Showing posts from December, 2018

2019 projects

It's always good to have a few projects on the go. As much as aimless, unformed wandering around in the world of natural history is more than acceptable, I do like a framework to be in place. So, in no particular order, here are my projects for next year. Others may be added. Surrey v Northumberland patch challenge in which I will take on Stewart Sexton in a straightforward birding competition, using our local areas to see who can reach the highest percentage of our personal historical totals. I will have two totals - Uber and mini-uber. The higher one will be submitted. Sussex and Surrey plant hit list - a trawl through the literature and a leaning on local botanist's knowledge will be employed to set up a number of botanical targets within these two fair counties. Local allotment bio blitz , just round the corner and a place where a few of the plot holders have set up an enviable local nature reserve. I have been granted a key and aim to visit throughout the year on

Twitter moments of pleasure

Last Friday evening, as I was trawling through my Twitter feed, I was struck by the number of tweets that were looking back over the past year and picking out ornithological highlights - they were all of rare birds. Not one mentioned anything beyond rarity. In response I tweeted the following: Why are so many birder’s highlights from 2018 purely of rarity? What of spectacle, intimate encounter and pure joy? Birding is more than the rare. Much more. It was just a throwaway tweet, sent out there as much as a 'said-out-loud' thought to myself. The response to it has been remarkable - it has obviously struck a chord. As of noon today, 30 hours after it was sent, a total of 41,867 people have viewed it. There have been 1,459 total engagements. 809 Likes. 98 Retweets. And 91 Replies. The replies have been fascinating. They have come from various parts of the world and have shared with me (and those linked to this particular thread) a multitude of thoughts and observations. Ther


Assuming that I survive until 06.00hrs tomorrow morning I will reach 60 years of age. That's a proper age, although 70 sounds like real old age now that 60 has been reached. Maybe, if I do indeed make 70, then 'proper' old age will be considered as 80. Time will tell. I'm very lucky to be here still. Chemotherapy was my saving grace, with 1997 - 2004 being characterised by frequent stays in hospital, drips, chemical infusions, operations, stem cell harvests, bone marrow plugs, intrathecal injections, hair loss (no weight loss though!), finger and toe nails dropping off, nausea, discomfort, a reliance on Countdown to get through afternoons of uncertainty... but, because of the expertise and dedication of the staff of the NHS, and my wife and daughters' support, all of those negative experiences were not in vain. The way this current shambles of a government treat our National Health Service (and much more besides) makes my blood boil.  Cherish it and protect it!!

Benign birding

Late afternoon yesterday on Banstead Downs was one for the aesthete, not necessarily the birder. A beautiful, still and golden end to the day was ample reward enough and covered up the lack of birds - a small number of thrushes coming into roost was about it. A number of Hazel trees (below) were seemingly sculptured with golden thread, resplendent with catkins and a few remaining nuts. So, daydreams of owls, shrikes and other desirable finds were put on hold as I took in what was before me - a peaceful, if cold, wonderland.

Aug - Dec: photographic highlights

To end up this lazy blogger's review of the year I thought a few of the more arresting photographs would suffice. They are all taken with a bridge camera, so if you want to see 'big boy's' stuff, go and visit Jono (Wanstead Birder) or Martin (Ploddingbirder). You will find them both under the 'Worthy Blogs' panel to the right. AUGUST: Dungeness This Beautiful Marbled has been on my wish list ever since I first became aware of it back in 2004. Although still very rare, the number of moths being recorded seems to be on the increase. It didn't disappoint. SEPTEMBER: Scotney, Kent Only just Kent, as this Slender Hare's-ear was found growing by the roadside just a few metres from the county boundary sign. A more modest plant would be hard to find, but has bucket loads of charm when you really look. AUGUST: Dungeness This American Black Tern decided to make the RSPB Burrowe's Pit home for over a week. The dusky flanks, dusky underwing and sm

June-July: the sun has got its hat on

Summertime lived up to all of the hype and billing. The sun shone, the rain stayed away and the temperature soared. It was a good time to trawl the countryside for plants, butterflies and moths. Instead of remembering to pack the waterproofs it was sunscreen and water that you needed to make sure that you had onboard. The garden MV is at its most productive at this time of year, and in line with previous summers a number of new species for the site appeared, most notable of which were Great Oak Beauty, Kent Black Arches, The Mocha (above) and Oak Processionary. Moth numbers, although not at levels that were enjoyed 20-30 years ago, seemed to be a bit higher than those of the past few years. Another lepidopteran highlight occurred at the end of July, when a single Silver-washed Fritillary alighted a back garden buddleia (below) - the first recorded here and indicative of a number of species that were wandering from their breeding sites in the hot weather. It was also a good summer

May: in clover

May started modestly weather-wise, but then from the second week onwards set the tone for the rest of the summer, with largely warm (even hot) and sunny weather. The birding fix came largely from a mid-month stay at Dungeness. As in the previous few years, this time of year on the peninsula can almost guarantee the rare and the scarce, and 2018 was no different. A flighty Hoopoe at Galloway's (18th), Bee-eater and Kentish Plover (20th) and Honey Buzzard (23rd) were slightly overshadowed by a Terek Sandpiper at Rye Harbour (19th, pictured above). The Kentish Plover incidentally was the first to be recorded at Dungeness since 2005 - this was a species that I expected to se annually 'back in the day'. However, as good as they were, none of these birds was my avian highlight. That accolade is bestowed to an afternoon off-shore movement (on 21st) of terns, with an easterly passage of 1700 'Commic' (the vast majority close in were Common with a few Arctic), 81 Black

March - April: The irruption continues

March carried on where February had left off with hundreds of Hawfinches. The epicentre of the Coccothraustes action was still the Bramblehall Wood - Ashurst Rough area, although birds were spilling out into Juniper Bottom, Mickleham Downs and Box Hill. The 'other' Hawfinch gathering, west of the Mole Gap and centred around Dorking Wood, continued to host high numbers also. Tuesday 13 March was to witness the high point in the irruption, during an early morning visit to Bramblehall Wood, I was in the Whitehill Carpark by 06.15hrs and within ten minutes found myself staring across the field and into the tree tops of Bramblehall Wood. I was frankly surprised to see, at this early hour, at least 200 Hawfinches already on show (part of the flock pictured above). They were quite motionless and, I think it safe to assume, had just emerged from a very close roosting site. Over the following hour more birds arrived (mainly from the direction of Ashurst Rough) to join them. From t

Another's birding year

My very good friend Mark Hollingworth has joined in with the spirit of 'looking back over the year' to select his birding highlights from 2018. One of the great things about Mark is that, even after 60+ years of birding, his enthusiasm has not dimmed in the slightest, and I think it's fair to say that he gets even more out of his birding now than he ever has done. So, here they are, in chronological order (with a few extra bits of info from myself in brackets). 19 April Dungeness 3 Hawfinch, female Goshawk and 20 Manx Shearwater. (I was lucky enough to be present for this lot, the first two species occurred during a notable 'skywatch' from the RSPB reserve and the Shearwaters were sitting on the sea off of the fishing boats  - the first time that either of us had seen this species doing so at Dungeness) Late April Dungeness  Mark's sister ticking Arctic Skua and 3 Manx Shearwater with close views. (Other people's joy is infectious, and is shared by tho

ND&B 2018 January - February

2018 was, quite simply, the year of the Hawfinch. After an unprecedented autumn passage of this big-billed finch, and the subsequent settling down of modest numbers to winter, I started the year by trawling the yew-filled slopes of the North Downs and along the northerly spurs of high ground. A small flock was soon located on the western side of Mickleham Downs (after several blank returns), with frequent visits revealing that a minimum of 18 birds to be present. In any other year this would have been Hawfinch Nirvana... January 29th was the start of something special. An early morning wander around the woodland at Juniper Top was enlivened by at least 70 Hawfinches in the bare canopy. I suspected that there might be more, so returned the following day. After relocating the flock with ease, " the calling became incessant, a white-noise of 'ticks' and 'sips' - it could be described at times as a frenzy. I stood underneath the tall conifers and watched as the

Frozen chalk

Sometimes it is the simplest of things that can arrest you. A frosty morning had largely been burnt off by the warm sunshine, but there were one or two frost hollows on Epsom Downs that are just that touch colder than the surrounding land. Whilst walking across a mixed ploughed/stubbly field, a twinkling from the ground alerted me to the iced chunks of chalk on the surface, not unlike large un-cut diamonds. It was some sight, a veritable carpet of jewels laid out across the Surrey downland. Bird wise it was a fair session, with a minimum of 135 Skylarks in the Epsom/Walton Downs area (including a flock of 70), plus a surprise flushed Common Snipe and seven Red-legged Partridges. Thrush numbers have fallen even further. STOP PRESS I've just noticed that this is ND&B's 200th post of the year - where does all this drivel come from? Four out of the past five years have now hit the 200+ posts. I obviously have too much time on my hands, suffer from Tourette's of the

Not quite yet

What's at the end of that rainbow then? A Waxwing invasion? More Hawfinches? An Ivory Gull? Or, heaven forbid, a Wallcreeper? December is a strange month for me. I cannot help but take my foot off the pedal a bit. Fewer plants to find. There are moths on the wing still, but the garden MV is not at its most productive. And as for the birds, it can be a great time, particularly if the weather takes a turn for the worse, but I find myself starting to 'rest up' for the festive season and preparing for the start of the new (2019) campaign. Looking back at the year just gone becomes a pastime, one that most bloggers turn into the dreaded 'Review of the Year'. Yes, that is coming, but not quite yet.

Stormy Charmouth

Do you remember the days when a sober suited gentleman from the Met Office would casually say that we were in for a "bit of wet and windy weather"? It seems as if the 2018 version is to personify the approaching weather system (Storm Boris, Storm Satan) and give it an historical context (lowest low pressure system since Storm Vlad the Impaler back in March 2018!!). Well, we recently enjoyed a bit of wet and wind, which coincided with Katrina and I spending a few days at Charmouth in Dorset. As compensation, yesterday was sunny and ridiculously mild, which meant that we were able to survey the aftermath - a dead adult Gannet (below), flocks of Rock (bottom) and Meadow Pipits feeding on the beach detritus and plenty of waves crashing into the soft cliffs adding to coastal erosion (above). There's no denying it, an angry sea is a spectacular sight (and, safely on land, a thing of joy). Although not a birding trip I did manage to have a good look around that provide