Showing posts from March, 2015

Park Downs to Fames Rough

The past few days has seen a great deal of flower come out, so that the slopes of Park Downs were spattered with the mauve of Hairy Violet. In one or two places Barren Strawberry was in flower, along with a good patch of this Stinking Hellebore. We are quite well off for this species locally, and I can guarantee seeing it without too much effort. It cheers up the winter months no end. Even though the westerly wind was gusting force 6-7 it didn't stop a fair number of bees to venture out, along with two Brimstone butterflies. I continued on to Fames Rough where, as I was inspecting the ploughed strip (in readiness for a summer of Ground Pine and Cut-leaved Germander), a Firecrest sang from a stand of Yew. Being relatively high and exposed, Canons Farm was being blasted by the wind, but the recently raked fields held at least 340 Stock Doves, but no Wheatears...

Lesser Bloody-nosed Beetles

Another day of fruitless birding along the North Downs, although, if you like counting corvids and Stock Doves, then it wasn't without interest. Actually, I'm not being fair, as at least half-a-dozen Chiffchaffs were singing between Reigate and Juniper Hill. Highlight for me though were the three Lesser Bloody-nosed Beetles that I came across on the steepest section of Colley Hill. These two seemed to be involved in a spot of Greco-Roman wrestling - or something more intimate...

The ticking of time

I started taking notes of what I saw in 1974, but it was not until the following year that I got a bit more serious about it and bought hard-backed notebooks to give my teenage observations the impression of permanence and importance. I still have them all and they can make for an entertaining and nostalgic read. In one such book I had ruled out a number of columns across a double-page spread on which to record my birding year lists. Each column is one centimetre wide and the first year entered is 1975. I can clearly remember looking across the empty pages, the years stretching ahead into the future. It promised of a whole life of birding that was yet to be realised and thoughts of reaching the far end of those two pages was not something that I thought about. But in the year 2000 I did indeed reach that far end, and it was quite sobering. There were 26 year lists completed and nowhere (apart from another two-page spread) to go. I couldn't bring myself to start another one as it se

A hard slog

The past few days has seen me out in the field a lot, but with little reward. After putting in the hours it can be disheartening when the ornithological return is minimal. It could be pointed out that my venues of choice are hardly inspirational - Epsom and Walton Downs, Banstead Heath and Canons Farm - but there again my expectation levels are hardly set to high. There have been moments of some compensation, with a displaying pair of Lapwings and a light trickle of Meadow Pipits overhead, but it is hardly the stuff of legend. This sort of disappointment isn't just the lot of the inland birder either, as my chums at Dungeness go through exactly the same feelings, although their measure of success and failure is on a far more loftier scale. There was so little to look at on one particular afternoon that I spent a few moments snapping away at this cock Pheasant - I liked the contrast between its gaudy plumage and the dour stubble - this sort of thing happens when you are scratching a

The North wind doth blow

I was up and about by 05.30hrs so 'did' the moth trap in the half-light. The promise of a cloudy night hadn't materialised, so the trap was not heaving with moths - in fact, apart from a smattering of Hebrew Characters and Common Quakers there was just the single new species for the year, an Early Grey. I decided to walk up to Canons Farm, which normally takes 25 minutes. The early sun gave a weak pulse of warmth and together with the calmness made for a pleasant enough start to the day. Thoughts had foolishly turned to migrants (and by that I really mean Wheatears, hirundines and Ring Ouzels!) but the fields remained very quiet, the hedgerows were silent and the skies largely empty. Slowly, but surely, the wind started to pick up from the north, with each passing minute the temperature lowering. As if recognising such conditions, a large feeding flock of thrushes materialised, with 200 Redwing and 175 Fieldfare reminding us fools as to the real season. A lone Great Black

A bit of a catch up

The past week has felt like Spring. The air temperature has warmed up considerably, the ground has dried out a lot and there are insects in the air - all most agreeable, and I've been able to get out a fair bit. Most of my wanderings have been in the Epsom/Walton Downs area, with side excursions onto  Juniper Top/Bottom, Banstead Heath, Colley Hill and the North Downs Way. Here are the highlights: 2015 Patch Challenge The total has crept up to 76 species with the addition of Red Kite and Barn Owl on Tuesday (I've already regaled you with these sightings), a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker on Thursday (a rare back garden appearance), plus three Lapwings displaying over Walton Downs yesterday morning. Butterflies Brimstones seemed to burst forth at the end of last week and this week has seen Small Tortoiseshells and a single Red Admiral in the garden. Moths The MV is not yet busy, and the night time temperatures have not been anything other than workable, but the 'NFY&#

The accumulation of stuff

It should come as no surprise that after 40 years of immersing myself in natural history that I should accumulate a lot of 'stuff' because of it. This has been driven home to me over the past couple of days because I have been emptying various cupboard spaces and populating new book cases that we have had built to accommodate all the said 'stuff'. Two things - I already knew that this mountain of 'stuff' was getting out of hand and my denial that 95% of this stuff was mine (and not my wifes or two daughters) was getting more preposterous by the day. So what is this stuff? To start with, over 350 books, all natural history themed (and let's not get started on the other non-themed books that I own and read). I did carry out a cull several years ago, but regretted it afterwards and vowed not to do it again. And then there are the annual reports and publications that I have been sent in lieu of being a member of numerous societies and clubs. They look nice all

A most agreeable afternoon

I can thank two fellow naturalists for inspiring me to get out this afternoon, for both tweeted or blogged about their own successes which, in turn, led to my own. Firstly, Graeme Lyons posted about his exploits whilst beating some Juniper in Sussex which had provided him with Juniper Shieldbug. I have a good population of this tree at nearby Walton Downs, so I took myself off this afternoon with a tray and beating stick - and within ten minutes had seen at least half a dozen (above). What a smart insect. That marking on the corium reminds me of a carved antique chair arm. Shortly after this success I was watching two Red Kites lazily circling over the valley between here and Headley Village, but they were just the ornithological starters... local birder Ian Jones had found a Barn Owl on Epsom Downs that he had seen hunting in the same spot on two consecutive evenings. Would it put on a show for a third? Thankfully it did, and I was treated to close views as it quartered along a g

Turn the switch to 'Off'?

I'd like to ditch the computer. Turn off the iPad. Smash the mobile phone. Turn my back on Twitter. Ignore Facebook. None of them feel organic. They are all shallow. Yet I cannot - or rather, if I did so it would severely impair my ability to stay in touch with what my friends and acquaintances are up to within the realms of the natural world. The trouble is, 95% of communication is now done through social media - even texting seems to be going the way of the old fashioned concept of actually speaking to each other. So, the choice is to walk away from the world of Wi-fi, 4G and Blue-tooth and embrace the land of the 'out of touch'. Could I really make that move? I most probably could live with it for a day, but beyond that would find it difficult. My personal communication with many individuals would cease. I'd have to stop blogging. I would no longer surf the numerous sites that prop up my birding (and mothing, and pan-listing) world. For what? To try and recreate

March the imposter

March 1st never fails to get me excited. It says "Spring". It says "lighter evenings". It says "migrants". But all too often, after several days of the third month, nothing much has really changed. There might be a handful of early migrants reported on the coast, but generally these will fizzle away and leave us wondering if we dreamed about such observations. It is then that I believe that what March really says is "fooled you again, sucker..." It happens every year. A warmish mid-March day will provide a few butterflies, a Wheatear and a Little Ringed Plover. I will stand there breathing in the air as if it is charged with life itself (which I suppose it is), look around at the rude health of the fresh green vegetation lit by the sunlight and marvel at the hundreds of insects that have come to life. And then, the following day, all has been replaced by a nasty cold wind, scudding low grey clouds and the natural world seems to have retreated a

White arse

They're almost with us* *apparently already are in Dorset... Have you got what it takes to win a White Arse medal? (see here for details)

Early migrants

It's March and that means summer migrants! Well, it doesn't really, does it. It might mean a few hardy early migrants making landfall, perhaps a fall or two at the months end, but there will be plenty of days when the winter will still rule, it will feel like December and the Sand Martin that enchanted us in mid-March will regret the day that it crossed the channel so early. But regardless of all that pragmatism, summer migrants will arrive soon enough, so in celebration of these eagerly anticipated events I've raided my notebooks to bring you my earliest ever dates for the commoner (and some scarcer) summer migrants. Being a largely inland and weekend birder has meant that some of these dates are not all that impressive. If you live by the coast, and get out regularly, you will beat this lot into a cocked hat. Garganey 27 March 1982 (Dungeness) - also recorded wintering Montagu's Harrier 19 May 2014 (Dungeness) Osprey 28 April 1996 (Stodmarsh) - also recorded w