Friday, 31 May 2019

Calm before the ever-so-short heatwave?

The meteorologists are promising us a brief blast of warmth as from tomorrow, all the way from the Azores. It will be welcome, as the past few days, while not chilly, have been cool for late May. Poor moth totals have been experienced and the chance of a migrant bird or moth generally confined to the odd Spotted Flycatcher and Silver Y. Some respite did come in the form of a Portland Riband Wave, courtesy of Martin Casemore’s Plodland trap.

But, if you are at a loose-end, due to lack of migrants being around, there is always the option of wandering around the fishing boats, their industrial bric-a-brac and the surprisingly lush flora. It is one of my happy places.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019


It was like stepping back forty years. The well vegetated lanes that cross Romney Marsh, close to  Kenardington, were alive with birds. Not just any old birds, but special birds. Six, maybe eight Turtle Doves, singing, displaying, performing beautifully, perching on the branches of dead trees out in the open or half-hidden in the tops of those in leaf. There were also Cuckoos, and Yellowhammers, and a single Nightingale, vying for attention amongst the purring Doves. They were all concentrated along 100m of prime marsh real estate, a reminder that if the habitat is right, the birds will come. And they had. Magical.

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Littlestone mothing

It has always been an ambition of mine to have my own coastal garden, not just for the birding but also for the running of a moth trap. It just so happens that I find myself staying at a friends house in Littlestone, Kent, for maybe three weeks - and the MV has made the trip with me!

Luckily, the full-time garden back in Surrey has proved its worth moth-wise, so this will be no ‘chalk and cheese’ comparison. What a coastal location brings, especially on the south coast, is an increase in the chance of trapping scarce migrants. The weather isn’t conducive to migration at the moment, but things look promising at the end of the week.

Highlights so far? Light Feathered Rustic, Cream-spot Tiger, Tawny Shears, Sharp-angled Peacock and Ethmia bipunctella are all species that I don’t (or rarely) encounter back home, plus Dark Spectacle, Least Black Arches, Chocolate-tip, Currant Pug and three hawk-moths - Eyed (above), Poplar and Small Elephant.

Friday, 24 May 2019

Bearded wonder

I must admit to having a soft spot for plants that are garden escapes. They could be self-seeders that have jumped over a garden wall, have had their long-dormant seed awoken by disturbance or maybe have been transported to their new home in dumped soil. How this magnificent blousy iris found its way onto the sandy ground alongside Littlestone Golf Course is anyone’s guess, but it is a truly show-stopping sight. It is one of the Bearded Irises (thanks Gill) but as to which cultivar/variety it is has yet to be established.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Thousands of catchfly

The Greens at Littlestone is an area of municipally-managed sandy grassland, loved by joggers, dog-walkers and botanists alike. Close by the multi-coloured pastel shaded beach huts is a small bank which, despite the heavy foot-fall, is home to thousands of Sand Catchfly plants. At least 2-3,000 are in flower at the moment, with many more in bud. It really is some show. Better images to follow.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

A clover and a shrike

Dungeness. A smart male Red-backed Shrike stole today’s avian honours. It was found in the moat during the early morning and, apart from going AWOL in the middle of the day, was site faithful well into the evening. But did it win my coveted ‘sighting of the day’ award? No. This did:

Crimson Clover (Trifolium incarnatum ssp molinerii), a rarely seen cultivated subspecies of Long-headed Clover. Two plants are now in flower close to the bird observatory, being found by warden Dave Walker. I think it’s quite a looker. The clover that is, although Dave has his fine points.

Want to see a piss-poor back-of-camera shot of the shrike? Really? Oh alright then...

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Blue sky scanning

Arrived at Dungeness at a leisurely 09.40hrs to be told that the Whiskered Tern had done a runner (or should that be flier?) Luckily I was in laissez-faire mode. The male Serin that had taken up a territory in nearby Littlestone was far more obliging, although it took quite a while to perform well, singing from a secluded perch in a large cypress? tree. Our small gathering of birders attracted friendly attention from the locals, several of whom went home with decent enough views with which to regale to the family.

By late afternoon I had settled into the Meehan Road Bird Observatory, invitation only and accredited to the Bird Observatories Council because of its fine collection of single malt whiskies. I have the moth trap set up and the sky is being scanned with Mediterranean Gull the best so far. What with a gang of Red Kites floating around Kent and both Black Kite and Bee-eater not a million miles away, the sky is worth keeping an eye on.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

The Dukes of Rake Bottom

I've visited Butser Hill, just off of the A3 north of Portsmouth, on several occasions, but I had not ventured beyond it and into the magnificent scenery of Ramsdean Down and Rake Bottom. The South Downs here is at its most spectacular - deep sided valleys, steep scarp and a landscape that is almost frightening in its majesty (at least to us flat-earth southerners.) Photography cannot capture its scale.

The morning was largely sunny, although a gusting NE breeze was present and it had largely clouded over by 13.30hrs. None the less, I was able to find at least 35 Duke of Burgundy (pictures top and below), 70 Dingy Skipper and 7 Grizzled Skipper, mostly at the base of the valley in the Rake Bottom area. Also here were singing Willow and Garden Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Cuckoo and Yellowhammer.

I was most probably a bit early for Wood Tiger, a species that still eludes me, even though I've visited several known sites during its flight period.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019


There are a several species of UK butterfly that could lay claim to the accolade of being the most arresting. My opinion as to which is changes on a daily basis throughout the year, although it's hard not to consider the Adonis Blue as a serious contender. The blue is shimmering - you could describe it as sky blue or Coventry City football shirt blue - neither do it justice. There were a minimum of 35 of these jewels battling the stiff NE breeze on Denbigh's Hillside this lunchtime, along with fair numbers of Dingy Skippers and a few Grizzleds. Marvellous.

Three years ago I was able to show author and professional wildlife guide Jon Dunn a rather special circle of Bird's-nest Orchids, which were dramatically exhibiting the species dependence on its underground fungal partner. I went back to have a look at them this morning but was saddened to find clearance work had left rutted earth and torn branches exactly where the orchids had once stood. Fortunately the area is home to plenty more, those above were less than 50m away from the desecrated site.

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Sentinel complete

This is the last post about the latest painting, honestly! This morning I added the final daub of paint and decided that that was enough - I could have carried on adding a bit here, over-painting there, but would most probably have added too much noise to what was already a busy painting.

Pretension dictates that I give it a title, so rather than 'Reed Bunting' I give you 'The Sentinel'. This was based on a picture I took at Dungeness two years ago (almost to the day) of a most confiding, singing Reed Bunting that was using the top of a low bush as a song post. That image is below.

Now I need to get back out into the field and fill this blog with observation derived posts. It's become an arts and crafts themed blog in recent weeks!

Thursday, 9 May 2019

A week is a long time in blogging

I've not posted for a week, which is a long time for me to go without boring you with a load of overspill from my increasingly befuddled mind. Admittedly, what with the birding being so mediocre lately, the moth-trapping non-existent together with the fact that I'm only just starting to put my botanical hat on, there has been little source for extracting any posts.

Back in March I started a painting and posted snapshots of its progress. And then I stopped working on it. This morning I started up again, so here is the latest instalment. Hopefully you can see that the focal point is a male Reed Bunting. I've decided upon a stained-glass window design, with a bit of art-deco nonsense going on in the background - a recipe for a dog's dinner if ever there was one - but hey-ho, painting is a great relaxant. The bird and vegetation needs more detail and the sky is pretty empty at the moment, so there is plenty to do before it's finished. Makes up for the lack of birds.

Friday, 3 May 2019

Lapwings at Walton Downs

A dull and cool morning on Walton Downs was enlivened by six Lapwings (including three 'sitting' birds) on the Langley Vale Wood site. A few of the fields have not been planted to create woodland, and two of them appear to have enticed Lapwings, which is now a scarce breeding bird in Surrey. Historically Langley Bottom Farm has played host to this species as a breeder, but recent years has seen mostly failure. The 'best' field (Downs Field) has now largely been planted with trees, so it remains to be seen if these open fields can provide a safe environment for the waders. One pair are on a smaller plot of land and I would hazard a guess that they will not succeed, being close to hedgerow and plenty of loafing corvids. However, the other two pairs are on the field pictured below, with good all-round vision, well away from hedges and trees, plus the vegetation in the field (wild flowers and grasses) is just starting to appear. I met Paul Stephenson on site who is keeping a close eye on the birds. The Woodland Trust are aware of the Lapwings and will hopefully do what they can to enable successful breeding.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Round four

This is what dire birding does to you - you end up taking arty shots of trees and vegetation
As far as the Surrey v Northumberland patch challenge was concerned, April was one of the months in which I thought that plenty of time in the field would provide several 'bonus' species - and by 'bonus' I was thinking Garganey, Marsh Harrier, Osprey, various waders, that kind of reward. Even though I spent many hours searching, nothing approaching a surprise materialised. In fact, the birding was dire most of the time. I did not manage to dredge up a Common Redstart or Ring Ouzel. I found but single Hobby, Lesser Whitethroat and Whinchat. Apart from Blackcaps most of the summer migrants were in suppressed numbers.

Of course May is in its infancy, so there is still plenty of time for the migrant numbers to swell. I think I need to take last month's results on the chin and carry on regardless. It isn't the lack of bonus species that gets to me so much as the lack of birds.

Uber patch Jan-April total: 118 species (55.39% of personal historic total)
Mini ├╝ber patch Jan-April total: 82 species (63.07% of personal historic total)