Showing posts from 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    

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. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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... +++++++++++

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 ent

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

Is it Day 6 already?

#BWKM0   ND&B garden challenge DAY 6 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

Just a quickie

#BWKM0   ND&B garden challenge DAY 5 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 th

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

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 b

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

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...

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 to


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, Spoonbil

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.

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


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

Botanical by-product

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

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 Fieldfar

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 Surre

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 c


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 plant

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 yea

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.

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 we

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 r


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 -