Showing posts from December, 2016

New links and next year

The end of year blog tidy is underway. Some of my blog links seem to have been inactive for a length of time that suggests that they are no longer maintained, so they have been removed (and if they are awoken at a later date, please let me know). In their place I have added some fresh blood. Please welcome: Madcap pan-lister Seth Gibson  who has found himself living on a Scottish Island for the winter, and between this, and a possible return to the Isles of Scilly in the summer, will regale us with his search to identify every living thing that he comes across. He has no limits... he has no shame... expect a hairy ride. I do have a soft spot for the south and south-west English coast, so am happy to welcome the following blogs into the ND&B fold: Birding Exmouth,   Axe Birding,   Sea & Sky I will be adding a few more over the coming weeks. I broke tradition in 2016 and had no firm targets or plans for my natural history time. 2017 will be different. For the first time i

Uncle Ronnie

Mummy, why are all those people staring at our house? They're birdwatching Johnny. But why are they staring at our house? Because the bird that they have come to see is in our garden. Don't they have birds in their own gardens? Well they do, but the bird they have come to look at is rare. Why is it rare? Well, as far as I know, these birdwatchers keep a list of all the different types of bird that they have seen, and if a bird that usually lives in another country comes to our country, then they all get in their cars and drive to see it. Why? That's a very good question Johnny. Mummy? Yes Johnny. Why are they all men? I don't really know, but I'd imagine that most women have got better things to do. And why are they all like Uncle Ronnie? What do you mean Johnny? Well, they all look like him. I've told you before, we've got to be kind to Uncle Ronnie, he has difficulties with people. And hygiene. He cannot help the way he lo

The year of birding locally

'Slowly, slowly, catchee monkey...' That was going to be my approach to birding locally during 2016. Once again I was going to ignore the birding hotspots of Beddington (helped by having given up my key) and Holmethorpe (which was getting good coverage) and concentrate on the places seldom visited. I had tried something similar in 2015, but there was a poor return and I most probably did too much in the spring which resulted in burn-out and disappointment. If I were going to survive the year and not end up all bitter and twisted about it, then I needed to reduce expectations, not try too hard, and just go with the flow. And as it turned out, it all went very well indeed... The opening day of January saw me at Canons Farm, and over the following two months, most of my efforts were put here. All was quite sedate until 28th February, when a first-winter Iceland Gull  (right) arrived on the freshly ploughed fields, allowing a handful of the locals to catch up with this 'C

A human conceit?

Human beings are blessed with intellect and an ability for critical thinking. It enables us to identify almost everything that we share the Earth with, from soil types, component elements, the fauna and the flora. We also attach unique names to each and every 'thing' that comes along. Everything. And here lies the conceit of doing so - we really do believe that we can differentiate between all the species. Take birds. All 10,000-ish species. As the Victorians worked their way through the world, collecting and naming, they lay the foundation for the modern taxonomists. The 20th century natural historian then continued to add to this knowledge, with most of the world's species catalogued and checklists became fully formed. There was the odd new species discovered, but this was mostly put down to the exploring of remote corners of the world. Then the taxonomists took over... Most of what we come across can be identified. Pictures and illustrations can still do it for us. B

A Christmas dozen

JANUARY A murmuration of Black-tailed Godwits over Pulborough Brooks FEBRUARY The basis for a future painting - male Reed Bunting and buds at Holmethorpe MARCH The early promise of the summer to come in the form of a Small Tortoiseshell at Canons Farm APRIL Lilliputian flora at Dungeness - Early Forget-me-not MAY Green Hairstreak warming up in the morning sun, Chipstead Bottom JUNE A day at Box Hill with the DSLR camera capturing Sainfoin on the southern slopes JULY The Boquer Valley spills into the Med, with Balearic Warblers and Eleonora's Falcons to ease the journey AUGUST Perennial Sow-thistles at Langley Vale Farm - the commonplace becomes art form SEPTEMBER An orthopteran snacking Stonechat, Canons Farm OCTOBER Adult Caspian Gull at Dungeness NOVEMBER Golden dawn at Dungeness DECEMBER It's either a Robin or a clump of Mistletoe...

More buntings

The Priest Hill Reed Bunting wintering population goes from strength to strength - there were at least 13 present today, scattered across the site, with the largest flocks being a six and a four. Only two of the birds are males. This is unprecedented for the site and the species is not to be expected away from Beddington and Holmethorpe. Overflying migrants (that usually wouldn't stop), are no doubt being enticed down by the calls of those wintering below. Long may it continue. Also present were two Stonechats, and as you know, I never miss an opportunity to upload another image. This female was particularly tame. Afterwards I couldn't resist another check on the River Hogsmill at Ewell. The Water Rail was still being faithful to its favoured stretch, where two Common Snipe noisily exited as I peered over the vegetated bank. A couple of Kingfishers were also in the general area. No Little Egret this morning, although this young Grey Heron was most obliging.

Birthday Box

58 today... bloody hell, is that possible? I still feel as if I am but a youngster, even if the mirror tells me otherwise. What better way to spend the morning than to drag the family up Box Hill to sample a fine cross-section of cakes at the top! The weather Gods obviously knew it was my birthday as the skies were blue, the sun at its winter best and the need for hats, scarves and gloves not necessary. We even sat outside to consume the calories. Bird-wise it was very quiet indeed, but with the stunning scenery of the Surrey Alps before us, that was a minor inconvenience. At the base of the hill, (the river is to the right), the scarp cliff is commanding, smothered in Yew and Box The River Mole by the stepping stones crossing, home to Kingfisher, Goosander and Mandarin Looking across the 'zig-zag' valley towards Juniper Top. Home to a stunning chalk flora and notable insects

Woodcock in the murk

Another calm, mild, grey and murky day here in north Surrey. The birdlife across Walton Downs (above) was largely as anonymous as the weather, although I did flush a Woodcock from a strip of woodland - species number 106 for the 'mini-uber patch' year list (111.5% of the target). This may even be enough to give Mr. Sexton and his Northumbrian list a bit of a run for his money. The Woodland Trust have been busy, planting up a further field with saplings for the Millennium Wood project, along with the erection of a bench that neatly conveys the reserves aim of commemorating all those who fell during World War One.

My birds of the year

There is nothing for you here if you are hoping for tales of epic twitches - my days of such tomfoolery are long gone. And even if I didn't trot off to see a Siberian Accentor or a Dusky Thrush, I feel as if I did, so numerous were the tweets and posts that conveyed the joy of doing so (plus a plethora of near identical images). We certainly celebrate our natural history headlines in one convulsion of sameness! Of course they were stunning birds, near mythical species that have now been consumed by those that wanted to feast upon them, but rarity is relative - after all, fewer people have seen Blue Tit in my garden than have seen Siberian Accentor at Spurn - (insert winky emoji face here). So, in my modest birding bubble, what species 'did it' for me in the UK in 2016? Away from Surrey, I spent a total of six weeks at Dungeness, a week in Dorset and made a handful of visits to Pulborough Brooks in West Sussex. Birding time was kind, although the shingle was hard work. How

Settling down to winter

Another visit to Priest Hill, and, Cattle Egret apart, there seems to be a familiarity about the bird life present. With such a benign winter it is little wonder that there isn't much moving, and no surprise that what is present is staying put. I gave all of the meadows a good grilling, with the smallest of them pictured above. Simply put, the area is largely open grassland, liberally sprinkled with low bushes and shrubs. Small copses populate the edges which are further bordered by playing fields, horse paddocks and light residential. The sky, I'm pleased to say, is BIG. The 'notable' wintering population numbers: Skylark (6), Meadow Pipit (10), Stonechat (2-3), Blackbird (30), Song Thrush (10), Fieldfare and Redwing (small numbers but even in a mild winter this varies from visit to visit), Linnet (40), Goldfinch (15), Greenfinch (6), Reed Bunting (3+). I still harbour hopes of a lurking Dartford Warbler with the chats - I haven't given up yet...

Trooping of the funnel

I took myself off to Juniper Top and Bottom this morning, still nursing a sore throat and head cold, although it does finally seem to be on the wane (I'm not expecting any sympathy by the way). My walk was circular, taking in plenty of dark footpaths that were swaddled in yew, ivy, moss and fern. There were plenty of birds, mainly marauding flocks of tits (which did include 11 Marsh, spread out along the route) and thrushes (110+ Redwing were the most numerous). One particular Yew was huge, the photograph below does not do justice to its size, although to help I have added three green dots which mark the six foot point from the ground. Yes, it was big! There was little in the way of fungi, although one smart fruiting body caught my attention, which if I'm not mistaken is a Trooping Funnel (below). I attach a caveat to all my fungi identification - it's a bloody minefield...

Those paths less travelled

I've come to realise that, as far as my birding is concerned, I am always trying to look beyond the next hedge, to search that distant wood, to check out the nearby hill top. The lure of 'what comes next'  is strong, but it is also a case of taking on ground that others do not check. My time spent birding is mostly a solitary thing - that isn't necessarily down to being anti-social, just a byproduct of wanting to bird 'unbirdy' places, where few others will gamble on wasting their time. But having said that, if I do see a birder checking out an area ahead of me I will turn the other way and look somewhere else - a mixture of spreading the effort and wanting to experience quiet. Solitude is all a part of the game in my book. Any patch that I have adopted, for however short a time, will have an accompanying band of players, from the daily obsessives to those that pop in once every few weeks. And once an area is receiving moderate coverage from others, that is


When nature does 'big' there is little that can beat it. A large flock, a hillside smothered in flower, a spectacular sky, each of them can reduce us to an open-mouthed and humbled observer. I have been lucky enough to have witnessed several instances of this during 2016, two of which I share here. Both are botanically themed and both were close to home. The UK is blessed with some of the largest populations of the Bluebell in the world. Locally we have several woods that are home to literally hundreds of thousands (if not a millions) of them. Each year we go along to see them, but to get the timing right, when most of the plants are in good flower, can be hit or miss. In an early year they can peak in late-April, in a late it will be mid-May. To get it wrong is to find plenty yet to open, or a show that is sullied by browning flowers that have gone over. This year however, we timed it to perfection, and it was a good year for them to boot. The following images are from Marge

Misty farmland hop

I arrived at Mogador in brilliant sunshine, but almost immediately a sudden fog descended, rendering the binoculars pointless. However, it was most atmospheric, with sound coming to the fore: the low roar of the M25 fancifully becoming the rumble of distant waves; church bells sending me back to the drowsy Sundays of childhood; lone Fieldfare and Meadow Pipit calling above the gloom, searching for those below the blanket of mist. The sun was trying very hard to burn the meteorological interloper off (above) and within twenty minutes had succeeded. Mogador is an area of open farmland just north of the North Downs scarp at Colley Hill, sandwiched between Banstead Heath and the A217. It is (for Surrey) on high ground and characterised by large fields with scant hedges and tiny stunted copses. I have long considered it to be full of promise, but there again when did I ever look at a parcel of land and think otherwise? I can expect chats in the spring and autumn, and dream of better, r

Two bees from 2016

Insects fascinate me, and by that I don't just mean the obvious butterflies and moths. If I had infinite time, patience and was able to possess all of the many keys available, then I might just attempt at having a proper go at identifying groups such as the beetles, wasps, ants, bees and flies (there are more... many more). It is still possible to appreciate them without the need to name them of course, and that is where I find myself most of the time - something pops up, takes my fancy and maybe, just maybe, gets identified. There were two species that caught my attention in 2016, both quite showy and eminently identifiable. The first was a rare bee, found at only a handful of sites in southern England, one which just so happens to be the RSPB reserve at Dungeness. Please say hello to Andrena vaga , The Grey-backed Mining Bee: I had looked for this bee in previous years, but always left it too late (April is the best time to look) or happened to coincide my searches with i

Photographic Phriday

The local birding scene is being very good to me at the moment, with plenty of interest and the odd surprise ready to leap out and take me unawares. This morning had me visiting the River Hogsmill in Ewell, which was sandwiched between two brief stops at Priest Hill. With all things being relative, it was a case of time being well spent and rewarded. The Hogsmill at Ewell is a narrow, winding watercourse that is shallow and well vegetated With several Moorhens was this furtive, camera-shy Water Rail. A Common Snipe had just been flushed from a bed of Water-cress. Grey Wagtails are commonplace along this stretch, sharing the area with Kingfishers and Little Egrets Mistletoe at Priest Hill - well, it is almost Christmas! Let it never be said that I ever pass up the opportunity to pap a Stonechat - this female at Priest Hill

A dream come true

Butterflies in 2016 - a meeting with valezina To be perfectly honest, it was only recently that I had started to harbour a desire to see a valezina form Silver-washed Fritillary. The fires were stoked by the tales of Matthew Oates in the excellent book 'In Pursuit of Butterflies' where his searches for the forms of Purple Emperors and Silver-washed Fritillaries became tales of wonder. About the same time, whilst reading up on the life of local entomologist and artist FW Frowhawk, I discovered that the valezina butterfly was such a favourite of his that he had named his daughter after it - and then, together with Jon Dunn, we made a pilgrimage to the great man's grave at Headley, in Surrey. The time seemed ripe to find one. Apparently, this form is not common in Surrey. I see the species without trouble in the wooded areas of Banstead, Reigate and Box Hill, but never of the desired form. Further west, in the woods of Dorset and Hampshire, the proportion of valezina fem

Patch update

Another circuit of the large meadow at Priest Hill was indulged in this afternoon. The Belted Galloway cattle were feasting away, but I was unable to locate a Cattle Egret among them. After last Friday's fly-by I have been wondering whether or not it might have been tempted to come back and spend some time with them... I really must have a proper look at this SWT reserve, as this afternoon's hour 'glance' produced a Skylark, 2 Meadow Pipit, a Redwing, a female Stonechat, 25+ Linnet, a Lesser Redpoll and 2 Reed Bunting. I keep saying it, but this place has bucket loads of potential. Those of you with a good memory may recall that I have taken on Northumberland's Stewart Sexton in a repeat of our 2015 Patch Challenge (which he easily won). My target for 2016 was set at 95 species (last years total). So far this year I have recorded 103 species, which is 108.42% of my target. Will that be enough to topple Mr. Sexton? Time will tell.

Nests, nettles and lips

2016 botanical highlights I adopted a rather laid-back approach to looking for plants this year. There were no target species named and no worthy aims, just a case of observing whatever I came across. There are downsides to this casual approach - unless I am keeping a list for a site I tend not to identify 'hard-to-do' species, so a whole raft of crucifers, grasses, roses and willows (to name but a few) were left well alone. Last year saw a great local flowering of several species, particularly orchids. This was not repeated in 2016. However, there were some breathtaking botanically induced scenes, and these will be dealt with in a future post. So, what were the stand-out moments? I've chosen three... Literary Bird's-nests At the end of 2015 I was contacted by Jon Dunn, Shetland-based 'virtual-friend', author and blogger. He had been commissioned to write a book about the UK's orchids and was wondering if I would like to assist him in his search for a de