Thursday, 31 March 2011


Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that, with increasing regularity, I cannot but take this hobby of ours a little bit too seriously - or rather, I read too much into it. To me, it is a minefield of angst, disappointments, social failures and self-denial. I recognised that I needed help...

Two days ago I checked into a newly opened wing of The Priory, called the 'Svensson Rooms'. This establishment started to take in the 'natural history needy' only last November. Each guest had a small bedroom, with an Observer's Book of Birds placed on the bedside table, which we were encouraged to read each night as a reminder of how we all began our enjoyment of 'birdwatching'. This word, 'birdwatching', was exclusively used throughout my stay, with any other term used by the guests (such as 'birder', 'birding' or 'ornithologist') being drowned out by Ring-necked Parakeet calls played over the tannoy system. Each subsequent use of such a word meant another minute being added onto the duration of the parakeet calls - and the recording being turned up another notch. We soon learnt to only used the term 'birdwatching'.

I signed up to four modules - 'It's not big to twitch', 'Your life list is just an extention of your penis', 'So you can identify immature gulls - so what?' and 'Forget about those Wallcreepers that you have seen in Britain and go and do something useful'.

I met some interesting people in there. 'Dave', at the start of the week, wandered around telling anybody within earshot that he had seen the Durlston Brown Thrasher. Within a day he couldn't remember if he had seen it at Spurn or Dungeness. When I left this morning he told me that when he was at Durlston in the 1960s his highlight was witnessing some amazing Meadow Pipit movements. Another man (they were all men), 'Pete' wore a badge that read '600 and proud'. Yesteday he had scratched off the last zero on the badge and was taking his British list apart, calling all unstreaked rare acros that he had seen 'string', dissing all Redpolls "apart from our humble Lesser" and not counting anything seen on Shetland and Orkney because "it's nearer to f***ing Norway than England".

Having been home for several hours I feel calm. I will feel warmth towards all of my fellow birdwatchers in whatever they do and how they do it. I will smile broadly at any fellow patch worker that will grip me off. I will positively beam at Robins, even the ones that will flick in front of me this autumn, pretending to be rare.

If you feel in need of similar threapy, give the Svensson Rooms a go. Up coming weekends include:

'So you can tell brambles apart - get a life'

'Pan-species listing - have you really got a girlfriend?'

'Moths are not cool, they are just another diversion from real life'

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

All of a sudden

Each year, as winter marches on into February, and the first stirrings of spring start to show, I become readied. Ready to welcome the growing number of moths to the MV. Ready to start taking in the first flowering violets. Ready to be made happy by the first flash of Wheatear white or the flick of a hirundine's wing. Time slows down, with each day of late February and early March revealing just a little bit of what's to come. Slowly, ever so slowly, it is adding to the building anticipation.

And then - WHOOSH!

It happens all at once. From bare trees to riots of blossom - from winter thrushes to summer swallows - from a lone Brimstone to a veritable selection box of butterflies in the garden. It happens too quickly, as if winter suddenly gives up the ghost with a violent shudder and instantaneously sheds its skin to reveal spring finery underneath. Every year I feel as if I've somehow missed the moment when this metamorphosis takes place. I want to rewind and take it all in, to savour it, to wallow in it. Hold onto it and not let go until I'm ready to take in the supporting cast that are on their way.

This grand unveiling of 2011 has happened, been and gone. Somehow, I was looking the other way.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

The times, they are a changin'

Apologies to Bob Dylan for nicking one of his song titles for the title of this post.

Today, faced with the prospect of going anywhere in the UK to further my knowledge and appreciation of the natural world, I chose to visit Walton and Banstead Heath. Even on a local scale, these places are as inspirational as a car tyre puncture at midnight in a ghetto full of crack whores and smackheads. However...

...I had a bloody great time. Birding was helped along by a couple of cracking Mealy Redpolls. I took loads of pictures of, as of yet, unidentified fungi and lichen. The sun shone. I walked along with a beatific smile on my face that couldn't have been bettered by a troupe of Hari-Krishna's on a recruitment drive.

Part of Walton Heath is a golf course. One of the golfers, spying my binoculars, asked me if I had to come and look at the new pond that they had created. Not knowing that it existed I went along to take a look.It looked interesting (see above). Thoughts of summer dragonflies and plants came a' flooding...

...cue Bob Dylan.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Red-green is the colour

Another night, another back garden MV haul. When I say haul, I really mean a modest catch. Amongst the sobre colours of various Quakers, Characters and Drabs was this Red-green Carpet, my first this year. Twenty years ago this was a very rare moth in Surrey and London, but now it is to be expected, but such smart moths are never a chore to look at.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Tuesday morning moths

Last night's garden MV haul was better than expected given the large moon and clear spells. New for the year were Double-striped Pug, Early Grey and this plume moth, Emmelina monodactyla. Very common, but I cannot help but like them.

Monday, 21 March 2011

My name is Steve...

My name is Steve and I'm socially inept because of birding.

"Thank you for coming this evening Steve and sharing that with us. Would you like to tell us when you first realised this?"

It really began when I was at art college. My fellow students would meet up at weekends, go to concerts, have all-day benders in back-street pubs. They might even try some, well, illicit substances. Oh, and there was that other pleasure that I hadn't tried yet - something that involved women...

"Do you mean sex Steve?"

Er- yes. Well, I didn't have time for any of that really, because if I'd gone out and done all of those things during a weekend, I would have missed out at what was happening at Beddington Sewage Farm!

"Please, will some of you at the back stop sniggering. Steve is being very honest here. Please carry on..."

I couldn't miss a weekend birding. Especially if we went to Dungeness or Pagham Harbour. Or on a twitch...

"You said 'we'. Were there other people involved?"

Yes, there were. My birding friends.

"Were they all men?"


"Did they have girlfriends? Did they all dress the same and smell as if they had spent two days in a car, not washing and just eating Mars Bars? Did they see other people who weren't birdwatchers?"

No. Yes, I mean... no, not really. Anyway, petrol stations only sold Mars Bars or crisps, and it was cheaper to doss in the car than get a B&B. One of them was married actually, although thinking about it he got divorced. Missed his wedding anniversary because he was at the St.Nicholas-at-Wade Great Bustard in 1978. Then took her to Scillies for a two week holiday the following October. She caught a chopper back to the mainland after three days...

"Weren't you interested in other things apart from birds?"

Well I was, but I sort of got sucked into birding further and further. After a while it defined me. And I had lists...


Yes, loads of them, lists of birds for places I'd been, months and years in which I'd seen them. And others.

"What others?"

I'd rather not say.

"Your're with friends here Steve, we hide no secrets from each other."

OK. I had lists of birds mating. Birds defecating. Birds seen while I was having a slash. Birds seen while..

"Er, that's enough I think, we get the picture. And you prefered all of this to getting pissed, getting stoned, getting laid and cultivating a wide spectrum of friends?"


"I would normally suggest shock theapy involving high-voltage bursts whilst looking at immature gulls, or being spanked with a copy of Birding World by a man dressed as Bill Oddie as you watch a Paul Doherty DVD, but to be honest Steve you are beyond help. May I suggest that you take up something less socially inept and acceptable. Like Morris Dancing?"

Can I look at moths instead?


Sunday, 20 March 2011

Down on the farm

Beddington beckoned, and I was not the only one that it beckoned for, as a fine gathering of group members plus those attending two organised walks took place at the hallowed sewage farm.

Bird-wise it is still quiet, save for four Common Buzzards (heading NW) and a lone Dunlin. I took the opportunity to cover the southern portion of the area to collect further botanical records for my survey of the site's plant life. This, too, was fairly uninspiring, with great swathes of Hemlock and Cow Parsley starting to flourish and monopolise, but not yet flower. Most of the interest will come from the alien species that will briefly flourish in the areas of landfill and soil dumping before they are bulldozed out of sight.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Sunday morning moths

A mild night with drizzle prompted me putting out the MV in the garden. A modest catch included Oak Beauty (top) and Twin-spotted Quaker (bottom).

Saturday, 12 March 2011


This morning there was a swathe of yellow across the disturbed ground at Beddington Sewage Farm and most of it belonged to the flowers of Colt's-foot. There is something slightly disturbing about this plant, as it punches its way through the earth with reptilian-scaled stems to unfurl the buttery-yellow flowers.

Not much on the move, not even a sniff of hirundine despite a steady southerly wind. A Dunlin and two Water Pipts were highlights, although as usual much enjoyment was had with the lads, standing by the northern lake, bantering away.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

It's all gone quiet over there...

No, I haven't posted for several days, not out of anything other than a lack of a reason to do so. However, I have been royally rewarded by: Tottenham Hotspur reaching the last eight of the Champion's league; watching Professer Brian Cox explain how time will ultimately cease to exist and making me understand how this will happen; viewing two excellent BBC4 documentarries on guitar-genius Peter Green and also the incestuous History of Fleetwood Mac; realising that I had left Glow-worm off of my pan-species list; drinking Jacques cider (which is expensive and poncey); listening to Scott Matthews (check his albums out); reading grip-off text messages from the birding-boy-wonder David Campbell; re-reading Ian Marchant's excellent book about the greatest pub-crawl ever.

I might get out at the weekend...

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Yellow Cobweb

An early start at Canons Farm on Saturday was rewarded with two flyover Waxwings but little else. I resorted to poking around the rotten wood in the nearby woodland where I discovered some Yellow Cobweb (a fungi), an addition to the all-powerful pan-species list. This unassuming fungus is pictured above.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

The owl is dead - long live the owl

Click here to read about the demise of the owl, kicked off the pitch by a thoughtless south American footballer. What a tosser....

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

A 33-year old retrospective lifer

I was nosing around the Field Studies Council website, eyeing up identification guides for obscure insect orders, when I came across a guide to flat-flies. That set alarm bells ringing! I used to hold a ringing permit (I gave up my A-permit in 1983) and back in the mid to late 1970s helped ring at Beddington Sewage Farm. We used to regularly mist net Swifts, and these birds were commonly infested with flat flies, something I had totally forgotten about until this evening. A bit of research revealed that these flat-flies are of the species Crataerina pallida. So, 33 years after I last handled a Swift and saw one of the birds 'tenants', I can add it to my pan-species list. The ultimate armchair tick...

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Owl abuse

Click here to see and read about a south American footballer indulging in a spot of owl abuse. It's actually quite shocking.