Sunday, 31 July 2016

Running up the down escalator

Listing is a large part of many birders lives. To some, it gives them a reason for getting involved and too the unlucky few it is their reason for being. They feel as if it defines them. It is easy to be 'sniffy' about the whys and wherefores of keeping lists if you are not that way inclined, but, to a certain extent, we all get sucked into it. I have. And at a certain level, I still am.

But when you look at it, listing is an area in which you can never truly be fulfilled. It is an itch that will always need scratching. Even a moderate lister, particularly if in an arena where others around you (say a patch) are listing too, will find the wheels of fortune sending you into moments of highs and others of lows. Today's self-found Wryneck will be forgotten when next weeks dipped Bluethroat rears its ugly head.

It is like running up a very long down escalator. You will never have the energy to reach the top. The best you can hope for is to reach a speed at which you will stay in place. A couple of good birds will send you a few steps further up, but those dips will knock you back again - and if the knocks come thick and fast it can knock some birders off of the escalator all together.

The ones who have it sussed are those who can enjoy the view from wherever they happen to be on the moving steps. There are some who will maintain that they have never stepped onto this escalator at all. I simply don't believe them.

Friday, 29 July 2016

The Beddington human zoo

Yesterday's retro post about Beddington Sewage Farm - (note: NOT Farmlands) - got me reminiscing even further. I have posted about the birding before, but the people who populated my early memories have barely got a mention. It is time to rectify this.

These were times before the reign of the Messenbirds and Alfreys. When I first set foot on the 'hallowed acres' there was a regular, loyal set of observers - Derek Coleman, Nick Gardner, John Bacon, John Dalgliesh, Bill Blake, Keith Mitchell, Martin King, John Gent, Dave Eland, Stuart Holdsworth to name but a few - but the two who took me under their wing and influenced me beyond all others were Ken Parsley and Mike Netherwood.

Ken and Mike were primarily bird ringers, and two-three times a week would turn up at the sewage farm with the express intention of trapping birds. The Beddington Ringing Group had been a flourishing concern back in the 1960s, but by the mid 1970s it fell to just these two men. I joined them as a trainee ringer in the summer of 1976. Those of you old enough to remember that summer may recall that it was very hot indeed. We mainly used single panel mist nets in the dry beds, where finches were congregating to feed on the Fat-hen, mainly Greenfinches, Goldfinches and Linnets, and if the season was right, Bramblings. During the summer we would target Swifts, utilising a special method of capture that I believe had its origins at Beddington. You can read about it here. Sometimes we got lucky - memorable freak captures included a Short-eared Owl and a Bluethroat - plus a Willow Tit that would have any modern Surrey birder salivating profusely.

Back then, as you crossed Hackbridge Bridge, a long straight road cut right across the sewage farm directly ahead of you. This was Mile Road. And there were two houses, both inhabited, that were along it. The first was just about were the current BFBG hide now stands. It was lived in by a brother and sister, the Murphy's, who kept largely to themselves. Halfway along the road, right out in the middle of the farm, was a not unattractive dwelling where Alf and his wife lived. Alf worked for the sewage farm and kept his eye on things. Near to Alf's house, alongside a series of concrete water tanks, could be found our small ringing hut. Inside were a couple of chairs, a table, and a log book into which we entered our sightings. These may have been the days before you needed a key to access the farm, but to possess a key to the hut was the 1970s equivalent. This hut acted as a meeting point, a library, a handy shelter from the worst weather, and a place to store our bikes (we all seemed to cycle back then). I have happy memories of a Christmas holiday morning when Alf came along to the hut with a bottle of sherry and a number of glasses. Somewhere under all of that landfill the ghosts of that festive meeting are still toasting each others happiness... When Alf retired and moved out, the house was demolished. The ringing hut, without its guardian angel, was repeatedly broken into, then vandalised, and finally removed.

It wasn't just us birders who wandered between the sludge lagoons. A number of traveller people kept their horses strewn across the farm. We got to know them, in particular a chap with a mouthful of rotten teeth who was christened 'Toothy'. There were also a few local oiks who, from time to time, would bring their ratty 50cc mopeds to tear along the trackways. Sometimes the farm was used as a base for a pirate radio station, the practitioners hiding low on the banks of the deepest beds to elude detection from the authorities. I can also remember being barred from the farm on at least two occasions when permission was given for a car rally to take place!

Back then, the human 'footprint' on the farm was largely represented by the charming red-brick outbuildings, concrete channels, farm fencing and a few electricity pylons. The cooling towers to the west were an unmissable landmark, but were forgiven for the visual intrusion as they were the nesting place of Black Redstarts. It may be the result of looking through rose-tinted spectacles, but the place did ooze charm, and those that populated that period of time did so in an unhurried manner. Much has changed.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Old Beddington in late July

Late July will, for me, forever be linked to the old Beddington Sewage Farm. Back in the mid to late 70s, there were a series of settling beds scattered right across the farm, looking just like this:

The example above is of one of the larger beds, and many were half, or even a quarter of this size. They all shared the raised banks, wide enough for two birders to walk along side by side, but in late July it was a struggle for even one of us to make headway along them, thanks to the copious amounts of vegetation - back then it was just all green stuff that got in the way, but in later years I realised that it was mainly Hemlock, Goose-grass and Stinging Nettle. The smell, especially on a hot day, was pungent - a mixture of sewage effluent (not as bad as you might think) and rank vegetation. Hemlock, en masse, does have a distinctive, earthy whiff.

Some beds were filled with water, and these at this time of year were not what we sought. We would winkle out those beds that were drying out. Too dry and they were worse for birds than the very wet ones, but to get one that had wet mud, watery channels and even an island or two of vegetation, then bingo! There was a distinct possibility of waders!

Waders were a virtual ornithological currency at Beddington, sought after above all other bird families. From mid-July the first Common and Green Sandpipers would start to appear, and by the month's end they would be joined by Wood Sandpiper, Greenshank, Ruff and Common Snipe (among others). The numbers would also build, so that double-figure counts of some species (particularly Green and Common Sandpipers) would be made.

100 acre, the name given to the northern section of the farm, seemed to always have the best beds. You reached this area by jumping across a concrete culvert by a fallen willow (the border between the two being the evocatively named Cuckoo Lane). I cannot tell you how excited I would get when I ducked under the willow and across onto 100 acre. A steep bank of no more than six foot in height was directly ahead - I would crawl up this, risking stings and goose-grass seed infestation, to peer over the top onto what seemed to always be the best bed. What would be there? How many? If I had succeeded in my stealthy approach, there would be waders feeding without a care in the world. I would settle down and count, always aware that others could be lurking behind an island, or keeping still in vegetation. But to approach noisily, or to break the skyline would send a yelping flock into the air, to circle in protest before settling down on further beds - in which case I still would have another chance.

You could visit three times in a day, and the wader composition would have changed. As time went on, certain good beds would dry out and become less desirable to the waders, but these were replaced by some of the wetter beds that had started to form small islands. It was always annoying to turn up at a series of 'good' beds to find that they had been flooded with effluent and were thus virtually useless for our purposes.

So, there is a part of me in late-July that is forever wandering the old Beddington. It really was a magical place, now lost forever underneath landfill and incinerators. I'm just grateful that I saw it back then.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Growing old benignly

There comes a time in life when you have to admit that you are not a youngster any more. And I don't mean those 'life' milestones such as learning to drive, going to the pub or having children. I'm talking about creaking joints, getting up in the night for a pee, needing reading glasses, wearing 'comfortable' rather than 'fashionable' clothing, not knowing how to operate technological gadgets, repeating yourself, and, of course, repeating yourself.

But above all, the one that gives the game away and tells you that, yes indeed, you are getting old, is becoming a member of the National Trust. Visiting their properties. And cooing over the flower beds - pointing out what grows well here but not in your garden - and don't those dahlias look lovely! Just like I did yesterday.

For all those of you who are in a similar position, please accept a few filler pictures of said flower beds (left). Taken whilst drinking tea, eating banana cake, and looking out for the nearest toilets... but let's look on the bright side - another day closer to stairlifts, incontinence pads and copious nasal hair!

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Escaping rarities at Wakehurst Place

Today, Katrina and I visited Wakehurst Place, Kew Gardens 'annexe' in West Sussex. It is here that the Millennium Seed Bank is held, where over 2 billion seeds are stored and the national collections of several plant families are maintained. As much as the manicured flower beds, walled gardens and arboretums are wonderful to behold and lose yourself in, this post mainly deals with the 'wild' side of the gardens.

At the northern end of Wakehurst is a designated nature reserve which encompasses part of the Loder Valley. A single observation hide overlooks a wooded lake, a sizeable area of reed and bulrush has a raised walkway through its middle and the waterside vegetation is truly wild. An antidote to the manicured and alien world to the south... although, the gardens themselves have plenty of wild areas left, be they un-mown banks full of wild flowers or large open meadows, as can be seen from the images below.

Red Campion, Corn Chamomile and Tufted Vetch abounds!
A wilder bank, full of Bird's-foot Trefoil, Tufted Vetch and Common Knapweed
Rides like this were full of invertebrates!
The area around the Seed bank is particularly interesting. Outside of the building are a series of raised beds that mimic varying habitats - so we have a shingle beach (just like Dungeness!), Heathland, Chalk Grassland, and so on. My favourite was the Arable bed, full of Field Cow-wheat (below), Field Woundwort, Thorow-wax and Weasel's-snout. And guess what? These rare plants like it here! They self-seed! The neighbouring paths, beds and walls are now home to liberated individuals - if you adhere to Wild Flower Society rules, all perfectly tickable.

The Seed Bank building is worth a visit. Apart from the obligatory interpretation boards, large glass panels allow you to look in on the scientists and botanists at work, unpacking, drying and storing the seeds, vital in maintaining the long-term safety of vulnerable species.

You can watch the staff saving species from extinction...
...while outside the raised habitat beds have encouraged some rarities to escape!

Sunday, 24 July 2016

A blizzard of carrot

Langley Vale Farm turned on the spectacle again today, with the No Home field an unbroken sea of Wild Carrot (above). A few weeks ago it was a blizzard of Ox-eye Daisy, a few weeks before that it bled with Red Campion (below). Such expanse of colour is truly memorable - and, unlike the industrial quantity colour hits of crops such as Rape or Flax, these wild flower meadows are more of a natural artistic statement. Last year this same field was dominated by Common and Opium Poppies, and they are much reduced in number this time round. I wonder what will flower in profusion next year? The Woodland Trust are behind this field turning on the botanical spectacle, as they laid down a seed mix in 2014.

Sometimes an insect stops you in your tracks. This afternoon, at Gatton Park, this hoverfly, Volucella pellucens, did exactly that.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Channel View

Channel View is a run-down dwelling that can be found on the beach at Dungeness, close to the new lighthouse. Last October I was lucky enough to find (or re-find) a Dusky Warbler in the vegetation just SW of the property, and the bird stayed for several days, loyal to the tamarisks and brambles in Channel View's front garden (when not in the nearby beach scrub). A constant stream of admirers passed through, standing around the edge of the abandoned building, waiting to hear the tacking call and latch on to the fleeting views of the warbler. Ever since then, when I visit the shingle, I search the same area I have described above, with the joy of that discovery still fresh in my mind. So I was more than interested to see this post on one of the Dungeness-themed websites.

I just hope that they haven't grubbed out the Dusky Warbler friendly garden!!

Friday, 22 July 2016

A virtual walk along a spectacular valley

Last Majorca-themed post for the time being, I promise!

I think it's a fair bet to say that any birder that has visited Majorca, especially if they have stayed (or visited) the north of the island, would have wandered along the Boquer Valley - situated just north of Port de Pollenca, it is in fact an easy stroll from the town itself. The entrance into the valley is at its narrowest point, via the gates of a lonely finca. This area has a number of orchards that are well worth checking, being the haunt of Woodchats, Wrynecks and Cirl Buntings. During spring and autumn some real surprises can pop up.

Once through these gates you pick up a path that runs along the valley to the sea (some 20-30 minutes of steady walking). If you are birding then that same walk can take a few hours! Throw in plants and inverts then you can write off a whole day! The main path is at a moderate elevation, and until you get to the sea there are few paths going higher - however, there are plenty of runs created by the goats that can take you down to the valley floor. Ready for a virtual stroll? Here goes...

Not far into the valley, a rocky outcrop act as a natural gateway to the wonders beyond.
The valley bottom. Home to, among other things, Stone Curlews
Looking to the left as we progress, this higher ground is the best for picking up raptors. I have seen Black, Griffon and Egyptian Vultures, Booted Eagle, Lesser Kestrel, Peregrine and Eleonora's Falcons over the years from this very spot.
Looking right and here is the easiest place to see Blue Rock Thrush and Crag Martin.
Getting near the end and we are now entering prime Balearic Warbler territory.
The sea here is a dazzling array of blues and turquoise. There is a small beach if you so desire a dip.
Looking up towards Formentor. The breeding ground of Eleonora's Falcons.
The valley is not just about birds. There is a specialised flora, and the invertebrate diversity is high. I have only visited in June, July and August, so have yet to experience the area during the heights of migration. As you can see, it is a stunning site that is well worth a visit at any time of year.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Palm Moth

Many thanks to Graeme Lyons, who was able to identify my mystery Majorcan moth for me. I knew one of my cyber-contacts would know!

It is The Palm Moth (Paysandisia archon). Its native range is Uruguay and central Argentina, and was accidentally imported to Europe, first being recorded in France (mid 1990s) and then consequently in mediterranean Spain, Italy and Greece. The larvae feed on the stems and trunks of palms, and is causing concern because some damage is being reported to those of native provenance. There is a single UK record - from West Sussex in 2002. Whether more with turn up is open to speculation, although there are parts of the UK where palms do happily grow, and in number. If you do come across one, you will not miss it! As large as a Convolvulus Hawk-moth, with a rattling/rustle to the wings when disturbed - you have been warned!!

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

A Majorcan picture post

Thanks to Graeme Lyons for identifying this big beast as Palm Moth (Paysandisia archon). Three were flushed along the Boquer Valley in one afternoon.
One of the natural history highlights of the holiday - Violet Carpenter Bees! Very big and a deep, deep purple. A gathering of six in a hillside garden at old town Pollenca was unforgettable.
Audouin's Gull on Port de Pollenca beach - I only took my compact camera with me, so anyone with a 'big lens' could have really gone to town. A constant presence along the beach during the day, in the evening they would spend more time on the deck, polishing off any left-over food from the sunbathers. Would tolerate birders.
Lang's Short-tailed Blue - I found a couple in amongst 20 Long-tailed Blues, all feeding along a patch of Bramble.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Vulture fly-past

Our last full day in Majorca. An early start saw me on the viewing tower at S'Albufereta by 08.00hrs, and during the next hour watched seven Purple Herons arrive from the south, six Night Herons decide on where to roost during the daylight hours, three noisy Stone Curlews that were in a constant state of agitation, two Purple Swamphens and a Marsh Harrier that caused apoplexy amongst the Black-winged Stilts. The nearby beach played host to 16 Kentish Plovers, before a gradual dispersal caused by the arrival of human paddle-boarders.

As I returned to Port de Pollenca by the coast road, I cut inland, along the quiet roads that I have come to love, bordered by scrub, small fields, weedy corners and villas surrounded by bougainvillea. From here you have an uninterrupted view of the mountain spine to the north, and it was not long before the clear blue sky was joined by a few black dots - big black dots. 

I was able to watch three Black Vultures, broad of wing and meagre of effort, as they glided along the mountain line, before some imperceptible movement broke the invisible umbilical chord that they had with the high ground. They were coming straight towards me. After a couple of minutes this flirtation with the lower terrain was called off and they sought solace with the mountains once more. It had been a brief, but unforgettable encounter. A single Griffon Vulture and a Booted Eagle joined in the fun afterwards, but, after the Black Vultures, it was a hard act to follow.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Violet Carpenter Bees and a Quail

A family visit to old Pollenca, an ancient town some 4 miles inland from the coast. One of the most famous landmarks is the hilltop chapel, reached via 365 stone steps, flanked either side by the most charming abodes that you can imagine. The small, well-tended gardens attract insects, with one in particular a magnet for at least six Violet Carpenter Bees. I whiled away a quarter of an hour in their company and managed to obtain some decent photographs.

I elected to walk back to Port de Pollenca, via a most memorable side trip up to the Puig de Maria monastery. This is reached by a narrow, twisting track which ascends through Holm Oak woodland before opening out when reaching the summit. The views are spectacular. From here a scan of the mountain range opposite will most probably result in raptors - today they included two Black Vultures, three Griffon Vultures and a Booted Eagle - all whilst I was being buzzed by an inquisitive Swallowtail butterfly.

I cut back to P de P via several meandering quiet roads, through utterly charming countryside, where the hot afternoon torpor was broken by the ever-present Woodchats, Serins and - most unexpectedly - a singing Quail.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Audouin's entertainment

A day of 'busily doing nothing'.

However, I can report that at least six Audouin's Gulls were patrolling the beach, with four adults and two sud-adults. When I first stayed at Port de Pollenca (in 1989) I had to travel round to Alcudia Bay to see this species close inshore. Since then, the beach at P de P has been built up for tourists, with vast amounts of sand being dumped, forming a sterile 40m deep beach, beloved by sun-worshippers. Such human activity results in food scraps being left behind, dropped or momentarily untended, easy pickings for the opportunistic Audouin's Gull, and thus a constant entertainment for a beach-bound birder!

The natural beach of the bay still exists south of the resort. It is sand, but the beach here is narrow (a few metres wide) and heavily vegetated, is designated a reserve, and hosts breeding Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Some impressive inverts

A band of cloud early morning soon burnt off to reveal another hot and sunny day.

After the usual morning on the beach I took off to the Boquer Valley which, barring a distant Black Vulture, a brief Booted Eagle, 6 Eleonora's Falcon, a couple of Crag Martin and 4 Stone Curlew, was fairly quiet.... just reading that list back, that's not bad for a quiet afternoon!

Two invertebrates stole today's plaudits however. At breakfast, a couple of flowering potted shrubs were being visited by an enormous Violet Carpenter Bee (it must have been the size of a Goldcrest!). It was performing so well that I rushed off to get the camera - of course it had gone when I returned. Then, a very large moth was disturbed along the valley - it made a rustling sound in flight, must be large hawk-moth sized, pointed grey- brown wings, thick body, stripy abdomen, orange-red, white and black striped underwing...absolutely no idea what it is, but I have got good photographs. Another two were seen afterwards, all sunning themselves on bare ground! Anyone got any suggestions?

Friday, 15 July 2016

A good butterfly day

This afternoon I excused myself from the beach and headed off on a sweep of the minor roads west of  S'Albufereta. This takes you through an open area of small, weedy fields with a variety of orchards. The bird life, as befits the middle of a hot afternoon in July was largely quiet, although an adult Booted Eagle and a startled Red-legged Partridge did decide to break the quiet.

Today was much better for butterflies, with a sudden emergence of Cleopatra, a Two-tailed Pasha (that most exotic and large of European butterflies), a 400m strip of blackberries that had good numbers of Long-tailed Blue, a single Lang's Short-tailed Blue (good images obtained), Southern Brown Argus, Southern Gatekeeper and Wall. A single Hummingbird Hawk-moth buzzed me.

I ended up at the southern end of the marsh and found a new footpath that took me through a pine plantation (2 Hoopoe, a Woodchat and a family party of Crossbill), onto a mound that looked out over the wetlands and the 'estuary'. Highlights included Great White Egret, Stone Curlew, Gull-billed Tern, 4 Purple Herons and Purple Swamphen.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

S'Albufereta delight

S'Albufereta Marsh is unfairly thought of as the poor relation to Albufera Marsh, but I prefer the smaller wetland, which is found between Port de Pollenca and Alcudia. Admittedly, the latter site has a larger list of birds, but lacks the intimacy and quietness of the former. I hadn't visited S'Albufereta for over 12 years, and had never really got to grips with its full potential. Until today.

There seems to have been a fair bit of work done to make the habitat more accessible to birders, with clearer signposting, obvious paths, screen hides and one magnificent double height viewing platform. The habitat stretches all the way between the two towns, with the wetter areas being mainly towards the southern end. I will be returning for a further look, as the birding was excellent. Steve Thomas joined me late morning.

The day list included: 4 Purple Heron, 3 Night Heron, 8 Cattle Egret, 25 Little Egret, 2 Osprey, 1 Marsh Harrier, 25 Black-winged Stilt, 4 Kentish Plover, 10 Little Ringed Plover, 3 Stone Curlew, 1 Green Sandpiper, 1 Purple Swamphen (plastic fantastic), 1 Gull-billed Tern, 200 Common Swift, 2 Hoopoe, 15 Fan-tailed Warbler, 4 Cetti's Warbler, 20 Sardinian Warbler, 40 Stonechat, 1 Nightingale, 6 Woodchat Shrike, 20 Spotted Flycatcher, 6 Serin.

And I wasn't even trying...

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Vulture time

I spent the whole afternoon on a circular walk, from Port de Pollenca, through the fields almost to Pollenca 'old town', then walking along the base of the wooded hills until joining the (noisy) road that runs along the base of the Tramuntana mountains back to my starting point - a good few miles.

The farmland was quiet, although when practically every other bird is a Serin or a Woodchat Shrike you don't really mind. 20+ Cattle Egrets (largest group of nine) had to make do with following goats in lieu of any cattle.

As I got close to the mountains I started to scan the tops in earnest, and, just before the turn off to Cala San Vincente was rewarded with a superb, and enormous, Black Vulture. I was watching this bird, on and off, for half-an-hour. Further along was an adult Booted Eagle and a couple of Eleanora's Falcons.

Wonder where all the UK's Spotted Flycatchers have gone? They're here. Almost every fence, post, roof and branch holds one or two, although as Gareth kindly pointed out in a recent comment, there is speculation that the Balearic birds might just be a separate species...

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

With Tank down the Boquer

I met up with Beddington stalwart Steve 'Tank' Thomas, who is also staying in Port de Pollenca, and we headed off to the Boquer Valley. It was very hot...

In three hours we completed a circuit of the valley, firstly walking along the length of its bottom, then ascending the eastern slope by the sea, returning by the well-worn central path. Our haul included 10+ Eleonora's Falcons (some giving stunning views low over the valley and directly above our heads), adult and immature Booted Eagles, a Stone Curlew, single Pallid Swift and Crag Martin, 5 Blue Rock Thrush, 6 Woodchat Shrikes, 20+ Spotted Flycatchers, a Nightingale, 2 Balearic Warblers, 4 Sardinian Warblers, 2 Ravens and a male Cirl Bunting.

Two further butterfly ticks came my way - several Southern Gatekeepers and a False Ilex Hairstreak.

We rewarded ourselves with a couple of ice-cold pints back in the town, where we were joined by Steve's family. A most enjoyable morning.

In other news: still 3-4 Audouin's Gulls patrolling the beach, and every garden seems to have adopted a Spotted Flycatcher or two.

Monday, 11 July 2016

A 'two butterfly tick' day

During breakfast in the hotel gardens, a large butterfly flew past us, alighted on a nearby flowering bush, and my first Plain Tiger was safely logged! This African species had started to colonise the coastal fringes of Southern Europe in the 1980s, and is now established in Majorca. My butterfly day had only started - while spending the morning on the beach, a gentle 'pattering' of Painted Ladies headed purposefully northwards, and my afternoon wander up the Boquer Valley revealed up to six Striped Grayling, the second totally new butterfly of the day.

Talking of the Boquer Valley, although the timing was poor (mid-July, mid-afternoon), the birding was with plenty of highlight. Great views were obtained of both adult and immature Booted Eagles, up to 6 Eleonora's Falcons spent most of the time in view, a male Blue Rock Thrush teasingly appeared but for a few seconds and a Raven 'kronked' onto the holiday list. Tomorrow I will head back up the valley earlier in the day, and with the company of Steve Thomas. The valley has much yet to reveal if my past visits are anything to go by.

Elsewhere, a spotty juvenile Nightingale was in Gola Park and up to 4 Audouin's Gulls were patrolling the beach opposite the Uyal Hotel.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Back on Majorca

North Downs and Beyond has decamped to the north of Majorca for ten days. As with all of my previous trips to this Mediterranean island, it is a family affair, with the wildlife a secondary consideration - however, my binoculars and camera have made it into the luggage, and I have a few target butterflies and plants on the radar.

The Pollenca area has had to put up with a succession of north Surrey birders in recent weeks, with Neil Randon having just returned to the UK, and Steve Thomas currently residing at Port de Pollenca.  Thankfully my later arrival means that I can benefit from a bit of acquired local knowledge. The hotel  where we are staying overlooks the beach and has an area of reed and scrub behind it. Without any effort on my part at all, three Audouin's Gulls have been seen (2 adults and a second summer), a family of Spotted Flycatchers are being most confiding in the hotel gardens, both Fan-tailed and Sardinian Warblers are calling from the scrub, and a motley collection of Shags are sitting off-shore.

My time in the field may be limited, but I doubt that it will be dull.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Old posts, new visitors

A blog cannot survive on stats alone, but sometimes a boost to the ratings is good for the soul. I do keep an eye on how many people out there are looking in on ND&B, and which posts seem to be popular. The stats monitor can sometimes throw up unusual viewing habits, and did so this morning. For some reason my spoof post about rare bird hoaxes (click here to revisit it) that was published on 9 July 2013 had been visited 143 times so far today... most strange. By then looking at my traffic sources I could see a big push coming from a Dutch birding forum, where one kind soul (Sjaak Schilperoort) had linked my bird hoax post to his comment - which, being in Dutch, I have no idea what it says.

This bit of retrospective post boosting follows hot on the heels of an upsurge in visits to the 'Bohemian Chinese Pond Heron Rhapsody' post, due to my shameless re-plugging of it on the day that the plastic perfectly wild bird was welcomed onto Category A of the British List. You can click here to see that one again if you want.. With stats going through the roof due to the exhuming of old posts, this rather negates the need to come up with fresh material.

Now, what else have I got at the back of the cupboard?...

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

A walk selected by day-dreaming

I was intending on visiting the steep slopes of Box Hill for a bit of orchid action, but day-dreaming at the steering-wheel found me way past where I needed to turn off, and, finding myself close to Banstead Woods, decided to accept that fate had sent me there.

The recent rains had turned the western outer footpath into an assault course of mud, nettle and bramble, not helped by my decision to wear shorts. After collecting sting-rash and scratches across my legs, I found myself in an area where several plants of Violet Helleborine can usually be found - this morning I managed just the one, and it was some way off from flowering:

Across to Park Downs and the 'orchid fields'. Orchid numbers are much reduced from last year, maybe due to the height of the grass. This year it is knee-to-waist high:

Pyramidals are in the low hundreds, Bees possibly 30+, nowhere near the heights of 2015. A small patch of Fox and Cubs (below) were welcome, and, as the sun started to break through the early cloud, butterflies started to take to the wing - mostly Meadow Brown and Marbled White, but also my first Silver-washed Fritillary of the summer.

Back along the valley at Chipstead Bottom, and the butterfly numbers really picked up. although it was another plant that stole the show, with the tallest, healthiest White Mullein (below) that I have yet seen. It was further along and higher up the slope than the others that I have previously recorded here - it was the only one present.

In other news: The BOU have seen it fit to accept the Hythe Chinese Pond Heron into Category A of the British list. It seems like a good excuse to exhume this popular post.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Botanical Top 3

Rather than prolong the countdown any further, please accept my botanical top three in one dollop...

3. Grass Vetchling (Lathyrus nissolia)

I've already gone all "I wandered lonely as a cloud" over this species, and if you want to relive my moment of appreciation, please click here.

2. Flowering Rush (Butomus umbellatus)

Another species that can be classed as one created by the 'Arts and Crafts Movement' - a botanical candelabra that shines out from its watery surroundings. I see it irregularly enough for it to always excite me when I do come across it. Looks far better in real life than it does in print (or on the screen your looking at now).

1. Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera)

I never, ever tire of coming across this species. Last week, when I was walking along Denbigh's Hillside I met another naturalist who had seen a few Bee Orchids at the bottom of the slope. I had to go down and have a look - even though I was standing not 25m away from c30 of them at that very moment. One is not enough. 100 are not enough. In fact, I want to go off and look for some right now. To come across several together when you are not expecting to do so must be one of the most pleasurable events to be experienced.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Lost Among the Birds

A Big Year is very much an American creation. Here in the UK there are plenty of birders who have had a serious go at competitive year listing, but it is really the poor relation to the Stateside version. For a start, the area in which to list is much smaller. There are fewer species to seek out. The logistics of travel are not as difficult.

There is a literary tradition of Stateside birder's attempts to see how many bird species they can find in a calendar year. Roger Tory Peterson kicked it all of when he wrote 'Wild America' which told of his lengthy trawl across America with Brit James Fisher in 1953. They ended up seeing a then giddy total of 572 species. Ken Kaufman followed this up with 'Kingbird Highway' in which his 'on-a-shoestring' attempt of 1973 was told, and a new landmark of 666 species was set. Mark Obmascik's 'The Big Year' was written as if a suspense novel, as he revealed the story of 1998s three -pronged attack on the record, the players being Sandy Komito, Greg Miller and Al Levantin. The first named blew the others out of the water, setting a new record total of 748 species.

Having read these books, the appearance of another account of a 'Big Year' did not immediately entice me to get my money out, but having read the blurb on the book jacket I was enticed to do so. Here was an ex-pat living in Boston who took the Yanks on at their own game and won! 'Lost Among the Birds' by Neil Hayward is a lot more than a book about the highs and lows of a year's manic birding. Approaching his 40th birthday, he had given up on a highly successful career, had come out of a relationship and finally admitted to being depressed. He was lost. His only comfort blanket was to go birding, and through that he started to put his life back together. He didn't intend to do a Big Year, but found himself being carried along on a tsunami of rarity, stunning landscapes and the unexpected warmth of birding strangers who soon became friends. It became as much a medication as the little white pills that he was swallowing on a daily basis.

It's a painfully honest book. It is also a rollercoaster read as we join him on an unpredictable journey across the North American land mass, chasing down Sandy Komito's record, whilst also searching for a brighter future. Highly recommended.