Showing posts from November, 2018

Fair-weather birder

I used to go out birding in all sorts of weather - pouring rain, heavy snow, gale-force winds and heatwave. As the saying goes, 'there is no such thing as poor weather, just inappropriate clothing'. But I now have to admit, even when wearing appropriate clothing there is poor weather that tips over into the 'not worth going out birding' category. Take yesterday on Walton Downs. A foggy dawn. Looks pretty (see above) but cuts down visibility to the point that birds are reduced to soft shapes, although their calls are still present for the observer (or, more accurately, the hearer) to have a good idea to what is about. But anything at mid-distance is lost and avian activity is reduced. So, I thought, come back later. But later (and not much later as it turned out) the fog lifted to be replaced by a cold, gusting, wet and dark suite of weather. I suppose because I can largely choose when to go birding that I have the luxury of turning round and going back indoors -

Where have they gone?

Three out of the last four evenings have been spent on the Epsom/Walton Downs border, with owls and roosts in mind. I've drawn a blank on owls, but the roost situation is a lot more interesting. On each visit 400-500 Jackdaws have left the woods to head northwards and appear to be roosting in the copse that is located alongside the race course. But it is the thrushes that have held the most interest - on Friday it was quite a spectacle, with flocks arriving from the west and pitching down in woodland around Juniper Hill. A minimum of 850 Redwing, 16 Fieldfare and 12 Blackbird came in, some of the flocks numbering 100-200. It was a joy to see them come down from high and swoop around the canopy before settling. I returned for seconds yesterday, but apart from c100 thrushes that was my lot. And this evening even fewer showed up. So, where have they gone? Were they birds moving through, stopping over briefly before heading on to wintering grounds elsewhere? Are they still around, but

The great Midrips boulder fall!

Back in 2011 I posted the following while discussing the injuries that I had befallen in the quest of birds... Twice this winter I've fallen flat on my backside whilst walking the streets looking for Waxwings. Both times ice was the culprit. No doubt the combination of looking up and not down resulted in my not noticing a virtual ice-rink that was set before me. My record at falling over when birding stretches back many years, and some of them were spectacular. In Malaysia I completed a full somersault on a treacherous jungle trail at Taman Negara. I lay on the muddy floor winded, optics yards away, convinced I had broken an arm. Fortunately I hadn't (which is just as well, as shortly afterwards a Hooded Pitta appeared). At Dungeness, I fell in a six-foot deep ditch while night-time wader ringing; ran into a metal post at thigh height ripping my jeans (but luckily not my scrotum); got tangled up with a wire hawser that spun me over to land on my neck. My falls at Pagham H

A late surge of thrushes

A dawn arrival at Juniper Bottom saw a keen frost and good visibility. I trudged up the open slope towards Juniper Top but found my passage halted several times by flocks of Redwing that were passing overhead in an easterly direction. Half way up I stopped to witness (and count) what was obviously a heavy thrush movement. And here I largely stood for the next four and a half hours. All the birds were arriving from the west and following the line of the valley (running from Norbury Park to Headley) and leaving east to north-east. They were generally in good sized flocks (20-200). A few Fieldfares were with them, with some flocks being mixed. The only other species seemingly involved were Chaffinch (55) and Brambling (10). After 09.30hrs the movement lessened but was still obvious. Visibility started to worsen, with a misty horizon and pockets of light fog. And then, as if an agreement had been reached by the thrushes, the flocks, instead of moving on and out of the area, started

A quiet winter

Part 15 October - December 1976 Beddington SF continued to be my birding destination of choice. The hot summer had become nothing but a pleasant memory but the summer migrants were still hanging on, some of them very late indeed, with both Reed Warbler and Whinchat (October 31st) and two Ring Ouzel (November 7th). The changeable weather slowly morphed into that of a typical winter, with the dull and drizzly mornings coming out on top of a the few cold and crisp ones that came along. The birdlife at the farm took on a steady and familiar guise, with Green Sandpiper, Jack Snipe and Water Pipit ever present and helping to enliven the otherwise mundane visits. But regardless of the quietness of the ornithological landscape I still retrieved my bicycle from the shed before it got light and cycled to Beddington full of hope. Each visit was a dawn to dusk vigil, a mixture of cold hands, wet clothes, wellington boots, dead burdock heads sticking to jeans, the leaping of dykes, splashing thr

Earthstars and Apps

Our neighbours asked me to look at some fungi that they had growing in a flower bed. There were several of them that I tentatively identified as a species of Earthstar and, after looking in a few field guides believe is most probably Collared Earthstar (Geastrum triplex). It is apparently the commonest Earthstar but I could be wrong. Those of you that read yesterday's post may recall that I was pontificating on creating a WhatsApp group for Surrey birders who like a spot of visible migration. Well, the deed is done and we already have 20+ members. I need to acknowledge the help of younger daughter Jessica in showing me how to do so. My limitations with computers, software and Apps grows by the day...

A modest wader passage

The morning was spent at Mogador, the hamlet of which, at 200m, is apparently one of the highest settlements in south-east England. I was scanning the skies just as it was getting light, and for the next two hours was able to watch a modest southerly passage, which included 365 Redwing, 91 Fieldfare, 6 Lapwing and a Common Snipe. From keeping an eye on my Twitter feed, a number of other 'north downs' and associated higher ground sites also recorded waders on the move, albeit in modest numbers - Lapwing, Common Snipe, Golden Plover and Dunlin were the recorded species. What we lack in the county is a place where such observations can be seen, compared and studied. The only news gathering vehicle is a county page on the 'Going birding' website, which with all due respect is not being populated with much data. Maybe the vismiggers amongst us should set up a 'WhatsApp' group? Apart from an interest in what others are recording it would also act as an alert just in

Surrey v Northumberland Part 3

2018 still has a few weeks to run, but it isn't too early to cast one's eyes forward to next year and to plan for it. It's good to have projects in the pipeline and in some ways such things can add enjoyment and act as incentive to the time spent out in the field. And so, the first natural history project of 2019 can be revealed as... Surrey v Northumberland (a tale of two patches.) Stewart Sexton, ( he of the most beautifully illustrated notebooks and a worthy blog ) has agreed to a re-run of our two previous challenges - the results of which, I believe, is a score draw. Instead of straight forward annual totals, this time round we are going to compare the percentage that we record of our personal local patch lists. I'm going to enter two patches (if Stewart agrees). In reality one is just a smaller part of the other. In the uber-patch (see explanation in box above) I have recorded 213 species since 1974. At times I have chased birds within it and, for long per

Pipit roost

After last night's 'roost watch' I decided to visit another one of the local patches, Priest Hill, to see what might - or might not - be roosting. On arrival there were just a few Meadow Pipits (above) and Fieldfares mooching about, and it was quite hard work as I zig-zagged my way across the rank-grass meadows. Some respite came in the form of a Common Snipe, flushed from the largest paddock, my second record here, a dry site save for a few tiny ponds. As the light started to fade the bird activity stepped up. There was a marked dribble of corvids north and a veritable flood of gulls north-west, heading towards the west London reservoirs. At the same time up to 50+ Fieldfare departed into the murk and the first of at least 40 Meadow Pipits started to arrive, dropping down into the long grass to roost. As I left the site there was a gash of blood red on the western horizon, enough to light up a small bat that flew in a straight line, not dropping a wing beat, across

Belated evening discoveries

One of the joys of watching an area regularly is that you get to build up a picture of what occurs when, and how many birds are involved. But while it is understandable to think that, after several years of paying a patch a visit, you would have a very firm handle on such data, sometimes doing it differently can turn up unexpected results. Epsom and Walton Downs today was a case in point. I most probably bird here 20-30 times a year, almost exclusively during fully formed daylight. Dawn and dusk visits are rare - in fact, apart from 'twitching' a Barn Owl a couple of years back, an end of daylight visit has not been made at all. After a couple of hours this morning (70+ Skylark, a handful of Fieldfare - pictured above) I returned to some high ground as night fell to scan the surrounding area for Barn Owl. Although I was not successful in this, a couple of roosts were discovered that I was unaware of. Firstly a Ring-necked Parakeet fly-line has been established, although I

So, how was the autumn for you?

As we come towards the end of yet another autumn, there are plenty of birders 'out there' who are summing up their birding experience - 'dull', 'poor' and 'disappointing' seem to be three of the most regularly recurring words used. I'm normally quite quick to sum up my feelings about what has gone on over any given period, but have strangely refrained from doing so this time round. So I gave this past autumn a thought and can only say that I've found it liberating. Let me explain. Most autumn birding campaigns will be largely planned around the promise of falls, arrivals, visible migrations and scarce - even rare - birds. I'm just as guilty as the next person in doing so, but not this autumn. I wanted to bring in the changes, go to places that I knew little about and which were low on the ornithological radar. Admittedly, I did a couple of quick Dungeness visits, but short birding holidays at Charmouth (Dorset) and Porth (Cornwall) were

Birding round the edges

A brief three-day stay in the Dungeness area was courtesy of the Hollingworth Hotel (fine whiskies and good music a speciality!) Unusually for a birding visit to the area, little was actually done at the observatory, save for a brief sea-watch and a 'coffee and biscuit' morning with Jacques. Instead I was drawn to the outer limits of the shingle... Wednesday A strong southerly blow was whipping up a fierce sea, and as Chris P and I walked along the desolate 'green wall' between The Midrips and Galloways, our attention was largely drawn to the sea incursions along the shingle ridge. At times our resolve was tested, as one particular break in the beach at The Brooks was allowing the sea to stream through (see image above and video below). At times the waves rose above the top of the shingle and were many feet higher than us. Suddenly that wall of pebbles seemed insubstantial! We did keep an eye on the birds when we weren't marvelling at the sea, best of all bein

Weeds = seeds = birds

Langley Bottom Farm has appeared on this blog many times - mostly because of the fine arable flora that is present. Keen students of ND&B will remember that the Woodland Trust has bought the farm and are currently planting up large areas to create a Millennium Wood. Thankfully they are leaving plenty of the fields alone and the early signs are good that the rare arable flora will be looked after. Last summer was the first in which no crops were grown. The fields were left to run wild, a tangle of grass and flower. Most of the fields have been cut back (above) and others left well alone (below). The upshot of this 'wildness' is that there is plenty of seed on the ground, and where there is seed, there are birds. Any scan across the farm revealed good numbers of birds, moving along hedgerows, dodging between copses and wheeling over the open ground. My final counts are very much minima - Skylark (80), Fieldfare (145), Redwing (75), Goldfinch (100), Brambling (1) and

Coming soon above a garden near you

There is something quite decadent about birding from your own garden. No need to get up at some ridiculously early hour. No need to get in the car and drive away to add to the traffic congestion and air pollution. Cups of tea whenever you want one. And toast - don't forget the toast... This morning saw the latest in my concerted effort to sky watch the first one-two hours of the day from home. It has been going quite well, with even the quietest days providing at least Chaffinches and Redwings to look at. I love that half-light, especially on a still morning, when the lonely 'pink' of a Chaffinch, or 'siiip' of a Redwing sends shivers down my spine. It heralds the start of another ornithological lucky dip, another chance to scrutinise the conveyor belt of birds. What of today? Best bird was a calling Woodlark, a garden first, heard twice as it flew west but remained unseen. Close behind was a single Lapwing, now an irregular sighting here in Banstead. Also recor

Another patch?

The bit is firmly between my teeth to find the 'best' place to conduct local visible migration watching. There are places that have proved themselves to be worthwhile in this department - the back garden, Epsom Downs, Canons Farm, Banstead Downs and Priest Hill to name a few - but I am yet to find one that comes up with the birds time and again. But whisper it, I may have found one... I have birded at Mogador a number of times over the past few years and it is my sort of place, being neglected, forgotten and under-watched (if watched at all). In fact, just like Canons Farm used to be when I first set foot on it (with a respectful nod towards John Peacock who had been patrolling the fields in previous years). Magador has a bit of everything - big skies (image above), rough grassland, pasture, arable, scrub and fence lines. I have seen Whinchat, Wheatear, Stonechat, Spotted Flycatcher and Crossbill here, plus big flocks of winter thrushes and all this on only a handful of vi