Showing posts from April, 2016

Queen of the Wheatears!

April is now practically consigned to history, and with it comes closure on the 4th ND&B Wheatear Trophy. This year's battle was a more sedate affair, with none of last year's dog fight at the end, which saw skullduggery and underhand tactics - most un-Oenanthe-like! Our previous winners were: 2013 Gavin Haig (Devon) With Gavin's return to blogging this year, hopes were high that our very first winner would make an assault on the trophy, especially since he has adopted some prime birding real estate on the Dorset coast. But where was he? He posted absolutely no white-arse images at all! 2014 Martin Casemore (Kent) When you live at Dungeness, and possess an enormous lens (steady now...), there can be no excuse for not having a go at reclaiming the trophy. Although he started with good, early intent, the pressure must have become too much, as he disappeared to Morocco for ten days at the end of April!! Despite this, he managed a creditable seven white-arses. 20

Catching it while I can

One of the downsides of watching (or checking) an area over a number of years is that you sometimes observe a slow (and at times sudden) demise of a species. My visit to Epsom Downs this morning (un)helpfully illustrated this. I have known a spot at the base of Juniper Hill where Early Purple Orchids grow - not many spikes, but reliably flowering each April. A half-hearted attempt last year failed to find any, and today's more thorough visit had the same outcome. In fact, where I was hoping to find the orchids I was confronted by a mound of dumped soil.  Now gone? Another place I checked was an area of compacted, stony ground, at the northern end of the downs. This is where I can expect to find Rue-leaved Saxifrage (below). Year on year there are fewer plants. Today there were fewer still. How much longer will this species keep a toe-hold here?

Few-flowered Garlic

Outside of Headley village church is a dense bank of Few-flowered Garlic. This is now spreading into neighbouring areas, particularly by the small pond that butts up to the church wall. It is quite a sight at the moment and well worth a look if you happen to be passing.

Hard work

Phew, it really was a struggle today. With not much happening at Canons Farm, I went off to Mickleham to see how far forward the chalk downland flora was - answer being 'not that far at all'. I took a few snaps, then came home... Common Groundhopper - I've not knowingly seen one before - if, indeed, it is one... Greater Stitchwort - undoubtably out all over the place... ... whereas Bush Vetch is only just starting

Guiding lights

I'm not old enough to remember the effect that the publication of A Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe had on the ornithological community in 1954. Written by Roger Tory Peterson, Guy Montfort and Phil Hollom, this took the template from the successful American field guide written by the first mentioned author. Gone were the flowery heroic portraits of birds (such as those by Archibald Thorburn) and in came illustrations whose sole purpose was to educate the reader in the ways of how to identify the species. The text was heavily biased towards this new art of field identification, and the plates helped the reader even further by the use of clearly marked key features - there was no second guessing going on here! This was but the third bird field guide that I owned. I bought it out of a sense of duty towards its perceived worthiness (as much as I also purchased Collins Pocket Guide to British Birds by Richard Fitter and Richard Richardson). These guides, although h

Almost lilliputian flora

For an inland botanist, a trip to Dungeness is an eye-opener in many ways. The suite of plants present will obviously be different to the ones that you are used to and even those that you are familiar with can appear very different indeed. The windswept and open nature of the shingle, the paucity of soil and dryness can all combine to stunt growth. This is no more apparent than in the populations of Blackthorn and Broom that lie, prostrate, across much of the shingle. I've crouched down to take the photograph above of this Blackthorn bush, most probably a foot high at the most, and this is not as small as they get. Some fight for light with the lichens that surround them! These are no young specimens that will soon tower all around them, but decades old bushes, older than you and I. Some plants just are small, plain and simple. The Early Forget-me-not is coming out in flower across the shingle right now, but from head height it can be a struggle to see the flowers. My pla

Mining bee's-knees at Dungeness

I've just come back from a few days at Dungeness, my first visit since the lengthy late-autumn sojourn. A cool airstream that emanated from colder places to the north and west of the UK are not conducive to Mediterranean over-shoots, but a few migrants did brave the conditions. As ever, the reserve's resident flagship species were readily on view.  Highlights were Black-necked Grebe, Great White Egret, Bittern, Tundra Bean Goose, Whimbrel, Iceland Gull, Little Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Black Tern, Ring Ouzel, Reed Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Bearded Tit and Raven. Still on the subject of 'flying things', I was keen to catch up with the very rare and localised Grey-backed Mining Bee ( Andrena vaga ). Since 2010 it has become established in Hampshire and Kent, with a colony being discovered on the RSPB reserve at Dungeness by David Walker.  For some reason (bad timing, woeful neglect) I had failed to see them - until now. My first two visits of this trip to the colony

40 years, White-arses and a Gos

40 years On April 12th 1976 - 40 years ago to the very day - my 17-year old self first set foot on Dungeness and entered No. 11 RNSS, better known as Dungeness Bird Observatory. This is what I thought at the time... My first impression of Dungeness is not a favourable one. It appears an open waste of shingle, strewn with ramshackle dwellings and set against the vast nuclear power station that has squeezed perspective to such an extent that it appears two-dimensional, as if it were merely an enormous theatrical backdrop. Peering from the car making its way along the single road towards the peninsula’s point, I’m wondering what on earth I have let myself in for. I am about to join a four-day bird-watching course being held at Dungeness Bird Observatory. The focal point of our passage along to the peninsula’s snout is always the power station, dwarfing the two lighthouses that as recently as 1960 had been the tallest buildings for miles around. My attention then tur

Project awoken

Even after 40+ years of birding, this fascinating subject can still surprise me. I am no nearer to being settled in the way that I pursue it, and that in itself is something to be glad of. Each passing year sees me taking on new areas, returning to old ones, putting a bit more effort in, or a little less. So far in 2016 I have found myself being drawn into visiting Pulborough Brooks more often (now overdue a return) and giving the fields and woods of Canons Farm more time than is healthy. This latter site is having something of a purple patch (relatively speaking!) what with White-fronted Geese, Mediterranean Gulls, Iceland Gull, Short-eared Owl, Dartford Warbler and Hawfinch all having been recorded this year. To that can also be added Gadwall (site first - there is no water here), Ring Ouzel and Redstart. Another dimension to the birding experience on the farm is the attraction that the fields can have for birds when the conditions are right for feeding - there have been large floc

Quiet despair, intense pleasure

It has been a week of mixed work and pleasure. Sitting in an office, trying to remember how to use various software and systems does keep my mind sharp I suppose, and it also reminds me of how to interact socially. If I were just to spend my time walking footpaths and meeting birders then I would soon become a social misfit. Enough said... My visits to Canons Farm have neatly summed up the lot of a patch watcher - periods of quiet despair punctuated by moments of intense pleasure (this is all relative, you understand!). The joy has come courtesy of both male Ring Ouzel and Common Redstart (below), those eagerly anticipated 'next drawer up' migrants, not quite a Stone Curlew but better than a Willow Warbler. There has also been a marked passage of Common Buzzards. We have 14-15 local birds, with any 360 degree scan of the sky on a fair day resulting in buteo excess. We know where the territories are, where the 'spare' birds hang out, so can gage when migrants pass thro

Policing forums

There has been quite a bit going on in the world of forums and blogging. I won't name names, but a few bird-themed places that I spend some quality cyber-time have been getting their knickers in a twist. You see, even though people are invited to comment on them, the administrators of these sites have seen it fit to 'moderate' and delete postings. Of course, there are times when the need to delete will be the proper course of action - homophobic comments, racist insults, bad taste - I don't think many will disagree with that. But sometimes the removal of words is down to personal bias, political manoeuvring or petty point scoring. This is where waters get muddied. When anybody seeks response (such as I do on this blog), it is like leaving your front door open with a sign outside that says 'All welcome, come on in'. Trouble is, you don't know who will walk in. But all have been invited. If I were to round up the first 200-300 people who walk past my house

When 'empty' doesn't really mean empty

I've just come back from a relatively lengthy spell of birding over at Canons Farm. As I left the place I tweeted out the following: After a six hour stint, I'm off. There's only so much empty sky a man can take. This comment was made due to a fair-sized dollop of disappointment - what with a southerly airflow, and plenty of migrants having been recorded elsewhere during the week, I really thought that we would be in with a chance of picking up some stuff. At least a Swallow, maybe a Willow Warbler and even a fly-through Marsh Harrier or Osprey. But none of these materialised (the last two species mentioned unsurprisingly). There were four of us out looking as well, so the patch was being well covered. Empty sky? Did I really mean that? Looking at my notebook, that really was harsh. 10+ Common Buzzard. 1 Peregrine. 2 Greylag Geese (maybe not 'patch gold', but certainly 'patch bronze'), a smart male Brambling, a female Stonechat, a flock of 80+ Linnet,