Sunday, 31 May 2015

A rant for modern times

Social media. Two little words that have become a way of life for millions. The opium of the masses. A vehicle that allows people to inflict their ordinariness on the rest of the world. Or to impose their superiority upon it. Useful information becomes lost and then drowned in a sea of rubbish. A world dominated by mediocre observations at best, by vacuous waffling in the middle and by poisonous ranting at worst.

What has been unleashed is a stream of self-congratulatory drivel, fuelled by egos that demand to be seen, heard and responded to. We are no better than juggling clowns riding monocycles, hogging the spotlight and demanding applause, desperate for laughter and then hunting down comment in the aftermath. If our audience doesn't get it the first time then we will hit them over the head with it for a second, third and fourth time, beating them into submission until somebody - ANYBODY - responds. Doesn't matter that you've never met them and most probably never will, but their approval, their applause, their caring feeds your ego, drives you to seek out more, fuels your appetite to send more worthless information into cyberspace.

My picture is better than yours. My picture is not better than yours but I'm going to post it anyway. My picture is the fiftieth posted of this particular subject today, but I will still post it, because it's mine. I don't want to miss out on this collective overkill, so will add to it, millions of pixels bulldozed into a pile of redundant visual waste. Want another one from a different angle? HERE! Want a badly lit shot but it's all I've got? HERE!! One that's out of focus? HERE!!!

Stating the obvious. Forcing your prejudices onto others. Having private conversations in public. Poor grammar. Youth speak ffs even though you're over 40. Or 50. Pictures of your breakfast. Your lunch. Your dinner. Your tea. Your drink. Your eyebrow. Your ear. Your big toe. Because you are a star! You are famous!! What you think is important!!! You star in your own media show, played out on computer, tablet and phone to a worldwide audience of millions!!! Who doesn't want to know about your sore throat, your trip to the supermarket or your thoughts on 'John down the roads lawnmower'. Been somewhere interesting? Then don't actually look at it, but take a selfie so that we can all see that you- yes, YOU - have been there! Pull a face, pout, gurn, pose because your public love you! And in years to come, when you are asked what the Taj Mahal was like you won't remember because you didn't really take it in as you were sodding about with your selfie stick the whole time.

People with something to say used to write a letter or publish a book. Today people with nothing to say say it long and hard, not drawing breath between each touch of the keyboard or tap of the screen. Tourette's of the keyboard, all over the world, tap, tap, tapping away filling up cyberspace with worthless data. Just like this very post that you are reading now.

Me, me, me! The message that the supposedly educated of the early 21st century is sending out into the world. Indulgence grown fat by a society that has become obsessed by celebrity, short-termism and the sedation of true individualism. Families that sit in front of the TV, not actually watching it but all lost in their phones and tablets (and God forbid that they actually talk to each other!). Commuters on trains and buses barely aware of those around them because they are plugged into a life-support machine that feeds them media. Checking for emails, texts, status updates and posts when the boss isn't looking. Frightened of missing out on something that's going on somewhere else in someone else's life. And therefore missing out on the very here and now.

And now I must go. Check on my Facebook groups. See if my email inbox has filled up. Look at the Blogger stats.

You see, my public needs me...

Spring round-up: six out of 10

So, we have reached the last day of May. Not really the end of spring, neither the beginning of summer, maybe a mash-up of the two. But, for the purpose of this post, let's pretend that we have indeed finished with spring 2015. How was it for you?

For me, in north Surrey, it was a stop-start affair. The weather was largely cool. Largely dry. A few pulses of migration were experienced, but it then stuttered. Nothing really unusual came along. It was all a bit benign, not terribly exciting, birding as if sedated. But I tried. I put in many hours, mostly on foot. It wasn't unenjoyable, but at times it seemed like hard work.

Wheatears had a good passage - the highest counts being 8 at Priest Hill on April 13th and 7 at Mogador two days later. Three splendid Whinchats, two Common Redstarts and two Black Redstarts were welcome. Three Red Kites floated across the air space. A handful of Hobbys. But there were no bonus species - no Ring Ouzels, Groppers, Ospreys, Marsh Harriers... well, not for me at any rate. With all the effort it seemed cruel of the birding God's not to chuck me a small crumb of comfort.

The moths were dire. It wasn't just the Banstead MV that was seldom visited. Recorders the length and breadth of the country wailed about the poor numbers, the late emergence. Plants, too, were well behind with their flowering times.

A week at Dungeness echoed the overall poor spring feeling with no fall or sea watch of even minor note, but did produced two White-winged Black Terns, a Bonaparte's Gull and a Ni Moth. The shingle kingdom did look after me.

The last few days have been wet and cold. Passerine breeding success seems to be poor. I have seen few local Swifts. There seems to be a feeling of loss all around. I'm just hoping that it warms up soon and that our wildlife kicks into a higher gear. On the plus side the local Greenfinches seem to have made a come-back and House Sparrows go from strength to strength with at least three local 'colonies' of 20-50 birds.

No two springs are alike, which, after this one, is just as well.

Friday, 29 May 2015

The pulling power of Senetti

May 29th? It is more like March 29th... wet, cold and windy here in northern Surrey. Not the sort of weather for butterflies. Speaking of which, this morning I purchased two Senetti plants from a local garden centre - they are pericallis hybrids that are early flowerers and seem to be a recent addition to the horticultural world. I hadn't come across it until I stayed at Dungeness Bird Observatory earlier in the month and saw the fine specimen that warden Dave Walker had obtained. It wasn't so much the vibrant flower colour that caught my attention as much as the pulling power that the flowers had on butterflies - it was positively crawling with them. Dave took the picture below that clearly illustrates the point:

There are over 40 Small Coppers here! I just hope that Dave has continued to dead-head the plant and that new blooms are still coming forth. I'm back down at DBO next month and quite fancy a Swallowtail or Camberwell Beauty alighting upon it...

Monday, 25 May 2015

Toadflax Brocade in Banstead - a short history

It is not all that long ago that the Toadflax Brocade was considered anything but a very local species. First recorded in the UK in 1939 and as breeding in 1952, colonisation then started in earnest. In the mid-1980s, Skinner considered it 'Well established at Dungeness, Kent and found locally along the coast eastwards to Sandwich and westwards towards Angmering, West Sussex'. Even in the 1998 revision of his book he mentions only 11 other records away from this heartland. Graham Collins 'Larger Moths of Surrey' - published in 1997 - can only lay claim to a single Surrey record, from Bookham Common on 7 July 1970. By the turn of this century moths had started to appear further west along the south coast, and since then they have been recorded as far north as Yorkshire. Of more interest than these isolated wanderers has been the colonisation of London and the Home Counties. Which leads me on to Banstead...

It was in the back garden on 17 August 2009 that I came across a striking larva on Purple Toadflax. Even I was able to put a name to this beast, that of Toadflax Brocade. I had, at that point, not seen the adult moth in the garden, so was then on high alert to rectify the situation. If it had bred in the garden then I had certainly missed them! I didn't have too long to wait, as an adult came to the MV trap on 22 May 2010. In 2011-13 I didn't find any larvae although in each of these years one or two adults appeared at light. Last autumn the three clumps of Purple Toadflax in the garden were alive with the colourful caterpillars - 20 on one clump alone. And, for the past three consecutive nights I have recorded adults. They seem to have happily colonised this small part of Surrey.

The food plant of this species is, not surprisingly, Common, Purple and Pale Toadflax. The early colonists most probably had Common as the only plant of choice. Maybe the colonisation of London has been aided by the ubiquitous nature of Purple. It seeds easily and is a common plant of waste ground. This moth is double-brooded, flying in May-June and again in August. If you have yet to see it, check your nearest clump of Purple Toadflax for the larvae this summer - there will be some nearby!

Saturday, 23 May 2015

At last!

It's been some time coming, but at last there was an evening that felt muggy and an MV trap that had plenty buzzing around it. There may not have been hundreds of moths to inspect at dawn, but there was a fair haul including plenty of species new for the year. Here are a couple of the more visual of them:

Argyresthia trifasciata - not recorded in the UK until 1982 but now spreading north and west and becoming well established. To be found happily in gardens where it mines the leaves and shoots of Cypress. The white head separates it from similar species.

Toadflax Brocade - breeds in my garden on Purple Toadflax where the larvae are easily found in the late summer. Once a scarce species of sparse coastal habitats in the south and south-east - now regularly found in London and the Home Counties.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

DBO moths

The Dungeness Bird Observatory moth trap was not exactly leaping last week, but compared to some of the totals that nearby recorders were obtaining, it wasn't really all that bad. In fact, this particular moth was notable indeed:

DBO's fourth Ni Moth (above) was the star capture on the night of the 10th/11th and was a new species for me. There didn't seem to be much in the way of migrant lepidoptera around, save for a few Painted Ladies and Sean Clancy's monopoly on Bordered Straws! What was common were these:

The variable and ubiquitous Light Feathered Rustic - I have recorded it twice in my Surrey garden, no doubt wanderers from the small populations that are present on the downs. The variation in colouring and marking is most obvious when you are confronted with a DBO trap full of them.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

WWBTs and Hobbys

At Dungeness last Thursday the wind swung easterly and the rain set in. The local birders predicted a good bird and they were right - well, almost right, as none of them had actually predicted that there would be TWO good birds. The RSPB reserve was the chosen stop off point for these two White-winged Black Terns (above) and it was Martin Casemore (click here for proper images) who got the prize as their discoverer. As it turned out, none of us needed to run for them as they decided to stay put for two days, spending most of the time on Burrowes Pit with the odd foray onto Dengemarsh. I spent quite a few hours watching them as the chance to see summer-plumaged birds in the UK does not come along that frequently. One bird was a little mottled on the breast and underwing coverts but the other seemed to be 'fully formed'.

If any species became a birding emblem for the week then it was the Hobby. During my eight day stay, up to half a dozen were seen (or suspected) to have arrived in off the sea at the Point itself, including this individual that pitched onto the beach one dull, damp morning. The RSPB's Water Tower pits was the centre of Hobby action, with a minimum of 22 in the air together last Sunday morning. Any scan of the sky from the reserve usually revealed 6-8 birds at any given time. Magical.

Monday, 18 May 2015

BOOM! (Oh the irony...)

My eight-day stay at Dungeness lived up to all expectations. Admittedly, there were no decent sea watches and no falls, but mid-May is not necessarily the best time for either. My hopes were largely for a few good birds (duly delivered), maybe a migrant moth or two (box ticked) and, just as importantly, a chance to catch up with old friends and to make a few new ones along the way. In these respects it was a week to remember.

So, what will be the subject of my first 'Dungeness May 2015' post? The two summer-plumaged White-winged Black Terns? The Ni Moth? An invert round-up? Or the drake Blue-winged Teal that us Brits found on the other side of the channel in a cheeky smash-and-grab raid? No, none of them, at least not yet. It is the tale behind my belated ability to use the term 'BOOM!' (but only in an ironic way, honest!)

Last Saturday evening (May 16th at 17.20hrs to be precise), I found myself alone in Dennis's Hide on the Dungeness RSPB reserve. It had been a warm and sunny afternoon and I was enjoying the coolness of the hide, scanning the viewable small gravel islands that had been enticing small numbers of waders all day (Turnstone, Grey Plover, and Knot amongst others). A few Black-headed Gulls and Common Terns were present, and as I carried on scanning along the edge of one particular island, came to a gull that immediately got my alarm bells ringing. Surely it had a black - not brown - hood! And its leg colour was a bright orangey red! And it's bill was black!! It certainly wasn't a Black-headed, so what was it?

Although I had nothing to directly compare it to, it seemed small in stature, and in my increasingly agitated state started to eliminate such species as Franklin's and Laughing (although neither were real candidates for this bird) and the black primaries and general shape were wrong for Little. It had to be a Bonaparte's, surely?

I am, by my own admission, a rusty birder. Maybe 25 years ago I would have called it, but my confidence was not up to that. I didn't have a field guide with me (it was back at the observatory) and I frantically tried to dredge out any half-remembered Bonaparte's Gull identification features. The underwing pattern of the primaries! That was something that had stuck, so I made a mental note to look for that if it flew. In the meantime I took in what I could through the scope and decided the best thing to do was obtain some record shots of the bird using my bridge camera. I took maybe half a dozen and checked the back of the camera to ensure that there was something usable, and there was - phew! Looking back to the island at where the gull had been there was now an empty space... it had gone! Bugger!! I scanned frantically left and right, believing my chance to see the underwing pattern had come, but was dismayed not to find the bird at all. After a couple of minutes of this desperate searching I needed guidance. Did Bonaparte's Gull exhibit such leg colour? I knew a man who would know.

Dave Walker answered his mobile but was out in the middle of Walland Marsh. I went through what I had seen, and he made positive noises that it could be a Bonaparte's but clearly needed to see my pictures (and preferably the bird) to make a sound judgement. I returned to scanning the pit, but it was still missing. Did I let the locals know? Had the bird still been present I would have done straight away, but really needed to look at some literature to convince myself that I wasn't making some sort of cock-up. When you lack confidence in your birding you doubt yourself at every move.

To cut a long story short, after spending a few minutes with 'Olsen and Larsson' and showing the returning Dave my images, it all became clear - the bird was indeed an adult Bonaparte's. The locals were duly informed, but further searching that evening drew a blank. A number of lessons had been learnt. One - carry a field guide. It's not dudey to do so. Two - carry a bridge camera. The results may often just be of 'record shots' but these can be good enough to prove (or disprove) the identification of the subject. Three - on a personal level, have more faith in your ability.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Pan-list sham?

My pan-listing total is a sham. Read on...

Birdwatching was my entry point into the world of natural history, which is served very well by field guides and populated by a user-friendly subject matter - there are very few species that are not identifiable in the field using just eyesight as a tool. When I started to add butterflies, moths, dragonflies and plants to my sphere of interest I just took it for granted that I would be served well by accessible literature to help identify them - and, to a large extent, I was. Admittedly, it wasn't as straight forward to put a name to a lot of the micro-lepidoptera, and some of the plants (particularly grasses, sedges and rushes) were a big challenge, but all were do-able with patience and the right specialist guides.

So, when I first had the bright idea of finding out what other life forms I had identified in the UK (way before pan-listing came into being), I thought that it would be a simple matter - after all, there must be field guides for everything in a well-studied country like ours, mustn't there? And, to some extent, there were.

For starters, I opened my copy of the Collins Insect Guide (Chinnery), a publication that I had purchased some time in the late 1980s but which had remained largely unopened. Here, I thought, was a book that would be the insect version of the bird guides that I was so used to - comprehensive. And so I began to leaf through the pages, noting down species that I knew I had seen. But here I reached my first hurdle. Not all of the species recorded in the UK were in the guide - not by a long chalk. In fact, for some families, the book just scratched the surface. But I wasn't really aware of this, and if a colour plate of illustrations was set out before me, it was an easy thing to match 'my' insect to the closest one depicted. Metallic green fly? Simple, that must be a Green-bottle. I add a tick to my list.  My errors had now started - there are quite a few species of 'green' flies - even a photograph of one in the RES British Insects book is captioned as Lucilia sp, and this has been compiled by experts. What chance does a birder venturing 'off-piste' stand?

You can take that Greenbottle and add to it many other species, identified by myself in good faith but probably wrong - a bit like starting out birding and calling every phylloscopus warbler that you come across a Chiffchaff, even though some will be Willow and maybe even the odd one a Wood (the latter increasingly unlikely in Surrey though!)

So, my blossoming 'all taxa' list started its life flawed. And it didn't stop there...

A few autumns ago I started to look at fungi and really enjoyed it. Loads of species, some good looking ones too. I had several guides and tried to piece together identifications from them collectively. Again, none of them were comprehensive, but I steered clear of anything that closely resembled another, mainly nailing my ID onto bright, obvious species. Couldn't go wrong, could it? Well, yes it could. My 'obvious' Scarlet Elfcups were not so obvious after all - they could have been Ruby Elfcup. I didn't become aware of that species until the Collins Buczacki guide came out. And what about all of those Waxcaps that I've welcomed onto my list? Aren't they all now being split, lumped, rolled up into a big jelly ball and chopped up again? At least my Starfish Fungus (image above) is straightforward enough - or has a team of European mycologists found out that there are really six different species?

Truth time. My current 'pan-list' is riddled with honest guesswork, all observations that were made at the time with good intent. It should really be binned and constructed again. I bet one or two of my micro moths and plants aren't beyond investigation. But what does slightly comfort me, if we were to take this exercise as purely a numbers game, is that if I've claimed a Scarlet Elfcup (which I have), but it was really a Ruby Elfcup, then it hasn't effected the true number of species that I've seen. But, from a scientific viewpoint, the record is almost worthless. Luckily for me I do not send in my records for groups that I am not confident about, so none of these rogue records are in circulation. If I thought that I had stumbled across something noteworthy then my first course of action would be to notify an expert and get it confirmed. I'm yet to do that.

Because this game is just that to me - a game - I don't lose sleep about it. It is not my profession. If it were then I would need to do something about it. Strangely enough, this realisation that a small proportion of my past records are compromised has only made me more appreciative of the available knowledge and the expertise of many biological recorders. To keep up with the latest developments in taxonomy, identification features and to track down helpful literature takes time and effort. It is a full-time project. And it isn't lost on me that the experts can often revisit their collections only to find mis-identifications. We are all human, after all.

I'm basically a birder - but I also have a moderate working knowledge of plants, moths and butterflies - and I am an expert in none of them. I have a massive appreciation of our natural world. I have a curiosity to find out the names of some organisms that I come across.

I'm quite happy with that. And my pan-listing total? For now, it remains unaltered.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Adder's-tongue and Orange-tip

With today's weather resembling a particularly feisty day in November, it seems like a good time to bring out a few recent images.

Seth Gibson had found a good sized colony of Adder's-tongue on Epsom Common a few years ago, (which I had miserably failed to locate), so when he mentioned that he had come across another patch I was more than keen to take up on his kind offer of showing them to me. And what a patch! Several thousand plants, to be exact, on an area of ground that has been recently cleared for the benefit of the wildlife of the common. It works! Many of them were not exhibiting a spike, and my attempts to get a decent close up of a plant that had one ended in failure, so you will have to make do with the image above. We also visited the original site and can report that they are still present in good numbers. My thanks to Seth for another enlightening tour of his beloved common.

Orange-tip at rest - is there a better butterfly underwing pattern in the UK? I doubt it...

Monday, 4 May 2015

The tree that would not die

A family ramble across the wooded commons in the Friday Street/Leith Hill area this morning underlined just how quiet it all still is - in previous years, same time, same place, we would have seen or heard Cuckoo, Woodlark and Tree Pipit. Instead, we had to make do with a couple of Willow Warblers and brief flyover Siskins.

The scene above is of a stand of trees at the edge of a clearing close to Broadmoor. When we looked closer we were amazed to find that they are all using the same fallen giant to grow out from. It's as if, once fallen, the old boughs just straightened up and reached for the sky. There are two details below:

I don't know how common such an arrangement is. I've certainly seen suckers and whip-thin growth forming around stumps, but not such sizeable trees as these in such number (six) along the length of the fallen trunk. There was little leaf on them, and what I could see at the tree tops looked like Ash, although the ground all around was full of Sweet Chestnut leaves and fruit casing. My vegetative identification needs to improve...

Saturday, 2 May 2015

These are a few of my favourite strings

It's that weekend of the year when Dungeness beach gets inundated with birders out to 'year tick' a Pomarine Skua. Most of them leave the beach having had a sea watch full of great birds - whether they've actually seen them or not...

With apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein, these lyrics can be sung to the tune of the Sound of Music track 'These are a few of my favourite things'. It's already a number one download at Dungeness!

Purp Sands are Stormies
House Martins are Leach's
Nightjars are Swinhoe's
From headlands and beaches

It's amazing what rarities
Imagination can bring
These are a few of my favourite strings

Slavs past Cap Gris Nez
Confirmed at "The Patch"
All done by us birders
Starting from scratch

Claiming a Thayer's Gull
Seeing one wing
These are a few of my favourite strings

When the mist comes
And the rain falls
And the light gets bad

It helps to create my favourite strings
That makes my life list feel glad

Curlew and Whimbrel
Get fewer and fewer
I'm stringing them all
As dark phase Pom Skua
Little Gulls and Kitts
Are very small beer
But in diffuse light their called Sooty Shear

Divers that pass 

Are always Great Northern
Because I once saw a
Black-throated at Malvern
Long- distance auks
Are maleable things
These are a few of my favourite strings

When the mist comes
And the rain falls
And the light gets bad

It helps to create my favourite strings
That makes my life list feel glad

A desperate attempt

To year tick a Pom
Not knowing that my
ID is always wrong
Not naming a bird
Is a terrible thing
These are a few of my favourite strings

And this is the end
Of this sad little story
I've just strung a Fulmar
Into my first Cory's

I don't give a shit
As my life list is King
These are a few of my favourite strings

When the mist comes
And the rain falls
And the light gets bad

It helps to create my favourite strings
That makes my life list feel glad

My thanks to two of the Dungeness regulars who penned 90% of this little ditty, but who wish to remain anonymous for fear of birder retribution. I only contributed a small part of it, so am immune from any future violence.

Friday, 1 May 2015

The only way is Lethbridge

Midnight has passed and the curtain has come down on the third North Downs and beyond Wheatear festival. This year there were three awards:

Overall champion
Whoever posts the most images of Northern Wheatears by the end of April 2015. A photograph of five birds together counts as 5 images

Earliest posting
Whoever posts the earliest image of a 2015 UK Northern Wheatear wins this one.

Best photograph
The best image of a UK Northern Wheatear in 2015 (up until the end of April), to be judged by as yet unannounced members of the BBC's Countryfile team (likely to change) will be the winner.

So, to recap: Northern Wheatear only. UK only. 2015 only.

This year the competition was serious, with tactical posting, late runs and some quite frankly underhand manoeuvres taking place.

An early runner was Tony Brown (aka The Cowboy Birder) from Essex, who got in early and had posted eight images even before March had ended. But the stress of birding in the shadow of a Wheatear Fiend (more of him later) and a badly timed trip to Morocco saw his brave attempt at the crown falter.

Sitting quietly in the background was Beddington's very own Peter Alfrey (Non-stop Birding), who had taken on the guise as a disinterested bystander but was really sussing out the competition and putting into plan an audacious attempt to snatch the trophy at the last minute. It really kicked off in mid-April when Peter produced a Wheatear-heavy post, including a multiple white-arse image. This took his tally to 16, which in previous years would have wiped the floor with the competition. Had he shown his hand too early?

Meanwhile, down in Devon, Steve Waite (Axe Birding) was assembling an entry. I don't even know if he is aware of this competition as, although his blog is linked to mine, mine isn't to his. However, by 28th April a very healthy white-arse tally of 15 had been reached. He is, by the way, a birding chum of Gavin Haig, our very first NDB Wheatear champion.

Talking off past champions, the Kent assault on holding onto this most prized of ornithological accolades didn't get off of the ground. Martin Casemore decided to use up all of his pixels on gulls instead...

April 30th dawned with the competition looking like a two-Wheatear race. And then the gloves came off and it got dirty. Very dirty indeed. Peter Alfrey went for broke by posting an entry that added a further 10 Wheatears to his total - or did it? I smelt underhand tactics. One of his images was clearly labelled as being an autumn bird - certainly not from 2015. Not allowed. And he had reused an earlier shot of five birds. Not allowed. And then he compounded this wrong doing by panicking and posted that same repeated multiple Wheatear image ten times!!! He was hoping for further 50 points, but instead only succeeded in muddying his name at the 'Oenanthe Club'. It did show a desperate desire to be crowned 2015 champion that we can, however, understand if not condone.

That just leaves us to report on this year's final challenger - Essex's Jono Lethbridge (Wanstead Birder), a man so obsessed with all things 'Wheatear' that he paints the seat of his pants white every spring. Rumour has it that he has claimed to have been a Wheatear in a previous life. Despite several long-weekends out of the country, he consistently posted Northern Wheatear images from his beloved Wanstead. And they were all of a high quality. Indeed, when he started to get edgy about other bloggers threatening his grip on the NDB crown he raided his folder of rejected images to post a few more - his rejects are, by the way, other birder's 'best ever' shots. When Peter Alfrey got within one bird of him in mid-April, Jono dumped a further 16 on his blog. This man wanted to win. He needed to win...

Before I reveal the final result, here are the other two award winners.

Earliest post
Congratulations to Sean Foote, who tweeted an image of the Staines Reservoir Northern Wheatear on Sunday March 8th. His prize is a weekend at Portland Bill... ;-)

Best photograph
This is going to be shared. From a quality point of view nobody can touch Mr Lethbridge, and his 'crouching white-arse on post' gives us a different perspective on this charismatic chat. Peter Alfrey's study of a Wheatear in an urban environment sums up migration for me and gives me goose-bumps. Both images will appear on BBC Countryfile's 2016 calendar.


Here they are:

So that just leaves the big one. Who is the North Downs and beyond Wheatear trophy winner of 2015?

3rd Steve Waite (Axe Birding) 15 White-arses

2nd Peter Alfrey (Non-stop Birding) 22 White-arses

1st Jono Lethbridge (Wanstead Birder) 33 White-arses

In the early hours of this morning, in a marquee erected on Wanstead Flats, I presented Jono with his trophy (top photo). He dedicated his win to all "white-arse fanciers everywhere" and proceeded to sit on top of a grassy hummock, bobbing up and down just like his favourite species does.

Until 2016?