Showing posts from April, 2013

12 out of 61

So far in 2013 I've published 61 posts. Out of those, only 12 are directly related to the natural history that I've recorded at that time.The rest are a mixture of opinion, waffle, nostalgia and the wittering of a confused person. Maybe I need to get out into the field a bit more...

Heroic tales

Those that couldn't do it - because they were too old, lacked the courage or were needed in other places - could only admire these brave lads from afar. They sent them messages - "Go and do it for all of us that cannot" "No regrets. Just do it now" And when these heroic men succeeded, they were showered with more tributes - "Well done" "Well done indeed, great work!" "Who dares wins!" Are we talking about Second World War Spitfire pilots here? No . Intrepid explorers discovering wonderous things in far-flung wilderness? No. Brave firefighters risking their lives on a daily basis? No, not them either... we a talking about birders who got in a car, drove a few miles and saw a bird that somebody else had found. Welcome to the world of Twitter! Welcome to what passes as success and which draws admiration in the 21st century! I think I need to time travel back to an era when things weren't so f***ed up...

Rock Thrush and hypocrisy

I have been right royally entertained by my Twitter feed this afternoon, following the trials and tribulations of birders sharing their angst and deliberations as to whether or not to travel to Spurn to try and see a Rock Thrush. These cries for digital help have been answered by others tweeters, egging them on to go, or bemoaning that they would join them but for work. Some have admitted to bunking off employment, lying to the 'other-half' and stealing cars to make a Humberside-bound get away - thank God I got out of twitching years ago! Before I appear 'holier-than-thou' I must admit to being guilty of one of the longest episodes of bunking-off in recorded history. It was October 1979 and my good birding friend Dave Eland was about to leave for a two week holiday to the Isles of Scilly. I spoke to him the evening before his departure, me green with envy, but I couldn't take it any longer - he had space in his car so I asked for a lift. He was only too happy to o

Two things...

Both of today's thoughts (and that is a grand description for what follows), come courtesy of the latest issue of Birdwatch magazine. A whole page of this issue is devoted to photographs of birders 'birding'. In fact some of them aren't even birding, more gurning at the cameraman taking the picture. This is, of course, harmless - but who is it aimed at? The only people I can think of  whose lives will be enriched by seeing them are those who actually appear in the pictures, although one of the images does show a young lad, so I would assume his wider family would be proud of seeing him in print. Maybe this is part of media's obsession with celebrity culture, of pushing the 'me, me, me' (to steal, once more, from Mr Lethbridge). In fact, one of the pictures is his! I can see the worth of a news-worthy image (3,000 at the Golden-winged Warbler) or curiosity value (a rare bird perched on someone's head, which evokes memories of that Nutcracker a few year

Arise, Sir Birder...

This is for the Bluetail, soldier Jono Lethbridge recently touched on the subject of arrogance in birding -  (you can be teased by the promise of a rant here) . Now... One of the 'givens' in this birding game is that it is a substitute activity in lieu of us not going out and being 'hunter-gatherers'. OK, some of us do work and earn money to fulfil this role in life, but the primal experience of hunting down and killing your food is missing. In the evolution of man this is still a recent loss to the day-to-day activity of a human being. Thus, going out into the field, armed not with a bow-and-arrow but a pair of binoculars, is the modern version of hunting (at least for some of us). And because of this, whether you believe it or not, birding defines your prowess as a man (or a woman if you are one of the 0.009% of birders that is not a man). If you go out into the field and not find a good bird, you are WEAK. If you cannot identify species properly, you are WEA

I've seen the future of birding

I spent a bit of time watching the TV coverage of the Masters golf over the weekend. It got me thinking... There was a gallery that followed the golfers around the course (invariably the largest crowds gravitated towards that serial grouch Tiger Woods). They shared with them every swing that was taken, jointly pontificated over every shot choice and analised the surface of the green before every putt. Vicarious golfing if ever there was. Now, what if birding became a spectator sport? Imagine the gallery following a top lister, all being asked for hush as he (it will invariably be a he), approaches the coastal headland and turns to his caddy for a choice of binocualr or telescope. The caddy polishes the lenses and hands him a Swarovski 10x42 EL - the top lister obviously feels that he doesn't need the power of a big hitter, like a telescope. He surveys the growth ahead of him and crouches down alongside a hedgerow. The crowd keep quiet, watching his facial expression for a clue as t

What is a patch and does it matter?

Yesterday was a busy one, bird wise, across the local area. At Canons Farm there was a Green Sandpiper (second ever) and a Mute Swan (almost as rare). This understandably aroused a cerain excitement amongst the regular birders. Apart from illustrating the joys and rewards of patch watching, it also illustrates the absurdities of doing so: had these two species been seen at Beddington SF or Holmethorpe SP, both places no more than five miles distant, they would barely have registered a second glance. So the same bird, seen at three different places within a ten-mile radius, could have gone go from 'expected species' to 'patch mega' and back again depending on where it had alighted. And what defines a patch? Where (and more importantly why) does its boundary exist and who rules upon it? If you see a bird flying from your chosen patch (but not actually in the air space above it), does that count as a patch bird? And does it matter? Any boundary declared by mankind - be the

Birding fight club

During a bout of Twitter ping-pong between David 'Devilbirder' Campbell and myself (over whether a Dunlin or Woodlark was a better Canons Farm bird) he ended the discussion by claiming that 'his' Dunlin would beat 'my' Woodlark in a fight - fair do's. This then got me thinking about what bird on the British list would, in fact, be the best species to have by your side when it all kicked off... This is not as simple a decision as it sounds. Size immediately comes into play. You can imagine the mismatch if a Goldcrest took on a Canada Goose. Then manoeuvrability needs to be taken into consideration, although what's good in the air (a Swift, for example) might be a sitting duck (or in this case a sitting Swift) on the ground - by the way, Swifts have secret weapons, as they possess very sharp claws, although being on the end of stumpy legs degrades their weapon of choice. Weight will be important, to either flatten the opposition or to enable a st

Good day, bad day

Late-April 1980 You arrive at school/college/work. You look out of the window at a hazy sun, the odd shower and a southerly breeze. You know that there is the potential for birds. As soon as the days work is over, you rush home, pick up the optics and head for your local patch. On arrival, a scan over the lake reveals a Little Gull, two Common Terns and, much to your delight a pair of Garganey. You bump into another birder who has been there all day and he tells you about an Alpine Swift that was present for half-an-hour that morning. After being on site for an hour, watching a steady passage of hirundines and Yellow Wagtails, you are stunned to see the Alpine Swift has returned, departing north after ten minutes. You go home thrilled with the birding you have experienced. Late-April 2013 You arrive at school/college/work. You look out of the window at a hazy sun, the odd shower and a southerly breeze. You know that there is the potential for birds because, apart from the

Guess who's coming to dinner?

A couple of evening's ago, my wife let me know that "one of your beetles is in the kitchen". This is a great improvement on her screaming and thrashing the insect dead with a shoe, newspaper or drying up cloth. It was a weevil, but beyond that I couldn't be more specific. After a bit of internet dithering I believe it to be Otiorhynchus sulcatus (no doubt someone out there will correct me if I'm wrong). The picture above shows our kitchen visitor in all its glory, looking like a Doctor Who-themed giant insect-elephant. From the Planet Telfer, most probably. If correct, it takes the pan-species total onto 3,184. At this rate, I'll top 3,185 by the year's end...

Do you feel lucky, punk?

Gambling with your birding is something that most of us do without even thinking about it. Our choice of destination is the main 'spin of the wheel' that we make, followed by how long we stay out in the field and where exactly we look. Walk the wrong way down a hedgerow and we can miss the cracking male Red-backed Shrike that would have been waiting for us on the other side. Stop and scrutinise that gull flock resting on the fields and a Red-rumped Swallow might be hawking up and down the meadow behind us. I could fill plenty of posts with tales of 'if only'. This weekend's gamble is as much a test of my bottle. I have long wanted to find a decent viz mig site along the North Downs scarp. My search for such a place has so far resulted in failure. Maybe I need to look along the gaps in the hills? One obvious place is the Mole Gap at Dorking and, if this is to be somewhere that can deliver the goods, then I have found a number of vantage points from which to watch t

Nature notes from White Hart Lane

My butterfly list for White Hart Lane, home to Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, leapt up to 2 species this afternoon, with a Large White fluttering above the pitch 45 minutes before the kick-off against Everton. This joins the Brimstone that I saw last April (before the Swansea City match). You can carry on looking for the natural history wherever you happen to be...

More dead animals

After posting pictures of an ex-Kittiwake last Saturday, I'm afraid to say this post follows in similar macabre footsteps - this time the subject is an American Mink. Whilst out on an afternoon stroll along the River Mole at Mickleham, my daughters called me over to inspect a corpse that they had found. As much as this species is a bloody pest it is a beautiful creature, the fur a sumptuous chocolate brown, which is, of course, why the poor little so-and-so's are farmed. At least any nearby Bank Voles or nesting birds can rest a little more easily...

I do care what the weather man says

I'm not a 'global-warming' sceptic, but I am starting to realise that the climate models that were created when 'global-warming' was all the rage were not entirely accurate. It used to be all so simple - increased temperatures meant melting ice caps, rising sea levels and a hotter climate for the UK (mild frost-free winters and long sunny summers). We all thought that this meant breeding Mediterranean birds, street cafes and a run on flip-flops in the shops. Now it seems that 'global-warming' actually manifests itself by producing weather from any of the four seasons that can appear at any time of year. Extreme weather has always been a part of our climate, but not so much of it at such regular intervals. We are currently 'enjoying' a very late spring (coldest March since 1963), which has followed on from the wettest summer on record which in turn followed the hottest March since dinosaurs ruled the Earth. And this followed the bizarre weather of

You are of your time

When I was compiling the content of my last post I became quite nostalgic.But nostalgic for what? Long hair and spots? Flared denim and broken-down cars on twitches? Crap optics and hard-to-get birding information? The more I thought about it other things started to take on a gild of gold - three-day weeks, power-cuts, flair footballers, terrace violence, punk rock... not all of these things are good things, I needn't point out, but THEY WERE OF MY TIME. And there is the truth. I entered the 1970s just turned eleven years old and left them as an (almost) independent adult. These were my fomative years, when life was meant (and did) take me by the scruff of the neck and show me the good, the bad and the ugly that it had to offer. Birding got caught up in all that and so became as much a defining influence as my first experience of everything else that came along. I cannot extract my birdwatching experiences from the music, sport, politics and socialising at that time because they we

When rare birds really were rare

Back in 1976 I purchased 'Rare Birds in Britain and Ireland' by JTR and EM Sharrock, one from the T&AD Poyser stable. I was indescribably excited by this book, mainly because at the time anything pertaining to rare birds was generally not acknowledged by the ornithological mainstream. Rarities and twitching were still considered the pastime of the idle and unwashed, with the business end of such anti-social behaviour carried out in public telephone boxes and rough pubs. To have such a publication like this was in some ways an affirmation of what we did but also a tremendous read. I spent hours and hours poring over the records of all of the rarities recorded up until the end of 1975 - most of the species mentioned being just a wild fantasy to my teenage birder's feverish mind. 37 years on the book still makes fascinating reading. What is most striking is just how few records that there had been of species that today's birders would think twice about crossing the

A beginner's guide to Holmethorpe

Mercers Lake, the 'Daddy' waterbody of the area. I've seen Great Northern and Black-throated Diver, Red-necked, Black-necked and Slavonian Grebe, Scaup, Smew, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Scoter, Bewick's Swan, Iceland and Little Gull on here, not bad for inland Surrey Holmethorpe Sand Pits are situated close to Redhill and Merstham, nestling between the natural features of the North Downs and Nutfield Ridge plus the man-made M23 and railway link between London and Brighton. Fullers Earth and sand have been quarried from the area since Roman times, although birdwatchers have only been paying attention since the first flooding of pits took place from about 1960. Recently extraction has stopped, although there are applications to carry on doing so across Mercer's Farm. What has been left is a series of deep pits and floods (Mercer's Lake, Spynes Mere, Mercer's West, Watercolours 1 and 2 and The Moors) of varying sizes. These waterbodies are largely di