Monday, 29 July 2019

What do I know?

After eight consecutive days of warmth, calm and sun, it had to happen - a wet day. In fact, the rain could have been described as biblical this evening (although the sun was briefly winning above). Tomorrow looks as if there might be a low pressure system quickly moving through with resulting NW winds pushing onto the north coast - exactly where I am currently. Outside chance of a few seabirds?

Being a stubborn birder I will not be heading to one of the ‘named’ headlands, but watching from Porth Island, very close to where I am staying. With Pentire Head to the west of me, and Trevose Head to the north, it really is a poor relation as far as birding goes, but... on two mornings last week I recorded over 2,000 Manx Shearwaters passing SW within a couple of hours, with good numbers of Gannets and Fulmars. These may well have been feeding movements, but the small groups of waders also involved (including Whimbrels and Black-tailed Godwits) were certainly on the move. Maybe Porth could come up with the goods? But I lack local knowledge, so what do I know? Maybe tomorrow will prove that the answer to that question is “not a lot”.

Friday, 26 July 2019

Friday afternoon on the clifftops

The photographs say it all. A beautiful land and seascape on a gorgeous summer afternoon. A time to hide from global catastrophe, Brexit, our political incompetences and whether or not Tottenham are going to actually buy Lo Celso...

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Parsley Water-dropwort

Another flying visit to a site that was gleaned from the CBWPS website, this time the Gannel Estuary. It is long, narrow and as disturbed an estuary as I have come across - I visited at low tide and the ground, being firm underfoot, was invaded by many dog-walkers, horse-riders and hikers, strewn across the open mud as far as the eye could see. Even the wet channels were disturbed. My total of a single Whimbrel and Common Sandpiper spoke volumes...

However, it is obvious that there can be birds here as previous reports prove. My success came from a good salt marsh flora that included Parsley Water-dropwort (above), a species that I rarely encounter. Maybe a higher tide will produce more birds.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Porth Reservoir

It’s always a pleasure to visit a new site. I had heard of Porth Reservoir via the CBWPS website and was aware that it is frequently covered albeit by a small number of birders. I decided to walk there from Porth (which took an hour) and was impressed with what I found. It is a long, narrow body of water, flanked by woodland on its southern and eastern flank. At the western end, where I entered the reservoir, I flushed a group of four Common Sandpipers from the dam, but apart from a single Kingfisher the birding did not improve. No doubt regular visits would pay dividends here. Botanically I was pleased to find so much Common Valerian, although it was a clump of the alien Pickerelweed that stole the show. Also of note was the number of Odonata on show - surely there lurks a Lesser Emperor or two...

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Cliff-top Carrot

Breakfast was taken to the accompaniment of c2,400 Manx Shearwaters heading SSW, with, a few hours later, a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull through. The afternoon was spent on the cliff-tops between Porth and Bre-Pen, with the highlights being breeding Corn Buntings, more Corn Marigold in set-aside, both Wall Brown and Dark Green Fritillary, plus a dribble of Swifts and Swallows south, all set in spectacular scenery. I couldn’t resist taking the photo of this group of Wild Carrot, all flowering at different times and in subtle variations of colour.

Monday, 22 July 2019

A stolen couple of hours

It’s quite surprising what can be fitted into (and be seen) in a stolen couple of hours in the field. While the rest of the family did what normal people do on the beach, I headed up to the set-aside fields on the cliff-top at Whipsiderry. There is a good arable flora here, including a great deal of Corn Marigold (in the photograph above with Sowthistle). I also found Field Madder, Field Pansy, Sharp-leaved Fluellen and Musk Mallow in the briefest of searches. Overhead there was a steady southward trickle of Common Swift (175), Swallow (225) and House Martin (35). A couple of Hummingbird Hawk-moths were also buzzing about.

Earlier in the day I was treated to the presence of a group of at least eight Common Dolphins off of Porth, several of which jumped fully out of the water, showing off their markings a treat. Not a species that I see from the south-east coast.

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Up and coming

My view for the next fortnight or so - Porth in Cornwall. Laid-back birding and sedate botanising with the outside chance of some memorable natural history moments. I’ll report back...

Friday, 19 July 2019


Weasel's-snout - or Lesser Snapdragon - is a decreasing arable plant that is possibly native and is found sparingly in the UK (mostly in the south of England). I was delighted to find out that a single flowering specimen had been found at the botanical wonderland that is Langley Vale, in a field due west of Nohome Farm. Unfortunately my pictures were not up to much, but worth posting here for anybody that is not familiar with what it looks like. Ignore the reddish-brown vegetation that is wrapping itself around the plant, as that is Black Bindweed.

Whilst scouring the site it was a delight to bump into several local naturalists, and among their number was artist and creative writer Susy Jones. We teamed up to try and hunt down the Venus's Looking-glass plants found earlier in the summer. Even though we were armed with grid-references and 'pin's on digital maps' we failed. Was that down to our poor fieldcraft or had they stopped flowering, which would have made them almost impossible to spot in the heavily vegetated field? It later transpired that others had looked earlier in the day without success, so it seems as if the plants had indeed 'gone over'. There was plenty of Narrow-fruited Cornsalad still on show, although most of it was past its best, along with some impressive Catmint specimens. What was not so impressive was the amount of Barren Brome. I spent a good half hour picking out the wicked seed-heads from my boots and clothing, marvelling through gritted teeth at how they are able to burrow so deep into whatever they attach themselves to. After attempting to rescue my socks I gave up and put them in the bin. So yet another gem of an arable plant finds its way onto my Langley Vale list. One day I'll devote a post to them all - it really is a special site that needs cherishing. The Woodland Trust have something of great botanical value in their hands...

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

More Beddington sneak-peeks

I spent a bit of time wandering around the accessible edge of the south lake at Beddington SF this morning, and while there took a couple of pictures of one of the three new hides that are soon to open to the public. Before anybody starts thinking that I bunked onto the closed public footpath, I took the interior shot by poking my camera into the hide from outside - clever huh? The view from here is going to be great, as can be seen below.

As for my time in the field, highlights were 3 Little Egrets, a Kingfisher, one Common Sandpiper and several Small Red-eyed Damselflies on the northern lake. Ruddy and Common (below) Darters were present, as were Black-tailed Skimmers (bottom) and Emperor Dragonfly.

I have just had details back from the ringer of a Mute Swan that I observed here on Sunday, which was sporting an orange plastic ring (4CSK) - it was ringed at Earlswood Common, near Redhill, on April 25th 2018.

Sunday, 14 July 2019

A wet morning

The weather forecast suggested a partially cloudy morning with the outside possibility of a few spots of rain. They didn't get it quite right. I was at Beddington by 05.30hrs and spent four hours largely getting wet in proper rain. The soaking of the verdant vegetation meant that my walking along the overgrown footpaths also meant a soaking of my clothing, plus the copious transfer of grass seed. Oh well...

Most of the waders that had been present this past week had moved on, so that I recorded just single  Little Ringed Plover, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper and Lapwing. One surprise was a juvenile Common Cuckoo that flapped through the dense vegetation on 100 Acre (image, taken in appalling light, above). There was also a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull on the Northern Lake (poorish pictures below, that show a few of the characteristic features of this species, such as inner primaries same tone as outer, the plain dark tertials edged white).

There were plenty of passerines, many young family parties, to be found across the farm, particularly on the mound, with tits, Linnets, Goldfinches and warblers (Reed, Sedge (below) and Whitethroat) being the most numerous.

Friday, 12 July 2019

End of week left-overs

Lazy blogging or canny use of resources? A handful of 'left-over' images from the past couple of days for your perusal...

A stroll along the River Mole at Dorking revealed fair numbers of Banded Demoiselles, with a few perching on the bank-side vegetation allowing close approach. Also seen were single Little Egret and Kingfisher.

Real life 999! When birding at Beddington yesterday I couldn't help but notice that a very smoky fire had broken out in an area close to the incinerator. Emergency vehicles were soon on site containing the blaze. The site was briefly closed off to incoming traffic - fortunately I was able to return to my car and leave without any hassle, albeit driving through thick smoke to do so.

Now this, Ladies and Gentlemen, is what a proper sewage farm looks like, with pungent goo drying off in the open air, wet flashes and invert rich mud an attractant to passing waders, plus banks of vegetation adding to the (not unpleasant) whiff - especially on a warm and sunny day. Marvellous!

We started with Odonata, so let's end with them. One of many Black-tailed Skimmers at Beddington.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Greenshank and fire

An eventful morning's visit to Beddington, with the avian plaudits going to a fine selection of waders and drama in the form of a spectacular fire close to the incinerator that prompted a good turn-out from the fire brigade and closure of the site - luckily I was allowed to leave through a dense fog of smoke...

So, what waders were present and where were they? Here goes:

Lapwing (3, on North Lake); Little Ringed Plover (2, on North Lake), Common Redshank (2 adults, both on North Lake, with one exhibiting a green plastic ring on the upper right tibia), Greenshank (1, on Jim's Bed, photo above), Wood Sandpiper (1, on North Lake, different from last weeks bird being a very well marked adult, still in good summer plumage), Common Sandpiper (3, two on 100 acre, one on North Lake), Green Sandpiper (8, all on 100 acre, mostly on Jim's Bed). Also of note was a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull (on the wet grassland workings), a Common Buzzard and a Peregrine.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Dragon's-teeth and chalky corners

Cut-leaved Gremander
Wild Candytuft
There's a chalky corner of north-east Surrey where a couple of caring botanists have cultivated a number of scarce plant species from Surrey-sourced seed. This has been done with the blessing of various organisations. This 'nursery' acts as a back-up to the vulnerable wild populations, so that if ever they should disappear (at the likely hand of man), the species will still exist within the county and could be repopulated by the offspring of those very same missing plants.

This chalky corner is tended to rather than managed, and it is incredible how well some of the species that are present just set seed with wild abandon (unlike at their 'wild' sites). Broad-leaved Cudweed, Wild Candytuft, Basil Thyme and Cut-leaved Germander are spreading away from their original seeding sites with vigour. Night-flowering Catchfly, White Mullein, Prickly Poppy, Rough Poppy and Hairy Rock-cress are just some of the other plants being looked after.

There are also some other species present, seed that has been donated, such as Dragon's-teeth, Shepherd's-needle and Bythinian Vetch. It is a privilege to be able to visit this living botanical museum with the chance to get familiarised with species that would be otherwise difficult to see.

Night-flowering Catchfly

Monday, 8 July 2019

Red-veined Darters at Beddington

Last Friday I was pretty sure that I saw a female Red-veined Darter at Beddington SF (between the South and North Lakes), but my views were brief and I didn't feel confident enough to claim it. I was therefore heartened to hear that, on Saturday, Nick Gardener had recorded 'several' in the same area. This morning I returned and spent a couple of hours slowly walking the vehicle tracks that run along the eastern flank of the Northern Lake. I was able to find three, if not four males and a single female, all resting on the bare earth of the tracks, all were flighty but patience paid off with excellent views being obtained. Here is a selection of images, some which show the blue colouring of the underneath of the eye, a feature only shared with the exceedingly rare Scarlet Darter.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

One morning 10 years ago...

I was reminded today of an incident that happened one beautiful spring morning some 10 years ago. I was walking into work and was aware of a Collared Dove, perched out in the open on a branch that hung above the pavement, singing it’s heart out. As I walked towards it, with the sun highlighting the bird and somehow intensifying its rhythmic song, a woman was walking towards me, pushing a young child in a buggy. The child had seen the Dove and was looking up at it, pointing, with a look of wonder on her face. We all met directly underneath the singing bird. The child turned around in her buggy to carry on watching the Dove, still totally entranced by it. I was taken in by this innocent acceptance of the beauty and wonder of such a simple thing. The girl turned to her Mother, and with unbridled joy said to her,

“Look Mummy, a pigeon!”

And do you know what words of encouragement, what utterances of shared wonder came from her Mother in return - and I am not making any of this up...

“It’s not a pigeon, it’s a fucking Cuckoo!”

That three-year old kid didn’t stand a chance.

Friday, 5 July 2019

It's yesterday once more

Today I renewed my long-standing 'on-off' relationship with Beddington Sewage Farm. I've returned to the farm more often than Frank Sinatra has had comebacks. A change in the policy towards visiting birders prompted this latest re-connection. The key-holders have gone, being replaced by a system where bird group members sign in (and out) at the main office that is situated along Beddington Lane. After undergoing a one-to-one induction talk, I was then issued with hard hat, gloves, goggles and a hi-visibilty vest, and shown the safe pedestrian route through the works and out onto the farmlands. Within 45 minutes I was birding at Beddington once again. It felt like coming home.

There has been much change since I visited back in January. The public footpath that runs to the west of the farm has been closed while various works have been completed, which included the installation of three bird hides (below). The good news is that these will be open to the public - with great views across both of the lakes and the new 'wet grassland' area (currently being landscaped) - by the end of July!

I made just a brief visit (10.45 - 12.45hrs) but it had its highlights - a calling Oystercatcher that circled high over the lakes at 12.00hrs, a Wood Sandpiper on Jim's Pit (on the right of the photograph above with a Green Sandpiper) and at least eight Green Sandpipers. Walking up onto the raised beds of 100 acre was quite nostalgic. Little has changed here since I first visited 45 years ago. Time has stood still in this corner of Beddington and it's quite comforting.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Rubus laciniatus

This is Rubus laciniatus, a distinctive bramble that exhibits cut leaves. It has a few 'English' names, including Parsley-leaved, Fern-leaved and Cut-leaved Bramble. It is a fairly widespread alien across Surrey and can be found locally on Headley Heath (where I took this picture yesterday).

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Then and now

I've just returned from a brief 'shingle sojourn' at Dungeness. The weather was hot, the wildlife fair-to-middling for late June and it was, all-in-all, a good place to be. Last year I posted this photograph from c1920 of the Dungeness school that was situated on the western flank of what is now referred to as 'The Trapping Area':

You can see the exposed position on which the building stood, and to the left of the school a standing railway sleeper line is apparent - these are still upright to this very day. I'm a sucker for nostalgic thoughts and stood on this very spot last Sunday, thinking about the teachers and pupils in the photograph above, wondering what they would make of the power station, the rampant vegetation across the peninsula and the 'new money' that has flooded into the area causing London prices to be attached to what were their very own humble abodes. This is what the site looks like now:

The room layout can be clearly made out, with shards of tile, brick and glass still left over from the schools demolition back in 1969. The last pupil walked through the doors during the Second World War, just before the local children were evacuated. Lessons were never recommenced.