Showing posts from January, 2020

Farewell Dick

I first met Dick Burness at Dungeness some time in the mid-to-late 1970s. He was part of a band of birders that, in my early days at the observatory, I was heavily influenced by. They were all a good 10-15 years older than me and did not fit the birdwatching stereotype that I was used to. Out went my preconception of older birdwatchers as vicars, gentlemen and nerds - I was introduced to a tribe of long-haired, wildly clothed, well-travelled and street-wise geezers. Most of this Dungeness gang were baby-boomers from London, Surrey and Kent, who had gravitated together and forged a fierce loyalty to Dungeness, whilst pushing the boundaries of their knowledge in the field by travelling to North Africa and the Middle East. They were, in effect, working-class ornithological pioneers. To say that I was impressed by them would be an understatement. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that this exotic band - they looked like a cross between outlaws and pirates - would accept such an insi


I've always liked to have a few projects on the go, little side-shows to augment the time spent out in the field. At the moment I have several that have been simmering away for some time, and others that are just germs of an idea. They include: The Book. We've all got one in us. Mine is birding themed, a marriage of creative writing and autobiographical reminiscences. So far there are chapters written (or underway) on Beginnings, Dungeness and Hawfinches. I have no grand plan to try and find a publisher (there are too many books already out there like this) but may try and self-publish when it is complete. At the very least it will appear as a PDF that will be available to anybody that might be interested. It gets worked on in fits and starts. Local avifauna. My 'mini-Uber' patch might not possess much in the way of 'birdy' places, but trawling through various bird reports it has a history going back for a century or more. There are some surprising re

Sarah Beeny being spanked

Yes, you have correctly read this post’s title. Today, a visitor to this blog was directed here because that is what they had requested a search engine to seek out. And they ended up here! They must have been disappointed. I do sometimes look at the data behind who visits this blog, and how they got here, and the ‘search keywords’ field can throw up some bizarre examples. My favourite is still ‘Where’s my dead dog Steve?’ If you want to see where the Sarah Beeny fantasist was directed to, click here . It will all make sense... and don’t worry, you don’t need to be concerned about viewing anything inappropriate!

Cormorants, Cormorants, everywhere...

It was my pleasure to have just spent a couple of days down at Dungeness, staying at the five-star accommodation to be found at the Hollingworth Hotel (you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave...) Birding was shoe-horned in around the socialising, but plenty of time was spent in the field, although the waterbodies were disappointing for wildfowl numbers. One thing that was not in short supply however, were Cormorants. The accompanying images give you a flavour of how this species is taking over every perch and island, particularly on Burrowes Pit, where there were a good 1,200 present. If only the RSPB possessed a giant flame-thrower. Before anybody gets on their high-horse and complains that we should not condone the contemplation of burning these reptilian waterbirds to a charred crisp, just spend a day down at Dungeness. They bully all other species away from the fish stocks, gorge on the commandeered food supply and take up valuable feeding and roosting spots

Mining for information

Yesterday morning saw another visit to the banks of the River Mole, between Mickleham and Westhumble. Bird-wise it was very quiet, no flocks, little singing or calling, all-in-all hard work. Even the expected Little Egrets were lethargic, all nine huddled up roosting in a farmyard tree. Thankfully the moths came to the rescue. Armed with my copy of 'Langmaid, Palmer and Young', and thanks to a tip-off from Seth and Skev, I approached a Holm Oak in the knowledge that I should be able to find the feeding/mining signs of several species of moth. And so it proved. The top photograph shows clearly the larval mines created by the micro Ectoedemia heringella - the thin, dark meandering scribbles. There were also signs of feeding by two other species, Stigmella suberivora and Phyllonorycter messaniella . Bouyed by such success I then visited a wooded bank (within Norbury Park) that is clothed in Hart's-tongue Fern. The image below would suggest that Psychoides verhuella has

Falling giants

In 1960 construction started to take place on the nuclear power station at Dungeness. The sleepy coastal community of fisherfolk were about to get one almighty shake up. Aside from a part of their skyline being obstructed by the new building, those at sea also lost their sightline between Lydd church tower and the lighthouse (which they had used as a navigational aid). Thus, to compensate for this loss, a series of wooden and iron structures were erected along the beach, to aid the safe and speedy return of the small fishing fleet. These were, after all, pre-GPS days! As long as I have been visiting Dungeness, now 44 years and counting, these strange sculptures - to me more art installation than working structures - have been as much a part of Dungeness as have the lighthouses. But now they are falling. One by one the shifting shingle is taking them down. I'm indebted to Dungeness resident David Gower who this morning sent me the image above, captioned 'the remains of wh

Ruptureworts. No wow factor...

Number three in this occasional series of rare plants that I saw/recorded before 2010 features a pair of Herniarias that are high on rarity but low on the wow factor. Both similar, but to identify them it is a case of looking to see if the leaf edges are fringed with hairs or not. Possibly. After this I'd better take a rare plant break and start blogging about things that I am seeing right here and right now. Maybe even some birds! Now there's a thought... Fringed Rupturewort ( Herniaria ciliolata ssp ciliolata ) 26 May 2005 Lizard, Cornwall Recorded in fewer than 15 different 10x10km grid squares in the British Isles since 1987. It used to be the case that the hairy leaf edges were enough to clinch this from the next species, although geographical range is enough in all honesty. Smooth Rupturewort  ( Herniaria glare ) 1 July 2007 Cranwich Heath, Suffolk Recorded in fewer than 15 different 10x10km grid squares in the British Isles since 1987. You can see the la

Botanical rarities (2)

More 'old' rare plants. More blog filler. Diapensia ( Diapensia lapponica ) Fraoch Beinn, Grampian 26 June 2006 Only known from this very site, a mountain top at 760m. Try as we might to find a flower, it was over, apart from a couple of buds that had not yet opened -  a few mostly covered petals being seen. Desperate botanising. It's a fair climb and descent, no paths, so I doubt that I'll be going back! Drooping Saxifrage ( Saxifraga cernua ) Ben Lawers, Perth 12 July 2008 Recorded in fewer than 15 different 10x10km grid squares in the British Isles since 1987. I know I said that there would be no Ben Lawers stuff in this mini-series, but I've not published this image before, as it isn't that good. And the reason for it not being that good is that it was taken in driving rain in a force 6-7 wind, so it's surprising that the image came out at all! A terribly shy flowerer, most botanists just get to see the red bulbils, as this photograph sho

Botanical rarities (1)

The last 20 hours has seen some of the wettest and windiest weather that I have had the misfortune to experience here in Banstead. There has been windier, and there has been wetter, but not sustained over so many hours. As the weather quietens down, there are signs of its passage everywhere - a downed fence panel, water incursions on the south-westerly corner of the house, overturned pots in the garden - but compared to floods, bush-fires and drought these are mere trifles, I know. So, as an antidote to this misery I have been looking through some old botanical rarity photographs, those that pre-date the second coming of this blog, all pre-2010. I might be able to milk a few posts out of this. I have already posted about my time on Ben Lawers here , so will not feature any images from that wonderful site. All the species featured will be out-and-out rarities. Alpine Milk-vetch ( Astragalus alpinus ), Ben Vrakie, Perth 15 July 2008 Recorded in fewer than 15 different 10x10km

An annual pilgrimage

Every January, since I first saw them in 2015, I return to one of the small woods on the slopes of Walton Downs, and pay my respects to the tidy clump of Green Hellebore. As to why I have gone back these past six Januarys is beyond me, I just do, a pavlovian reaction at the start of the year. It might have something to do with the fact that they are in full flower in the depths of winter, and not many species are doing that right now - so maybe it is a reminder of the seasons yet to come. Whatever the reason, here they are in all their finery this morning.

On Fire(thorn)!

I took delivery this morning of 'Micro-moth Field Tips' by Ben Smart and immediately had a flick through the book. For micro novices like myself, he has thoughtfully divided up the pages into monthly sections, so a peruse of January and February has already given me plenty of projects for the next few weeks. My attention was taken by a page devoted to Phyllonorycter leucographella , a micro that can be found in its larval state at this time of year on Firethorn (Pyracantha). Now, my neighbours have a splendid Pyracantha growing around, and over, their front door - why not nip out and take a look? The photographs in Ben's book had already alerted me as to what to look for - white, papery mines on the upper side of the leaf - so more in hope than expectation the short walk to next door's Firethorn was made. A quick check revealed a number of likely candidates. Everything seemed to match up with what I had read. Even if the mine was untenanted, then at least I could r

1,000 species challenge

A foolhardy tweet or a timely kick up the backside? As any regular visitor to this blog will testify, I’ve announced that I’m going to take on the micro-moths several times and fallen spectacularly short. I’ve dabbled, but cannot seriously claim to have put any effort in. But now I mean business (at least until 19.00hrs this evening...) My suggestion of buying a new net was quickly followed up by ordering two books - Ben Smart’s ‘Micro Moth Field Tips’ and Langmaid, Palmer and Young’s ‘A Field Guide to the Smaller Moths of GB and Ireland’. Together with my existent library of the Harley Books ‘Moths and Butterflies Handbook’; The Surrey Wildlife Trust’s ‘The Smaller Moths of Surrey’; Manley’s second edition, Sterling, Parsons and Lewington’s ‘Field Guide to the Micro moths’ plus various other papers (and a DVD of the Ray Society’s Tortrix publication) I reckon I should be prepared to, at the very least, give it a good go. I’m already gearing up to a year of bush bashing, leaf

Tissue at the ready!

Thanks to a tip off from Chris Wilkinson I found myself once again entering the dim and dank interior of a North Downs pill box, this time to successfully see a hibernating Tissue. The bleached out image above does show the apparently characteristic pinkish-purplish tinge to the upper wing and the strongly scalloped edge of the underwing. The image below illustrates quite clearly the beads of condensation that have formed across the moth. There were a number of Herald moths also scattered about the confines, with Chris reaching a grand total of nine. The box (at TQ1125848663) was on the roadside (at White Down) that runs down from Ranmore to Abinger Roughs, and being that bit more closer to human activity did have plenty of rubbish inside (including the rusty springs of a small single mattress). I wasn't tempted to have a lie down...

A bridge far enough

Once upon a time, in a birding world far, far away, if you wanted to take meaningful photographs of birds, then you needed to invest heavily in photographic equipment - camera bodies, various lenses, tripods, film, developing and printing - you needed to start with a small fortune and forgo pure birding and focus almost entirely on photography. In fact, you were either a bird watcher or a bird photographer . In my birding youth there were but a handful of well-known bird photographers, largely shooting in black-and-white, with JB and S Bottomley and Eric Hosking springing most readily to mind. More affordable equipment, increased leisure time and a swelling in the interest in rarities encouraged a blossoming of 'birders with cameras' at the end of the 1970s and the turn of the 1980s. You still needed to fork out a few bob, but many did so. It became a staple part of a twitch to see these photographers selling their prints of recent rarities, and some of them made a tidy sum

Hunting Tissues

The Tissue (Triphosa dubitata) is a species of moth that can sometimes be found hibernating during the winter months in caves and out-buildings. I have yet to see one, so I thought it was about time to put that right. I know of a line of Second World War pill boxes that adorn the western-most heights of Ranmore (above White Down), looking out southwards across the flat hinterland towards the Sussex South Downs. Hitler, fortunately, didn't make it. These concrete boxes remain intact and mute, reminders of a conflict that is quickly slipping away from the living memory. I checked four pill boxes in all. Each allowed easy access and were surprisingly free from rubbish and signs of any unsavoury human bodily functions. The passage of time is all too obvious here, as the observation slits in these defences look out into thick beech woodland, and not the open vistas to which they were positioned for. Pill Box at TQ1211749330 Having the most open exterior aspect of the four. O

Itchen Floodplain

The whole family ventured over into Hampshire yesterday to meet up with some great friends of ours. We met at the base of St. Catherine's Hill NNR (just outside Winchester) but did not go up the muddy slopes to the summit, but instead took to a series of footpaths that ran along the Itchen Navigation/River and then went out and onto the flood plain, where chalk streams meandered across the wild grassland. Apart from a solitary Kingfisher it was all quiet on the birding front, but it looks an interesting place botanically, and the nearby hill boasts Musk and Frog Orchids during the height of the summer. As a well known Austrian actor once said, "I'll be back."

Jono’s missing spark

Before I get to the main subject of this post - ‘Jono’s Spark’ - I need to explain why it is being addressed here and not as a reply on his blog’s post. It is because Blogger is playing silly beggars with my login. It appears that I am perpetually signed in on Blogger, although it suggests that I am not. If I log out and then log in again, although it accepts my details, I am apparently not logged in. On some blogs I can leave a comment (the blog recognises me) yet others do not. My own blog sometimes allows me to reply to comments on a post, but at other times does not (I can get around this by fiddling with the blog settings). And this is why this post exists as I could not leave a comment on Jono Lethbridge’s post, which you can read here. In very simple terms, Jono is wondering where his spark has gone. He has many interests and a life of  contentment, yet feels as if the‘ooomph’ may be missing from his leisure downtime. I can sympathise with this and have been there myself. Quit

Dull and flat

What a dull, flat start to 2020 - the weather that is, although the birding wasn't much better. I chickened out of going coastal (couldn't stand the thought of joining the year-listing throng) so tip-toed along to Juniper Bottom to see in the year's first day-break. On arrival at the car park I was greeted by a veritable hoot-off comprising at least nine Tawny Owls that were positioned along the valley. I took up a viewpoint towards the summit of Juniper Top and awaited the dawn - and waited - and waited. It was still virtually dark at 08.00hrs and had hardly brightened an hour later. Little was happening, so I cut my losses and headed for the River Mole at Mickleham, where I walked along the banks to Leatherhead and back, then onto Westhumble. Undoubted highlight were at least seven Goosander (above), which included six males, 13 Little Egret (below) and a Kingfisher. There was very little else, no finch or thrush flocks and little activity in the pockets of woodland th