Showing posts from March, 2013

My second painting since 1980

Last April, after producing my first painting since 1980 (which you can see here if you so desire) , I thought that I would be bashing them out throughout the year at a prolific rate. I was wrong... it's taken me almost a further year to create the second. My inspiration is once more a mixture of Hockney/Klimt (God, that sounds pretentious) and is based on the shingle beach at Dungeness and the abundant vegetation present (in the painting represented by Wood Sage). The posts in the background mark the line of the old railway track, long-gone but whose ghost still haunts that magical part of Kent. I admire fine artists who deal in realism, not just because of their immaculate skills but because I just cannot paint like that. My efforts have always been based on graphic shapes and patterns, but it wasn't until I visited the Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy last spring that I had the confidence to use bold colours (and lots of them). For the first time in my life I can

It's back!

This picture might not win any awards, but to me it is 'garden gold'. I glanced out of a window this morning and was delighted to see that 'our' Black Redstart had returned. After hopping about on the front lawn in perched on a neighbouring wall and allowed me to grab the camera and take a few record shots - against the light unfortunately. This bird has now been in the area for 10 days (seen on only three of those days). My wife and I have been keeping an eye out for it since the last sighting (Monday afternoon and evening), so I think it's fair to say that our garden is but a small part of its regular routine. As far as we're concerned, it's welcome to drop by whenever it wants!

An ex-Kittiwake

I started the morning at Canons Farm, but it was hard work. David and I were distracted by a phone call from Gordon Hay, who had been experiencing a far better time than us over at Holmethorpe, what with him having seen Little Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Redshank and LRP. However, being slaves to the patch we soldiered on. After I parted company with David I roamed more empty fields and found myself back at the car... Before I knew it I was pulling up at Holmethorpe where, after meeting up with Gordon and Ian Kehl, I was soon scoping an adult winter plumaged Little Gull that was feeding over the surface of Mercer's Lake. Both of my fellow birders then had homes to go to, so I strode out to check the gulls that were following a tractor ploughing the fields on Mercer's Farm. Gordon had earlier seen an adult Mediterranean Gull here, so I was pleased to confirm that it was still present. I later saw it on Spyne's Mere. I ended up at the Watercolours Lagoon, mom

A Black Redstart's tale

Last Thursday, my wife told me that she had seen an 'interesting' bird in the back garden. "It was grey", she said, '"with white sides and showed some red when it flew". Although she is not a birdwatcher, her knowledge of common garden birds is pretty good, so I was intrigued. A non-birder is never specific, and their colour descriptions can be misleading - was her 'red' in fact 'bright chestnut'? Exactly where on the sides was the area of white?  After showing her images of such species as Fieldfares, Bramblings and Waxwings, she was adamant that these were not her mystery bird. It didn't re-appear so I then forgot about it. Yesterday I returned home from work and, after a few minutes, she mentioned that the 'interesting' bird had been back again. She had seen it not only in the back garden but also hopping about on the front lawn. This time she could be more specific. It was smaller than a thrush (but larger than a finch), w

And the winner is...

The competition for the first ' North Downs and beyond' Wheatear trophy was fierce. I had asked for blogger calm ahead of the arrival of Britain's favourite spring migrant, but this was totally ignored. In fact, the use of Wheatear images was at plague proportions. This afternoon, the official cut-off point was reached. After several counts (and disqualification of Wanstead Birder for flaggrant posting of exotic Wheatear species) we had a tie. Both Plovers Blog and Not Quite Scilly had uploaded an unforgivable three images. However, the West Countries favourite blog won, due to the header shot also showing a white-arse in all its glory. I was able to nip down to Seaton this afternoon to present Gavin Haig (right) with the trophy. Gavin was understandably overcome with such an award, his second this week following Cadbury's naming him their 'Chocolate Button Ambassador of 2013'

Bloody fools and those that aren't

It's a bloody fool who looks out of the window or watches a weather forecast and decides that 'it's no good for birding' and, based on such gut instinct, decides to stay indoors. I should know, I've been that bloody fool on more than one occasion. With a biting easterly all the way from Siberia, snow, wind chill and a blanket of dull greyness you could be forgiven for thinking that bird migration would be halted. Not a bit of it. This weekend has seen Red-rumped Swallow and Common Swift on Scilly, a Bluethroat and Kentish Plover in the Portland area, quite a few Ring Ouzels strewn across the south, three (or four) Stone-Curlews (including one at Wanstead), a passage of overland Little Gulls, Common Redstart, Hobby - I could go on. Obviously not all birders have been fooled into thinking that their efforts were bound to go unrewarded. In Surrey, Tices Meadow outdid Beddington with Kittiwake, Little Gull, Black-tailed Godwit, LRP, Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Redsh

Help the Aged

The snow stopped early afternoon, so I ventured over to Canons Farm where I met up with David, Liam and Jamie. The first two named birders are very young, very keen and very proficient, but were OK with an old duffer like me wandering around with them. I was able to go into 'Father Time' mode and regale them with twitching tales from the black-and-white era - how we used to have to walk to Cornwall for a rarity, that you couldn't buy cream cheese bagels and cappacinos on site at any rare bird, that gulls were just that - 'gulls' - and that they possessed no identification problems as we didn't look at them unless they had clean white primaries. And of course I dusted down the old favourites, such as Wallcreepers, Varied Thrush, Hudsonian Godwit, et al. David has heard it all before but politely 'ooh'd and ahh'd' in the right places. Liam most probably wondered who the delusional old git was... Spring at Canons Farm... It was quiet. The res

What a difference a year makes.

Look out of the window. What do you see? Snow? Grey skies? Leafless trees whose branches are being bullied by a biting easterly wind? Thought so. This makes it very hard to believe that this time last year we were at the start of a heat-wave, the very same one that started off a hose pipe ban and reduced southern reservoirs to cracked mud. On March 24 2012 I was at Beddington SF and saw the following: Small Tortoiseshell (26), Peacock (8), Small White (7), Brimstone (2) and single Red Admiral, Comma, Orange-tip and Speckled Wood. What are the chances of seeing even one of these this weekend. So, for the time being, let's celebrate being cold, wet and muddy - and if you do come across a confused butterfly or a hardy Wheatear, look upon them with a mixture of pity for their circumstance plus admiration for their bloody mindedness!

Historical Hawfinches

To put the Juniper Bottom Hawfinch flock into context, this may well be the first three-figure UK flock for 29 years and the largest in Surrey for 47 years. In recent winters any double figure count of this species is unusual. I have had a very quick trawl through my available literature and have found these 'hundred plus' counts: SURREY Holmwood Common:  flocks of 150 and 100, March 1919 Leatherhead: 'hundreds', February 1927 Earlswood: c100, February 1966 SUSSEX Site not specified: Walpole-Bond submitted a count of 200 in the early 20th century KENT Loddington: 'several hundred', early 20th century Boxley and Tunbridge Wells: up to 100 at each site c1920 Bedgebury: 100, January 1975 and 150 in the winter of 1984 ESSEX Epping Forest: 200 in February 1942 OXFORDSHIRE Blenheim Park: 122 during the winter of 1984 NORFOLK East Wretham: flock of 183 January 1975 and another of 151 in February 1980

100+ birds and 100+ birders

Dawn found me at Juniper Bottom near Mickleham, waiting for the arrival of the wintering Hawfinch flock that I first found eight days ago. The light was poor and the precipitation an annoying drizzle that didn't quite want to turn into proper rain (although by mid-morning it had). The first Hawfinches arrived at 06.40hrs, and for the next half hour up to 30 birds appeared, the largest flocks being 12 and six. At 07.45hrs and a little further up the valley the Hawfinch 'mother ship' finally appeared, in the guise of 80 birds spread out across a Beech tree and flanking Yews. They kept in view for maybe 10-15 minutes before doing what Hawfinches do best - just disappearing! At least 110 were present this morning. By 10.30hrs, apart from the odd call and fly-by, they had seemingly gone. Almost as numerous were the birders. The most in view at once was 40. I reckoned on 100+ in total. For all you keen students of birding demographics there were six women and just three men

Top 10 NDB birding moments

Recent events have reawakened the birder in me and has led to a certain amount of looking back through my local ornithological record, now grandly christened the 'NDB uber archive' - yes, I know, the stuff of children, but us blokes never really grow up, do we? It is surprising what constitutes a birding highlight. Rarity or being self-found need not necessarily add weight to a species right to become a cherished memory. Time and place can have such an effect however. In chronological order I would like to present my ' Top 10 North Downs and Beyond Uber patch ' highlights. May 1974 Jay, Sutton The bird that started it all. I could only identify the improbably coloured bird on the back garden lawn because a fellow pupil at school had recently painted a picture of one in art class. At the time I asked him if it was a parrot. His answer that I could see this bird in my back garden was met with much scoffing. I can still clearly see this particular Jay, 39 years later,

A bit more about Hawfinches

I've been looking at the OS map over the past couple of days, trying to work out where the Mickleham Hawfinches might go when they are not there - which is, if truth be told,  most of the day. The facts are these: the birds have been seen between 07.30 - 11.00 (ish), not always on show but a bit of time spent will repay those who wait. After that, nothing (and between myself and others there have been birders present until early evening). That would suggest that they do not roost at Juniper Bottom. However, if 50-60 birds were present by 07.30 last Monday morning, then the roost cannot be that far away either. But is that too much of an assumption to make? It's light not long after six at the moment, so a quick preen and a shake of the wings would see them away with over an hour to spare to get to Juniper Bottom. I have found Hawfinches on three previous occasions in the area. Firstly at the western end of Headley Heath in October 2005. Eight birds were very active an hour af

My Hawfinches?

Possessiveness is a funny thing – it can even infiltrate your birding... On Saturday I was lucky enough to find a flock of a dozen Hawfinches at Juniper Bottom, close to Mickleham. Hawfinches are one of my favourite species, no doubt partly because of their unpredictability and elusiveness. Anyhow, I alerted the local birding scene and was soon joined by David Campbell, Phil and Jamie. Alas, by the time the ornithological cavalry arrived, the birds had departed. Yesterday, David returned (he is, if nothing else, persistent) and was treated to a minimum of a hundred Hawfinches. He phoned me from Juniper Bottom in a state of shock. I went back in the afternoon, but the birds had once more cleared off. But not the birders. There were three groups, and by and large they were all decent chaps, but this unsettled me. Whenever I have been to Juniper Bottom in the past (admittedly looking for plants and butterflies), other birders have not been a part of the scene. They had, of course,

Pots and kettles

This is a very healthy Spurge-laurel at Juniper Bottom (between Box Hill and Mickleham Downs). Most early springs will see me posting an image of one (or several) of these plants ... and there I am cracking on about people posting images of Wheatears! Pots and kettles indeed... My wandering up the Juniper Bottom valley was rather good, with a fly-over flock of at least 12 calling Hawfinches, up to seven Marsh Tits, a few Siskins and, icing on the cake, a Raven flying over Juniper Top itself - a NDB uber patch tick no less. I think this is how I ought to approach my birding in the coming months - don't actually go out with the intention of doing so, but carry my binoculars just in case.

It's a bird's life

The CJ Wildlife catalogue arrived in the post today. I never knew that birds had so much food choice... Three types of sunflower hearts, 17 sorts of seed mixes (including Vitality Mix and Robin Blend), two types of peanuts, pinhead oats, rolled oats, sultanas, sprinkle food, Oystershell grit - I could go on - oh, alright then - Nutrobal Dietary supplement, sprinkle support, Niger seed, suet, mealworms, bran, Buffalo worms, Waxworms, peanut butter (with or without insects), suet (in seven varieties), fat balls (in various shapes and food combinations), peanut cake tubes (original, coconut, hi-protein, with insects, gourmet robin, very berry) - I'm sure you get the picture. It strikes me that there are children in the UK who will not eat so healthily as a bird being fed by a customer of CJ Wildlife, and that is no joke. I was half expecting Jamie, or Delia, or Heston to appear on a spread in the catalogue unveiling a celebrity bird recipe that we can all buy at inflated prices to

Let the deluge begin...

I've decided to embrace the coming 'Wheatearfest' and am proud to bring you  - as far as I'm aware - 2013s first Northern Wheatear image, courtesy of one Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. He took this picture of his wife as she was strolling around the grounds of their London home. The Prince wrote: "This bird flew towards us, having been prancing about the lawn. Liz said it was a sparrow, but I've never seen a sparrow with such a white arse before. Later, I asked my son Charles to take a look at the photograph I had taken, and he has confidently identified the bird as a female Brambling, which apparently winters in the bottom of lakes."

Wheatear counter

Yes!! There are Wheatears in the UK - birds have been recorded in Ceredigion and Devon today (at least), so as a service to all those of you who like posting pictures of the little blighters I've installed a 'Wheatear Photo Upload' counter. As you can see from above, plenty of images already uploaded - and it's only March 5th! Let's see if we can make it two million before the spring is over. And don't forget - those big Greenland-types make for further photographic opportunities at the end of April and throughout May. We need something to take over from the zillions of Waxwing images that have been gumming up the system, don't we...

Food for thought

Birding. Searching for plants. Moth trapping. Sharing time in the field with friends. Talking over the days events, or those of several years ago, in the pub over a few pints. These are moments that are not just about following a keen interest in natural history, but are also an important part of our life as well. Most of us will also have family, employment and other life strands that entwine to give us our purpose on earth. It is a lucky person indeed who can embrace all of this and live their life without experiencing the emotion of regret at not having done a particular something, or procrastinated to the point of having failed to fulfil a wish. The world of today is one of incessant deadlines, noise, needs and expectations. It can be difficult to take the time to step back and look at what we do and were we want to go next. The recent loss of a friend and my own questioning of what I do (and ultimately what I want out of life) has made the following words all the more mean

I am the Walrus

It is not often that I would consider rushing off to the Orkney's for something, beit a Hawk Owl or a chance to see Elvis arm-wrestling with Lord Lucan, but a Walrus resting-up on a North Ronaldsay beach (click here) got me thinking about doing just that - however, it seems to have now gone back out to sea and will hopefully return to a Walrus's idea of normality very soon. What are the chances of a Polar Bear on Fair Isle? Arctic Fox on Rhum? Narwhal off Cape Wrath?

Kent worthies

Three more worthy blogs for your perusal, all from Kent-based birders. The first up is Martin Casemore's 'Ploddingbirder '. He seems to be out in the field, camera in hand, on an almost permanent basis, mostly on Walland Marsh and Dungeness, which as any regular visitor to North Downs and beyond will know, I consider to be my spiritual home. Secondly, a blog from one of Kent's top listers -  Mike Buckland's 'Travels with Birds',  - who has recently returned from Japan. His spectacular images of several species of crane (many in their thousands) are but some of the many highlights on offer. Last but not least is Paul Trodd's Plovers , more birding thrills from the worlds best shingle peninsula. All three offer vicarious birding at its best. Whilst adding the above blogs to my list I had a 'moment' and accidently deleted all of my other worthies! Then blogger decided to play up, so I will repopulate when it allows me to...