Showing posts from February, 2017

Some flickers of hope

I couldn't help but visit Langley Vale Farm this morning to see how the fields are looking from the point-of-view of such arable gems as Red Hemp-nettle (from this very farm last summer). There is good news. The fields south of Nohome Farmhouse have been shallowly ploughed - the stubble and grass clumps from my last visit have gone. Now, I am no ecologist, and cannot possibly predict whether this in itself is enough to enable the arable flora to freely flower, but it is certainly better than the state of the fields a couple of weeks ago. This is the bottom of the field immediately east of Nohome Farmhouse, which has also had a similar treatment - the edge up against the hedgerow is where Cat-mint and Narrow-fruited Cornsalad can be found. Last year this area was swamped with grass and both were hard to find. The top of the very same field. This is very recent tree planting, which has not, so far, been stretched all that far down the field. I do hope that it will be s

A ray of hope?

The Langley Vale Wood / Langley Vale Farm situation has been getting quite a bit of air on Facebook and Twitter - a few botanists have picked up on the concern over the arable plants present and have been asking the Woodland Trust for clarification via the twitter account @langleyvalefarm I asked the following questions (and made the following statements) to this very account: "My concern about the arable plants is they will not be specifically managed. Without this they will disappear!" "The Woodland Trust know what is present and how to care for them. Please ensure that they do. Very rare plants here." They did reply - and if these statements are exactly what will happen, then we can sleep soundly in our beds at night... ALL AREAS OF ARABLE WEEDS WILL BE MANAGED APPROPRIATELY - WT ARE TALKING TO OPEN SPACE CHARITIES ABOUT PROPER MANAGEMENT NOTHING WILL BE LOST - AND HOPEFULLY THESE PLANTS WILL FLOURISH So, two very clear promises here. let's j

A local extinction?

Night-flowering Catchfly at Langley Vale Farm. Not seen there since 2014. There are few greater pleasures than walking along the edge of a field and working your way through a mass of arable plants in flower. It is colourful. It holds hidden gems. It is also disappearing. I am lucky enough to live close to a marvellous site, where such species as Night-flowering Catchfly, Venus's Looking-glass, Red Hemp-nettle, Cat-mint, Narrow-fruited Cornsalad, Sharp-leaved Fluellen, Round-leaved Fluellen and Dwarf Spurge can be found. It is called Langley Vale Farm, situated on Walton Downs in Surrey. They are all in danger of being lost forever. Any regular visitor to this blog will have read my previous posts about the purchase of the farm, in 2014, by the Woodland Trust. They plan to use the site to create what will be known as Langley Vale Wood, in commemoration of the centenary of the start of the First World War. A series of environmental and ecological surveys were commissioned,

Dungeness interlude

A two-day trip to the shingle, staying at 'Hotel Hollingworth' where the current offers included a single-malt taster session, Champions League football, Tom Petty playing live in the lounge and personal chauffeur. I well may re-book... A bit of a whistle-stop tour of the pits and avian highlights that resulted in a tidy total without much effort being needed - the drake Ring-necked Duck on Cooke's Pool was still present, the two roosting Long-eared Owls put in a welcome appearance by the dipping pool, both first-winter and second-winter Iceland Gulls were seen over the patch, a literal 'wild-goose' chase provided both five White-fronted and a single Pink-footed, plus back up sightings such as Smew, Peregrine, Merlin and Mediterranean Gulls. The sea was lively, as good numbers of Guillemots (2000), Razorbill (50) and Great Crested Grebe (330) littered the waves, with a steady offshore passage that included Red-throated Divers, Gannets, Fulmars and Brent Geese.

Shaping up nicely

17.50hrs and I've just switched on the garden MV. I could make a case for it still being light, it is undeniably mild and there are several Blackbirds in full song. Yes, it really does feel like spring! My visit to Priest Hill yesterday afternoon was made in (relative for February) positively balmy conditions - weak sun, no wind, just a jumper on - but the downside was that the weather seems to have given notice to the birds that had been present there recently, as not a single winter thrush remained and I could not find any of the Reed Buntings. A winter clear out to make way for the first spring migrants? Too early for a White-arse maybe, but just right for a trickle of these little beauties...

Inverts to the fore

Last night the garden MV was switched on for the first time this year. In previous winters I have run it throughout January and February, accepting each blank as something to endure in my quest to record those few species that do fly when the nights are long and cold. As the years have rolled by my enthusiasm for these nil returns has faded somewhat. However, it was mild enough overnight to expect something in the trap, and so it proved to be, with two Pale Brindled Beauties (above) and a Light-brown Apple Moth - both species to be expected but welcome all the same. While photographing the moths this morning in gloriously mild and sunny weather, the Stinking Hellebores were attracting a few insects to their flowers, with Buff-tailed Bumblebees ( Bombus terrestri s, below) and Western Honey Bees ( Apis mellifera ) being the most numerous. By early afternoon I was surprised not to have seen a butterfly. I am assuming that the top images are of a worker, with the bottom ima

Just standing still

At times you can thrash a patch for little reward. My mid-day/early afternoon visit to Canons Farm had seen me yomp across fields, crash through woodland and march up and down hollows - and all I could ascertain was that it was quiet - very quiet indeed. As I approached Canons Farmhouse I did consider cutting my losses and moving on, but instead resolved to stand by the 'watchpoint' and just see what would come to me - and as it happened, quite a bit did. First up were two Red Kites, which meandered their way westwards (cue dodgy record shot of the leading bird). At least four Common Buzzards were in the vicinity, with one pair indulging in a wrestling match on Broadfield, being watched, and then joined, by two Carrion Crows. Scanning the tree-line of Lambert's Shaw was rewarded with the constant too-ing and fro-ing of a large mixed thrush flock, comprising 125 Redwing and 50 Fieldfare. Turning my back on all of this activity then revealed 50+ Skylark and c40 Linnets play

Back in the saddle

It's been cold, hasn't it? The thermometer might not have hit the lows that it had done earlier in the year, but the low grey gloom, piercing easterly wind and stinging sleet kept this part-time birder indoors. I found myself a new natural-history themed project to get my teeth into, but more about that another time. Back to today. Sun! What a treat, all day sunshine which, when out of the still persistent easterly, had a touch of warmth about it. I ended up on Walton Downs, part of which is taken up by Langley Vale Farm - the very same farm where the Woodland Trust is creating the Millennium Wood . I've banged on about this project at length, mainly from the perspective of worrying that the rich arable plant flora will be lost, the ancient shaws and hedgerows be irretrievably merged into the new planting, and that the few pairs of Lapwings that breed there will disappear. There was a lot of activity going on. A tractor was disturbing the soil in fields to the north

An inspirational man

Social media was reporting last night that the entomologist, Bernard Skinner, has died. I don't think it is exaggerating to say that he was most probably responsible for inspiring more people to take up an interest in moths than any other person, all thanks to his ground-breaking 'The Colour Identification Guide to Moths of the British Isles' that was first published in 1984. Before this marvellous book came along, most of us were struggling to identify our moths using South's two volumes, which both dated from 1907! With the publication of Bernard's book, we were able to pore over colour plates of set specimens, all photographed to scale, showing upper and underwings. Each species had a succinct write up, informing us of similar species, identification pointers, variations, status, range, flight times and larval food plants. Where considered necessary, line drawings were supplied to aid identification. I purchased the book soon after its publication, and was us

When Belted Galloways attack!... vegetation

BEFORE the ungulates start chomping AFTER they have been let loose for a couple of months The top two photographs, taken at Priest Hill this morning, illustrate how the Belted Galloway cattle have removed the dead vegetation from the largest field, opening it up for Skylarks and Meadow Pipits to populate this coming spring. The beasts have now been moved to the other (two) smaller fields to start the chomping process all over again. A lively visit, with thrushes starting to gather and good counts of Stock Dove and Starling being made. Kestrel (1), Green Woodpecker (6), Stock Dove (30), Skylark (10), Fieldfare (15), Redwing (160), Stonechat (1 male), Starling (225), Reed Bunting (5, including a very smart male). The garden feeders back home have seen a ready procession of takers enjoying the sunflower hearts on offer. So far, Blackcap (female), Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Robin, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit and House Sparrow have been regulars, with Blackbird, Dunnock, Wood Pigeon

Too much information

I cannot make up my mind as to whether or not the instantaneous feed of other birders sightings is a good thing or not. To the pure lister it is all a gift from heaven. It lessens the guesswork, the effort and the time that might otherwise be spent travelling to and searching for the target species. The choice of venue for a day's birding can made based on up-to-the-minute news. An itinerary can be cobbled together thanks to the input of tweets, blogs and websites. But does this not take the adventure, the surprise and the joy out of birding? Does it not reduce us to a pack chasing the good fortune of others? Are we failing to discover, for ourselves, what is out there? Apart from the old twitcher's grapevine (based on who you knew and having access to their telephone number), finding out 'what's about' was through word-of-mouth (normally by bumping into birders out in the field) or actually being out in that field yourself and looking. My early trips to Pagham

Warming up down on the farm

My last visit to Canons Farm was a slow affair, with few flocks of birds and the fields eerily quiet - well today things had picked up a bit. It wasn't exactly heaving, but a gathering of thrushes along the border of Broadfield and Poultry Field comprised 235 Redwing and 60 Fieldfare. The winter wheat in this area has grown above thrush height, so there were most probably many more hidden from view. Another welcome gathering was 100+ Linnet (below) that sat in tree tops and sang amongst themselves, in a rather distracted and absent-minded way. The sound carried some distance, and together with several displaying Skylarks (and a singing Little Owl) gave the whole morning more than a touch of spring. Other highlights included 2 Common Buzzard, a Kestrel (top), 5 Rooks and a single Yellowhammer. The countdown has definitely started - the 'downland' passage of Stonechats is now due, Common Buzzards and Red Kites are soon to be expected and it is touching distance b


The humble House Sparrow, once thought of as not really worth the bother of looking at (unless you were James Denis Summers-Smith). Now it is a species that has declined, alarmingly so in some areas. I've been lucky in the part of Banstead where I live, as these characterful birds have hung on, with at least two roosts (of 20-40 birds) within 400m of home. They breed in neighbouring properties and are a frequent visitor to the garden bird bath, as this male from today illustrates. But although I still see them - and in number, each day - my notebooks from down the years does show a decline. Within the ND&B uber patch, my highest counts are of 400 at Beddington SF on 11 July 1980, 200 at Beddington SF on 7 September 1975 and 200 at Seears Park, Cheam on 6 November 1983. These are now at least 30 years old. In recent years my highest counts have come from Canons Farm, with 80 on both 23 August 2014 and 8 September 2016. My highest count anywhere was of 900 at Dungeness on 19

Spring stirs

The unfurling of a crocus is all that it takes for me to believe that an invisible line has been crossed in the progression of the seasons. Winter might still hold all of the trump cards, but Spring has peeked over the parapet and has taken a look around. After spying that crocus, I spent an hour at Priest Hill and was delighted to hear up to four Skylarks in song and display - the first this year. This species has been otherwise sullen so far. A Common Buzzard also crossed the airspace (the first since early autumn here) and drew an escort of corvids that frantically and noisily chased it away. We have quite a marked Spring passage of this raptor, and I wouldn't mind guessing that this is an early migrant. We may still see snow, frost and freezing cold, but the next season in line has already put a marker down.

A musical interlude

A little while ago I posted my Top 50 albums of all time, a futile and vacuous exercise demonstrating that I had too much time on my hands. Well, just to prove that I can still tick all of those boxes, I've updated it to a Top 100 albums... idle hands and all that. Unlike the last list, this is not in any order other than alphabetical - I cannot put them in order of preference, that is just impossible - or at least too difficult to successfully complete with any real meaning. I did try! There will be better albums that are not on it, albums that are musically and vocally superior, and others that were groundbreaking, broke the mould or redefined a genre. But music is a highly personal thing. A mediocre, or average album can come along and speak volumes to you. They sneak up on you when you are at your most vulnerable or receptive. They become your friends, comfort blankets and injectors of joy. The past can flood back with just a few notes played. They become a part of your life.

Banishing the mid-winter blues

February 1st. A chilly, grey and drizzly day outside. My SAD (seasonal affective disorder) credentials are kicking in - depressed, lethargic, overeating, irritable, feeling down and unsociable. The NHS website tries to be helpful and suggests these 10 steps to redemption: Keep Active, Get Outside, Keep Warm, Eat Healthily, See The Light, Take Up A New Hobby, See Friends and Family, Talk It Through, Join a Support Group, Seek Help... some of these do seem a bit drastic. I'm just fed up with the lack of daylight and the weather, I'm not living in Aleppo! I am following most of these suggestions already (if eating an apple directly after finishing a packet of biscuits counts as eating healthily that is). No, winter cannot hurry up enough and turn into spring as far as I'm concerned. Winter does, admittedly, have its own charm and it would take an emotionally bankrupt individual to not take joy from a heavy frost, Redwings and Fieldfares, er... Redwings and Fieldfares... did