Showing posts from April, 2014

Top 5 intros

Yes, another one of those North Downs and beyond posts that goes off-piste. This time I give you my favourite song intros, apropos of nothing other than celebrating the great music that is out there. At the moment, these are my top five: 5) Powderfinger - Neil Young One lazy chord strum and then, unaccompanied, the great man himself - "LOOK OUT, MAMA, THERE'S A WHITE BOAT COMIN' UP THE RIVER!" - cue Crazy Horse. Enough said. 4) Heroes - David Bowie A beautiful swagger of synth and guitar, forged by the hands of Carlos Alomor and Robert Fripp, promising the grandeur about to be let go by the Thin White Duke himself - "I, I will be King" Goosebumps kick in. 3) Pyjamarama - Roxy Music A stuttering chord forged from guitar and Eno synth, repeated four times with dramatic pauses, a simple drum roll, repeat said chords and then enter a dreamy Bryan Ferry who "Couldn't sleep a wink last night", See, some good did come out of the early 1970s!

The art of taking notes

I've been keeping notes since 1974. A field notebook as a starting point, then the days counts, highlights and descriptions being transferred into a 'posh' hard-backed volume. Or computerised. I've switched between using the computer (soulless) to paper (organic) a few times, but ease and laziness has dictated that, for the moment, the keyboard and screen wins. My enthusiasm of youth spawned rambling narrative over several pages. My impatient middle-age can turn a day into a list of names and numbers. Most unsatisfactory. I've even considered giving up taking notes - but this knee-jerk reaction has been kept at bay so far. After all, I don't want to lose my 40 years of consecutive record, even if, when I die, it is all consigned to a skip. But I am still questioning what I write (or type) and why I do it. The internet has made the sending in of information much easier. I no longer refer to my notes at the end of a given year to collate the records to send to

Birds seen in the hand

I was clearing out a drawer at home this afternoon and came across another one of my lists - that of species of bird seen in the hand. Most of these came about through my time as a bird ringer (1976 - 1983) but also as a hanger-on at bird observatories where injured or sick birds are regularly deposited, sometimes some rather surprising ones. My total currently stands at 125 - not too shabby, but a season on Fair Isle would most probably take it close to 200! Looking through the list can conjure up some vivid memories: Little Grebe (rescued from a sludge lagoon at Beddington); a waterlogged Grey Heron in a dyke; both Gannet and Shag at Dungeness Bird Observatory that had become caught in fishing line; a female Common Scoter that had become caught in weed along a coastal dyke; a Hobby that had been picked up by a roadside but flew away high on release; a surprise mist-netted Grey Partridge; waders from various sites (Dungeness and The Wash) including Grey Plover, Sanderling, Curlew Sa

It's never been less about the list

"It's all about the list" I have heard this little gem from many birders over the years. At times I've even agreed with it. But age has mellowed me. A list is just a number and that number is meaningless. It really is. What is your British bird list? How many species of butterfly have you seen in your home county? And what of orchids? If you know the exact numbers (which I'm sure many of you do), does that make you a better person than somebody with fewer? A higher number doesn't even suggest somebody with more experience or more knowledge. It is, after all, just a number. A bit of fun. My time spent in the field is increasingly one of enjoyment in marvelling at what I come across. I get more pleasure in seeing something on my doorstep than I do a proper rarity miles away. It's a good place to be. Pan-listing, rather than being at odds with this, actually helps my state of mind. It's enough to come across a beetle, realise it's a click beet

Tart's tick on gorse

I have to admit to 'ticking' a terribly common micro-moth today, one that swarms on gorse and of which I most probably saw three figures worth this morning - Cydia ulicetana . I can almost feel the mocking looks coming my way from fellow lepidopterists and pan-listers who find it hard to believe that someone - such as me - who pretends to have at least half a finger on the pulse of our wildlife can have got so far in this game without knowingly having clapped eyes on something so hideously common. I saw it on Banstead Downs by the way... Later in the afternoon I joined David Campbell for a most agreeable wander over Canons Farm, Banstead Woods and Fames Rough. The birding was hard work, but we did see Dingy Skipper and Green Hairstreak at Fames Rough. Green Hairstreak, on Wild Strawberry at Fames Rough Cydia ulicetana - shame on you Gale... Gorse Shieldbug - dig the red antennae!

A sodden moth trap

Last night seemed mild enough to expect a bit of moth action in the garden, so out went the MV and down came the rain. It was still bucketing down when I stirred in the early hours and was still raining when I switched the MV off at about 07.00hrs. The total catch was poor and lacking in variety, not unusual for the garden when it doesn't stop raining. Best of a poor bunch was this Mullein, always good to see. So far, whereas other Surrey gardens have been pulling in Blossom Underwings and Dotted Chestnuts, I have been under-achieving here in Banstead. But it only takes one moth to turn that scenario around...

The pipes of pan and listing

It's all out there - you've just got to open your eyes and LOOK Lists. I've never hidden my fascination with them, my upkeep of them, but have always pointed out that I'm not a chaser of them. Maybe this is unusual, in as much as if you are nerdish enough to list all that you see, then it is highly likely that you will also go out of your way to keep on adding to them with a manic need. Maybe my need is purely passive - having a list to record my efforts is enough in itself. My biggest list - both in scope and number - is my pan-species list; that is ALL of the living things that I have seen in the UK. As a listing project this is about as wide-ranging and challenging as you can get. It has become my one and only list in a way as it comprises all of my other lists combined. So I have to service all of the 37 sublists that feeds it.... confused? Don't be... go online and visit the new pan-listers website and take a look. You can find it at

Koch's Gentian and being hypocritical

I've got a bloody cheek really. I drone on about the abuse of Wheatear imagery on blogs but then do the same with pictures of Koch's Gentian. Yes, for every year that I've been bogging, sometime during the month of April, I will go and visit the Buckland Hills, seek out Koch's Gentians, take some photographs and post them here. I'm a hypocrite... These were planted c1960 by a homesick Swiss employee of the chemical firm Beechams. They have happily taken to this section of the Surrey North Downs, and have even spread a little. For some time they were identified as Trumpet Gentian ( Gentiana clusii ) but have since been re-identified as Koch's Gentian ( Gentiana acaulis ). And if you do keep lists, be they pan-species driven or not, these plants are countable ...

Birding Quiz. Who are YOU?

What kind of birder are you? Answer these simple questions to find out... you must choose the answer closest to your honest response. You find a Blue-cheeked Bee-eater. Do you (a) tweet, Facebook and text everybody that you can think of (b) thank the birding Gods for being so generous (c) look the other way and continue to count Dunnocks (d) wonder what that strange, colourful bird is before you A friend offers you a lift to go and twitch a Houbara Bustard in East Yorkshire. Do you (a) tell your friend that you are already on your way (b) politely refuse because you saw the Westleton bird in '62 (c) ask them if there might be some Dunnocks in the area as well (d) say no thanks and then try to find it in the Observer's Book of Birds The Hythe Chinese Pond Heron. Was it (a) without doubt, a proper lifer (b) who knows, but then again who cares (c) bigger than a Dunnock (d) a made up bird name, a bit similar to 'our' heron but probably with yellow bits in

Somewhere in the Surrey Hills...

Sometimes you need to engineer a change to get your enthusiasm back, to recharge your batteries or to keep your mind sharp. So far this year my local birding has been, well, predictable. Last week saw me take part in - and enjoy -  an organised visible migration watch from Leith Hill Tower ( see here ).  This made me try something different this morning, so rather than head for the 'same old, same old',  I took an OS Map, my binoculars and headed for the outer Surrey Hills, to explore places that I only vaguely knew, or hadn't visited at all. It was just what the doctor ordered... It was a glorious morning. The woodland ground flora is well advanced, with lots of Bluebells already in flower, with plenty of Wood Anemone, Greater Stitchwort, Cuckooflower and even a patch of Yellow Archangel colouring the scene. Around me were calling Cuckoos , singing Willow Warblers and Firecrests . Venturing out onto more open ground, a few hirundines were heading north, with Swallows

Back to work

After three months of bone-idleness I find myself back at work for the next fortnight - employed as a graphic designer in a small studio. My freelance career is thus launched. With a mixture of nervousness and excitement I entered the fray yesterday morning, but soon got into the swing of things. It helps that the other designers are very friendly and are kindly spoon-feeding me projects to work on. I have hardly checked my phone for the past two days and 'summer migrants' are but a figment of other birders imagination, as I have seen precisely Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Sand Martin so far this spring - utter pants for April 8th! However, think of the adrenalin rush that I will get when I do wander out again in several days time, to be surrounded by singing Reed and Sedge Warblers, calling Cuckoos, displaying Bee-eaters, flocks of scything Alpine Swifts, lurking Bluethroats... I'd better stop now.

Vis-migging for the hard of seeing

There are birding places that are famed for the sheer spectacle of the avian migration that appears above them - The Bosphorus. Eilat. Falsterbo. The Straits of Gibraltar. Leith Hill. Hold on, what was that last place mentioned? Leith Hill? That pimple of a hill to be found in deepest, darkest, southern Surrey? National Trust ranger and Indiana Jones look-a-like Sam Bayley has set up a migration watchpoint from Leith Hill Tower (the top of which measures in at a dizzying 1026 feet above sea-level). Big for us southerners, laughably small to you northerners. This morning was the first organised watch and eight motley Surrey birders (including myself) gathered out of a mixture of enthusiasm, nosiness and a belief that our much-maligned county has a migration hot-spot waiting to be discovered. We gathered at 05.45hrs in the dark. And in the fog. The picture above was taken at 07.00hrs, in the fog. You can just see the sun fighting a losing battle with the stuff. We were still fog-b

Bohemian 'Chinese Pond Heron' Rhapsody

RIP Chinese Pond Heron - found dead last week in Hythe (with apologies to all fans of Bohemian Rhapsody and Queen) Is this a real tick? Is this just fantasy? Caught in confusion, No escape from reality. I open my eyes, Look up to Hythe and see, I'm just a twitcher, I need your sympathy, Because I'm not easy come, easy go, I tick a few, but some say no, Anyway the splits go, it really does all matter to me, to me. Someone, just killed Pond Heron, But took away its head, Left some feathers, now he's dead. Pond Heron, life-list had just begun, But now you've gone and died and flown away. Pond Heron, ooh, Didn't want to see you die, If your not back on my list this time tomorrow, I'll carry on, carry on, although it really, really matters. Too late, your time had come, Sent shivers down Birdline, The Grim Reaper calling time. Goodbye, Pond Heron, you had to go, Gotta leave us all behind to find the truth. Pond Heron, ooh (anyway the wind blows), Didn't wa

In a world of wounds

In George Monbiot's latest post (click here) , he writes: To understand what is happening to the living planet, the great conservationist Aldo Leopold remarked, is to live “in a world of wounds … An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.” In my ignorance, I have only vaguely heard of Aldo Leopold. I was intrigued to see from where this quote was taken. It comes from his book 'A Sand County Almanac' and was published in 1949.  I had to read that date of publication again. 1949. The quote seems so fresh, so now . It only goes to prove that the realisation that our planet is not well because of the hand of man is not a modern phenomena. It's just that, in the intervening years since Mr. Leopold's observation, very few of those in a position to do so have d