Tuesday, 29 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 the sky, because such behaviour can be brought about by the presence of raptors and big things that spook them - say a Crane, or White Stork. It also just might be a fox, helicopter or Sparrowhawk. Quite often nothing is on show to suggest why the avian dread started in the first place.

I also embarked on the tour of the patch's blue plaques, the places that, whenever you walk past, immediately remind you of a good bird that you once saw there. Just as the houses of the famous are commemorated by the placing of a lavender blue plate with the former residents details, walking along a certain fence line (Dartford Warbler) or field (Quail, Dotterel, Hen Harrier) releases little blue plaques in the brain.

I also did a lot of grasping at straws, mainly when about to scan a field (for Stone Curlew) or check a distant in-coming gull (for Osprey).

There are lots of these patch truisms, rituals and affectations. Someone ought to write a book about them.

Monday, 28 March 2016

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 the few summer migrants that have actually arrived in the south are making of it all, heaven only knows...

Thursday, 24 March 2016

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 Quakers. The season is getting ready to progress further, and within just a matter of weeks all will be a riot of growth and colour. This time of year sees a speeding up of change, when the muted palette of winter is well and truly condemned to the memory. Treasure it, because as each day passes the changes occur faster than you can take in. Colour swapped for other colour, growth for other growth, one suite of species to make way for another. Life in a humble garden may never stop, but the freshness and newness of Spring is a special time. Sometimes it is tempting to want to fast forward to Swifts, orchids and chalk downland slopes full of buzz and perfume. But be patient. Wait awhile in early Spring. There is plenty of time for all of that.

Not taken today, but during a previous summer. All asleep at the moment, but soon to stir...

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

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 social situations difficult, and I believe that the later books (they are all based on his life) reveal that his sexual orientation was out of kilter with what was seen as acceptable at the time. Another book that makes me very aware that there are so many others out there that I will never be exposed to but for the recommendation of friends. Thanks Pete!

Monday, 21 March 2016


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 most comforting.

Epsom Common was another early bolthole, adopted at the same time as Beddington but very different, being largely broad-leaved woodland with scrubby common land, that still boasted breeding Grasshopper Warblers (I would regularly hear 3-5 reeling birds each summer). Again, the reek of nostalgia was strong here, with old ponds, cottages and commoner's greens strewn throughout the area - I could imagine the horses and geese pottering about, poaching the water's edge where rare aquatic flora grew. I spent many happy days here and could not ever see a time when I would stop doing so. But the scrubby areas scrubbed up into woodland, the Grasshopper Warblers left and so did I. My returns are infrequent and although it is a fine place for natural history, it isn't the place that I remember.

And now we get to Dungeness. A fortuitous RSPB holiday at the bird observatory got me there in the first place. My first impressions were not good. But within a week I had fallen for the shingle. Much has changed over the intervening 40 years. The point has become gentrified, weekends during the summer see the roads clogged up with day-trippers, the RSPB reserve has been utterly transformed, there are areas that I could wander across back then that I no longer can, and others that I couldn't wander across that I can do now. All this change (much of it detrimental with my loathing of crowds) has not affected my affection for the place. The shingle possesses spirit. My own past is buried in it. It always will be.

Another mid-late 1970s place of pilgrimage was Pagham Harbour. It took effort to get there pre-car. Train to Chichester. Bus to Sidlesham Ferry. Then a very long walk, to Church Norton, Pagham Lagoon, even Selsey Bill (and sometimes all three in a day!) But boy did I have fun. I saw so many species for the first time at Pagham, it really was my finishing school as far as birding goes (although we never ever stop learning). I don't think I ever had a duff day there. Parts of it became totemic - the churchyard at Church Norton, the Severals reed bed, the harbour mouth. I can recall particular birds with a clarity that jolts me back to the very time and place. Not many places have such a hold. And yet I've not been back for over six years. Something to remedy.

The North Downs. Not all of them, just my bit, that runs from Ranmore to Gatton. Open sloped, wooded topped. Not brilliant for birds but some of the best botanical stations in the UK and the same goes for the butterflies as well. Haunted by Victorian and Edwardian gentlemen with hand-lenses and butterfly nets, and if you listen closely to the breeze, the words of authors and poets, who have been moved by the landscape, ride upon it. The paths and byways have been trodden for centuries by pilgrims, back-packing escapees and those who want to commune with nature. It would be hard not to feel at one with such a place.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

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 the car at home and walked into Epsom town centre. I can do this via many routes, and chose one of the longer ones, that clips the top of the downs and descends down into the town along some rather well-to-do houses - not enormous, not ostentatious, but dwellings that are of character. Most of them were from the late Victorian/Edwardian period, red brick with ornate pitched roofs, mini-turrets, lawned gardens. The path I was walking on was slightly elevated so that I could look down and into the gardens (and windows). There I could spy fine china, framed art, fabrics, old wooden furniture. The gardens were largely of the English-cottage style, with neat lawns, flower beds, pagodas, summer houses. I was entranced, as the more I walked, the more I felt as if I was back in the inter-war years. I could see the man of the house having just returned from the railway station after a day's work at the bank - all muted suit, white shirt, bowler hat. His wife was waiting at the door, flower print dress, a casserole in the oven. The children were running around the garden with a small dog yapping behind them. From other houses came the sounds of hand-pushed lawn mowers, the smell of pipe tobacco and lots of birdsong. Lots and lots of birdsong. My reverie was broken when a van screamed past, windows open, radio blaring, welcoming me back to the 21st century. My brief period of time travel had been most enjoyable.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

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 personal challenge or goal (Dylan Wrathall's eel quest is a fine example), or Peter Alfrey's glove's-off response to big business wrecking his Nirvana - visit his blog for many examples of his work.

As for me, there has been a settling of my personal tectonic-plates of frustration and disappointment. No longer do I care what others have seen and whether or not I return home with a notebook full of noteworthy sightings. Just being out looking, having the freedom to do so, and in places that can evoke joy, pleasure and stimulation are enough. Why shouldn't that be enough? For years I struggled with suffering self-inflicted disappointment - what a waste of nervous energy.

Dungeness. Canons Farm. Epsom and Walton Downs. Holmethorpe Sand Pits. Pulborough Brooks. My back garden. They all do it for me in differing ways. This year has seen another evolution in what I do and where I go. Not revolution, just evolution. I was just as excited by a Blackcap on the feeders as I was by the four-figure Black-tailed Godwit count in Sussex this January. Finding local sites that still have Marsh Tits are just as rewarding as getting a patch tick at Canons Farm. All this, and we are still only in mid-March. The spring migrants are on their way and there are hordes of moths to pupate and flowers to blossom. I cannot wait.

And here is a life lesson. It has taken me the best part of 12 years to realise the incredible gift that I have had in still being here. It isn't as though I have ignored my luck or been ungrateful for it. But major illness wears you down, physically and mentally. Some of us are not as strong as others, and it takes time for body and soul to regroup. And even then the confidence needs repairing. And the role that we assume to get through it all, by playing the survivor, needs to be slowly let go. It's anyone's guess what we are left with after the assault, but the likelihood is that it isn't the 'old' self. It's a new version. It just takes some of us a while to get there and realise it.

It can be a beautiful world, full of wonderful things. They can be found on the top of a mountain but just as likely to be on your back doorstep. It is easy to be knocked-off course by bad news, corporate greed, petty grievances, peer pressure. Some lucky souls seem to have discovered a way to bypass such negativity in life. I do try hard to join them. It seems to involve a learning process that has no easy entry. But if you know a short-cut, I'd be grateful if you would share it with me.

Monday, 14 March 2016

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...

Saturday, 12 March 2016

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.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

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.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

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 these people and the hardships involved in eaking out an existence. Winter weather, autumn rains and summer meadows (including a chance meeting with a German Officer, out collecting butterflies) are backdrops to a wonderfully evocative book. The girl from the hospital - Wanda - is also taken up to the mountains to see him again. And there is a wonderful postscript - he and Wanda married shortly after the war, and remained devoted partners until his death sixty years later.

The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane is a book that will long remain with me. The human relationship with the creation and maintenance of pathways is explored, looking through the ages and across the types of land (or sea) affected. The link between walking and thinking is explored. We meet a colourful cast of characters whose lives are woven into the natural world via an intimate understanding of it through the medium of travelling and embracing the landscape around them. It is also an homage to Edward Thomas, writer and poet who died at the Battle of Arras during the First World War. He lived and wrote about his beloved 'South Country', centred on Hampshire and Kent. Bouts of depression were walked off in the chalky hills and these journeys led to an outpouring of writing prior to, and during, his fateful journey to France. We are also introduced to Eric Ravilious, English water-colourist who, like Thomas, died while on active service, but during World War Two. I was ignorant of his work, but have now obtained a book of his glorious paintings of the downland that he knew. These southern downlands seem to have captured an ideal of what these men were fighting for - gentle rolling hills, white-chalk pathways, discrete copses, singing skylarks. There are passages of this book that will haunt you - Macfarlane's walk on the sands of the Broomway, a world of neither land nor water off the Essex coast; warm nights sleeping out in the open on the top of chalk downland, being woken by Skylarks singing as the light starts to break; a terrifying experience on Chanctonbury Hill that defies explanation; a walk across mountaintops to reach his grandfather's funeral; furtive excursions into Palestine where a friend keeps open the 'old ways' of travelling in a no-man's land; devotional pilgrimages around the lower elevations of asian mountains. It is a book of many facets. If you appreciate the natural wonders of our world and like to think that our link to it goes beyond just walking on top of it, then this book will not speak to you, it will shout. After reading this, a walk will never be the same again.

Often cited as one on the greatest travel books ever written, Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger has a lot to live up to. Between 1945 and 1950 the author spent time travelling with Bedu tribesman across the deserts of the Arabian peninsula, including two crossings of the mythical 'Empty Quarter'. The modern political machinations are as much an obstacle to his travels as are the tribal distrust of foreigners, but Thesiger is both driven and resourceful. It is a wonderful book, full of detail of the way of the tribes, and a document to a world that was fast disappearing even as he travelled the sands. It is written in a dispassionate and observational manner, but his admiration for the Bedu and their way of life is obvious. I have re-read this book several times, each reading revealing detail that I missed the previous time. A classic.

Congo Journey by Redmond O'Hanlon is the most physically demanding book that I have ever read. So vividly does the author write about his travels and hardships that you will sweat, feel fear and agonise with him as he describes all that he goes through. It describes his expedition to Lake Tele in The Republic of Congo to search for the mythical creature said to inhabit the swamps - an African Loch Ness Monster if you will. This is a lost, forbidding area, populated by mysterious pygmy tribes in a country that is not the easiest to gain access to or travel about in. He teams up with several locals, including a university lecturer. Even they are bags of nerves throughout the trip, scared of every village and group of people that they come across. Apart from the wildlife that they need to be wary about, you can add tribal feuds, black magic, diseases and the deterioration of their mental states - you really do find yourself joining them on a spiral into madness. This was one of those books that I just couldn't put down and stayed in my mind long after finishing it. A terrific book, written by an academic who is a lot more than a closet birder.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

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, and start slashing.

And so, in no particular order...

Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised to see Seventy Years of Birdwatching by HG Alexander appearing. If there were need for me to burn every book in the world, bar one title, then this is the survivor. Why? Because when I started birdwatching back in 1974, I visited Sutton Library to see what bird books they possessed. I borrowed two titles - 'Where to Watch Birds' by John Gooders and this one. I read it from cover to cover in a single day and then started on it again. It became the template of how I bird-watched for many years. Even now, 42 years after first picking it up, I get goosebumps when I see it on the book shelf. I take it down and open it with a reverence normally reserved for ancient manuscripts. The book is the modest autobiography of Horace Alexander, born in Surrey in 1889 into a family that had a keen interest in natural history. Together with his brothers they combed the Surrey, Sussex and Kent countryside either side of the Great War. They were avid notetakers, keeping records of almost everything they came across.  It was this part of the book that captivated me, and I was soon copying the ways of HGA. He also devotes a chapter to Dungeness, a place that held a strong affection for him - I would soon follow in these particular footsteps. He went on to be a founding member of the West Midlands Bird Club, become active in Indian Ornithology and lived to see his 100th birthday. But it was his early, modest days that enthralled me. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

I don't know what made me buy Blood Knots by Luke Jennings. I liked the cover, was intrigued by the summary on the back cover, but I'm no fisherman. I'm very glad that I did. This is a book that has many layers, each one as rich and satisfying as the other. His childhood in Sussex was driven by a need to catch and understand fish, but for Luke the manner in which this sport was conducted was one of respect, wonder and mystical powers. He read avidly, and was fortunate to be 'adopted' by a number of angling mentors, none more inspirational (and tragic) that Robert Nairac, an older pupil at his boarding school who in later life was murdered by the IRA in his role as an undercover Army Officer. It is as much about right of passage and an exploration of honour and friendship as it is the ways of the angler, it explores the premise that, after we have immersed ourselves in a subject, it is the way in which we go about obtaining our results that ultimately counts and brings us to a purity in the pursuit. From silent hidden pools, to trout streams, to dark London canals, this book will have you hooked (oops, bad pun). A number of my fellow bloggers have read this book on my recommendation and none have been disappointed. It is a haunting read. I still think about its content, the characters who we meet and the life affirming messages that subtly bleed from the pages.

I was fortunate enough to befriend a grand old lady who was in her late 90s. We used to talk about all manner of things, and our shared love of wildlife was a favourite subject. When she died, she left me a copy of Island Years by F Fraser Darling. She had said that I would like it. She was, as always, right - I was captivated from the very first page. It is the account of Frank Fraser Darling's time on The Summer Isles, off of Scotland's west coast. Together with his wife and young son, they set out to study the wildlife of one of the uninhabited islands. As much about the joys and struggles of such an undertaking as the seals and birds that they come across, this is also a letter from a time when the world was becoming a darker place - the Second World War was in its infancy and although the family are removed from its grasp, the shadows are approaching. It reads like the diary of a fearless explorer, who has chosen a wild rock in the Atlantic Ocean rather than an Amazonian rainforest or an Arabian Desert. Hardships are taken in their stride, be they winds wrecking their shelter, food shortages, bouts of illness or the worry of a young boy being exposed to an imposed way of life that most lads of similar age would find intolerable. It made me want to give it all up, throw caution to the wind and find an uninhabited island. Needless to say, I'm still here in so-called civilisation.

It takes something for a book that was only published last year to make it onto an all-time list, as it hasn't really had time to settle into the mind and become a part of your history - but In Pursuit of Butterflies by Matthew Oates manages this with ease. It shouldn't work. We are taken on a highly detailed journey through the authors life with butterflies from his early schoolboy years up until 2013. That is 50 years of it! With most authors, such a dense release of data would pall after a few chapters, but Mr Oates just oozes joy, celebrates all things butterfly and take us, hand-in-hand through the special places where these marvellous insects exist. We get to know certain species with an intimacy that can only be gained by exhaustive observation, but this is a labour of love and you cannot but help to become overwhelmed by the love as well. He has his favourites, none more so than the Purple Emperor. You find yourself willing him to come across his Holy Grail, the aberration iole. As we are taken through the years we get to experience every boom, bust, drought, success and failure with a liberal sprinkling of folklore and poetry. This book has made me want to seek out a 'Black Admiral' and I lust after a valezina Silver-washed Fritillary. You will never look at a butterfly (or it's habitat) in the same way again after reading this book. After finishing it I went into local woods and realised that I had been looking in the wrong places for Purple Emperors. The book tells you all that you will need to know about the subject and help make any future time in the field more informed and most probably successful. I cannot wait to re-read it.

Part Two to follow...

Thursday, 3 March 2016

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...

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

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.