Showing posts from November, 2015

2015 review: April and May; Success in the rain

Hard work. Those two words more than adequately summed up the local natural history scene - at least as far as this recorder was concerned. I spent a lot of time trudging between home and Mogador, via Canons Farm and Epsom and Walton Heaths. I also embarked on a breeding bird survey for the Surrey Wildlife Trust at their new Priest Hill reserve, with one bizarre record being a displaying Red-legged Partridge for over a week, in this largely suburban setting. The saving grace was a modest, but colourful, passage of chats, with double counts of Wheatears and a sprinkling of Whinchats - and who doesn't like a good spring Whinchat (left)? I also came across a couple of Black Redstarts (Canons Farm and Langley Vale Farm)  and Common Redstarts (Canons Farm). I recorded at least 5 Red Kites but remained empty handed when it came to such desirable raptors as Osprey and Marsh Harrier that others recorded locally.  It remained poor for moth and butterfly numbers, with the garden MV stubbor

Present at the birth

Last Thursday I attended a meeting held by the Woodland Trust in which they presented their vision of how they see the development of Langley Vale (Bottom) Farm. Their plans are subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment, which is to be carried out imminently. There was a cross-section of interested parties present, both from a local and national level, including the Surrey Botanical Society and the Surrey Bird Club. What was heartening was that there was clear recognition on the part of the WT that the area is nationally important for its arable flora and locally of significance for the nesting Lapwings. Initial impressions were that there is to be a plan in place to protect them. A balancing act needs to be mastered however as there is much to be done alongside 'conflicting' arenas: the creation of new woodland; the need to protect existing habitat for the rare plants and birds; the installation of car park, interpretation centre and footpaths; sympathetic management of

2015 review: January - March; Egret nation

Striking a pose - a River Hogsmill Little Egret The first three months of this year were all about thrashing the local patches. I'd set up this ridiculous notion of an 'Inner Uber patch', a scaled down version of my - well - larger Uber patch. Infantile, I know, but there you go, you can never fully remove the child from the man (or something like that). I had also gone into friendly competition with fellow-blogger Stewart Sexton, he who lives up North where they get things like Barred Warblers in the back garden. Rather than get into the car to cover these areas I largely walked. My fitness levels have rarely been better (although a mild dose of shingles in early January curtailed my efforts for a while). The most frequent sites visited were the River Hogsmill at Ewell (where a couple of showy Little Egrets and a Water Rail were wintering), Priest Hill, Ewell (which harboured up to six Stonechats), Canons Farm, Epsom and Walton Downs, Walton Heath, Colley Hill and Moga

How to bird a modest patch

We cannot all live at Dungeness, or Spurn, or even back onto a reservoir or sewage farm, so for most of us living at (or very close to) a top birding spot is going to remain the stuff of dreams - although living next door to Staines Reservoir would be the stuff of nightmares for me! So what do we do? The most obvious course of action would be to get into the car and drive somewhere. When I used to regularly visit Beddington SF and Holmethorpe SPs, they both involved a 25 minute car journey, even though they were a handful of miles away, thanks to the traffic-choked roads of suburbia. I have always wanted to have somewhere properly local, and by that I mean walkable from my front door. To be quite honest, I didn't need to look at an OS map to know that there wasn't a proper 'birdy' place that fitted that bill. Or was there? It takes me 20-25 minutes to walk to Canons Farm (above) and Banstead Woods. Maybe 20 minutes to stroll up to Epsom and Walton Downs. Neither

Return to Langley Vale Farm

It was a novelty to be treading on soft mud and looking up into trees after a few weeks on the shingle. I returned to Langley Vale Farm this morning mainly to undertake a bird survey, although I was heartened to see some of the field edges had been 'ploughed' (above). Whether this has been done for the benefit of the 'arable weeds' I do not know. Today's big news (on a local level) was the presence of a Marsh Tit in Little Hurst Wood, one of several small woods to be found on the farm. I watched (and heard) it for maybe ten minutes and can honestly say that I derived as much pleasure from this bird as I did from kicking up a Dusky Warbler on the beach at Dungeness last month. Other highlights included 150+ Fieldfare, 50+ Redwing, 3 Little Owl, 20+ Skylark, 5 Pheasant, 2 Sparrowhawk and 2 Common Buzzard. I have come across good flocks of finches here in previous winters, so hope that regular observation will pay off.

The tardy few

Please spare a thought for those summer migrants that just cannot make up their their minds whether to leave our shores or not, even though they really should do. Whether it's down to laziness, incompetence or a lack of physical ability, a rough time awaits them if they leave it too late, or try to winter. Here is a list of my current, latest ever dates. I've even put the place of observation alongside them... you lucky people. Garganey - wintering (Holmethorpe SP, Surrey 2011-12) Honey Buzzard - 10 October 1981 (Dungeness, Kent) Osprey - 4 December 1979 (Gatton Park, Surrey) Hobby - 31 October 1988 (Dungeness, Kent) Quail - 31 October 1987 (Dungeness, Kent) Little Ringed Plover - 24 September 1983 (Pagham Harbour, West Sussex) Common Sandpiper - wintering (several places) Sandwich Tern - 7 November 2015 (Dungeness, Kent) Common Tern - 6 November 2015 (Dungeness, Kent) Arctic Tern - 30 October 1988 (Dungeness, Kent) Little Tern - 6 October 1985 (Dungeness

Caspian See?

Am I one of the gull people? No, not really. I do look at them. Sometimes even actively seek them out. But to truly belong to that specialist group of birders you need to study them. And then study them again. Over. And over. And over. It isn't so much a passion, or an obsession, but more a disease. Gullitis? Larusgytis? There isn't really a name for it yet. Just to prove that I do dip my toe into this rarified world I present a few bridge camera images from Dungeness this autumn. The top three pictures are of a first-winter Caspian Gull and the bottom of an adult Caspian Gull, all on the beach. Even I can 'do' these individuals, but there are other birds that even the aficionados will screw their faces up at and proclaim that "there might be a bit of Herring Gull" in them. If you want professional quality images of gulls (especially Caspian) the net is swamped with them, but I can recommend Dungeness Bird Observatory , Ploddingbirder , Richard Smith a

The rise of the gull people

There was a time when gulls were largely ignored. They were regarded as pure ornithological filler, something to be tolerated in-between 'proper' birds coming along. Admittedly, a Sabine's, Glaucous or Iceland Gull might have raised an eyebrow, and something like a Ross's would have caused a stampede, but otherwise it was a case of stifling a yawn and looking the other way. Oh how times have changed... Early pioneers of advanced gull identification (such as Peter Grant) really were breaking new ground. Up until the 1970s most birders baulked at the idea of trying to identify any large immature gull. It was a challenge enough to be able to separate Common and Ring-billed Gulls. Some people still struggled with immature Kittiwakes and Little Gulls. But when it was pointed out that, with a bit of patience and a keen eye, even the most uninspiring of gulls could not only be identified to a species but accurately aged as well, a few birders sat up and took notice - but

I'm back and he's back

Farewell to the shingle - I'll be back soon... I can confirm that, after being away for three and a half weeks, Banstead and Surrey still exist, minus a lot of leaves. I left trees full of 'em and now they mostly stand skeletal in the wind and rain. It is always exciting when a great band reforms or a favourite TV series returns and the same can be said of a good blog. Always a favourite of mine, Not Quite Scilly disappeared two years ago when its author, Gavin Haig, pulled the plug. But now he's back! Click here to see how this blogging lark should really be done.  Finally, an apology for the lack of images accompanying my posts over the last few weeks, but I was having trouble with uploading them to Blogger via an iPad. Now back home there shouldn't be a problem. 

An audience with a Blackcap

Mid-afternoon at the fishing boats, wandering between the containers and detritus left by fisherfolk of yore. Apart from the desicated remains of Sea Kale and a few clumps of Red Valerian, there is little vegetation to afford cover for birds. However, it is a place that can provide great surprises, none more so than a certain flycatcher that was found by Martin C this September. My aims are not so lofty. The westerly wind has increased in strength throughout the day and a vicious squall has barrelled through, leaving a weak autumnal sun to pour lemon light across the peninsula. A movement catches my eye as a small passerine breaks cover from behind a large coil of rope. The bird hovers above an upturned crate and alights not ten feet from me - a female Blackcap. The small black eye takes me in, the head moving in jerky movement as she surveys all around her. The nervousness of the bird is palpable, and she is soon off, swooping down to disappear behind an old engine that has been unc

The last leg

My three and a half weeks at Dungeness is almost up, with just one and a half days left to go. As always, the shingle has exceeded expectations. The role call of scarce birds has been more than acceptable, with Rough-legged Buzzard, Great Grey Shrike, Dusky Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler, Barred Warbler, several Dartford Warblers, a few Woodlarks, more Caspian Gulls than I've ever seen before and a back-up cast of such diversity as Short-eared Owl, Long-eared Owl, Jack Snipe, Crossbill, Slavonian and Black-necked Grebe, Pomarine Skua and Sooty Shearwater. There have been some very late dates for summer migrants (Hobby 21/10; Tree Pipit 26/10 - no it wasn't an OBP; Whitethroat 4/11; Common Tern 6/11) and an early one for a winter one (Smew 3/11). There has been a few decent arrivals, mainly crests and Black Redstarts and no two days have been remotely the same. So far, 147 species of bird have come my way. The late flowering of plants has been a revelation (that particular lis

Corvid murmuration

It's funny how birding can take you by surprise and take you to places (physically and metaphorically) when you least expect it. When I planned on coming down to Dungeness for this extended stay I didn't expect to be getting all excited over counting corvids coming into roost - but that is exactly what has happened during the past two evenings. I sat with Mark H and we were entranced by Rook/Jackdaw flocks swirling in the sky like a giant murmuration of Starlings, above their chosen roost site. 965 Rook and 1100 Jackdaws were counted before it became too dark to see, along with 30 Carrion Crows which really didn't associate with the other corvids. To add a cherry on top of the icing, nine Marsh Harriers also came in as well. The 'November plants in flower' list has now reached a boggling 129 species, largely with the help of a big dollop of local knowledge, courtesy of Dave W and Owen L. With only a couple of days left time is running out for me to find a flowerin

Deep thought

When the weather is like this, and the prospects muted, I often embark upon a long walk. I must have crunched across 15 miles of shingle and, in lieu of birds, found myself in deep thought - mainly thinking about Dungeness, what it means to me and how it has changed. Fuel for a future post. The 'November plants in flower list' shows no signs of slowing. It has now reached 118 species with today's additions being garden pansy, broom, snapdragon, ice plant, white ramping fumitory, rest harrow, ivy-leaved speedwell, common knapweed, tubular water-drop wort and lesser trefoil. It was also good to see that a local blogger has been inspired by all of this to start his own 'November in flower' list. The more the merrier!

The late flowering continues

Bird life seems to be on a downward spiral, with the stiff south-westerlies apparently killing off migration, be it on land or sea. However, even a day like today, which we were consigning as 'dead' is far from being so - there are Great White Egrets, Little Egrets, Marsh Harriers, Cetti's Warblers, Black Redstart, Merlin and Peregrine written in my notebook! The 'Dungeness plants in flower in November' list now numbers 108 species. Since my last update the following have been added: hedge bedstraw, hop trefoil, herb Robert, sweet Alison, blanketflower, blue fleabane, red dead nettle, buck'shorn plantain, curled dock, wild clary, fennel, crown vetch, petty spurge, common stork's-Bill, tree mallow, dove's-foot crane's bill, cat'sear, borage, lady's bedstraw, stinging nettle, red clover, Autumn hawkbit, winter heliotrope and bloody crane's-Bill. This profusion of late flowering may well be my overriding memory of this current stay on the


I suppose that is the number of one and a half beasts?... Or there again it just might be the number of posts now committed to this second version of North Downs and beyond. That's an awful lot of waffle, so if you are a regular visitor, thanks for persevering. Post 1,000 might not be tomorrow, as I have an appointment with a sofa in Littlestone tomorrow evening to watch the north London derby with a 'Gooner', one Mark H. Back to today. More strengthening south-westerly and a bit more rain. I got wet twice and abandoned birding by 15.00hrs. An early seawatch was dominated by Gannets, Kittiwakes and auks, plus a couple of Arctic Skuas and yesterday's Little Gull was still loafing around. Some of the day was spent hanging around with the 'gull fondlers', trying to bluff my way through by nodding knowingly when they were discussing the finer points of Caspian Gull identification. I can manage a classic individual, but some of the more tricky birds leave me high

Looking out to sea

Dungeness seems to be reverting to the Dungeness of old, all gusting south-westerlies and rain. However, this does mean that a few hours staring out to sea can be rewarding, and so it proved. A thousand plus Gannets and the same number of Kittiwakes streamed west in the first three hours of daylight, along with a bonus Sooty Shearwater and second-winter Little Gull. This afternoons watch was not nearly so productive, although a late Common Tern flew through and an adult Caspian Gull was on the beach. Mark H kindly acted as chauffeur and companion throughout the day, with our time in the field being punctuated by cups of tea, pontification and yarning. We could do all of this while looking through binoculars, which proves that men can multi-task!

Cucumber... no, Melon... no, Marrow...

The birds have largely moved on, the wind has swung south-west and the rain has arrived in the strengthening wind, BUT! I've still got the 'flowering plants in November' challenge. The species list has now reached 79, with the addition of annual wall rocket, common chickweed, rose campion, common fumitory and marrow. Well, when I claim marrow, it is with a big dollop of 'maybe'. This interesting plant is close to the old lighthouse and is a prostrate, but robust plant with two rich yellow flowers at the end of spherical fruits (the fruits are hirsute). The corollas are 55mm wide which, I believe, are too large for Mellon. David W and Gill and Mick H have all had a look, with gourd being the latest suggestion. I'd like to show you a photo, but while at Dungeness I'm having a problem uploading images on an iPad in the Blogger platform.

Close encounters of a LEO kind

The heavy overnight rain had weakened by dawn, but it was still necessary to don the wet-weather gear to go out into the recording area. The hoped for grounding of migrants was modest to say the least, but not without its highlights. In the trapping area a very close, head-high owl, was flushed from a sallow bush. It alighted some 40m away in full view, looking at me with blazing orange eyes and raised ear-tufts - a Long-eared! A couple of hours later a Woodlark flew south, tail-less in silhouette and yodelling of call. A hat-trick of highlights came courtesy of a late Common Whitethroat, that stayed loyal to a particular bank of brambles, although I didn't see it until my fourth attempt. No two days are ever the same here...

Smew serve up humble pie

Yesterday, in the sweltering heat of a scorching November day (slight exaggeration there), two redhead Smew turned up on the RSPB reserve - birds that embody all that is freezing cold. My initial thought was "I wonder what they really were then?" But my scepticism was rammed firmly down my throat when they were seen by multiple observers, including some of Dungeness's finest. They were still there today, and as I watched them I ate a large slice of humble pie. The November plants in flower list has now reached 74 species with the addition of creeping cinquefoil, ribbed melilot, common field speedwell, creeping thistle, bristly oxtongue and rib wort plantain.

The return of summer

Dungeness dawned foggy - very foggy, the sort of fog that makes you wander around and lose sight (literally) of where you are. I birdied by Braille.. it was eerily warm, even in the fog, and when it finally left, very quickly at about 08.30hrs, the sun shone, the temperature rose and I found myself peeling off layers of clothing at a rate. By early afternoon it was a case of birding in a t-shirt.It's November 2nd for goodness sake! 2 Clouded Yellows joined in the summer festivities. My November flowering plant list rose to 68 species, with the addition of: musk mallow, hedge mustard, common poppy, sticky groundsel, red campion, spear thistle, purple toadflax, honeysuckle, sea mayweed, glasswort agg, spear-leaved Orache, annual seablite, Canadian fleabane, sea beet, sea purslane, shepherd's purse, dandelion, seaside daisy, evening primrose, wild mignonette, corn cockle and sweet William (as you can see, some naturalised plants taking to the shingle). It really is like summer h

Late flowerers

For the past 10 days or more I've been banging on to anybody that I meet just how profuse the flowering is, so late in the season. Being November 1st, a beautiful and sunny (even warm) day, and quiet on the bird front, I kept a list of just what was still in flower, and reached a respectable 46 species. They were - for anyone interested - White campion, common gorse, groundsel, viper's-bugloss, common ragwort, yarrow, smooth sow-thistle, pink oxalis, lesser periwinkle, black mustard, wild carrot, bramble agg, red valerian, annual Mercury, moth mullein, Nottingham catchfly, hare's-foot clover, sheep's-bit, sea campion, fennel, common toadflax, common mallow, black horehound, prickly sow-thistle, oxeye daisy, yellow-horned poppy, hieraccium agg, black nightshade, wood sage, common Centaury, common mouse-ear, white clover, ragged robin, wild carrot, perforate st.john's wort, mugwort, mouse-ear hawkweed, English stonecrop, foxglove, broom, ragweed, scarlet pimpernel, gr