Showing posts from February, 2018

The east wind doth blow...

... and we shall have snow (and Lapwings and Golden Plovers!!) A bitterly cold four hour sky watch at Canons Farm (between 10.00 - 14.00hrs), was some of the best patch birding that I've had the pleasure to experience. The spectacle of birds on the move is always a winner with me, although counting birds fleeing the cold weather is not exactly a joyous occasion for those creatures involved. Lapwings were already on the go when I arrived and kept steadily moving until well after 13.30hrs when they died off. My first Golden Plover flock didn't appear until quite late in the morning, but they then had a sudden burst, before dribbling on to the end. A bit of detail (all birds moving S to SW): Lapwing: 617 , comprised 42 groups, largest flock counts of 74, 51, 50, 40. Golden Plover: 170 , comprised 11 groups, sizes being 25, 30, 1, 2, 52, 5, 6, 22, 25, 1, 1 Fieldfare: 166 Skylark: 37 Redwing: 5 Meadow Pipit: 2 The wader counts are most probably modern-day record


There's a kind of hush all over our countryside. A disturbing quietness that is not just aural but also visual. Where once were Lapwings, finches and buntings there are... well, not a lot actually. A brief visit to Canons Farm this morning was soul destroying. In recent years it has come to be expected that the days of bird numbers at this site have long gone, but even so we do, from time to time, witness a build up of Linnets, Chaffinches and Skylarks, plus a few cherished Yellowhammers. The winter months are normally blessed with several hundred Redwings and Fieldfares. And if we are really struggling for something to look at then we have always been able to fall back on scanning through the hundreds of corvids, Wood Pigeons and Stock Doves. But not now. Not this winter. The place is barren. And it isn't just Canons Farm that appears to be bereft locally. With all of the time that I'm spending in the woodlands looking for Hawfinches it has not gone unnoticed that - g

Snow stopped play

With the weather forecasters strongly suggesting that we could be in for a week of snow and ice, I felt duty-bound to get a Hawfinch count in before 'Snowmageddon' was let loose upon us. I arrived at Bramblehall Wood at 06.45hrs in a light snow shower which continued, more on than off, for the hour that I was present. The Hawfinches were quite lethargic this morning, with very little movement between the woods and those that were perched up in the tree tops seemed quite happy to stay put. The middle section of the wood was favoured. Of interest, a number of birds arrived high from the west - possibly indicating that they had come in directly from Juniper Top / Ashurst Rough rather than filtering down the slope - they usually arrive at a lower elevation. A total of 260 were present, although I did leave a little early, so more may well have come in after I had gone. After 3-4 weeks of observing these birds I now feel confident that this early morning gathering is of birds f

Ronnie Raindrops

In 1953 the Americans started to name their storms with female names and then, in an act of equality (or because they were running out) they started to use male names as well. In 2015, as always eager to copy our 'friends' across the pond, we followed suit. Not for us Storms Chuck, Wilma and Buck, more a case of good old British names, although we have yet to witness a Storm Tyler or Jayden. And now we also have to give weather events snappy monikers, such as the dose of cold air coming in from Russia being referred to as 'The beast from the east'. How far will this go? BBC TV Weather Forecast, April 1st 2020 Philip Avery presenting. "Good morning. If you have already looked out the window you will have noticed that it is a little bit Colin Cloudy which may well end up with a few Ronnie Raindrops. But don't worry, because Suzy Sun will most probably show her face this afternoon. But as darkness falls, watch out as it might get a bit Brian Breezy."

Orchid Summer

On Christmas Eve 2015 I received an email from Jon Dunn, naturalist, photographer, author and tour guide. We had, in the past, corresponded via our blogs, so could best be described as 'virtual friends'. He wrote to confide in me that he was planning to seek out all of the orchid species to be found across the British Isles during 2016 - had secured a publishing deal for the resulting book that he would write on completion of the project - and was hoping that I might be able to help him out with locating Surrey's Bird's-nest Orchid colonies. I couldn't offer my services fast enough! On May 19th we finally met for the first time and, as hoped, hit it off immediately. I was able to show Jon some of the best that the county had to offer, and after a day spent on the chalk bade him farewell as he motored off to another orchid date in what would be a hectic summer for the man from Shetland. I wish I could have gone with him, but consoled myself with the thought that


Blessed. There is no other word for it. This Hawfinch invasion continues to ramp up in northern Surrey and I am lucky enough to have been in the middle of it... Dawn at Bramblehall Wood . The lower footpath has never looked so used. Position taken up against the fence, looking out across the field at the southern section of the wood and - crucially - up and down the valley (above). By 07.30 only c80 birds had shown, listlessly perched up, little movement taking place until they dribble away. Beginning to wonder if they are finally moving on, but then look down the valley northwards. Bloody hell, look at that lot perched up at the very top of the tree line - there must be hundreds! Edge down to get a better vantage point and start to count at the same time as they slowly - ever so slowly - start to move along the woodland edge southwards. They are going at a steady rate, not too many at once to confuse the count, a veritable conveyer belt of Hawfinches. I start to get edgy as 300 a


Walking westwards across the muddy, slippery slopes of Colley Hill I spied smoke rising above the distant bank of Yew trees - precisely where I was going in my quest to look for further Hawfinches. I briefly considered not carrying on, assuming that a spot of vegetation clearance was underway, but decided to continue on my journey. A knob of hillside pushes away from the main slope, allowing wonderful views towards the Mole Gap (below). Brockham Quarry is the middle ground, Leith Hill in the distance There was no sign of any smoke now, so I settled down and scanned the ridge of Yew trees for signs of my target - drawing a blank (as I had done at Gatton Park and Reigate Hill). From time to time the puffs of smoke returned and it was then I realised that this was in fact the Yew trees releasing pollen! I cannot recall seeing it being done so profusely (top image). That was reward enough for the morning, although it was small compensation for twice going 'arse-over-tit' o

A 'you know what' update

There might be some loyal readers who are not totally fed-up with these posts, and if so, then this is for you... The weather was not brilliant this morning - misty, murky, steady rain and with the promise of it getting heavier - so I aborted any fresh Hawfinch searches and instead stood under a sheltering Yew tree looking across at Bramblehall Wood between 07.00 - 08.30hrs. It was a very quiet start, with the first 45 minutes producing just 27 Hawfinches, but then it all went according to form, with birds leaving the southern end of the wood and flying down the valley and crossing to the slopes of Ashurst Rough. This was the easiest count to do at the site so far, as very few birds came back, the flight line was constant and a steady trickle was not taxing on the maths. The biggest flock was of c90 and the final total reached 255. As always, there were probably a few more. After this flow dried up and birds were not seen crossing back further down the valley, I went in search of t

Six hours well spent

I had wanted to return to the woods and valleys in the west of the 'uber' patch to once again search for Hawfinches, but events at Bramblehall Wood had put that on hold - until today. The centre of the search were the wooded slopes of Ranmore Common and, to the north and across a narrow valley of pasture, Polesden Lacey. The whole trek took six hours, but it was six hours very well spent. It started in mist, was briefly bathed in sunshine and finished up overcast. Starting at Denbighs Hillside carpark it is a gentle downhill walk through Dorking Wood (the footpath can be picked up opposite St. Barnabas Church). I had recorded Hawfinches here on February 6th. Only three were picked up but it was good to know that they were still present. Once through the wood you are treated to a pleasant view across farmland towards Freehold Wood and Chapelhill Wood. It is a beautiful area peppered with highly desirable property, way out of my reach unfortunately. However, my appreciation


Bored of Hawfinches yet? Thought so. Never mind, they'll soon be gone. This morning I arrived on the footpath opposite Bramblehall Wood just as it was getting light. I walked all the way down to the southern end, seeing no Hawfinches at all until I got there. Maybe 20 were perched up high, and over the following few minutes I was able to watch birds join them, surprisingly from all directions of the compass, in singles and small flocks. Most of them arrived from the south. They quickly built up and peeled off, flying across the field and into a Yew that I was standing underneath - my positioning was not down to luck as I had observed their preference of this particular tree yesterday. The calls above my head grew in volume - other birds must have been joining them from behind me. And the calls were not just confined to the normal 'ticks' and 'seeps' but also all kinds of 'squeaks', 'hisses' and 'warbles'. The birds across the field in Bra

Hawfinch social

Bramblehall Wood was bathed in glorious sunshine, which no doubt helped swell the number of birders who joined me on the muddy footpaths to witness yet more Hawfinch action. It was a pleasure to watch these birds along with John, Lindy, Jan, Graham, Piers, Paul and Lee - it made the morning all the more memorable. It was not so pleasurable to be told that two birders (even though they had been asked not to) entered the wood which is clearly private. This brings up three things - (a) they lack fieldcraft (b) they have no consideration for others (c) they are showing a lack of respect to the landowner. Once they have left the area and returned home it is us local birders who suffer any consequences. No wonder the suppression of birds is making a comeback... Anyhow, back to the fun stuff. I recorded a minimum of 250 Hawfinches which were on show as early as 07.10hrs when I arrived on site. There were two episodes that I would like to share with you. The first occurred at the southe

Bloody hell!

Images courtesy of Peter Alfrey I do apologise. Another Hawfinch post on another day when I've been able to go galavanting about birding when some of you are having to work, but please bear with me. Katrina was keen to see some of 'those birds' that I keep going on about and suggested taking a walk along the Hawfinch-haunted slopes of Juniper Top. This happily coincided with the presence of Peter Alfrey and Kevin Guest, as they had elected to take a birding away-day from Beddington. The observers were all present and correct, but would the birds play ball? Kate and I took the lower footpath that runs parallel with Bramblehall Wood and soon started to pick up small numbers in the general area. We began to hear birds calling and, at times, the 'ticks' and 'squeaks' were as loud as I have heard them over the past few weeks. More birds were arriving into the treetops directly above us and started to move between here and the wood opposite. There

The bird that just keeps giving

Juniper Top eastern slope - home to Hawfinches The morning started well, as only a few minutes after leaving the car I looked up at the steep wooded slopes of White Hill to see a flock of 15 Hawfinches fly through and alight upon Silver Birches. A good omen! I took my usual route, picking up the lower Juniper Top - Ashurst Rough path, keeping a firm eye on the edge of Bramblehall Wood across the narrow field. It was quiet at first, but soon enough I started to hear Hawfinches, most of them on 'my' side of the field. Stealth was not necessary as the birds made their way towards me, and I was soon looking directly up into a dazzling blue sky through a crazy-paving pattern of twigs and branches. The birds were very difficult to see, but vague shapes then morphed into Hawfinches and small groups flew through the lower reaches of the canopy and dived deep into Yews. I was but yards from them, teased by the incessant calling and able to witness the Yew branches being bent and sha


Another day, another dose of Hawfinches, but what a dose! With birds being faithful to Bramblehall Wood I returned this morning and immediately found up to 30 perched on top of bare trees, which quickly built up (with some birds flying across to Juniper Top). From my position on the 'Juniper Top - Ashurst Rough' lower footpath I became aware that I could hear Hawfinches calling above me. They were noisy and easy to track as they moved along the tree tops. It was a large flock, but numbers were difficult to assess due to having to look through a tangle of twigs and branches. However, the flock built and got an awful lot noisier - it soon became apparent that a minimum of 110 birds were involved. After ten minutes or so they moved up the slope towards Ashurst Rough. Some of these birds may have doubled back, as a scan across the field towards Bramblehall Wood revealed a handful of perched birds on show. Slowly but surely, over a half-hour period, birds appeared out of nearb

Orchid Winter

I'm spending an unhealthy amount of time in the Box Hill - Mickleham area at the moment. It is a beautiful part of the world and it does have its fair share of natural history gems, so it is time well spent. This morning found me sliding down a steep slope on the south-eastern side of Mickleham Downs (to the east of White Hill). It was off the beaten track and away from any of the footpaths that I usually take. I was stopped in my slippery tracks by a number of Bird's-nest Orchids, or rather the dead husks, of last year's plants (above). They were scattered about beneath the beech trees, well hidden against the leaf layer. Looking around me I realised that they stretched way ahead of me - and either side of me - as far as my naked eye could see. Hundreds of them! As I carried on, so did the orchids. I had to reassess my count - there were low thousands of them. I've never seen so many. They carried on underneath a small conifer plantation and out the other side back

Hunting Hawfinch

Taken from the Juniper Top lower footpath, looking across the field towards Bramblehall Wood. You can get much closer to it than this, particularly at the start and end of the path. Scan both bare tree tops and the crowns of Yew for the Hawfinches. I cannot get enough of them. As soon as I see or hear a Hawfinch, I want to see another. This current invasion has been one of my ornithological highlights, anytime, anywhere. And the fact that this event is not only easy to see but is also on my doorstep has bestowed upon it a personal note. So, what better than go out looking for them and try to hunt down new birds in new locations? Last Sunday I thought that it would be worth checking Bramblehall Wood. The site is private, but you can look at its steep western flank from the footpath that runs along the bottom of Juniper Top and Ashurst Rough. On the OS map this path has a thick purple line running along it. At intervals you are afforded views across a narrow grassy field onto the s

The sea

Part of the reason that I have taken up painting again is for the 'mindfulness' that comes from spending time applying gouache to cartridge paper. It is relaxing, you lose yourself in the process and, at the end of it, you have a piece of original artwork - it really doesn't matter if it is any good or not. Above is my latest effort. Having used trees as the subject matter for most of my previous paintings I decided to adopt the sea for this one. Colour and pattern took over, and the final result is a bit of a dog's dinner, but that's what happens when you allow your mind to wander off. I don't know if this is actually finished yet. I may well return to it at a later date and tweak...

Langley Vale update

Those of you who are regular visitors to this blog (and thank you if you are) will by now be familiar with Langley Vale Farm, an area on the Surrey downs that is blessed with a terrific arable flora. I do go on about it quite a lot... To cut a long story short the farm has been purchased by the Woodland Trust (WT) who are managing the land and aiming to have 60% of it as woodland - currently this figure stands at 20%. There have been many meetings; environmental impact assessments made; working parties formed; correspondence sent and received. I have been heartened that these processes have alerted the WT to the presence of the rare flora and that it has been recognised by them as not only of national importance but also in need of protection. The WT, in consultation with Plantlife, have agreed to implement plans to ensure that it survives. I have been impressed by their willingness to do so, as the WT's existence is not to be the custodians of rare wild flowers. They could ha