Monday, 30 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 stubbornly refusing to entice much of note, mainly due to there being little on the wing, as confirmed elsewhere around the country. I needed to escape to Dungeness to get a fix...

And a week there in mid-May duly delivered. Migrant numbers were not anything other than below average, although towards the end of the week Swifts and Swallows built up to form spectacular feeding flocks over the pits in the increasingly unsettled weather. The rain also encouraged two adult White-winged Black Terns (above) to settle on Burrowes for a two-day stay. Much time was spent watching them, often at close quarters. Better still was a self-found adult Bonaparte's Gull that only stayed on Burrowes for a few minutes on the evening of May 16th. Poor photo opportunity follows:

At quite a distance, the bridge camera proved its worth in managing to obtain a record shot, enough to prove that I was not hallucinating! Before I could do anything about getting other observers onto the bird it disappeared, and was not seen again (unless this was the same bird that then turned up at Oare Marshes shortly afterwards). A build up in Hobby numbers culminated in a loose feeding flock of 22 over the Boulderwall/Water Tower Pits area on the early afternoon of the 17th. Some sight.

There was a hint that a few migrant moths were on the move, as a Ni Moth (above, my first ever) was recorded at the observatory MV. The month ended back in Surrey, with birding entering the doldrums and moth numbers still depressed. But something was starting to stir and blossom forth. Unknowingly I was just a short time away from an unforgettable event...

Saturday, 28 November 2015

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 existing horse riding requirements (the site is adjacent to Epsom racecourse) and additional traffic flow (with cars, bicycles and walkers).

As a part of collating what we can before the work begins, a few of us are getting out there and recording the existing wildlife. Although I am dabbling in the plants, this is being more than adequately covered by far more competent people than me. I have started to 'survey' the bird life (and posted about this last week) - today's visit yielded highlights of 3 Marsh Tits in Little Hurst Wood, up to 70 Skylarks (including a flock of 50+), 2 Blackcaps and 2 Bullfinches. The top photo gives you some idea of the farm's habitat. It is largely on chalk, and down the years the farmers have kept the hedges, copses and woods.

This is typical of a field edge - deep hedgerows, in places metres deep and just as likely to merge into copse. 

Little Hurst Wood - this is where I had three Marsh Tits this morning.
These are interesting times. At the moment it is all about gathering data to have a good idea about what is present. Up until now there has been minimal work carried out, mainly due to the historical privacy of the site. The botanical record, although already revealing, is not exhaustive. Bird records have been patchy. As the site is developed we are in position to monitor how species adapt, what species are gained and to record if any are lost. Hopefully the outcome will be largely positive.

Friday, 27 November 2015

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 Mogador. The birding was largely hard work and, at times, disappointing. But as the winter slowly became early spring, hopes too blossomed.

One of the two tame Cattle Egrets that frequented farmland close to Lydd, near Dungeness
In mid-February I escaped to Dungeness for the first of a number of shingle sojourns. As to be expected, the birdlife was varied and profuse. The star turns included two very tame Cattle Egrets that could be reliably found stalking the grassy fields at Dengemarsh, but the celebration of all things egret didn't stop there. A roost had been discovered on the RSPB reserve and I spent a few evenings as the light faded watching a surreal procession of egrets coming into roost - pure white in the dusking skies. Apart from the Cattles, 11 (yes, eleven!) Great White Egrets and 20+ Littles came in. It isn't that many years ago that such a gathering on UK soil would have been impossible. How times have changed.

As we entered March, moths were notable by their virtual absence. The MV went out, but the returns were poor - very poor. Butterflies were also thin on the ground. I plodded on. My walks took place in more clement weather and the botanical rewards were increasing. Winter may have fizzled out, but the wildlife was not exactly full of the joys of spring...

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

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 exactly on my doorstep but then again neither necessitating a car journey (and my green credentials get a boost as a consequence!) To describe Canons Farm as 'non-birdy' is a bit harsh, as I have personally seen such delights as Dotterel, Hen Harrier, Goshawk, Honey Buzzard and Quail there. Epsom and Walton Downs don't have such pedigree, although there are records of Great Grey and Red-backed Shrikes from there, it's just that the best that I have managed is a Peregrine and a Barn Owl.

After plenty of birding over the years, around the hot-spots of the UK, plus several recent long stays at Dungeness, the trick is to be able to turn off the mindset of such birding and switch onto a different way of thinking when walking to these modest patches. I now have some rules...

Manage expectations
It is no good going out with the whiff of rarity and glory in your nostrils. It just isn't going to happen - or at least, it is highly unlikely. It's hard enough to find the goodies when you are at one of the proven hot spots. So accept that, on a good day, you might come across a Ring Ouzel, and if you do, treat it like a Bluetail. Everything is a bonus.

The chances are that you will visit such patches on a regular basis (or at least irregularly with regular bursts!), so build up an intimate knowledge of what is present and the best way of doing that is by counting. Count everything. It gives you something to do on dull days (there will be plenty of those) and it can make an ordinary day seem special. If I get my highest Carrion Crow count for the site I celebrate it like I would a good migrant. It also gives form to what you are doing.

Vary visiting times
Always birding the same place at the same hours will ensure that you will miss some aspect of the patch. Never going late in the day can result in not knowing about roosts. Some visible-migration movements can be over in the first two hours of daylight. Some great hirundine movements don't start until early afternoon. I've had chats arrive mid-morning (and mid-afternoon). So mix it up.

Just looking at birds means that you miss out on wondrous things. Not everything else is difficult to identify! Butterflies and flowers are serviced by excellent field guides - there are not many species of butterfly to confuse you and flowers stay still! Embracing other orders can take you as deep as you want to go, and will enliven quiet days, especially during mid-summer

If you find the patch getting a bit stale, that your heart isn't quite into it, then take a break. Go somewhere else, even if that does mean getting into the car. You will come back to it refreshed and appreciative of it. I know that for a fact.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

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.

Friday, 20 November 2015

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, Kent)
Black Tern - 28 October 1984 (Dungeness, Kent)
Turtle Dove - 30 October 1982 (Dungeness, Kent)
Cuckoo - 16 September 1984 (Beddington SF, Surrey)
Nightjar - 31 August 1996 (Thursday Common, Surrey)
Swift - 28 November 1997 (Sutton, Surrey)
Sand Martin - 4 November 1978 (Dungeness, Kent)
Swallow - 16 November 1986 (Dungeness, Kent)
House Martin - 26 November 1977 (Pagham Harbour, West Sussex)
Tree Pipit - 26 October 2015 (Dungeness, Kent)
Yellow Wagtail - 8 December 1984 (Beddington SF, Surrey)
Nightingale - 31 August 1985 (Dungeness, Kent)
Common Redstart - 31 October 1987 (Dungeness, Kent)
Whinchat - 31 October 1976 (Beddington SF, Surrey)
Wheatear - 9 November 1980 (Dungeness, Kent)
Ring Ouzel - wintering (New Forest 1983-84)
Grasshopper Warbler - 24 September 1989 (Dungeness, Kent)
Sedge Warbler - 10 October 1976 (Beddington SF, Surrey)
Reed Warbler - 31 October 1976 (Beddington SF, Surrey)
Lesser Whitethroat - 29 October 1983 (Dungeness, Kent)
Common Whitethroat - 4 November 2015 (Dungeness, Kent)
Garden Warbler - 3 November 1979 (Dungeness, Kent)
Wood Warbler - 14 October 1979 (St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly)
Willow Warbler - 29 October 1980 and 1984 (both Dungeness, Kent)
Spotted Flycatcher - 29 October 1984 (Dungeness, Kent)
Pied Flycatcher - 30 October 1987 (Dungeness, Kent)

So there you go, if you keep notes then you to can produce meaningless lists, just like this!

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

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 and Birding the day away. All excellent sites, compiled by bonkers gull obsessives.

Monday, 16 November 2015

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 when I saw 'a few' I really do mean a few. Most of them (alright, I'll be honest, most of us) still pretended that gulls didn't really exist. Unless they were easy to do, that is. And rare.

But those early adopters got stuck in. Across Europe a small but dedicated band of observers started to slowly unravel the complexities of gull identification. But the deeper they delved, they found that more questions and conundrums were thrown back at them. They found racial differences (which sometimes became new species). There were a bewildering number of hybrids. Some gulls, even when looked at forensically by experts, defied identification. Pandora's box had been opened, but these observers didn't want to put the lid back on it, they wanted to climb inside.

Somewhere along the line, gulls became sexy. They were the domain of the hardened birder -the serious birder. If you were into gulls then you had passed through to a higher plane. A moral high ground had been attained. But many still struggle with them. Too much like hard work. Not fun.

If you go along to any well known gull spot today, you will come across birders looking at them - no, not looking at them, studying them. Grilling them to within an inch of their identification and ageing. Dungeness is one such place and each weekend there must be up to a dozen such souls armed with fish offal and bread to entice the gulls in. Close views to obtain detailed photographs. Detailed photographs to pore over plumage detail and accurately read any rings on legs. Caspian Gulls have now taken on the status as the guller's icon. They are currency. Kudos. Status. During my recent stay at Dungeness there must have been 15+ of these gulls, including seven on one day. Two were Polish ringed and one came from East Germany. They were only outnumbered by those men tossing guts and crumbs into the air, big lenses swinging by their sides, eyes wild with anticipation and devotion.

The gullers are starting to take over the ornithological asylum.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

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. 

Friday, 13 November 2015

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 unceremoniously dumped on the beach.

I walk forward a few paces and spy her perched on a metal bar of a large rusty red container. Still she fidgets. For a bird such as this to be out in this wilderness in mid-November can surely mean but one thing. She is going on a journey. There is no food for her here. Where was she yesterday? Gorging on blackberries in a Sussex hedgerow? Feasting on apples in a Kent orchard? Maybe 20 grammes of bone, feather and muscle is here before me, restless with a migratory urge that cannot be controlled. I am ignored as she leaves the shelter of the container and launches into the wind. That such a small bundle can manoeuvre in this buffeting airflow is truly impressive. But now she impresses me further as, with one bound, heads out across the open beach towards the sea. I cannot see the moment when land is swapped for sea beneath her, but it has happened. Tonight France, tomorrow Spain? North Africa? I realise that this has become one of those special moments, a private showing of what makes migration so wonderous. Birds will go further - a lot further - but this Blackcap - my Blackcap - has shown me how it is done.

No doubt some of you are beside yourself with anticipation to find out how the 'November plants in flower list' has gone today. There have been additions, namely fairy flax, thyme-leaved speedwell. Dodder, common Orache and dwarf mallow (135). Plus, on the bird front, my first Woodcock of the stay.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

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 list now up to 130 with the addition of Hogweed). In that tidy total are two new species for the DBO recording area - the Marrow/Gourd and Slender Speedwell. And I wish I was more proficient with fungi, as the shingle is alive with all sorts of them.

But as much as the wildlife is the historical draw for me to this place, the people make it special. I have been lucky to have been in the company of a bunch of lovely folks who make me feel most welcome and look after me on many different levels. I won't name names for fear of leaving someone out. They know who they are and to each and every one of them I say a big thank you. I'll be telling them that in person.

If you don't know Dungeness, then why not come and visit. It is excellent for a wide range of wildlife and if you want to stay then the bird observatory offers a clean, comfortable and inexpensive base. Next April sees the 40th anniversary of my first visit. All being well I intend to be down on the very date that marks it. Little did my 17-year old self realise at the time that I was about to embark on a lifetime of wonder and companionship on the shingle.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

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 flowering Hairy Bitter-cress!

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

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!

Monday, 9 November 2015

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 shingle.

Saturday, 7 November 2015


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 and dry. I've managed to get some images of them, which I'll post when I return home. Don't get too excited...

The November 'plants in flower' list has moved up to 84 species with the addition of Sticky Mouse-ear, Chinese Mugwort, Slender Speedwell, Black Medick and Pot Marigold.

Friday, 6 November 2015

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!

Thursday, 5 November 2015

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.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

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...

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

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.

Monday, 2 November 2015

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 here.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

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, greater mullein, daisy, rock samphire and thrift. Maybe the lack of frosts and gales have been kind to them.