Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Another eagle and more gardens

#BWKM0 ND&B garden challenge
DAY 12 

Eleven days ago I had the bright idea to persuade a few fellow bloggers to come together and, under the imminent threat of lockdown, bird our back gardens together. It was a clumsy way to try and foster a bit of camaraderie at this difficult time, and a way to show a joint appreciation of our gardens and to celebrate the birds that appear in and fly over them. Today we - our 'garden collective' - numbers 40. Throughout the day I try and take note of who is seeing what and how many. I check Twitter, email, Instagram, blogs, WhatsApp and Messenger, and it really is a joy to find out what everybody is recording. Vicarious birding! I intend to post an update each day, as there is so much material being produced - but there might just be the chance that I miss something. If you have contacted me and it doesn't appear please remind me - it isn't that your sightings are not wanted. They are!

OUR COMBINED TOTAL IS 107 SPECIES    We still seem to be missing Pheasant, Little Owl, Kingfisher, Firecrest, Treecreeper, Brambling and Crossbill.


New entries

Debbie S (Portland, Dorset)
Garden list of 155 species.
A garden that is known, nationally, for its tremendous pulling power - scarce birds and migrants are specialities!

Matt P (Pulborough, West Sussex)
Garden list of 126 species.
Who wouldn't want a property that backs onto an RSPB reserve? Matt does and has the list to prove it, including Spoonbill, Bewick’s Swan and White-fronted Goose.

Justin T (Charmouth, Dorset)
Garden list of 59 species.
Highlights include Osprey and Spoonbill. Our second garden from this charming seaside town.

Paul D (London)
Garden list of 84 species.
Highlights include an Osprey.

Bernard B (Ruckinge, Kent)
Garden list of 107 species.
Highlights include Osprey, White Stork, Short-eared Owl and Kingfisher.

This brings our 'garden collective' up to 40.


Garden firsts

Stewart kindly allowed me to use this image of his White-tailed Eagle. More at his superb blog here.

Stewart S (Howick, Northumberland) - WHITE-TAILED EAGLE
Sam B (Enniskeane, Cork) - Teal
Reuben B (Tufnell Park, London) - Stock Dove and Linnet
Dave P (Shoreham, West Sussex) - Greylag Goose
Mark D (Dorking, Surrey) - Shoveler
Arjun D (Wallington, London) - Water Rail and Moorhen
Paul D (London) - Common Snipe

Sam B's 'garden tick Teal', trapped for the purposes of ringing (photo courtesy of Sam)

There have now been 27 garden firsts across the competition.


Garden focus

Steve C (Guildford, Surrey) has a window of opportunity to the left of his bungalow - a gap looking through to the Wey valley, which is something of a flight line. Can he sit up on the roof?

Other news from around the gardens

Chris P (Romney Marsh, Kent) is still smiling after yesterday's White-tailed Eagle. Mediterranean Gull and Yellowhammer have now taken him along to an impressive 60 species.

Mark D (Dorking, Surreyhas reached 42 species so far.

Robin S (Cranleigh, Surreyhas reached 36 species, including Grey Wagtail, a species that has not been recorded from many of our gardens as it stands.

Reuben B (Tufnell Park, Londoncan thank a Peregrine for taking him on to 36 species.

Paul D (London) is up to 35 species, having recorded a good number of raptors, including Red Kite and Peregrine.

Seth G (Uig, Skye) has been taking advantage of those wonderful views and has now reached 26 species.

Bernard B (Ruckinge, Kent) up to 38 species today, courtesy of Great White Egret, Marsh Harrier and Long-tailed Tit.

Tony B (Woodford Green, Essex) recorded a Peregrine, his sixth species of raptor that takes him up to 36.

Michael R (Battle, East Sussex) is now up to 37 species. He's threatening to noc-mig!!

Michael D (Craster, Northumberland) may be stuck on 40, but he has added handsomely to the combined list with Shag, Eider, Turnstone and Guillemot.

Monday, 30 March 2020

The eagle hasn't landed for all of us

#BWKM0 ND&B garden challenge
DAY 11 

Today saw deep joy for two members of the 'garden collective', when a WHITE-TAILED EAGLE decided to go on a tour of south-east Kent this afternoon, happily taking in their gardens on its way. Marvellous stuff.

I was asked earlier today how many species that our gardens have recorded so far since lockdown, so I've collated them. OUR COMBINED TOTAL IS 91 SPECIES. This does not include, as far as I am aware,  such 'common' birds as Little Owl, Kingfisher, Brambling, Redpoll, Crossbill and Yellowhammer; if any of our gardens that overlook the sea are recording sea-duck, waders or auks then please let me have a species list. Many thanks.

If you want to join our merry band, you would be very welcome. No hassle back garden birding if you prefer, or full-on and all-out competition - both just as valid. You can back-date your list to 20th March as well. Win, win.


New entries

Bob S (Worcester Park, Greater London)
Garden list of 86 species.
Highlights include Hen Harrier, Marsh Harrier, Grey Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit and Short-eared Owl.

Gordon H (Redhill, Surrey)
Garden list of 80 species.
Highlights include Hen Harrier, Kingfisher, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Firecrest.

Gill H (Tenterden, Kent)
Garden list of 60 species.

Oscar D (Chiswick, London)
Garden list of 67 species.
Highlights include Gannet, Little Egret and Wheatear.

Robin S (Cranleigh, Surrey)
Garden list of 101 species.
Highlights include Little Egret, Goosander, Goshawk, Oystercatcher, Common Tern, Turtle Dove.

This brings our 'garden collective' up to 35.


Garden firsts

Chris P (Walland Marsh, Kent) - WHITE-TAILED EAGLE
Martin C (Lydd, Kent) - WHITE-TAILED EAGLE
Dave P (Shoreham, West Sussex) - Gannet
Geoff B (Chessington, Surrey) - Egyptian Goose

There have now been 18 garden firsts across the competition.


Garden focus

Ian K (Leigh, Surrey) backs onto farmland - a garden with plenty of  potential.

Other news from around the gardens

Gordon H (Redhill, SurreyHas reached 29 species so far, including Cormorant and Common Buzzard. Expect more to come...

Reuben B (Tufnell Park, Londoncan thank Long-tailed Tit and Lesser Black-backed Gull for him reaching 32 species so far.

Richard P (Charmouth, Dorset) is now on 47 species, courtesy of Rook and Green Woodpecker.

Seth G (Uig, Skyeis up to 22 species, but believe me, some class is amongst them.

Stewart S (Howick, Northumberland) has been suffering from bitterly northerlies, but a hardy pair of Mallard and a Grey heron have taken him up to 43.

Steve G (Banstead, Surreyis up to 45 species, purely through a clerical error!

Gavin H (Bridport, Dorsetis reporting a slow few days, but has had a Jay.

Stephen R (Harrogate, Yorks) - is up to 29 thanks to a Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Steve C (Guildford, Surreywas celebrating the rare occurrence of a Stock Dove on the lawn - up to 33 species.

Martin C (Lydd, Kent) thought that Mediterranean Gull was going to be today's star turn - until that eagle came into view  - 57 species.

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Lazy Sunday

#BWKM0 ND&B garden challenge
DAY 10 

I get the impression that our gardens up and down the country have not been getting as much attention as they have done during the rest of our 'laid-back' competition. It could be that we are observing Sunday as a day for spending time with those that we are locked down with, or, if we find ourselves on our own, a case of recharging the batteries before further observation in the coming weeks. The cold and frequent sleety showers must have also put a few of us off. It did me, although a few gazes out of the window revealed not a lot going on, save for the fourth garden record of Peregrine, following on from yesterday's third. The news this morning appears to be preparing us for the possibility of living this current way of life until at least the beginning of June. That's another eight or nine weeks.

It's not too late to join our band of birding brothers - we don't, as yet, have a sister amongst us...


New entries

Mark D (Dorking, Surrey)
Garden list of 59 species.
Highlights include Mediterranean Gull and Firecrest.

This brings our 'garden collective' up to 30.


Garden firsts

Ed S (Farncombe, Surrey) - Skylark
There have now been 14 garden firsts across the competition.


Garden focus

Mark D (Dorking, Surrey) has views SW to the Nower and NW to the downs.
The car park of the Uig Hotel on Skye is just one of the vantage points that Seth G has access to.
Michael D has views of Dunstanburgh Castle and the North Sea from his Craster garden.
Steve T (Ewell, Surrey) will obviously spend as much time mowing his lawn as searching it for a Hoopoe!

News from around the gardens

Sam B (Enniskeane, Cork, EireSnipe and Redwing have increased his total to 40 species.

Richard P's (Charmouth, Dorsettotal stands at 44 species so far, which includes a Sandwich Tern seen this morning.

Dylan W (Thanet, Kenthas jumped up to 33 species, courtesy of some flyby Cormorants.

Wes A (Capel, SurreyRaven and Common Gull brings his total up to 63.

Michael D (Craster, Northumberland) has been watching a steady stream of Gannets north, and has a tally of 38 species.

Dave B (Chatham Islands, Pacific Oceanmay only have accumulated 16 species so far, but they do include a calling Tui! He is threatening to spotlight some petrels over his garden tonight.

Mark D (Dorking, Surreyis currently on 39 species.

Steve C (Guildford, Surreyis currently on 32 species.

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Your own private bird observatory

#BWKM0 ND&B garden challenge
DAY 9 

Is it just me, or are other birder's under the fanciful notion that they are currently manning their own private bird observatory? I'm strutting around the house and garden, taking in the views from various windows; making sure to check neighbouring trees and hedges; getting up early to catch any overhead passage; studying the twitter feed for a head's-up as to what is on the move; doing the log in the evening and then posting a blog update. I could get used to this! I think it's fair to say that for many of us, we will never treat birding in the garden ever the same again.

As much as there is a competitive edge to this enterprise, it is, first and foremost, a coming together of like-minded souls as we endure social lockdown. It is also a celebration of our birdlife through the lens of our dwellings, however modest - or grand - they may be.


New entries

Richard P (Charmouth, Dorset)
Garden list of 101 species.
Highlights include Storm Petrel, Great White Egret, Osprey, Little Gull and Nightjar.

Seth G (Uig, Skye)
Garden list of 64 species.
An hotel garden, so plenty to explore.

Sam B (Enniskeane, Cork, Eire)
Garden list of 67 species.
Highlights include a Great White Egret.

This brings our 'garden collective' up to 29.


Garden firsts

Wes A (Capel, Surrey) - Mediterranean Gull
Steve G (Banstead, Surrey) - Merlin
Ed S (Farncombe, Surrey) - Mandarin
(we now have 13 garden firsts across the competition)


Garden focus

Dylan W (Thanet, Kent) boasts a garden list that suggests the next few weeks will be profitable.
Stewart S (Howick, Northumberland) has a splendid garden that boasts breeding Tree Sparrows.
Ian S (Sidcup, Kent) with an outlook that is full of possibilities.
The view from the balcony of Plodland. Martin C (Lydd, Kent) looking NE towards ARC and the Water Tower Pits 

News from around the gardens

Sam B (Enniskeane, Cork, Eirehas reached 34 species, including a re-trapped Chiffchaff that was ringed by him last August.

Seth G (Uig, Skyehas recorded an adult Iceland Gull and Red-breasted Merganser so far this week. Neither will probably bother anybody else's garden list...

Sean M (Pinner, Londonhas reached 32 species, with his first Song Thrush logged.

Wes A (Capel, Surreymoves on up to 59 species, with today's highlight being a large flock of gulls moving purposefully northwards, which numbered 140 Black-headed and a minimum of six Mediterranean!

Steve G (Banstead, Surreyhad a 'six species of raptor' day, two of which - Merlin and Peregrine - took him onto 44 species. The Merlin flew over low, in a westerly direction, during the mid-afternoon.

Ed S (Farncombe, Surreyhas forged ahead with 63 species, with two 'commoner' birds being additions today - Skylark and Grey Heron - plus a total surprise - a flock of three Mandarin.

Mathew B (Wrotham, Kent)  - a Cormorant has increased his tally to 34 species.

Dave P (Shoreham, West Sussex) has now hit the giddy heights (his words) of 26 species.

Friday, 27 March 2020

Hotting up!

#BWKM0 ND&B garden challenge
DAY 8  - I've been one behind!!

Some of us are already a week into this laid-back competition. Over the past few days the country has largely been under blue skies with a cold east to north-east wind. Although the conditions are not ideal for much visible migration, those who have been able to spend a bit of time looking out from the garden have been rewarded all the same. There have been a few unexpected birds in a number of 'our' gardens, plus a chance for us all to appreciate what we have visiting us in our little kingdoms. Our birds are not dissimilar to the NHS - we are all guilty of taking them for granted until we are forced to evaluate the situation.


New entries

Michael D (Craster, Northumberland)
Garden list of 106 species.
Highlights include Storm Petrel, Osprey and Velvet Scoter

and just to update yesterday...

Martin C (Lydd, Kent)
Garden list of 140 species.
Highlights include Montagu's Harrier, Black Kite, Common Crane, Spoonbill... nice.

This brings our garden collective up to 26.


Garden firsts

Tony B (Woodford Green, London) - Marsh Harrier (and it's his birthday!)
Ed S (Farncombe, Surrey) - Goshawk, Marsh Tit, Reed Bunting and Egyptian Goose
(we now have 10 garden firsts across the competition)

Ed's haul is testament to the effort that he has been putting in, and shows that when an experienced birder (who normally doesn't bird from home) puts in a shift there, an awful lot is waiting to be discovered.


Garden focus

Ed S (Farncombe, Surrey) has this panoramic view from his flat window
Dave B (Chatham Islands, Pacific Ocean) going all out for self-isolation
Reuben B (Tufnell Park, London) has Victorian buildings on three sides to contend with but that hasn't stopped him posting a competitive list

News from around the gardens

Stewart S (Howick, Northumberland) has reached 41 species, with highlights being Grey Partridge, Tree Sparrow, Yellowhammer, Curlew and Oystercatcher.

Reuben B (Tufnell Park, London) is up to 30, courtesy of a fly-by Grey Heron.

Dylan W (Thanet, Kent) added Fieldfare and Linnet to reach 31 species.

Steve G (Banstead, Surrey) has been ticking along to reach 42 species. Only a Sand Martin (seen on 20th) could be considered to be of note. Daily passage of Common Buzzards, a few Red Kites, and early morning eastward movements of Chaffinches have been delightful though.

Wes A (Capel, Surrey) who sat out in his garden after dark to try and add to his list, was rewarded with a calling Coot as it flew over. Dedication. At the end of today he has amassed 57 species.

Ed S (Farncombe, Surrey) recorded 50 species over the past 24 hours! A marvellous total, with his three garden ticks highlighted at the top of this post.

Tony B (Woodford Green, London) is now up to 29. He is still smiling from his ornithological birthday present (see above).

Ian S (Sidcup, London) has added two scarce species for his garden, Egyptian Goose and Jay. His total is now 42.

Mathew B (Wrotham, Kent) has Common Gull to thank for reaching 33.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Is it Day 6 already?

#BWKM0 ND&B garden challenge

Firstly, a big 'laid-back birding' welcome to our newest garden entry:

Martin C (Lydd, Kent)
I haven't had an historical species total yet, but having sampled the delights of 'Plodland' before, can confirm that the list will not only be large, but stuffed with great birds. See below for a sample of yesterday's haul.


Garden firsts

Steve T (Ewell, Surrey) - Raven
(the fifth garden first across the competition)


Garden focus

Three snapshots from 'our garden collective'. If you want to send any images in to me, please do. It would be good to see where we are all plying our lockdown trade.

Mathew B at Wrotham in Kent - I'd be scoping that conifer for crests if I were him.
Dave P at Shoreham in West Sussex - the sea not too far away for him to record skeins of Brent Geese passing.
Wes A at Capel, Surrey, looks more than adequately set up, and is so far playing a blinder.

News from around the gardens

Martin C (Lydd, Kent) was able to record such delights as Great White Egret, Marsh Harrier, Ruff and Cetti's Warbler on his first day of competition, recording 52 species.

Wes A (Capel, Surrey) has added Hawfinch and Marsh Tit to his already impressive list.

Dylan W (Thanet, Kent) has recorded 29 species including his second ever Raven for the garden.

In Battle, East Sussex, Mike R has reached 34 species with Peregrine and Red Kite being highlights.

Steve C (Guildford, Surrey) has now reached 29 and, like many birders, has seen Red Kite drift through.

Steve T (Ewell, Surrey) has a list of 21 that includes the Raven, mentioned above.

A Canada Goose brought up Mathew B's list, at Wrotham, Kent to 32 species.

Ed S (Farncombe, Surrey) added Reed Bunting and Barn Owl via the 'dark art' of noc-migging.

Sean M (Pinner, London) has shared his frustration in still not having recorded a Chaffinch! Patience Sean... he is up to 25 species.

Up to 40 now for Ian S (Sidcup, Kent) via a missed-off-the-list Wren.

And Stephen R (Harrogate, Yorks) has recorded 26, including his second ever garden Jay.

I'm not getting too hung-up on recording everyone's cumulative list at this early stage. At the moment it is all about recording those 'to be expected' species. Within a fortnight it should all get a bit more difficult and those incoming additions may be cause for celebration, especially those spring and passage migrants. But, to be honest, being in good enough health to be able to birdwatch is cause for celebration in itself in these most troubling of times.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Just a quickie

#BWKM0 ND&B garden challenge

There were three birders who added a new species to their garden lists today, so take a bow:

Gavin H (Bridport, Dorset) - Little Egret
Ed S (Farncombe, Surrey) - Wigeon
Isaiah R (New Malden, London) - Egyptian Goose

This brings the number of garden firsts recorded across the competition up to a grand total of four. I'm sure that there will be plenty more to come.

A few cumulative totals have also come in, with the early leaders being Wes A (Capel, Surrey) on 54; Ed S on 52; Chris P (Romney Marsh, Kent) on 47 - bolstered by Little Egret and Red Kite; Isaiah R on 38; Ian S (Sidcup, London) on 38 - having had a good raptor day; Mathew B (Wrotham, Kent) on 30; Reuben B (Tufnell Park, London) on 29. If you have sent me an up-to-date total and it isn't here, please give me a reminder.

Blogger seems to be playing up a bit tonight so I'll leave it there for now.

But remember - the ultimate winner will be the observer who records the highest percentage of their garden’s/window’s historical list.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

We have lockdown

Starling and aerial. Blue skies. Away we go...
#BWKM0 ND&B garden challenge

I'm winging it as we go along, but it might be best to give a (mostly) daily update on how people are faring, and that does take into account that not all competitors will be looking (or updating) each and every day. Even if a few are in communication, it will give a flavour of what is happening within our 'merry band'. The first offering is at the bottom of this post. Forgive me if I inadvertently miss any sightings in these reports. I now know, that as I see Tweets, receive WhatsApp messages or direct texts, I need to collate them immediately. It's a learning curve!

The competition grows by another five contestants (now 24 gardens taking part) and includes our first overseas site, and it couldn't be any further away from the UK.

Ed S (Farncombe, Surrey)
Garden list of 79 species
Highlights include Greenshank, Oystercatcher, Water Rail and Barn Owl.

Reuben B (Tufnel Park, Greater London)
Garden list of 45 species
This total includes a flock of 120 Waxwing and a Firecrest!

Dave B (Chatham Islands, Pacific Ocean)
Garden list of 30 species
This does, however, include Wandering Albatross, Broad-billed Prion, Chatham Petrel, Common Diving Petrel and White-faced Storm-Petrel!!!

Steve T (Ewell, Surrey)
Garden list of 59 species
Short-eared Owl and Crossbill are the stand-outs.

Ian K  (Leigh, Surrey)
Garden list of 62 species
Among the highlights are Ring Ouzel, Cuckoo, Common Redstart and Marsh Tit.

Those up early enough in the SE were able to witness a modest east/north-east Chaffinch movement, with 110 at Capel, Surrey (Wes A), 56 at Banstead, Surrey (Steve G) and 50 at Woodford Green, London (Tony B). As the day wore on, with most of the country under the influence of blue skies, it was a case of waiting for the raptors to show, at least in London and the Home Counties. Steve G returned 14 Common Buzzard and 3 Red Kite from Banstead, mostly moving E to SE, with Ian S (Sidcup, London)Isaiah R (New Malden, London), Arjun D (Wallington, London) and Ed S (Farncombe, Surrey) recording, between them, a number of Common Buzzards, Red Kites and Peregrine. A scatter of Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps were reported. Most birders were posting daily totals of 25-35 species, although Wes rustled up an impressive 46 - the figure to beat in these early days. He might also take the title for 'bird(s) of the day', as two Mandarin Ducks flew over his Capel garden this evening - a new site record! How many firsts will our gardens record over the next few weeks?

If there is any message from this 'laid-back' competition it is to enjoy the birding. It's different from what most of us are used to but it can be ever so rewarding. Eyes to the skies...

Common Buzzard (above) and Red Kite (below). Most raptors were high through Banstead

Monday, 23 March 2020

Garden butterflies

Another three birders have joined our merry gang in the 'laid-back self-isolation back-garden challenge', bringing our number up to 19 (you can see the other 16 competitors in the previous post). So it's welcome to:

Wes A (Capel, Surrey)
Garden list of 94 species
Osprey, Short-eared Owl, Firecrest and Hawfinch are some of the highlights.

Arjun D (Wallington, Greater London)
Garden list of 74 species
Marsh Harrier, Goshawk and Hawfinch are the stand-out records.

Dave P (Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex)
Garden list of 55 species
Woodcock and Brent Goose are two highlights.

I think the best way of sharing in what we are seeing is if all competitors can update me (in whatever format they like) as frequently as they want to, and I will post a compilation of all this correspondence on a weekly basis. Don't worry if your scores are not up to date, I will make that clear to any reader of the blog.

A lovely sunny, if still chilly, day, although the butterflies were not too bothered by the temperature, with the garden providing a Small Tortoiseshell (top), Comma (above), Peacock and multiple Brimstones. As for the birds, you can wait for our 'challenge' update, most probably at the end of the month.


Sunday, 22 March 2020

Look out and look up in unison

The back garden pond here in Banstead - best bird to visit it? Grey Wagtail.
We have, so far, 16 participants in our laid-back self-isolation back garden challenge. The rules are simple - as from March 20th (or later if you subsequently join in), all competitors will keep a list of the species observed from their garden/window. When the government announce a lessening of the 'state of emergency' I will calculate what percentage of their historical garden lists each birder has recorded. Updates will be posted on this blog, with hopefully a few details from each garden such as movements, counts and highlights. It shouldn't really be seen as a fierce competition, more a celebration of what birdlife we can see from our humble homes. Regular observation from any location will provide surprises and useful data, so garden confinement shouldn’t be seen as a hardship, more like an opportunity. Good luck and, above all, enjoy!

Steve G (Banstead, Surrey)
Garden list of 92 species
Spoonbill, Honey Buzzard, Short-eared Owl, Woodlark, Black Redstart some of the highlights

Ian S (Sidcup, Greater London)
Garden list of 113 species
Two separate migratory calling Quail are stand-out records.

Dylan W (Thanet, Kent)
Garden list of 111 species.
Fulmar, Purple Heron, Montagu’s Harrier, Red-footed Falcon and Ortolan Bunting among his notable sightings.

Isaiah R (New Malden, Greater London)
Garden list of 76 species
One of those is a Gannet, photographed for posterity.

Gavin H (Bridport, Dorset)
No list, but a passive participant who will pass on his findings.

John P (Banstead, Surrey)
Details to come.

Geoff B (Chessington, Surrey)
Garden list of 69 species
Three Honey Buzzards, Mediterranean Gull and Crossbill are noteworthy.

Mathew B (Wrotham, Kent)
Garden list of 33 species
A birder who is just starting to give his garden some concentrated attention. What will he discover?

Sean M (Pinner, Greater London)
Garden list of 50 species
Another birder who is giving his garden its first concentrated bout of birding.

Tony B (Woodford Green, Greater London)
Garden list of 69 species
Black Redstart is the headliner - so far...

Steve C (Guildford, Surrey)
Garden list of 66 species
A Wheatear on the lawn, Firecrest and Curlew are the stand-outs.

Callum M (Hemel Hempstead, Herts)
Garden list of 64 species

Stephen R (Harrogate, Yorks)
Garden list of 66 species
Whooper Swan, Curlew and Cuckoo are his best sightings.

Stewart S (Howick, Northumberland)
Garden list of 113 species
How many people can boast of Rosefinch, Barred Warblers and Yellow-browed Warblers in their garden? He suggests that Spring is usually poor though.

Mike R (Battle, East Sussex)
Garden list of 97 species
Wryneck, Stone Curlew and Serin are indicators of how unpredictable our gardens can be...

If you want to join in, it isn't too late - after all, we may be at this for months to come...


Saturday, 21 March 2020

Stir-crazy interlude

Self-isolating? Avoiding the crowds? Getting a bit fidgety? Then feast your eyes on the wide-open beach and skies of Dungeness, taken last March, from opposite the lifeboat station. Now relax...

Friday, 20 March 2020

Ready, steady... are you up for a challenge?

Gardens, and the views to be gained from our windows, are going to become increasingly important for the birder in the weeks to come. The area that directly surrounds us will become the provider of what species will come our way, in tandem with the weather conditions, local fly-lines and our own effort. The map above shows the proximity of my home to open areas. To give some sense of scale, I can clearly hear Skylarks in song as they display over the small holdings to the north of me.

I've been preparing for the forthcoming 'garden birdathon', self-imposed or not. A Kent birder of my acquaintance and I have agreed to a friendly challenge, starting today and finishing whenever this dreadful virus is deemed to be under control, which may, unfortunately, be some time. The challenge is simple, keeping a count of how many species of bird we record from our gardens. The winner will be the person who records the highest percentage of their historical garden list. My garden total - birds seen in or from it -  since August 1987, comes in at 92 species, not bad for a suburban area. Plenty of these, a whopping 18.4%, are of single records, and if you factor in those species that have been seen five times or fewer, this brings the total of 'rare' back garden birds to 30.4% of that total, a considerable chunk. These rarer species are:

Single records only: Spoonbill (two birds), Wigeon (flock calling at night), Pheasant, Golden Plover, Curlew, Common Sandpiper, Short-eared Owl, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Woodlark, Tree Pipit, Black Redstart, Firecrest, Pied Flycatcher, Raven, Hawfinch, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting

2-5 records: Mute Swan, Honey Buzzard, Peregrine, Moorhen (nocturnal calls), Ringed Plover (nocturnal calls), Bar-tailed Godwit (nocturnal calls), Whimbrel, Cuckoo, Little Owl, Yellow Wagtail, Lesser Whitethroat.

A few species, notably Lapwing, Willow Warbler and Bullfinch, have slipped from being regulars to becoming rare. Others have swapped being rare for becoming regular, in particular Common Buzzard, Red Kite and Ring-necked Parakeet.

Back garden sky-watching can be slow, but the rewards, when they come, are all the more personal. If anybody else wants to join in this 'percentage' challenge, just shout. The more the merrier as they say and I can collate the totals and post updates.


Thursday, 19 March 2020


Now that there are a number of birders self-isolating, whether enforced or otherwise, several projects have sprung up to feed the collective ornithological soul. One of them stems from Italy, a country in widely enforced lock-down. The hashtag 'BWKM0' has been created by ornithologists as a means of both collecting data and fostering camaraderie (usefully explained by Paul Tout in a tweet):

This hashtag is now being adopted across the world, as a sign of solidarity with our European neighbours and as a recognition that we, in the UK, should also be reducing our own birding footprint to help lessen the possible spread of Corvid19. I have started my own #BWKM0 list and will be tweeting out some sightings over the coming weeks. As much as a balcony, garden or window is, to some, a poor substitute for a sea-scape or headland, concentrated or regular observations from anywhere can be productive. My own garden has provided me with big thrush and hirundine movements, Spoonbill, Honey-buzzard, Woodlark, Hawfinch, Whimbrel and Short-eared Owl, to name just a few, over the years. We may surprise ourselves and discover fly-lines that we didn't know existed, species breeding that we were unaware of and rewrite our assumptions on the status of some species in our neighbourhood. My garden is still a hot spot for House Sparrows (top) - does the roost in a neighbour's pyracantha bush still number c15 birds? I'll soon find out.

#BWKM0 - birdwatching at zero km.

It's already catching on...

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Midrips Stilts

Today's fight-back against the gloom is a picture taken of a pair of Black-winged Stilts present at The Midrips, East Sussex on Friday 2nd June 2017, relocated by Martin Casemore after they had flown from Rye Harbour earlier in the day. They were not present the following morning. Both birds settled down to allow close approach, delighting a small, but appreciative crowd.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Semi isolation

It might be time for me to accept that I am in a high risk group when it comes to Covid 19 (I'm on the flu jab list owing to a prolonged period of chemotherapy a few years ago). Up until now I have happily entered public places but probably need to be more cautious, not just for myself but also for my immediate family. A spot of self-isolation might be best, with an open-ended time scale. I still intend to get out birding (an isolated event normally anyway) but do not plan any visits to reserves or places where groups of birders congregate (not that this normally applies to my Uber-patch sites). Searching out for plants, checking the moth trap and other assorted natural history tasks will be welcome diversions in these times of uncertainty.

And, God forbid, I find myself having to actually stay inside 100% of the time, I have a pile of books that are demanding my attention - assuming, of course that I will be well enough to read them. There are also household tasks that could do with my inexpert attention and the garden is crying out for some TLC...

Stay safe, be sensible and refrain from panic buying. It could be that we are going through a painful lesson that will end in reminding us that possession is not everything, community is crucial to our social and mental well-being and that when we ask others if they are alright we open up a society (largely neglected since the 1980s) to become a better and warmer place.

I'll attempt to post a daily image that will hopefully bring a little bit of light relief to those of you who visit this blog. Today's offering is of a summer meadow, resplendent with a mass flowering, taken on Banstead Park Downs in 2015. Ragwort, Marjoram, Wild Parsnip and other species turned this field into a French Impressionist's dream.

Until tomorrow.

Monday, 16 March 2020


Something had to sweep Brexit off of the table and it just so happens that Covid 19 is the new kid in town. We now find ourselves living in a sci-fi film with leaders and presidents declaring states of emergency, panicking proletariat and an invisible virus stalking the world preying on the old and weak. It isn’t funny.

I ventured out today, away from people and the media, and in the warm sunshine it was easy to forget the troubles at large. I found myself at Denbies Hillside, ironically the same place I fled to after the Brexit vote debacle. A small northward passage of Chaffinch and Meadow Pipit, an enormous female Goshawk and a parade of freshly minted Brimstone butterflies bathed the soul in calming balm. I also had the pleasure of the company of fellow Surrey birder Steve Chastell mid-morning. We knocked elbows rather than shake hands - very 2020...

Canons Farm carried on my birding self-isolation in the afternoon. A Woodlark, flushed from the footpath that crosses Broad Field, was delightful, calling as it arced round before settling once again. I saw it moving between the lines of stubble, but only briefly, before it flew off to land several hundred metres away. I couldn’t relocate it.

Driving home the streets were very quiet. I passed a well known pizza restaurant and saw that just one table was occupied. Most of the supermarkets and food shops in Banstead and Epsom have not been victim to panic buying (if you discount loo roll and hand sanitiser). This is where 24 hour news and social media does not help, as they have both fuelled the fear factors that are causing the panic and greed. If it was reported that mushroom pate was in short supply there would be a run on it.

In the coming weeks - maybe months, some say even years - our lives are going to be very different. For some it will never be the same again. Hopefully enough of us can make up for any idiocy that may be on show, to help those that require help the most, and act as a support for each other.

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Botanical by-product

This afternoon I attended the Surrey Botanical Society AGM at Box Hill Village Hall. This was sitting in a tree outside:

Friday, 13 March 2020

More Spring

For me, ornithological Spring starts with the late-February passage of Stonechats. The downs close to where I live is a good place to observe this, with Priest Hill, Canons Farm and Epsom Downs being within walking distance from home. These charismatic birds continue to dribble through into early-April. This morning's visit to Canons Farm found three (two males and a female) present in the Reeds Rest Bottom area, so they could conceivably be birds left over from the five seen two days a go. The 'normal' fences and hedgerows were shunned for the open fields, with all three birds spending most of the time that I was observing them up to their vents in the grass (above).

Another sign of Spring was the north-westerly passage of Meadow Pipits. Of the 70+ birds that I counted, most of these went overhead in small flocks, although a group of 40 were flushed from Stoney Knob and then moved on - possibly a resting flock.

Other highlights included 12 Skylark, 35 Fieldfare, 175 Linnet and just a solitary Yellowhammer (below).

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

The first Wheatear

Throughout the winter there will be birders up and down the length of the country who look forward to the Spring's first Wheatear - it is a species emblematic of warmer days, is colourful and characterful, the vanguard of a whole host of migrants that will come to our shores over the months of March, April and May. It is a sighting pregnant with hope, bestowed with affection and greeted with a smile. Think I'm over the top? If anything, I'm not gushing enough.

This afternoon I was back at Canons Farm, pleased to be watching a group of five Stonechats in the Reeds Rest Bottom area. I love chats, my favourite bird family if I had to nominate one. As I slowly walked towards a male that was foraging along the edge of a field, a flash of white reared up in front of me. It couldn't be, could it?

The bird alighted on a clod of earth and revealed itself in all its glory - a Northern Wheatear. My first for the year. In fact, this appears to be the first this year in Surrey and London, even beating such coastal hot-spots as Dungeness and Portland Bill to the prize. I was surprised to note that it was a female, as most of the early arrivals tend to be males. The bird consorted with the Stonechats, and for the next hour I watched them as they fed in the furrows, with the odd dash off to perch on the isolated fence posts.

My previous earliest for the Uberpatch was on 13 March 1977 at Beddington SF. Today's bird equaled my UK best, which is 11 March 1978 at Pagham Harbour. A true trailblazer is this female. She is welcome indeed to our shores, awaiting the hordes yet to come.

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Me, the shirker

This might be a bit of a rambling post, but here goes.

It starts off in response to the news that, due to Israel's insistence that all passengers on incoming flights to the country will be immediately put into a 14-day period of quarantine, the 'Champions of the Flyway' bird race - that is held in Israel - will now be missing the foreign teams that were due to arrive by plane. The ideas behind this bird race are sound - to raise awareness, and funds, for nature. But what has always struck me as, well, hypocritical, is that a large number of teams fly in to take part. Surely a 'green' event should not encourage the use of air travel. Does that sound fair? But then that devil on my shoulder chimes in, pointing out that the flights that the teams were going to take were going to fly whether they had booked places on them or not. But does that miss the point?

If we, as eco-tourists, all decided not to fly overnight, the big air companies might notice a drop off on certain routes, but it wouldn't dent their income too much. Those that would suffer the most, particularly in the poorer countries that are visited, would be the hotels, lodges and guides that rely on foreign patronage. I have heard this used as an argument as to why we should carry on flying around the world to get our birding fill.

A question. Because we are a group of people who, through our connection with the natural world, understand the implications of climate change on the environment, should we be more morally obliged to not fly? Do holidaymakers and business people have a certain immunity from this moral conundrum because they don't really have such an understanding connection?

In an ideal world I would not fly, or drive a car, not eat red meat or buy products that are derived from goods that contribute towards deforestation (or are produced using products that are a part of the climate change problem.) I reckon I could give it a go. So why don't I? I'm not a frequent flyer (helped by a phobia it must be admitted), we own two cars, we eat little red meat and are careful in what we buy as to its provenance. That's a lot more than others, but still not enough. Where does my reluctance to go the whole hog come from? A certain discomfort? Not wanting to rely on public transport? Too much effort? Because my wife will not give up the car?

So if I'm shirking my own responsibilities, who am I to call out those who fly regularly to birdwatch, drive across country to twitch a bird, go to McDonald's every day and buy products full of palm oil?

If we all have to self-isolate because of the Coronavirus we may be putting a lot of this into action anyway. It might be a positive thing for the environment, albeit a very small one. Maybe some of us will carry on with it after the curfews are lifted, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

Sunday, 8 March 2020


I’ve been an avid writer for as long as I can remember. As a child I would make up stories and write them as neatly as possible on sheets of lined paper. If I were feeling particularly grand I would get hold of a small notebook and try to fill it up as if I were creating a novel. At school I loved nothing better than to be in my English class with an essay assignment.

When birding came along (aged 15) I was able to transfer this wordsmithery to notebooks in which I recorded the observations I had made, in both a diary and a ‘posh’ notebook, which would expand the sightings into a narrative. These were written, by pen, in neat hand. To re-read them now is both entertaining and cringing - they can come across as pompous, with my writing obviously geared not for my eyes but those of an imagined reader. Some verged on rambling saga and flowery narrative. They always mentioned numbers.

As the 1980s progressed, the birds started to share the space with moths and butterflies, and plants began to get a mention before the end of the 90s. And slowly, almost imperceptibly, the wording was pruned back, the descriptive writing reigned in and the handwriting not given the care that was once lavished upon it. There was a brief flirtation with computer generated notebooks, pages printed out and bound together, but I was never happy with this, it lacked warmth and feeling. Not organic.

And now I find myself, if not at a crossroads, then certainly at a point where I am questioning my loyalty to the medium. I have no intention of getting rid of my 46 years worth of notebooks - in some ways they define me, particularly those from the 70s. I now find writing up my observations a bit of a chore, so am wondering why I still bother. BirdTrack, as worthy as it is, is updated with a huff. But it is not the writing that is the problem...

I have several ‘projects’ on the go: this blog still gives me pleasure and there are lists and databases that I collate with gusto. At times I have been inspired enough to write papers and articles on particular events. Maybe these ‘extra’ items are rendering the ‘old way’ of doing things - how I commit my observations to paper/computer - obsolete. But I cannot stop. The thought of breaking the unbroken run of notebooks is too sad to contemplate. My written up notes may not be the grand productions of the past, but truthfully communicate how things are today in the natural world - not once what they were.

Saturday, 7 March 2020

Beating the bounds

I fancied stretching my legs today, so decided upon a walk around the perimeter of the 'mini-uber patch'. I left home, on foot, at 06.10hrs and returned seven hours later. According to an app on my phone this comprised of 36,925 steps covering 24km (just under 15 miles). It might have done my cardiovascular system the world of good, but as far as the birding went it was very poor - little in song, much of the walk seemingly bird less, highlights hard to suggest. The footpaths were in bad condition, not just ankle-deep mud with washed away foundation, but sorely lacking in vegetation clearance. In the summer some of these are going to be impassable. It is quite sad to walk through beautiful countryside that is so bereft of wildlife. What were once arable and pastural farm fields are now largely horse paddocks, golf course or monoculture grass. The area between Banstead and Gatton that I passed once played host to Tree Sparrow colonies - 56 pairs in 10 colonies some 50-odd years ago. Today? Need you ask?

One (semi) highlight was visiting a recently created water body on the Surrey Downs Golf Club (below). Any standing water in this dry area is a treat, and present this morning were 5 Tufted Ducks and 2 Little Grebes. A similar plastic-bottomed creation at Walton Heath Golf Course, a little bit larger than the one visited this morning, also enticed a pair of Little Grebes, and they stayed to breed. It just shows how these birds must overfly such dry areas on the look-out for new habitat.

Migrant wise poor. Two Stonechats on Epsom Downs could not make up for my disappointment. Not even a Chiffchaff...

Thursday, 5 March 2020

The River Bed

The latest daubing is of an English river bed, complete with Pike, Roach, Minnows and stylised scribbles. Destined for a family member who likes to sit on a river bank in the company of a rod and line.

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

This birding web

Twitter is not for everyone, that I can appreciate, but for many it is a useful platform - one on which to keep informed, share thoughts, announce and entertain. I’ve tweeted from my account for six years now, and several years before that on another. I’ve made many contacts, mainly of people who I have not met in person. But there is another group, mostly birders, who intrigue me - it is made up of lapsed contacts. Having been birding for over 46 years I am bound to have met thousands of birders. Some have been an almost constant presence, even if they have been for broken spells across those 46 years. But most of them have briefly flitted in, and out, of my orbit. It could have been that I spent a single car journey with them; a week at a bird observatory; shared a patch; went on a twitch; used to be birding companions; were friends of a friend. They all left a mark, a memory and a name that has lodged in my brain. And now we follow each other or at least converse on twitter. Some were young lads when I first met them, not seen since the 70s or 80s. Many of them may not remember me, but I remember them. They are scattered across the globe, from the States to Australia, Italy to South Africa, Thailand to Spain. Even from Surrey to Yorkshire and back. They haunt bird observatories and migration watch points, they paint birds and write about them. I have a strange paternal interest in how they are doing. They are my birding web, my ‘virtual’ birding family. It’s good to have them around.

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

A lesson in counting

The Canons Farm Linnet flock is not the easiest group of birds to count. They rarely combine together and prefer to feed in smaller groups spread across several adjacent fields, but every so often they do meet up and wheel across the skyline before breaking up once more. Such a ball of activity calls for snap judgement of numbers present - it is far easier to count the smaller aggregations, and as long as you keep your wits about you and do not double-count, add those figures up to get a (fairly) accurate count. Sometimes they do the right thing...

Yesterday afternoon the birds came together over Tarts Field, and whereas 150 peeled away and landed back on the stubble, the rest landed in a nearby tree. I took a picture of this gathering and then started to count the perched birds, but I was stymied by a continual procession of small flocks peeling off and disappearing into neighbouring fields. How many were there? I reckoned at least 200, maybe even 250. Don't cheat, what do you reckon?

This morning I put the image on a computer screen and methodically counted them, placing a colour square on each bird so as not to double-count. Each group of 100 were given a different colour. Some squares are on top of each other and cannot be seen as individual squares. The final number? 426.

426 must be a minimum as there will surely be hidden birds (behind other birds or branches). My overall count of 500 from yesterday now becomes a minimum of 575. They will soon break up, so I might be tempted back to have another count.

In other news: Spring migration felt as if it had really started on the farm yesterday, with a second calendar-year male Black Redstart and three Stonechats consorting together along the fence line at Reeds Rest Bottom, the former a dusky female-type plumaged bird exhibiting an obvious wing panel.

Sunday, 1 March 2020


This image may not mean much to the majority of birders -  but to me and one or two other 'Surrey-ites' it is an image of hope. You see that sliver of silver in the middle of the picture? That is the English Channel at Shoreham, spied through a gap in the South Downs. And, get this, this photograph was taken from the top of Leith Hill tower, IN SURREY! Yes, we can, believe it or not, see the sea from this land-locked and most ornithologically deprived of counties. Just this small consolation prize can open up the mind to all sorts of possibilities. I am imagining a conveyor belt of migrants arriving over the sea, heading for that gap and making a bee-line for the Surrey Hills, and then spreading out across the high plateau that I haunt. Hirundines, chats, warblers, all waiting for the nod of Spring. And I'm here waiting for them... with the patience of a Saint and the hope of a chronic optimist. My plan is for a 100% on foot traipse around the mini-Uber patch tomorrow - and being the month of March I really should see one or two signs of movement. I will report back.