Showing posts from April, 2015

Chat central

Priest Hill seems to be a favourite stopping off point for chats. This January/February saw up to 6 Stonechats spend a few weeks in the paddocks, and I suspect that different birds were involved over the period. During this current month, Northern Wheatears have stopped off with some regularity (with a peak of 8 on the 13th and 5 today), a female Redstart (honorary chat) was present on the morning of the 18th and a pair of Whinchats (including this stunning male) rounded it all off today. This family is one of my favourites, not just because of their beautiful colouring but also down to their habit of perching out in the open - on wire fences, hillocks, tops of bushes - making our encounters with them a thing of ease and one that seems to be mutually entered into. They're just - anthropomorphic warning - so inquisitive and friendly. And talking of chats, the NDB Wheatear trophy is to be awarded tomorrow at midnight... one last chance for all you white-arse lovers out there to

Feeding off crumbs

I didn't think that this 'stay local' birding during 2015 would be an easy option. After all, north Surrey is not known for its ornithological riches, particularly in an area bereft of open water - that is, apart from the odd park pond. If I had chosen to include Beddington (a bit further north) or Holmethorpe (a bit further south) then my chances of success would have been substantially greater. But neither are walkable from my home, and that was always an important part of my plans for this year. Last week added Lesser Whitethroat (species 89) to the list and I had my second female/immature Black Redstart of the spring at Langley Vale, always a difficult species to come across locally. But, for many hours of toil, these are scant rewards. This morning saw me up at dawn and leaving the house at 05.30hrs to walk up to Canons Farm in a constant drizzle. I had visions of at least a Grasshopper Warbler, maybe a Cuckoo, even a fly-by tern or wader. Apart from getting very w

Pale Tussock

This ones for Stewart Sexton, a relative bright spot in an otherwise dire spring for moths.

Crushing a childhood memory

Between 1962 and 1970 (aged 3-11) I lived in Tring, Hertfordshire. Part of my growing up there involved frequent visits to the local museum, exclusively dealing with natural history, founded by Lord Rothschild and housed in a stately Victorian mansion. I spent hours wandering the high-ceilinged rooms that were full of glass cases and walnut cabinets, staring at the assembled stuffed and mounted exhibits. My early obsessions were sweets, football and dinosaurs and very soon these were joined by living wildlife. When I eventually ended up in Sutton, Surrey (1971) a trip to the natural history museum at South Kensington was on the cards - Tring's big brother in more ways than one. I couldn't but be impressed, not just with the exhibits inside but with Waterhouse's immaculate architecture. I went back a few times, but, until this month, hadn't visited since 1984. It seemed like a good idea. Go back to the South Kensington museum to reacquaint myself with the fantastic a

Enough to make you weep

I saw a picture on Twitter today of a hunter standing proudly behind his latest haul - about 50 Turtle Doves and a Golden Oriole. I don't know what part of North Africa or the Mediterranean that the picture was taken (and am assuming that it was taken this Spring). Don't assume that this post is now going to take off into a rant against the evils of hunting 'our' birds - I don't agree with the killing of them, but then again I haven't been born into a culture where such practices are part of the way of life. It's also rich that 'we' can preach to so called 'backward' people about their environmental disgraces when we have clear-felled our forests, over-fished our seas, more or less wiped out our farmland birds, poisoned our pollinating insects and are having to re-introduce raptors because we murdered the bloody things in the first place... Seeing those lifeless doves drove small nails into my heart because it becomes less likely that I wi

Mid-April round-up

Locally, the past few days has seen a great improvement on the bird-front. I have been putting in the miles, walking across farm, heath, wood and hill with no great reward as far as rarity goes, but happy enough to come across good numbers of Northern Wheatears - with counts of between 6-8 at three sites, plus a fine male Whinchat at Mogador and a bonus Black Redstart at Canons Farm. The local patch challenge list rises to 88. My efforts with the MV in the garden have not been whole-hearted. Last Tuesday night it did pick up a bit, with the first real assortment of moths to look through, including Early Thorn (pictured), Brindled Beauty and Scalloped Hazel. I also had a single Zelleria hepariella , a smart micro that I have previously overlooked. Botanically things are a little behind. The chalk slope at Buckland Hills normally has, by now, Milkwort in flower in good number, but on Wednesday I could find none. The local exotic, Koch's Gentian, was also behind, with only one

Battle of the Wheatears!!

And I thought that the North Downs and beyond Wheatear trophy had already been decided. I totted up the white-arses from my worthy blogs this evening to find that there has been a mid-month surge from a certain Surrey blogger... Wanstead Birder (Jono Lethbridge) Essex   17 Non-stop Birding (Peter Alfrey) Surrey   16 Cowboy Birder (Tony Brown) Essex   7 Peter has cunningly used the 'multiple Wheatears in one image' rule to bump up his score. I now expect a certain lensman from Wanstead to hit back big time. Even the Kent boys have awoken from their slumber, but are still not bothering the leaderboard. It all comes to an end at midnight on April 30th. It's shaping up to be a classic encounter.

Meet a hypocritical blogger...

Sorry, couldn't resist it, even though the image wouldn't get an E+ in a photographic exam. Canons Farm was a 'warm slog' this morning, in the company of David Campbell and Geoff Barter. Migrant wise a little livelier, with a female Common Redstart at The Slangs, a flyover Yellow Wagtail, six Swallows, a House Martin, 4 Northern Wheatears and a Willow Warbler. The odd Chiffchaff and Blackcap were in the wooded areas. As if to warn us that winter hasn't quite finished with us yet, there was a single Brambling in the Canons Farmhouse area. Patch challenge total now reaches 86 (86%). Already running out of likely additions...

Red Kite interlude

Locally, there seems to be a bit more avian action, although I have only managed to add House and Sand Martin to the year list, both birds accompanying 2 Swallows as they moved rapidly northwards across fields at Mogador - a neatly packaged collection of hirundines. My only other observation of note was a Red Kite at Colley Hill. It alighted on the steep slope and picked up a dark object which, at first, I could not identify. Then the kite gained height before dropping said object and then catching it, repeating this process several times. What was it? A tied plastic bag that I would guess was full of dog mess... STOP PRESS: an evening visit to Priest Hill, Ewell revealed eight Northern Wheatear together in the largest paddock, plus a my first Common Whitethroat of the year close by (no. 84)

Powdered Quaker

Unsung, modest, always the bridesmaid... that just about sums up a Powdered Quaker. When the moth PR machine goes into overdrive at this time of year it is always the Pine Beauties, Oak Beauties and Yellow-horneds that get all of the accolades. But there is an understated class about Powdered Quakers - subtle, with the look of artisan dusted blond wood. It is annual here in Banstead, but not in great number. The pleasure was all mine when this individual popped up in the MV this morning.

Back on track

After yesterday's post that careered madly into self-analysis and self-absorption*, I got up this morning, dusted myself down and just got on with it - a birding trip to Canons Farm! The Met Office predicted a warm day of hazy sunshine, but by early afternoon cloud cover had largely won the battle and a f2-3 south-easterly had a little bit of a nip to it. The air certainly betrayed the presence of continental pollution, with the mid-distance appearing hazy and the horizon line murky indeed. But what about the birding? At long last a Northern Wheatear appeared before me, a smart male on one of those ideal looking fields. A single Swallow headed east without stopping and the edges of Banstead Woods was enlivened with the song of Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler. My prediction that the Linnet flock was about to disperse was incorrect - it has now increased to 250 birds. As far as the Surrey v Northumberland patch challenge goes, the list is now up to 81 species (81% of targ

A morning at Canons Farm

I was on site at 06.00hrs - not a breath of wind nor a cloud in the sky. Chiffchaffs were already proclaiming their place at the edges of the woodland, with at least eight birds present. Quite a few of them were moving through, singing briefly from a tree top before flitting on and repeating the process. I wouldn't mind betting that most of them are nowhere near Canons Farm this evening. A couple of Redpolls passed overhead, but little else was moving this early. It was not until 10.00hrs that things picked up. I bumped into David Campbell and we took up position at the watchpoint close to Canons Farmhouse barns. Almost immediately two Common Buzzards flew purposely through northwards, followed by a Red Kite, then possibly another, although we couldn't rule out that it was our original bird. 15 minutes later an undoubted second bird appeared from the east and headed westwards. A trickle of Meadow Pipits overhead went undetected save for the odd call and the flock of 200 Li

Marsh and Willow Tits in northern Surrey

This morning's visit to Juniper Top/Bottom revealed a minimum of four Marsh Tits, two of which were in full song. Whenever I come across this species I cannot help but think back to my formative birding years and the presence in north Surrey of their close relative, the Willow Tit. It was not difficult to find Willow Tits back in the mid 1970s. I used to go to Epsom Common and be guaranteed of coming across several birds, mostly between Stamford Green and the smaller Stew Pond (the larger pond had not been flooded back then). If you continued onto Ashtead Common you would also find them. The Surrey Bird Reports of the time mention birds being recorded from 20+ sites and reveal that a study in the Oxshott area produced 24 breeding pairs in 1978. I was also able to find them during the summer months on Walton Heath and Headley Heath. Because the local population was relatively healthy, wandering birds could be found from time to time, with my recording of singles at Beddington SF o

Hard work

My continued belief that constant local birding will bring forth rewards was sorely tested today. The low cloud, dull light and damp chill all conspired to make it feel as if I were birding inside a grey, soulless and birdless bauble. Places from where I can usually gain some compensation from the views on offer didn't even deliver, mainly down to the flat light and misty horizon. Passerines were lacking and the optics had to largely make do with a diet of corvids and pigeons - even the gulls have largely gone. The pair of Lapwings on Walton Downs are still around - one bird was standing alert in a large field that slopes away westwards, hiding at least a third of the ground from view. There have been up to five pairs here in previous years and the fact that two birds have been present over the past three weeks bodes well for a species that is locally a rare breeder. Canons Farm was largely a migrant free zone - no Wheatears (even though the fields look good for them), no warbl

Wheatear Trophy update

There are just 28 days to go until the prizes are handed out at the annual North Downs and Beyond Wheatearfest! My attempts to secure the services of a celebrity to present the trophies has hit a snag, as Jeremy Clarkson has had to withdraw due to unforeseen and ongoing matters. Being a birder meant that he was prepared to carry out the Master of Ceremonies role very cheaply indeed - my budget might just about stretch to Rolf Harris (if we can secure his day release from prison, that is). At the moment there are three front runners for the big prize - of most images posted on a single blog. They are: Wanstead Birder (Jono Lethbridge) 14 Cowboy Birder (Tony Brown) - 8 Non-stop Birding (Peter Alfrey) - 7 The current holder of the title, Martin Casemore (Plodding Birder), has not been defending his title with anything but a great big dollop of apathy, as just two Wheatear images adorn his blog (although there are 564 images of the Dungeness Cattle Egrets to compensate). If I were