Showing posts from 2014

Another Rambler!!

Back-to-back Ramblers! The BTO and the RSPB award medals to people for saving species from extinction and habitats from destruction, whereas Neil Randon confers greatness upon birders for writing streams of bile and opinionated poppycock... well, maybe in my case he does. The annual Randon's Ramblings Awards (click here to see the whole event) has just been announced and North Downs and Beyond was up against Wanstead Birder and The Portland Naturalist for the title of Birding Blogger of the Year. And, blow me, we won... Comiserations go to Jono and Sean, who must wonder how a bloke who hardly goes out into the field can upstage them with being awarded such a nationally prestigious award. Those envelopes stuffed with twenty pound notes that I leave for Neil in the Fisherman's Car Park at Holmethorpe may go some way to explain how these things work. Now, can I make it a hat-trick? Can I emulate the great Bayern Munich side of the mid-1970s who won three European Cups on t

2014 - the species of the year

Birds My birding away from the NDB area was largely confined to two Dungeness breaks - three days in January and a fortnight in May. Both delivered... In my first stay, the Hume's Warbler that was still performing in the flooded trapping area was the rarity highlight, but the back up cast included Glossy Ibis, Great White Egrets, Barn and Short-eared Owl, Hen Harrier, Bewick's Swan and Glaucous Gull. Sheer spectacle was apparent on the sea, where a vast raft of feeding Great Crested Grebes and Guillemots (that numbered in the thousands) could be found. In May the numbers of migrants were disappointing, but rarity was present, with 2 Black-winged Stilts, a Great Reed Warbler, a Bee-eater and a Montagu's Harrier. However, it was the late passage of Pomarine Skuas that were my highlight - even though it is a species that I have seen regularly over the years. A fully-spooned adult is a wonder to behold and there was one particular beast of a bird that flew east (and close) one


if the outgoing year has been kind, we hope that the new one will carry on in the same vein. If it has been a year to forget, we hope that the new one will change tack and give us something positive to cling on to. For the birder, the botanist or the moth-er, we hope that we will come across the unusual, the wonderful and the inspirational. Hope. Such a flimsy concept, such a modest aim, but one that drives on the human endeavour and spirit. Here's hope to us all for 2015.

On the first day of Christmas... true love sent to me 500 Ring-necked Parakeets squawking! Yesterday we were guests of my brother and sister-in-law in Redhill, and after an excellent lunch, just as the light was starting to fade, I slipped out to take in a bit of fresh air (and to give our dog a walk). Making my way along Carlton Road I could hear the raucous cries of Ring-necked Parakeets from some way off and soon found them gathered in half-a-dozen mature conifer trees. A whoosh over my left shoulder alerted me to a low-flying flock of a further 50, joining the 150 that I had just been watching. Within a minute another three flocks had arrived from the west, the largest numbering 100. I stayed just another couple of minutes, the cold and the promise of a table laden with food reason enough to abandon my brief parakeet vigil, but not before I had counted 500 of the green perils. Maybe I should have stayed to get a complete count...

A Christmas butterfly

A family and friends gathering, mid-morning coffee and mince pies. The day was mild, the sun weakly shining. I looked out of the window and was warmed by the sight of a Red Admiral, flitting along the outside of the windows, then off into the December air. My latest ever.

224 and a Merry Christmas

There may not be snow down here in the balmy south-east (it was 15-16C yesterday), but we do sometimes get it - just not at Christmas. So in lieu of a suitably festive image, please accept this snowy scene from Canons Farm a couple of January's ago. Whatever you are doing, may you have an enjoyable and peaceful Christmas. 224? That is the number of posts that I've inflicted upon you so far this year. It also beats last years record total of 223. Pointless statistics are a way of life for me...

December 21st

The Winter Solstice is upon us. In my simple mind, from now on in, it is but a short, downhill ride to Swifts, Wheatears, chalk downlands full of butterflies and Australians beating us at cricket. I've only just become aware of the fact that the additional daylight that we can now expect does not come to us by courtesy of the mornings lightening a little bit earlier and the evenings darkening a little bit later in equal measure. Confusingly, the mornings will still get darker until early January. And just to mess with our heads further, the earliest sunset has been and gone two weeks ago! But the net result is the same - longer daylight, and this will be triggering all sorts of responses in our wildlife. The pagan in me stirs... I feel as if we all ought to be marking this event as our ancestors clearly did. It was a marker for them, a reminder to plan ahead for crop sowing, to monitor winter food stores and to give thanks for surviving the cold so far and to hope that they would c

Book token to spend? Look no further...

I've 'bigged up' quite a few of these books before, but they are all worthy of your consideration, especially if you are going to have a book token or two to spend after Christmas... The Old Boys Regular visitors to this blog will know that HG Alexander's Seventy Years of Birdwatching has the accolade of being the most influential book in my life. I read it in 1974 and I have most probably read it 20 - no, 30 times since. He helped me form my birding template, simple as that. When I take the book off of the shelf I handle it as if it were a precious relic. I did not read F Fraser Darling's Island Years until very recently. I was given a copy by a grand lady who was in her 90s and thought that it would speak to me. It did. They are the memoirs of a man, his wife and young son as they try and forge a life on an uninhabited Scottish west coast island in the pursuit of seals and birds. Birding To See Every Bird on Earth by Dan Koeppel is written by a son in

A note to Father Christmas

Hopefully I've been a good boy over these last 12 months. Could I please ask for the following books to be placed under the tree in the early hours of Christmas Morning... The Fly Trap by Frederik Sjoberg Swedish biologist regales us with his memoirs of catching hoverflies on a small island. Finally an English version has been published, this book was recommended to me by Pete Burness. A Buzz in the Meadow by Dave Goulson I thoroughly enjoyed his bee book 'A sting in the tale' and this follow-up is an account of his attempts to entice invertebrates into a French garden through selective planting and management. Just up my street. Claxton by Mark Cocker A collection of essays written by the birder-author based on his observations in the Suffolk countryside. This man is up there with Roger Deakin and Richard Mabey as far as I'm concerned. That should see my reading material sorted up until the new year...

Meet the 2015 patch

The 2015 Surrey v Northumberland local patch dust-up took an unexpected twist over the weekend when our projected baseline figures were revised. Mine has been downgraded to 90 and Stewart's to 140. This is very generous of him! My own 'targets' remain the same - Birds 120, Plants 600, Moths 450 and Butterflies 36. The map to the left shows my study area for the year. It can be broken down into the following 'regions': EWELL A very modest river (you could just about jump across it) with a collection of small ponds and streams. Two SWT reserves, Howell Hill (excellent for orchids and Small Blue) and Priest Hill (good for fences and lack of access) BANSTEAD DOWNS Chalk downland with an odd flora - very few orchids but some screaming rarities such as Early Gentian and Broad-leaved Cudweed. Chalkhill and Small Blue colonies. Firecrests winter. CANONS FARM/BANSTEAD WOODS Fairly self explanatory, impoverished flora but here there is the chance of surprise pass

The wonder in the detail

More natural artwork, this time courtesy of a cheeky moss and lichen combo. If each day were 1,000 hours long and we lived for several hundred years, I might have the time to get into these living wonders. I do not know how some people find the time (and have the brain capacity) to multi-task in their natural history studies. I start to get a headache if I try and go beyond birds, moths and plants... The above image, on first glance, is pleasing enough - a cushion or two of Grimmia on a lichen encrusted wall. But the harder you look, the more you see - further species are present, and the colour range wide. If we were to zoom in more is revealed... Admittedly it's not sharp, but there must be a further dozen species here. One wall would most probably keep a lichenologist busy for several days. And to think that we all walk past such organisms each and  every day and we are supposed to be observant advocators of our wildlife!


These are my favourite Twitter conversations that I (possibly) read during 2014... BillyBigTicks 13 grey geese over Walland Marsh, possibly White-fronts PipitShagger1974 10 White-fronts and 3 Bean Geese on Walland Marsh, showing well by Stringer's Corner BillyBigTicks I thought three of them looked bigger, lol PipitShagger1974 2 Taiga and 1 Tundra Bean, 6 adult and 4 first-winter White-fronts. My weekends in Norfolk are paying off Who's the daddy? BillyBigTicks Top birding mate! Birdguides The 13 Walland Marsh grey geese have been confirmed as Greylags SidNoMates Robin at Spurn DesperateBirder82 Where? SidNoMates By post 45, seaward side of road DesperateBirder82 Did you get a good view? SidNoMates Red breast and shit DesperateBirder82 Are you still there? SidNoMates No, in Crown and Anchor DesperateBirder82 On site now but no sign of Robin KingWankLister I'm on my way from Teeside, please keep looking - need it for my Spurn list DesperateBi

Is it as dull where you are?

Very few Bramblings. Hardly any Redpolls or Siskins. No Waxwings and certainly no white-winged gulls. And there are no flocks of Hawfinches in that special valley. To be honest, on a local level  it is all a bit dreary. The thrush flocks are of a medium size, the Chaffinch and Linnet flocks are very ordinary and nothing to get the pulse racing is flying over. I always hope for a garden Goosander (overhead, not on the pond, that is just about the same size as the sawbill) or a trickle of Golden Plover, but even such modest winter expectations are not being met. It could all be a different tale within a few weeks, but at the moment the birding is utterly predictable.

December is the new September

What's going on? In Leyton (proper busy London), there is a Reed Warbler and two Whitethroats happily wintering; a Barred Warbler seems to be cosily at home in the Portland Bird Observatory garden (feeding on Cade's Pippins); Ring Ouzels are still popping up around the south coast; a Blyth's Pipit has taken a liking to industrial Yorkshire; there seem to be more Yellow-browed Warblers scattered about than Bramblings. What next - churring Nightjars? Whatever the reasons behind all of these unseasonal birds, it is sad to think that one proper cold snap will see them off or see them dead. But, for the time being, lets enjoy the September feel to December 2014. Maybe January will follow suit and be more like October?

So, how was it for you?

2014 that is. I know it hasn't quite finished, but the year is slowing down, wheezing a bit and will soon come to a halt. More than a handful of birders that I know have already moth-balled their optics. It has been an odd year for me. I dispensed with full-time employment last December but have most probably done even less birding/mothing/planting than ever before. I did get out there, but it was in fits and starts. A fortnight at Dungeness in mid-May was as hardcore as it got. And then, when autumn was upon us, I took on an eight-week contract and entered the world of the employed once again - bad timing as far as the birding went. What did I see this year? It had its moments. Those two weeks at Dungeness produced a Great Reed Warbler, a Bee-eater, a Montagu's Harrier and two Black-winged Stilts; locally a Merlin and 2 Spoonbills; moths were not a great success, with my continued failure with pheromone lures causing frustration; plants took a back seat although I finally

Surrey v Northumberland

The big sporting clash of 2015 has been declared. Forget Hamilton v Rosberg, Barca v Real, or Froch v Groves. Welcome to local patch listing at its competitive best. In the blue corner, representing inland Surrey, Steve 'Should know better' Gale . And in the red corner, from coastal Northumberland, Stewart 'Atropos' Sexton . As both of us have declared a 'back to basics' approach to our birding for next year, born out of some mid-life revaluation of our ways, we have agreed to spice things up (and spur each other on) by adding a competitive edge to the proceedings. Quite simply, whoever increases their base-line target by the highest percentage, wins. I have a humble base-line of 110 while Stewart's is 146 . On a straight forward count Stewart would win hands down. He lives on the Northumbrian coast and has an enviable local patch, although freshwater is at a premium (but he does have bucket loads of seawater as some form of compensation!) He's even

Nature is art

The work of Jackson Pollack? Paul Klee? Mark Rothko? No, it's an abstract produced by one Mother Nature, using the medium of lichen. Stunning, isn't it? If you want to see more artwork like this, don't bother going to your local gallery, but visit a churchyard or stone wall near you. The show is open all year round and entry is free!

The humble annual bird report

The annual county bird report used to be one of the highlights of my life - the satisfying thud of a thickly padded-out envelope onto the doormat was the signal for hours of enjoyment. From the orderly narrative of the 'events of the year', to the even more orderly systematic list; the descriptions of the precious rarities to the one-off papers that could be about anything; earliest and latest dates for migrants and a round-up of the efforts of the county ringers plus their hard won recovery data - there was something for everyone. And, no doubt, there still is... Part of the fun was seeing which of my records had been included in the systematic list and which of those had my initials against them (SWG). For a teenage birder this was priceless affirmation, and this only slightly lessened as the years went by. Sometimes I got credited for birds that I didn't find (bonus!) but then again would be raging if the opposite happened. One year saw my SWG replaced with GWG - I alm

A Greek potpourri

Back in July I spent ten days with the family at Halkidiki in North-east Greece. I left the binoculars at home and tried my best to do nothing, bar read (Red or Dead by David Peace and The Goldfinch by Donna Tart), eat (far too much) and drink (a constant trickle of alcohol so not to feel as if it was 'too much'). I don't really do 'beach' or 'sunbathe' - unlike the women in my life - so my stays on the sun-lounger were briefer than the 'normal' holidaymaker would make. I did escape on a few afternoons to have a look at the local flora. Much of it was familiar, but with a twist. Thistles, clovers, vetches and heaths were at once identifiable, but not to a species level that I know from western Europe. It was like stepping into a botanical parallel universe. I still haven't managed to identify them, but on this cold, but bracing morning, thought I'd post a selection of images to share with you the delights that this scrubby, dry and thorny cou

Ewell's watery grotto

Bourne Hall, Ewell - it's an area that I don't know particularly well, save for a twitch at the turn of the millennium (Ring-necked Duck) and feeding the ducks with my daughter's when they were tiny tots (feeding the ducks with bread, not my daughters...) It's an area with a lot of birding potential. The River Hogsmill meanders through close by and there are plenty of ponds, streams, culverts and waterside vegetation for the wildlife to utilise. Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail and Little Egret are regular, plus historical records of Cetti's Warbler, Water Rail and Jack Snipe exist. Fortunately at least one local birder is a regular visitor to the area, and he will no doubt be rewarded in time with something special - I don't know if it was he who found the Ring-necked Duck, but that is the kind of bird that all patch-watchers wish for - rare and 'out of the blue'. The pond on which it turned up hardly entices much beyond Mallards and the odd Tufted Duck, so t

December wind-down

I cannot help it, but come December I find that my urge to 'do stuff' out in the field slumps dramatically. I put it down to the impending New Year, when all efforts become re-doubled, the freshness of the new year promises all sorts of rewards and anything is possible. There is a general malaise as the year limps to a halt, never more so than those few days between 27th-31st December that I long ago consigned to the 'not worthy of effort' bin. This is, of course, sheer folly but I doubt that I will change the habit of a (almost) lifetime in 2014. But as much as the recording and watching in the current year may be slowing down to a halt, hopes and plans for the next year are taking centre stage. I'm already gathering myself together in readiness for my (very) local project and have a number of target species in sight. The 'unknowns' are tantalising - what will they be? I will soon find out, but only after the ritual of treading-water in December has been

Close up with a December Moth

I have been fiddling around with my two new photographic toys, namely the Raynox Super Macro Conversion Lens and the Nikon P600 Bridge camera. For a dull day and just a few minutes worth of effort, the results were encouraging... One of two December Moths that came to the MV. I wanted to capture the structure of the antenna and was satisfied with the result. This lens will come into its own with micro moths next year. Even though there was mist and drizzle in the air, the zoom on the P600 performed well enough. The optical zoom will go up to x60, this shot using just x30 of that power. You can add a further boost via the digital zoom capabilities, although I doubt that the results would be really worth it, certainly not hand held and in poor light. Pity it wasn't a Blue-winged Teal, Lesser Scaup or Canvasback, but Surrey ponds don't normally do Nearctic ducks, although it has been known.

Number 1

My Top 10 UK natural history moments Number 1 - 7 August 1979 - Little Gull at the Oppen Pits Warning! The following post might be considered pretentious and the work of a limp-wristed, arty-farty tree hugger. However, in its (and my) defence, I can only offer the explanation that what I experienced on this day - no, this moment - had never happened to me before and has not happened since. I've longed after replicating it but you cannot place an order and have such moments delivered to you. What elevated this 'ordinary' experience into an extraordinary one is a mystery. Maybe it's best left that way. The summer of 1979 was already a special time in my life. I had been acting as Dungeness Bird Observatory's assistant warden since mid-June and was having a ball. Days of birding, ringing, the freedom to roam over the shingle and keeping company with like-minded souls was something that was utterly restful, even if I were up at 04.30hrs each morning and rarely in

Number 2 - the very first Jay

Number 2 - June 1974 - a Jay on a lawn The prologue - in a fourth form art lesson, our teacher, Mr Jeffries, suggested that we paint a picture on the theme of 'Conflict' - cue many 14-15 year-old lads producing works depicting blood, violence and death. But for one of them it was a chance to paint something of his favourite subject, that of natural history. I stood behind Mark Greenway as he placed the finishing touches of poster paint to the cartridge paper. His work depicted a cat on a garden lawn, paw swiping the air just missing a fleeing bird. The bird in flight was exotic and highly colourful. I assumed that it was a parrot and asked him what such a bird was doing in such a domestic setting. "It's no parrot", came his reply, "it's called a Jay". He then explained to me that Jays were quite common birds and it was more than likely that I'd see one in my garden. I was no birdwatcher, but scoffed at such a claim - after all, even I would h

Number 3 - Paradise

Number 3 - 22 June 2009 - Torcross to Prawle and back And now we reach the top three. If you are expecting there to be rarity, enormous falls or jammy finds, I am about to disappoint you. The top three are (mainly) of the ordinary - at least on the surface they might appear to be ordinary. But to me, all three are most certainly nothing but extraordinary ... I almost went to Soar Mill Cove to look for Shore Dock, and a more dull species of plant is hard to imagine. But I just couldn't find the enthusiasm in me to get in the car and drive there. Instead, I got out the OS map, opened it out on the table at the B&B I was staying at, and planned a long walk. After all, the weather forecast was for a sunny, warm and calm day and the scenery around Slapton and Torcross was more than agreeable. After a 'Full English' (hats off to the Plodding Birder) I left the pretty cottage garden of the guest house and strode southwards along the coastal path out of Torcross. I will

Number 4 - House Martin exodus

Number 4 - 23rd September 1989 - House Martins at Dungeness It had already been a good weekend, with a Honey-buzzard, two Marsh Harriers, a Sparrowhawk and 10 Kestrels coasting down the peninsula and heading out to sea, plus a Red-necked Phalarope giving corking views on Hooker's Pit. Sunday morning dawned overcast with a light WSW wind that then backed WNW. It was not until 08.00hrs that a few House Martins decided to appear, with up to 300 gathering on the wires by The Britannia public house. After the raptor movement of the day before I had decided to position myself on top of the moat, a raised circular bank close to the observatory. And then, some unseen hand flicked the migration switch to on, and it started... At first there were but few House Martins making their way past me, in a leisurely style, low and to the S/SW. But as each minute passed, the numbers built. It was still manageable to keep a count, although the trickle of hirundines had become a steady flow. It th

Number 5 - W**********

Number 5 - 9 April 1977 - W********** at Hastings I've gone on about this at some length before, so if you don't want a second (or third) helping then you'll have to wait until Number 4 is revealed. But if you do, or don't know what w********** stands for, then please click here.

Number 6 - butterfly confetti

Number 6 - 6 August 2006 - Butterflies at Braunton Burrowes This was the day when I had to literally wade through butterflies. I have never seen so many in such a small area. Braunton Burrowes is, in fact, a huge sand dune system on the north Devon coast, being some 6 x 1.5km in area. I had parked in the Broadsands car park at the southern end and started to slowly wander northwards along a line of vegetation that disappeared into the dunes. It was soon obvious that something special was on offer, as I was disturbing hundreds of butterflies with every few metres that I walked. And this didn't let up for several hundred metres. The air was filled with butterflies, like confetti at a wedding, like a ticker-tape parade along an American city street, like a bizarre multi-coloured blizzard that had gatecrashed a summer's day. There were times that I stopped still, looked around me, and gawped in absolute wonder. I wandered but 600m from the car park. 600m into a reserve that conti

Number 7: There be dragons!

Number 7 - 4th and 5th August 1995 - Dragonfly invasion at Dungeness Another 'event' rather than a moment. In the first days of August 1995 an unprecedented invasion of darter dragonflies took place along the east coast of England, and included in that was Dungeness. This was all too much to resist, so, along with Derek Coleman, I travelled down to try and experience this historical event. We arrived on the evening of Friday 4th August and immediately searched the gardens around the observatory. This revealed at least 4 Yellow-winged Darters and a walk around the station gorse found another four. For a species that hadn't been recorded annually in the UK, this was mind boggling. But this was just the start. Saturday 5th August saw that more than a few birders had turned into odonata enthusiasts. Throughout the day, dragonflies were arriving from the point and landing on the gorse and broom between the observatory and the old lighthouse. Most remained still, allowin

Number 8 - Oriole cathedral

Number 8 - 26 May 1978 - Golden Orioles at Lakenheath Before Lakenheath was a flagship RSPB wetland reserve, it was virtually bird-less farmland. But it was still a much revered birding site, due to the presence of a poplar plantation, owned by the matchstick manufacturer Bryant and May. Confused? Then read on... This particular poplar plantation had been adopted by a colony of Golden Orioles, which for us 1970s birders was a welcome splash of Mediterranean sunshine. To reach this fabled woodland you needed to be able to map-read your way along twisting country lanes, and drive along a farmland track until reaching a railway line. Here your journey ended. And it was here that I stood in the breaking dawn having slept in the car overnight. We were not alone - maybe three other cars were also parked up, each having just ejected a gaggle of birders, stretching and yawning into the promise of the day ahead. Even though it was 05.30hrs it was already warm. And there was already a lou

Number 9 - Brambling blizzard

Broadfield - without finches on this occasion... No.9 January 2008 Finch flock at Canons Farm, Surrey This is not so much a single day, let alone a single moment, more of a rolling event. It all began on January 1st , when I located a large flock of finches at Canons Farm, feeding in a very large field known locally as Broadfield. There were at least 1,000 present, and my initial scan through them with binoculars revealed the odd Brambling in amongst Chaffinches. However, once the scope was put to work it became obvious that at least a quarter of the finches were in fact Brambling - a 750/250 split! I returned on January 5th . Word of the finch flock had got around, as at least a dozen other birders were also present, unheard of back in these 'early' days at the farm. Throughout the day the finch flock remained faithful to the field, waxing and waning in number, numbers breaking off to forage elsewhere, then returning to swell those that had remained site faithful. At

Number 10 - botanical highs!

No.10 13 July 2008 Botanical highs on Ben Lawers Ben Lawers had attained a mythical status with me due to 'Tales of Botanical Wonders', told by Barry Banson. I needed to go... From my guest-house bedroom window, the hilltops were obscured by cloud, but there it had been dry and mild, so it was with some surprise that when I got out of the car at the Ben Lawers Visitor Centre it was not only windy (force 6) but also cold enough to need gloves and a woolly hat.  I didn't pause much during the first hour of the ascent, the habitat above the nature trail being a monotonous swathe of Heather , Cross-leaved Heath , Bell Heather , Tormentil , Heath Bedstraw and Bilberry with various grasses in-between. However, a series of path-side ditches held appreciable numbers of Starry Saxifrage together with Common Butterwort , Lousewort and Hare's-tail Cottongrass along with Mat-grass (the food plant of Mountain Ringlet). My first new 'alpine' of the day occurred

Shedding another skin

Over the years I've shed an ornithological skin on more than one occasion. From novice to keen lister: from twitcher to keen patcher; from confused birder to content wanderer; and now I can feel my current skin peeling away to reveal... what? All of my recent 'looking back' postings feels a bit like tidying up the past in readiness for something new - the next chapter in life's birding adventure, I suppose. I've not been so excited about a new project for an age, and this is but a modest one, based on my very local patches. Maybe this is what has captivated me so much, the simplicity of putting 40 years of experience into a largely non-birding arena. What is out there? What will I find? What will I miss? To ensure that I don't get to disheartened during the inevitable dry periods, my eyes will be taking in the plants, butterflies and moths for which the area is justly renowned. But it is the birds that will take up most of my efforts.  What price a T

Brief encounters

Instead of giving you a verbose account of each of the four unlucky moments that didn't quite make the Top 10, I'm cutting a wordy corner and am dishing up this particular course on a paper plate with plastic knives and forks - rest assured, the Top 10 will be served on best china with accompanying posh cutlery! Maiden Pink October 22 1982 Dungeness Thrush Rush I've only just written about this so, if you missed it or want your memory jogged, click here . July 1 2007 Breckland Plants A whistle-stop tour of some of the finest sites on the Norfolk/Suffolk border, all of them that held some very special plants indeed, in the company of three knowledgable and agreeable companions - Peter Follett, Stephen Clarke and Barry Phillips. We virtually cleaned up, with my highlights being Proliferous Pink, Maiden Pink and Spiked Speedwell. To cap it all, a Marbled Clover (moth) joined in with the fun! July 4 2012 Dungeness Oppen pits revisited Thirty years after my last

Top 10 moments - those that didn't make it

The adjudication is over - my Top 10 moments in the company of natural history has been decided. I identified 15 possible candidates for this list and thought it only fair to share with you the five that didn't quite make it. The first of them is: March 17 1984 Stodmarsh Penduline Tit There was a bit of previous to this. Back in 1984, Penduline Tit was still a mystical bird. There had been but four previous records and all had been day jobs seen by a select few. None of the 'big boys' had connected with one. When a male turned up at Stodmarsh, interest was rampant. I travelled to the said reed bed twice with Steve Broyd, who was then still an avid UK twitcher - we dipped on both occasions. But the bird kept on reappearing, mocking the mass dipping that was being suffered by the birding elite. Then, one Friday afternoon, it showed well. Cue Saturday at dawn... the car park at Stodmarsh was rammed, hardly a place left to park. As the light bled into the darkness each car e

Desert Island moments

If you had to compile a Desert Island Discs -like DVD of your most cherished moments in the company of natural history, what would they be? You would no doubt think of some of the rarities that you have seen; consider those bigs falls or spectacular  sea watches that you have been lucky enough to witness; possibly include one or two long-held ambitions that were met. But then again, these moments might involve the mundane and commonplace that for whatever reason became the inspirational. After my recent trawl through many years worth of field notes I am putting together my top ten (so that's ten posts worth of material taken care of!). Watch this space… and if you are left underwhelmed by this promise then there is a list of much worthier blogs on the right for you to peruse.

Where I rant about football

The latest addition to my 'Worthy Blog List' comes courtesy of The Hairy Birder, who birds and rings in the Fleetwood and Fylde area - it's good to get a bit of NW England influence, to counter the plethora of blogs that I have gathered from the North East. And now for one of my occasional 'off-piste' posts that have nothing to to with birding, naff all to do with looking at twigs or even glancing at mothy things. It is also a rant. This is about Football... I am a lifelong football fan, brought up by my Father to appreciate the 'Beautiful Game', although his supporting of Stoke City did not rub off on me and I chose to follow Tottenham Hotspur - and before anyone should suggest that I should have supported a more local team, back in 1968 (when I nailed my allegiance to the mighty Spurs), we lived in Hertfordshire and they were the first team that I saw live (versus Stoke, November 2nd, 1-1 draw if you're interested). When we moved south in 1971 I

Pagham Harbour - an appreciation

In my mid-to-late teens, pre-car and in my birding dawn, I forged a bond with a lovely part of West Sussex - that of Pagham Harbour. It was my regular coastal haunt mainly because I could reach it by public transport. In those days you could catch a train from Sutton to Chichester, where I then walked across the road to get a bus that, after half-an-hour of twisting country roads, dropped me off at Sidlesham Ferry. My fellow birders would normally be a combination of the Greenway brothers, Paul Butler, Nick Gardner and Stuart Holdsworth. Sometimes I would cadge a lift with Dave Eland, which meant that the inconvenience of public transport was dispensed with. although I always found the train journey in particular enjoyable - happy memories of Bewick's Swans and Short-eared Owl in the Amberley area (and, of course, I had an ongoing list for this particular journey). My first visit was on a dull and drizzly early October afternoon in 1975. I had five lifers - Grey Plover, Pintail

Pompous twat-head

Yes, I was one of those people moaning about the zillion-and-one images of Desert Wheatears that were gumming up cyberspace yesterday afternoon. It seems as if it was just me and Oscar Pistorious who didn't connect with one over the weekend. And, yes, it's me who has awarded the NDB Wheatear Trophy these past two springs in mock admiration for the blogger who had uploaded the most images of a white-arse in the month of March. So people like me had it coming - a viper-like response from one of the many Wheatear-fondlers. You can enjoy it all (including some marvellous picture) by clicking here...

The forgotten bird

Twenty years ago this autumn I saw one of the rarest species on my British list. Far rarer than the Wallcreepers that I always bang on about. And yet this species seems to have faded from my memory bank, never brought out to parade before the birding youth that I meet from time to time. It was a startlingly good looking bird. What was it? A male Red-throated Thrush. You can see an image of the very same bird here.  Not bad, is it? So why has this particular bird dropped off of my radar? No idea. *If you click through to the image, it is dated September 1993. It was, in fact, 1994.


Although the number of species that we record is not the be-all and end-all of our efforts, it is something that can focus the mind and add a bit of fun to the proceedings. So, for next years mini-Uber bash, I've set myself some targets... BIRDS 110 Not the most ornithologically blessed of areas, but when you consider that I've seen Ring-necked Duck and Dotterel within its confines then there is always hope. And don't be fooled by that duck - not for me will there be mornings spent scoping wildfowl, as there is no water body larger than a town park pond - which is exactly where that duck decided to spend two consecutive winters (Bourne Hall, Ewell). My aspirations climb no higher than a shrike, Wryneck or harrier, but is likely to get no better than a Ring Ouzel or Pied Flycatcher. PLANTS 600 A bit of a punt this figure, and should be easily reachable if I try my hand at grasses and sedges - oh, and ferns! There is some cracking habitat, from the rarity-choked Fames R