Showing posts from December, 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