Showing posts from July, 2011

They used to watch birds there...

..they still do really, but most of the regular members of the Beddington Farm Bird Group have foresaken birding during this summer to immerse themselves in the black art of pan-species listing. At least Johnny still had his wits about him to notch up a Black Kite a couple of weeks ago (shared with Peter who viewed it from his flat window). The sewage farm plant list is still building nicely, and I've yet to seriously look at the grasses, sedges, willows and roses (maybe next year?). I quite like this laid back approach to observation - if I don't feel like looking critically at something, then why do so? After all, it's not a job. We didn't neglect the birds this morning, with 3 Greenshanks, 10 Green Sandpipers, 5 Common Sandpipers and a messy flock of 2,000 Starlings. I have an aim for the coming week - to catch a Tree-lichen Beauty in the garden moth trap. It would be a lifer and is overdue. There are also some tantalisingly close Jersey Tigers that would grace t

Debbie Harry performs in my garden

I know a girl from a lonely street Cold as ice cream but still as sweet Dry your eyes Sunday girl Last night I was sitting in the back garden, the dusk quickly descending, taking in the calm weather, the muggy night and the bats and moths flitting through the air. But there was something else that stole my attention, and that was Debbie Harry of Blondie, singing to me live in my garden. No kidding... Over the past two years the following have sung live to me as I've sat in the garden... Simply Red, JLS, The Beach Boys, The Feeling, The Wanted (quiet at the back Stables, I know it isn't exactly The Clash or 999), and there is something special about having these acts do so. I'd better explain. I live a mile away from Epsom race course. For each of the past three summers they have put on weekly evening performances from a variety of bands directly after a race meeting. You can go and watch the gig by buying a ticket and watching from the grandstands; you can sit on the

Mist netting - a necessary evil?

Birdguides has just posted an article about a study into the safety of mist netting birds . This is a subject that often gets non-ringers hot under the collar and I wish I had an extra pan-species lifer for every time that I've heard somebody say that it is a cruel practice. It is something that I know a little bit about. Between 1976 - 1983 I held a ringing permit, becoming an A permit holder and a trainer by 1979. I have spent a great deal of time handling many thousands of birds, from tiny Goldcrests right through to the veritable avian giants such as geese and swans. Most of these were trapped by mist net (not the geese and swans however!). A mist net, generally, only becomes dangerous to a bird when the person extracting it from the net is inexpert in the process. It takes a person with a 'feel' for the fine mesh to confidently untangle the bird from it. There are situations when weather can play a part in safety - a windy day can tangle birds beyond comfort, rain wi

Hawfinch valley

Headley Heath holds a special place in my natural history heart. It is one of those places that I cut my ornithological teeth on back in the 1970s, with evenings spent in the company of Nightjars and Woodcocks. More recently it has been the moths and plants that have caught my attention there. Today I visited with moss and lichen in mind, but it was the birdlife that stole the show. I took the picture above whilst sitting on a bench (very dude, I know) taking in the view and scanning the sky for anything that might float by. Earlier in the morning I had heard a calling Hawfinch maybe half a mile from this spot, but was still delighted to then see a flock of 11 of these magnificent finches fly from left to right across the far valley shown in this photo. I have seen Hawfinches here before, in this very spot, one October morning back in 2005 when a flock of eight entertained me for up to 10 minutes, I have since refered to this place as 'Hawfinch valley' (this being reinforced

Even the bad times were good

I've just watched a television documentary about cricketer Ian Botham, who, thirty years ago today, almost single-handedly defeated the Australians in the famous Headingley test. The first half of the programme, that looked at his career between 1974 - 1981, had me drowning in nostalgia - not just for the cricketing performances that I followed so avidly at the time, but also because these same years also neatly dovetailed into my early birding life. Botham's test debut recalls a trip to Abinger Common. His rise to 'first-name on the team sheet' was at the same time that I began my mercifully brief flirtation with twitching. His glorious summer of 81 paralleled my own semi-residence at Dungeness. At first I was at a loss to put a finger on what it was that bestowed upon this period really good reasons to cherish it so much... Viewing any archive news footage from this period is a shock - Britain looked so grimy and downtrodden. The birding was similar. Most birders dr

I don't care what the weather man says...

Click on picture to get the full weather effect Us crazy Brits, eh? Preoccupied with the weather, never a dull moment on our island caught between Azores Highs, Baltic Lows, jetstreams and blasts from the Arctic. We suffer the driest April and May since Velocoraptors stalked the earth and then follow that with biblical rainfall throughout June and July. Watching the Open golf on TV over the weekend was as much about watching the weather from Sandwich as it was cheering on a slightly overweight Ulsterman beat off the American upstarts. I dug out the picture above, taken at Dungeness last July. We were aware of a murderous black bank of cloud arriving from the west and stood on the moat as it came slowly towards us, building in height and menace all the time. What was most apparent was a raised grey ridge of cloud within it, like a giant cereal bowl. When it arrived rain fell hard for maybe ten minutes before it headed off to do battle over France. No doubt Michael Fish could tell

Box Hill's Olympic dilemma

Next July, the Olympic cycling road-race will hurtle around London and Surrey. The route includes the roads around Box Hill, including the famous zig-zag. Now, I do like my sport and have plans to go and see part of this particular event. I also like my wildlife. It is here where these two worlds collide. I can think of no better a natural ampitheatre to watch Mark Cavendish take on the world's best than the steep slopes that meander wildly up the side of the North Downs. But where will we be able to spectate from? This particular area is home to a magnificent chalk downland flora and some very localised invertebrates. A sudden influx of several thousand people onto the zig-zag will do damage to this fauna and flora - but as to how drastic the damage will be, I don't know. I have heard rumours of no access at all, that there will be cordoned-off vieweing areas and that in the spirit of the Olympics we will be allowed to trample on Musk Orchids (above), Dew Moths and Straw Bel

Four easy steps to a moth tick

One: find a Horse-chestnut tree that exhibits the tell-tale signs of leaf-miner damage on its leaves. Two: pick a leaf and place it in a large sealable plastic bag. Three: keep the bag in a cool,dry place. Four: check the bag regularly for the emergence of adult Horse-chestnut Leaf-miner moth(s) and any parasitoids that may also be present. I put a leaf in a bag on Saturday and had three adult moths today - result!

"A room without a book is like a body without a soul"

G K Chesterton, I think. I don't know what it is about looking on other birders' bookshelves, but I found myself clicking on this picture  and checking each and every book shown, with a little voice in my head saying "got it, got it, got, haven't got it, got it..."

A rucksack full of Rye

Sunday saw me head south to Rye Harbour. I don't know why my visits to this part of East Sussex are so infrequent - I really enjoy going there. The enclosure above can be found west of the disused lifeboat station and contains two rare species of plant - Least Lettuce and Red Hemp-nettle. The latter is surprisingly hard to see considering the showy red flower, but there was enough of it inside (and just outside) the compound to make it hard to miss on this occasion. As for the former, well; a scrawny, dull, shy flowerer that sometimes can be prostrate on the shingle is never going to shout out it presence. Yesterday however, I did find a single plant close to the fencing. It wasn't flowering, but it was, after all mid-afternoon - they are best in the morning. The Red Hemp-nettle above was found much closer to the river, a single plant all on its own. I have seen this species at Rye in small amounts anywhere from the river along the beach almost to Winchelsea. Apart from

One day at a time... for ten years

I quote from Neil Randon's latest blog post, posted yesterday after he went and saw Surrey's fourth record of Red-rumped Swallow: "I got to Unstead in 40 minutes, and Johnny (Allan) was already in position, alongside Brian Milton, the guy who discovered the bird . It was a major coup for Brian, who is nearing a remarkable landmark. He is fast approaching 3,500 days of continuous Unstead patch watching - that's nearly 10 years without a day off! It takes all sorts." I'm not going to judge Brian on visiting the same place to go birding on a daily basis for so long - what he does with his life is his choice, and as long as he is not indulging in anything immoral or illegal then we can all keep out of it. My first thought was that he must be remarkably patient and tolerant. When I have spent any time birding in one place I cannot easily do a week in succession, let alone ten years. My second thought was that if there is a significant other in his life, then th

The 'boys' of Summer

Red Bartsia - it must be summer When do you know it's really summer? Are you one of those people who think summer begins with the summer solstice? Or when the schools break up for the six-week holiday? Is it when test cricket starts, or the football season ends? For me it's when I see Red Bartsia in flower. There is always a mixture of pleasure at seeing it again and sadness that the year is yet again careering onwards. I then start to think of summer as becoming long in the tooth when I see the first Harebell - as much as I like what the autumn brings, an air of melancholia briefly visits me when the first pastel blue bell nods my way. From a moth perspective, a Copper Underwing in the MV leaves me in no doubt as to it being summer. Birds are trickier. My problem with 'summer' birds is that I reckon that the first signs of autumn passage appears as early as June, when waders such as Lapwings and Green Sandpipers start to bother the notebook. Therefore I'd plump

Flies on me (and a flower)

Mystery 1 - Sandwich Bay in June Mystery 2 - Sandwich Bay in June Mystery 3 - Beddington SF in May Mystery 4 - Sandwich Bay in June, glabrous, glaucous leaves I keep a folder on my computer full of photographs of species that I have yet to identify. Some of these will remain so forever, especially the mosses and lichens. There are some images, such as those above, which I reckon should have been easy enough to clinch but I have so far failed to do so. I'm being lazy with the flower as I'm sure that a trawl through the garden plant books will surely reveal its name. If anybody knows any of these mystery pictures then please leave a comment. Your only reward will be to dazzle the readership of this blog with your superior knowledge.


The pan-species list creeps on to 2814 ... Flora 1376 Mosses & Liverworts 27 Lichen 11 Fungi 30 Birds 375 Moths 708 Butterflies 50 Dragonflies 34 Mammals 32 Amphibians 5 Reptiles 4 Fish 17 Snails & Slugs 8 Marine 20 Worms 1 Leeches 1 Algae 1 Thysanura (Bristletails) 1 Orthoptera (Grasshoppers) 3 Dermaptera (Earwigs) 1 Hemiptera (Shieldbugs, hoppers) 9 Thysanoptera (Thrips, Lice) 1 Neuropterans (Lacewings) 2 Trichoptera (Caddisflies) 2 Diptera (Flies) 18 Hymenoptera (Wasps, Bees, Ants) 19 Coleoptera (Beetles) 31 Centipedes 4 Millipedes 2 Woodlice 4 Ticks, Mites, Harvestmen 4 Spiders 13 If you are still reading this then you deserve a medal. There is plenty of scope to add to the list, and no doubt my totals for moss, lichen, fungi, flies and beetles will draw howls of derision from many naturalists. Before I draw more flak from the 'Pan-species listing is pointless and why don't you get a life' brigade, I will point out that I enjoy

Small Ranunculus

Click to enlarge and appreciate the attractive, but modest, Small Ranunculus When I started moth-ing, Small Ranunculus was a mythical beast. They were a fairly common species in the south-east of England during the era of Victorian lepidopterists, but then suffered a catastrophic decline, ultimately heading towards British extinction by the start of the First World War. It was not until the 1990s that the species resurfaced, in north Kent and London. Since then it has re-established itself successfully in its old territory and spread to parts of the midlands, south Wales and north-west England. The photograph above is of the third garden record of this species for me, which, this morning, shared the MV along with the fourth record of Beautiful Hook-tip. That little so-and-so flew off just as I was about to photograph it.

Lobster Moth

Only the third Lobster Moth to be recorded in the garden since 1987. Trap counts are not anything special at the moment, although Coronets are starting to appear in good numbers - this used to be a species that appeared sparingly, but can now reach double figures in a single night.

The Bird Observatory - has it got a future?

Having just returned from a weeks residency at Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory and Field Centre, my thoughts have turned to what role such places can play in 2011. Firstly, I must declare a love affair for bird observatories that stretches back to my first stay at Dungeness in 1976. I have spent over 600 visitor nights at that particular observatory, from sudden one-night residencies through to a four month stint in 1979. I have put up with thin mattresses, fug-fumed bedrooms full of large hairy men, kitchens where the dirty crockery has hidden every kitchen surface and, in the early days, the lack of a shower or bath. And I loved every single minute of it... I have stayed at Spurn, graced the lighthouse at Portland Bill and turned up with a rucksack at Sandwich Bay. A sea-change occurred for me in the late 1990s when I realised that I no longer could put up with unhygenic conditions, did not want to share a room with farting strangers and I increasingly enjoyed the pleasures of a