Showing posts from November, 2019

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


I'm fast turning into a twilight junky - not the teen literary phenomenon, but the hour of daylight before the night closes in. It's packed with bird action! Each autumn I spend a bit of time checking up on known thrush and corvid roosts (and trying to locate others). You really need to stay scanning in such situations until you can see no more - some birds will not enter a roost until it is pitch black. It is at this time that you get to know a patch really well. The fading light throws familiar ground into strange perspectives. Sound travels further. Your senses are heightened. This evening was a case in point. I stood on the Epsom Downs gallops looking across and down onto Walton Downs. The most obvious sound was that of Jackdaws, with at least 775 gathering and going to roost, along with 300 Carrion Crows that somehow slunk off earlier and without fanfare. As the light bled from the day a few Redwing started to circle, then a tight flock of 40 fell out of the sky and swoo


My most enjoyable natural history events of the past five years continue: 7. Hirundines at Canons Farm The evening of September 20th 2017 saw me standing in the back garden when a group of Swallows powered through at head height, followed by another group a few minutes later. Over the next hour several hundred had done likewise, and as the daylight faded I resolved to be out in the field the following morning to see if this was the start of a meaningful hirundine push. Arriving at Canons Farm at 07.15hrs I was pleased to see that there were already a few hirundines on the move. I settled down at my favourite observation point and waited. My wait was not a long one, as within half-an-hour 1200 Swallow and 70 House Martin had moved through, at a modest elevation and seemingly taking two well defined routes. House Martins then came to the fore, as in the next 30 minutes they numbered a further 730 birds, with Swallows mustering 600. The passage then abruptly stopped. I was more tha

Big Blue

My most enjoyable natural history events of the past five years continue: 8. Back garden Clifden My mothing baptism of fire came courtesy of a week spent in the company of Sean Clancy’s actinic moth trap. It was June 1981 and we were both staying at Dungeness Bird Observatory. I was mesmerised by the variety of shapes, colours and sizes of the moths that were being attracted to the blue light and, on my return home, promptly ordered the two volumes of South’s Moths (this was the first place of reference back then). To our eyes today, spoilt by fantastic photography and illustration, the colour plates in South leave much to be desired. But there was one species that was still able to fly off the page and into my imagination regardless. It was big. It had a ludicrously blue underwing. And it had an exotic name. Clifden Nonpareil. But there was a catch in trying to find one of these desirable moths. They were rare. Very rare. Had it been thirty years earlier we might have had a

Why tell?

A fellow birder recently asked me the following question: " Why do we want to let others know what we see?" That really got me thinking. Don't we just chuck our observations out into the public domain without given it a moments thought? Or maybe we do have our reasons, our ulterior motives, for doing so. I had a bit of paper nearby and jotted a few thoughts down as they entered my head. After five minutes the following had been written... To contribute to and create an accessible database To inspire others Self aggrandisement Sharing data and success To inform others of what's about and where to go For entertainment value To educate (or at least to arm others with information) Because data is important To act as an alert to those who may be interested To justify what we do and to give our observations meaning As you can see, plenty of overlap but also many diverse reasons as to why we pass on our observations. All of the above are why I do so

Tree of Klimt

I'm obviously speeding up as this is the second painting to be completed this year! I started with the idea for a 'Tree of Life' composition, and then changed it to a 'Tree of Klimt' after being heavily influenced by the great man. As I'm sure you can make out for yourselves, one half is winter, the other summer. If you don't already dabble, go on and pick up a brush then paint away - let it all out! We can all do it, there's no right or wrong and it is so relaxing.


My most enjoyable natural history events of the past five years continues: 9. A swarm of Goldfinches  It dawned overcast, dry and mild at Dungeness on 19th October 2017. The wind was a gentle south-easterly and, on stepping out from the observatory back door and into the half-light, there were already birds calling high overhead. It seemed to me a morning to be watching the skies for visible migration! I took myself off towards the point, away from the background noise of the power station. Watching diurnal passerine movement at Dungeness is an imprecise art, although most birds during the autumn appear to hug the beach (either heading east or west) or straight down (or up) the peninsula. Any vantage point between the observatory and the fishing boats will normally do. I initially stood close to the old lighthouse to get a feel for where the birds were moving - it was soon obvious that Goldfinches were on the move, and coming down the west side of the promontory. After ten minutes

In Clover

At the back end of 2014 I posted my 'Top Ten Natural History Moments', the result of a trawl through my notebooks that I had kept since 1974. It was an enjoyable exercise. Five years have elapsed since then - but in that timeframe have I got another ten moments of natural history joy to share with you? You bet. So here they are, in descending order... 10. Clover-fest at Dungeness In May 2018 I was staying at Dungeness Bird Observatory, spending a great deal of time in the company of Jacques Turner-Moss, the assistant warden at DBO. He was a delight to be with, a down-to-earth, unassuming and most talented naturalist. He had taken a keen interest in the plants that grew on the shingle, and when he became aware of my wish to track down Clustered Clover - a species of plant that had always evaded me - he was up for joining me in my quest. First of all we travelled to the northern end of the Littlestone sand dunes, an area known to hold this species. A good couple of hours was

Redwing roost

With good numbers of Hawfinches having been picked up by vismiggers over the past few weeks I was inspired to check out the western-most valleys on Headley Heath - where, two years ago almost to the day,  I located a Hawfinch roost which stayed into December, drawing a fair few birders to enjoy the experience. I arrived at 13.30hrs and positioned myself between the two valleys, at the spot that proved so rewarding back in 2017. Two hours later I was not just Hawfinch-less but almost birdless. It was really quiet, with just a handful of Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Redwing and Fieldfare to break the monotony. I decided to switch position, moving up to the top of the eastern valley and look back westwards. The light was beginning to fade but the calm conditions and slight chill in the air were quite invigorating, so I stayed put, just taking in the lovely scene before me. Then, at 15.55 hrs, and for the next 30 minutes, Redwings started to pour into the valleys, arriving from the west (Box Hi

Patch formica

A spare hour this afternoon, in-between bouts of drizzle and rain, saw me wander over to Canons Farm. I just stuck to the central road (more of a track) and scanned to my left and right, daydreaming of Pallid Swifts, Stone Curlews and the like. I was rewarded with a group of three Egyptian Geese, flying low across Broadfield in a westerly direction. My pleasure was heightened by the fact that they were a patch tick for me - vaguely of annual occurrence here. I tweeted out the news, admitting that, although they were not worthy of being described as 'patch gold' they deserved some form of accolade. My twitter chums responded with various suggestions, the winner being Gavin Haig's 'patch formica'. His reasons for that suggestion? Because he felt it needed to be something man-made and tacky. I get where he is coming from. Did I take a picture of the glorious fly-by? No way. You'll have to make do with this Stonechat instead. Shame it wasn't a Bluetail.