Showing posts from November, 2013

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...