Showing posts from November, 2014

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

Watch the birdie

I am envious of those birders that manage to capture inspiring images of the birds they see before them. From the, quite frankly, highly professional quality of Jono Lethbridge's work (if he left the banking world he could easily forge a career in photography) to the stealth-like lens-assassin that is Roger Browne at Beddington, we are offered on-line photography to die for. I, too, would like to be able to join in with them... but, I realise that it takes more than the shelling out a few thousand quid to obtain the right camera body and lens. It takes time. It takes patience. It takes an eye for composition. It takes an uncanny knack of knowing where to look and when to trigger the shutter. Time I'd rather spend doing other natural history related things. I do own an old (and I mean old) Canon SLR body - a 400D. I also have a collection of lenses, some quite decent (a Canon 60mm macro, Canon 10-22mm wide angle; Canon 17-85mm - all of these more than passable), plus a Raynox

Birding in the dark

It's pitch black. The moon is hidden behind cloud and you are at least two miles away from the nearest road. Light pollution is certainly not a problem here. The day's warmth is still hanging on and the odd dip in the ground seems to have held onto the heat all the more - it's a bit like stepping into a warm bath. The heathland all around is quiet, save for the odd Tawny Owl and roding Woodcock, that grunts and squeaks its way overhead. As good as it is to hear them, that is not the reason that you are here. Your quarry is that bit more special and seems to know it - it is not playing ball so far tonight. Another half-hour passes but with each minute your sense levels increase. Visually you may be compromised, but aurally you've never been more alert. Was that it? A vague sound from way beyond a distant line of birches... and again! Then, much closer, the unmistakable mechanical churring of a Nightjar, fading and then increasing in volume. You cannot see it, but it mu

Inner, Outer and Greater Uber

Inner Uber, Outer Uber and Greater Uber - grand names for a modest enterprise. I've bored you before with my creation (self-delusionist term) of the uberpatch - basically a joining together of all of my local natural history patches. From the point-of-view of assisting in the collation of my observations, it works very well. I have three on-line reports, (covering birds, plants and lepidoptera), that I update on a weekly basis. These are, simply put, a systematic list with narrative for each species (status, dates of sightings, counts, etc). I get great pleasure in maintaining these documents. I've also bored you before with quoting Luke Jennings (from Blood Knots ): "The late Bernard Venables, author of the classic  Mr Crabtree  fishing books, used to say that there are three stages to the angler's evolution. To begin with, as a child, you just want to catch fish - any fish. Then you move to the stage where you want to catch big fish. And finally, with nothi