Showing posts from September, 2016

Useless directions

You are out birding with a small group of friends. Each of you are scanning the sky, looking out to sea or grilling the nearby vegetation. And then the moment comes when one of you has got something! Something good!! But now there is the need to get everybody else onto it - there is the need to give directions. The following are genuine, and totally useless... For a petrel flying across a stormy sea "Over that wave!" For the reason that two distant stints keep being lost from view "One is behind the other" For a high raptor on a totally clear day "In the blue sky" For a Pied Flycatcher on the edge of a wood "In front of that tree" For a putative Caspian Gull in amongst a flock of hundreds of juvenile gulls "Near the immature gull" For a fly-through early hirundine "Over there" Giving directions can become an art form, a place for showing off ones natural history knowledge and a chance to

A stubble field in north Surrey

It started when I reached the most western (and highest) part of Walton Downs. I was on the edge of one of the Langley Vale Farm copses when I heard a number of Greylag Geese calling - (not to be sniffed at locally) - estimating that maybe half a dozen might be involved. I scanned the sky, picked up two geese coming towards me and was puzzled by the fact that there were only the two of them and that they were both Canada. Nothing else came along, and it all went quiet. Only a minute later I came in view of a small part of a large stubble field. And not 100m away were 13 of these: Now, 13 Greylag Geese may not mean much to you, but away from Holmethorpe and Beddington, this is a ND&B moment of joy! The geese were restless and started to walk away, down the hill and out of view. I followed them, creeping along the edge of a copse until it stopped, revealing to me a panoramic view of the whole field - which looked like this!! Bloody hell, had I been transported to Slimbrid

American whimsy

I haven't had a moan for a while, so here goes... I've noticed a certain word cropping up on natural history Facebook groups and in plenty of tweets. It is a word used to describe an insect - normally a small insect, and usually one that has not been identified. And that word is CRITTER. FFS - critter. A word that has come from the folksy, whimsical world of Americana. You can imagine a good ole boy on his rocking chair, sitting out on the verandah in Texas, or Georgia, or Alabama (you pick), swatting those 'pesky critters' as he chews tobacco and screams "Yee-ha!" I've most probably broken several rules on racial stereotyping there, but you get my drift. What next? Spiders referred to as "Lil' fellas"? Wasps as "stripy dudes"? To quote one Jim Royle, "Critters my arse..."

These are a few of my favourite things...

Chats! I love 'em! Whinchats, Stonechats, Wheatears, Common Redstarts, Black Redstarts - I could go on. They are colourful, perform out in the open, are largely tolerant of us birders and, at the risk of being accused of anthropomorphism, full of charm. And when I came across a tight knit group of a Whinchat and three Stonechats at Canons Farm this afternoon, I was a happy lad. All four were faithful to a short run of hedgerow, fence and stubble at Reeds Rest Bottom for at least two hours. I left them as the rain set in and would have stayed but for the schoolboy error of not taking a jacket out with me. The bridge camera managed to get a few reasonable shots, one a 'mood' setter of both species on a fence, plus a bonus image of one of the male Stonechats with an orthopteran snack in its bill (above), which I didn't notice until I checked the images on the computer. Enjoy!

Where have all the moths gone?

Last night was muggy and overcast. At 23.00hrs I was still able to sit out in the garden, dressed in t-shirt and shorts. In the mid-distance I could see light from the garden MV trap illuminating the lawn and nearby bushes. I sat and stared towards this lit area for maybe ten minutes, but there was barely a movement in the light. I had to sadly admit to myself that the moths were not going to be gathering tonight... The fall in moth numbers has been gathering pace over a fair few years now and at a national level. From missing the 'moth snowstorm' in the car headlights, to the memories of gatherings at lit house windows, it is becoming a painful realisation that population levels of all our insects are in free-fall. In August 1975 I attended a wedding reception at a village hall in Tring, in Hertfordshire. It was a warm evening and as it became dark the lit windows started to attract hundreds of moths. My interest in such things was known, and I was soon joined by severa

Low-maintenance Whinchats

Heat haze. Against the light. At distance. No excuses, this is a very poor record shot being used as 'visual filler'. I've not posted for at least five days - that is some sort of modern record. I bumped into Geoff Barter down at Canons Farm this morning, who commented on my lack of blogging. He thought that I must have hoofed it off to Dungeness or something. When I explained that I hadn't really seen much, he replied: "Well that doesn't usually stop you!" To borrow one of Geoff's own sayings, nuff said... Back to this morning's Canons Farm vigil. It was hard going. Empty stubble fields. Quiet hedgerows. Silent copses. And just six miles away (as the Sabine's Gull flies), Beddington was having a stormer. So Geoff and I waited for any of their crumbs to come our way. Our wait was long, and hot, and largely barren. All was saved by a group of five Whinchats that haunted the bean crop in Skylark Field (one of them appears above). Up to


It's been a good few days for the London and Surrey birding fraternity - an Ortolan here, an Osprey there - all decent stuff for the inland patcher. With a slightly delayed start, and tweets coming in reporting a bit of viz-mig in southern Surrey, I entered Canons Farm in a state of anticipation. After half an hour it seemed as if the birds had decided to bypass me. But then a few hirundines started to show, then a Yellow Wagtail called, a Lapwing rose up from Harrier Field and left westwards and everything became a lot more promising. The four hour session resulted in: 7 Cormorant (a messy flock north), 6 Common Buzzard, 2 Sparrowhawk, 1 Peregrine (an immature bird trying its luck with Woodpigeons at Tattenham Meadow, maybe one of this years Sutton birds), 1 Lapwing (grounded in Harrier Field then left westwards), 2 Common Swift, 420 Swallow (mostly heading SSW), 80 House Martin (likewise), 6 Yellow Wagtail (all singles flying S or SW), 1 Whitethroat, 6 Chiffchaff and 3 Yellowha

Dark Spectacle

Here is one of the two Dark Spectacles that came to the garden MV last night. After singles in 2014 and 2015, these are the 3rd and 4th records, so it appears to be colonising locally. I didn't see this moth until 2012, when a single at Greatstone in Kent made me realise that I wasn't overlooking this species, and it was just missing back home in Banstead. It isn't that uncommon nearby in Surrey, so why they were shy of my small plot of land I'll never know - they seem to like it now.

Lady's on the downs

A grass verge, almost opposite the race course grandstands on Epsom Downs, is now playing host to several hundred Autumn Lady's Tresses, that small autumn orchid that loves a short, chalky sward. On September 8th last year I counted 2,000 spikes, but there were fewer this morning.

The garden chronicles

It's one of those lists that all birders keep, even if they do not consider themselves to be listers - I would go as far to say that if any of them say that they do not keep this particular list, then they are fibbing. I'm talking about the 'garden list'. There is one great big crumb of comfort in keeping one, and that is, unless you live with another birder, you cannot be gripped off. Whether you live on a coastal headland or in a city centre, there are many hours of enjoyment to be had in its collation. I have lived at my current address since August 1987. That means I have spent many thousands of hours looking out over the 90ft back garden and 25ft front. There is a mature ash tree, there was a Lawson's Cypress (felled in 2014) and the planting is a mixture of wildlife friendly and easy to maintain species. A small pond has been a fixture over the years. The area is mature residential with a recent trend for developers to buy up larger gardens and build on th

Late summer on the farm

What better way to celebrate the arrival of September than to head out for a day's birding at a top location. Dungeness? Portland? Spurn? No, Canons Farm... I shouldn't be so harsh on the place, as it has given me a lot of pleasure over the years. Unrewarded hard graft and frustrating days may outweigh the good birds and notable migration, but, as one wise old birder once said to me, "you remember your good days because of your poor ones." Today was an inbetweeny one. I was joined throughout by Geoff Barter, another birder of a certain age that can happily choose to wander the birding wastelands of northern Surrey on the back of a lifetimes worth of 'birding good times' from elsewhere - maybe Canons Farm is like a retirement home for the satiated ornithologist. According to Geoff's phone app, we walked five miles across, up and over the farm today. We did give it a good bash, and not without reward: a Red Kite, 10 Common Buzzard, 2 Hobby, 4 Sparrowh