Showing posts from January, 2017

A camera called Lazarus

The Panasonic DMC-TZ7 came into my possession in April 2010 - it was during the time that the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull was sending ash up into the atmosphere and cancelling flights across the UK. That has absolutely no relevance to my purchase, but gives you, the reader, a flavour of what was happening at the time (ash flavour, as it goes). In those seven years it has performed admirably, and has the best macro facility on any compact camera that I have seen. Its small size means that it can comfortably fit into a pocket and be carried effortlessly around chalk downland, up hills, through woods and across shingle. But it has tried to leave me three times now... ONE I was sea watching alone one early May morning at Dungeness, stood outside of the first hide. It was quiet, so I walked up to the patch hide (some 300m along the beach) to spend a bit of time looking through the gulls and terns that were feeding at the power station's water outfall. After an hour I decided t

Mickleham winter flora

I normally go and pay my respects to the 'winter' flora in the Mickleham area each January, and seeing that it is February on Wednesday I only had two days in which to keep up my record. A grey, drizzly morning kept the light low and gave everything the feeling of being in two dimensions - flat was the word. I started at the White Hill car park and was soon checking the old wall that runs alongside the isolated cottage. It is here that you can usually find Rustyback , and I was pleased to come across two plants, mixed in with the more numerous Wall-rue . Then onto the slopes of Mickleham Downs, home to a great south-eastern rarity, truly wild Wild Candytuft . Several hundred plants are present, although I went no further than the first flowering plant that I came across. This species is in flower all year round here, although the books don't refer to it as having a constant flowering season. Nearby was plenty of Stinking Hellebore , in various sizes and age. Both these sp

Fake news and alternative facts

(If Donald Trump did birding...) This morning I saw some great birds. Truly great. Better than anything seen by other birders. Period. There was a large raft of Tufted Ducks. All 374 of them. I counted each one. I really did. They were spectacular. Truly spectacular. And even though there are some people out there who are trying to make these Tufted Ducks out to be of no consequence at all, they are lying. They say that Ring-necked Ducks and Lesser Scaups are rarer - they are not. Not at all. Never. I have also just realised that I did, in fact, see the 1962 Westleton Houbara Bustard. In Suffolk. I truly did. It marched down that Suffolk lane as if it hadn't a care in the world. I can also now recall seeing the 1963 Skegness Rufous Bushchat and also the 1966 Durlston Brown Thrasher. I really can. As clear as day. No doubt. No doubt at all. They were remarkable birds. My life list is without doubt the largest life list in the UK. Truly. 654 species and counting. But there are bi

A bit of spring in winter

It was Bourne Hall, Ewell once again, plus a wander along the River Hogsmill all the way to Ewell Court. It was very quiet, with only a single (and tame) Little Egret, a flushed Common Snipe, but no sign of any Kingfishers. I reckon that the wintering Water Rail may have moved on. It was an iron cold day, the chill in the south-easterly breeze enough to make it uncomfortable, and the drizzle that fell in the early afternoon turned into the finest snow that I've ever seen. Amid all of this mid-winteryness was a sight to stir the soul - a fine display of Winter Heliotrope (above and below), together with a smattering of  Ramularia purpurascens across some of the leaves (thanks Seth!) Now, I know I keep on posting photographs of Stonechats, Reed Buntings and Little Egrets, but when these birds just pose for you, why not? I never tire of them.

Tame egrets

Over the past couple of weeks, the Little Egrets frequenting the River Hogsmill (and surrounds) at Ewell Village have been very approachable. There are certainly two - and maybe three - present, and are most reliably found in the watery channels close to the Mill, and also the stretch of river beyond the tunnel, at the start of the Hogsmill Open Space reserve. They are pretty skittish when feeding in the water, but if you come across one perched in a tree (as I did this morning) then your luck could be in. So far this month there has been a Water Rail, 4+ Kingfisher, 2 Common Snipe, a Firecrest and 4 Waxwing in this small area. Well worth a look.

A symptom of our warped times

We are, without doubt, living in unsettled and intolerant times. It is normally the case that birding (or birdwatching if you prefer) allows escape from such feelings, a comfy place in which to lose those negative thoughts and feelings. But intolerance seems to be even stalking these safe havens... Social media - be it Twitter or Facebook - has seen an increase in what can only be described as attacks on fellow birders. Their crimes? To be considered as being less proficient in the field. These 'weaklings' can be identified by their inability to identify the quarry. By their need to ask others as to what they are looking at. By not carrying a field guide. They are also chastised for having the temerity to carry with them expensive optics - you see, the attackers feel that only those worthy of such optics should possess them, and by worthy they mean experienced people, those accepted by the herd and somehow worthy. PEOPLE LIKE THEM. I have seen such posts to openly suggest tha

All quiet on the birding front

Canons Farm tested the resolve of two seasoned campaigners this morning, as Geoff and myself plodded across the arable wastes with scarcely a bird to look at. Something is amiss here. In previous winters, at the very least, the fields would hold decent numbers of pigeons, corvids, finches and thrushes. Have they been sprayed with something so foul that there is nothing left alive for the birds to feed upon? Our 'tame' Common Buzzard (above) seemed unconcerned about it all, but most probably has no food worries thanks to a supply of the bodies of birders who have keeled over with boredom. Our one flash of inspiration came in the form of a Woodcock, targeted and flushed at the edge of Banstead Woods - Geoff's 100th patch species, a good total for a waterless, inland site. We parted ways in the bowels of Chipstead Bottom (nice imagery to juggle with there) where I then wandered along and up onto Park Downs (below). If I were targeting birds here then I would hav

Modest turnover

Although this mornings circuit of the Priest Hill fields seemed to be a case of the same few birds being present, there is evidence of turn-over. A male Stonechat (the first since early December) joined a single female this morning, and the count of 13 Reed Buntings (the third time this peak has been reached) included a male which was almost in full summer plumage - I've not seen him before. Little flying over, but expectation is still high. Where are those geese, Lapwings, larks, swans..? Up to a dozen Goldfinch  across the site - the Linnets seem to have moved on Sorry - another Reed Bunting - cannot help myself at times.

Some you win, some you lose

All you bird listers out there! Feeling lucky today? Well some of you will be, especially if you maintain your list using the British Ornithologists Union's criteria as your guideline, and you have seen any of the following: Isabelline (Daurian) and Red-tailed (Turkestan) Shrike, Taiga and Tundra Bean Goose, Thayer's Gull, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Least Tern, Two-barred Greenish Warbler and Stejneger's Stonechat. They will now be considered as full species, no longer just closely-related or sub-species. As many of you will know, there are several bodies that maintain global bird lists and each differs slightly as to what is considered a full-species or not. You can read about the rationale behind the BBRC and the BOU's decision to adopt the IOC version by clicking here. But where there are winners, there will be losers, so, get your rubbers and Tippex out if you have seen both Lesser and Common Redpoll and Whimbrel and Hudsonian Whimbrel, as each pairing are once again

Priest Hill social

One of 'my' Reed Buntings A slow circuit of the Priest Hill meadows was made this morning, in a glorious, blinding sunlight. As anyone who has visited this blog over the past few weeks knows, I am ridiculously paternal towards the wintering Reed Buntings here. I rather pompously think of them as 'mine' and have taken on the role of their guardian. Needless to say, the locating of two flocks (8 and 5) had me happy all over... it doesn't take much for some people, does it... And talking of people, it was my pleasure to bump into Belmont-based birder John Sewell. We had quite a natter about the local birding scene and he also had some kind words to say about this blog. Thanks John! I also spoke to one of the Surrey Wildlife Trust employees, who I cheekily asked about the proposed redundancies. Apparently the 14 rangers are having to apply for one of 10 restructured jobs - these being more specialised than their current 'jack-of-all-trades' roles. Hopefull

Kent Pond Heron and Flycatcher shock!!!!

In light of the recent Stonechat DNA debacle - that is being referred to as 'Shitchat' in some circles - retesting has been carried out on a number of 'contentious' species. Listers, particularly in Kent, are going to be affected... Case 1: The Hythe Pond Heron There was a virtual national holiday declared by twitchers in 2014 when the white-coated lab-boys pronounced this bird as a pukka Chinese Pond Heron. However, a retest that was carried out earlier this week has found that the bird was, in fact, an Aylesbury Duck. Contamination of the source material (body feathers) was the cause, most probably from a foil dish that contained a take-away Crispy Duck and Hoisin sauce. Rumours that the other Stejneger's Stonechats from last autumn were mistakenly called as such because of a segment of Terry's Chocolate Orange that had been left on the laboratory table, is being investigated. Case 2: The Dungeness Acadian Flycatcher September 2015 was a good time to be

Birds 0 Plants 1

The grey, wet murk of the past few days had finally sodded off and ND&B-land found itself basking in a low, blinding sun. Out came the bins, on went the ruck-sack and I hot-footed it up to Epsom and Walton Downs for a mornings aimless wander. I needn't have taken the bins as the birding was dire. However, as befitting a winter's morning playing at being spring, I sought out a patch of Green Hellebore that is present in a small wood on the lower slopes of Walton Downs. Only a couple of flowers were open (above) with most of the small population a little way off from flowering (below). The Woodland Trust seem to have upped the ante in the creation of their Millennium Woodland on parts of the downland farm fields ( click here to find out more about this project ). Piles of posts and plastic tubing were lying in strategic positions, but the dead give-away were a number of posters along the public footpaths, inviting volunteers to come along for tree-planting sessions la

What happens to your list when you die?

Chris Janman posed this question when commenting on a recent post. It got me thinking... I have long advocated the setting up of a system where we can barter our spare species, such as me being able to put up my second Wallcreeper for bids from interested birders. I'd reckon on being offered a right old fistful of rarities in a straight swap for that one, (maybe a Thick-billed Warbler, Black-billed Cuckoo, White-throated Needletail and a whole load of spare Fair Isle semi-rare dross). But what happens to our hard-earned lists when we die? Do they have to stay in a notebook or spread-sheet, hidden from view and gathering dust (real or virtual). Why can't we pass on the value of our lists to those that we have left behind? In my case I reckon my wife and daughters could encourage avid listers to pay at least £1000 for each Wallcreeper. Maybe someone would buy up both of them to stop another lister from getting them, or use the spare to swap at a later date? And how much is my

The pros and cons of birding

Birdwatching. Birding. Looking at birds. Call it what you will. That such a simple task can spawn a hundred and one ways in which to do it is no mean feat. That, I suppose, is a typical human construct, for as much as we are free thinkers, we are wedded to the herd - so it is expected that we will gravitate towards a grouping of mindsets. These are but a few that can be found in our little world: The patch worker This grouping (of which I am one) walk around with an air of superiority about them. They don't travel far from home (because they cannot be bothered), they find their own birds (because there's nobody else looking) and contribute to the understanding of population levels, migration routes and bird behaviour (because they can make up sightings and numbers as there's nobody else counting). Some times a patch is heavily subscribed with other patch birders, in which case they can gather together and glare at the non-regulars whilst urinating up fenceposts to mar

A bit of this, a bit of that

A bit of a 'mash-up' this post - that's youth-speak for 'mish-mash', or I could liken it to the contents of a jamboree bag, being a bit of an old duffer. And if you are unaware of what a jamboree bag is, then ask your parents, or if they are still too young to know, ask Google (there are other search engines available). Item one - the Dungeness Stonechat (you know, the grey, odd, putative Stejneger's) has been retested owing to too many birder's saying that they just didn't believe it was a rare one. The results are in, and it is... a COMMON Stonechat! I did have a little chuckle about that. Apparently the poo sample got muddled up with some from a Spurn Stejneger's. Simple mistake. Maybe, in this age of the blame culture, Dr Collinson will now receive compensation claims from angry birder's for fuel costs, stress, food, etc. Glad I didn't go. Item two - the Surrey Wildlife Trust is apparently making all of its rangers redundant. Cost cut

Snowy(ish) Egret

The snow arrived, just as the Met Office predicted, at 17.00hrs yesterday evening, and fell steadily until 19.30hrs. Only and inch or so settled, but this was enough to cause mayhem on the roads and entice the 'blitz spirit' to resurface across the south-east of England. Elsewhere in Britain people looked out the window, shrugged, and put on a jumper... Snow means hard weather movements doesn't it? Geese, larks, Lapwings and Golden Plovers fleeing from the icy grip... of course not, at least not yet. It takes an awful lot more to stir things up, but I still head out hoping for just a crumb of bird movement. As expected, not today. I walked through Priest Hill (the wintering cast were still present) and onto the River Hogsmill at Ewell. Little Egrets were in view almost constantly, with two, maybe three present. One bird in particular that was feeding in a side-stream paid little attention to me, so I snapped away. 4+ Kingfisher, 2 Common Snipe and a Chiffchaff were

Home Country

ND&B's first book recommendation of the year is Home Country by Richard Mabey. I have to confess to being a fan of the author, with his  Nature Cure being one of those books that I am forever re-reading. Home Country is, simply put, an autobiography of his early years. He grew up on the edge of the Chilterns, in Berhamstead, Hertfordshire. A sensitive and, maybe, precocious child, he grew up exploring the natural world around him, and experienced one of those idyllic childhoods that seemed to automatically be bestowed on those born into relative comfort in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. One of the reasons that this work resonates with me is because I grew up, in similar circumstances, just down the road in Tring. Climbing trees, making camps, forming gangs, walking for miles (and all day) across and through woods, commons, streams... it is the sort of life that our youngsters today are largely removed from. Even when the author became a young adult, he still followed this '

Klimt at Headley

Headley Heath is a special place for me - some of my earliest birding took place here, with warm summer evenings in the company of churring Nightjars and roding Woodcocks. In recent years I have twice come across Hawfinch flocks, but my efforts to do so again have been unsuccessful. I went back again this morning for another try. The western side of Headley Heath is divided by several steep-sided, shallow valleys. The ground here is wet and the eroded sides spew forth flints. Most of the ground is heavily vegetated, with the scrub becoming wood, most of the mature trees being at the top of the ridge on the western most boundary. And it is here where I have seen those near-mythical Hawfinches before. But not today. I did, however, record 15+ Bullfinch and 5 Marsh Tit, amongst few other birds - it was very quiet. Away from the valleys, Silver Birch is the predominant tree. There are a few places where they dominate an area, young trees packed tight and growing with thin, straig

I've changed my mind

At the end of last year I made the rash decision that I'd keep a 2017 UK bird year list. I thought it would be a bit of fun. Once upon a time I used to keep one every single year - it was just what I did, no questions asked. I stopped when it ceased to be fun. On January 1st 1987 I wrote this: It’s New Years day and the lessons of last year were not taken in. We are sheltering from the rain in a car parked alongside the road that bisects ARC and the RSPB staring southwards over the reserve. Our damp clothes are starting to steam as a combination of body heat and a virtually ineffective car heater finally starts to take effect. We stare through misted optics at the same species that I saw here barely hours ago. It’s another day of reliving what I did last week, even if last week was last year. The difference between the Smew that we are watching now and several days ago is that this one means that I’ve now seen one in 1987. The need to rush around today for the year list has so fa

Two owls and a piece of cake

A far more agreeable visit to Holmethorpe today, with my whinges of four days ago largely gone - the ground was drier, there were not nearly as many human beings getting in the way, I managed to find several extra viewpoints that opened up the larger water bodies to my scope and even the noise appeared to have lessened - results all round! The calm, dry and mainly sunny weather bathed everything in a positive light and it was then only up to the birds to play their part in the proceedings, which they largely did. Two Ravens that flew over the farmland and up onto Nutfield Ridge were a long overdue site tick for me, with other notable counts/sightings being: Little Egret (1), Wigeon (13), Gadwall (63), Teal (52), Shoveler (11), Tufted Duck (219), Common Buzzard (3), Coot (210), Snipe (6), Black-headed Gull (2000), Common Gull (100), Lesser Black-backed Gull (75), Herring Gull (2250), Great Black-backed Gull (5), Little Owl (1, above), Kingfisher (2), Grey Wagtail (1), Fieldfare (30

A shard of light

I am keeping a birding year-list for the first time this century. A low-key list admittedly, not driven by trying to reach a huge total, more a case of adding a side-show to my endeavours during 2017. I know I'm not taking it too seriously because: 1) I considered going to Crawley to see the long-staying Rose-coloured Starling (a drive of maybe 40 minutes), bit remembered that the bird appears on rooftops on a housing estate. Not for me that little scenario... 2) There is a Stejneger's Stonechat at Dungeness. It has been present since early November. It has had its faeces analysed by men in white coats who have declared it to really be one. And since New Year's Day several hundred sheep year-listers have trudged along to year-tick it. Not for me either, I'll wait until all the fuss has died down - which runs the risk of it disappearing before I make the effort. If I were being serious about all of this - chasing my largely south-east English 2017 bird list -

Modest in the mud

The ND&B birding year began a day late, with yesterday being a pleasing mix of family strolls and the fact that my resolution survived 24 hours without the need for alcohol or any 'naughty' food. I don't expect the willpower to last... The birding kicked-off with a trip to Holmethorpe Sand Pits, a site that I have visited with some intent in the past. It is the nearest 'proper' waterbody to my home, and over the years I have seen Black-throated and Great Northern Diver, Slavonian, Black-necked and Red-necked Grebe, Bewick's Swan, Ferruginous Duck, Common Scoter and Red-breasted Merganser there (plus plenty more that I cannot recall at the moment). It has sizeable water bodies, plenty of scrub, several small reed and bulrush beds, a stream, and is flanked by the North Downs and Nutfield Ridge. It also boasts farmland, which in places looks like this... ... large fields bordered in places by mature tree-lines and small copses. Twenty years ago the winte