Showing posts from 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,

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...

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...

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 acro

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.

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.

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

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 be

Another post about that f*#king Hudwit?

No, because I saw the 1981 Devon bird.

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

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

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 ful

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

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