Saturday, 30 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.

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 was under the impression that it was a female at the time, but looking at the image above, and seeing quite a bit of blue on the section of upper hindwing that is uncovered, maybe it is a male after all. Other migrants were thin on the ground, with single figure counts of Painted Lady, Red Admiral and two Clouded Yellow (both at ARC).

Undoubted highlight was the unprecedented numbers of Vestal that came to the MV traps each night and could be easily found resting on vegetation during the day. It was a surreal experience to be walking through grassland flushing them up, easily outnumbering the (to be expected) Yellow Belles. There were definitely high hundreds across the peninsula each day and almost certainly they were in their thousands. My best day tally was 58 on September 2nd. Vestals were not the only migrants - Scarce Bordered Straw (3), Bordered Straw (2), Convolvulus Hawk-moth (4, pictured above) and several Hummingbird Hawk-moths were all recorded. All we lacked was a true rarity, but that would have been just plain greedy.

The real stars of the shingle were two species of exceedingly rare orthoptera, both discovered by the bird observatory warden, David Walker. Almost every evening the Tree Crickets (above) started to sing, and on the muggiest of them their sound was all surrounding, reminiscent of evenings spent on Greek Islands. They must be present in hundreds. Also in the same, quite small area, were Sickle-bearing Bush-crickets (two images below)

At least seven individuals had been found, and on one particular evening, in the company of the eagle-eyed Mr Walker we (well, in reality, he) found five. All of this amazing activity took place in a small area of lightly vegetated shingle on the edge of the sallow bushes. Singing normally commenced between 19.45 - 20.15hrs with dry and warm nights best. They did not seem to like it being wet or cool, although on the night of September 5th they were quite vocal even though it was cool and breezy. Careful daytime searching often provided both species.

It was a great week for birds as well. Early-September drift migrants were in strange numbers. A Wryneck, Red-backed Shrike and Icterine Warbler were all duly present but without the supporting cast of Redstarts and Pied Flycatchers, which were in depressed numbers (I failed to see the Icterine Warbler despite some very close misses). However, I did latch onto 4 of the 8 Honey Buzzards that crossed the airspace, and also an Osprey which did a lap of the point before heading eastwards out to sea. Two juvenile White-winged Black Terns were present all week, switching their allegiance from the ARC pit to the power station 'patch' towards the end of my stay. Most mornings saw visible migration of Yellow Wagtails, Tree Pipits and Siskins. I could also mention a Cattle Egret, 4 Great White Egrets, 4 Black-necked Grebes, Hobby, Merlin, Raven, Little Stint, Spotted Redshank and Avocet.

They took a bit of a back-seat as I was mainly looking up! However, I was tipped off as to the presence of New Zealand Spinach on the beach (above). A new experience at Dungeness is the formation of a modest salt marsh, due to a combination of the cessation of shingle removal in this particular area and high tide flooding of a couple of 'dips' between the ridges. It is now possible to see glassworts, Sea Rocket, Annual Sea-blite, Sea Purslane and Frosted Orache, among others.

This still remains, after 43 years of doing so, my most memorable stay at Dungeness. There have been rarer species and larger numbers, but never such depth to the natural history experience.

Friday, 29 November 2019


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.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

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 species was on the wing - in three figures - as early as 07.15hrs. A truly memorable morning.

Local botanist John Peacock tipped me off about the plentiful flower on nearby Banstead Downs, so I just had to go and have a look. Never had I seen so much Dropworth and Kidney Vetch (below). It wasn't all about the species so far mentioned, as they were but a small part of this botanical banquet, with Cat's-ear, Bird's-foot Trefoil, Yellow-rattle, Common Rock Rose, Hairy St.John's-wort, Red Clover, White Clover, Wild Thyme and various trefoils running riot - not forgetting a number of local rarities (which can, for a change, take a back seat).

Over the course of late June - July - early August I spent hours wandering around these local sites. No two visits were the same, with species taking over as the main flowerer as others declined. Every summer I visit the same places in the hope that the show of 2015 will be repeated. So far that has not been equalled.

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

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 downland flora that always steals the show. There were literally hundreds of thousands of orchids throughout the site, mostly Common Spotted but I also recorded Lesser Butterfly, Bee, Chalk Fragrant, Pyramidal and Frog (below). I have seen Burnt here, but today was possibly too early as they tend to flower in July on Pewsey Downs.

The breeze started to pick up as the morning wore on, and this was keeping the butterflies mostly hidden (the site holds Marsh Fritillary and Adonis Blue). The search for my day-flying moth targets was not going according to plan either, but after three hours I came across a section of hillside that held several Cistus Forester (below). By the end of the afternoon I had seen a minimum of 20.

The presence of Down Shieldbug on site is because its food plant -  Bastard-toadflax - can be found quite easily here. I came across six 'mats' of the plant and found the shieldbug on two of them (below). As the afternoon wore on the hills started to fill with kite-surfers. The car-park was now jammed and the wind was now gusting force 5-6. Time to go. I had spent a magical day on the downs, the natural wonders on show had been in tandem with my perceived spiritual connection. I would need to return to hunt down the elusive Wood Tiger, not that I needed an excuse to do so.

As much as it had been a special day for me, it will be one that I think back on with sadness. I had left home, in darkness, so that I could arrive on the downs soon after first light. The radio in the car was relaying news about the dreadful, ongoing fire at Grenfell Tower in west London. As you drive over the race course at Epsom you get a bird's-eye view of the city, particularly out to the west. I looked over in that direction and could see, in the distance, the fiery glow coming from that fated tower block. It was a shocking and sobering sight.

Sunday, 24 November 2019

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 its own, culminating in a surprising and enlightening communication... you can read the denouement by clicking here but I strongly urge you to read Gav’s whole input.

It would be nice to think that the NQS blog is back with us on a regular basis, although if we are just witnessing a brief but wonderful blossoming of wordsmithery then will will just have to be grateful for that, and wait patiently for more. If nothing else, it’s a timely reminder to the rest of us bloggers to up our game...

Saturday, 23 November 2019

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 of secrecy as to exactly where they had appeared. So this welcome information was an incentive to go and look. Luckily I knew one of the observers of the said orchids, and asked them if they would divulge a grid reference (or two) to help me in my search. They kindly agreed (and they still receive my thanks with each passing year).

On the morning of August 5th, and armed with a map to the treasure, I parked up at this charming Surrey Wildlife Trust reserve - one of chalk downland and woodland rides that are overflowing with botanical colour. The woodland is bisected by many trails, and it took me quite a while to find where I wanted to be. I spent a good three hours searching the target area and was rewarded with 24 spikes of Narrow-lipped Helleborine. Laying down across the bare woodland floor, head at the same height as their flowers, it was hard not to be won over by this modest plant (modest as far as orchids are concerned!) I took many photographs, which was a challenge in such a dark place, what with the orchids preferring to be under the closed woodland canopy. It isn't very often that my old SLR camera comes out to play, but this was an occasion that warranted it, and I was more than pleased with the results.

After being in the 'dark' for so long I then decided to wander the open and sunny woodland rides and chalk grassland for a couple of hours. It really was arresting, so much flower, so many butterflies. One particular meadow was proving to be highly attractive to butterflies, with several Buddleia bushes attracting scores of Peacocks, Red Admirals, Meadow Browns, Large Whites and Silver-washed Fritillaries. I stood still for a while, taking it all in. Out of the corner of my eye a large, dull butterfly came into view - something wasn't quite right. It flew behind a line of bushes and I went in pursuit. Luckily the insect had alighted on a close Buddleia flower-head and my suspicions were confirmed - it was a valezina form female Silver-washed Fritillary, something that I had longed to see. Although not that uncommon in the large colonies of this species to be found further west, it is harder to come by in Surrey.

Wednesday, 20 November 2019


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 swooped in front of me - hang on, these weren't thrushes, they were Skylarks - they stayed low to the ground, hugging the grass before disappearing into the gloaming. Another couple of passerines dropped in front of me, this time Meadow Pipits, and settled straight away in the long grass. These were followed by several more, birds that I watched coming in from a long distance, all of them going straight to the same spot. How did they know? Did they roost here every night? A few more thrushes circled overhead in the dying light. Why did they waste so much valuable energy? And just as I was about to leave, 38 Lapwing, butter-knifed winged silhouettes, circled the fields, not quite committing to land but not confident enough to fly off into the darkness for another berth.

And all this happened when most sensible birders would have called it a day. But it's never too late...

Tuesday, 19 November 2019


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 than happy with what I had seen and took myself off for a wander round the farm, but with one eye to the skies in case the hirundines started up again. At 11.00hrs, they did. The next couple of hours proved to be memorable. House Martins started to barrel in, in wide open flocks, up to 700 in 15 minutes and then a great pulse of 1800 in just 10 minutes that included a group of 400 birds. Geoff Barter then joined me. He had timed it well.

Then an enormous swarm arrived from the north. We stood transfixed. We were surrounded by a minimum of 2,000 birds, in all directions, like gnats on a summers day. As far as we could tell they all seemed to be House Martins. Those that had been at height suddenly dropped down and the majority of the flock started to feed in a frenzy over the adjacent fields. It was manic. At this point you stop being a mere observer and become a participant - a grounded participant maybe, but one immersed in, and a part of, the action.

As soon as great knots of hirundines moved off south they were quickly replaced by fresh arrivals. A few more Swallows started to appear as the House Martin stream finally started to slow. By 12.45hrs it had quietened down and the spectacle had virtually stopped by 13.15hrs. The final totals were 6710 House Martin (a county record) and 4000 Swallow. And strangely enough, this passage was not replicated elsewhere locally.

Monday, 18 November 2019

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 chance as they had colonised woods on the Kent - Sussex border, but had since then slipped back to the mythical status bestowed upon it by those hardy Victorian collectors. To see one was akin to winning a lepidopteran lottery. But then, one September morning in 1990, Sean (by then a resident of Dungeness) did just that. I happened to be staying at the observatory at the time, and my visit to his house to view such a fine beast is one fondly remembered.

And that, until 2017, was that.

On the morning of August 24th I wandered out into the back garden to check the MV moth trap that I frequently run. There had been some interesting species trapped over the previous few nights, including a migrant Scarce Bordered Straw, so my hopes were up. In fact, one of the first moths checked was another Scarce Bordered Straw - good stuff. I worked my way through the trap, moving egg boxes as I went. I got to the bottom of the trap and was confronted by a large, pale Catocala. It stopped me in my tracks - I may even have held my breath. Even though I knew what it was, I needed to see the underwing, to convince myself that it was blue and not red. With a little nervous tremor in my hands I placed the moth into a plastic container and, ever so carefully, peered beneath the fore wings.


The rest of the day was one of reliving that reveal. When I released the moth that evening it had attracted a crowd, as Peter Alfrey, Nick and Russell Gardener had made the short trip to pay their respects. 2017 was a good year for Clifdens. They were widely recorded in the southern third of England and seemed to be colonising again. My garden visit was one that was repeated elsewhere, each and every one giving observers a shot of adrenalin and a memory to look back on that would, no doubt, still pack some power in the years to come.

Sunday, 17 November 2019

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, or at least these are what entered my thoughts unbidden - you may have many other reasons for doing so.

The way we pass on this data has changed in recent years. When I started birding, I would send my observations (by post) to the county recorder, with phone calls being made to close birding friends if I found something of interest. Part of it was to advertise my presence in the birding world (through initials in bird reports and acknowledgement from recorders) but it was also a public celebration of what I was getting from my bird watching. Now we have many ways of alerting others to what we find - Twitter, Facebook, What'sApp, blogs, phone - but the premise is the same, that of letting others know of your success/luck. So is it really down to showing off? Some of the time almost certainly. Why not bask in the glory of finding a rarity, as it doesn't happen all of that often. But we will also announce a good sky or sea watch, one full of common birds, and such an event is surely not a case of blowing our own trumpet. Maybe we are just advertising the fact that we are out in the field and paying our dues - but it isn't as straight forward as that - we are also wanting to let other observers know that something is happening which they to can also enjoy if they just get outside right away and join in. And what about a simple tweet that tells your followers about a Firecrest in a hedgerow or some Brambling feeding in a field? Neither are rare, neither suggest that you are manfully facing the elements in a time consuming search of the skies or sea - maybe these are true examples of altruism, just wanting to give others the opportunity to watch desirable species. All of the above most probably apply some of the time, it's not a black and white decision as to why we do release our sightings out into the public domain. Shades of grey rule!

And then, just when I was about to send this off to post, I thought of another reason, possibly THE reason.

We want to belong

We want to belong, or at least feel as if we belong, to a network of like-minded souls who get their kicks from this passive art of birding. There, that's the whole thing sussed then - it's all because of our human need to connect with like-minded souls....


Saturday, 16 November 2019

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.

Friday, 15 November 2019


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 I then took up position by the Britannia Public House, to shield myself from the strengthening wind and to be able to hear any calls all the better. The Goldfinches still were coming through, in little spurts, but as time wore on their numbers slowly increased.

A phone call from Mark Hollingworth lead to us joining forces on the 'concrete road', very close to the actual point itself, where we were soon joined by Martin Casemore. Our position here was even better, as there were flocks of birds moving just offshore and parallel to the beach, birds that I was missing from my earlier watchpoint close to the Britannia. Although the wind had freshened to a southerly force 3-4 we were all good. The finches continued to pass through - the vast majority of them being Goldfinches. My notebook was being scrawled into with some frequency, and after 90 minutes we had recorded at least a couple of thousand. And then somebody turned the Goldfinch tap up to 'fully open'.

For the next couple of hours we were hit by waves of them. Great tight flocks, clots of jangling buffs, creams, apricots, golds and red. They kept close to each other, with frantic calling, all seemingly in a terrible hurry. We had to keep our wits about us as flocks were passing (largely east to south-eastwards) in front, behind and above us. Most of these flocks were pure Goldfinch, although some did carry imposters, with Siskins trying to sneak past hidden amongst their congeners. There was one unforgettable moment when a veritable ball of c400 birds headed straight at us, just above ground level. On reaching us the ball shattered, immersing us in a cacophony of shrillness, torn ribbons of golden yellow fleeing past, shards of noise almost physical in form. For a short while the passage was relentless, a veritable layered conveyer belt of migration in action. Birding does not come in many purer and wilder forms. To watch birds moving out of instinct and sheer need is exhilarating.

By the time the movement had finished we had logged 6,175 of the little beauties. There was not a lot else moving - just 94 Meadow Pipit, 8 alba Wagtail, 2 Skylark, 11 Swallow, a Brambling, 34 Chaffinch, 6 Greenfinch, 2 Redpoll, 50 Siskin and 200 Linnet. Oh, and one other species - a single Hawfinch - one of the early irrupters that were going to delight and astound me over the coming winter. But that's another story...

Taking time out from a frenzied flight

Thursday, 14 November 2019

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 spent searching a relatively small area of ground, most of the time on our hands and knees, forensically searching through the low vegetation. Even though were armed with grid-references for our target, it was just not showing. That is not to say that we were not finding plenty of clovers - Burrowing, Knotted, Birdsfoot, Rough and Haresfoot should have been more than compensation - but they weren't what we really yearned after. There were other specialist plants nearby, with Bird's-foot (not to be confused with the clover), Annual Knawel and Smooth Cat's-ear. It was a splendid afternoon.

The following day, and on the suggestion of DBO supremo David Walker, Jacques wandered off and found the prize - a host of flowering Clustered Clover at the entrance of West Beach Cottage. The combination of his youthful enthusiasm, good eyesight and the bit between the teeth had proved a winner. I spent a good while lying across the road photographing this most subtle of species. What was not lost on me was that I had walked past this species so many times. If it could hide in plain sight, could we carry on and find another (lost) clover species? Dave had shown me Suffocated Clover 20 years before, outside the observatory front door, but it hadn't been recorded for several years. Enter 'eagle-eyed' Turner-Moss, clearly on a clover roll. He went and found a mass of the stuff flowering on the track between the bird observatory and the railway sleeper path that crosses the moat. When you add White and Red to the tally, we had recorded nine species of clover in 24 hours.

Clustered Clover
Suffocated Clover
Burrowing Clover
Knotted Clover
Birdsfoot Clover
Rough Clover
Haresfoot Clover

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

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 Hill, Mickleham) and east (Headley Heath behind me). Most birds alighted in trees at the southern end of the valleys, with a fair few continuing eastwards (these birds following the line of the Headley - Mickleham Road.) As the light went it became harder to pick the birds up and I was more than aware that being on my own I was missing many birds. My final total of 1400 is a woeful under estimate. Whether or not these birds will move on, or a genuine winter roost is being formed, time will tell. Largest flock size was 150.

I could have packed up as the light started to go and been under the impression that the thrush numbers on site were very poor indeed. Just shows how we need to be in the field as much (and as long) as possible to fully appreciate what goes on.

Friday, 1 November 2019

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.