Showing posts from 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 stro


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 h

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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 Ou

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.

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


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 fi

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

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 ball

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.

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...

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 i

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!

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 19 th century. These late Victorian ornithologists were few in number, had limited reference and

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...

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 the