Showing posts from 2019

"Enjoy yourself, it's later than you think..."

I don't know whether or not we are coming to the end of a decade or not - some say that at the finish of 2020 is when we reach the real end - but let us suppose that we are. Another 10 year chunk of time has passed us by, the big clock has been ticking at it hasn't stopped for no man, bird, plant, dragonfly, butterfly or moth. Back in 2010 could we really have conceived of three-figure flocks of Cattle Egrets, of winters as mild as a poor summer and passerine numbers disappearing into a black hole? What will we find when we await at the gates of 2030? To be honest, I shudder to think. Anyhow, that's it for 2019. Not a marvellous year if I'm being honest, it had its moments but there was an awful lot of mediocrity to wade through. Normally I have plans in plenty for the upcoming year, but they seem to have gone missing. I'm going to busk it. I'm not sure where I will be tomorrow, it's that open. Maybe a bit more time down at Dungeness, a few more plant s

Listing continued

My last post, on the subject of listing, has certainly caused a bit of a stir - it has become one the most visited posts on ND&B of the year, and apart from the comments left on the blog itself has also drawn some private correspondence on Twitter and email. Thank you all for adding to the debate. I had better come clean. A lot of the last post was written tongue-in-cheek with a large dollop of Devil’s advocate thrown in for good measure. I’m not suggesting that listing is futile. I do keep lists, and lots of them. But rather than chase them I just maintain them. They are not the reason why I go out into the field, I do not do so to seek out another tick, but if one comes along then it adds a bit of excitement to proceedings. My lists are just handy places to manage my observations, a tidying mechanism, aide memoirs, and a bit of fun. I doubt that even the biggest supporter of listing would disagree that if you take listing to extremes it can cause problems. I know of relations

Not Christmas birding

So another Christmas Day has slipped through the fingers of time, leaving a trail of torn wrapping paper, empty glasses and left-overs in the fridge. Did you go birding? No, me neither, although once-upon-a-time, pre-wife and children, I would have done... It occurred to me yesterday that it was 40 years to the day since I found Dungeness’s first Ring-necked Duck, a smart drake, on ARC. I was staying at the bird observatory having escaped the (what I then considered to be) suffocating ritual of a family Christmas. I was not alone that Xmas Day in 1979 - the warden Nick Riddiford was in residence with his partner Elizabeth (who cooked us lunch), London-based birder Barry Banson (who had kindly given me a lift down) was there, as was Australian birder Dave Eades, who was on a world tour. We all did the Christmas thing with observant gravitas but it took second place to the birding. If I remember rightly we did a bit of ringing, a sea watch, conducted a census of the recording area and

Mind the Gap

A return to the River Mole at Mickleham this morning revealed that the flooding had subsided, with just the odd field still holding large pools. The Little Egret numbers were still high - 16 - and they were mostly keeping to the same areas as on Saturday, although there were more to be found just north of Norbury Park Farm. Between here and Westhumble is to be found a tremendous run of riverside fields, mostly used for livestock but some utilised for arable planting. With generous footpath access they appear to hold great promise for the birder and I aim to spend more time here next year. Will the Mole Gap provide? We will soon find out.

Here comes the flood

The River Mole does not often burst it banks, but the relentless rain that we have had throughout December has finally taken its toll. These images were taken this morning between Mickleham and Westhumble. At least 20 Little Egrets were found, all together in a field at the half-way point.

Cherry Blossom gouache

The paint brushes have been busy here at ND&B as Mieko's birthday painting had a short deadline to meet! Japanese Cherry Blossom in honour of her homeland.

A challenge is issued

With just over two weeks left of 2019 I can, without any chance of being called hasty, concede to Stewart Sexton in our Surrey v Northumberland patch competition. I currently languish on 137 species which is 64.31% of my historic uber-patch total. Stewart was already cruising along at 78.71% of his, and that isn’t taking into account at least four additions. Proper thumped I have been. Now, I have, as Baldrick might say, a cunning plan... My 2019 mini-Uber patch total of 100 species just happens to be 76.92 of its historic total. That is much closer to Stewart’s fine tally - might he be persuaded to take on my mini-Uber in 2020? He has had a record year, and myself a moderate one, so he would be gambling on losing his patch crown. I reckon he’ll pick up my proffered gauntlet and try to rub my southern snout into some good old-fashioned northern grit. Over to you Mr Sexton.

The first owl

A few posts ago I mentioned, once again, the time that I saw my first Jay, an observation that kick-started my 'birding life'. I wrote about it more fully here . But as to why it was that particular bird that captured my mind, and not any earlier avian encounter, I'm not sure. Maybe it was the brightness of its plumage, or the fact that I could identify what it was - purely down to the fact that I had taken part in a recent discussion about that very species. There had, however, been an earlier set of observations that could just as easily have acted as the spark that ignited my interest in birds, encounters that still are fresh in my mind... Sutton, Surrey. It's July 1971. John Newcombe and Evonne Goolagong have just won their respective tennis titles at Wimbledon, and both Pakistan and India are touring England playing test cricket. I'm 12-years old and sport mad. Being the school summer holidays, and with time to burn, I spend most of it at our local recreation

Breathe in... and out

Imagine that you are on top of a cliff, looking back along a majestic sweep of sandy beach which is being gently washed by Atlantic breakers. Feel the wind in your face. Breathe in the tang of salt with a hint of gorse and heather. Listen to the Skylark that has just started up its song as it circles the cliff-top fields. Close your eyes. Breathe in......... and out. Now repeat, washing away the negative thoughts and fears. We are not about to enter a real-life 'Hunger Games'. We have not woken up in Orwell's '1984'. We are still among friends who share our values. Breathe in......... and out. Double up your effort to be a positive force in society. A helping hand here, a smile there. Do not crumple or give in. You are better than that. And when it all gets a bit too much, pick up your binoculars and go outside. Embrace the chaos. Look into the future with determination. Can you see it? There, at the far end of this dark tunnel. Light. A great big ball

Six stages

  I took a number of photos as the latest painting was worked on. It doesn’t really convey the random nature of the composition, with colours and patterns either coming by chance, or being used to mask an error. Free-flow paint daubing is the best way to describe it. Hugely relaxing in the execution. An antidote to any troubling times or mind. Go on, give it a go.

A Christmas birding carol

Good King Wenceslas looked out, On the fields of Sennen, Where a pipit ran about, Deep in mud and even, Birders came throughout the night, Though they couldn’t name it, When one fellow came in sight Gathering up the bird’s shit. “Hither Doctor stand by me, Analyse the faeces, Yonder Pipit who is he, Where and what his dwelling?” “Sire he flew a good league hence, And I can name his Daddy, He didn’t hop a local fence, Came from an eastern paddy.”


What would we be doing with our time if we didn’t have an interest in the natural world around us?I’d not really given this a thought, but a recent Blogger exchange with Ric has changed that. What indeed... Was there a moment in your life that switched you on - seriously switched you on - to becoming almost obsessional with wildlife? There was for me. I’ve blogged about it before. It was the moment a Jay hopped across our back garden lawn and ignited my 15 year old mind. There had been opportunities for this to happen before, times when I had acknowledged a bird, butterfly or mammal but had not felt inspired enough to delve further. Had that Jay not appeared in front of me, would another event have occurred in later years which would have had the same effect? That is hard to predict. I can only imagine that as you grow older, and your mind becomes less malleable, such events would lose their potency, and would be out-competed by any passion that would have been subsequently embraced.

The Summer footpath

Short days, crap weather, SAD - the winter months can be a right pain in the whatsit. If you're into grilling gulls and scoping through rafts of wildfowl then you're quids in, but if you hanker after butterflies and copious flower then I'm afraid it can all get a little bit difficult. As an antidote to cold fingers and commuting in the dark (although I've given that miserable aspect of travel up) please accept a bit of nostalgia from this summer, all the way from Crete and the Aegean Sea. Back in June we visited Elounda and, together with brother-in-law Bill, discovered this wonderful footpath that ran from the shores of the Kalydon peninsula up onto the top of a hill range. Here we found an abandoned settlement that stretched for miles along the tops. We later found out that generations of Cretans had used these settlements during the summer months to seasonally tend to livestock and crops. It is an atmospheric place and we both fell in love with it. We original

All quiet on the North Downs front

Banstead Heath goes all Countryfile calendar At last we have been blessed by a spell of kind weather - sun, calm and frosts - after what seemed like weeks of wind and rain. This week, I've taken the opportunity to visit a number of local patches. I can, with confidence, say that it is very quiet out there. At Canons Farm the largish finch flock were AWOL, and a couple of dusk vigils for any owls that may - or may not - have been in the vicinity, have drawn a blank. The Mogador farmland was deathly quiet, with not a single lark or pipit to disturb the distant rumble of the M25. Banstead Heath was even quieter, my notebook staying firmly in my pocket and the ink in the pen remaining unused. Still, it was pleasant to be out, and there is always the hope that something - anything - will break cover and turn an ordinary day into one that becomes extraordinary. The highlight at Mogador was a number of water-logged fields that lacked any passing waders

Time and place

The need to get out into the field, to enter ‘green’ space, is something that most of us can identify with. The reason why we have such a need comes in many forms: a release from everyday mundanity; an antidote to modern life and technology; a connection with the natural world; an opportunity to observe wildlife; fresh air and exercise; a chance to contemplate and clear the mind. For some of us it is all of these things, and, no doubt, most of us can come up with many other reasons for why we do so. One of the suggestions in the paragraph above is ‘a connection with the natural world’ but maybe that should rather read a re-connection. It wasn’t that many years ago - 300 or so - that the vast majority of our population started to leave the countryside and head towards towns and cities to seek regular employment with the hope of better housing. The countryside that they left behind was not necessarily the manicured and tamed panorama that we see today - the idealised vision of village

Number One

My top 10 natural history events of the last five years has reached its conclusion... 1. The Hawfinch irruption in Surrey, 2017-18 It had to be, didn't it - you do not get to witness many unprecedented ornithological events in a lifetime. The Hawfinch irruption of 2017-18 was truly remarkable. The first suggestion that 'something was going on' started in early October, when larger than usual numbers of this big-billed finch were being recorded across the (mainly) southern part of England. This in itself would have been enough to rewrite the perceived status of migrant Hawfinches, but it didn't stop there. Many stopped off to winter, and here I was very lucky indeed. Firstly, I had the time. Secondly, I had the bit between my teeth. And thirdly I lived right in the thick of it, as the largest Hawfinch gatherings ever recorded in Britain decided to haunt the yew-clad slopes of the North Downs in 'my' part of Surrey. I spent a great deal of January, Febr

A botanical time-capsule

Scarlet Pimpernel of the blue-flowered form We've reached number two in the countdown of my 10 most enjoyable natural history events of the past five years. 2. Arable overload Nationally rare plants within a couple of miles from home is not a prize that is bestowed upon too many naturalists, but when the site that they occur on is opened up for access - and then proves to be an even better site than first thought - it is the stuff of botanical dreams. For the past five years I have had the absolute pleasure of visiting such a place. Langley Vale Farm occupied a large part of the chalk downland of Walton Downs. It was farmed sensitively and maintained a tremendous arable flora. For many years just a couple of footpaths crossed this land, with access onto the fields prohibited, but there were one of two spots where a wander along a field-edge could be made. And then, in 2014, the farm was put up for sale and purchased by The Woodland Trust (WT). The reaction to the buyer was

Dungeness at its best

We now get to the top three of my favourite 10 natural history moments from the past five years. Any of these three could have made the top spot, but choices need to be made on the flimsiest of reasons. 3. Why I love Dungeness A late August - early September stay at Dungeness in 2015 showed the peninsula off in all its finery. I doubt that there have been many other weeks in its 'natural historical record' that have had so much going on (and some of that at a nationally notable level). As each day unfolded I was left with a sense of sheer gratitude that I was witnessing such things. Butterflies The only reason to start with the butterflies is ego - because this Long-tailed Blue was self-found and a lifer. On September 1st, after a hefty and prolonged rainstorm, it was flushed when walking across open shingle. It settled on an isolated gorse bush and stayed long enough for me to take but one photo, before it flitted off, not to be relocated despite much searching. I


Someone is going to get an awful lot more than a peck on the cheek underneath this lot! Seen this morning along the eastern boundary of Norbury Park.

A great flowering

The countdown continues of my 10 most memorable natural events of the past five years. 4. Banstead in bloom In the summer of 2015, something special happened within a 15-30 minute walk of my home. The chalk downland to the north and west of Banstead erupted in flower. Millions upon millions - no, make that billions - of plants unfurled their glory, painting the meadows with broad washes of colour. The image above was taken in early August, at Park Downs. Most of the colour that you can see was due to the flowers of Marjoram, Common Ragwort and Wild Carrot. A few weeks previously, this same field had hosted an orchid extravaganza, with 6,250 Pyramidal and 354 Bee (below) being counted on June 25th. Some of the Bee Orchids were enormous and exhibited many flower-heads. Five days later I carried on along the valley and entered Chipstead Bottom, estimating a further 3,500 Pyramidals - all this in the company of at least 2,270 Meadow Brown and 1,760 Marbled Whites. The latter spec

Of Foresters, orchids and shieldbugs

The countdown of my most enjoyable natural events of the past five years continues: 5. Pewsey chalk downland Up until the late 19th-century, my family roots were firmly established in the Vale of Pewsey, Wiltshire. The family tree that my father pulled together shows a line of simple folk - pot men, farm hands - all born, married and buried within the parishes of All Cannings and Alton Priors. At the end of the 1980s my Father returned, and it was then that I got a chance to reconnect with my forebears. I liked what I found. Fanciful or not, I found a connection. It also happens to be a wonderful place for the naturalist. Pewsey Downs (above) is a piece of prime chalk downland that boasts a great species assemblage. On Wednesday 14th June 2017 I spent a warm, but breezy day wandering the slopes. I had several major targets - two species of moth (Wood Tiger and Cistus Forester) and the localised Down Shieldbug ( Canthophorus impressus ). But, targets or not, it is the chalk down

Golden Gav

One of the joyful by-products of blogging is getting to know other bloggers and their wonderful blogs. As is the case in all walks of life, some bloggers are more comfortable at blogging than others - they write well, come up with fresh thoughts, and package it all in a most inclusive and accessible way. I could name several who fit this category, but forgive me if I ‘big’ up just the one at this moment in time. Gavin Haig (Not Quite Scilly) has been a purveyor of fine blog posts for many a year, although he had become an infrequent blogger of late, with just six posts between January - September of this year. I don’t know what happened to him at the start of October, but whatever it was it has injected him with the manic fervour of a born-again blogger. He has posted 25 times in the past seven weeks, and not just any old filler but really well-crafted prose. He has recently written a fine series of posts analysing the subject of ‘Dodgy Birders’. This thread has taken on a life of

24 spikes and a butterfly

The countdown continues for my most enjoyable natural history events of the last five years: 6. Sheepleas in the light and dark I have never been one of those naturalists who have fallen totally under the spell of orchids. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy looking at them and have spent some wonderful times in their company. But I cannot pretend to be in total awe of them like many others are. If they are there, then great, but my enthusiasm and energy is just as high for many other plant families. I guess that is why it took me so long to finally see Narrow-lipped Helleborine, even though one of the well known stations for this species is not all that far from my home. In early August of 2016, news started to filter out that the Narrow-lipped Helleborines at Sheepleas, in Surrey, were having a rather good year. Over the years these plants have had a rather 'up-and-down' time of it, with poor flowering years; damage due to being nibbled by deer or slugs; and a slight veil