Thursday, 31 October 2013

Where is Staines Reservoir?

Is Staines Reservoir in the county of Surrey?


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


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 neighbouring Kent and Sussex were divided into two (West and East).

So, where do you think Staines is then?


Middlesex doesn't exist any more

Yes it does, what about the cricket team?


And also the London Natural History Society still has a recorder for the Middlesex part of their recording area.

Look here, Middlesex was taken apart and shared out between Berkshire, Hertfordshire, Surrey and Greater London in 1965. I've already told you that.

Why did the Birds of Surrey, published in 1971, not mention records from the Spelthorne area at all? Or subsequent annual bird reports?

Ah, but the recent Birds of Surrey, published fairly recently, did.

But only as an additional, stand alone paragraph at the end of each species account. It was treated very much like an uninvited guest at a party!

Yes, but it still got in, didn't it. And the Surrey Bird Club website always reports news from Staines on their latest bird news page.

OK, but please tell me this. If we have used the vice-county as a recording unit since 1852, shouldn't we maintain it so that all of the data gathered over the years is from the same unit? It makes no sense to suddenly add on an area because some governmental body started playing God with units of land.

But a lot of birders have seen a lot of good birds at Staines

What's that got to do with it?

Well, their Surrey lists are a lot longer because of it

Well doesn't this just illustrate the absurdity of listing?

Don't you have lists?

I do, but they are still arbitrary

What about the birds that you have seen at Staines Reservoir but not in Surrey?

What about them?

Well, what species do they include?

Baird's Sandpiper. Long-billed Dowitcher. Buff-breasted Sandpiper.

Go on...

Wilson's Phalarope. Red-necked Phalarope. Little Tern. Sanderling.

That's not bad is it. Haven't you seen Long-tailed Duck there as well?


And Snow Bunting?

Oh, yes...

I make that at least nine birds that you could have added to your Surrey list. So, I'll ask you again. Is Staines Reservoir in Surrey?


* courtesy of Molesworth

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

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.

Monday, 28 October 2013

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."

Sunday, 27 October 2013

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

Thursday, 24 October 2013

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 Pallid, but it was just a Common. I was a little disappointed. I think that I was unlucky in the bird just being the 'common' species. I wouldn't mind betting that there was more chance of it being a Pallid that late in the year.

The past few days have seen a number of Pallids being found. I would be interested to find out how many Common Swifts are being reported at the moment. What is the ratio between the two species from mid-October onwards? Is any swift seen from late October onwards statistically more likely to be a rare one? I wonder what date Common Swifts become Pallid in the birders psyche?

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

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 several birders...

Thanks John, you've made my day!

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.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Yet to see

There will be species that, no matter how many years you have been looking, still evade you. These are mine:

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 confiscated at once. As for Scottish Crossbill, I will ask only this - do they actually exist?

I have been a little lazy in seeking those 'local' species - I could hoover up Heath Fritillary, Lulworth Skipper and Glanville Fritillary was a small amount of effort. maybe 2014 will see me do so.

Just dealing in 'macros', the closest species that evade me are the Foresters (Common, Scarce and Cistus) and Wood Tiger. I know the sites, I've even been to some of them, but my timing has been all to cock.

Leaving the colonising species alone, the one stand out omission for me is Club-tailed Dragonfly. Present nearby in the Thames and Arun basins, this should be easy enough if I put in a bit of time.

There are plenty more, and one of the reasons that spur us on to keep on looking and searching. But it's not all about the lifer, is it.

Monday, 21 October 2013


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 Wallcreepers up his *rse, he hasn't seen anything in the field for over twenty years - no, make that thirty years!!"

"This buffoon hides behind pan-listing to make ammends for his poor birding performance. He could wander around Shetland for a year and still not find anything of note. A rank amateur"

"I used to like Steve, but then he went all Victor Meldrew on me."

A petition signed by such bodies as the Surrey Wildlife Trust, the UK400 Club and even some of his closest friends has been handed into Google in an attempt to get the site permanently closed down.

This afternoon Steve Gale released this statement:

"I think it's for the best if I don't post for a while. Modern birders are largely vapid, self-serving and shallow beings, who have invented a world for themselves in which heroism is easily gained by doing very little indeed. The migrations of their cars back and forth across the country is as tiresome as it is predictable. The world does not revolve around the number 400, the call of a Parrot Crossbill or on how many 'rares' you have self-found. This is a world that I breifly inhabited and now turn my back upon."

Blogger canvassed for reaction to his statement at several east coast hot spots, but nobody that was asked had ever heard of him.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Don't fence me out!

This morning I wandered over to Surrey Wildlife Trust's newest reserve (so new it isn't yet open) at Priest Hill, Ewell. I've known this area for many years. I used to play school football on the playing fields, have wandered over the abandoned eastern half with binoculars and/or dog and spent more than a few hours doing botanical survey work for the Surrey Botanical Society. Basically it is a flat area, maybe one mile long and half a mile wide, largely comprising basic grassland with a small amount of scrub. It does not possess a rich fauna and flora although I doubt that much work has been done over the years - however, I'm sure a trawl through the literature would result in one or two nice surprises.

You can read about the SWT's plans for the site here.

Now, as you can gather from my last post, I have a downer on the over use of fencing. Like this:

I took this picture this morning, looking NW across the reserve. The wide ride that you can see used to be accessed by the public, but is now criss-crossed by several fences. I should point out that local people have, until now, walked over this ground for many years, although I'm not sure that access has ever been strictly 'open' - this happened to be one of those abandoned parcels of land that had been utilised by those people living nearby.

More fencing (left). I walked across the site and was herded (by fences) into a narrow funnel. I doubt that 10% of the area was open to me. Most of it appears to be off limits - and this was an area that had 100% access until recently.  Maybe I am ignorant to the needs and ways of running a 21st century nature reserve. It could be that, once the prep work has been completed, some of these fences will be taken down, or access granted via stiles or kissing gates.

I believe that livestock will be utilised on site, so of course secure fencing is needed, but surely not to the exclusion of people? Belted Galloways are used at Headley Heath and Colley Hill without the need for the exclusion of humanity.

If we wish to educate the public at large, encourage the appreciation of wildlife and use the amateur naturalist to add to the understanding of an area, this cannot be done by fencing them out. And why fence them out anyway? What is being protected? Rank grassland? A pair of Skylarks?

My hope is that access will be allowed beyond that which is currently offered. I hope that the only thing on show here is my ignorance. The nearby reserve (also SWT) at Howell Hill is fenced off, but has gates at either end granting access the whole site, a wonderful chalk-spoil hill full of orchids. Priest Hill seems to offer the visitor a walk around the edge of its perimeter fence. I was looking forward to a reserve within walking distance from my home. I hope that I've got it wrong, and that, at the opening, all will be of a positive nature.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Actual birding. For a change

Yes, today I was out in the field, with not only my binoculars, but also my telescope. Proper birding. I didn't necessarily go to proper birding places though, deciding to cover some of the local patches - it beats driving ninety miles to scratch my ornithological itch.

First stop was Canons Farm. One large finch flock (on the otherwise correctly named Skylark Field), comprised 200 Linnets, 60 Chaffinches and a lone male Brambling. I stood and scoped them in between their frequent bouts of taking to the air, but couldn't string anything rare.

Holmethorpe Sand Pits was next. Where do I start? I really like the place - large waterbodies, farmland, hedgerows - but it's so bloody difficult to bird! All the water is fenced off and 90% of the fencing has mature vegetation between it and the water, making observation nigh on impossible. The pit known as Mercers West can be viewed only from a small gate, and a bramble bush the other side of this gate has now grown to about the same size and shape as the field of view that we once enjoyed. Spynes Mere is just about viewable from the northern flank (because the path rises high above it), but all the good habitat is safely kept clear of the birder by several fences, thorny growth and quick growing trees. An assault course couldn't be better designed. At least the Watercolours Lagoons are viewable - wrong! Again, copious planting (behind more fencing) has matured so that hundreds of metres that were once birdable are now not. Whoever got the fencing and planting contract from the Surrey Wildlife Trust must have been able to retire on the proceeds. In the few places where I could peek at the water I did see a drake and duck Red-crested Pochard and 29 Wigeon. I will most probably wait until all the leaves have fallen from the trees before going back. A note to the SWT - please cut back this preposterous vegetation. Or are you trying to discourage the public from looking at open water? A clear view might actually encourage some of them to engage in the natural world rather than just snag their clothing on barbed wire and brambles. This habitat shouldn't just be available to a few souls who populate the monthly work party! There are people out here who would love to be able to record the wildlife that the area undoubtably holds in a meaningful way and share the results with you and the recorders! This reserve is the most observer unfriendly I've ever visited! There are no viewing ramps, hides or easy access for the able bodied, let alone anybody who is disabled. Come on, it cannot be that difficult to organise. If you haven't got the budget then you shouldn't have spent so much on fencing, hawthorn plugs and guelder rose bushes. And yes, this is critical, but hey, criticism happens - I get it at work and at home, it's just a part of life. I'm not anti-SWT at all, I think that they have some cracking reserves and their series of books are excellent.

Lastly, calm. I love Colley Hill and spent a couple of hours skywatching. Only a couple of Common Crossbills of note (no wing-bars or parrot bills) but that was good enough for me.

Colley Hill:  looking east. The Crossbills flew down into the wood at the bottom of the slope

Colley Hill: looking west. I've always fancied a Ring Ouzel along the top bushes. That's not asking too much, is it?

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

More grumpiness

I'm all birded out.

That's a very strange state of affairs for somebody that has hardly been birding at all this autumn, but that's exactly how I feel. I mainly blame Twitter. And therefore I have to, in reality, totally blame myself for checking my Twitter feed on such a regular basis. It's a bit like being a junkie I suppose - a little is never enough - and 'just one more peek' is ignored time and time again.

Because I have several strands of 'rare bird news', the same information gets fed to my phone over and over again. Each update is repeated ad infinitum. Several birders will then have a conversation that I am privvy to. About the same rarities. Several times. Then a few more.

I have already identified (and moaned) about the trend of 'congratulating' fellow birders on seeing a rarity, even if all that they have done is drive a few miles and then walk up to a crowd of birders who then point the bloody thing out to them. I'm glad to see that this theme has been taken up by several other bloggers. This can only be a good thing and hopefully this shallow practice will cease.

In fact, I'm starting to take an immediate dislike to any tweet/post that includes the phrase 'I have just found...' Maybe this is jelousy on my part that I have not 'just found' something myself. If you have 'just found' a cure for an illness, or 'just found' a way to broker a peace in Syria, I just might be interested. The only person that is impressed that you have 'just found' something is the person who stares back at yourself from a mirror.

I used to be a level-headed sort of birder, all 'hail fellow well met' and happy to be a part of the greater ornithological family. I'm now more like an eccentric uncle who turns up now and again and does nothing more than disturb the equilibrium of the youngsters who are having fun. At least I realise it.

I'm going out birding tomorrow. I'd better not 'find' anything otherwise I'll have to come up with a different way of explaining what I've done...

Sunday, 13 October 2013

AES annual bash at Kempton Park

I have been to three Amateur Entomologists' Society annual exhibitions now and each time I come away marvelling at the distinct groups who attend.

Firstly, for those of you who have never been, this exhibition and trade fair is held at Kempton Park racecourse on a Saturday in early October. It is not so much an exhibition as a trade fair, with stalls being taken by publishers, booksellers, wildlife groups, wildlife societies, field equipment suppliers, artists, breeding and collecting equipment suppliers, et al.

It is an opportunity to browse the latest publications, seek out that old book that you never got round to buying, evaluate field equipment or just chat to likeminded souls. It is very crowded and at times there is little space to wander down the isles or get to some of the more popular stalls.

This year my purchases were modest - another 3-pin MV bulb (I always seem to get one more just so I've got enough to last into the foreseeable future) and the latest Surrey Wildlife Trust publication (the 14th book in the series) called 'Butterflies of Surrey Revisited"

I didn't get to meet up with any of my fellow bloggers for one reason and another - my contact phone number for Andrew Cunningham was unrecognised, and Mr Gibson and Dykes were either absent or kept their heads low.

Back to my initial point. The type of person who attends this event can be broken down into two main groups - the 'breeder of insects' and the 'student of insects in the field'. The former seem to be populated by a high percentage of younger people who have 'goth' tendencies - many had exotic face piercings, tattoos, black eye-liner and jet black hair. On the other hand, the fieldworkers were mostly over 50, studious, grey and bearded.

I feel as though I have fallen between two stools when I attend.

Friday, 11 October 2013

NDB in 'twitching' shock!

Reports have been coming out of Surrey that North Downs and beyond proprietor, Steve Gale, was seen this morning at Coldharbour trying to twitch the Two-barred Crossbill.

Stunned birders were either not sure who he was, or had a vague recollection of a younger version "being around a few years ago". Paul Sell, who was present for some of Gale's visit, said "he had binoculars AND a telescope. He looked like a birder, but I could see that he was a little confused and wasn't sure what to do". The Professor from Beddington added "I always thought that he was a shifty individual whenever I saw him at the sewage farm, but this morning took the biscuit - he was looking double shifty"

NT warden for Leith Hill, Sam Bayley, confirmed, "Yes, it was definitely him. I met him at Dungeness last summer and couldn't forget someone who looked so uncannily like George Clooney. However, this morning was sad as it was obvious that he has let himself go. It is no coincidence that after three consecutive days of plenty of crossbills being seen, including the Two-barred, this morning was one big no show. The guy clearly has no field skills".

Apparently Gale left after three and a half hours of searching, having seen up to 600 Redwings, a Brambling and 2 Crossbills. He was, apparently, fairly sociable, which has led some experts into questioning whether it was really him at all.

STOP PRESS: Twitter reports an exchange of tweets between Northumberland moth-fondler Stewart Sexton and Gale. In them, Sexton accused Gale of twitching, to which the latter replied that, as Two-barred Crossbill wouldn't have been a lifer, it wasn't strictly a twitch. Lee Evan's has been called in to adjudicate.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

It was 37 years ago today...

The 1976 Beddington Bluethroat - the stuff of legend

October 10th 1976 will always be a special day for me. It was a Sunday, and I spent the day at Beddington Sewage Farm. During this time I was a keen bird ringer, under the tutelage of Ken Parsley and Mike Netherwood. If I remember correctly it was a mild, overcast and dry day. We had set up a number of single panel mist nets in an area of fat-hen, that was attracting finches to feed upon. We had got into our normal routine - a couple of us would go and check the nets every ten minutes or so whilst the third would sit guarding our rucksacks and ringing equipment a short distance away. By early afternoon we had enjoyed moderate success, mainly trapping Greenfinches.

I was left back at base, Mike and Ken having gone off on a net round. After a few minutes they returned, Mike holding a single bird bag and with a big grin on his face.

"Bet you can't tell me what species of bird I've got in here?"

"Bluethroat!" I confidently replied, absolutely no idea why I had blurted out that particular species.

And it was!

I've since wondered whether the birding Gods were looking down on this scene at the time, and decided that, whatever the young ringer guessed at, they would provide it. If that was the case I should have said "Rufous Bush Chat"! Maybe I missed a chance...

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

October and the birder

The October birding scene of 2013 seems a strange beast compared to those of my youth. I get the impression that the destination of choice is now very much that of Shetland, where 'armies', or 'teams', or even 'posses' of birders work the valleys, withys and headlands with a military precision, disecting every bird to give it a race, sex and religion. If the birder does not head north, a few still seem to gather in the old spiritual cathedral of Scilly, with less expectation than of old. Still more sit by their pagers, the weekend's programme not considered until all the news is in on a Friday night. The patchworker will plod on, as the patchworker always will, trying hard not to be distracted by the successes of others.

October used to mean one thing to the active birder 'of no fixed patch', and that was The Isles of Scilly. I wasn't in at the beginning, when the likes of Bob Scott and Peter Grant adopted St. Agnes and found species that were, until then, considered unthinkable in the UK. My first venture onto the islands was in 1978. The following year saw me return along with maybe 300 others. I last went in 1981. I missed the 'glory' years of the mid-80s when screaming rarities entertained up to a 1,000 birders. When I stayed, St Mary's was the island of choice, St Agnes was for the old boys and Tresco for the brave. If a birder went to Bryher it was for hopeful glory...

If you didn't 'do' Scilly, a bird observatory was a safe bet for a bit of half-decent birding. In the late 1970s you needed to book to ensure a bed. Ten years later you could have your choice of empty beds. And now? I suppose it depends on which observatory you want to stay at. Some will be more popular than others.

Even though my avid birding days are largely in the past, when September becomes October I still get a sense of anticipation. It isn't just the hope of rarity, but the promise of migration on a grand scale. I still remember a big fall of thousands of thrushes, 100 Black Redstarts and 100 Firecrests at Dungeness far more than any of the Radde's, Dusky and Pallas's Warblers that I was lucky enough to cross paths with.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Mothing inland

Green-brindled Crescent. This one lacked the 'green' sheen.

The beauty of running an inland MV trap, at times of migrant activity, is that you are just as likely to trap a few good moths as a worker would at a coastal site. The MV trap by the sea might get higher numbers and more species, but us 'inlanders' need not be totally gripped.

The current wave of good moths that have been recorded along the south coast has found its way into Surrey and the London area, with Vestals, Four-spotted Footmen, Scarce Bordered Straws and Palpita vitrealis all being recorded. It's the birding equivalent of getting back garden Wrynecks and Yellow-browed Warblers! So far this week I have managed a Vestal, a Dark-sword Grass and a noctuella - my expectations for tonight are thus heightened.

Sometimes 'inland' can top trump the coast. Back in June 1996 I was staggered to find SIX Bordered Straws in the garden trap, a migrant species that I had not recorded before until then. If I had such numbers then surely, my reasoning went, my Dungeness friends would have had hundreds. So I phoned one of them - Barry Banson - and asked him how many he had recorded. None was the answer. And neither had Dave Walker at the bird observatory...

This morning revealed no migrants, but there was the fourth garden record of White-point, and the commoner, but still welcome, Green-brindled Crescent.

White-point. All my four garden records have come this year.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

HR Giger eat your heart out

It's not just in the realms of sci-fi and horror films that disturbing creatures exist. I came across this Devil's Coach Horse at Ranmore Common this morning. If it were the size of an elephant I would have run a mile (come to think of it, if it had been the size of a cat I would have also run).

Saturday, 5 October 2013


My third back garden Vestal appeared in the MV last night (following singles in August 2003 and August 2012). With plenty of Four-spotted Footmen, Convolvulus Hawk-moths and Crimson Speckleds being seen, I will be switching the trap on this evening with expectations slightly raised...

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Poetry corner

When I was 'doing' my O-levels (as they were called back in 1975), part of my English Literature exam covered the English poets. One scribe in particular gained my admiration, and that was the birding clergyman, Gerard Manley Hopkins.

So, to celebrate National Poetry Day, let's remind ourselves of his celebration of the Kestrel, as described in probably his best known work, The Windhover.
I caught this morning morning's minion, kingdom
of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in
his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl
and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, - the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
No wonder of it: shèer plòd makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold vermilion.
If that tickles your fancy, seek out his poem in praise of colour and patterning in nature, called Pied Beauty... glory be to God for dappled things, indeed...
North Downs and beyond: sometimes - just sometimes - culture will rear its head.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

A funny thing happened on Dungeness beach

I lieu of anything like me going out into the field and seeing something (when did that last happen) I will share with you one of the most amusing incidents that I ever witnessed while birding.

It was during a late summer, at Dungeness, and I was sitting in the seawatch hide that overlooks the 'patch'. Those that know Dungeness well will be aware that the hide is placed at the top of a steep shingle slope that rises from the sea. This is also a popular place with fishermen. Because the birders are sat high up on the shingle bank, and the fishermen are positioned low down at the water's edge, both groups can spend the whole day on the beach without being aware of the other...

It was a slow sea-watch and those of us gathered were starting to get a bit bored. Then, a young lad came into view, as he walked up the slope from the beach below. He stood at the top of the ridge, facing the hide, no more than ten feet away. With almost theatrical care, he looked left - looked right - and then looked left again. We, in the hide, remained silent, wondering what he was about to do.

The lad obviously thought the coast was clear, so he fell to his knees, unzipped his fly and proceeded to relieve himself in the full view of half a dozen bored birders. We all started to stifle our guffaws but what tipped us over the edge was his little face - it displayed sheer bliss - the poor lad had obviously been bursting to go and at last he was able to do so! He leant his head back, closed his eyes and smiled.

As one we started howling with laughter.

The lad just couldn't see where the noise was coming from. He was frantically looking left and right, back towards the sea, in fact everywhere except in front of him. And then he realised that the shed-like building only a matter of a few feet away did in fact have a 'window' and there were people inside of it watching him. He leapt back over the shingle ridge as if he had been touched by a cattle-prod. By now we were howling. But then came one of the funiest things that I have ever seen. It was the reappearance of his little face, peering over the crest of the shingle ridge, just to check that this really was happening to him. The look of bewilderment on his face, his round-framed glasses all steamed up and his cheeks flushed in embarrasment were comedy gold.

Thirty years later I still laugh out loud when I think about this incident. I also wonder whether the man that he has grown to be has cold sweats when he thinks about the time that he went for an innocent wee, while his Dad was fishing, at Dungeness.