Friday, 31 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 insignificant lad like me into their midst. But they did.

In particular Dick, Mark Hollingworth and Keith Redshaw took me under their wings. I was never treated as a junior partner but their equal. That made me feel ten feet tall. They may have seen hundreds of Bar-tailed Desert Larks, and know that I had never heard of them, but my opinion was still sought as to the identification of a bird as if I had been doing it for 50 years. I was welcomed on a social level as well, part of the gang that went to the pub, chatted over copious pots of tea, or talked into the early hours (and sometimes until it got light) while listening to music in Keith's front room. The very best nights would have Dick present. He was never the noisy one, but the thoughtful one, self-deprecating with a dry sense of humour. We shared in many good times which were full of belly laughs, normally at somebody's expense.

As far as I can remember, Dick worked for the Met Office, and this work sometimes took him away for long postings to distant weather stations. During the early 1980s we used to write letters to each other, much of it comprising birding chat but also discussing the latest music that we were listening to. But, as these things do, our letters became infrequent, until we lost touch. I did see Dick in 2014, at a gathering of the '1960s Dungeness birders '. I happened to be in the area and gatecrashed for an hour or so. It was good to see him.

I received a call this morning from Dick's cousin, Pete (himself a good friend and a Dungeness regular) with the sad news that Dick had passed away. My sadness was balanced by remembering what a wonderful time I had had in his company. No doubt he had no idea that his kindness to a young birder all those years ago had made such an impression. Last weekend I was staying with Mark, and funnily enough we talked quite a bit about Dick - Mark reminiscing about their time spent in North Africa and the Middle East, me reliving those fun-filled evenings. The last memory we spoke about was of a seawatch that the three of us did at Dungeness in September 1981. In those days you could drive along the road by the power station and pull up on the top of the beach, staring straight out to sea. Using the car as a hide, we wound the windows down and watched a (then) DBO record Sooty Shearwater passage, while Neil Young blared out from the speakers, the three of us gassing away at the same time. Happy days indeed.

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Projects


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 records, some interesting counts and data that cries out to be drawn together. If nothing else, it is a celebration of what one small area has provided to a select band of keen and diligent observers (down the ages) and might just provide inspiration for those birders yet to come. Early stages this one.

Checklists. As much as I'm not a chaser of lists I'm certainly a maintainer of lists. I've got lists coming out of my ears, although those that are currently taking up my time are: UK plant list (transferring all my sightings from Stace 2 to Stace 4, (easier said than done owing to species being given new families, new names, some lumping, some splitting); UK Lepidoptera: a marriage of checklist plus notable sightings and counts, first ever record and a black dot for a back garden moth; ND&B bird list: all of my Uber-patch sightings since 1974, corralled together in a systematic list, with species accounts highlighting changes in status, highest counts, earliest and latest dates, etc; County plant lists: what it says on the tin really, digging out old lists from field trips. It gives another dimension to any out-of-county visit when you know that you haven't recorded Shepherd's Purse there!

Micro-moths. My new year's resolution this one, to become more proficient in finding and identifying those moths not in Skinner... I've already started to dabble in leaf mines.

That little lot should keep me going, but there are others bubbling away in the background.

Monday, 27 January 2020

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!

Sunday, 26 January 2020

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. They are winged vermin. There, I've said it.


There were avian highlights: 41 close Bewick's Swans at Midley; a drake Smew at Cook's Pool; and best of all the high numbers of Lapwings and Golden Plovers that were present from Boulderwall Farm all the way through to Rye, with a minimum of 5,700 of the former and 1,600 of the later. When they took to the air it was nothing short of spectacular.


And let's finish with some more Cormorants, which have been joined by Black-tailed Godwits and Lapwings, the waders having been hustled into the shallows by those big black Breugellian brutes. Instead of a flame-thrower we could always use Nepalm...

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

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 been feeding on the fronds, although I couldn't possibly rule out Psychoides filicivora. According to my 'Smaller Moths of Surrey' the former species has been recorded in this area, but not the latter, which has only been found in the north of the county. I'm not competent enough to tell the difference. There are two websites that are excellent for checking any leaf mine against to try and discover which moth (or fly) has created them. Here are the links:

http://www.leafmines.co.uk

http://www.ukflymines.co.uk/index.php


I did find one adult moth, and a species that I do not see all that often nowadays - an Early Moth (below), found resting in the A24 underpass at Burford Bridge. According to the newly published 'Atlas of Larger Moths', it has declined 47% in distribution and 90% in abundance since 1970. Long gone are the days when I used to find up to 20 of them huddled together at Banstead Station during the winter.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

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 what was once a very majestic structure'. David and I both share an appreciation and love of such things, and particularly for this deserted part of the western beach, between the power station and the Dengemarsh coastguards station. His picture shows what is left of the 'Diamond' marker. It used to look like this:


Even here, as upright as it appears, the loss of wooden slatting and the rusting of the structure is clear to see - years of salt spray and gale force winds have taken their toll. But the hefty concrete base is still standing strong, but here we can see an inherent weakness - the supporting shingle is missing. Once upon-a-time this would have been mostly hidden, cocooned by the beach. In the 60-odd years in which these markers have been standing, the western beach at Dungeness has been man-managed. Believe it or not, the power station was built on a receding beach. When I first visited Dungeness in the mid-70s (and well into the 1980s) there would be a daily procession of ARC lorries bringing shingle ballast from inland to dump on the beach, trying to replace what the sea was scooping out and moving over to the eastern flank of the peninsula. The height of the beach has waxed and waned since then, sometimes due to storm action, at other times at the behest of men with large machinery. Here's an illustration of how it has altered with the help of another marker, 'Mr. X'.

Taken by me in 2010 - you can just see the top of the diamond in the distance.
...and a few years later, taken by David Gower. The protecting bank has gone...
...and Mr X last week, still protected (just) by a shallow shingle bank. But for how long?
(Photo courtesy of Owen Leyshon)
There are some who will say that these markers have had their day, are no longer of use and the fact that they are collapsing is of no consequence. To David and myself it is a part of Dungeness that is sadly disappearing, a reminder of old ways, of how things once were. They are echoes of the past, ghosts of the old fleet. I for one will mourn them. You can, however, see at least one marker that is still in rude health, affectionately known as Mr T, which stands upright at the point, just east of the New Lighthouse. I wish him well. Here is one more image of that fallen giant, the diamond marker, taken last week and soon to be claimed by the sea.

(Photo courtesy of Owen Leyshon)
I'm indebted to both David Gower and Owen Leyshon who have both provided images and information for this post. Both of them men of the shingle.

Friday, 17 January 2020

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 lack of hairs at the leaf edge compared to the species above. And, if in doubt, call up the geographical range card...

Thursday, 16 January 2020

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 shows.
Deptford Pink (Dianthus armeria) Somewhere in Kent 2010
Recorded in fewer than 100 different 10x10km grid squares in the British Isles since 1987.
This flower pops up in Kent (among other counties) in various places but is vulnerable where it does so, hence no site given. It is always good to see a pink, especially if you’re not expecting to.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

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 grid-squares within the British Isles since 1987. According to Stace 4, found in only four locations in central Scotland.
The view from the ledge where I saw this rather fine plant wasn't bad either (see below)

Alpine Woodsia (Woodsia alpina) Meall nan Tarmachan, Perth, 13 July 2008
Recorded in fewer than 15 different 10x10km grid-squares within the British Isles since 1987.
I was quite lucky with this plant. I had very vague directions on where to look, and on arrival bumped into a ranger, who knew where the plant was but refused to help me locate it, not even giving me a clue as to which part of the cliff face to search. I joined three other hopeful botanists, one who had been searching for several hours. We split up and within an hour I located it. Cheers all round! 
Coral-necklace (Illecebrum verticillatum) 25 June 2002 Pilley Pond, Hampshire
Recorded in fewer than 15 different 10x10km grid-squares within the British Isles since 1987.
There are few more pleasurable botanical moments than when you stumble across this delightful species. A rare denizen of damp sandy ground, particularly in the New Forest. It can often be found growing alongside Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)
More will follow as and when...

Monday, 13 January 2020

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.



Saturday, 11 January 2020

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 record the presence of this species for the garden. However, my own self-imposed rules to be able to allow the species onto my list (going for the 1,000 remember) is to observe a living creature. I held the leaf up to the light, hand lens in hand, not really expecting that the first leaf on the very first attempt would reveal a larva burrowing away inside, but.... bloody hell, there it was, a dead ringer for the book's illustration (black abdominal markings all present and correct, pictured below), moving around before my eye. A few hurried images were then taken. It cannot always be as easy as this, can it?

874 Firethorn Leaf Miner (Phyllonorycter leucographella)

and another;
875 Phyllonorycter lantanella


Thursday, 9 January 2020

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 mine examining, nectaring and light trapping. It would also be good if some of those Latin names stick in my brain. The macro lens has been cleaned, the Raynox extension buffed up, and all systems are go. Bring on the micros!

Plutella xylostella, one of the easier ones...

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

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 out of it (I wonder how much the taxman ever knew?) But, to the vast majority of the birding throng, a camera was not a part of their birding kit. And then digital photography came along...

I happened to be working in the media when we (slowly at first, then rapidly) swapped film and chemicals for pixels. Our office owned several digital cameras and I was able to borrow them from time to time. I didn't take, or even think, about trying to capture images of birds however, my targets were organisms that remained still and that I could get close to - things like flowers, moths and habitat. As technology developed, these digital cameras came down in price and the birding community started to take notice of them. Some bright spark then had the idea of attaching one to the end of a telescope. We now entered the age of the digiscoper!


I took the above image, of Gavin Haig's favourite species (Caspian Gull) at Beddington Sewage Farm quite a few years ago now, using a Nikon Coolpix camera which was hand held against the eyepiece of my telescope. The zoom had been whacked up and a certain amount of image manipulating later resulted in a perfectly usable image (if you ignore the softness of focus.) These small digital cameras were great for macro photography (plants, insects) but, unless you combined them with a telescope, poor for birds.

Now we had almost every keen birder wandering around with a compact digital camera in their pocket, some becoming expert at coaxing out tremendous results via various Heath-Robinsonesque clamping set-ups between cameras and scopes. But, as good as some results were, a digital SLR body with accompanying expensive lenses were still the way to go.

At some point in the early 21st Century, the development of a hybrid between compact and SLR cameras gave birth to the 'bridge' camera. It looked more like a DSLR but in 'baby' form. These were, compared to their bigger brothers, highly affordable, and offered their owners zoom facilities that enabled birders to get photographs of great quality.


I purchased a Nikon Coolpix P600 with an optical zoom of x60. The difference between the Caspian Gull (above) taken on Dungeness beach with the picture of the Beddington bird is obvious. This image is un-cropped and reveals fine feather detail. When that camera died a death back in 2016 I replaced it with the Canon PowerShot SX60 HS which has an even better 65x optical zoom. They also boast excellent video capabilities. Some of the results are better than I could ever have imagined obtaining (both images below un-cropped.)

Corn Bunting, Whipsiderry, Cornwall
Common Kestrel, Priest Hill, Surrey
The bridge camera market is now offering optical zooms up to 125x - but they are becoming bigger, bulkier and will certainly not fit into a pocket. If you are a birder who carries a bridge camera because you want to obtain easy record shots - rather than feather-detail and beautifully lit works of art - then they do have their limitations. They are not great for capturing birds in flight, or those that are moving quickly through the undergrowth, and will struggle in poor light. You can load custom settings, but if your idea of being a photographer is to be able to point and shoot the camera automatically, then you will have to accept that it will struggle a bit under certain circumstances. For me, to start probing deeper into what the camera could do means that my time is taken away from birding. I'm not a photographer. If I did want to be one then I would aspire to the kind of results that Jono Lethbridge, Martin Casemore and Marc Heath obtain.

I'm a firm believer in enjoying what is before you, using your eyes and ears to take it all in. Living in the moment, if you will. If your first impulse on seeing a bird is to reach for the camera, then you will be missing out on that moment. Of course, if your first impulse is to reach out for that camera, then you are, without doubt or any argument, a photographer!

Monday, 6 January 2020

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.
One Peacock butterfly found on the southerly wall.

Pill Box at TQ1200149143 The smallest and draughtiest.
No Lepidoptera present.

Pill Box at TQ1167448991 Set back further into the wood.
A group of three Peacock butterflies and six Herald moths, all huddled together on the southern wall, (image top.)

Pill Box at TQ1144948861 Set back in the wood.
Seven Peacock butterflies and two Herald moths, sprinkled throughout the building, mostly on the ceiling (unlike the other boxes.)

So, no Tissue. Not even a soiled one...

Sunday, 5 January 2020

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."


Thursday, 2 January 2020

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. Quite a few times if I’m being honest.

This is strictly a ‘First World’ problem is it not, well-off Westerner angsting over birding (I’ll use birding as an example although it could just as easily be reading, gardening, mothing or painting). That we have the luxury of time, money and freedom to pontificate such things is not lost on me, but we cannot take responsibility for the time and place that we were born in. In fact, it is most probably the time that we are living in that breeds such - dare I say - shallow angst. That’s not saying that such thoughts and feelings are risible, but on a world-wide scale, well, you get the sentiment, I’m sure. What I am going to suggest here is based on my own experiences and not on what I think Jono’s ‘problems’ are - problems are too strong a word of course.

When I’ve voiced such thoughts in the past, of having lost my mojo when it comes to birding, writing, painting, whatever, then helpful folk will suggest giving, whatever it is that is bugging me, a rest. Take a breather. That is easier said than done. Do you have an ‘all or nothing’ character? I have. It’s a pain to be honest. If I decide I need to go on a diet then I can’t allow myself a biscuit once a week, that’s classed as a failure, so my diet will fail on a campaign of misery. Same with birding. Try taking a rest from birding - impossible. If you know that you are going to return to it soon, then you will still check what is about by reading your Twitter feed, checking your What’sApp groups and scrolling through web sites. And then when a good local bird is found, you realise that you ought to go, even though you are resting, because you’d regret it in the future if you didn’t. If you do pop along to see it and fail in doing so, then a dip becomes doubly depressing - you’ve not only failed with the bird, you’ve failed yourself by breaking your convalescence! And anyway, birders bird when they’re not birding. Everything that flies past you, perches in front of you, or sings and calls within your earshot, will be identified. And counted.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it is not the action of birding/reading/cooking that is the problem but the rationale behind how it is executed. Some of us (most of us?) often execute our activities at the behest of others, even if this is subliminal. It’s that word ‘ego’ again! Most of us have a platform within our birding community that we - whether we want to or not - need to maintain, a profile to uphold. If you are not seen out in the field for weeks on end, do not tweet or blog, then you will soon be forgotten. Your void will be filled by others. A deep-seated responsibility based on self-preservation. So there is an invisible pressure to be seen (in reality or virtually). Of course, there are some people I know that quite happily plough their own furrow and give no thought to what others think, but they are in the minority. So, rather than decide to ‘have a lie-in’ or go to an art gallery, we ‘make’ ourselves venture out into the field to maintain our profile, rather than have that little rest that our mind really wants.

There is also the OCD/Autism spectrum that many obsessives (that includes birders) exhibit. If things don’t go according to plan, or reach a level of expectation, then we can hit a slump. I do. Sounds petulant, agreed. I’m most probably only ankle-deep when it comes to OCD but an untidy room, a mistake made in a notebook or mud up my trousers can disturb me. When birding/reading/cooking fails to reach our desired expectation then we can start to lose our spark. Life isn’t playing ball, even though that ‘life’ is just a totally frivolous construct.

So how do we reignite it? I reckon the only long-term course of action is to jettison the need to pander to others. Do what you want, when you want, purely for yourself. Don’t want to take notes? Don’t take notes then. Don’t fancy finishing or starting that book? Put it down or don’t pick it up. When we feel the need to re-engage again with whatever it was our spark lit, we will. Refreshed.

When a person thinks too much about what they do and how they go about it there are bound to be thoughts that place hurdles before us, an assault course in the mind. And it is precisely such people that, at times, lose that spark. The way back to the light is to use the very same mind to negotiate a path, based on a calm, clean, sense of order.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

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 that I checked. So far 2020 is not living up to the hype...