Showing posts from August, 2016

Recent garden moths

I've been largely negligent as far as recording the garden moths here in Banstead this year. The MV has rarely been operated, and I don't really know why. However, with the recent heat, and with it the accompanying muggy nights, I have been stung into action. Migrant wise it has been the expected fayre - a few Silver Y, xylostella, ferrugalis and noctuella . Tree-lichen Beauty, White-point, and Jersey Tiger are all present and correct still. A few Maiden's Blush (there has been some forum discussion that some of these might be migrants, but I usually record a few here every summer). This morning saw the years first Orange Swift (top) and a micro that I have not knowingly recorded before, even though it is very common, Celypha lacunana (left). As always, I am open to correction.

Panning for patch gold

A dreary, blustery morning was spent trudging over the downs and heaths just south of Banstead. That sentence contains more than its fair share of negative and despondent words, but that is how I felt. A lot of effort for little reward. There were many hedgerows, copses and fields apparently devoid of birds, with even the distant call of a Chiffchaff bringing forth bursts of excitement that were disproportionate to the event itself. But us inland (water-body free) patch birders are hardened to this sort of stuff, so I plodded on. After all, it is the season of surprises... When I got to Mogador things did pick up a bit. This area of farmland, paddock and rough grassland has become a bit of a favourite of mine. It is good for passage chats, and during the winter there is normally a sizeable Redwing and Fieldfare flock. One day this place will turn up something very good indeed. But not today, although single Whinchat and Spotted Flycatcher (left) are not to be sniffed at. Locally,

Whinchats to the rescue

The hedgerows and isolated trees of Canons Farm were not dripping with migrants this morning. To be honest, it was hard work. However, the area just north of Reeds Rest Cottages was playing host to a group of four Whinchats (one of them above), and they stayed put for at least a couple of hours, unfortunately keeping their distance from the footpath. Always a pleasure, one of my favourite birds. Apart from meagre numbers of Whitethroats, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs, all the migrant action was in the sky, with three Common Swifts, two Sand Martins and 80+ Swallow feeding above the barley fields.

A bridge camera too far

A few weeks ago, my two-year old Nikon Coolpix P600 bridge camera decided that it had had enough of me and died. The LCD monitor was lifeless, even though the camera was 'on'. However, without the monitor you cannot use the settings, so it was a case of seeing how much the repair would cost - into the realm of three figures as it turned out. It was time to say goodbye. I had always been impressed with the results that Steve Broyd had coaxed out of his Canon PowerShot SX50, especially those of birds which I rated as superior to mine that had been taken with the Nikon. The upgrade on the SX50 (which is no longer available) is the SX60 HS, and after several weeks of deliberation I bit the bullet and bought one. A quick power up and point and shoot out in the garden this evening was encouraging, with the zoom lens trained on a couple of Woodpigeon, and the macro setting tested on the micro moth Agriphila geniculea (both images below). Those Canons Farm Red-backed Shrikes and W

Additions to the library

It's been a busy few weeks for the purchasing of natural history books - Mrs ND&B has quipped that we will need more shelf space for them, but the answer to that one is simple - she needs to ditch some of her gardening and cookery books... First up is the Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of the Western Mediterranean by Chris Thorogood (Kew). It is a weighty tome, and I was loathe to actually take it out into the field with me when in Majorca recently. However, armed with specimens or photographs, this really is the first stop when trying to identify those plants that you come across inbetween watching Bee-eaters, Audouin's Gulls and Woodchat Shrikes. At 600 plus pages long, it is packed with photographs and line drawings of over 2,500 species, largely from the camera and hand of the author. It is a monumental undertaking for a single person, and obviously was the fruit from a labour of love. If you visit the area on holiday, or just like to hold and enjoy a well produced

Return to Canons Farm

It's been a clear three months since I've birded at Canons Farm. Lured out by the (imagined) promise of passerine migrants, I toiled under a hot sun for close to six hours, and was scantly rewarded with a Wheatear, a Willow Warbler and low level counts of Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps, Whitethroats and Swallows. Just as well I don't wear 'birding blinkers'... Butterflies to the rescue? Well, yes and no. Numbers were pants. However, two Clouded Yellows (Reeds Rest Bottom and Fames Rough) were a delight, especially as these were fully coloured-up individuals, unlike my previous two records from here, which were both of the pale helice form. A briefly showy Brown Hairstreak presented itself along a hedgerow by Woodpecker Meadow, and a tatty Silver-washed Fritillary was just about flying at Fames Rough. None of those to be sniffed at. Botanical highlight was, without doubt, a mass-flowering of Devil's-bit Scabious. The whole of Sheep Brow seems to be covered in lit

The tale of some knotgrass, plus a local meeting

Last week, whilst wandering along the top of the beach at Sidmouth, I spied several 'fleshy' knotgrass plants lying prostrate on the shingle. I had no camera, no eyeglass, no nothing. I suspected that they might be Ray's Knotgrass, a species that I have only seen once before (further east along the coast at Charmouth). It was a hot day, there were holiday-makers sitting on their towels only feet away from the plants in question and I didn't want to invade their space to collect a piece for later identification. So I left them, but felt that if they were Ray's, then it was something that might just be noteworthy. I wouldn't be going back to Sidmouth any time soon, but I knew of a 'blogging virtual friend' who lived right on the doorstep... I sent an email to Karen Woolley, author of the excellent blog Wild Wings and Wanderings . She has a deep interest in botany, soon went along to have a look, and indeed they were Ray's and a tick for her to boot!

Some alternative meanings for our bird names...

Avocet:  the envy of others optics Bobolink:  agitation at not being able to travel for a bird Bonxie: what happens to your pants after several days in a rain forest Brambling: the meandering route taken whilst in search of a rarity Bufflehead: a group of birders watching gulls Capercaillie: the air quality in a car after an overnight doss Chiffchaff: soreness on the inner thigh caused by walking to Blakeney Point Chough:  to silently break wind in a bird hide Dotterel:  a loitering crowd waiting for 'the bird' to turn up Dunlin:  most of the stock in an RSPB shop Dunnock: to be 'caught short' whilst out birding Fulmar: an excuse made to bunk off work to go birding Gadwall: to join in a social media discussion in which you have no direct connection Garganey: to injure yourself while running for a rare bird Goosander: to come across a courting couple whilst out birding Hoopoe: the inside of an observatory fridge Kittiwake: the drowning of sorr

The (un)naming of parts

Mrs ND&B and I are on a short break in a part of the world that we both love - the Devon/Dorset border. Even though we are here sans children (well they are 25 and 20!) we still find ourselves visiting places that we took them to all of those years ago, such as the Donkey Sanctuary east of Sidmouth. After stroking several of the sanctuaries inmates we then took the coastal path to Weston Mouth. This had nothing to do with the presence of a screaming botanical rarity, Purple Gromwell. It is not in flower at this time of year, but there was plenty to be found in fruit. A nice little sideline this botanical lark... It has been a holiday without me nipping off with binoculars, although, as illustrated above, it is hard not to take notice of the natural history - 4 Greenshank were on the beach at Charmouth on Tuesday, several Peregrines have shown up between Sidmouth and Golden Cap and whilst sitting in a posh Lyme Regis hotel garden, eating a cream tea, a couple of Fulmar were messin

Red Hemp-nettle and another mass flowering

I don't need an excuse to return to Langley Vale Farm, home to a fine array of arable plant rarities. Compared to last year, my visits in 2016 have been not as frequent. Some field margins have been specifically spared the planting of crops to hopefully benefit the plants and, to a certain extent, this has delivered. This morning I luckily bumped into local botanist Dennis Skinner. He kindly informed me that Red Hemp-nettle, a species discovered here two summers ago, was showing once again. I know this plant from the shingle beaches of Dungeness and Rye, but not from arable Surrey - it is not common anywhere, and certainly not in my home county. I needed no encouragement to go and look for the three plants reported as being present. I found them easily... Apart from Small Toadflax and Sharp-leaved Fluellen, there was no representation from the other rare arable plants present. I did come across a few strikingly pale-pink Scarlet Pimpernel flowers. These didn't appear to

I've been spambotted!!

When I was in Majorca, happily posting away at the end of another hot and bird-filled day, the traffic visiting ND&B was very healthy. A 'normal' day's worth of page views was settled in the 400-600 range, with the odd day total topping these figures. All good for the ego if not for the wallet... But then things really took off. Over three consecutive days the page views rose - 900... then 1540... then a record breaking 1613... my head started to swell, this drivel that I was pumping out was obviously getting noticed, and fame was surely beckoning just around the corner. I have had spikes in numbers before, especially when a post has been linked on a highly popular site (such as a BirdForum thread). I went searching for such a link, but found none. I then opened up my 'audience' data - hmmm, something fishy was going on. On each of these 'boom-days' I was getting over a thousand hits from Russia! Was I suddenly big in the Urals? Was my Moscow fan-base

A zig-zag full of silver spots and belles

The Victorians referred to the area as 'The Surrey Alps', and although the hills around Dorking may not actually resemble the said mountains of mainland Europe, they are quite impressive all the same - they just don't stand up to a direct comparison. This morning, with the sun shining, I elected to venture onto the slopes of the Box Hill zig-zag, so called after the narrow road that - you've guessed it - zig-zags its way up to the summit. (See, even I'm getting in on the Victorian's act by using such a lofty term to describe the top of the hill). This area has historically drawn naturalists from far and wide, thanks in no small part to a tremendous assemblage of plants and butterflies. Todays stars were the number of Silver-spotted Skipper (above) that were on the wing - a minimum of 65. I spent most of my visit with one or two in view, with at least eight at once for one heady minute. Also present was a moth that is found increasingly rarely from just a

Narrow-lips and a valezina

Sheepleas, a Surrey Wildlife Trust reserve situated between Guildford and West Horsley, is one of those places that had dropped off of my radar. I last visited in 1998, from when I can remember a vast network of footpaths, and was also aware that Narrow-lipped Helleborine can occur there. This local and decreasing species is something of a phantom in the county, often being nibbled by deer (or slugs) before it gets a chance to flower - and that is if it decides to appear above ground at all! So, when a number of twitter and Facebook account holders started to post images of said orchid from said reserve, my curiosity was awoken... The short story is that I saw 24 spikes in all, within a small, discrete area: The nearby meadows were crammed to bursting point with flower. I have never seen so much Clustered Bellflower in one place, nudging neighbouring Marjoram, Wild Basil, Agrimony, Common Knapweed, Burnet Saxifrage and St.John's Wort (didn't specify them!) for room

Thoughts on the Purple Gallinule

Chinese Pond Heron... Dalmatian Pelican... and now Purple Gallinule (or Swamphen, if you prefer). These are all birds that have 'arrived' in the UK, whose identification is beyond doubt, and yet whose credentials have (or are) being questioned. "Can we count them?" "Are they wild?" "Where are they kept in captivity?" "Do they breed ferally on mainland Europe?" All perfectly good questions that are asked whenever a 'contentious' species turns up. It's funny how certain species, some screaming rarities, do not elicit any such responses. Mainly passerines, waders and seabirds. They presumably pass some sort of 'acceptance filter', an unwritten and unacknowledged component wired into most birders' brains. The same cannot be said for wildfowl... But back to the Purple Gallinule/Swamphen. This is a species that does get caught in the 'acceptance filter'. It's not a species that is considered a w