Tuesday, 30 October 2018

A different kind of 'Richard's' at the sewage farm...


When news broke of Peter Alfrey having found a Richard's Pipit at Beddington yesterday I was unable to visit, but, via the kindness of Roger B, access was granted earlier this morning. After a rather poor 90 minutes skywatching from the northern lakeside we then scaled the slope of the mound (with Glenn and Christian) and walked onto the weedy top to search for the pipit. After 45 minutes of a no-show Glenn returned to the underwhelming sky-watch whilst Christian and I doubled-up our efforts and started all over again.

Within a couple of minutes a large, wagtail-like pipit leapt from the vegetation and flew in a tight circle around us, then hovered for a good 10 seconds before alighting once more into the vegetation. It couldn't have performed any better, with the clear supercillium, pale lores, stout bill and unmarked flanks at once obvious. The next time in flight it called three times, the classic raspy "shreee". We were then able to stalk the bird as it strode along a grassy trackway, even obtaining fair scope views. It is quite a pale bird, with the to-be-expected rangy demeanour.

On and off for the next couple of hours it was fairly easy to track down, with Roger, Derek and Frankie also joining in with second, third and fourth helpings. Another fantastic find by Peter and yet again Beddington proves that there is life in the old place yet. Many thanks to BFBG once more for their hospitality.

These two images were taken by Peter yesterday and are posted with his kind permission. Please click on the link in the first paragraph to read his excellent account and also to listen to the bird's call.

Monday, 29 October 2018

Vismig

Visible migration is but one of the joys of birding. To be able to watch flocks of birds moving overhead, with intent and purpose, is exhilarating - it's as simple as that. And, to make things even better, you can take part in these observations anywhere you can see some sky. A balcony on a city-centre block of flats; a hilltop; a coastal headland or a suburban back garden, they will all do, admittedly some will produce more birds and a wider spread of species than others.

Our Banstead back garden would most probably come two-thirds of the way down a 'Visible migration' league table. It has clear sky, although mature trees and houses get in the way in certain directions; it is at elevation (in Surrey terms): it is close to open downland. Even though I've lived here for over 30 years, attempts at visible migration from the garden have been patchy, even though successes are sometimes forthcoming and some big movements have been witnessed. This autumn a bit more effort has been put in and it has been worthwhile, with three days that could be described as 'busy' with a few bonus species being in the mix, such as Golden Plover and Crossbill.

What is fascinating is comparing the results of others who are practicing this ornithological 'dark art' nearby. The numbers, and species composition, can wildly vary. Sometimes a movement can be underway a couple of miles away but not where you are stood, and vice vera. This birding conveyor belt in the sky is addictive. Even a poor day can throw up a surprise. If you haven't tried it yet, give it a go - you will not be disappointed.

Friday, 26 October 2018

Corn Buntings at Whipsiderry




I was very pleased with managing to capture these images of Corn Buntings in the set-aside fields at Whipsiderry near Porth, Cornwall. No enlargement needed, just a bit of sideways crop.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Tolcarne stranding

It was sad to come across this stranded and deceased Leatherback Turtle this morning on Tolcarne Beach just east of Newquay. The Cornish Marine Strandings team had already arrived and tagged the corpse in case the tide took it away before it could be removed. A large beast, it cut a sorry sight, motionless on the sand, surrounded by sombre holidaymakers.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Set aside success

Along the cliff top, just above Whipsiderry Beach, is a stretch of 'set aside' fields some 800m in length. Signs alert you to this being 'Bunting habitat' and in particular that of the Corn Bunting. Like elsewhere in the south, this species has become a lot more uncommon, so it was good to see such measures having been undertaken to safeguard its future.

The fields held plenty of birds, with Linnets, Goldfinches, Skylarks, Meadow and Rock Pipits utilising the long grass and wildflower seed (I did see some Corn Marigold still in bloom). And Corn Bunting? Yes, five of these chunky passerines, one in song and an obliging individual that allowed me to obtain some quite good (for me) pictures. I will post them soon.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Well Choughed

Katrina and I are down in Porth, a small Cornish town due east of Newquay. Some friends of ours have just moved down here and we are availing ourselves of their hospitality. They insisted that I bring my optics along and have a bird watch and I am happy enough to oblige!

An Internet search revealed little about the general area for birding. It is easy to assume that any part of the British coast, particularly one this far down in Cornwall, will have a rich ornithological history. My arrival was one of not knowing what to expect. It certainly has potential, with a rocky coast punctuated by sandy bays, cliff tops with discrete areas of Tamarisk scrub and ribbons of hedgerow.

Today saw two highlights in my couple of hours of birding - a low-flying and vocal Chough plus a second calendar year Mediterranean Gull. A modest but pleasing start.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Azores day one

After the crew mopped up on Shetland earlier in the month (with seven selfies, 28 likes and a retweet from none other than Captain Wank) we decided to hit the Azores to hoover up all of the Yank vagrants. But before we did there was the small matter of the Cornish Catbird, so the crew got back together at Big Dick's House - that's me, Pipit Shagger and our new member Spunkwit. What a birding possee!! After a fraught drive through the night we were relieved that the bird was still there, pointed out to us by a passing cyclist who reassured us that it didn't have a tail - we must have been looking at the wrong field guide... anyway, we all uploaded a load of images via Spunkwit's big lens - I'm sure that there haven't been many pictures taken of this particular bird. Our's were shite to be honest, but you could easily make out the tell tale whiskers.

Anyhow, back to the Azores. It took us three days to get to Corvo where we were met by one of the top Western Palearctic listers Phlegm Goran Erikssen. Together with a load of middle-aged men we climbed a heavily wooded mountain to get untickable views of several American rares, none of which we had heard of or were able to identify. Never to mind, we just went along to the evening log and then wrote down anything that was called out - after all, we must have seen them. So today my WP list is now on an awesome 256, with today's additions including Greater Trumpstart and a Weeryoe. Our combined tweeting got us 23 likes, 4 retweets and a comment from none other than Corvo pioneer Peter Alfafa. This is top tweetage! Spunkwit also managed to self-find a Portugeuse custard tart! Legend!!

What will tomorrow bring? Whatever it will be our crew won't know until one of the kind European birders points it out to us. Maybe we ought to remain in the EU after all... But we will be at the ready, Big Dick with his phone to take selfies, Pipit Shagger to get too close to the rares, Spunkwit with his big lens and me to tweet incessantly about the first thing that comes into my head. TOP BIRDING!!

Benign times


The blue skies, warm sun and light winds are a delight to be out in but it does mean that the autumn birding is a little on the slow side. Stonechats appear to be present on most of the local open spaces, including Epsom Downs (above). Yesterday afternoon a covey of 11 Red-legged Partridges were found on the farmland on Walton Downs, a remnant of the old shoot that ceased raising their guns over five years ago (below). A few late butterflies are on the wing: Small Copper, Small White, Brimstone and Red Admiral. The past few nights have been too cold to bother with the moth trap. It feels more like late summer than late autumn.

Friday, 19 October 2018

Birding locally off-piste


Sometimes it pays to just wander off the beaten track, search areas that just don't get looked at and, regardless of the outcome, enjoy the ride. Combine that philosophy with a calm, sunny and warm afternoon and you are on to a winner. I parked up at Margery Wood and walked northwards across the open farmland at Mogador. This area always looks good to me, a mixture of rough grassland, some crops and plenty of isolated scrubby bushes. My love of chats is an open secret, so a group of four tame Stonechats, together with an isolated single, was success enough. There are many footpaths that then criss-cross both Walton and Banstead Heaths and, although tempted by them, returned to search the slopes of Colley Hill - but not before a noisy flock of five Crossbills flew over heading eastwards.

Colley Hill is one of my favourite places, although my birding success here is poor. The cleared slopes, with isolated scrub, looks ideal for migrants. I always think it looks ideal for Ring Ouzels, but despite many visits during Spring and Autumn passage have failed to find even the one... until today. A female/immature flew into view from the bottom of the slope and alighted in brambles two-thirds of the way up. Marvellous stuff!

With the sun fully out and attendant pockets of warmth, a few butterflies were on the wing, including Small White, Peacock and Painted Lady (the latter two species below).


Thursday, 18 October 2018

New Zealand tree-fern muncher comes to Banstead


Meet Musotima nitidalis, a pyralid moth that should, by rights, be chomping on tree-ferns in Australia and New Zealand. But in 2009 a single was recorded in Dorset, no doubt having hitched a lift on a potted tree-fern. Since then others have appeared, mostly in Dorset, Hampshire and Sussex, but also in Essex, London and Surrey. It seems to have established a toe-hold, yet another adventive species that has happily used human intervention to colonise new parts of the world. Last night I had my first - the individual above - to the garden MV here in Banstead. Quite a striking moth, certainly one that doesn't need a degree to identify correctly.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

The dying of Summer's light


Now that we are into mid-October the need to suck the marrow out of each warm and sunny day becomes all the more urgent for the butterfly watcher. We just do not know how many more times we will see them this year. Some have long gone, their flight period but a dim and distant memory, but others are still on the wing. My 'latest date' for a number of species runs into late October and beyond, and for your entertainment they are:

Clouded Yellow 2nd November 2015 Dungeness
Brimstone 12th December 1998 Banstead
Large White 23rd October 2001 Banstead
Small White 31st October 2016 Dungeness
Small Copper 1st November 1988 Dungeness
Red Admiral 24th December 2014 Ewell
Painted Lady 2nd November 1988 Dungeness
Small Tortoiseshell 29th October 1987 Dungeness
Peacock 3rd November 1992 Banstead 
Comma 18th October 1978 Beddington SF
Speckled Wood 13th October 2018 Headley Heath
Wall 23rd October 1982 Kent
Small Heath 1st November 2015 Dungeness
Monarch 22nd October 1981 Isles of Scilly

It is a bittersweet feeling seeing these late, mostly lonely specimens. Many are starting to show wear (such as the Red Admiral above) and they are all a reminder of the 'dying of Summer's light'. A few comments on my list above - I cannot believe that I have not had a later Speckled Wood and I assume that I have but have inadvertently failed to keep a note of it; the habit of birding at Dungeness in late autumn also helps you to see late butterflies; the Monarch is the only one that I have ever seen.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Rarity

In 1899, ornithologist Howard Saunders wrote:

'It is true, that the scientific study of migration does not consist in the acquisition of new or rare visitants: yet even a severe migrationist may secretly feel a greater pleasure at the occurrence of a Red-rumped Swallow than at the passage of a continuous flight of Starlings or Jays'.

Even back then there were people who thought it unseemly to place the rarity of a bird above the practice of 'worthy' or 'pure' birding. His use of the word 'secretly' suggests that the occurrence of a rare bird should be regarded as a guilty pleasure rather than an event to be openly announced.

Rarity was a lot rarer back then. There were fewer birdwatchers, no field guides, identification techniques were in its infancy and there was no grapevine - you most probably found out about a rarity in your village when an account was published in a journal the following year, or received a letter in the post announcing the find if you knew the finder.

When I started out back in the mid-1970s rarity was something that was desired, but to be honest only if it was bumped into. I did sometimes hear about a rarity, normally because it had made it into a newspaper or was cultivating a local reputation, but the idea of actually going to specifically see the rarity was not considered. I don't know why I didn't, but it was certainly not born out of any morality. I was aware that there did exist a small number of people who chased rarity, but my peers by and large were most disparaging about them, normally likening such behaviour to being a train spotter. I can clearly remember an analogy being drawn up that once a twitcher had seen a species then they would rip its picture out of the field guide as they had no more use for it...

In time I did twitch myself, but not for very long and certainly not for everything. I had my successes and I had my failures. The same applied to actually finding rarities for myself, although I am way behind many birders, some who seem to possess magnets that draw in rare birds within their orbit. I withdrew from twitching for several reasons - didn't particularly like long journeys, didn't enjoy the dipping when it happened and, more importantly, was increasingly uneasy standing in large crowds trying to glimpse whatever it was we had gone for. My list was not something that bothered me, I was not competitive, so quietly withdrew.

For today's rarity hunter times have never been so good - excellent optics, superlative identification guides, instantaneous communications and, if you have a car, spare cash and time to burn, then a 500+ UK life list is yours for the taking. I am a keen student on what turns up in the UK, avidly consume every tweet that informs about the what and where, the who and how, but do not feel the need to actually go along and look at the rarity for myself.  When I do go birding, by dint of my choice of location the chance of rarity is low, but, in the back of my mind there is still hope that it will happen. I would be a liar if I were to suggest that the appearance of a rare bird would not enhance my birding day - but it is not a pre-requisite to any success or enjoyment.

So, give me a big fall, a visible migration or a line-up of chats along a fence line anytime over rarity, although if the birding Gods want to bestow rarity as well, then that's OK by me!

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Call me old fashioned but...

...I really cannot get used to the current running order of the ornithological systematic list. I grew up with the beginning of the list starting with the Divers, followed by Grebes and then into Fulmar, Shearwaters and Gannet - you knew where you stood (or, at least, where you listed). And then, some years ago, it was all change and somebody decided that we ought to start off with the Swans... wtf? I didn't roll with that one at all.

And then in 2015 it was decided to follow the systematic list as used in the Handbook of the Birds of the World (HBW) and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World (Volume 1)

So now we are asked to start with Common Quail, then whip through the game birds before - yes, you've guessed it - we are back to Swans and Geese again. Ducks are next to show up (as expected) but not for them to then be followed by Pigeons!! Then Sandgrouse??? Then Swifts???!!!! And when Divers resurface (geddit?) and we are then treated to Bustards, we seem to hit a sea of calm with a reversion to what we all used to enjoy, a familiar, settled systematic list.

But oh dear, worse is to come. Raptors used to be all together in one talon-clinging brotherhood. Now falcons have been removed, to be replaced in the running order by Hoopoe, Woodpeckers and Bee-eaters before they are allowed to appear. By now I'm apoplectic with rage.

By the time we come across the fact that Pylloscopus Warblers have been put ahead of Sylvias I'm so numbed that it just doesn't seem too much of an issue. Wagtails and Pipits have been divorced from Larks and now appear, flung way up the list, just before Finches. At least the Finches are still at the backend, where we (thankfully) finish off with Buntings - just as it always has been and should be. Phew...

A taxonomist would no doubt explain to my feeble mind why this is necessary. To me it is just tomfoolery. Whenever I construct a working list it is STILL in the old currency. Call me a Luddite, but my systematic list is still in pounds, shillings and pence; still in pounds and ounces. And no, I'm not a rabid Leaver. Far from it.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Banstead Bird Observatory


Meet the mini-Uber patch. This is the scaled down version of the ND&B self-appointed recording area. All this is within walking distance (max hour-and-a-half) from home. And I have a plan. This morning I was making a joke about forming the Banstead Bird Observatory. And then I thought -

why not?

Yes, I know it is very self-indulgent and silly, but a man has to have his follies in life, even if they are doomed to failure. So the map above shows you the recording area of the newly declared Banstead Bird Observatory. It cannot be accredited into the Bird Observatory network because it does not offer bird ringing facilities or accommodation. So, in reality, it exists purely in the mind of this misguided fool. But, as I like projects, this opens up an opportunity to start on a new one - the history of the BBO recording area. It may be 99.9% dry and it may get the coverage of approximately 3.2 birders per year, but the historical record does throw up some ornithological curve balls. And when it's finished I'll stick it on Google Drive for you to download for free - after all, who on earth would pay for it...

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Huffing and puffing


After yesterday's thrush-fest it would have been greedy to expect seconds, and I didn't get any. A dawn start at Denbigh's Hillside scored highly on the atmospheric stakes but low on visible migration, with just a scattering of Redwing and Siskin being the highlights, although a late Tree Pipit stole the honours. Canons Farm was next up, and was dreadful, with just two Stonechats breaking up an otherwise dire few hours. Of note were a single Clouded Yellow and an emergence of thousands of ladybirds, all of those that I examined being Harlequin.

Today's photographic offering comes courtesy of Blue Fleabane, glorious in the sunshine at the bottom of Denbigh's slope.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Thrush rush!

There is something about watching birds on the move that is special. To see flocks fly past in a hurry, born out of instinct and necessity, is to witness a natural phenomena that predates our time on earth. My tastes in observing such movements are not fussy - they could be terns or waders over a sea; hirundines contouring low over a headland; or, like this morning, thrushes en route to their wintering grounds by flying over my back garden.

I was out at first light, but it took a good hour before the floodgates opened. By 09.15 it slowed, coming to a virtual halt by 10.30 hrs. My final total was of 4,145 Redwings, all moving west in flocks of up to 150-200 in size. None hung around. These were ably supported by 308 Chaffinches with a few Fieldfare and Brambling alongside. I'm now hoping for more of the same tomorrow...

Sunday, 7 October 2018

The three stages of the New Inn


I happened to be in Sutton last week and went on a bit of a nostalgic wander - I had lived in the town during the early 1970s and worked there (employed by Reed Elsevier in its many incarnations) for more years than I care to admit. The back streets, east of the High Street, were home not just to my schooling, but also my early drinking. As I walked down the Victorian-era, largely terraced Myrtle Road, I came upon the pub that had witnessed three stages of that drinking life - The New Inn. I was saddened to find that it had closed down and was up for sale. In today's financial climate it would seem more than likely that it will never again open up as a public house...

Back in 1980 I was introduced to this den of iniquity by Dave Eland. He had adopted it as a local, and with the both of us unattached at the time, we became regular habitu├ęs. It was a lively place, with a cast of characters and a feeling of belonging. I maybe visited one-two times a week. They put on live music in a tiny back bar, with the other two bars not being that much larger. It gave the place a cosy, compact ambiance. That was stage one.

Stage two came about because of Dave and I being birders. Other local birding friends started to join us. Stewart Holdsworth, Steve Broyd, Bob Hibbert, Nick Gardner, Richard Bosanquet and Andy Merritt all regularly attended what became known as 'Birder Thursday Nights'. We were also joined by a cast of irregulars, mostly non-local birders who dropped in for a beer and a chance to catch up with the latest gossip. Our group included a few 'world listers' who would swap stories and information about birding in Venezuela or Thailand, spreading maps across tables with checklists vying alongside pint glasses for room on the bar. Others would proudly show off the latest publications, be they the most recent BB or a prized birding book. Trips were hatched. Plans were made. At times there were 10-15 of us gathered, taking over a bar. The locals looked on bemused but tolerated this influx of 'weirdos'. On one occasion an American birder walked into the bar and asked the landlord where the 'Birdwatching Group' met. He was on a business trip from the States and staying in London. As a keen birder he had done his homework and had found out about our weekly get-togethers. He was, of course, welcomed to our table(s). A veritable 'who's who' of London birders passed through those pub doors over the years, such as Peter Clement, Alan Greensmith and Mark Hollingworth. But all good things end -  people moved house or moved on, and although a few of us did still regularly meet, our venue became pubs in a couple of miles away in Cheam Village.

However, I still worked in Sutton, in the 'media'. During the late 1980s and early 1990s it was still an arena in which people 'worked hard' and 'played hard'. Our playing hard took place in the New Inn, courtesy of my affiliation with the establishment. For a handful of years it became the bolt-hole from work, a lunchtime refuge - I would arrive with a gaggle of colleagues and do what work-mates did in those lax times. It doesn't happen now, but back then it was quite normal practice to do so. Times and attitudes changed. Very soon any form of lunchtime socialising, particularly any involving alcohol was frowned upon. A sandwich at the desk became the norm. Stage three of my New Inn time had ceased to be.

It was quite sad to come across the old place all shut-up, empty, bereft of life. I stood there for a few minutes, imagining our merry bands walking through the front door and into the cheery atmosphere (although the door we went through was the one on the right, not the left!). But our ghosts are still inside, getting a round in whilst discussing the latest rarity...

Friday, 5 October 2018

Ploughing for plants


I was pleased to find a couple of the 'good plant' fields at Langley Bottom Farm have been ploughed, hopefully in readiness for next years batch of arable goodies. I'm certainly no expert in when it is best to plough a field for the benefit of wild flowers, but can only assume that Plantlife have had some input with the Woodland Trust on the timing. The photo above shows a field that is home to Catmint, Narrow-fruited Corn-salad, Jersey Cudweed, Night-flowering Catchfly and the blue flowered form of Scarlet Pimpernel among others. Roll on next year!

Thursday, 4 October 2018

100 years ago on a Surrey farm

I wrote the following for an item in the 2011 Canons Farm Bird Report. In lieu of a current post today, here it is. 
The birds of Canons Farm 100 years ago – an educated guess
There is an affliction that affects many birdwatchers that fall under the spell of covering a local patch. It is to wonder about what species used to be present on site. They like to hypothesise as to the composition of the birdlife from bygone ages and dream of what may have bred there, those birds that used the site as passage migrants and even delve into the realms of pure fantasy and speculate on the rarities that remained undiscovered.
Without the ability to time travel, we have to consult the printed archives to get a realistic feel for these long gone days. The ornithological record of Canons Farm is relatively recent, but sightings from the neighbouring areas have been gathered from as early as the late 19thcentury. These late Victorian ornithologists were few in number, had limited reference and spent most of their time studying the breeding cycle of birdlife. Therefore the database, compared to today’s, is thin. However, enough data exists for the ornithological detective of the 21stcentury to build a picture of what went before. 
A map exists of the farmland south of Banstead that dates from 1871. To the modern observer, it looks strikingly familiar. Place names have little changed. Farmhouses are to be found exactly where the present dwellings are sited. Woodland boundaries appear to have remained static. The first impression of the field boundaries is that little has changed too, although a closer look reveals that Broad Field was broken up into six units and the large field opposite Reeds Rest Cottages into four. We can therefore picture a farmland with more hedgerows, which would have been more luxuriant than those found today due to the lack of pesticides used on any crops grown between them. The modern vogue for spraying up to (and even into) the hedgerow does little to encourage vegetation growth. More positives for the birdlife would have been apparent because of the gentler farming practices – the crops would have been sharing the soil with many more wildflowers. Apart from the seeds that these would have produced for food, the accompanying insect population, enticed by the nectar, would have been boosted – even more food for birds. Compared to today’s empty larder, the 1911 birdlife would have enjoyed a banquet.  The thicker vegetation would have also acted as more desirable breeding habitat. The overall result would have been more birds present on site. Harvesting regimes, with the timing of bringing the crops in, might have been more sympathetic to the success of breeding birds that were utilising the growth to nest in, plus allowing the seed to be accessible for longer. There are poorer soils present on Canons Farm that used to hold livestock, giving the farmland some grassy areas to add diversity to the habitat.
Beyond the farm it was still largely open down land, stretching from Sutton in the north, from Epsom Downs in the west, and from Reigate in the south. Small farms were sprinkled across this majestic sweep of countryside. Only the woodland to the east would have broken up this open vista.
So, with this information what can we suppose the ornithologist visiting Canons Farm during 1911 would have found? I have set out the following account roughly in a systematic order. It is open to debate, but I feel confident that if we did possess a time travelling machine we would find it fairly close to what was present a hundred years ago.
Grey Partridges would have been a familiar sight to our Edwardian birdwatcher. A big increase in the population was experienced in the late 19thcentury due to changes in farming practice and active game keeping. This latter discipline would, however, have had the opposite effect on raptors and crows in particular. Magpies would have been an infrequent observation. Birds of prey would have also been thin on the ground.
The Corncrake is often used as a symbol of lost birdlife due to modern farming practice. Mechanical harvesting became common place in the late 19thcentury and this was literally the death of hundreds of these skulking land rails. Corncrakes were still breeding in the wider area at the turn of the 20thcentury and still bred on Epsom Downs up until 1934. Even if Canons Farm itself was not blessed with the rasping call of this species during the high summer months, it is not too fanciful to suggest that passage migrants, particularly in the autumn, would have lurked in the fields.
Stone Curlews were still a feature of the nearby North Downs around this period of time. The open fields must have proved irresistible to the odd passage migrant.
Gulls have become an inland success story in modern Britain, utilising the reservoirs and modern flat roofed buildings of the cities to become year-round inhabitants. It was not always so. Our 1911 birdwatcher would not have seen gulls in anywhere near the numbers that we do now, and certainly not seen many at all between April and July.
They would have taken Turtle Doves for granted however. The soporific purring would have been common. Autumn would have seen large flocks in the hedgerows, the observer scattering birds as they walked the field boundaries. Hunting nearby would have been Barn Owls, avidly gathering prey for their hungry young back in the barns. A century on and we are hoping that this will be repeated!
Although the Wryneck had already started a national decline, breeding birds were still regularly found in Banstead, a pair remaining in Chipstead up until 1960. Breeding would have been likely in the environs of the farm, with passage migrants and wandering young almost certain. The same would have been true for Red-backed Shrike. The hedgerows and scrub of the southern slopes would not have been complete without this butcher bird a part of the summer scene. Spotted Flycatchers, whilst not at plague proportions, would have been commonly seen zipping in and out of the tree canopy assaulting passing insects. A number of breeding pairs were most probably scattered across the area.
Willow Tits were still extant. Banstead Woods and Burgh Heath were historical stations for this newly discovered species, only understood to be separate from the Marsh Tit shortly before 1911.
A winter’s stroll would have been enlivened by Hooded Crow, still seen in enough numbers to sometimes be encountered in flocks. Nearby would have been noisy flocks of Tree Sparrows, mixed in with the winter finches feeding on the stubble. They would have also been breeding in the area, although this species has always been known to have a population that is cyclical in abundance. 
Corn Buntings were a low-level resident across the wider local area. The jangling song would have been proclaimed widely over the farm, with flocks being found outside of the breeding season. But a rarer bird was also present. In 1900 it was still breeding in Banstead and hung on in the Tadworth and Sutton areas until 1930. I refer to the Cirl Bunting. What a welcome addition that would be to the 21stcentury Canons Farm fauna.
So, the birdwatcher that wandered the farmland a hundred years ago had much to look at. There were certainly a larger number of birds to watch. He didn’t have any Ring-necked Parakeets to disturb the peace and Collared Doves were still forty years away from colonising this country.
If the CFBW group is still in existence in a 100 years time, then what would they make of the state of our birdlife now? Will they be gasping at the fact that we currently have Skylarks and Yellowhammers? Such is the fascination of bird watching. No year is ever the same, never mind each century.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Chats to the rescue


Any regular visitor to this blog will know that I love chats. I don't mind which species, they are all wonderful. They sit out in the open, are confiding and are generally highly colourful. This afternoons visit to Canons Farm would have been an abject failure had it not been for the 10 Stonechats present - a male at Bog Field (above), a female at Pipit Meadow and a group of eight (four males) at Reeds Rest Bottom.

One other highlight was a mass of (Wild) Radish flowering on the upper slopes of Pipit Meadow. You can share in its understated magnificence below...

Monday, 1 October 2018

Bloody mushrooms!


A few years ago I had but the one guide to the fungi of the UK. I knew very little about fungi, but this book was well laid out and even broke the species up into habitat, so that if my fungi was growing in broad-leaved woodland then all I had to do was turn to that particular section and match up my specimen. Simple. Er, no...

The more I got 'into' them the more books I bought. With each subsequent purchase the more detailed was the publication. More detailed meant more species. More species meant that what I thought was a straightforward identification became anything but. It seemed to me that for every 'easy-to-do' mushroom there were, in fact, several look-a-likes. And these might need spore prints, chemical testing, sniffing and/or tasting to be absolutely sure. And then the taxonomists starting splitting. And splitting. And splitting. My original 250 species to be concerned about now numbers in the thousands.

What did I learn? Well, the more I looked at them, the less I knew. They are wonderful organisms, full of mystery, wonder and aesthetically pleasing. I sort of backed away from them but do still take the odd photo when one looks interesting. Take the image above, from Effingham Forest last week. I've only just looked at it to try and identify it. I reckon it might be Spongy Mazegill (Spongipellis delectans) but that would be a significant record, so it most probably isn't. I've just applied to join the British Mycological Society Facebook Group, where I will post the image in the hope that I can be put out of my misery. I will most probably be told it is one of twenty look-a-likes that need microscopic examination, but only during full moons in leap years...

Stop Press: It has been identified by a kind soul on Facebook as Lumpy Bracket. These organisms all look the same to me!