Wednesday, 13 December 2017

The birds in Spring 2017

Common Redstart, Priest Hill, April
Well I did put a lot of effort in locally, honest! For a change and to 'bird off piste' I adopted an area of abandoned playing fields between Banstead and Ewell known as Priest Hill. It has recently been handed over to the Surrey Wildlife Trust to manage, although there is not an awful lot that can be done bird-wise, save fence off areas from the hordes of dog-walkers and their canine friends in an attempt to protect the handful of Skylarks that breed there.

Almost daily visits throughout the spring did produce a few passage migrants, most notably Jack Snipe, Common Snipe, Ring Ouzel, Grasshopper Warbler, several Common Redstarts, plenty of Wheatears and a very healthy population of Common Whitethroats were in song throughout mid-April and into the summer, with the odd Lesser Whitethroat for good measure.

I neglected Canons Farm, but did manage to bump into a Ring Ouzel on May Day.

Northern Wheatear, Priest Hill, May
Common Whitethroat, Canons Farm, May

My near annual late Spring fortnight at Dungeness coincided with a string of good birds, including a superb adult Rose-coloured Starling, two Black-winged Stilts, two Bee-eaters, a Serin, a Black Kite and a Honey-buzzard, plus plenty of other stuff to trawl through and point lenses at (some of which came out quite well for me and my bridge camera). When Dungeness decides to play ball, it is a glorious place to be (note to Dungeness - please pull your finger out for the autumn!)

Rose-coloured Starling, Dungeness, June (I'll let you guess which it is)
One of the two Black-winged Stilts at the Midrips, June
Two adult Mediterranean Gulls, Dungeness, May. You can never get enough of them...
Corn Bunting, Dungeness, June. A poser.
Reed Bunting, Dungeness, June. Another poser.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Uber plant challenge

I do like to have set aims at the start of each year - small projects if you like. They don't ever become all-consuming affairs, more like amusing side-shows. This year saw me adopt Priest Hill as a birding patch, which, at times, was rewarding. So what for 2018?

I first started to look at plants in earnest in 1998. I had dabbled before, mainly at Dungeness. The years that followed saw me get fully into all things botanical and culminated in far-flung trips to enjoy the best that Britain has to offer, from the mountain-tops of Scotland, to the Lizard peninsula coast, and the dry Breckland heaths. As much as I still regularly search for plants locally I have become lazy. My identification skills have lessened as I tend not to check difficult groups and have largely shied away from grasses, sedges and rushes. Well, that's where the 2018 project comes in.

My Uber patch (map above) will act as the defined area of my botanical year/challenge. I have broken this up into defined areas and will record the plant species recorded throughout the year in each one. This will make me critically examine groups several times over and restore my lost knowledge (and gain much more) - plus possibly add a few records to the Surrey Botanical Society data base. The checklists are primed, eye-lens cleaned, literature at the ready...

Friday, 8 December 2017

Moths - the best from elsewhere in 2017

Mothing away from the back garden was limited to my Dungeness excursions and one splendid day spent on the Wiltshire chalk downs. As much as 'lifers' are not the be-all-and-end-all of recording, they are undoubtably welcome, and all featured here (bar the Death's-head) were exactly that.

Death's-head Hawk-moth - Dungeness, Kent, May. Found resting on the wall of a beach dwelling
Purple Cloud - Dungeness, Kent, May. Trapped by Bob Arnfield at the Long Pits.
Cistus Forester - Pewsey Downs, Wiltshire, June. Quite a few on the wing
Red-headed Chestnut, Dungeness, Kent, October. In the same MV as a Cosmopolitan.
Spoladea recurvalis, Littlestone, Kent, October. A rather smart migrant pyralid.
Sword-grass, New Romney, Kent, October. The first Kent record since the 1960s

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Winter beech complete

My painting of the winter beech woodland is complete. It is getting on for A3 in size, so is quite large, and it needs a close viewing to capture the detail, which is partially lost in the image above. I'm now averaging about one painting a year - maybe I ought to try and up that output in 2018. Not only does creating artwork keep me usefully busy, it is also wonderfully restful. Go on, pick up a paintbrush and have a go!

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

The back garden moths of 2017

Yes, it's that time again, a look back at the natural history highlights of the past year - a Godsend to the frequent blogger who may just be running out of things to bore you all rigid with.

It has undoubtably been a good year for moths - at least for the back garden, which after 30 years of recording still manages to surprise and entertain. I continued to try and get to grips with the micros, with some success, including a couple of 'good for Surrey' species:

Phtheochroa sodaliana, feeds on Buckthorn, local on Surrey chalky soils
Blastobasis rebeli, an adventive species and the second Surrey record

New macro additions included these most welcome visitors:

Clifton Nonpareil, part of a nationwide surge in records
Scallop Shell, is there a more finely marked moth out there?
Scarlet Tiger - still very scarce in the county and a big surprise during a hot spell in mid-June
Yellow-legged Clearwing - along with Orange-tailed, enticed to a pheromone lure
Us inland recorders were also blessed with good numbers of scarce migrants, including a handful of Scarce Bordered Straw. I was also able to record my first Bordered Straw since 1996, a Hummingbird Hawk-moth and the garden's first Delicate (below). I was pleased to welcome back single Privet Hawk-moth and Garden Tiger, both absent for a number of years. The garden total now stands at 563 species (400 of which are macros).

Monday, 4 December 2017

Flying torpedo

With the continuing presence of Hawfinches, and there being no way of knowing when such numbers will grace us with such site fidelity again, I returned to Headley Heath for a spot of Coccothraustes worship. Again, no other birders were present, so I had the far valleys to myself. Arriving at 13.20hrs it was but twenty minutes before three flew in, and in the following two hours they were backed up by several other encounters, including a flock of four. The total of 12 suggests that the Headley birds are finally moving away. To sit in such glorious valleys and have these fat cigar / heavy torpedo shaped birds, triangular of wing and generous of wing bar, fly overhead and giving, at times, intimate views, are moments to remember. One bright male sat in a tree top for well over ten minutes, away from camera range but well within that of binoculars. He positively shone out in the afternoon gloom. It might be some time before we witness these numbers again...

Sunday, 3 December 2017

This the season to be grumpy

I'm not anti-Christmas. That is, I'm not anti-Christmas as in it being used as a public holiday and for family get-togethers. Having been a life-long atheist I do still feel a little uneasy about using a religious festival as an excuse to 'eat, drink and be merry' - I don't subscribe to the Dawkin's school of belittling believers. I respect one's right to adhere to a belief system of choice. How and when the marketing people turned the birth of Jesus into a reason to put on weight, get pissed and waste lots of money I'm not sure, but they've done a good job in brainwashing us to do so.

When our girls were little ones during the 1990s, we too fell into the consumer trap. We must have spent hours trying to hunt down the most wanted toys (this was pre-Internet) and joined in the obscene overspending on everything from gifts, food, drink, decorations, trees, crackers.... and making sure that we had those extra little things that you cannot do without at Christmas, which ironically still remained unopened and unused in the middle of January.

Back then I used to go out running (it was two stone ago) using the same 2-3 mile route around our hilly streets. In mid-December I would play a game with the girls - to guess the number of houses that would have their Christmas decorations up. We would all commit our estimates to paper and the closest would win a prize (50p... I have always been generous by nature...) This game would not start until mid-December because until then there would be few decorations on show. How times have changed.

Today is December 3rd. I have just walked around my old running route. Every third house is lit up like Santa's grotto. Banstead can be seen from space right tonight! And not only has the putting up of decorations moved forward by a fortnight (is this also down to global warming?) but the increase in the number and size of said decorations is dramatic. When I was a lad it was a big thing if somebody had a tree in their window - now houses are festooned in lights of many colours and flashing sequences. Vast inflatable Father Christmases, Reindeer and Snowmen wobble on lawns, and this year there seems to have been a run on giant candy walking sticks, plunged into lawns to light up the route of front garden paths, like a Willy Wonka wet dream. This year the earliest private dwelling to 'deck the halls' was November 24th. I have seen one as early as 20th. Not that I keep a note of such things...

We could start a whole discussion as to the morality of spending so much money - largely wasteful - when there is so much poverty around the world. Do we really need a dozen lighted candy sticks? But then I have to concede that 20 years ago I would probably have been in a queue to buy them along with everybody else. Needs must, even if we don't need and don't have to.

But now I just look around me and shake my head slowly and sorrowfully at the needless spending, brought on by our inability to turn away from the manipulative advertising of big business. Bah humbug!!