Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Kingbird Highway

Back in 1973, an American teenage birder by the name of Kenn Kaufman spent the year birding across North America, in an attempt to see more species of bird in a calendar year than anybody had recorded before. He wrote an account of those 12 months directly afterwards, but was so disappointed with the result that he hid the finished manuscript in a box. It was not until 1997 that it was dusted down and, with the help of professional editors and his own growth as a writer, it was published. I’m glad that it was.

I was aware of this book, a modern birding classic, but had not read it. Over recent months, birder Mervyn Jones has implored me to do so, as it is a book that he holds in the highest regard. This Christmas I finally got hold of a copy and, over the past two days, have done so. What a fantastic read.

The fact that the book has been written from the perspective of an older man looking back on his younger self give the words so much more gravitas and meaning. The skill in the writing is that none of the naivety, impetuousness, fearlessness or difficulty of youth has been lost - we still travel from bird to bird and from place to place with the 18-year old Kaufman, can share with him his hopes, plans and passions. The older Kenn is able to navigate us through how the events were to mould him, build him and break him. He ‘did’ this birding year on a shoe-string, hitching and bumming lifts, eating little and rough-sleeping. This was a time of simple communication - he wrote to friends or contacts for information, had to seek out pay phones, heard about rarities days after they turned up (and sometimes days after they had gone). Compared to the current day ‘Big Year’ competitors, who have up-to-the-minute information at their fingertips, mobile phones and credit cards that rack-up thousands of dollars on plane tickets and hotel reservations, Kaufman’s year has an authenticity, purity and charming simplicity about it. It was also at a time when the American birding scene was being flooded by the children of the 1950s who had grown up through the liberal and free 1960s, bringing new-thinking and a confidence with them. It is a social document as much as a book about extreme birding.

There is much to admire in the honest writing. This is a book with an author who starts out on an obsessive quest but identifies that the journey he thought he was taking was changing; of a boy becoming a man; a questioning of what the whole enterprise is really about; and a realisation that he was in danger of drifting and needed to come to terms with the fact that what he was doing could not last forever. These observations and revelations raised the level of the book from just being a cracking birding yarn to one of much deeper intellect. For those of us who do not live, or have not birded ‘across the pond’, there is a mythology behind this vast continent, with the distances that were being travelled ones that we cannot fathom from our small islands. The tales being recounted have a cinematic quality about them, with backdrops of dramatic wilderness and industrial landscapes alike. There are too many highlights within the pages to mention them all, but two in particular have stuck with me - the thousands of Myrtle Warblers desperately seeking food during a freak early-spring snow storm on the east coast; or of both Ross’s and Ivory Gulls floating by an Alaskan coastline like avian apparitions. I loved it. 

Did he achieve a new record? Well, you’ll have to read it yourself to find out. But, as the author tells you, whether he did or not is beside the point. 

Sunday, 27 December 2020

Growth

Just before Christmas I had a spring clean of my natural history memberships/subscriptions. Three of them bit the dust and for differing reasons. First up was the RSPB. I had been a member for over 40 years. My reasons for cancelling membership were down to a few episodes of shoddy treatment towards certain individuals I know who had worked, or volunteered for the organisation. I won’t mention names or places. These episodes make me feel as if the society that I first patronised back in the late-1970s had become an altogether different animal, one that puts money before people without a second’s thought. Maybe this is the way of the big charities today, but it saddens me. The next casualty is the periodical ‘British Wildlife’. I have subscribed (on and off) for maybe 15-20 years, but have increasingly found that I was only reading 50% of it. The third up is The Wildflower Society, a modest and charming collection of botanists but one which I am no longer an active part of. The £100 or so that these cancellations of ‘membership’ have saved are not going to be placed elsewhere - those that still survive will be up for review as well, as some are survivors from a time when my patronage of wildlife charities and clubs was wide and indiscriminate.

This curbing of what I support is not a money saving exercise. If I’m honest, it is about questioning how and why I do things. Maybe it is a wish not to have a life ‘on repeat’ where things get renewed just because I always have done so, that the same publications don’t only get read because they’ve always been at hand. The RSPB was the biggest call, as my support of the society was one born of a wish to back up their habitat protection. Maybe one day I will return. Both they, and British Wildlife, sent me communication thanking me for my support, which I thought a nice touch in a largely uncaring and entitled world.

Coming up to the end of the year is always a time for reflection and planning (it is for me at any rate) and so my thoughts have turned to how I use my time and what can be done to better it - and ‘bettering’ it holds a whole host of definitions. It’s a privileged and first world exercise for sure, but an enjoyable one all the same. Wrapped up in it will be health, enjoyment, fulfilment, companionship, education, community and growth. And that last one - growth - is important.

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Much ado about Twitter

There are days when I decide that I am going to bin Twitter. These are the days when I spend far too long reading through the tweets and when I tweet something that becomes contentious. Days when... you get the picture. But when I think such thoughts I remember that this platform has become my primary source for latest bird information, world news alerts and social contacts. It is also a place that I can tweet out any old rubbish and then have a conversation. These are my tweets for today:


As you can see, a right old mix of the banal and vaguely interesting. But they did elicit some response and a bit of banter. I also responded to tweets posted by other users and so became embroiled in conversations as diverse as the 1989 Kent Golden-winged Warbler, #BWKM0, and Kent birders. They say that television is the 'thief of time', but that could just as well apply to Twitter. Sometimes a tweet just takes off for no particular reason - this one garnered over 1200 likes. It also produced a few negative comments:

It is a platform that can sometimes embroil you in a spat, give you hope, produce a few laughs, make you despair, annoy you, in fact, just about every human emotion is and will be covered. It is addictive. There is a good reason that, just like people who buy drugs, people who are devotees of social media platforms are called users.

Monday, 21 December 2020

On your marks...


Next year will see a laid-back attempt to hit the following targets across the uber-patch (above):

Birds
(140 species); Plants (700 species); Moths (500 species); Butterflies (38 species) and Dragonflies (18 species). I will also keep a record of how many footsteps I take in the search of them all - the aim is of completing 1,000,000, although seeing that my total so far this year is now over four million that shouldn't be a challenge.

As much as failure in any category will elicit no more than a shrug from me, I will give each one a go and hope that in the effort to do so the local patches will carry on revealing something of themselves to me. Each and every year produces surprises, as no year is the same as any other. The bird total is going to be the biggest challenge, but it is always good to have an aim that will stretch oneself. As for the moths and plants, the need to attempt identifications across difficult groups and families can only be educational. I'm already champing at the bit to get going.

Sunday, 20 December 2020

10.02 hrs, 21st December 2020

10.02hrs. 21st December 2020. The precise moment when the days start to lengthen, and no longer shorten. A time to look forward to birth, growth, regeneration. Maybe also a time to believe that we are also on the right path to a return to some form of normality. The pagan in me celebrates this moment. I will raise a cup of mead, look to the skies and hope that the coming spring can restore our collective wellbeing, both mentally and physically. Wherever you are and whatever you believe in, may you find comfort and peace.

Saturday, 19 December 2020

Plum pudding

The last of my brief 2020 round-ups involves plants. Although I was out-and-about in the field a great deal I cannot recall a year when I seemed to see so little botanically. But there were three stand-out moments...

Denbies Hillside, May. I came across this striking colour variation of Scarlet Pimpernel. I've seen red, orange, rose and blue, but never a plum-coloured flower. It was my botanical highlight of the year.

Norbury Park, June. I was too late to see many of them in flower, but the number of Green Hound's-tongue plants was staggering - an estimated 10,000 covering sections of the eastern wooded slopes.

Box Hill, June. Always keen to see Ground-pine at a new site, this particular plant appeared courtesy of a small scrape that had been created to encourage the growth of Kidney Vetch.

Friday, 18 December 2020

No Dyl, but cheers!

After what seems like several months of Christmas being force-fed to me, I am now happy to concede that this ‘season to be jolly’ is upon us. Not being religious means that this festival is, for me, one based on companionship, food, drink and relaxation - normally. This year will be different, whatever your take on Christmas. Reduced congregations or closed churches, smaller gatherings at home, suppressed jollity out of respect to those who have left us or continue to struggle with this virus... I sometimes think that, apart from the truly religious, anything else pertaining to Christmas this year has an air of triviality about it. I’m not going to debate the why’s-and-wherefore’s, the do’s-and-dont’s and the right’s-and-wrong’s - we will all conduct ourselves as we believe we should over the coming week or two. We can but hope that the vaccine roll-outs speed up, they work well, and that by the spring we might just be entering the start of normality, although I would question as to whether or not ‘normality’ will be what we remember it as.

It seems highly likely that, after Christmas we will then suffer a spike in deaths and cases - due to the relaxation of the ‘rules’ over the designated five days. So, back to a strict lockdown then. Whereas the initial heavy clampdown coincided with some wonderful spring weather, this one will be conducted during the harshest of the winter months. It will be an altogether more difficult time for many, and mental health will be a problem as much as COVID. Over at ‘Of Esox and Observations’, Dylan Wrathall asks whether or not I might be tempted to reconvene the #BWKM0 garden watch in such a scenario. Well Dyl, no, I’m not, but if anybody else does, I’ll certainly join in!

As an aside, this post is the 230th of the year, the highest number for this blog during a calendar year. That’s got to be worth a toast - so, cheers!

Thursday, 17 December 2020

Moth targets


At the end of each December, I look back on my 'moth year' and take stock of what happened. Was it a good year for migrants? How did my efforts at identifying micros go? And, what are my targets for the following year?

The first two questions can be answered quite succinctly: "so-so" and "not too bad". I can expand on the third. As for the garden MV, there are still a few gettable macro species that have yet to appear here, such as Poplar Kitten, White Satin Moth, Red-necked Footman, Sprawler, Dusky-lemon Sallow, Pale-lemon Sallow (pictured left), Oak Rustic and Hedge Rustic, although the latter is on a downward spiral and is becoming harder to rely on each year. All those mentioned are moths that I've seen elsewhere, but there are others that could appear in the garden and would be totally new for me, such as Juniper Carpet, Maple Prominent, Four-spotted Footman, Dark Crimson Underwing, Black-spotted Chestnut  and Double-line. Some of those are pushing it a bit, but are perfectly feasible - I've had more surprising species turn up in the past. 

Within a couple of hours drive from home are a number of day-flying targets. I have site information for all of them and have tried unsuccessfully in the past, my planned efforts for this past year being postponed due to 'you know what'. They are Scarce Forester, The Forester, Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth and Wood Tiger. I've spent quite a bit of time on chalk downland in Wiltshire, Hampshire, and Sussex searching for them, with Cistus Forester being my only reward, leaving the hit-list above as something of an ongoing project. It is starting to get personal with Wood Tiger - I've been to the right places at the right times of year (allegedly) a number of times. But it is always good to have some unfinished business - seeing everything at the first time of answering would be dull indeed.

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Reigate Ring-neck

Yesterday morning, Gordon Hay found a female Ring-necked Duck on Priory Park Lake in Reigate. This record has echoes of the Ewell bird that spent two winters, 18 years ago, on a far more modest park pond. I paid my respects this morning, with the bird seemingly aware that there were birders present - when it came close it ensured that there was plenty of bank-side vegetation between it and the path that I was standing on. That made observation fleeting and difficult. After 15 minutes it then swam across the lake and decided to play hide-and-seek amongst some overhanging trees and submerged roots. This bit of dodgy video is the best that I could manage. Hopefully it is here for the winter. Gordon is now hoping that this North-American vagrant decides to pay his beloved Holmethorpe a visit - only three miles away as the duck flies.

Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Incoming inverts

Another one of those end of year round-ups, part celebration, part blog filler. Today’s post features four invertebrate highlights, all of them either new colonists or species making a comeback. 

First up is Striped Shieldbug (Graphosoma italicum). In mid-June I’d been tipped off that a specimen had been found close to Banstead Downs, so armed with a grid reference I went in search. My first attempt drew a blank (although see below), but seeing that the site was close to home I went back again on 20th July  - managing to find a singleton before I even arrived at my destination, on Hogweed, on Banstead Downs itself. I was destined to see this species again, in the same general area, on two more occasions, with one being a nymph, (in the company of Graeme Lyons), on 31st August. This shieldbug, found in the Mediterranean region, has been sparingly recorded in the UK. This species appears to be spreading north from its core range.

On my initial failed hunt for Striped Shieldbug I came across a most striking weevil. It was enormous for a weevil and quite colourful - a confection of pale carrot, milk chocolate and burnt caramel. I took a photograph in the belief that it would be easy to identify. When back home I struggled to put a name to it, apart from being confident that it belonged to the genus Lixus. The trouble was, all of the species of Lixus on the British list were exceedingly rare. I posted the image on-line and soon received an identification from a couple of experts. It was indeed a Lixus, Lixus iridis to be precise. A further surprise was to find that one of the very few sites where this species had been recorded before in the UK was exactly where I had found it, and just a week previously! I returned several times and found the insect with ease, centred on a stand of Hogweed. Up to seven were found at once and I grew quite fond of these weevils. They varied somewhat, some more orangey, or brown, in colour. Found on the European mainland, there have been a cluster of records across a small area of north Surrey this year.

Lyonetia prunifoliella is what this delicate, charming moth pictured above is called. There are several similar looking micro-moths, so when I first saw this individual in the garden MV I could not immediately put a name to it. It turns out that this species has a very interesting history:

"Formerly locally resident in parts of southern and central England, this moth seemed to have died out as a British species, and had not been reliably encountered since around 1900. The first recent record appears to be in 2007, since when it has been encountered with increasing frequency in a number of counties including Dorset, Norfolk and on the Isle of Wight, Hampshire." UK Moths.

The moth is tiny, and the markings cannot be appreciated unless viewed under a lens. The adult moth apparently flies in September, and once again in the spring after overwintering. Where that puts my record - 19th July - I do not know. It looks fresh to me, so maybe an early flier. The larvae feed on, among other plants, Blackthorn and Apple.

I have a liking for Shieldbugs, possibly because they are obvious and relatively easy to identify. I was therefore pleased to be told by Dave Walker, warden of Dungeness Bird Observatory, that a thriving colony of the recent colonist, Mottled Shieldbug, was on show close to DBO. On the early-October morning that I went to check, a double-figure count was easily obtained. Another species added to the ever-expanding list of colonising invertebrates. It is an exciting and fascinating time to be recording invertebrates. Climate change is without doubt meddling with the distribution of many insects, and us in the south-east are in the right place to welcome the pioneers.

Monday, 14 December 2020

Go with the flow

Sometimes it is good to just let things go with the flow, whether that be birding, painting or life in general. I started out to paint a background for a Hawfinch-themed composition, but became lost in the swirls and patterns that just unfolded, almost on an automatic-pilot of brush strokes and dabs. The colour palette was open to abuse, so it got abused. Mindfulness in gouache. Those Hawfinches will just have to wait.

Sunday, 13 December 2020

A birding year like no other

Looking back on 2020 was always going to be an exercise shrouded in the spectre of COVID. There is just no escaping from the fact that, at the very least, the virus inconvenienced and disrupted all of us - and for the unfortunate few, it impacted in a far more tragic way. Back in January the virus was nothing more than a vague whisper from a region of China that few of us had heard of before. Birding was a free and easy way to spend quality time, without the need to calculate bubble-sizes, lockdown quotas and the rights and wrongs of how to bird... times were easy.

My own birding year began locally. Apart from a trip to Pulborough Brooks in January, and a brief Dungeness visit at the end of February, everything was done locally, and nothing unexpected came my way. At the start of March, at Canons Farm, I had a run of birds that hinted at a good spring to come, with Black Redstart (2nd), Wheatear (11th, very early) and Woodlark (16th). Then the virus arrived. Lockdown was announced. A holiday to southern Spain was cancelled. Things became surreal.

If there was a tiny blessing to be had from the situation we found ourselves in then it came in the form of a reawakening of a connection with the natural world, and in the birding community this manifested itself even further with a long-overdue appreciation of the birds to be recorded from our own back-gardens or windows. Following on from an initiative that had started in Italy (#BWKM0 - bird-watching at zero kilometres), this blog became the host site to a UK version, in solidarity and support of our hard-hit Italian comrades.

Our own modest gang kept an eye and ear on-the-skies over a six week period, and we numbered 61 sites (including one in Albania, one in Eire, and another in the Chatham Islands). A British Isles total of 187 species were recorded, a phenomenal effort, with some truly surprising species cropping up, as can be seen from the graphic above. 221 'firsts for the garden' were recorded. But beyond these numbers was the sheer joy and camaraderie that was experienced. For me, those weeks became a whirl of back garden birding and collating the observations from the other participants, as my Whatt'sApp, Twitter, e-mail and Facebook feeds were constantly being updated with the latest highlights. At the end of each day I would prepare a post and feel a definite sense of being involved in a heart-warming enterprise. Towards the end of March something happened that we could all enjoy and share - an unprecedented passage of nocturnal wildfowl and waders. Maybe unprecedented is too strong a billing for the event, maybe this happens each and every spring, but a few things conspired to make it something that was widely 'observed' - calm weather, quiet skies due to a lack of road and air traffic and birders with time on their hands and the bit between their teeth. My own haul during this night-time festival comprised Common Scoter (twice), Brent Goose (twice), Teal, Gadwall, Coot, Moorhen (several), Golden Plover and, in late-April, Bar-tailed Godwit.

Once lockdown was over, and I could wander a bit further with a clear conscience, I still stayed fairly local. This paid-off handsomely when I had a calling Bee-eater fly over me (unseen) at Howell Hill on 1st June. And, I can now reveal, that I was a bit of a naughty boy on 22nd June when I just happened to be in the company of a Surrey lister when he heard the news that a Roseate Tern had appeared on Queen Elizabeth II Reservoir - and most unlike me, I took up the offer of having a look.

Roseate Tern - naughty but nice. Pots and kettles spring to mind.

The next birding highlight was an unexpected and unseasonal ring-tail Hen Harrier that spent a few days at Canons Farm in late-July - my second for the site. It was turning out to be a good summer for Crossbills, with small groups of birds being encountered - usually calling overhead - across the whole area. Locally, the early-autumn was one of standard fare. The chat passage was strong, with good counts of Whinchats and Stonechats. A couple of visits were made to the Sussex South Downs, which were full of birds, particularly Spotted Flycatchers and Common Redstarts, but this only went to underline how poor 'my' section of the North Downs was in comparison. Twice as much effort is needed to yield a quarter of what I saw across the county boundary. Back home, a couple of sizeable pushes of House Martins were witnessed, including 2,200 SW through Priest Hill on 30th September.

I finally conceded that I needed a bit of a 'proper' birding break, so found myself having a week close to Dungeness in early-October. I still kept clear of the crowds, so spent most of my time birding on the edge of the area. This resulted in some pleasurable finds, which included Yellow-browed Warbler, Stone Curlew and one of the most showy and confiding Red-backed Shrikes at St.Mary's Bay (top). I timed my arrival home to perfection, as it coincided with a large arrival of Redwings. From the garden I was able to witness three heavy days of west to north-west passage, with 7,724 on 12th; 3,203 on 13th (with an incredible 1,558 Fieldfare); and 5,334 on 15th.

The year started to fade away in a greyness of mild weather and drizzle, but birding is never predictable. A most unusual push into SE England of 'Russian' White-fronted Geese included not only Surrey but the Uber-patch as well, so I was more than grateful to watch 45 of these splendid birds grazing on the River Mole flood-plain at Betchworth on December 2nd. They are mostly still there as I write.

No two years are the same, but I somehow doubt that any year will come close to 2020 for its sheer weirdness. Will I ever again need to check that, aside from my optics and notebook, I have packed hand gel and a surgical mask?

Saturday, 12 December 2020

There is always tomorrow

A Surrey North Downs winter woodland can be a quiet place. This afternoon, on Ranmore Common, a couple of hours were spent in slow motion, wandering the tracks that criss-cross this chalky ridge that is coated in a copious layer of mud. The paths ooze the brown stuff, with standing water barring passage and making the cleaning of the footwear an urgent need when returning home. But that can wait - there are birds to find here - good birds, birds such as Hawfinch, Crossbill, Firecrest, Marsh Tit and even, if you are lucky, Goshawk. Nothing doing so far, so just slow down, breathe easy, concentrate. But they still do not come. Hardly any tit flocks, few finches, the quiet has a chill but not unpleasant feeling, more one born of a message: "Not today Steve, try again next time."

The light is fading, my rough passage through the undergrowth is made in the hope of a flushed Woodcock, but still the birding Gods are not interested. I look up into the skeleton canopy and fix my pleasure upon the ice-blue sky, freshly liberated from the earlier battleship grey. It elevates and promotes hope, a consolation for the no-show of birds. But that's birding. There is always tomorrow.

Friday, 11 December 2020

Thrush action

The Redwings around here have not been behaving themselves as expected. For a start, they have been in sub-song all late autumn and now in early winter. Yesterday there were 20+ all having a good old partial sing-song together, like a choir of carol singers warming up. I don’t normally hear this sort of performance until the very mild days of late-February. And there has been their high numbers - 100-200 birds have been marauding around the Banstead gardens feeding on the home-grown berries. It is unusual to see so many domestically unless the weather has been hard, and we are in the midst of mildness personified. So, what is happening? Food shortages on the downs? A sudden influx from the continent? All this is being carried out with the starting up of Song and Mistle Thrush song as accompaniment. Together with the conspicuous Blackbirds, it is brimming locally with thrush action.

Tuesday, 8 December 2020

Winter flower surprise

A winter wander into Epsom town centre (approximately two miles from home) was enlivened by my recording of every species of wild (or naturalised) plant that was still in flower -  I do love a bit of aimless note-taking. The plants were mainly found on roadside verges, cracks in the pavement and unkempt flower beds. I managed a creditable 43 species, mostly made up of the usual suspects, but there were a few surprises - a patch of Sweet Violet, a couple of Wood Avens (or Herb Bennet if you prefer), Pellitory-of-the-wall, Sunflower (Helianthus annus), but the best was saved up until the last. As I approached home, and seeing that I had still to record Slender Speedwell, I stopped on the driveway to have a close look at our front lawn. I didn't see any flowering speedwell, but was delighted to spy a small plant of Blue Fleabane that was exhibiting several flower-heads (above). It is a local plant in the area, but to be expected on the chalk nearby. This is the first garden record, and is reminiscent of a single Small Toadflax that appeared in exactly the same spot several years ago.

Friday, 4 December 2020

Bird book of the year

I cannot claim to be a world lister. Apart from several birding jaunts around central and Southern Europe, I've only ventured further afield twice - to Israel and Malaysia. Although my enjoyment was immense, my fear of flying has got in the way. Even family holidays have had to take this into account, with my reluctance to board any plane being conquered only every 3-4 years or so - and even then alcohol and/or tranquillisers were a necessary part of the process. Not a good base then to even think about world listing.

When Lynx Edicions announced the publication of their book, 'All the Birds of the World', I was not initially stirred. And then I saw some of the plates. Wow! I had to get it. It has been so popular that the first print run could not meet demand, so I had to wait five weeks for my copy to arrive, but it was so worth the wait. It's big. And thick. And heavy. Each page a delight of avian promise, with all of the taxonomic treatments from the four major world lists covered, every species illustrated to at least a male, female and regional or sub-species variation. A distribution map, species status and even a tick box is printed alongside. I don't have a lot of use for nine-tenths of the tick-boxes, but they act as an encouragement to further air travel (once COVID has gone and done one of course). It isn't cheap, but it is worth every penny. 

Below is an example of what is on offer, a spread that actually depicts some of the gems that I saw in Malaysia. There are times when I regret not having had the world-birding bug, and some of those times are when I am leafing my way through this particular book.

I'm sure the kind people at Lynx will not mind me using this image - it is, after all, a free advert for their book!

Thursday, 3 December 2020

Walk on...

I have an app on my phone that keeps a record of how far I walk each day. Sometimes, if I've been on a particularly lengthy stroll, I'll have a look as see how far my legs have taken me. Today I thought I'd see how far I've travelled on foot in this troublesome year of 2020.

Daily average: 11,744 steps or 7.6km (4.72 miles)

1st Jan - 3 Dec: 3,899,008 steps or 2,523km (1,567 miles)

This year has been very different from most years. My walking has been boosted by the imposition of the lockdowns, meaning that I've shunned the car in preference to using Shank's Pony. This is turn has awoken a desire to explore locally, at times taking me miles from home and on a regular basis. Out of despair can come joy.

I'll leave the last words to Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard:

"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, 2 December 2020

White-front surprise

Surrey is hardly renowned as being a hotspot for wintering geese, but this recent push of (Russian) White-fronted Geese into the south-east of England has even given the humble Uber-patch a piece of the action. The Mole valley flood plain, at Betchworth, is currently hosting up to 47 of them (45 were present this afternoon when I was there). The birds were keeping at distance for most of the hour on site, but then came closer just as we were about to leave. With them were 346 Canada, 302 Greylag, 36 Egyptian and a lone Barnacle. The scene, as viewed from a nearby hillock, was more reminiscent of Norfolk parkland.

Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Meaningless

Yesterday evening I had written a lengthy post on the subject of birding behaviour during the second lockdown, but then deleted it rather than publish it - this after a bit of soul-searching when I thought better of it, and decided that it might ruffle a few feathers That wasn't something that I wished to happen. 

So I tweeted this instead:

As can be seen, it has gathered a lot of interest, with over 58,000 views, 40 Retweets and getting on for 950 likes. But what about the 'not likes'? Even though I do put out the odd contentious tweet from time to time I am still a sensitive soul and do not like to think that anybody would be upset by what I post. I felt happy that the above post would be taken as a pat-on-the-back to those birders who have stuck to the government lockdown recommendations. Plenty haven't - or at least have played loose with the nitty-gritty of lockdown - and this has annoyed me somewhat. I could go into a bit more detail, but really don't want to. It's upsetting that some birders are out there playing Russian-roulette with a virus that can kill -if not them, then somebody close to them, or a perfect stranger that just happens to cross their path. I've been shouted down that being out in the open, innocently birding, is as safe as can be. That is just incorrect. The science is clear - the virus can live on a fence post, gate, bush, petrol pump, car bonnet, your glove or your jacket, for up to 48 hours. Regardless of perceived distancing. 

Enough of that, back to the Tweet - there was one word in the above tweet that I should not have used...

Meaningless

I used it in the context as a list being meaningless when compared to a killer virus. But the clumsy use of the word makes it look as if I'm suggesting that listing is meaningless. There were several birders who have put me right on this. To them, their lists have meaning, or they can see that in some cases a list may be the one thing that keeps people mentally on the straight and narrow, gives them a reason for getting up in the morning. I did reply to each of them, accepting that I had got my wording wrong. Although the spirit of the tweet was not one of antagonism, I can see how it could have (and did) come across that way to some. I really should read through what I have written before touching the send button.

The gob-shite within me is going to go on a long holiday.

Lockdown 2 ends tonight. The tier system starts tomorrow. Wherever you are, keep safe and please bird responsibly. And none of that is meaningless.

Saturday, 28 November 2020

Niger

On my River Hogsmill walk yesterday I came across an unfamiliar plant growing alongside one of the ponds at Bourne Hall. It was in rude health and next to a similarly robust specimen of Green Amaranth. It was vaguely sow-thistle like, a bit Rudbeckia-ish, but fitted neither. When home, I uploaded the four images reproduced here in the hope that one of my Twitter-chums could furnish me with an identification, and, as hoped, three responded in quick time to let me know that my mystery plant was Niger (Guizotia abbysinica). I've seen plenty of Niger seed in my time at bird feeding stations, but this is the first time that I have seen the plant.



Friday, 27 November 2020

Then and now

Another expedition along the River Hogsmill towards Old Malden, where I once again paid homage to the Millais painting 'Ophelia'. There is a commemorative plaque on a wall close to the spot where he based the painting (pictured), accompanied here by my picture of what that spot looks like today. The Kingfisher that I saw may have been seen by the great artist as he produced his preliminary sketches, but I doubt that a Little Egret bothered his eye-line as it did mine.



Thursday, 26 November 2020

Mistle on mistle

Reigate Heath was the starting point this morning, where the birding quiet was broken by this Mistle Thrush that kept guard over a clump of Mistletoe, feeding on the berries in between bouts of sitting out proud. After meeting up with Brother-in-law Bill, we took a circular walk that included much of Buckland, highlights being 18 Red-legged Partridge, a Little Owl and 150+ Redwing. Further clumps of Mistletoe were seen, including some heavy with fruit.


Sunday, 22 November 2020

In the murk at Mogador

Colley Hill Car Park was a seething mass of metalwork by 11.30hrs - no room to park plus at least another 50 vehicles tucked along the minor road that leads up to it. Fortunately I was leaving the area at the time, having spent the morning birding the farmland at nearby Mogador. Lockdown plays havoc with the human footfall at any of these 'edge of town' beauty spots. With the shops, cinemas, swimming pools and gymnasiums closed, who can blame people for heading out into the countryside. It will be quiet again once the shops and cafes re-open.

Mogador is a relatively small area of mixed arable farmland and pasture, on the edge of Banstead Heath, blessed with big skies and a fair amount of scrub and hedgerow. I have an increasing fondness of the place. Positioned just north of the North Downs scarp at Colley Hill, I have managed to establish a rapport with its birdlife, enjoying spring and autumn migrant action plus a small but select wintering population of thrushes, finches and buntings. It will not be long before something of note appears.

It was a pleasure to come across a flock of 30 Yellowhammers (top) this morning, an increasingly scarce bird this far north in the county, although both Holmethorpe and Canons Farm are nearby sites that still maintain decent numbers of this bunting. A single Reed Bunting was with them. Also recorded were 3 Red-legged Partridges, 14 Skylarks, 2 Stonechats, 150 Redwings, 90 Fieldfares and 130 Linnets. It was one of those still, grey and murky mornings that felt as if I were birding indoors.

The farmland here floods most winters, sizeable pools more than flashes, and despite thorough checking I've yet to record a wader on them, although I have flushed Common Snipe from the field edges on several occasions and have had Golden Plover fly over.

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Another world revealed

The first time that I knowingly took an interest in moths was during the evening of Saturday August 2nd 1975. I can be that precise as the day had been spent at Lords Cricket Ground, as a spectator watching 'our' boys take on the Aussies in the Ashes test. That Australian team were full of greats - Ian and Greg Chappell, Rod Marsh, Dennis Lillee and Geoff Thomson to name but five. On that particular day though the plaudits went to England batsman John Edrich, who completed a century. But I digress.

That evening I attended a family wedding reception in Tring, Hertfordshire. I had only been birding for a matter of months, and my interests in other aspects of natural history were in their infancy to say the least. But as darkness fell, something happened at the bare windows of the village hall that caught my attention. The black panes of glass were alive with fluttering forms attempting to get inside with us. They were moths. 

Moving over to the window it was clear that these moths came in differing sizes, shapes and colours. I stood mesmerised as they came and went, each minute that passed revealing more wonders materialising out of the darkness. A small group of children had seen me looking, and came over, eager to get involved. They, too, were taken aback by the nocturnal show - we all wanted to see more. There then started an early form of citizen science, as we commandeered a number of small glasses from the bar, opened one of the windows, and started to trap the moths within the glass receptacles by using beer mats to usher them in. We couldn’t name them, but that didn’t matter - in fact I think it fair to say that none of us knew that moths had names, beside that of ‘moth’. Each capture was passed around, particularly if it had some sort of wow factor about it. The plain, the brown and the small were quickly released. There was one in particular that captured my imagination. It was fairly large and at first appeared to be dark brown all over, but when disturbed, or in flight, revealed an intense yellow underwing. It appeared to be quite common. After 30 minutes of hunting moths my attendant young gatherers had had enough and moved on to something else. I stayed by the window, ignoring the celebrations alongside me. Another world had been revealed.

The following week I got hold of a copy of the Observer’s Book of Moths. A there, on a plate, was my moth at the window. A Large Yellow Underwing. A species that I would get to see, sometimes in their hundreds, even thousands, over the coming years.

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Released from an obligation

Confession time. After 46 years of sending my natural history records into various societies and organisations, I'm getting fed up with it. Bored. Cannot be arsed.

Sounds bad doesn't it? You would think that after playing the game for all of these years and doing the right thing that I would still be up for making sure that my valuable data would be sent to a safe place so that it can be added to the historical record and be used in years to come for research purposes or just entertainment value. I used to religiously send off my paper records to various recorders, and, when the records became computerised, started to visit BirdTrack to upload data, safe in the knowledge that it would get to the right person in good time.

But recently there has been a change. A change in me. I am moving further away from my time in the field being somehow all tied up with harvesting data. It's now more personal to me than that. It isn't about number, or identification for that matter, although it really is - confused? How do you think I feel?

My enjoyment in birding, or looking at plants, moths, butterflies or anything else living for that matter has not waned. It is as strong as ever. It's just that I'm going through a phase of not wanting to analyse it. My notebook still comes out with me but it might not get opened. The pen remains in my pocket. How many Redwings did I see this evening? I could give you a rough estimate, but I was watching the few swirling flocks coming into roost with a happy detachment - not of the birds, I was watching them intently - but a detachment from some perverse duty to record them. Last week I avidly counted the thrushes and submitted them to the notebook. Today? Nah, I just watched and was entranced. Took in the dying of the light. Listened to the Tawny Owl. Felt free. Released from an obligation that I took on board as a teenager back in 1974.

Will I come back to normality - whatever normality is? Why am I bothering committing these thoughts to this post? As I've written before, and will no doubt do so again in the future, blogging is a very cheap form of therapy...

Monday, 16 November 2020

Something of the night

There is definitely 'something of the night' about me - not in a vampiric reference such as that famously made about Michael Howard by Ann Widdecombe a few years ago. As twilight starts to assert its authority over the daylight I do get a certain boost - sound and vision is heightened, smells and touch are turned up a notch. It isn't unlike the turning down of the house lights in a theatre or cinema, a prelude to something special.

This afternoon saw me walk up onto Epsom Downs, timing my journey so that, as I strolled down Chalk Lane - which for about a mile travels through horse paddocks and copses - I would reach the bottom of the hill in darkness. The paddocks are large and stretch back a fair way. I used to hear Little Owls here with some regularity, but they have gone from this side of the downs, to be replaced by those raucous buggers, Ring-necked Parakeets. Hardly seems a fair swap to me. This evening all that could be heard was a singing Song Thrush and a calling Robin, but these sounds came to me with a crystal clarity that is just missing during daylight hours. A few Carrion Crows were sitting, silhouetted, on the roof of a large barn, their outline's razor-sharp. The smell of leaf-mould, earth and the fruity mucking-out from the stables added fragrance to the cooling, but still mild, November air. Talk about being in the moment. When visibility is reduced, the senses come alive.

This time of day also acts as a reset button, what with the light having passed, and what has 'gone before' has done just that - gone. But I do not tend to look back, rather find myself being readied for tomorrow. The sense of anticipation comes to the fore, as if what had been dished up today was merely a prelude to what might be served tomorrow.

And another thing. I took this walk without my binoculars. Or camera. I found the whole thing restful, without expectation. No clutter. Just me and a jacket. No pressure. Of course, had a swift flown over in the gloom, or a wheatear jump out in front of me as I crossed the downs I would have been kicking myself for such foolhardy action.

Or would I have?

Thursday, 12 November 2020

Sloe, sloe, milk, milk, sloe

The local footpaths between Woodmansterne and Banstead were searched this morning, but the birds were only notable by their absence, save for a single Reed Bunting that flew low over the meadows behind the Evergreen nursery. The local harvest of sloes has never looked better, the Blackthorn bushes around Banstead are heavy with the mealy purple-blue fruit. In the sunshine this morning, the downs positively throbbed with its colour. The botanical highlight came courtesy of a single Milk Thistle, found in a gateway close to the outskirts of Banstead village. For a quiet, benign and docile November morning it was strangely invigorating.

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

They're back!

I make no secret of the fact that I love Hawfinches. It pleases me to have these lovely birds as a fairly regular species within the local area, but, typical of that species, they can sometimes go missing for months on end. It is with great pleasure that, over the past week, I have been able to watch them once again, with a minimum of 11 birds (possibly as many as 16) having been seen over the past week in the western valleys of Headley Heath, and up on the adjoining wooded slope at High Ashurst. 

I position myself overlooking the valleys on their eastern flank, which gives me good views across the tree lines. Both my sessions here have been from 13.30hrs until dusk. The earliest that a Hawfinch has appeared is 14.00hrs, and the latest 15.42hrs. The busiest time seems to be around 15.00hrs. Views are usually of birds flying along the distant tree line, or circling the valleys. A couple of times birds have alighted and given reasonable scope views. Twice a flock of five has been recorded. A total of six hours has been spent sitting in the same spot waiting for them - it is not a game that is regularly rewarded. Today I had but six separate observations, but when they deign to show it is all worthwhile.

There are side-shows to compensate the non-Hawfinch moments. The thrush roost was back to four-figures this evening (1,075 Redwing) plus up to 70 Redpolls were buzzing about. There is always something flying across the ravines, be they assorted finches, Stock Dove and Woodpigeon flocks, Common Buzzards or Red Kites. In truth, there is never a dull moment.

Monday, 9 November 2020

Satellite of hope

A mild spell of weather during the 'dark' months of November, December and January will alert most keen students of moths to switch on the MV/actinic trap. Apart from the small selection of species that are still on the wing during the winter there is the chance of picking up a few migrants, especially if the mild weather is due to the airflow coming up from North Africa and Iberia - and that is the case right now.

There have been migrants coming to the Banstead MV over the past couple of nights, but so far have been confined to just the expected - a few Silver Y and Udea ferrugalis. However, hope is high, as there are plenty of high value moths being recorded along the south coast and in SE England. Last night's haul here was fair, with a cast of late-autumn regulars that included this Satellite. The trap is on once more. My walk out to inspect it in the morning will be one filled with more hope than usual.

Sunday, 8 November 2020

Just what did this place do to deserve this?

I think it most when I am stationary, maybe sitting in a car at traffic lights, or pausing while walking a footpath that runs alongside a light industrial unit. 

“What on earth has this place done to deserve this?”

Looking at the acres of concrete, prefabricated buildings, sodium lights and metal gantries, I’m compelled to look beyond this man-made horror and imagine what lies beneath. What was once here? A field? A wood? I can now imagine someone walking across this very spot, flat cap, roll-up stuck in the corner of his mouth, on the way home after a day’s work. There is the row of cottages of which one he calls home. A mile from town, but still well served by a couple of pubs and several homesteads that sell fresh produce. The earth roads this way see little traffic, they’re more like tracks and see just a few horses each day, and certainly no wandering stranger. Our ‘ghost’ was born in the very same house that he is now walking to, he was christened in the church that we can still see on the nearby hill, was married there twenty years later and buried yards from where he walked out with his bride - close to the ancient yew - a further forty years on from then. 

When he was lowered into the ground the church yard was surrounded by meadows and hedges. The tallest buildings nearby were the three church spires that dominated all around. If, by some miracle, we could awaken him now and bring him to the surface, what would he make of it all? He would recognise the Yew, that has hardly changed in the 150 years that he has been ‘at rest’, but as for the rest... the noise, so much glass, shiny metal, great walls of dull cladding, and what on earth are these strange contraptions that dash by with people in them? Where are the fields that he looked over from his front door? Where, indeed IS his front door? Gone. Demolished to make way for houses that were needed to home the town overspill and they, in turn, demolished to make way for warehousing and factories. The hedges grubbed up. The lone trees felled. The fields levelled. The pubs shut. The people moved on.

So I look down at the concrete, the fencing, the litter, the bright lights and the ugly simplicity of kit-form construction and think of the Grey Partridges that once formed coveys here, the Yellowhammers that sang from the Hawthorn, the speedwell and pimpernel flowering along the field edge, and ‘our’ man, who couldn’t have imagined what was to become of his little world.

Just what did this place do to deserve this?

Saturday, 7 November 2020

The turning of time's circle

Early November has become special to me. It may well be autumn past its birding best, but there are plenty of opportunities to seek and find, plus experiences to be had that mix the ornithological with the spiritual - something that other times of the year just cannot replicate.

Yesterday afternoon found me sitting on the top of a valley at Headley Heath. My views were directly westward, looking straight at the setting sun, a yellow ball ladling out a watery golden light, its weak warmth just winning over the still chillness of a calm day. As I peeled off a couple of layers and luxuriated  - even bathed - in this November ‘heat', I couldn’t help but feel very pleased with things. For the next few hours, all things Covid, Brexit and Trump were banished, and my quest to count birds coming into roost was in the ascendency. 

My vantage point allowed me to see across two steep-sided valleys, lightly wooded on their sides but clear at both their bases and tops. Anything that flew over, or along, these valleys were observable. I have been coming to this very spot for a number of years now, always ensuring that an early-to-mid November visit, as the daylight fades, is made. For it is here that thrushes and finches come to roost. It is never the same and never, ever, dull. It has become a sanctuary, a place to reflect on things and one where the sheer joy of being outside, surveying a scene of beauty before me, can be celebrated.

This is a bittersweet time of the year. If we are enjoying a benign, sunny day then those of us with the time to ‘stand and stare’ will recognise a feeling of sedation, as if the year is being placed in a comforting state of slumber. November recognises that it is not October, but will not give up to December without a struggle. The leaf colour is still vibrant, the weather can still be clement and this can fool the natural world (that includes us) into believing that winter is still a lifetime away. With this slow descent into a life of dull mornings and dark afternoons comes the gift of reflection, if not full-on nostalgia. Are we starting to mourn the loss of summer? Are we lamenting the arrival of the cold? Does this sapping of vibrancy in all its guises cause us to look at ourselves - yet another year older - and start to come to terms with that fact?

Spring looks forward and, as its polar opposite, autumn looks back. It looks back as one might view a town from a departing railway carriage, or of waving relatives in the rear-view mirror of a car. You hope that you will see them again, that the parting is one that will turn full-circle and become a return visit or greeting. I’m shaken out of my thoughts by voices across the valley, a group of walkers whose every word I can hear although they are hundreds of metres away. The air is still, the pale blue sky brittle and the plaintive calls of birds overhead add to the feeling of a season in its death-throes. Strangely, such feelings are energising, as if in readiness for winter, as that season, too, has its own special powers. On the slope directly opposite me a Silver Birch tree is harnessing the sunlight and radiating it back out in an ethereal glory via the medium of leaf colour. It positively glows and flames, on fire with defiance of the leaf-fall that will soon inevitably occur. It is mesmerising. The haze dissipates the colour, blurs the edges and creates the supernatural. From such sights myths were created.

As I continue to watch the skies the number of small passerines that are travelling across the valleys is considerable. Most are too high for specific identification or for their calls to reach me, but any that venture to a lower altitude appear to be Chaffinch, Linnet, Greenfinch and Goldfinch, with very few Redpoll also involved. One brute of a finch comes into view, and even before it alights onto a treetop I’m celebrating the arrival of a Hawfinch. It stays there, several hundred meters away, for 10-15 minutes before dropping down and out of sight, but is soon replaced by a flock of seven, which land away from my sight-line. These eight become 10 with two birds that put on a show as they circle the valleys before deciding to head off northwards.

A roost of thrushes has formed here over the past few autumns, and, after the end of October and through to November’s end, can number four figures. Redwings start to arrive this afternoon just as the sun dips beneath the far ridge, and ghost in with small flocks over the following hour. As the light bleeds from the day it gets harder to pick them out against the blanket of vegetation, and so I revert to looking above me and into the glorious sky, now having swapped the daytime blue for a confection of apricot, tobacco and gold. When these colours fade to violets and purples I know it is time to leave, as my eyes are hard-pressed to observe any birds in this most evocative of skies.

One last look though across the valley. Now quiet. Darkness has more or less descended. A few calls make their way across to me - a scolding blackbird, a late-to-bed Redwing. And I can still make out the dying embers of that Silver Birch. An analogy, maybe for the dying season. As I leave the heath my thoughts are not so much about the enjoyable birding, but more involved in our deep-seated relationship with the changing season, of leaving behind the fruits of autumn and swapping them for the austerity of winter. Yet there is no foreboding involved, but rather a pleasure in being able to appreciate the turning of time's circle. All has been well for these past few hours.

Friday, 6 November 2020

You’re so tame

This Grey Heron just didn't want to budge from its riverside perch this morning. I was walking along the River Hogsmill (more a stream really) between Ewell Village and Tolworth, not seeing much (bar a Little Egret and Kingfisher) and meeting lots of lockdown joggers, strollers and dog-walkers. This afternoon provided a far more pleasing experience - and that account will feature in a forthcoming post. I can promise you Hawfinches!

Tuesday, 3 November 2020

Books

My natural history library sprawls across several rooms, my families acceptance of it much appreciated. I have, in the past, had mini-culls, normally of books that had served their purpose and become redundant, superceded by more up-to-date publications, although some of these 'retired' tomes will forever be held onto - there is too much history between us.

One section of this collection is dedicated to that of 'nature writing', populated by the likes of Macfarlane, Mabey, Dee, Cocker, Deakin, Oates, Dunn, Goulson and Marren. These are books not to be used as reference but to be read for pleasure and nourishment, not that you do not learn an awful lot from them as well.

The most fluid part of the library is that of subscription journals and bird reports. It has had to, over the years, suffer major culling due to shortage of space. - and, if I'm being honest, because they largely go on the shelf after their initial read never to be taken down again. My Surrey, Kent and Sussex bird reports have all left the building, along with my British Birds and Birding Worlds. Same is true of British Wildlife, BSBI and Wild Flower Society magazines. What I will always hold onto is my complete collection of Dungeness Bird Observatory annual reports (1957 - 1968; 1989 - present). I re-read these regularly. I have a complete set of London Bird Reports from 1974 which do get looked at, but what does take up room on the shelves is every issue of Atropos (first published in 1995). I cannot say that I refer to them at all, although I look forward to its arrival throughout the year. I might, in the future, be tempted to pass them onto a young entomologist.

Books have a character. They can remind you of the times in which you obtained them. Some become best friends. Some actually define you, even though you neither wrote or published them. Many talk to you - and you alone, telling you things that are exciting, or confirming what you always thought. They inspire. They are objects of desire.

That well known bibliophile, Marcus Tullius Cicero, once said:

"A room without books is like a body without a soul"

Cannot argue with that.

Sunday, 1 November 2020

Who made honey long ago...

Sometimes I like to pretend that I have a thin vein of culture running through my body, and so I sometimes immerse myself into reading some classical prose. Today's 'offering came courtesy of Edward Thomas's 'South Country', written in 1909. It is his love letter to the southern counties east of Devon and south of London. Thomas is highly revered amongst the literati, and is often quoted and name-checked. There was a particular passage that struck me...

"...sees the house behind them. The wayfarer knows nothing of those who built them and those who live therein, of those who planted the trees just so and not otherwise, of the causes that shaped the green, any more than of those who reaped and threshed the barley, and picked and dried and packed the hops that made the ale at the 'White Hart'"

It struck me because this is exactly how I react to seeing an old abandoned house, a wooden barn, a lone tree in a field. The questions flow and my imagination is fired-up. How old? Who built it? What was the weather like when the roof tiles were being laid? Hot and sunny or did they have to shelter from rain? Who lived there? What animals took refuge in the barn? Who sat under the leafy boughs to eat a simple lunch? How many storms has this tree seen off and which birds have nested in it?

Such mental wonderings and daydreams have been with me for as long as I can remember. The first time that I was aware that others had committed such thoughts to paper was when I was reading 'Tess of the d'Urbevilles' by Thomas Hardy. He describes Tess observing a brick wall and wondering who had laid a particular brick that she is studying. That really hit home.

There is another literary nod towards such thoughts in one of my favourite poems, 'Forefathers' by Edmund Blunden:

Here they went with smock and crook,
Toiled in the sun, lolled in the shade,
Here they mudded out the brook
And here their hatchet cleared the glade:
Harvest-supper woke their wit,
Huntsmen's moon their wooings lit.

From this church they led their brides,
From this church themselves were led
Shoulder-high; on these waysides
Sat to take their beer and bread.
Names are gone - what men they were
These their cottages declare.

Names are vanished, save the few
In the old brown Bible scrawled;
These were men of pith and thew,
Whom the city never called;
Scarce could read or hold a quill,
Built the barn, the forge, the mill.

On the green they watched their sons
Playing till too dark to see,
As their fathers watched them once,
As my father once watched me;
While the bat and beetle flew
On the warm air webbed with dew.

Unrecorded, unrenowned,
Men from whom my ways begin,
Here I know you by your ground
But I know you not within -
There is silence, there survives
Not a moment of your lives.

Like the bee that now is blown
Honey-heavy on my hand,
From his toppling tansy-throne
In the green tempestuous land -
I'm in clover now, nor know
Who made honey long ago.

I cannot read that without a shiver going through my body, his recognition of lives having been lived and then departed, the modest marks of which are there if you care to look, but as to the identity of these people, well, they may never be known to the inquisitive passer-by.

They were all written within thirty years of each other (1891-1920), and as to whether the timing has anything to do with such sentiment I do not know. We all play out our lives - some brief, some long - and that we leave clues behind when we are gone, clues to where we have been, and what we have done, is comforting. There is no such thing as a modest life - just look around you and see the tell tale signs of the millions that have gone before us - just as we will leave the same for those yet to come.

Saturday, 31 October 2020

#BWKM0 - it's sort of back

So the government have spoken. We are entering the second lockdown. We are being asked to make essential journeys only. Unlike lockdown during the Spring, I am not going to suggest the way that birders should act on this advice, but my personal response will be to only bird from home by foot. There is no scientific rationale behind it, but I will not be getting into a car to carry out my birding. I will start tomorrow (November 1st) and stop on December 2nd, when the projected lockdown will end. During this time I will keep a list of the birds that I record. It will be my way of helping out to the cause of slowing down the virus. During the 6-week spring lockdown I recorded 70 species that were seen just from the garden. Can I match that? Let's see...

#BWKM0 became a bit of a thing back in March - started by an Italian ornithologist to gather some camaraderie amongst locked-down Italian birders, it gathered pace and was adopted across the world. This very blog hosted over 60 garden's efforts to support the cause. Our final results can be seen here. It is fair to say that all those who took part got an awful lot out of it - new species for the garden, surprising observations and the feeling of belonging to a brother- and sister-hood of shared aim. We were supporting each other and flying the ornithological flag. I will never forget it.

The notebook is blank. The weeks stretch ahead. What will come my way? 

Friday, 30 October 2020

A stink in the woods

It's late autumn, it's been raining, therefore logic suggested that there would be a lot of fungi sending fruiting bodies up above ground. My morning visit to the beech woodland close to Mickleham was a partial success - yes, there was fungi, but not in the numbers that I was expecting. Maybe it will be better in the next couple of weeks.

I'm not anything other than a mycological dabbler, so I was quite pleased to identify (within reason) twenty species: Orange Bonnet, Lumpy Bracket, Porcelain Fungus, Southern Bracket, Turkeytail (below), Beech Woodwart, Candlesnuff Fungus, Green Elfcup, Oak Pin, Toothed Crust, Marasmius cohaerrens, Fairy Inkcap, Lemon Disco, Flat Oystering, Burgundydrop Bonnet, Lilac Bonnet, Stinkhorn, Ivory Woodwax, Inky Mushroom and Cabbage Parachute. Haven't they got fantastic names?

The Stinkhorn is always a highlight - foul smelling and covered in flies (but which species?) Today's three individuals all lacked the black goo (spore mass) that normally covers the 'head' - it wears off - but still managed to smell a bit and attract insects. As you can see from the accompanying picture above, disturbing, suggestive and erotic in equal measure...