Showing posts from December, 2013

Last Quality Street in the box...

... is usually a fudge in our household. But what with tins of Roses, Heroes and Celebrations nearby, there is no such thing as a lack of chocolate at this time of year. But just as there needs to be one item of confectionary doomed to be the last one left, the same is true of 2013 posts. This is it. I won't do a round-up of what I've seen, as it has, by and large, been a spectacularly ordinary year. Instead please accept this bullet-point stream of consciousness that has the year of 2013 as it's link. Twitching heaven: there were more 'rares'* to see than ever before and if you fancied the odd long haul to the northern isles then so much the better. You could have filled your boots and gripped back more than a few goodies on us old-timers, even if the last time some of us twitched was the 1957 Bardsey Summer Tanager. Out of all of those rare birds on offer, I saw precisely none of them. Surrey gets rare: who'd have thought it, that most maligned of birdin

England birding football XI

Again I am indebted to the Bard of Littlestone who, together with a bit of help from The Bedford Plover, came up with the following football team. It must have been a very slow sea-watch... Rob Greenshank Ray Wilson's Petrel Jackdaw Charlton Terry Butcher Bird Ashley Cole Tit Carlton Palmer Dove Franklin's Gull Lampard Bobby Moorehen (captain) Rodney Marsh Warbler John Raddesford Warbler Mick Leach's Petrel No Man United players considered as they are divers!

Life's learning curve

For 2014 I need to learn a few lessons and eradicate the negative aspects of 2013. These mostly centre around my irrational disapproval directed towards twitching and the banal use of Twitter. Confession time: I have twitched in the past and I do use Twitter (and sometimes in a less than useful way). I must also accept that twitching and the misuse (in my opinion) of a social media tool is harmless. I have the choice not get involved - it is an option. Twitter does have its uses. It enables me to keep up to date with what is being seen (birds as well as other life forms). It can be entertaining. I can also keep abreast of what my fellow naturalists are up to. There is a downside to all of this, and that is that I will receive every single tweet sent from everybody that I follow. That is how it works. That is something that I have to accept if I am to use Twitter. So, I need to approach it like a prospector who has to sift through a heap of mud to find a gold nugget. Embrace the BOOM!

Ho, ho, ho!

The Holly and the Ivy - oh how festive of me.... Unless a Dusky Thrush appears in my garden, I doubt that I will post again this year. So far in 2013 I've posted 220 times, which is an awful lots of waffle, rant, p*ss-taking and - sometimes - observation for you to have to contend with. Visitor numbers have BOOMED! (see what I did there?) this year, with one or two posts having ridiculous numbers of visitors. I'm not complaining, just grateful and bemused. All that is left for me to do is wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Whatever it is that floats your boat, be it a 'rare' or a slime mould, I hope you get plenty of them in 2014. Ah, I hear the postman has just delivered - and it's the new Checklist of the lepidoptera of the British Isles! Well, that's the rest of the day taken care of...

Time for a change

After 33 years of continuous full-time employment I'm now a free agent. So, if you are in need of a freelance graphic designer, art editor or need help with a bird survey, please let me know. My extra 'free' time will mean a bit more of it being spent in the field, so the pan-listing should benefit, and I might actually find a decent bird locally - it's been a while. Apart from 'doing the right thing' and being on hand to carry out the domestic chores that need attention, I will endeavour to write and paint my way to competence. 2014 will be very interesting indeed...

It's just not cricket!

My thanks go to the Bard of Littlestone, who put together this splendid team of birding cricketers. Cook's Petrel Rod Marsh Warbler Clark's Nutcracker Tom-tit Graveney Bell's Vireo Andy Flowerpecker Jack Snipe Russell Mitchell Stark's Lark Ryan Harris' Hawk Graham Swann Montagu's Panesar 12th man - Martin Crowe

Where BOOM! came from

I think that I may have found the inspiration behind the adoption (by a certain sort of birder) of the term BOOM! This is taken from Black Adder goes Forth and was written by Richard Curtis and Ben Elton in 1989 - a full 24 years before Britain's finest birders used the word in conjunction with sending out news of a 'rare' being found. Baldrick: "Hear the words I sing / War's a horrid thing / So I sing sing       sing / ding-a-ling-a-ling." George: (applauding) Oh, bravo, yes! Edmund: Yes. Well, it started badly, it tailed off a little in the middle,     and the less said about the end, the better. But, apart than that,     excellent. Baldrick: Oh, shall I do another one, then, sir? Edmund: No -- we wouldn't want to exhaust you. Baldrick: No, don't worry; I could go on all night. Edmund: Not with a bayonet through your neck, you couldn't! Baldrick: This one is called "The German Guns." George: Oh, spiffing! Yes

Worthy blogs

I've added a couple of extra 'worthy blogs' to my list (on the right there). The first is A new nature blog by Miles King. The second is from George Monbiot . Both are thoughful (and thought-provoking), taking blogging to very high levels indeed. If you want to look deeper into our natural world, the movers and shakers (and destroyers) then take a bit of time and have a look. You won't be disappointed. They both show my stuff up for the fluff that it truly is.

NDB moth of the year

It wasn't a great year for moths locally. The long, cold spring delayed things to absurd lengths. Although not in the area, my early June visit to Martin Down illustrated how late the season was perfectly, when, on a lovely sunny and warm day, there was little on the wing. As far as the back garden was concerned, macro highlights were few - Jersey Tiger, Tree-lichen Beauty  and Toadflax Brocades all put in repeat performances, but there was one major surprise and that was this... doubt a wanderer from the chalk downland south of home was this spanking Royal Mantle, my NDB moth of the year. It was also the year in which I tried out my newly purchased pheremone lures. They were a major disappointment, with my only success being two Six-belteds at Chipstead Bottom. Again, the weather may have played havoc with emergence dates and population levels. I'll try again next year.

NDB bird of the year

What could my best bird of the year be? To be honest I've most probably done less birding this year than any other, concentrating as I have on other natural history orders or watching the many sporting events on offer (Ashes tests, Lions tests, Premiership footy). Spectacle of 2013 would probably be awarded to the 110+ Hawfinches at Mickleham, but they come in as runners-up to this little beauty... For a number of days in mid-March my wife had reported seeing a strange bird in the back garden. She knows most of the commoner species, so the fact that this baffled her had me wondering what on earth it could be. After interrogating her with a blow-torch whilst I was wearing a Bill Oddie mask, she confessed to seeing red flashes somewhere and white in the wing. I suggested Redwing - no, smaller than that. Brambling? A proffered illustration drew a shake of the head. I then showed her a picture of a male Black Redstart and she exclaimed "That's it!". Totally gripped o

Tickling the Ivory (with a few grebes thrown in)

I'm all casual about these recent British Ivory Gulls because I've seen one before - 1980 in Dorset! Some of you old timers out there may remember the 'double' twitch that this gull was part of. The Ivory Gull was frequenting the western beach where the Ferrybridge causeway joins the Isle of Portland, whilst a Pied-billed Grebe had taken up residence at Radipole Lake in Weymouth. I needed two attempts to see the grebe, and since then have seen several - Kenfig (Mid Glam), Tooting Bec Common (Surrey) and Singleton Lake (Kent). The Surrey bird was one of those rarities that proves that anything can turn up anywhere, as it decided to frequent a small pond on a south London common, more the haunt of toddlers feeding the ducks than rarity-seeking birders.

A rare bird-footballing joke

I may have written the first rare bird - footballing joke. I was so pleased with it that I tweeted the thing and now I am recycling it as a blog post. Here it is... BOOM! Ivory Gull seen on the pitch at White Hart Lane feeding on the corpse of Tottenham Hotspur. Now, for those of you that know nothing about birding and football (or only a bit about one of those subjects), I'd better explain the construction of the said joke. BOOM! - used ironically to lampoon a small section of the birding glitterati to announce the finds of rare birds. IVORY GULL - a topical rarity, as a few have been seen in Scotland, NE England and now Yorkshire. WHITE HART LANE - home ground of Tottenham Hotspur (my team) CORPSE - Ivory Gulls are well known for scavenging on the corpses of cetaceans washed up on beaches TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR - have just been beaten by Liverpool 5-0 at White Hart Lane If there are any budding stand-up comics out there, you can have this one free of charge.

Where in the world?

I was looking through some chalk downland images of mine after having read Robert Macfarlane's book The Old Ways, when I came across this old favourite of mine. Can anyone guess where it is? There is a prize, but I will not reveal what it is until it has been won...

End of the (birding) world.

If the rumours are true, the next edition of the journal Birding World , will be the last.I can clearly remember the day that I was shown the first issue of Twitching , a small A5-sized publication that, as the title suggested, catered for the mushrooming population of twitchers.Those of us who were twitchers, had an interest in scarce migrants, rare birds or the art of identification, were immediately hooked. Until then, apart from the worthy, but dry British Birds , there was no competitor - thus Twitching took off. It was soon renamed Birding World and soared even higher. It was the 'must read' publication for the birder.Ground-breaking identification papers and stunning photography kept the magazine in pole position for a number of years. I gave up my subscription a few years ago. Why? Because I became fed up with the diet of gulls and geese that was being served. Maybe they were cutting edge subjects, but small geese and intermediate gulls bored me after a while. I don

A blogger comes clean

For anybody out there who has only come across me via this blog, I must come over as a miserable luddite, always at the ready to have a pop at the modern birder and the way that they conduct themselves. It's fair to say that even those people that do actually know me might agree with some of those statements. I'd better come clean and put the record straight. Subject: Steven William Gale Age: 54 (almost 55) First started birding: 1974, aged 15. British BOU list: 376 (not many is it) Birding history : Began by birding local parks, golf courses and Beddington SF. Regular trips to Staines Reservoir and Pagham Harbour. Started a life-long love affair with Dungeness in 1976. Twitcher phase lasted between 1977 (Hastings Wallcreeper) until 1982 (Nanquidno Varied Thrush), although a few other twitches were undertaken afterwards. Last twitch was the Dungeness Canvasback in 2000. All other lifers since have been incidental. Birding admin: South Kent recorder 1982-84, Dungen


Scuse me mate, don't think I recognise you. What's your name? John. No, your proper name. That is my proper name. It's John. No, your birding handle. You know, the one you use on Twitter, like SuckMyList1976 or BillyBigTicks88 . I don't use Twitter. Don't use Twitter?!! How do you find out what's around then? Well, I go outside with my binoculars and telescope and look. With your possee? Pardon? You know, with your team, your gang, your crew. Burn up a Cornish valley together or thrash a Scottish Island? Er, no. I just look in the local parks, woods and farms. On my own. Blimey, that's a bit odd. When did you last BOOM! Sorry, you'll have to run that past me again. When did you last find a rare and tweet it? I don't use Twitter, I told you. And what does BOOM mean? You've got to say BOOM! whenever you find a good bird. Why? Dunno? (scratches head) . Everybody else does it. (Phone makes silly noise) Scuse me..

Laboratory birding

So the BOU have removed Slender-billed Curlew from the British list. The 1998 Druridge Bay bird is no longer considered acceptable by today's standards. Those last three words are quite revealing. Does this mean that as each generation of birders comes along there will be a forensic examination of all the past rarity records so that all which remain are those that satisfy the up-to-date criteria? If anybody had the time, a trawl through all of the rarity descriptions (pre-digital photography) would reveal plenty of description only accounts. And many of these would be for species that were still poorly understood as far as their identification in the field. If today's high standards were imposed on these older records, how many would survive intact? As we carry on in the era of splitting, there are times when to see a bird very well is not going to ever be enough. We will need mp3 recordings and DNA sequencing to get records accepted. I think there is a danger of imposing t

Something in the air

There is something disturbing in the early winter air. Something that makes birders angry, others confused and a few just plain sad. This has resulted in closed blogs, threats to close blogs and a great big dollop of confusion all round. Me? I'm actually alright for once, a bemused spectator to all of this angst. But it does beg the question "Why do we do it then?" The 'it', in this case, meaning birding and blogging. I've been down this route before on quite a few posts, so I won't go there again. Is it the colder weather? The darkening afternoons? The thought of scraping ice off the car windscreen? Or the dreaming of hirundines and swifts on balmy evenings, hawking over insect-filled meadows with the summer stretching ahead of you like a great big comfort blanket? And if your passion is moths, then let's face it, although there are a few species still on the wing, there are slim pickings for the next few months. Same with wild flowers. Now is t

Twitcher's Hall

As some of you will know, I live in Surrey. And as some of you will also know, people who live in Surrey are very rich and very posh. Just to prove this point I thought that I'd share with you this photograph of my 'main' residence (above). It is called 'Twitcher's Hall'. I bought it from one of the Birdguide's chaps, who was in need of spending a lot money very quickly to avoid taxes - he has just purchased half of Berkshire. I spend most of my time here, although I do like to spend long weekends at one of my other homes, dotted around the picturesque villages of the United Kingdom, which are boarded up for most of the year and killing off the communities that they are in. It's not my fault that the locals cannot afford to buy them, is it? I was hot-air ballooning over my acres last week and it struck me just how unlucky that I am - not a decent water body to be seen. There are a few commoners cottages in a dip, so I will just have to eject the te

The Old Ways

I have just finished reading Robert Macfarlane's The Old Ways  and it is a book that will long remain with me. The human relationship with the creation and maintenance of pathways is explored, looking through the ages and across the types of land (or sea) affected. The link between walking and thinking is explored. We meet a colourful cast of characters whose lives are woven into the natural world via an intimate understanding of it through the medium of travelling and embracing the landscape around them. The book is also an homage to Edward Thomas, writer and poet who died at the Battle of Arras during the First World War. He lived and wrote about his beloved 'South Country', centred on Hampshire and Kent. Bouts of depression were walked off in the chalky hills and these journeys led to an outpouring of writing prior to, and during, his fateful journey to France. We are also introduced to Eric Ravilious, English water-colourist who, like Thomas, died while on activ