Showing posts from January, 2018

The day of the Hawfinch

Warning: if you have had enough of these big-billed finches, do not continue reading... After yesterday's delights I was up for some more Hawfinch action, and arrived at Juniper Top just after 08.00hrs. The birding started well, with two Hawfinches flying up from Juniper Bottom and alighting in the area of woodland that was so productive 24 hours earlier. After waiting for twenty minutes (to see if any more birds came up from the valley) I entered the woods and headed a short way in to where most of yesterday's birds had performed so well. Although there was little calling, a tight group of 60 birds were located sitting passively at the top of several beech trees. They slowly started to drop down into neighbouring Yews, then proceeded to move away. By now they were calling frequently and were easy to follow. Some 100m further on a stand of Larches had attracted the flock, and now it became obvious that the original 60 had joined others. The calling became incessant, a whit

An unforgettable hour

Surrey Hawfinch real estate I was pleased to learn that c50 Hawfinch had been seen at Juniper Top yesterday. It is a place that I regularly visit, and one that during this current Hawfinch invasion I have been checking in the hope of finding them - up until this morning my rewards had been of just two birds. I arrived just after 09.00hrs and walked up to the top via the Juniper Bottom path (scene of the 2013 large Hawfinch flock). I took it slowly, scanning the top of the valley, stopping and listening, but without success. Once I reached the top I then turned left and travelled along the flat path to the open and grassy heights at Juniper Top. Just before I reached the gate that takes you onto the chalk downland I heard a Hawfinch. I stopped and waited. Nothing. A few steps on I heard it again - no, maybe more than one - but deeper into the woods. I wandered into the undergrowth for maybe 25m and was aware that the vocals were getting stronger and more numerous. The odd shape wa

The heatwave breaks

Some of you with a good memory may remember that last year I began a series of posts looking back at my earliest birding experiences. I got up to the late summer of 1976.  Part 13: August – September 1976 I had returned from a fortnight’s birding in Suffolk with enough ornithological memories to last an age, but all they did was to make me want to create more of them – and that meant more time birding! The day after unpacking my rucksack and filling my parents washing machine with dirty clothing, I was being picked up by Dave Eland to visit Pagham Harbour, in the company of Mike Netherwood and Nick Gardner. On the journey to the coast I bored them rigid with my tales from Suffolk, which they kindly listened to and made all the right noises in all the right places. There were plenty of migrants on the Sussex coast that day, even though the hot, sunny and calm weather of the past few weeks had continued. The churchyard at Church Norton was brimming with Spotted Flycatchers, sa

Bird that make you 'fizz'

I was speaking to my very good friend Mark Hollingworth the other day, he who haunts the Dungeness beach in his quest to seawatch as much as possible. That very afternoon he had observed an unseasonal Sooty Shearwater and was absolutely buzzing - 'fizzing' he actually described it as. Even though he has seen tens of thousands of Sooty Shearwaters across the world, each and every time he claps eyes on one, it makes him 'fizz'. Why that particular species? We thought about this and started to look at other species that made him (and me) 'fizz'? We came to the conclusion that it has to be a species that you see relatively frequently so that it isn't the rarity of it that triggers your emotional response to it. These are the birds that sprang to my mind (in no particular order): Woodcock I think it's the suddenness of flushing a bird from the woodland leaf litter, an explosion of sound and cryptic browns that quickens the blood and leaves you wanting mo

Butcher's Broom

After the dark deluge of yesterday it was a welcome return to dry and sunny weather. Where better to spend the morning than on Mickleham Downs. In the image above you are looking at the steep south/south-eastern slope, covered largely in beech, box, holly and yew. It is the haunt of Bird's-nest Orchid, Wild Candytuft, Stinking Hellebore, Marsh Tit and - now and again - Hawfinch. Above the trees, and out of your view, is an open flat hill top of short grassland, beloved of chalk downland flowers. Although there is hardly a trace now, this hilltop (known today as 'The Gallops',) has a history of settlement, from the Bronze Age through to farms that were created at the time of the Roman invasion. From roughly where I took the top photograph was a big clump of Butcher's Broom (pictured above). This is a strange plant, as what appear to be the leaves are in fact flattened stems (the true leaves being but papery scales that can be seen in the first picture). The bo

A day in Eilat

In 1986 I spent two weeks driving around Israel with my good friend Sean McMinn. We spent most of the time in the very south of the country at Eilat. On such a winter's evening - dark and damp if not chilly - it is a boost to look back on warmer and bird-filled times... March 25 th 1986   The heavy rain that fell in the early hours had stopped by dawn. Thankfully the tent had proven its claim to be waterproof. We awoke to a cloudy and cool dawn with a northerly breeze. After a brief and modest breakfast, Sean and I drove out towards the fabled km32. Km32 literally referred to a kilometre distance marker that was to be found along the roadside that led northwards out of Eilat. There was, no doubt, also a km31 and a km33 post in existence, but for some reason lost in time, birders kept driving the 15 minutes from Eilat to km32 and km32 only, parking their cars and walking out into the desert towards the Jordanian border. It was consistently good for desert species. Nearby

The lost tern colony at Dungeness

Windy, rainy, sleety then snowy, all delivered with a dollop of cold. Not a day for venturing outside - something that I would have done once upon a time, all wrapped up but still getting wet, with my optics steaming-up all in the quest for my birding fix. Today that birding fix will come via the medium of nostalgia - when I say nostalgia, it isn't my nostalgia but that of other people's memories, committed to paper in the early 20th century (yes kids, even before I was born!) Looking east from beneath the beach ridge Taken some way inland, looking towards the sea The two images above show the 'west beach' at Dungeness, which today shares part of its great expanse with a nuclear power station. You can still walk along the top of the beach from the peninsula's point to Dengemarsh Gully, which is a crude indicator of the extent of the 'west beach'. This area of shingle also runs inland for a good mile or so and was once a wilderness - apart from fish

Headley in the winter sun

Yesterday saw one of those afternoons when the sky just wouldn't settle down. One moment it was dark, then there were sharp showers, soon followed by the sun peeking through a thin veil of cloud, finally a full sun that was so bright that it lit up the winter panorama in a burning amber light. The photograph above (taken at Headley Heath) sums it up pretty well. And yes, I did see a H**finch, but just the one. They seem to have largely moved on from here. What hadn't moved on, mainly because they possesses neither wings nor legs, are the clumps of Spurge-laurel (above and below), to be found on the westerly border of the site. Headley is a strange place, with acid heathland rubbing shoulders with chalk downland. It leads to a right old mix of flowering plants which makes any botanical walk there interesting to say the least.

Part 2: Winners and Losers - passerines

And now for the passerines - as per yesterday's post, all my own data... House Martin  LOSER Declining summer visitor, passage migrant This species is greatly reduced as a breeding bird. In the 1970s it was easy to find nests on houses in Sutton and flocks above suburbia in the height of the summer were to be expected. This is not the case now. Extreme dates: 3 April 2010 ( Holmethorpe ) - 22 October 1978 ( Beddington SF ). Spring passage can be small and brief (peak count of 350 at Holmethorpe on 3 May 2010), while that of autumn heavier and more protracted, as evidenced by 6,710 south on 21 September 2017 at Canons Farm, Banstead ; 2,185 south-west on 9 October 1999 at Holmethorpe ; 1,900 south-west on 25 September 2014 at Canons Farm, Banstead ; 600 on 12 September 1976 at Beddington SF ; 500 on 31 August 1976 at Beddington SF and 20 September 2017 at Holmethorpe . Tree Pipit  LOSER Summer visitor, passage migrant and former breeder. Up