Showing posts from March, 2016

The truisms of working a patch

I spent the morning (and early afternoon) at Canons Farm. It certainly had its moments, none more so than a flyover drake Gadwall, a new species for the site (there is no water by the way...). This event neatly illustrates one of the patch watcher's truisms - you CAN make a silk purse from a sow's ear. A Gadwall elsewhere would hardly get the pulse quickening, but this mornings drake had the three observers present in a slight state of joyful agitation. As would have done a Moorhen, Coot, Teal... you get the picture. We are knee-deep in Nuthatches here, they don't merit much thought, but if the same species turned up at Dungeness, then a full-scale twitch would be the outcome. In which case Canons Farms sow's-ear would become a Dungeness silk purse! I also partook in another patch watcher 'given' - the scan of hope , brought about when corvids and (or gulls) frantically leap into the air with much excited calling. Now is the time to stare long and hard into th

Storm Katie

Well, how was it for you? Storms like this sweep through northern Britain on a regular basis, but us soft Southerners believe that such meteorological events are rarities that are indicative of the coming of Satan himself. But in truth they are becoming less of a surprise now, with our weather, to quote comic Stewart Lee, being "no weather at all, punctuated by catastrophe" - or something like that. Being a serial weather forecast junkie, I knew Katie was coming, and when awoken at 03.30hrs by heavy rain hammering against the window, borne on a banshee wailing wind, cannot say that I was anything but prepared for it. We have had a bit of a damp problem in an alcove, which is exacerbated by strong wind and heavy rain, so needless to say an inspection of the property this morning found a bit more damp to contend with - plus one smashed fence panel, a bit of masonry and tile by the back door and various branches that were, until this morning, attached to an Ash tree. What

Wait awhile in early Spring

I've been spending a bit of time in the garden recently, tidying up from the neglect of winter. A bit of cutting back; raking up leaves that dropped after the autumn winds or were blown out of their hiding places by winter gusts; reducing the rampant ivy; giving the lawns their first trim of the year (although neither modest affairs would win any awards, being more moss and tree root than grass); cleaning out bird feeders and topping up the ones in use; clearing the pond of floating debris (this doesn't take long as it is very small indeed). Wherever I looked, there were signs of the season ramping up - buds where there were no buds just a few days ago, leaves unfurling, flower unveiling. A bit of sun and the attendant warmth enticed Brimstones and Small Tortoiseshells out of hibernation. If I actually switched the moth trap on (I haven't so far this year) there would no doubt be the usual suspects to greet me, the Hebrew Characters, the Clouded Drabs and the Common Quake

The Military Orchid

I am currently reading The Military Orchid by Jocelyn Brook. It is a delight. Little Toller (those fine publishers of sensitive and worthy nature writing) have reprinted it, so it is easy to get hold of. I was lucky enough to be given a copy of his collected works, referred to as The Orchid Trilogy , by my good Dungeness buddy, Pete Burness. Brooke grew up in Kent in the early 20th century, living on the coast just west of Folkestone. He was a precocious boy, and took to the study of wild flowers readily, although by his own admission, he was really interested in orchids. The book reads as a highly chatty field notebook, written with a flowing ease that makes this book a delight to spend time with. That the places and species that he mentions are well-known to me only adds to the experience. I'm not far into the books, but such is the joy I thought it only right to suggest that visitors to this blog secure a copy.  Brooke was obviously a complicated individual, finding socia


What draws us to certain places? Why do we end up birding/walking where we do? Is it purely convenience, or is there more to it than that? My first locality that actually meant something to me was Beddington SF. I've posted about my early allegience plenty of times before. Even though the old place has gone forever (currently masquerading as a landfill site being systematically raped of its wildlife value), it does exist in my memory and I frequently go there still, via the power of recall. On the surface why would anybody want to keep returning to a place covered in liquid shit, but return I did. To my mid-teen self I felt as if I was being allowed access into a magical place, entrance by permit, ornithological history already in place and welcoming me to continue in building it further. The old brick outhouses, dyke system, elm-lined lanes, hedgerows and meadows were already being removed when I first visited, but the feeling of being present in the past was very strong and mo

What is yet to come...

The sun was out and the cold northerly wind was a little less bothersome. My walk from home across Canons Farm, along Chipstead Valley and back to Banstead via Park Downs was more about looking into the future then observing the here and now. I stopped to check on the Fly Orchids at Fame's Rough and found a minimum of four rosettes (above). I'm assuming that they are indeed what I am claiming them to be, as my vegetative ID skills are not, I admit, brilliant. As I always do when finding myself on Park Downs, I visited the orchid fields. Even though we are a few months away from flowering, I cannot help but go and bathe in the wonder of what these fields produced last year - it will stay with me forever. So although the scene today was as above, before long it will look like this... And to counterbalance the title of this post, a paragraph about what has been . I'm obviously in a reflective state of mind at the moment. As is my want, yesterday afternoon I left

A new version

It is most probably an age thing. Without wishing to come across as being morbid, the longer that we have immersed ourselves into all things 'wildlife' then it stands to reason that the time that we have left to do so is shortened. That is life. And death. A recent exchange of comments on another blog dealt with the fact that as we age the conversations change (from getting married, to having kids, to schooling, then to illness). As someone who is no stranger to staring at one's mortality firmly in the face, it beggars belief that anybody can get het-up about missing a rare bird or that the weather is not quite right to put the moth trap out - but we still do, even those of us lucky enough to know better. A number of the (more) mature bloggers that I follow have a similar outlook on their life, as far as time spent with the natural world is concerned. This is an outlook that is based not on end result, more on the path that is taken to get there. It might be taking on a p

The day of the Chaffinch

Sometimes it just takes a bit of sun and some unassuming local birds to make the world a better place. Today followed that recipe, although the cold NE wind did try to reduce the joy somewhat. First up were a pair of Siskin and a female Blackcap on the back garden feeders; then a modest passage of Chaffinches overhead; followed by a Red Kite languidly flying over Epsom racecourse; all topped off by a huge finch flock at Canons Farm which comprised 1,100 Chaffinch, 150 Linnet and 3 Brambling. Oh, and four of these...

Still daubing away

The latest in the slow line of paintings reached completion this week, a Mediterranean-themed piece for my sister-in-law Fiona, as a thank you for all the hard work that she put in on behalf of the family recently. Next up, an African flavoured item for eldest daughter Rebecca.

Local round-up

I've not wandered far over the past week. My nearest 'patch', Canons Farm, has been quite kind, with an Iceland Gull, Mediterranean Gull and Dartford Warbler to keep me (and others) more than happy.  The chances are that the farm will revert back to its sleepy self, although in truth there is always something going on there - this morning saw an increase in thrush and finch numbers, together with a further three Stonechats (below), following on from the three of last week. They are an expected, and most welcome,  part of early spring in north Surrey. The back garden has been a hive of activity also. The birds are going crazy for the sunflower hearts, with Goldfinches to the fore, but also Greenfinches and Chaffinches joining in the feeding frenzy. Star birds at the feeders though have been a male Siskin and two female Blackcaps.

Desert Island Books - Part Two

I was introduced to Love and War in the Apennines by Eric Newby by fellow birder Mark Hollingworth, who sold it to me as 'the ultimate love story'. It tells the tale of the author's experiences during the Second World War, beginning with his arrest while participating in an action with the Special Boat Service off of the Italian coast. With the subsequent Armistice between the Allies and Italy, he is released, but needs to evade the marauding German forces at the same time as nursing a broken ankle. His injury slows down his colleagues escape, so he is abandoned in a farmer's barn, from where an Italian doctor takes him to a hospital. Here he meets a young woman who visits the patients in the hospital - she teaches him Italian, he teaches her English - and they fall in love. But the Germans are closing in, so he is moved between houses before being finally taken up into the mountains, where he is sheltered by peasant families. Here we are introduced to the bravery of

Desert Island Books - Part One

Up in Shetland, Jon Dunn has put together his 'Desert Island Books' list. Now, I do like a good list, and there isn't enough of this sort of stuff in blogland - and I am not above pinching someone else's idea. So here is my version (with a nod to Jon...) The rules dictate that I am allowed but eight choices. Impossible! How can I possibly whittle my favourites down to a mere eight books? This is calling for some hard choices to be made. My first decision is to keep this list solely populated by natural history or travel-themed works. This will make the task ahead a little easier - a little being the operative word, as it is still very difficult. I am also of a mind to remove any field guide or reference work, leaving publications that have a bit more of a personal slant to them, whether that comes from the author or some connection that I have made with the book. This will bring the list of choices down to a mere 40 or 50. But I need to be brave, be cruel to be kind

Spring chat

For some patch birders, the Stonechat is the species that declares Spring sprung! From late February onwards this smart chat starts to appear in modest numbers across southern England, from headlands (such as Portland Bill and Dungeness) to inland farms (such as Canons). At the latter site, after the odd winter individual, we were treated to three birds today, including two spanking males. These images are enough to proclaim this bird of the British race hibernans and not the continental race of rubicola that sometimes turns up, particularly along the south coast. To help us get into the seasonal mood, the sun shone, and it was, at times, mild. Roll on the white arses...

Hello, Goodbye

Since 2009, David Campbell has been single-handedly looking after the Canons Farm and Banstead Woods blog. Next Monday he is packing up his car and heading south to take up position as Assistant Warden at my spiritual home, Dungeness Bird Observatory. He will be far too busy (most probably writing descriptions for the rare birds that he will find) to tend to the blog, so I have agreed to look after it for him. You can visit it by clicking here , or look out for the updates in my 'Worthy Blogs' column to the right of this post. My best wishes go to David. He will have a fantastic time, at a remarkable place, and will get tremendous support from a great bunch of local birders. I will, of course, visit... I have also added two other blogs to the list, both from Surrey birders that will inspire - Thorncombe Street Diary & Godalming area birding , and  South Guildford Birding .