Showing posts from August, 2014

Blogging, stats and stuff

I have now been pumping out this North Downs and beyond drivel for over six years now - albeit with a brief break in 2010 when I deleted the entire show and then started up again in August of that year. Since then I have posted 670 times. That's an awful lot of waffle, rant and, at times, observation. I have considered giving it a break on a number of occasions, mainly when I've felt fed up or disillusioned with my 'natural history lot', but thankfully I haven't pressed the destruct button and things always seem better the next day. Those of us that use Blogger as a platform can see who visits our blog, where they come from and what they look at - don't worry, it doesn't identify exactly who you are! These stats are just a bit of fun to me, although it is always pleasing when the visitor numbers are high, as we all like to think that we are doing something that others may wish to read. I'm going to talk numbers now, something that some bloggers guard

What am I offered for my spare Wallcreeper?

This morning, on the Rare Birds of Britain and Ireland Facebook group, Simon Smethurst pointed out  that, although certain species can become our bogey birds (with frequent dips), there are others that we cannot but help connecting with. He has seen three different Green Herons in the UK. What rare multiples do others have, he asked? The response was revealing: Multiple American Robins, Yellow-browed Buntings, Mourning Doves, Scop's Owls, Alder Flycatchers, American Redstarts, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Thick-billed Warblers, Tengmalm's Owls (that's just being greedy, Martin Gray!) and - I had to mention them again - my two WALLCREEPERS... I then posed the question, if these birds could be traded like football cards and stickers, what would I be offered for my spare Wallcreeper? The best offer came from Martin Goodey, who upped his initial offer of a spare Scarlet Tanager to also include a Cliff Swallow and a Northern Waterthrush. I'd be tempted! How did he know I needed

Silver-spotted Skipper

Park Downs is a fairly small south facing chalk slope only a mile outside of Banstead. This morning revealed two highlights for me - this Silver-spotted Skipper plus a female Common Redstart. I could actually claim a third highlight as a couple of Hobbies were dive-bombing a Common Buzzard in the skies above. I don't visit this modest site very often, but I really should do more often.

A mini über patch

I need a purpose behind the time that I spend out in the field. If I don't have a purpose then I tend to wander about aimlessly and the result is a thin notebook populated by meaningless observations. So, to put the time that I spend locally back onto a positive and worthwhile footing, I am keeping my observations focused on the area illustrated above. It is a combination of downland, farmland, common and woodland. It has very little water. There are no rivers. Botanically it is rich. It is an excellent area for butterflies and moths. As for birds, well, it will be hard work, but anything discovered will be all the more appreciated. To keep me sane trips to Dungeness will be essential!

Beddington's new media blitz

My old stomping ground - Beddington Sewage Farm (or Beddington Farmlands as it is now referred to) - has undergone a bit of a social media makeover. You can visit the new web site by clicking here.   If you are on Facebook they have created an account and you can visit it by clicking here.   Are you into Twitter? Well, so is Beddington, under the account name 'Beddington Farmlands'. Last but not least you can keep abreast of all the birding, mothing and political highlights (and lowlights) by visiting Peter Alfrey's excellent blog 'Non-stop Birding' ( and you can get there by clicking here). I have banged on about Beddington frequently on this blog, but for those who haven't visited this blog before (or those of short-term memory), this is the place where I cut my ornithological teeth. It has been birded for almost a century and has an almost unbroken ornithological record stretching back to the 1930s - how many places can boast that? The roll-call of Bed

Birding characters

Yes, it's another one of those 'in the good old days' posts, but before you think 'here he goes again' just remember that today will be your good old days in thirty years time... The seed for this particular post came via a number of Facebook posts and tweets emanating from last weekend's Rutland Birdfair, mostly from grizzled old geezers who are all the wrong side of 40 - but what with global warming, social unrest, looming financial collapse and our impending doom courtesy of a rogue black hole, I reckon it might just be the right side to be of 40! But I digress. These chin-dribblers were all reminiscing about the good old days and how exciting, fulfilling and friendly it all used to be. I looked at the pictures that were posted, populated by long-haired, denim and/or ex-military clad youths, smiling out from the past, looking at us in our gull-obsessed present (stay there boys, you've only got five species of gull to worry about in 1977!!) Of course

Ground Pine and Cut-leaved Germander

Ground Pine This was quite a small plant - I have seen virtual clumps! Cut-leaved Germander This afternoon I visited Fames Rough, nestled along Chipstead Bottom in Surrey. The ploughed strip is certainly producing the goods as no less than 22 plants of Cut-leaved Germander were found (none in flower) and, best of all, a single flowering Ground Pine. The strip was smothered in both Sharp-leaved and Round-leaved Fluellens. Well worth a visit.

Dungeness - then and now

I have had further correspondence with my blogging twin Dylan Wrathall. His recent dilemma, of whether to revisit an old, cherished stamping ground, got me thinking (sorry Mike Netherwood, more thinking coming up). What if I had not revisited Dungeness since the early golden days that I experienced there. What if I were to pay the place a visit for the first time since 1979? What would I find and would that cloud my happy memories of the place? Fancy a bit of time travelling?... The Bird Observatory The modest, grey terrace in which the observatory is housed has changed. Parcels of land have been fenced off and planted. There is more growth along the southern side of the properties where there used to be barely a bush for a crest to hide in. The obs back garden comprised a slumped coal shed and a lone bush (I cannot remember what it was - an Elder?). Now it houses a ringing station plus a luxurious garden of various plants, the stand of Tree Mallow having played host to a fair lis

To collect or not to collect?

After a week of glorious weather an Atlantic low has swept in (and seemingly swept out again judging by the sun peeking through the cloud) so it is a good opportunity to tackle the thorny subject of pan-listing, league tables and collecting. Rather than personalise this post, let's just précis what's gone before as this: a few naturalists have voiced an opinion that trying to take on too many orders is destructive to their already attained knowledge and reduces their enjoyment of natural history; questions have been raised over the need for a pan-listing league table; and the collecting of specimens for identification has come in for a good kicking. Too much? I have already voiced my opinion on this and admitted that I cannot possibly function as a competent naturalist while trying to identify everything that I come across. This just leads to a watering down of any knowledge that I already possess. Some pan-listers get around this by becoming 'tourists' and latch o

A day by the lake

14 hours is a long time, not just in politics, but also in birding. I had reason to stay close to the holiday home today so thought it a good opportunity to keep an eye on Maer Lake (at the bottom of the garden). The water level is currently low - more mud is being exposed by the day- and is attracting a fine selection of waders. The Curlew Sandpiper, Whimbrel and Wood Sandpipers of previous days had all moved on, but as the hours passed the 3 Black-tailed Godwits became 5, then 6, then eight. The lone Greenshank of the past two days attracted another mid-morning before both left the site noisily. Green Sandpipers were always a feature, with four birds sharing the margins with five Dunlin, five Common Snipe and a Common Sandpiper. A Ruddy Shelduck (here for day four) was surprisingly elusive for hours on end; two Little Egrets flew in for just an hour; and the three Water Rails that entertained me for half-an-hour between 05.45 - 06.15 weren't seen at all for the rest of the da

Long time, no see

This afternoon I was scanning Maer Lake (from the road that runs along it's western side), when a car drew up and the driver asked the universal birder's question "Much about?" At this point we both did a double take. "Steve Gale?" said he. "Harvey Kendall?" came my reply. And so it was that after last seeing each other 35 years before, two birders met again. In the summer of 1979 (as the years go by fast becoming my own anus mirablis), I was assistant warden at Dungeness Bird Observatory and Harvey and his son Ian were visitors from Cornwall, mainly to gather knowledge in the art of bird ringing. It was during August and, with the clarity that only youth seems to retain in a middle-aged mind, it was a tremendous period of migrant falls at Dungeness, a daily procession of hundreds of Willow Warblers, tens of Garden Warblers, Lesser Whitethroats, Common Redstarts, Pied Flycatchers and the odd Wryneck and Icterine Warbler thrown in for good measure

North Cornwall and beyond

Standing at the kitchen window I can quite literally see 6 Green Sandpipers feeding at the waters edge. I'm most certainly not in Banstead - I'm in Bude, north Cornwall, the bungalow in which we are staying backing onto Maer Lake. This property is heaven on earth to a birder, as you get unrestricted views across the reserve. We've been here before and from the garden I have recorded Wood Sandpiper, Ruff, Peregrine, Raven and Little Egret. The reserve list includes Citrine Wagtail, Semi-p Sandpiper, Wilson's Phalarope... I could go on. Needless to say, I'm keeping one eye on the lake and the other on a host of food and drink. If you haven't done already, check out Dylan Wrathall's  latest offering over at 'Of Esox and observations' where he has re-sharpened  his claws and has gone for the pan-listing jugular. He does have some interesting points to make and I will be responding in a post soon. A lively (but friendly) debate may ensue!

Back to the drawing board

It's been a funny old year for me regarding my natural history studies. To be quite frank, I've lost the plot. Up until 15 years ago I was an avid reader of all things 'identification', be it for birds, moths or plants. I managed to attain a proficient level of identification ability and could generally hold my own with 90% of all field naturalists in these particular areas - but not any more. This year has seen me take several steps back in ability, with a number of sloppy calls made in the field and a certain loss of knowledge that I once so easily held in my increasingly befuddled brain. Most of this is down to laziness. I still need to work hard to retain information and I just haven't spent the time with my nose in field guides and online sites. I've stopped trying to identify the micros that I trap (even though I really want to master them), have shied away from getting a firm grip on pugs (a family that I used to have good working knowledge of), grasses