Showing posts from February, 2015


The 'pan-species-listing family' has had a big argument, a trial separation and gone through a messy divorce all in the space of 48 hours - and I thought that it was only birders that squabbled and fell out! Without naming names and reasons, a public spat on the Facebook Group page has led to the FB group being disbanded, then started up again by the two warring factions - so we now have two different places on which to post, natter and share. One is called 'pan-species recording' and the other 'pan-species listing'. Confused? Well, just to confuse us even more, as I type this post there has been a name change. The 'recording' group is now called the 'Biological recording in the British Isles' group. I am a member of both, not wanting to take sides or get involved with the internal politics. My  willingness to get involved in such shenanigans has been whittled away down the years and I know to my own cost that these situations are rarely fully


At last the garden MV came up with the goods, albeit a modest haul - but there will be no complaints from me. Single Hebrew Character, Dotted Border (above), Spring Usher, Epiphyas postvittana and two Agnopterix heracliana have kick-started my 2015 mothing year. But, if nothing else, I'm a pragmatist - we will see plenty of cold nights when moths will be off the menu before the season truly comes to life.


Birding in the Surrey hinterland, particularly during the winter months, can be hard work. Frustrating. Soul sapping. Even depressing. Today was one such day, when a combination of drizzle and a lack of birds turned me from an enthusiastic birder to a crumpled heap within an hour. I was walking across Walton Heath when it occurred to me that not only could I not see a single bird, I also couldn't hear one. I stood still and looked harder. I made my ears work overtime. Nothing. For maybe 20-30 seconds (it seemed like an hour) there was not a single avian tickle to be felt. And then four Wood Pigeons flew into view. Followed a further thirty seconds later by a Carrion Crow. And then a Herring Gull. I could have predicted those three species, the 21st century birders staple diet of pigeon, crow and gull. 95% of the Surrey bird biomass is made of that triumvirate I can confidently claim. It wasn't it always like this - or was it? When I returned home I picked up my notebook fro

British Moths (second edition)

I don't automatically buy new editions of books that I already own. Quite often they can be almost straight reprints that offers the purchaser nothing more than having the same book but in better condition - and then there are those new editions that offer you an almost completely different book. British Moths , by Chris Manley, is one of the latter. Although boasting the same number of pages as the first edition, he has managed to include 800 additional species, most of these being micro moths. To accommodate this the butterflies have been dropped, but this is no loss considering the wealth of books available that cover them. So now we have 2,147 species to peruse, of which 871 are macros and 1,276 micros. If for no other reason, this boost in microlepidoptera makes buying this addition a must. But that is not all... Plenty of species that appeared in the first book have had their images updated, and all the photographs have had the subject rotated so that they all face the

Fuel for birding

It is said that an army marches on its stomach and the same can be said of the humble birder. I can trace certain foods to certain periods of my birding time, so much so that the smell or taste of them can send me careering back there... The Early Years My schoolboy birding expeditions were always accompanied by a packed lunch. If I went to Beddington SF then it would be a Breakfast Sausage sandwich (a circular processed meat that I haven't seen around for years) with Branston Pickle (other pickles are available). This would be followed by a Tunnock's Caramel Wafer. On a cold winters day these would be hard and brittle to bite into, but come the summer they would melt to the point of becoming a liquid. And talking of liquid, my flask would always be filled with coffee - unless I went to Epsom Common, when, for whatever reason, I would take soup. Dungeness When I first stayed at the observatory any food preparation had to be quick and simple - I wanted to be out birding, p


My recent visit to Dungeness got me thinking about the avian changes that have taken place over the (almost) forty years that I have been going down to the shingle. I have already touched upon the egret explosion two posts ago - it is not everywhere that a fly over Great White Egret barely warrants lifting one's binoculars, but that is the situation at Dungeness! Gulls have seen an enormous surge of interest, largely down to one or two pioneering birders, including Peter Grant, one of DBO's very own. Back in 1976 large immature gulls were virtually unidentifiable, so sifting through any such flock was largely an exercise in trying to find a Glaucous or Iceland (the term 'white-winger' was not then common currency). PJG's obsession has been passed onto current warden Dave Walker, who studies the gulls avidly. He is responsible for finding all three Audouin's Gulls, plus a Ross's, fair reward for the many hours that he spends staring down his telescope. A &#

The birding Oscars

Tomorrow in LA, the film industry meets to decide which movie deserves to be awarded an Oscar. In honour of this, that motley crew of birders at Dungeness have come up with a selection of film titles that have been inspired by bird names. Read them and weep... Chariots of Firecrests The Loneliness of the Long Distance Roadrunner Look Back in Anhinga The Dam Bustards 101 Dalmatian Pelicans Raiders of the Lost Auk Sex, lies and Vireotape A Taste of Honey Buzzard 2001 a Space Osprey From Wheatear to Eternity Catbird on a Hot Tin Roof Mrs Minivet Greenshank Redemption Black Lark Down! The Rocky-hopper Picture Show Nightjar on Elm Street Texas Cranesaw Massacre Fall of the House of Upcher Day of the Tripits Butch Cassowary and the Sunbittern Kid Easy Eider You only live Twites So I had to join in... Acrocephalus Now! The Eider Sanction For whom the red polls On the waterthrush Taxi Diver Wuthering Kites Day of the Grackle Close encounters of a turdus kind

Egrets, I've had a few...

I first visited Dungeness in 1976. Back then there had been but two records of Little Egret, whilst Great White Heron (as it was then referred to) and Cattle Egret (above) were not even on the Dungeness list. Fast forward 39 years and I find myself on the hallowed shingle, overlooking a line of bushes at dusk and counting incoming roosting egrets - not just one or two of them but LOADS of the snowy white beauties. The best totals were on February 17th, when 20 Little, 11 (eleven) Great White and 2 Cattle flew in - simply unfathomable just a few years ago. My five day stay produced a fine cross-section of species, including Black-necked Grebe, Bittern, Bewick's Swan, Whooper Swan, White-fronted Goose, Tundra Bean Goose, Scaup, Smew, Marsh Harrier, Merlin, Peregrine, Avocet, Black Redstart, Cetti's Warbler, Firecrest, Raven, Tree Sparrow and Corn Bunting. Most memorable were the wheeling flocks of Lapwings and Golden Plovers on the RSPB reserve and Walland Marsh, totalling 8

Moth frustration

There is something about my back garden that means that there will be a lack of moths until March. I have, in the past, used the MV successfully during the months of January and February, trapped the usual suspects (Small Brindled Beauty, Brindled Beauty, Chestnut, Early Moth, Dotted Border, etc), but... it is by no means a done deal that anything will come to the light at Gale Towers. So far this year I have trapped on three nights, admittedly with poor maximum temperatures (3-4 degrees) and have amassed the grand total of ZERO moths - not even a Light Brown Apple Moth. Meanwhile there are other local lepidopterists happily trapping away and getting results. It's got to the point where I'm switching my bulbs over just in case something is wrong with them! I have noticed that during the winter it is easier to trap larger numbers of moths, and of a wider range of species, out in the countryside, preferably in woodland. The suburbs just doesn't cut it. My fellow Surrey mo

'New' site, new target

Gordon Hay alerted me to it. Or rather, Gordon reminded me of it. "Can you see the far bank of Buckland Sand Pit from Colley Hill?" he asked me on the phone last night. "Yes." I replied, "I was looking over that way from the hill on Sunday but didn't have a scope with me. If I did I'm sure larger stuff like wildfowl would be identifiable." "Is it in your 2015 patch?" "Geographically yes, although, as you know, you cannot gain access to them, so they didn't come into my thoughts." "Well in that case go back and take your scope and look - there were at least 60 Wigeon feeding on the grassy bank today" Wigeon! A bonus species if ever there was one. I needed no more excuse to head back to Colley Hill with scope and tripod. Accompanying me was brother-in-law Bill, who, although not a birder, is used to my ways and enjoys being out in the countryside whatever the reason. Now, I must admit to feeling a bi

Golden slumber

What a difference a day makes. After yesterday's gloomy, chilly weather I wasn't expecting an almost balmy spring day. It might only be the second week of February, and the weather is more than capable of rising up and biting us on the bum, but it felt as if we might have turned a corner in the progression of this particularly ordinary winter. I took myself off to the southward slope of Colley Hill, mainly because this site was my best bet for a local Red-legged Partridge. Settling down at the base of the hill, overlooking the favoured fields, I had a good view for miles towards the south and west. Sheltered from what little breeze there was, I was sitting in a perfect sun trap and a number of small insects were constantly on the wing, always a welcome sign in the winter months. Off came the hat, gloves and coat. Eyes shut, head back and feel those golden rays... My slumber was broken by the rhythmical calling of a Red-legged Partridge that was present on the weedy edge of

Crystal Pallas?

Millions are spent on bird food each year. The membership of the RSPB is between 1-2 million. Plenty of birders head into the field with thousands of pounds worth of optical and camera equipment around their neck. How long will it be before the chairmen of English football clubs decide that a bit of rebranding might entice a little bit of the 'ornithological pound' into the game? Premiership Aston Pitta Crystal Pallas Gull City Queens Park Stringers Tottenham Longspurs Championship Blackburnian Rovers Blackpoll Millwallcreepers Ipswich Sparrows Wigannet Athletic League 1 MK Poms Crow Alexandra Chesterfield Fares Fleetwood Sandpipers League 2 LRP Wimbledon Dagenham & Redshank Any more out there? (With thanks to the Bard of Littlestone and his merry men) In other news: Groundhog Day locally with the same birds being seen in the same places (including the Ewell Little Egret, below),  apart from the Priest Hill Stonechats, that may well have moved o

A photogenic Kestrel

After a morning of wintery showers I ventured over to Canons Farm which was, quite frankly, bloody hard work. In previous winters the fields have at least had flocks of assorted finches, corvids and pigeons to sift through. not forgetting the hundreds of thrushes that commuted between favoured feeding areas. This winter has seen almost empty pastures - the Fieldfare flock is hovering around the 100 mark and apart from 20-40 Skylarks and 30-40 Yellowhammers (that isn't, admittedly, too shabby) there is very little to entertain the birder. I spent a bit of time mucking about with the Nikon Coolpix P600 bridge camera that I bought last November. My main reason for getting it was down to its 60x optical zoom, this enabling me to obtain half decent 'record shots' of birds with minimal effort. A particularly social Kestrel (above) allowed me to snap away. Let's just hope that any Red-foot in the spring will be just as co-operative...

Stonechat invasion (sort of)

The north of Surrey enjoyed what us southerners think of as 'proper winter' today - a one inch fall of snow that sent the road network into a mild panic and birders to fetch their optics just in case all sorts of hard weather movement was about to appear overhead - but the snow was just localised, it melted by lunchtime and the birds didn't seem to move at all... or did they? My visit to Priest Hill questioned whether or not stuff was stirred up a little bit, as a minimum of six Stonechats were in the Belted Galloway meadow this afternoon. I saw one female last week and three (one male) on Saturday. I have been giving the meadows a good grilling so I think it unlikely that the birds have been present all of this time, and it seems a bit early for the spring passage that this species does exhibit. Whether or not they have been widely dispersed across the site and have just come together I'll never know. Two males and four females kept me thoroughly entertained for an

I'm ridiculously proud of my pittas

Even though I've got a pile of books waiting to be read, I couldn't resist re-reading Chris Gooddie's excellent ' The Jewel Hunter' , his account of seeing all of the worlds pitta species in a single calendar year - I bet he wept when Red-bellied Pitta was subsequently split into 16 species! Anyhow, a world birder I may not be, but I have seen a few of these marvellous birds and reading about Chris's exploits once more has taken me back to Malaysia in 1994... Hooded Pitta Our first full day in Taman Negara. Janice Hollingworth and I were walking back down from the lower slopes of Bukit Teresek (her husband Mark had gone back to our chalet), when she alerted me to a bird that was standing, motionless, on a fallen tree trunk that was lying in a dip beneath us. Even though it was in the gloom the bird shone out - a splendid Hooded Pitta. It stayed in place for just five seconds before it disappeared before our very eyes. It was if it had just vanished into thin