Showing posts from 2013

Last Quality Street in the box...

... is usually a fudge in our household. But what with tins of Roses, Heroes and Celebrations nearby, there is no such thing as a lack of chocolate at this time of year. But just as there needs to be one item of confectionary doomed to be the last one left, the same is true of 2013 posts. This is it. I won't do a round-up of what I've seen, as it has, by and large, been a spectacularly ordinary year. Instead please accept this bullet-point stream of consciousness that has the year of 2013 as it's link. Twitching heaven: there were more 'rares'* to see than ever before and if you fancied the odd long haul to the northern isles then so much the better. You could have filled your boots and gripped back more than a few goodies on us old-timers, even if the last time some of us twitched was the 1957 Bardsey Summer Tanager. Out of all of those rare birds on offer, I saw precisely none of them. Surrey gets rare: who'd have thought it, that most maligned of birdin

England birding football XI

Again I am indebted to the Bard of Littlestone who, together with a bit of help from The Bedford Plover, came up with the following football team. It must have been a very slow sea-watch... Rob Greenshank Ray Wilson's Petrel Jackdaw Charlton Terry Butcher Bird Ashley Cole Tit Carlton Palmer Dove Franklin's Gull Lampard Bobby Moorehen (captain) Rodney Marsh Warbler John Raddesford Warbler Mick Leach's Petrel No Man United players considered as they are divers!

Life's learning curve

For 2014 I need to learn a few lessons and eradicate the negative aspects of 2013. These mostly centre around my irrational disapproval directed towards twitching and the banal use of Twitter. Confession time: I have twitched in the past and I do use Twitter (and sometimes in a less than useful way). I must also accept that twitching and the misuse (in my opinion) of a social media tool is harmless. I have the choice not get involved - it is an option. Twitter does have its uses. It enables me to keep up to date with what is being seen (birds as well as other life forms). It can be entertaining. I can also keep abreast of what my fellow naturalists are up to. There is a downside to all of this, and that is that I will receive every single tweet sent from everybody that I follow. That is how it works. That is something that I have to accept if I am to use Twitter. So, I need to approach it like a prospector who has to sift through a heap of mud to find a gold nugget. Embrace the BOOM!

Ho, ho, ho!

The Holly and the Ivy - oh how festive of me.... Unless a Dusky Thrush appears in my garden, I doubt that I will post again this year. So far in 2013 I've posted 220 times, which is an awful lots of waffle, rant, p*ss-taking and - sometimes - observation for you to have to contend with. Visitor numbers have BOOMED! (see what I did there?) this year, with one or two posts having ridiculous numbers of visitors. I'm not complaining, just grateful and bemused. All that is left for me to do is wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Whatever it is that floats your boat, be it a 'rare' or a slime mould, I hope you get plenty of them in 2014. Ah, I hear the postman has just delivered - and it's the new Checklist of the lepidoptera of the British Isles! Well, that's the rest of the day taken care of...

Time for a change

After 33 years of continuous full-time employment I'm now a free agent. So, if you are in need of a freelance graphic designer, art editor or need help with a bird survey, please let me know. My extra 'free' time will mean a bit more of it being spent in the field, so the pan-listing should benefit, and I might actually find a decent bird locally - it's been a while. Apart from 'doing the right thing' and being on hand to carry out the domestic chores that need attention, I will endeavour to write and paint my way to competence. 2014 will be very interesting indeed...

It's just not cricket!

My thanks go to the Bard of Littlestone, who put together this splendid team of birding cricketers. Cook's Petrel Rod Marsh Warbler Clark's Nutcracker Tom-tit Graveney Bell's Vireo Andy Flowerpecker Jack Snipe Russell Mitchell Stark's Lark Ryan Harris' Hawk Graham Swann Montagu's Panesar 12th man - Martin Crowe

Where BOOM! came from

I think that I may have found the inspiration behind the adoption (by a certain sort of birder) of the term BOOM! This is taken from Black Adder goes Forth and was written by Richard Curtis and Ben Elton in 1989 - a full 24 years before Britain's finest birders used the word in conjunction with sending out news of a 'rare' being found. Baldrick: "Hear the words I sing / War's a horrid thing / So I sing sing       sing / ding-a-ling-a-ling." George: (applauding) Oh, bravo, yes! Edmund: Yes. Well, it started badly, it tailed off a little in the middle,     and the less said about the end, the better. But, apart than that,     excellent. Baldrick: Oh, shall I do another one, then, sir? Edmund: No -- we wouldn't want to exhaust you. Baldrick: No, don't worry; I could go on all night. Edmund: Not with a bayonet through your neck, you couldn't! Baldrick: This one is called "The German Guns." George: Oh, spiffing! Yes

Worthy blogs

I've added a couple of extra 'worthy blogs' to my list (on the right there). The first is A new nature blog by Miles King. The second is from George Monbiot . Both are thoughful (and thought-provoking), taking blogging to very high levels indeed. If you want to look deeper into our natural world, the movers and shakers (and destroyers) then take a bit of time and have a look. You won't be disappointed. They both show my stuff up for the fluff that it truly is.

NDB moth of the year

It wasn't a great year for moths locally. The long, cold spring delayed things to absurd lengths. Although not in the area, my early June visit to Martin Down illustrated how late the season was perfectly, when, on a lovely sunny and warm day, there was little on the wing. As far as the back garden was concerned, macro highlights were few - Jersey Tiger, Tree-lichen Beauty  and Toadflax Brocades all put in repeat performances, but there was one major surprise and that was this... doubt a wanderer from the chalk downland south of home was this spanking Royal Mantle, my NDB moth of the year. It was also the year in which I tried out my newly purchased pheremone lures. They were a major disappointment, with my only success being two Six-belteds at Chipstead Bottom. Again, the weather may have played havoc with emergence dates and population levels. I'll try again next year.

NDB bird of the year

What could my best bird of the year be? To be honest I've most probably done less birding this year than any other, concentrating as I have on other natural history orders or watching the many sporting events on offer (Ashes tests, Lions tests, Premiership footy). Spectacle of 2013 would probably be awarded to the 110+ Hawfinches at Mickleham, but they come in as runners-up to this little beauty... For a number of days in mid-March my wife had reported seeing a strange bird in the back garden. She knows most of the commoner species, so the fact that this baffled her had me wondering what on earth it could be. After interrogating her with a blow-torch whilst I was wearing a Bill Oddie mask, she confessed to seeing red flashes somewhere and white in the wing. I suggested Redwing - no, smaller than that. Brambling? A proffered illustration drew a shake of the head. I then showed her a picture of a male Black Redstart and she exclaimed "That's it!". Totally gripped o

Tickling the Ivory (with a few grebes thrown in)

I'm all casual about these recent British Ivory Gulls because I've seen one before - 1980 in Dorset! Some of you old timers out there may remember the 'double' twitch that this gull was part of. The Ivory Gull was frequenting the western beach where the Ferrybridge causeway joins the Isle of Portland, whilst a Pied-billed Grebe had taken up residence at Radipole Lake in Weymouth. I needed two attempts to see the grebe, and since then have seen several - Kenfig (Mid Glam), Tooting Bec Common (Surrey) and Singleton Lake (Kent). The Surrey bird was one of those rarities that proves that anything can turn up anywhere, as it decided to frequent a small pond on a south London common, more the haunt of toddlers feeding the ducks than rarity-seeking birders.

A rare bird-footballing joke

I may have written the first rare bird - footballing joke. I was so pleased with it that I tweeted the thing and now I am recycling it as a blog post. Here it is... BOOM! Ivory Gull seen on the pitch at White Hart Lane feeding on the corpse of Tottenham Hotspur. Now, for those of you that know nothing about birding and football (or only a bit about one of those subjects), I'd better explain the construction of the said joke. BOOM! - used ironically to lampoon a small section of the birding glitterati to announce the finds of rare birds. IVORY GULL - a topical rarity, as a few have been seen in Scotland, NE England and now Yorkshire. WHITE HART LANE - home ground of Tottenham Hotspur (my team) CORPSE - Ivory Gulls are well known for scavenging on the corpses of cetaceans washed up on beaches TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR - have just been beaten by Liverpool 5-0 at White Hart Lane If there are any budding stand-up comics out there, you can have this one free of charge.

Where in the world?

I was looking through some chalk downland images of mine after having read Robert Macfarlane's book The Old Ways, when I came across this old favourite of mine. Can anyone guess where it is? There is a prize, but I will not reveal what it is until it has been won...

End of the (birding) world.

If the rumours are true, the next edition of the journal Birding World , will be the last.I can clearly remember the day that I was shown the first issue of Twitching , a small A5-sized publication that, as the title suggested, catered for the mushrooming population of twitchers.Those of us who were twitchers, had an interest in scarce migrants, rare birds or the art of identification, were immediately hooked. Until then, apart from the worthy, but dry British Birds , there was no competitor - thus Twitching took off. It was soon renamed Birding World and soared even higher. It was the 'must read' publication for the birder.Ground-breaking identification papers and stunning photography kept the magazine in pole position for a number of years. I gave up my subscription a few years ago. Why? Because I became fed up with the diet of gulls and geese that was being served. Maybe they were cutting edge subjects, but small geese and intermediate gulls bored me after a while. I don

A blogger comes clean

For anybody out there who has only come across me via this blog, I must come over as a miserable luddite, always at the ready to have a pop at the modern birder and the way that they conduct themselves. It's fair to say that even those people that do actually know me might agree with some of those statements. I'd better come clean and put the record straight. Subject: Steven William Gale Age: 54 (almost 55) First started birding: 1974, aged 15. British BOU list: 376 (not many is it) Birding history : Began by birding local parks, golf courses and Beddington SF. Regular trips to Staines Reservoir and Pagham Harbour. Started a life-long love affair with Dungeness in 1976. Twitcher phase lasted between 1977 (Hastings Wallcreeper) until 1982 (Nanquidno Varied Thrush), although a few other twitches were undertaken afterwards. Last twitch was the Dungeness Canvasback in 2000. All other lifers since have been incidental. Birding admin: South Kent recorder 1982-84, Dungen


Scuse me mate, don't think I recognise you. What's your name? John. No, your proper name. That is my proper name. It's John. No, your birding handle. You know, the one you use on Twitter, like SuckMyList1976 or BillyBigTicks88 . I don't use Twitter. Don't use Twitter?!! How do you find out what's around then? Well, I go outside with my binoculars and telescope and look. With your possee? Pardon? You know, with your team, your gang, your crew. Burn up a Cornish valley together or thrash a Scottish Island? Er, no. I just look in the local parks, woods and farms. On my own. Blimey, that's a bit odd. When did you last BOOM! Sorry, you'll have to run that past me again. When did you last find a rare and tweet it? I don't use Twitter, I told you. And what does BOOM mean? You've got to say BOOM! whenever you find a good bird. Why? Dunno? (scratches head) . Everybody else does it. (Phone makes silly noise) Scuse me..

Laboratory birding

So the BOU have removed Slender-billed Curlew from the British list. The 1998 Druridge Bay bird is no longer considered acceptable by today's standards. Those last three words are quite revealing. Does this mean that as each generation of birders comes along there will be a forensic examination of all the past rarity records so that all which remain are those that satisfy the up-to-date criteria? If anybody had the time, a trawl through all of the rarity descriptions (pre-digital photography) would reveal plenty of description only accounts. And many of these would be for species that were still poorly understood as far as their identification in the field. If today's high standards were imposed on these older records, how many would survive intact? As we carry on in the era of splitting, there are times when to see a bird very well is not going to ever be enough. We will need mp3 recordings and DNA sequencing to get records accepted. I think there is a danger of imposing t

Something in the air

There is something disturbing in the early winter air. Something that makes birders angry, others confused and a few just plain sad. This has resulted in closed blogs, threats to close blogs and a great big dollop of confusion all round. Me? I'm actually alright for once, a bemused spectator to all of this angst. But it does beg the question "Why do we do it then?" The 'it', in this case, meaning birding and blogging. I've been down this route before on quite a few posts, so I won't go there again. Is it the colder weather? The darkening afternoons? The thought of scraping ice off the car windscreen? Or the dreaming of hirundines and swifts on balmy evenings, hawking over insect-filled meadows with the summer stretching ahead of you like a great big comfort blanket? And if your passion is moths, then let's face it, although there are a few species still on the wing, there are slim pickings for the next few months. Same with wild flowers. Now is t

Twitcher's Hall

As some of you will know, I live in Surrey. And as some of you will also know, people who live in Surrey are very rich and very posh. Just to prove this point I thought that I'd share with you this photograph of my 'main' residence (above). It is called 'Twitcher's Hall'. I bought it from one of the Birdguide's chaps, who was in need of spending a lot money very quickly to avoid taxes - he has just purchased half of Berkshire. I spend most of my time here, although I do like to spend long weekends at one of my other homes, dotted around the picturesque villages of the United Kingdom, which are boarded up for most of the year and killing off the communities that they are in. It's not my fault that the locals cannot afford to buy them, is it? I was hot-air ballooning over my acres last week and it struck me just how unlucky that I am - not a decent water body to be seen. There are a few commoners cottages in a dip, so I will just have to eject the te

The Old Ways

I have just finished reading Robert Macfarlane's The Old Ways  and it is a book that will long remain with me. The human relationship with the creation and maintenance of pathways is explored, looking through the ages and across the types of land (or sea) affected. The link between walking and thinking is explored. We meet a colourful cast of characters whose lives are woven into the natural world via an intimate understanding of it through the medium of travelling and embracing the landscape around them. The book is also an homage to Edward Thomas, writer and poet who died at the Battle of Arras during the First World War. He lived and wrote about his beloved 'South Country', centred on Hampshire and Kent. Bouts of depression were walked off in the chalky hills and these journeys led to an outpouring of writing prior to, and during, his fateful journey to France. We are also introduced to Eric Ravilious, English water-colourist who, like Thomas, died while on activ

Return to Priest Hill

A month ago I posted about a visit to Surrey Wildlife Trust's newest reserve, Priest Hill, only a mile from my home. It wasn't a positive post as I moaned about fencing and lack of access. Today I returned, determined to be a bit more positive! Belted Galloway cattle are now on site and are being used to chomp away at the dense grass sward that covers the vast majority of the area. I circumnavigated the reserve, and started to feel the first fingers of positivity prodding me. My mood was lightened further when I was in conversation with a couple of local dog-walkers. They explained that, if the gate to a large field was padlocked, then entry was not permitted (due to cattle being present or management work being undertaken). However, if there was no padlock on the gate then access was permissible. If this is the case then I'm happy, as such access will open up areas to look for plants and insects. Birding on site will not be a problem whatever the access, as the habita

Who owns the data?

Dylan Wrathall has joined in on the 'patch watcher debate' (click here to read it)  and has made a number of interesting points. The one that got me going was dealing with bird information and who owns it. That's quite a hot topic at the moment. Let's assume that you are walking along a hedgerow, binoculars at the ready, and a Red-flanked Bluetail flits out of the vegetation and starts to hop about in front of you. You have found the bird and at that moment in time, nobody else has seen it, let alone knows about it. What do you do with that information - that there is a Red-flanked Bluetail present at this particular patch of yours. There is more than one scenario. You could say nothing and nobody need ever know about it. Or you could say nothing and then send in the record (with a description) to the local bird recorder sometime in the future. There again, you could tell a few close friends and leave it at that. Or you could text, tweet, phone and shout so that the w

December Moth

Yes, I know it's still November, but moths don't bother considering the names that us humans give them. It was a mild night last night, so the MV went out and my highlight was the capture of two December Moths. They are annual in the garden, but it's always a pleasure to see one. It is a species that looks wrapped up for the winter - look at that shaggy mane covering the thorax! I was still holding on to the belief that a Cypress Carpet might still be on the wing - I've yet to record it in the garden. I wouldn't mind betting that 2014 will see it appear. And there is still the hope that the Black-spotted Chestnut will colonise from north Kent. Our lepidoptera is in a fluid state.

200 up.

No, not my life list, but the number of posts I've put up so far this year. A lot of it is drivel but the odd one has touched a nerve. Yesterday's post on patch birders is still running - it's worth reading the comments so far added. Apologies for the lack of photographs recently - I hope to put that right very soon.

Is the local patch birder endangered?

I was involved in a three-way Twitter conversation this afternoon that was really quite interesting. It was between 'local' birders, with one member of the triumvirate voicing concern that the local birding scene is slowly withering on the vine. Let's look at the facts. It was suggested that there are 50 -60 keen birders who live within the immediate catchment area of Beddington Sewage Farm, Canons Farm and Holmethorpe Sand Pits. Of these, only a handful are what could be termed 'regulars' at one of these patches. In fact, the numbers of avid patch watchers at all three sites is dwindling. This doesn't concern me as much as it did one of this afternoon's tweeters. Let's take each patch on its own, with Beddington first up. This is a site that has been covered by birdwatchers for close on a century. It has an unbroken and thorough ornithological record since the 1930s. But within this time there have been peaks and troughs of effort. The 1950s and 196

Pan-listing tourism

Next year, if everything goes according to plan, I will become a bit of a 'pan-listing tourist'. I'd better explain... In the murky world of pan-listing, additional credit is given to those who seek out and identify species for themselves. Although this isn't something that has been admitted to, the inference is there - to be shown something by somebody else that you couldn't have identified on your own (although countable) somehow lacks purity. Most of the naturalists who keep a pan-species list do strive to identify all they can, but there are some groups that are just so difficult that you need to seek the help of the experts. Such groups for me include lichens, bryophytes and fungi (I won't even bother to mention the myriad insect orders). I do possess excellent guides for all three of the mentioned groups, but when out in the field I soon relaise that I need help if I want to get beyond the basics. So, I have found a bryophyte field trip being held on Epsom

Should really be going to Specsavers

North Downs and beyond proprietor, Steven Gale (aged 54) has finally had to admit that his eyesight is deteriorating. The 60 year-old blogger was seen to be looking at small writing on packaging with bemusement, holding the offending box at various distances from his head until he could (sort of) make out what the wording read. "I used to handle 6 point copy no problem", he told reporters today, "but now I cannot read anything that isn't in bold caps and in a clear san-serif font". Gale (who celebrates his 67th birthday in December) has been observed using reading glasses on several occasions over the past couple of months. Reports have also reached us that his driving has become erratic, he cannot recognise his wife from further than 30m away and his field skills have plummeted even lower than were suspected. One of his daughters (who wishes to remain anonymous) revealed that he uses a large magnifying glass to go through his moth trap in the morning. &qu

Not (any more) Quite Scilly

The Devon Dusky Thrush has claimed another victim - that of the excellent blog 'Not Quite Scilly' (created by birder and all-round good bloke, Gavin Haig). No longer can we click onto the site to read about his birding exploits in south Devon, be told of his latest super-human feats on a bicycle or be amazed at his heroic consumption of chocolate, cake and single-malt whisky. It is not for me to comment about his reasons for taking this drastic action, all I can do is respect his decision and make public my admiration for the writing that he shared with us over the recent years. A new Gavin Haig post was always something of a treat - I never knew whether I was about to be served up with a witicism, a dollop of nostalgia or be gripped off by some birding news. I met up with Gavin back in August and was given a grand tour of his local patches. It was a splendid day spent in good company and stunning habitat. And we ate Lemon Drizzle Cake... All the best Gav - I hope to mee

Revolutionaries, math and a dream

A bit of a miscellany today. The Bard of Littlestone came up with a few 'birding revolutionaries' which included: Goosey Goosey Ghandi Martin Luther Kingfisher Kamal Attaturkey Napoleon Bonaparte's Gull Oceanodroma Castro Not to be outdone, I joined forces with him to compile this list of 'birding rogues': Josef Starling Vlad the Impala (OK, it's a mammal) Redpoll Pot Jack Snipe the Ripper Pitta Sutcliffe House Martin Bormann Heermann's Gull Goering Today I am mostly disliking the use of the word 'math' (as in 'Do the math') I had a dream last night that the Next Generation Birders had been outlawed and were rebranded as 'The Birding Youth' , were then nicknamed 'Green Shirts' and started burning the notebooks of known rarity supressors. I'm in need of a holiday...

Thoughts for today

I've become sick and tired of poking my nose into other people's business, so God knows others must be even more sick and tired of me doing so. Enough's enough... Today I would like to share with you a bit of hippy wisdom, which is.. If you want to be free, all you have to do is let go I like that. The other bit of wisdom comes from Mad Men , the television series based in the advertising agencies of 1960s New York. A character was complaining about how unfair things in his life were, and as a response, he received this gem: The universe is indifferent I'm trying to take both of these on board. It's never to late to put on a kaftan and light a joss stick.

You know you're a veteran birder...

...when you walk, and not run, if a rare bird is found. ...when you can recall draw-tube telescopes. ...(and you used to own one). ...when you remember when British Birds used to be essentail reading. ...if you still refer to Chiffchaffs as Chiffchaffs, Wheatears as Wheatears and do not have the time of day to place the word Common or Northern in front of them. ...when you take a cushion to sit on when going into hides or for the beach when sea-watching. ...when any journey to a birding destination is marked out by the number of toilet stops. ...when you need reading glasses to write in your notebook. ...if you still use a notebook. ...when you think that your current telescope might 'see you out' ...if you get all nostalgic about being chased off of Minsmere by Bert Axell ...or twitched a Little Egret ...if you need an afternoon snooze after birding all morning ...when you can predict exactly what's going to turn up by looking at the weather forec

A Dusky Thrush, a bird recorder and the ignorant

(I was going to remove this post because I realised that I had gone ahead and published it even though I certainly do not know all of the details behind 'the situation'. I was, without doubt, premature and should keep out of an argument that is going on a couple of hundred miles away. It's nothing to do with me and my thoughts are worthless. I am keeping it live though as I do believe in the right of individuals to tell as many birders - or as few - about the presence of a rare bird as they please. I do, however, accept that if you do invite a select band of birders to see a good bird (in other words, to a site that wasn't sensitive enough to stop the chosen few entry) then you will have to reap what you sow. In a tight birding community that can only lead to fractures. I'll move away now...) When a county bird recorder questions his relationship with birding, birders and in particular 'rarities', you know that something is up. Please read Steve Waite'

The calm before the moan

To act as balm in an increasingly tetchy cyberspace, the picture above was taken on Saturday morning along Hawfinch valley (aka Juniper Bottom). The lighting is all over the place, but my trusty compact camera caught the shafts of sunlight perfectly well. You can stick your 'rares' up your proverbial, when I go out into the great British countryside, I prefer to take in what's around me rather than drive several hundred miles to attend a convention of 'Ray Mears dopplegangers', all crowded round a bush where someone else found something unusual. I know, I used to do it, and I shouldn't judge others, but the more I think about it the more absurd such behaviour appears. Still, they've all got much bigger lists than I have, so that's 'learned me' and shown me up for the low-lister that I truly am...

Internet-based birder

I came across this post's title via firstly a tweet, then a blog post from Jono Lethbridge. I get the impression that the phrase 'internet-based birder' was used against him as an insult (and apologies if I'm incorrect here). This got me thinking. Birding is no different as a hobby when compared to stamp collecting, train-spotting and following a football team. There are, within the number of participants, varying levels of participation, knowledge and obsession. Being a certain sort of birder (or birdwatcher if you prefer, because the world 'birder' does confer a certain place within the ornithological world) does not mean that all the other sorts of birder are either less competent, relevant or worthy. We all get from birding what we want - whether that be driving to Wales to look at a lost warbler, watching a local park, or helping out at a reserve in a work party. I have my own personal opinion on what I think is more meaningful, but that doesn't mak

Elfin Saddle

A glorious late autumn morning saw me wandering the woods and footpaths that form most of Juniper Bottom and Top in Surrey. Once again, no Hawfinches, although they might be lurking nearby in smaller numbers than last winter - it's easy to forget that they were only knowingly present during March, so who knows when they actually took up residence? Apart from at least 7 Marsh Tits it was all quiet on the ornithological front. Where would I have rather been today - here or standing with 100 other blokes in someone's garden in Wales? No contest, and not just because I have already seen Orphean Warbler in Britain. I do like beech woodland, at any time of year. It has a majesterial feel, like walking through a natural cathedral, the light of a special quality. My highlight was this Elfin Saddle - not uncommon, but I have not seen one before. Yet another fungi with a great name.

The one's that got away

I mentioned the following scenario a couple of posts ago. I will now expand... One clear, calm November morning, sometime in the mid 1980s, Sean McMinn and myself were birding the fields to the east of Boulderwall farm at Dungeness. It was a glorious morning, a real pleasure to be out. We picked up a small, dumpy passerine high above us and it called once. It was a dead ringer for a Trumpeter Finch. Sean was familiar with them from many visits to the Middle East. The bird carried on eastwards and out of view. It did not call again.The air was still, the acoustics were excellent, and we both felt as if a star prize had got away. We didn't release the information and only mentioned it in passing to our close birding chums. The only other time that I have (knowingly) recorded a rarity but not submitted it was also in the company of Sean. It was late October and we were sitting in the Dungeness Bird Observatory back garden, mugs of tea in hand. We didn't see the bird that called, b


I'm currently reading Robert Macfarlanes's excellent book ' The Old Ways ' (and a gushing review will appear soon). In it he writes about the Gannet colony on Sula Sgeir and the presence, for a few years, of a Black-browed Albatross. This particular individual was already well-known to the birding fraternity, having been present on Bass Rock in 1967, then relocated in 1972 at Hermaness, staying for twenty years before disappearing once again, only to resurface at Sula Sgeir between 2005 and 2007. He was named Albert Ross and caused many a birder to head north for a tick. This reminded me of another bird that stayed around long enough to be given a name - and that was George the Glaucous Gull, who haunted the north Norfolk coast between Cley and Salthouse between the early 1960s and early 1980s. I saw him in 1977 and felt as if I was meeting a proper celebrity - I bet there are a few birders out there who stared at him through their optics and felt that they were in th

You find a rarity - what next?

The following is borne out of recent discussions with birding friends: Scenario One An elderly neighbour tells you that she has seen a strange bird feeding on her back garden lawn each morning for several days. You are invited into her house the following morning as it has appeared again - it is an American Robin. It is only viewable from her sitting room window. You cannot view the garden from anywhere else. You know that she values her privacy. Scenario Two You are monitoring breeding Ringed Plovers on a shingle beach. A spanking male Black-eared Wheatear appears amongst them. It is still there two hours later. To reach the spot from where you are watching it, you needed to walk across several Ringed Plover territories. Scenario Three You are at an east coast migration hot spot that is very busy with birders. You flush a bird that flies into a thicket of hawthorn. You have brief views. From what you've seen, you are highly suspicious that the bird was a Desert Warbler. A

Busily doing nothing

A free morning and the possibility of a local Yellow-browed Warbler saw me at Holmethorpe Sand Pits shortly after eight. Although up to a dozen birders were present, the bird failed to appear. This is the sort of situation that sends me into a game of chance - do you stake out the known haunt of your quarry in the hope that it will come back again - or do you wander off, trying to guess where the bird might have gone but in the knowledge that you increase the chances of missing the bird when it reappears where it has appeared before? I did a bit of both. The fact that I didn't see the warbler was made all the easier by spending a wonderful couple of hours with my old mate Graham James. We were joined by David Campbell (taking time off from his university course in twitching), but sadly I missed Neil Randon, who had obviously set his alarm far earlier than I. As much as I spent four hours in the field searching for the warbler, it cannot be considered that it was time spent bird

A pervert in the woods?

I received an email yesterday from someone who gave me precise directions to an area in the New Forest where there are currently many Devil's Fingers fungi on show. This was a case of 'reaping what you sow', as the gent involved had asked for, and received, directions to some Bog Orchids from your's truly several years ago. But I digress... I have a couple of days off work at the end of the week and am considering going to look for these exotic fungi. But hold on - I wouldn't be doing this if it was a rare bird and not a mushroom, would I? And why not? Well, I think I know the reason why, and that is people. If I do go to look for the 'fingers' I will most probably be the only other person there - possibly one or two others if I were present all day. If it were a rare bird then there would be a gaggle of green-clad middle-aged men already present when I arrived, a procession of others throughout the day and I would be uncomfortable. Now, this use of the


The St. Judes storm gave us Southern Softies a bit of a shake-up earlier in the week. North of Watford they most probably wondered what all the fuss was about, but we mustn't lose sight of those whose lives were affected, and for a few it was truly tragic. In all honesty there was little to show for it in my neighbourhood - a few fence panels down, the odd branch splayed across the pavement and one fallen beech tree that closed a side road for an hour or two. In the copses and woods signs of the violent weather were more apparent, as the images above show. At least in these places the trees will be left alone, opening the canopy and giving home to dead-wood loving invertebrates. As I sit here typing this, the wind is up again. No doubt a few trees were weakened last Monday and will take only a little persuasion to fall...

Where is Staines Reservoir?

Is Staines Reservoir in the county of Surrey? NO!!! It is you know, if you live in Staines your postal address is Surrey But it's north of the River Thames, Surrey is south of the river, any fule kno that* Ah, but in 1965 there was a shake-up of the administrative make-up of the county. Surrey lost the London Boroughs of Croydon, Kingston, Merton, Sutton and Richmond, and in the same process gained Spelthorne. Staines Reservoir is in Spelthorne. Hold on a minute, I lived in Sutton between 1971 - 1997 and my postal address was Surrey Er... And my beef isn't with an administrative carving up of a county, but with it keeping an unchanging biological recording unit. You mean the vice-county? Yes, or Watsonian county if you like. These were set up in 1852 to create uniform units of land for the purposes of scientific data gathering. Many were based on the ancient county boundaries. Surrey was small enough to be one vice-county (VC17), but larger counties, such as n

Hawfinch no show

Juniper Bottom, looking up the valley. Larches in foreground were good for Hawfinch in March Juniper Bottom, looking back towards car park. The bank of yews supplied the March Hawfinches with food. Last Sunday, after paying a visit to the Starfish Fungi, I took myself to Juniper Bottom, mainly to check for Hawfinches. Wintering roosts can start to build by now, but I am more than aware that the flock that was present here in March might well have been a one-off, or not start to form until later in the winter. Time will tell. No birds were seen, or heard.

Lou Reed

This might be a natural history blog, but I do wander off subject occasionally. Lou Reed passed away yesterday, in the same year as Kevin Ayres and Ray Manzarek - the golden generation of the 60s and 70s are slowly leaving us. I have long held Transformer as one of the greatest albums. If only for that, Mr Reed has my eternal thanks. I would also recommend his 1989 album New York as worthy of investigation. He could, apparently, be a right old curmudgeon. Artistic temperament? Prima donna? Maybe a bit of both. Regardless, he was one cool dude... Apparently, he said this: "One chord is fine. Two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you're into jazz."

A starfish miles from the sea

If you go down to the woods near Oxshott today, you're in for a big surprise... No teddy bear's picnic, I'm afraid, but something even more bizarre - Starfish Fungus (Aseroe rubra). After having seen Red Cage during the week I'm positively overdosing on exotic fungi. A big thanks to Seth Gibson for the precise grid reference that led me to a fine cluster of these beauties in several states of development. Fully 'out', with a slick of foul smelling gunk on top An egg, awaiting to give birth to an alien like the one above This one's gone over, looking like a tideline corpse - more marine than mycological

When does a Common Swift become a Pallid?

I have to ask the question, and not because I disbelieve that there are Pallid Swifts in our skies. It seems that for the past few years, any lone swift seen above our fair country in the late autumn has as much chance of being a Pallid as a Common. Are there Pallid Swifts in our skies much earlier in the autumn that are just not being picked up, mostly because there are plenty of Commons about? Are birders not conditioned to look for them earlier in the autumn? Does a lone, late autumn swift get grilled all the more  and so any Pallids present are not getting missed? And what about all of those late swifts from yesteryear? How many of those, that were passed off as Common, were in fact Pallid? A few years ago, on November 28th, I was walking along a street in Sutton on a mild, heavily overcast day. I happened to look up just as a swift came into view, very low. It passed directly over me and I saw it very well. I was more than aware that there was a very good chance that it could be a

Red Cage (Clathrus ruber)

Just before I left the office this evening I checked my emails to find one from Banstead's very own botanical guru, John Peacock. He was alerting me to the appearance of Clathrus ruber , a sessile stinkhorn that rarely appears in the UK. It has an English name - Red Cage. I have longed after seeing this species, and had looked in vain for it before, when John discovered it growing under a yew tree in Banstead two years ago. Last year was a no show, so his message had me detouring from home. The light was fading and I only had my camera phone with which to record this striking fungus. I could see two fruiting bodies from some way off, one much larger than the other. There are several coral-red species, all with an exotic and startling appearance that, I believe, come from Australasia. Their appearances may be increasing, particularly on municipal wood mulch. The irony of rushing off to twitch a fungus is not lost on me. I expect cries of 'hypocrite' to come from sever

Ash to ashes

To read about more grief for our Ash trees, click here What with ash die-back, they now have the Emerald Ash Borer Beetle to contend with.

Yet to see

There will be species that, no matter how many years you have been looking, still evade you. These are mine: Birds For all of the hours spent seawatching I have not connected with either Cory's or Great Shearwater. The more pragmatic amongst you might point out that SE Kent is not the best place to see either of these species, and I'd have to agree with you. My seawatching time in Cornwall has been limited - a concerted late summer blitz to that fair county should supply me with them if I so desired. Corncrake for the 'southern' birder is unlikely, unless you are the holder of a 'golden ticket' and manage to flush one of these skulkers on passage. I've not been to the breeding stronghold of the Western Isles, although the introduction programme might just up the chances of a chance encounter. The same might be said of Capercaillie - I'm not going to bump into one of these on Leith Hill (Surrey) and if I did I would expect to have my optics confiscat


This afternoon, Blogger announced that it was suspending the site North Downs and beyond until further notice. This has come about after several complaints were received by the company as to the content of the blog and the attitude of its 'owner'. A spokesperson for Blogger said: "We have been monitoring this site for some time now. We felt compelled to step in as there has been a sudden rise in the number of complaints regarding the tone and direction that the blog is taking." Blogger has released some of these complaints and they make uncomfortable reading: " North Downs has become home to a radical ornithological hate preacher who should be deported at once" "Who on earth does he think he is? Well I'll tell you who he is, a old bitter fool who is out of step with the modern birding world. He can bugger off back to draw brass telescopes and low lists if he wants, but he can leave the rest of us alone!" "He can stick his Wallcre