Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Plod beats Trodd


Time is up, the white-arses have been counted and the results are in! I am delighted to announce that Martin Casemore is the winner of the 2019 ND&B Wheatear Trophy, with a new White-arse record count. Professor O. E. Nanthe from Brighton University (left) presented the trophy to a well scrubbed-up Martin during a ceremony held in a marquee on Dungeness beach this morning. Afterwards, a tearful Martin spoke to me:

"I was really pleased when you decided to run the Wheatear competition again. I was in a bad place, I had become obsessed with gulls. I was swimming out to the islands on Burrowes Pit to roost with them at night; I was going into Hastings on summer days and nicking chips and ice-cream off of the holiday makers along the sea-front; and had even started to shit on people's cars. The final straw was when I met up in secret with 'other' gull enthusiasts, where we would dress up as our favourite gull species and imitate their calls. I was always a Caspian, and David - sorry, I mean one of my fellow enthusiasts - was always an Audouin's.

Having won this award before I knew of all the benefits that came along with winning - being pointed at in the street, shouted at by dog-walkers and getting back ache from lugging all my camera equipment around. Wheatears are harder to photograph than gulls as they're smaller and they're not big and white - it's one of the reasons that my mate Mark never sees them. My images were also scrutinised by JTM at DBO to see if they were ringed. If they weren't, he'd run out of the observatory double-quick with a spring trap and a bag of mealworms. He gave me a biscuit and a cup of tea for each un-ringed bird I found. I've put on a stone in weight since the first Wheatear arrived back in March."

It really was a two-horse race this spring, with another shingle-hugger, Paul Trodd, providing the competition. The final result was:

Martin Casemore (Plodding Birder) 46 White-arses
Paul Trodd (Plover's Blog) 30 White-arses

Martin also wins the Best Photograph category, and not just because Jono Lethbridge couldn't be arsed was too busy this year. Here it is, with a real dollop of Dungeness as an extra:


There was some compensation for Paul, as he is the winner of the Earliest Posted Photograph of a White-arse, which he uploaded on March 7th. He should also take some comfort in that his total of 30 Wheatears would have been enough to win the big prize in most years.

A final word from our two-time champion, Martin:

"I do need to stop looking at Wheatears now - I've found myself trying to stand on fence-posts and seem to be flexing my knees and jerking up and down a lot..."

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Righteous

Well, my last post was a bit 'down' wasn't it. Feeling sorry for myself, wasn't I...

After a couple of days to cheer myself up - and even with a bit of naff birding included as well - I have come to a happy place once more. I've realised for some time that, if one wants to be all 'worthy' and plough the lonely patch-birding-furrow, then you'd better accept and put up with fallow periods. It's no different for those watching the coastal hot-spots, it's all relative.

I could get in the car and drive for 90 miles, go to Pagham or Dungeness, but to be honest why join the hordes already there? It isn’t a case of 'been there, done that' because if I lived close to those places I would, without doubt, bird them - but would maybe choose some of the lesser watched areas that can still be found there. Believe it or not they do exist even in the most ‘birdied-out’ sites. I've often mentioned this little gem of a quote from Bernard Venables, author of the Mr. Crabtree fishing books:

"there are three stages to the angler's evolution. To begin with, as a child, you just want to catch fish - any fish. Then you move to the stage where you want to catch big fish. And finally, with nothing left to prove, you reach a place where it's the manner of the catch that counts, the rigour and challenge of it, at which point the whole thing takes on an intellectual and perhaps even a philosophical cast."

If you replace the word 'fish' with 'birds' then you might get what I'm striving for. Now, if you'll excuse me I need to go and lay my worthy head on a pillow. Righteousness is very tiring...

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

A sad state of affairs.


There are times when birding can seem like a chore. I find that a terrible thing to admit to - after all, shouldn't it be a care-free, pleasurable and please-yourself activity? No-one asks you to do it. You don't have to pick up those optics and go outside. The choice is yours...

But.

Birding is, or more accurately, can be, a results driven enterprise. You put the time in and the rewards come your way. At least that is how it normally works. This year has seen me spend an awful lot of time birding locally. Epsom and Walton Downs. Canons Farm. Priest Hill. Mogador. Colley and Box Hill. The River Mole. Even Holmethorpe. All have had their moments, but those moments are modest. Ornithological crumbs, and crumbs that are largely to be expected. My mantra of "every poor day's birding is one day's birding closer to a good one" is starting to wear thin.

So I double my effort. Check a site more than once in a day. Stay out a bit longer. It is late April after all, one of the best times of year for an inland birder. But no - nothing to see here. The passage of summer migrants has been poor. The wintering flocks were largely missing already, so there are but a few individuals left over (like this Fieldfare, one of five at Canons Farm this afternoon). Resident bird numbers seem to be in free-fall.

I walk across chalk downland, through woods, over farmland and onto heath. The story is the same where ever I go. Hardly any birds. Silent woods. Quiet hedgerows. Empty skies.

Some might say "Why bother? Take a break, do something else." But to a life-long birder you might as well suggest that they give up breathing. Others will suggest going elsewhere - "Go down to the coast!" But I've made my bed locally. I do go down to Dungeness from time to time, but there's a battalion of birder's already covering the shingle, and very few of us up here. My drive is to find birds locally, to watch the poorly covered areas, searching for that unexpected gem or happening.

I've been lucky to witness some astonishing ornithological moments close to home. Trips of Dotterel, large flocks of Hawfinches and Bramblings, singing Quails, swarms of hirundines and flocks of thrushes on active migration. There have been rarities - Little Bittern, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Yellowlegs, Citrine Wagtail - and a host of scarce migrants. It isn't the rarity that is the driving force for me, but it helps.

I'm at my happiest counting birds. Flocks. Fly-bys. Singing males. Species totals. But when the birds are largely missing, counting becomes a luxury. A notebook that stays closed says an awful lot about the state of our wildlife and my notebook isn't seeing much action at the moment.

And so I ready myself for more disappointment. It's a sad state of affairs.

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Pasqueflower


I'm indebted to Gordon and Mieko Hay who alerted me to the presence of this magnificent Pasqueflower on the chalky slopes of Denbigh's Hillside. Whether it is here down to human hand or wind-blown seed, I do not know. However it got here it is more than welcome as far as I'm concerned. I have seen a single, lonely plant on chalk downland before, at Martin Down on the Wiltshire/Hampshire border. That is considered to be native. As for this Surrey specimen? Wiser men and women than me will have an opinion.



Saturday, 20 April 2019

Due a good day


Dawn at Holmethorpe. Under a clear sky there was never going to be a bumper drop of migrants, but within an hour it was clear that Gordon and I were going to have to dig deep to unearth any highlights. Apart from a modest suite of warblers (Cetti's, Reed, Sedge, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Chiffchaff and Willow), a Common Sandpiper and a paltry handful of hirundines it was hard work. A two-hour mid-morning skywatch from Nutfield Ridge was characterised by rising temperatures, a southerly flow of gulls (500+ Herring and 30 Lesser Black-backed) and three pristine Yellow Wagtails.

A stop off at Mogador on the way home was soporific on many counts, not least the lack of birds, although the two Swallows in the photograph above posed for a picture.

We spend all Winter dreaming of Spring, and when it comes a lot of our birding time is taken up wondering where all the birds are and whether or not the odd surprise will be thrown in for good measure.

I'm due a good day...

Friday, 19 April 2019

5,492

That figure is the number of hits this blog received yesterday.

5,492.

It is a load of old b#llocks.

On a good day I might have 500 that come and take a peek at my modest wares. It’s normally between 350-450. But not 5,492.

A bit of detective work suggests a lot of visitors from the USA and Philippines, via a whole raft of dodgy sounding entry sources, although strangely enough also from some of my linked blogs. It is all down to bots making hits to big up other sites, to fool analytics into creating back links to the offending sites, all fake news, all a part of our crazy digital world that I am fast realising is broken.

As an antidote, let’s have a picture to sooth our fevered brows...

"See that bloke's ice cream over there? Reckon we could fly over and nick it?"

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Help needed

I’m hoping someone out there might have the answer to my little problem - I currently cannot reply to any comments that are left on this blog. I am logged in on Blogger, this blog sees me as ‘Steve Gale’, but when I go to comment on a reply (or leave a comment on another blog) I’m identified as ‘Google account’ and whatever I try to post disappears into thin air. I’ve tried logging off and back in again, tried to find a solution on-line, but to no avail. Anybody got any bright ideas? Thanks in anticipation of an easy solution...

Oh, by the way, when I look at the ‘homepage’ of this blog, above the header and to the right, it says ‘create blog’ and ‘sign in’. This would ordinarily have a suite of options that includes ‘create post’. If I click on ‘sign in’ it does just that - allows me to post, create, change layout etc but not comment. Weird.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Can you smell garlic?


If you had been standing next to me when I took this picture you certainly would have. This is Ramsons, carpeting the woodland floor along the banks of the River Mole between Westhumble and Mickleham. There was plenty still in bud, so I reckon that after this coming weekend, when the sun is out and the temperatures are set to soar, it will be at its best. It is a sight well worth the effort to see.


Plenty of butterflies on the wing today, mostly Brimstones and Orange-tips but also a few Speckled Woods (above).

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

The glory


There are people that pay thousands of pounds and spend days of travel to see the wonders of the natural world. The truth is, such wonders are available right on our door step. I have been lucky enough to see a great deal of Britain's coast line and am regularly taken aback by its beauty and splendour. Our recent trip to North Cornwall only confirmed our love of its rugged cliffs and sandy beaches. Photographs give only the merest indication as to what is truly on show before the observer, as the sensation of height, the true depth of field and all of the aural stimulants are missing.

One can but try and share in the glory that is out there. All the pictures accompanying this post were taken from the coastal path between Mawgan Porth and Watergate Bay last Friday afternoon. It was an afternoon of sun, sheltered warmth and that blessed state of being aware that, what is being experienced, is one of those special times. The Spring Squill was a delight, with large but discrete colonies along the length of the walk. In some hidden hollows the plants were in full flower, those in more exposed positions still in bud.

And what is it about the human psyche? When stood at the top of a cliff, we need to get down to the beach. But if we start on the beach, we need to reach the summit of the cliff. Extremities. We just love 'em.



Spring Squill - tens of thousand of plants were present along the coastal path and cliff tops
Wall - a butterfly that I once saw regularly locally, as nearby as Beddington and Cheam, in the early 1980s

Monday, 15 April 2019

Kernow birds

Fulmars were found along many cliff ledges
Our brief spell in Cornwall is over, and although not a birding trip I did keep half an eye out. Migrant wise poor, with just a trickle of hirundines all week (mostly Swallows but with both House and Sand Martins recorded), a few Chiffchaffs and several Wheatears. Above the waves there was a constant showing of Fulmars, Gannets and Shags, with the cliff tops home to Stonechats, Ravens and the odd Peregrine. No doubt this coastal strip (from Porth to Trevose Head) has its moments, but it didn't happen while we were there.

Jackdaws were always on hand for a photo-opportunity
One of three Wheatears at Trevose Head, this one deciding to burst into song

Friday, 12 April 2019

Spring Squill Spectacular*

*with apologies to the patron saint of alliteration, Dave Walker

A brief post as my walk this afternoon deserves a good write up. That will follow. Suffice to say that Spring Squill is present between Mawgan Porth and Porth in large, discrete colonies. And it's all just about to burst...

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Birding potential

This morning we visited Trevose Head, a lonely and barren headland on the North Cornwall coast. It has a reputation amongst birder's as hosting rare birds, a few of which do not get into the public domain. Far be it for me to comment on such things, especially as I'm an emmet down here...

Apart from a few Wheatear and Chiffchaff it was very quiet, but having had a clear, calm and chilly night, that was no surprise. In sunny and warming weather we pootled down the coast back to Porth, stopping at Bedruthan Steps (image below). Although we didn't stop, an area of wetland in the valley running inland from Mawgan Porth looks very promising - one of my (many) faults is getting too enthusiastic about the birding potential in any new area we visit. This whole coast, apart from being beautiful, abounds with interesting habitat. The local birder's are lucky indeed.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Collapsed Jenga

Sunshine, warmth and spectacular scenery does compensate somewhat for a lack of birds. The cliff top walk from Porth to Watergate Bay was quiet, with just the constant companionship of Ravens of note. Not one hirundine, Wheatear or warbler. Plenty of Thrift and Sea Campion coming into flower. Descending down into Watergate Bay was a mistake though, with hotels, restaurants, cafes, surf schools and miscellaneous other buildings falling over themselves like a collapsed game of Jenga. Horrible.

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Doesn't hurt to dream


The north Cornish coast abruptly changes from lying on a west-east axis to become largely one that heads south-north. And this is where I find myself, at Porth. Where Katrina and I are staying is on a cliff top, the house looking out directly along the cliffs towards Trevose Head in the distance. By turning our heads to the left it is open sea all the way to North America. I wouldn't mind living here. Sea watching from your armchair - literally.

So far there has been little to quicken the ornithological pulse. Ravens are a constant, Rock Pipits displaying above the garden, Gannets and Fulmars gliding past, a single Swallow heading in off the sea eastward. But it looks good. I see clumps of bushes and imagine Yellow-browed Warblers at the very least each autumn. Every open area of grass must hold a Hoopoe each spring. But, of course, birding is not really like that. Doesn't hurt to dream though...

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Thought for today


I have only just become aware of this quote from the 19th century Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard. I think that I'm going to commit it to memory...

"Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Everyday, I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it."

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Wheatear challenge update


We are half-way through the ND&B Wheatear Challenge and it would appear that we have two 'White-arse heavyweights' slugging it out for the trophy, both 'men of the shingle' and both uncompromising in their adherence to all things Wheatear. Unless there is somebody lurking in the shadows, waiting to spring a late flurry of images, then our winner is likely to be either:

Martin Casemore (Ploddingbirder) who has so far posted 22 Wheatears (one of those above),

or

Paul Trodd (Plovers Blog) who lags behind by just two with 20 Wheatears.

And we still have 27 days to go. Where is Jono? What about Gavin? Lucy? - all three of them previous winners of the crown? Is Martin about to become the first 'double' winner, or is the Bedford Plover readying himself for white-arse glory? And will Jono Lethbridge's 2015 winning total of 33 Wheatears be broken?

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Dungeness round-up


The Grey-backed Mining Bee (Andrena vaga) is one of the non-avian flagship species at Dungeness. It can be found in plenty at this time of year at its colony, at the top of a sand bank (below), outside of Dennis's Hide on the RSPB reserve. The staff are very proud of the bees presence, and even advertise the site with a small wooden sign that alerts birdwatchers, most of who would more than likely walk past the insects on entering the hide.

Although specimens and photographs had been taken here in 2009, it was not until 2014 that they were identified and the insect seen again in 2015. This is a rare insect that is known from very few sites indeed.


To finish off this protracted round-up of my Dungeness stay, a special plant - the rosette of the only Early Spider's Orchid to be found on the shingle.

Monday, 1 April 2019

Round three

We are now a quarter of the way through the 2019 Surrey v Northumberland patch challenge, and things have slowed down a bit. Only two new species were added during March - Northern Wheatear and Mandarin. April should see a glut of additions as all of the summer migrants pour in, plus the chance of one or two unexpected arrivals. I'm not of a mind to chase down 'ticks' though. A bit of strategic birding is OK, the odd visit to a bird that sticks, but I can do without any panicky twitching to be honest. It's just not fun.

Uber patch Jan-March total: 103 species (48.35% of personal historic total)
Mini ├╝ber patch Jan-March total: 74 species (56.92% of personal historic total)