Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Moths in the murk


With murky, mild conditions overnight it was a no-brainer to switch the MV trap on in the back garden. 18 moths of 12 species was the result, with Dark Sword-grass (1, above), Common Marbled Carpet (1), Lesser Yellow Underwing (1), Large Yellow Underwing (1), Grey Pine Carpet (1), Red-green Carpet (3), Green-brindled Crescent (1), Red-line Quaker (1), Yellow-line Quaker (1), Snout (1), Eppirita sp (1) and Light Brown Apple Moth (5). Will try again tonight - I still haven't recorded Cypress Carpet in the garden and thought that I'd score this year - time is running out.

Monday, 22 October 2012

The first time

What with a deluge of decent species arriving on our shores, the 'birding' component of this blog is going to suffer comparison with any coastal-based blogger. My answer to combat this is to dig into the archives and thrust nostalgia upon you...

My first visit to THE SCILLIES

Straight away there's a mistake - officiandos of the archipelago never refer to the islands by that moniker. Scilly Isles is OK, Scillies not. Got that? Back in 1978 I hadn't. When I was offered a lift to go and twitch the Western Palearctic's first Semipalmated Plover (that had just been found on St. Agnes) I needed no persuasion at all. Those fabled islands had played havoc with my mind for the previous couple of years to the point that I just knew a visit would arrive sooner rather than later. I was soon wedged into a small car leaving London on a Friday evening along with four other birders, all long-hair, spots and combat clothing. Back in those days we didn't do suave.

The Scillonian
Flat calm. Apart from a Red-necked Grebe in Penzance Harbour and a Sooty Shearwater on the crossing, little of note. We lined up along the rail, all earnest birders comtemplating the islands ahead, coming into view. It was a right of passage as much as a weekend's birding.

St. Mary's
Off the boat to be met by a birder leaning against a wall. He seemed knowing and gave off an air of 'been here, seen it all'. "It's still there lads!" was a welcome welcome. A simple transfer to a small boat heading for Agnes followed.

St Agnes
A walk round to the beach that the Plover frequented took no time at all. No wait either as the bird was there, performing to the crowd. I wasn't impressed, it looked just like a Ringed Plover. I didn't go in for subtle. Far better was the Lesser Golden Plover a hundred yards further along (it hadn't yet been split). Birding Gods were nearby - whispers of 'Look, that's Paul Dukes' elicited as much excitement as the birds. A whirlwind of birding followed, with Red-breasted Flycatcher in The Parsonage, together with an Icterine Warbler.

St. Mary's
A quick dash to Porth Hellick for a Long-billed Dowitcher before the light went. Then back to the harbour, where us five London twitchers took up residence in the waiting room. I doubt if 'dossing' would be tolerated now by either birder nor local authority, but for us it was

time for bed...

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Vis mig


I like nothing better than a good passage of diurnal migrants passing overhead - migration and movement in all its glory. This morning at Canons Farm there was, for the first three hours of daylight, a good passage of Redwing (700), Starling (3,000) and Chaffinch (300) in a westerly/south-westerly direction. The odd Redpoll, Siskin and Brambling was thrown in for good measure. One of last weeks Ring Ouzels was still haunting the hedgerows. The Kestrel pictured above decided to pounce on an earthworm and consume it only yards away. Even I had to digiscope it.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

More Ouzels at Canons


Canons Farm is developing a reputation as the London and Surrey hot spot for Ring Ouzels. This spring saw multiple sightings (of several birds) including a bird that remained for at least a week - these facts are a bit vague but close to what happened. This morning, at 08.00hrs, a single bird was found by David Campbell close to Canons Farmhouse, and a couple of hours afterwards, while we were standing side by side with Ian Jones, a flock of three flew into the trees and bushes at the northern end of Legal and General. They stayed on show well into the afternoon when a count of four was claimed. As any regular visitor to this blog will testify, I don't do digiscoping, so the image above is as good as it gets when I do try. If you want good pictures of birds, go and visit Marc Heath's blog. Don't expect any here...

Friday, 12 October 2012

Tweeting hell!

Working in the media as I do (lovey), I have been aware of Twitter for quite a long time. Early doors a web chappie set an account up for me and I sent out my first tweets - no doubt some trite rubbish about nothing in particular. When the web chappie turned his back I stopped tweeting...

My last post had me explaining why I re-activated my Twitter account. And I now have a confession to make. I haven't stopped using it. I have started to follow a good number of natural history related tweeters (and so far only those that might give me a bit of natural history gen, so, for the time being I do not follow Stephen Fry or Tulisa). I check to see if I've gathered any extra followers and feel wanted if I have. I also check far too regularly to see what's being seen and have not been so gunned up since the 1980s. One or two of those I follow have many fingers in the political scene so I'm most probably able to comment on airport expansions and badger culls with far more authority than before.

There are downsides. Sitting in an office being bombarded by birders sending out news of falls, rarities and sea watches can play havoc with my concentration and mood levels. I can now be in a grumpy mood because all those lucky devils out birding are knee-deep in Redwings and Yellow-broweds while I'm meant to be slaving in front of a computer screen- but find myself hunched over a phone waiting for the next tweet to upload.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Woodlarks, Twitter and naming things

It's funny how birds that 'come your way' do so with a great fat dollop of chance. This afternoon I went to Canons Farm and decided to park on the eastern boundary of the recording area in Holly Lane West - I normally park on the opposite side. Because of that decision I found myself walking across a stubble field that ordinarily I wouldn't even look at (for those that do detail this particular field has been christened Pipit Field). Three passerines got up in front of me and quickly settled again. Through binoculars I couldn't immediately see them so I slowly edged closer, more in hope than expectation. After a couple of minutes one came into view, followed by the other two. Each bird's generous supercillium that met on the nape (in a 'V') gave the identification game up quite quickly as three smart Woodlarks paraded in front of me. I didn't need to use my scope that hung redundantly by my side as they were very close.

Then the farce started. I knew that the Canons Farm Boy Wonder, David Campbell, was having phone trouble, but I sent a text and left a voicemail all the same. As I was doing this the birds took off; the short-tailed calling larks circled as if to return, then seemingly pitched down in the Buzzard Field area (all Canons fields have names - many that I don't know the name of). I decided to try and find David - and any other birder on site - rather than try and find the larks again for fear of flushing them away. I managed to get hold of Roy Weller by phone, and send out a group text to local birders, but spent the following hour storming over the considerable recording area without seeing a single birder!

To cut a long story short David (after dexterous use of technology to get birding gen delivered to his ailing phone), Roy and Paul Goodman finally joined me in the general area that the Woodlarks had been, but our search was in vain. This is only the second farm record of this species, with my record of November 2007 being the first. I doubt that it will be the last.

Two things came out of today. I activated my old Twitter account so that information can get out to interested birders who's phones might be playing up. Secondly I'm going to try and remember the names of the fields, woods, gateposts and haystacks of Canons Farm, because it's a lot easier to describe where something is by using two words.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Fennel after rain - and smells


Sometimes (actually, very rarely), I take a photograph that I'm really pleased with. This is one of them. The species is Fennel and I was taken by the raindrops that had hung on to the linear structure of the plant. Every time that I come across Fennel I have to pick a bit and rub it between my fingers. If you've never done so I urge you to try it. It smells of aniseed or licquorice depending on your olofactory set-up. This is one attribute of botany that a lot of people miss - smell. And by that I don't necessarily mean sniffing a fragarant bloom. Plenty of species have aromatic leaves although try snorting those of Black Horehound and you'll wish you hadn't.

Various labiates are full of minty, lemony and herby sniffs (they are herbs after all!). Other families smell of curry, mice (no, really) and fish (yes, really!). One of my favourites is borne out of being (a) rare and (b) Dungeness based. Nottingham Catchfly is a modest white-flowered species that is very local in distribution but abundant at Dungeness. Because you cannot find the plant elsewhere in such profusion, the smell that thousands of plants let out - only in the evening - is something that you can only experience on the fabled shingle peninsula (and possibly a handful of other places). I liken it to a delicate hyacinth, which will waft to you gently on the still air of a warm evening. I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about that...