Showing posts from March, 2017

Rewarded in the rain

Part 5: September 1975  After my trip to Scotland, I returned to Beddington as an all-conquering hero – at least in my own little world, that is. My birding confidence had been given an almighty boost and I felt as if I had somehow proven my worth as a bird watcher by having travelled some distance to do so, and in the process had lost my ornithological virginity. This was the first time that I was conscious of the fact that it mattered to me how I appeared to other bird watchers, as until then my time spent in the field had been about the seeing of birds, with no added agenda. A short family break, on a farm near Penshurst in Kent, was my next opportunity to bird watch away from north-Surrey. It was notable for my first Kingfisher, the initial sighting being a matter of delayed gratification, as my Father and brothers had already seen one as they fished in a nearby river, at the same time that I was wandering the adjacent lanes and fields, binoculars at the ready. When the moment

Look North, young man

Part 4: June – August 1975  Even though it was fast approaching the time to sit my ‘O’-levels, I had little idea as to what I was going to do moving forward, and had just assumed that I would stay on at school and study for ‘A’-levels. A meeting with the careers officer had not been overly productive, although my admission that English and Art were my most enjoyable and profitable lessons had him recommending to me journalism as a possible career choice. What I really wanted to say to him was that all I wanted to do was go bird watching. During a similar discussion at home, my Father revealed that when we moved from our family home at Tring (back in 1970), he had sold our house to a professional ornithologist named Jim Flegg. If I was serious about pursuing a career that revolved around birds, why not write to him for advice? Within a matter of hours, a letter of introduction, and a stamped-addressed envelope, had been sent, and a prompt reply was gratefully received. It contained a c

Ring Ouzel at Priest Hill

Yes I know that the image above is not quite in focus - that you are having to peer between branches of a bush - and look through a strand of barbed-wire fence - but at least you can share in my joy of this morning's male Ring Ouzel at Priest Hill. It even drew a crowd of admirers, as four birders made the trip once twitter 'twatted'. The bird stayed in Bunting Field for up to an hour, but was very wary and flighty, so I largely let it be. As some form of compensation for the poor pic, have a male Kestrel from this morning...

A few Priest Hill facts

Priest Hill forms part of the dip slope of the North Downs as it makes its chalky way down to meet the clay of the Thames Basin. It used to be a place of agriculture, with cereal crops and dairy cows gracing the high, open ground. In the 1950s the land was transformed into an enormous area of playing fields, with schools from London being bussed out to use the amenities, but by the 1980s it mostly fell out of use, and nature started to reclaim it. Four years ago Surrey County Council sold a portion of the land off for development and gifted 33 hectares of it to the Surrey Wildlife Trust. In all honesty, there is little to immediately suggest that this area is worthy of reserve status, although it does hold breeding Skylarks and Meadow Pipits, and has a good colony of Brown Hairsteak. It is largely botanically impoverished. However, management has already helped to encourage nearby wildlife to colonise. Large areas of tarmac and rubble have been cleared where tennis courts and chan

Flora exotica

Priest Hill used to be a dumping ground for all sorts of debris, including heaps of soil, garden waste and hardcore. It was unsightly, but after a while the seeds and bulbs that were within sprang forth. There is a Flowering Currant onsite that I believe to be the same one that I 'ticked' over 15 years ago. Today I came across this: I believe that it's Mediterranean Spurge (Euphorbia characias), and, if I might be so bold, of the ssp veneta. There will, no doubt, be somebody out there ready to correct me if I'm wrong. Nearby in Ewell, close to Bourne Hall, the Creeping Comfrey (below) and Abraham-Isaac-Jacob (next two images) are at their best. Even though a nagging easterly wind is present today, the butterflies have come out in numbers, particularly Brimstones. Also recorded were Comma (first image), Small Tortoiseshell (next) and Red Admiral. The birds haven't been neglected - two Red Kites flew through Priest Hill (one north and the othe

Pigeon for breakfast

This morning, when scanning the Priest Hill playing fields for a Wheatear, this came into my view - an enormous female Peregrine in the middle of a pigeon breakfast. I was far enough away not to bother it too much, although a nagging Carrion Crow moved it on, with the falcon still in possession of its prey. This is, in all likelihood, one half of the Sutton breeding pair. Also of note were a small arrival of Chiffchaff (5) and a singing Blackcap.

Diaries and sparrows

You could be forgiven for assuming that I have recently forsaken 'actual birding' to delve through old dusty diaries and notebooks - I have been doing both, it's just that the birding has been slow. My visits to Priest Hill have been ongoing, with most of the time spent scanning empty fields and bushes. However, a few Chiffchaffs and Meadow Pipits have passed through and both Tawny and Little Owls are on site. My hopes are high for a little bit of spring magic in the coming weeks. Back home I was entertained by a gaggle of House Sparrows that were loafing around in a neighbour's pyracantha bush (no, I don't know which species). We are still blessed with good numbers around here, for which I am grateful. Now, back to those diaries...

Any day soon...

Beddington in the 1970s (Beddington Farmlands) Part 3: March - May 1975  When it came to grabbing my binoculars and rushing out of the front door to go bird watching, there was one place above all the others that became my favoured destination, and that was Beddington Sewage Farm. Although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, the ornithological record for the site stretched back to the early years of the 20 th century, and my modest observations were becoming a part of that impressive canon of work. My regularity at the farm had started to help forge friendships with other Beddington attendees – and apart from Mark and Neil (who often accompanied me) there was Nick Gardener (a highly confident lad of my age), Ken Parsley and Mike Netherwood. The latter two were both involved in the capture and ringing of birds, an on-going scientific study of, among other things, movements and longevity. Other observers, such as Keith Mitchell, Martin King, John Dalgleish and Bill Blake would often

The Windhover

The photograph above, of a hovering male Kestrel, was taken this morning at Priest Hill. It was only after I returned home that I became aware that today has been designated as 'World Poetry Day' and, being a surprisingly cultured oaf, immediately thought that this image would be apt for a post. The Windhover was written by Gerard Manley Hopkins, that clerical poet who celebrated the natural world in many of his writings. It was a poem that I came across at school, when studying for my English Literature O-level, where I was lucky enough to be taught by a fine teacher, one Mr McTiffin. He instilled in me a love for the written word that has remained to this very day. So, for an appreciation of the Kestrel, over to you Gerard... I caught this morning morning's minion, kingdom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing In his ecst