Saturday, 30 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 habitat is open, with uninterrupted views across the site. No shrike or hunting owl can hide here!

On a dull, late November morning there wasn't much to see. But time and effort will surely reward the observer. It's so close to home that it would be criminal not to make regular visits.

Friday, 29 November 2013

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 whole of the birding world knows about it. But, whatever you decide to do IT IS YOUR INFORMATION AND WHAT YOU DO WITH IT IS ENTIRELY UP TO YOU. I've put that in capital letters because it's up to the individual what course of action they will take, whether you agree with how they deal with it or not. Of course, to say nothing and tell nobody will have no repercussions, because as far as everybody else is concerned, it never happened. To do nothing and spill the beans later - well, let's just say that you will need to be prepared for a backlash, whether it's warranted or not.

But, once your news has gone out into the public domain, it seems to be taken for granted that this is now public property. Bird information services (texts, pagers, websites, magazines) will publish it (and charge customers for it) without asking you if it's OK for them to do so. IS THIS FAIR?

The companies that own these services wouldn't use a photograph that you'd taken of the Bluetail without your permission to do so (and you might also get paid for them publishing it). So why should information be free? Is it written in law somewhere that information sent out into cyberspace is public property? And what about information that hasn't been 'released' by the finder in a digital format, but by a friend who has tweeted this information after getting a phone call or a private text message about the Bluetail's presence?

A hard one, this. The more I think about it the more confused I get. If I send in my bird records to a county recorder, I sort of accept that these can be used in the publication of that county's annual bird report. But what of third-party usage beyond that, particularly one in which the third-party is making money? There must be a legal ruling on all of this, but I'm not going to contact a solicitor to find out - have you seen how much they charge an hour?

For most of us, the free use to others of our birding data is just accepted and we don't give it much consideration. It's an unwritten rule in the world of amateur ornithology. But there are professionals out there who are more than happy for us to carry on with a free supply of product...

Thursday, 28 November 2013

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.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

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.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

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 1960s were considered a golden period, followed by a fallow 1970s that really didn't pick up again until the late 1980s. In recent times the regular group of birders has become smaller through various reasons, but there is still a nucleus present. What it most probably now lacks is the omni-present birder (such as Gary Messenbird and Johnny Allan). It is true that Peter Alfrey lives practically onsite, but he does persue a life elsewhere.

Canons Farm has a very brief ornithological pedigree. From 2005 (when I was one of very few birders present - so few that I never saw one) to last year (by which time a bird group had been formed and a regular band of half-a-dozen birders combed the site most weeks) the area has been given an intense coverage. But that is only true of one birder - David Campbell - who had the time, enthusiasm and patience to carry on blitzing the farm and its neighbouring woodland. You may have noticed that I wrote 'had the time'. That is because David is now at university in Brighton. It gives me no pleasure in saying 'I told you so', but when the Canons Farm scene snowballed three years ago, I did predict that it would only last as long as he was constantly birding there. You need more than one obsessive to be part of the scene to hand the baton to.

Holmethorpe has always been a one-man band and that is Gordon Hay. Others have come and gone (and come back again), but nobody has shared his unwavering enthusiasm to bird the place on an almost daily basis for close on 30 years. I can remember a time (maybe 10 years ago) when Gordon, Graham James and myself set up a website, newsletter and text alert service and it looked as if things might take off. But there weren't enough birders that interested, if truth be told.

Surrey does have other hot spots that lure the obsessives - Tice's Meadow and Unstead Sewage Farm for example, and there are other corners of the county that are given a good grilling on a less formal basis.

Birders come and go. They phase, they move away, they die. But generally, if birds turn up, birders won't be far behind. For Beddington, Canons and Holmethorpe, these are just blips in an evolving story. But what is blindingly obvious is that as much as you 'can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink', the same is true with birders. You can enthuse all you like about a place, take them there, give them a guided tour - but you cannot necessarily make them adopt it as a regualr patch.

Monday, 25 November 2013

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 Common next February, and a Surrey/Sussex based fungi group that hold field meetings throughout the year. These I will make an effort to attend. At a crass, base-level they will provide plenty of lifers. But on a more meaningful level, the education that I will obtain from experts in these fields will hopefully kick-start me into becoming a better naturalist. Hopefully my 'educated guesses' will be transformed into correct identifications.

I will look around for further opportunities to dabble in 'pan-listing tourism' as the year unfolds. It might be the only way that I can get a handle on a lot of our wildlife.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

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. "It was so sad", she added, "he was identifying Heart and Darts as Pale Mottled Willows. I saw him totally overlook a Red Underwing, and they're big mothers!"

After squinting at our reporter for a few minutes, Gale did acknowledge that his body was slowly starting to lose its vigour. "It's no surprise that after 58 years my eyes are starting to weaken. But I've still got my hair, all of my teeth (give or take a crown) and I don't think that I'll need a hip or knee replacement for at least several months. For a man of 62, that isn't bad!"

Friday, 22 November 2013

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 meet up again very soon.

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...

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

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.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

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 forecast

...and remember a time when gulls were just that - gulls

...if you know your bird calls

...(and their latin names)

...if you've had a holiday at a bird observatory

...if you've slept rough at a twitch

...(and hitched there)

...when you have no idea how many species you have seen

...if you can remember the exact dates and details around birding highlights from thirty years ago, but absolutely no idea what you saw last month

(This post is dedicated to the crusty old men who stare seawards from Dungeness beach)

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's post here to see what 'the grubby few' can do to the mind of a decent person who, in his own free time, acts as a conduit between birdwatchers and the information that they crave.

I know that there are those of you who think that I see only the bad in the birding world, pick on the negative and wallow in all that is broken. That's not entirely true. But do take the time to visit Steve's post and ask yourself this. If the dissenting voices (via tweet, forum, blog or good old fashioned speech) are readily identifiable, then surely they should be told the error of their ways by their peers. There have always been loose cannons in birding, but now they have many platforms from which to spew their bile. What will happen is that more and more decent people will retire from 'public ornithological service' and the release of rare bird news will lessen. I won't blame those that decide to keep the bird news to themselves, but the ones that will complain are the ones that need only blame themselves,

Monday, 18 November 2013

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...

Sunday, 17 November 2013

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 make me right. Nor, logic would suggest, wrong.

Back to being an 'internet-based birder". The suggestion here would be that, rather than paying ones dues out in the field, the person accused spends far too much time writing blog posts and playing around with curves in Photoshop. If that were the case, so what? Appreciation of birds does not have to be expressed by hours spent in the field. To be inspired by their form to produce art is, I reckon, a more creative way of expression than by merely looking through a scope at a bird and then driving a couple of hundred miles before repeating the process.

I've banged on about it before, but what we all do has never before been so scrutinised. It's all our own fault if we insist in telling the world via blogs and tweets what we are up to and what we think. The downside to this is that there seems to be an open season for others to comment on what we do - again, it's the nature of social media.

An example: David Campbell, a young birder who I know very well, has just started a university degree course. He is also in the middle of a rabid bout of twitching. During term time. When he should be at lectures. If he did not tweet and blog about his exploits, nobody would be the wiser. But because he does, he has received plenty of 'comment' about bunking off. Part of me wants to chastise him, but then when I think back to my student days I was just as bad. And, more importantly, what the hell has it got to do with me? Ah.... well, in a way, when somebody uses Twitter and blogging to tell me what they've been up to, then, in a way, I've been invited to comment. When you sign up to these things and create an account you are living in a glass house.

Am I less of a birder in 2013 than I was, thirty years ago, in 1983? I don't think so. I was out in the field an awful lot more. I was sharper in the field. I found more (if we are to use that shallow reference point). But my appreciation of the natural world is far wider now, and I get just as much enjoyment from writing stuff like you are reading now. If the term 'internet-based birder' was to become common currency, it's a moniker that I wouldn't be insulted to have bestowed upon me.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

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.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

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, but it was very close - without doubt a Red-throated Pipit. We had both seen (and heard) hundreds in Israel the previous year. It did not call again. We decided that there would be little point in submitting it, or even mentioning it.

The more time that you spend in the field, the more likely it is that such incidents will occur. Dealing with them can be interesting.

Monday, 11 November 2013


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 the presence of ornithological royalty. When he went (to that great beach in the sky no doubt), a first-winter bird turned up shortly afterwards and was christened - Boy George!

Friday, 8 November 2013

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 birder approaches you shortly afterwards and asks you if have seen much.

Scenario Four
You are a walking through a field when a bird calls from above. It calls just the once. You cannot see it but you recognise the call as that of a Trumpeter Finch. It does not call again.

Scenario Five
You come across a large pipit. You suspect that it might be a Blyth's Pipit but you have no experience of the species. You have three birding friends that you could call on who live close by. Two of them are the height of discretion. The third is a manic tweeter.

Each of these scenarios opens up different dilemmas. The most obvious is - should the news be released? And if the answer to that is yes, then should such a release of news be selective?

One question that needs to be asked in all of this is "who owns the observation"? When a 'good' bird is found there is a great assumption that the details behind such a sighting should immediately be placed in the public domain. Why? Where is there a written understanding that an observer has to be compelled to share such information? And if a birder decides - for whatever reason - to not release such news, should they expect immunity from castigation for not doing so? In most cases, the immediate accusation from those who are annoyed by a news black-out is one of suppression - but it is rarely the case that reluctance to release news is down to a deep-seated wish to grip others off.

But we live in times when instant news is the expectation. Five minutes delay is five minutes too much. And just to know what species has been seen and where it was seen is no longer good enough. Who saw it? For how long? How well was it seen? What did it do? Where did it go? Is the observer a stringer? Did they see the under-tail coverts? The inquisition, whether realised or not, is always there. If you don't believe me, just look at a twitter feed (which can be knee-jerk instant reaction without any time being spent thinking about what words are being released into the public domain - or their possible effect), or a forum (you know what the score can be here, mud-slinging, half-truths, witch-hunts).

Is it any wonder that some birders prefer to withdraw from the arena and either NOT release news under certain circumstances or at least release the news SELECTIVELY.

We also a need to look at the 'stage' of the birder's development when considering all of this. A keen, young (or beginner) birder will want to curry favour with their more experienced congeners and so get news of finds out there as quickly as possible with the expectation of praise and kudos. They might also be chasing lists and so not as understanding of the 'reluctant releaser'. Older hands might be laid back about garnering praise (they may well already have proved themselves in the birding arena) and possibly wiser about the possible ramifications of an influx of birders into a habitat or the affect it might have on local people, or the chance of vilification if the identification is proven incorrect. Of course, birders do not easily fall into such clearly defined groups, but these groups do exist and can handily represent differing takes on the subject.

One tweet - just one - concerning news of a rare bird, will have alerts going off on several hundred phones within minutes. Then the conversation begins. If the news is not straightforward, then the fun starts. It didn't used to be like this.

By the way, of the five scenarios that I gave above, one of them genuinely happened to me...

Thursday, 7 November 2013

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 birding. Standing still in likely spots can only entertain for so long...

A brief stop at Canons Farm (to count the Linnet flock) was made. There have been counts of 600 birds - today it was just 250.

Before the light faded I visited the Red Cage site in Banstead, where the latest eruption has folded like a tired souffle (see above). These fungi are disturbing, looking like offal, heart valves and rock-pool debris. And all from an egg.

Monday, 4 November 2013

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 word 'uncomfortable'. Why would I feel that way? Well, standing with a number of other blokes (they usually are) decorated with binoculars, telescopes and tripods does stand out. If you are on a nature reserve it's expected, but most rare birds (or fungi for that matter) will appear where the public go and they do not expect to come across a re-enactment of 'Last of the Summer Wine' crossed with 'Autumnwatch'. There is a great deal of staring and pointing from those sans binoculars. I feel faintly absurd.

A couple of weeks ago I was wandering around Oxshott Woods looking for Starfish Fungus. There were lots of families on Sunday strolls, dog walkers and cyclists. Plus one middle-aged man, all alone, lurking in the undergrowth, furtively. Was he a sex pest? A dogger? A ne'er do well? No, it was me. But all of the looks that were coming my way suggested that I was. At one point a dog ran up to me barking. The dog's owner explained that 'he's barking because he finds it strange to see a man in the woods without another dog'.

I saw the fungi and got out of the woods as quickly as possible.

Saturday, 2 November 2013


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...