H*********. I positioned myself on a cleared slope above the footpath, which gave a fine view across to the far canopy. Sound travels along this valley with ease - you can hear a Goldcrest sneeze at several hundred yards. I could certainly hear the three young hikers who were noisily making their way towards me. As they got closer they started to look at me, obviously unsure as to why I would possibly sitting on a log staring at trees. Then, as they drew level, one of them lowered his voice and said "Must be a bird watcher. Fucking weirdo".

It reminded me of a couple of birder/non-birder encounters that I have had over the years. The first took place at 03.30hrs one May morning when I was taking part in a Holmethorpe Sand Pits 24-hour bird race. I had parked up in a lay-by to listen out for Tawny Owl when a police car drew up alongside.
"Morning sir, can we be of assistance?"
"No thank you, everything's OK"
"Can I ask why you are parked here?"
"Well, as funny as it might sound, I'm birdwatching"
(Officer looks up into pitch black sky)
"Not going to be seeing much at the moment, are we now"
"I'm listening for owls"
(Officer turns to his colleague, shakes his head, looks back at me, shrugs)
"Each to their own sir, each to their own..."

My most memorable was when standing on Amberley Brooks one glorious winter afternoon, scope on tripod, scanning for the reported Short-eared and Barn Owls. A middle-aged couple came up to me and the woman asked:
"What are you waiting for?"
She physically started, her eyes widened, her mouth broke out into a beaming smile, her bottom lip was quivering. She looked at her husband with unbridled excitement, then back at me.
"ELVES! There are elves here??!!!"
When I explained that, no, I had said "Owls" and not "Elves" her expression crumpled into one of mass disappointment. I have rarely felt such a heel.