Tuesday, 3 March 2015

March the imposter

March 1st never fails to get me excited. It says "Spring". It says "lighter evenings". It says "migrants". But all too often, after several days of the third month, nothing much has really changed. There might be a handful of early migrants reported on the coast, but generally these will fizzle away and leave us wondering if we dreamed about such observations. It is then that I believe that what March really says is "fooled you again, sucker..."

It happens every year. A warmish mid-March day will provide a few butterflies, a Wheatear and a Little Ringed Plover. I will stand there breathing in the air as if it is charged with life itself (which I suppose it is), look around at the rude health of the fresh green vegetation lit by the sunlight and marvel at the hundreds of insects that have come to life. And then, the following day, all has been replaced by a nasty cold wind, scudding low grey clouds and the natural world seems to have retreated and gone back underground. This situation can then last for days. If I'm being honest, the same is experienced in April - and while I'm being negative, even May. But this is our reward for living as far north and as far west as we do. So, when one of those warm, calm days appears (maybe as early as Sunday according to the Met Office), don't take it for granted!

Monday, 2 March 2015

White arse

They're almost with us*
*apparently already are in Dorset...

Have you got what it takes to win a White Arse medal?

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Early migrants

It's March and that means summer migrants! Well, it doesn't really, does it. It might mean a few hardy early migrants making landfall, perhaps a fall or two at the months end, but there will be plenty of days when the winter will still rule, it will feel like December and the Sand Martin that enchanted us in mid-March will regret the day that it crossed the channel so early.

But regardless of all that pragmatism, summer migrants will arrive soon enough, so in celebration of these eagerly anticipated events I've raided my notebooks to bring you my earliest ever dates for the commoner (and some scarcer) summer migrants. Being a largely inland and weekend birder has meant that some of these dates are not all that impressive. If you live by the coast, and get out regularly, you will beat this lot into a cocked hat.

Garganey 27 March 1982 (Dungeness) - also recorded wintering
Montagu's Harrier 19 May 2014 (Dungeness)
Osprey 28 April 1996 (Stodmarsh) - also recorded wintering
Quail 13 May 1995 (Sandwich Bay)
Stone Curlew 16 April 1979 (Dungeness)
Little Ringed Plover 15 March 2008 (Holmethorpe SP)
Kentish Plover 1 April 1982 (Cliffe)
Dotterel 4 May 2012 (Canons Farm)
Whimbrel and Common Sandpiper dates confused by several wintering birds
Sandwich Tern 13 March 1993 (Dungeness)
Roseate Tern 12 May 1982 (Dungeness)
Common Tern 1 April 1978 (Dungeness)
Arctic Tern 18 April 1979 (Dungeness)
Little Tern 10 April 1982 (Dungeness)
Black Tern 22 April 1984 (Dungeness)
Turtle Dove 24 April 1983 (Appledore)
Cuckoo 13 April 2014 Leith Hill
Nightjar 18 May 1995 (Hempstead Forest)
Swift 22 April 2007 (Holmethorpe SP)
Sand Martin 12 March 1978 (Beddington SF)
Swallow 25 March 2005 (Holmethorpe SP)
House Martin 3 April 2010 (Holmethorpe SP)
Tree Pipit 12 April 1980 (Dungeness)
Yellow Wagtail 27 March 1980 (Dungeness) - also recorded wintering
Nightingale 12 April 1981 (Dungeness)
Common Redstart 11 April 1980 (Dungeness)
Whinchat 12 April 1981 (Dungeness)
Wheatear 11 March 1978 (Pagham Harbour)
Ring Ouzel 29 March 1998 (Bockhill) - also recorded wintering
Savi's Warbler 15 April 1977 (Stodmarsh)
Grasshopper Warbler 11 April 1981 (Westhampnett)
Sedge Warbler 5 April 1981 (Radipole)
Reed Warbler 13 April 2002 (Radipole)
Lesser Whitethroat 15 April 2007 (Holmethorpe SP)
Common Whitethroat 7 April 1995 (Dungeness)
Garden Warbler 24 April 2000 (Holmethorpe SP)
Wood Warbler 27 April 1980 (Headley Heath)
Willow Warbler 25 March 2000 (Holmethorpe SP)
Spotted Flycatcher 6 May 1983 (Cheam)
Pied Flycatcher 16 April 1983 (Pagham Harbour)
Golden Oriole 30 April 1988 (Dungeness)
Red-backed Shrike 15 May 1988 (Dungeness)

Friday, 27 February 2015


The 'pan-species-listing family' has had a big argument, a trial separation and gone through a messy divorce all in the space of 48 hours - and I thought that it was only birders that squabbled and fell out! Without naming names and reasons, a public spat on the Facebook Group page has led to the FB group being disbanded, then started up again by the two warring factions - so we now have two different places on which to post, natter and share. One is called 'pan-species recording' and the other 'pan-species listing'. Confused? Well, just to confuse us even more, as I type this post there has been a name change. The 'recording' group is now called the 'Biological recording in the British Isles' group.

I am a member of both, not wanting to take sides or get involved with the internal politics. My  willingness to get involved in such shenanigans has been whittled away down the years and I know to my own cost that these situations are rarely fully resolved and can leave a bad taste in the mouth for months, if not years. I haven't posted on either group yet and most probably won't for a while. I read the feeds on both of them and can only be reminded of a recently separated parent trying desperately hard to convince the kids that everything is normal and will be alright. It's sad all round...

This does go to prove just how savvy long-term club chairmen/women, secretaries, recorders and the like are. Almost 100% are voluntary, and all will come across dissatisfaction and unreasonable behaviour from a number of their members because that's just what human beings are like. To keep one's calm, to stay level-headed and to bring into play diplomatic skills are not, as far as I am concerned, appreciated enough. It's easy to shout, to whine, to take umbrage, to point fingers, to sulk - it's not so easy to reign in the desire to do these things and then act rationally.

That's why I am not a server of committees or clubs. I've tried, but I do not have the character needed to be successful at it. If I wore a cap I would doff it towards those that can, and do.

Thursday, 26 February 2015


At last the garden MV came up with the goods, albeit a modest haul - but there will be no complaints from me. Single Hebrew Character, Dotted Border (above), Spring Usher, Epiphyas postvittana and two Agnopterix heracliana have kick-started my 2015 mothing year. But, if nothing else, I'm a pragmatist - we will see plenty of cold nights when moths will be off the menu before the season truly comes to life.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015


Birding in the Surrey hinterland, particularly during the winter months, can be hard work. Frustrating. Soul sapping. Even depressing. Today was one such day, when a combination of drizzle and a lack of birds turned me from an enthusiastic birder to a crumpled heap within an hour.

I was walking across Walton Heath when it occurred to me that not only could I not see a single bird, I also couldn't hear one. I stood still and looked harder. I made my ears work overtime. Nothing. For maybe 20-30 seconds (it seemed like an hour) there was not a single avian tickle to be felt. And then four Wood Pigeons flew into view. Followed a further thirty seconds later by a Carrion Crow. And then a Herring Gull. I could have predicted those three species, the 21st century birders staple diet of pigeon, crow and gull. 95% of the Surrey bird biomass is made of that triumvirate I can confidently claim. It wasn't it always like this - or was it?

When I returned home I picked up my notebook from February 1977, when I knew that I had visited Walton Heath (dipping on a Great Grey Shrike). Did I see more back then - well, sort of... I recorded 2 Stonechats (missing today), 2 Willow Tits (extinct in the county now) and a flock of 50+ Redpolls (none today). My species list was still poor on that day 38 years ago but undoubtably I had seen more. Was that the proof that I needed to laud the past as better for birding? Not quite. My notebook reveals that a return visit a fortnight later was pants - no Stonechat, no Willow Tits (but a single Marsh) and only one Redpoll. Maybe my past is being viewed through rose-tinted glasses.

PS: I hope that the title of this post is not a true prediction of my garden MV haul tonight. The trap is on, the night is cloudy and mild and my expectations are for a handful of moths. Any species will do...

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

British Moths (second edition)

I don't automatically buy new editions of books that I already own. Quite often they can be almost straight reprints that offers the purchaser nothing more than having the same book but in better condition - and then there are those new editions that offer you an almost completely different book. British Moths, by Chris Manley, is one of the latter.

Although boasting the same number of pages as the first edition, he has managed to include 800 additional species, most of these being micro moths. To accommodate this the butterflies have been dropped, but this is no loss considering the wealth of books available that cover them. So now we have 2,147 species to peruse, of which 871 are macros and 1,276 micros. If for no other reason, this boost in microlepidoptera makes buying this addition a must. But that is not all...

Plenty of species that appeared in the first book have had their images updated, and all the photographs have had the subject rotated so that they all face the same way, making comparison easier. Also new are the distribution maps for all resident species (including micros) and a comparative size bar underneath each image. The systematic list and numbering adopts the 2013 Agassiz, Beavan and Heckford order, but the 'old' Bradley numbers appear at the end of the species accounts for older referencing.

Within 10 seconds of picking up this book to browse through, I knew that I was going to buy it. As someone who has largely dabbled in micros for a while now, but not fully embraced them, this book cannot do anything other than help me become more competent with them. It has certainly lit a fire under my enthusiasm and I'm raring to go!