Showing posts from November, 2016

A mid-1970s winter morning

A ringing alarm clock pierced the dark and woke me into a cold, still world. A glance out of the bedroom window confirmed that there was a heavy frost. The world looked pretty - from the twinkling stars down to the twinkling pavements - a winter wonderland that was soon to see me off to Beddington Sewage Farm. With a packed rucksack I ventured out of the back door to retrieve my bike from the garage, freezing to touch, not really all that inviting a prospect. The cold was chilling, but a four mile ride would soon warm me up. There was little traffic to detract me from watching my breath form into a grey vapour before my eyes. Apart from a fox dashing across the road in front of me my journey was uneventful, my eastward procession lit by the barely emerging sun. It all seemed portentous this dawning of the new day, full of hope and pregnant with possibility. Cycling over Hackbridge bridge and onto Mile Road opened up the farm on either side of me, the fields shockingly white with a se

A very tame buzzard

A morning spent at Canons Farm in the company of Geoff Barter - plus the confiding Common Buzzard (above), that has taken to hanging around Reeds Rest Cottages. The buzzard appears to be well and can fly without difficulty, so why it is being so unadventurous and 'tame' I do not know. Whatever its reasons, it sits on top of roofs, chimneys, barns and posts with little care for the passing birder. The image above has not been cropped and was taken with a bridge camera. A calmer, more sunnier day would be hard to find in the early winter, and although I couldn't claim that it was warm, the need for hat, gloves and scarf was redundant. There weren't many birds on show, so Geoff and I had to make do with a slow wander and plenty of waffle between the two of us. A flock of 60+ Skylark and a low count of four Yellowhammer (below) was made. Although I don't particularly want any, a dose of hard weather is needed to stir the ornithological pot up.

For whom the poll swells

Redpolls can be troublesome - troublesome, that is, if you start trying to identify every single individual that you come across. The problem is that they vary so much. At its simplest, we have three species: Lesser (Carduelis cabaret), Mealy or Common (Carduelis flammea) and Arctic (Carduelis hornemanni), although different authorities split these still further, while others lump them. It's confusing to say the least. Even when you have them in the hand it is not always a straightforward matter of clinching the identification, but sometimes it is. Take these two Mealies (Commons) that were trapped at Dungeness in early November, along with several accompanying Lessers. They were clearly larger, were heavier and the colouration was at once different. The top two images are of the same bird, whereas the bottom picture is of the second individual. I came across these images whilst having a look through the several hundred pictures that I took during my recent stay at Dunge

Take note

Is the field notebook becoming a threatened species? I ask, because I rarely see anybody using one nowadays. It was a staple of the birder's weaponery 'back in the day', as much a part of the ornithological arsenal as your bins, scope and ex-army jacket. Don't get this confused with the posh log book back at home, where the field notes were written up all neat of hand and full of additional flourish - I'm referring to the small, pocket-sized notebook where the day's counts and descriptions would be jotted down whilst in the field. These could get dirty, spattered in mud, wet with rain, crinkled at the edge and have pages torn from its innards - it was a tool of the field and if I ever left home without one I felt bereft. And if I did forget it then I have been known to then use any scrap of paper, inside of a field guide or back of a hand to scribble down all of that important info. Well, I say important meaning that it was to me. I did take it all a little to s

All's Ewell that ends Ewell

A brisk 15 minute walk from the front door sees me stepping onto Surrey Wildlife Trust's Priest Hill Reserve - all ex-farmland, then municipal playing fields, now reverting to scrubby grassland. It is quite high (for Surrey) and although not an obvious ornithological hot-spot, it does turn up a fair selection of passerine passage migrants. Today's surprise was a flock of four Reed Buntings (all females, one above). Locally, this is pretty amazing stuff. Nearby were a male and two female Stonechats, a species which is a regular passage migrant and winter visitor to this reserve. I always check them for an accompanying Dartford Warbler, but no luck again today. A further twenty minutes on finds me at the River Hogsmill in Ewell Village, a small watercourse that I could just about jump over (given a long run-up and my legs and lungs of 40 years ago). The three species that are almost a given at this time of year were present and correct - Little Egret, Kingfisher and Grey Wag

Nostalgia ain't what it used to be

Spike Milligan summed up the human need for nostalgia quite succinctly, and it went something like - "With the present so troubling, and the future so uncertain, the past is a warm place that holds no fears at all". Looking back in time and turning over the leaves of the past is something that I am quite comfortable in doing.  I do know some who shun such activities, that want to live in the present and not 'project' themselves back (or forward) in their minds. To unearth events that have happened to us can stir many emotions - feelings of loss, a reminder of lessons learnt, a warm glow of joy, sadness that we are no longer the young carefree individual - but as we possess a memory it is strange to me that we don't all embrace it. Speaking for myself I am selective in what I revisit and am more than aware that those moments that I select are heavily lit by a rosy glow. They are worth more to me than any physical possession. I don't just embrace them, I celeb

The fruits of late autumn

The hedgerows on Walton Downs were splendid this morning - plenty of leaf still intact and of various colour - plus an abundance of fruit, in particular Spindle, Rosehips, Buckthorn, Black Bryony, Wild Privet and Hawthorn. I don't think that I've seen such a show so late in the year. Spindle - an abundance of this gaudy pink fruit... ... which when split reveals an orange seed - colour co-ordination gone AWOL!! Plenty of Hawthorn still decked with haws and only a few thrushes taking advantage There were moderate numbers of thrushes around, with 50+ Redwing, 25 Blackbird, 15 Fieldfare and a smattering of Song Thrush. The fields harboured 50+ Skylark. I was pleased to find a couple of Marsh Tits still being faithful to Little Hurst Wood. Very poor picture follows...

Stealth birding

A Common Buzzard catches some dying rays I don't like a quick 'in-out' birding session, it just doesn't do it for me, but sometimes needs must. Most of the day was spent on domestic duties while nursing a sore throat and head cold (proper man flu I'll have you know). By 15.00hrs the weather had perked up a bit, and it seemed right to head for Canons Farm to try and see one of the two Barn Owls that have been present over the last few days. At 16.08hrs one of them duly performed, quartering across Harrier Field before going missing, only to return some ten minutes later. A flock of 60+ Skylarks were also noteworthy. A fifty minute visit that was more than satisfactory. Then back to my sick bed hoping for undeserved sympathy.

Box Hill Hike

There is an eight mile circular hike that starts and finishes at the Box Hill cafe and shop. Back in the summer we walked this trail, which boasts more than a few steep ascents and descents. An additional mile was added on, as we parked at Headley Heath and walked in to join the well-marked route. This morning, with Katrina, Rebecca and Jessica all willing and able, we tackled it once more. The weather was cold, sunny and calm. Ideal walking conditions... Headley Heath - a high plateau of gorse and heather with plenty of light woodland Autumn colours to the fore Once off of the high ground a series of wooded valleys lead to the eastern slopes of Box Hill As you head west along the slopes of Box Hill, you come across deep drove-ways, in places flanked by Juniper bushes Looking back west You are never far from a beech tree, these youthful examples rubbing shoulders with those much older We made steady time to Box Hill itself, and after a fortifying flapjack

Before the flood

If you haven't seen this film yet then maybe now is the time to do so. You can find it online, free to view, and a more sobering watch you will be hard pressed to find. The man behind it, actor Leonardo DiCaprio, has put together a documentary that looks at climate change, where we currently stand and what we can do to deal with it. Tipping points are too close for comfort (in fact we have already got to a point where in the short term we cannot rectify the situation in our lifetimes even if we stopped doing all that is wrong right now). We all contribute to its existence and big business certainly doesn't want us to change our ways - the oil companies and beef producers don't want to give up a cent, pound or euro of profit, even if it does mean that large swathes of the globe will become deserts and many coastal settlements plunged underwater. Economic migration will become biblical, wars will be fought over water, the planet's weather will turn wild. Life as we kno

The last Dungeness round-up... for now!

Great White Egrets are a daily given between August - April My peak count for the stay was of 15 birds, most numerous on Burrowes Pit and New Diggings It was a good autumn at Dungeness for Ring Ouzels... ...including this male that spent a couple of days in the moat feeding avidly on sloes Another young male that was trapped, ringed and released - possibly in North Africa now

A showy youngster

During the afternoon of October 15th, the 'North Kent popcorn twins', Mick and Richard, enticed this first winter Caspian Gull down onto Dungeness beach. It was bearing a red Polish ring. For an hour it paraded in front of us, allowing close examination. Why not share in our good fortune and take a look - it's quite a striking bird.

Chats - what's not to like?

You can never have too many chats. The past month at Dungeness did not see particularly good numbers unfortunately, and it was a case of appreciating them all the more when they did appear. Black Redstart on the power station boulders. I have seen an arrival of 100+ in the early 1980s Northern Wheatear - very few around, and none of the hoped for rarer species A male Stonechat, outside West Beach on my last morning

Pretentious? Moi?

The seas and skies at Dungeness are never anything short of inspirational. All of the following images have not been digitally enhanced at all. This is what it actually looked like. I have given them names because I am deeply pretentious. Orb Burnished Brass Torn ribbon Spun gold Here comes the calm

Dungeness: adult Caspian Gull

Now that I am back from my stay on the shingle (the locks hadn't been changed, my wife still recognised me, all of my books and albums had not been sold) I can now fill out a few posts with some of the images obtained with the trusty bridge and compact cameras. First up is this rather fetching adult Caspian Gull which graced the beach during the afternoon of October 30th. It had been lured in by the 'chumming' activity of Mick Southcott and Richard Smith, who, together with Dave Walker and Martin Casemore, papped the life out of it with their big lenses. Each one of their blogs are present on my 'worthy blogs' list which can be found on the right - do take a look. Although I'm pleased with these images they are blown out of the water by theirs! I do realise that gulls are like Marmite and some visitors to this blog have already switched off, but if you do like them then I can promise you another post featuring a most showy first-winter Caspian. I bet you ca

People and place

Almost time to go home. It is all too easy to compare what we've had here at Dungeness with what they've had at Spurn, or Shetland, or Portland - but that is missing the point. Being at Dungeness is more about people and the place. My time on the shingle is cherished regardless of what is seen. When I take into account that I've recorded 149 species of bird in four weeks, then to suggest that it has been poor can be seen as crass. Admittedly, passerine numbers have been dire, but highlights have included: Great Northern Diver (5), Black-necked Grebe (1), Sooty Shearwater (3), Manx Shearwater (1), Bittern, Great White Egret (peak of 15), Cattle Egret (1), Tundra Bean Goose (5), White-fronted Goose (several), Scaup (2), Hen Harrier (1), Goshawk (1), Osprey (1), a good cross section of waders, Pomarine Skua, Mediterranean Gull (a fine afternoon movement), Caspian Gull (2), Little Auk (3), Short-eared Owl (several), Woodlark (2), Ring Ouzel (in good number), Dartford Warbler (2

Bits and pieces...

...or a 'Dave Clark Five' kind of day, according to Mark H. If you don't understand the link, then ask your grandparents, or Google it... The day began with yet another beautiful sunrise, which got many of us snapping away with our cameras, although not to the same manic level as Owen L, who seems to be suffering with Tourette's of the aperture when it comes to cataloging the changing skies at Dungeness. No arrival, no proper viz-mig, but an interesting day on the sea. Across the peninsula, highlights included Great Northern Diver, a handful of Little Auks, a few Sooty Shearwaters, two very smart Common Redpolls (both trapped), a Cattle Egret and an adult female Goshawk, which made it a right old mix of species. I didn't see it all, but did see the latter with my personal chauffeur Mark H, as we drove along the track at Dengemarsh. Maybe typical of November, a virtual avian pick-and-mix!

Scaup mini-twitch

The Dungeness point maintained its silence this morning, and that resulted in practically every birder defecting to the RSPB reserve. Here at least there are birds - in fact, it is nothing short of a tremendous place to visit at any time of year. In late Autumn you can guarantee Great White Egrets, Little Egrets, Bearded Tits, Cetti's Warblers, Water Rails, Tree Sparrows and Marsh Harriers; there will also be Merlin, Bittern and Raven if you stay long enough. Wildfowl numbers will have swollen and the Lapwing flock harbours ever increasing numbers of Golden Plovers. And all that is just for starters and plenty of other notable species will be lurking. One such species 'lurking' this morning was Scaup, with two immature females found by Mark H on Dengemarsh. These birds were the first at Dungeness for over two-and-a-half years, and prompted a mini-twitch. It didn't used to be this way. Back in the mid-1970s to the late 80s they were found easily on Scotney, Lade Pit an