Showing posts from October, 2020

#BWKM0 - it's sort of back

So the government have spoken. We are entering the second lockdown. We are being asked to make essential journeys only. Unlike lockdown during the Spring, I am not going to suggest the way that birders should act on this advice, but my personal response will be to only bird from home by foot. There is no scientific rationale behind it, but I will not be getting into a car to carry out my birding. I will start tomorrow (November 1st) and stop on December 2nd, when the projected lockdown will end. During this time I will keep a list of the birds that I record. It will be my way of helping out to the cause of slowing down the virus. During the 6-week spring lockdown I recorded 70 species that were seen just from the garden. Can I match that? Let's see... #BWKM0 became a bit of a thing back in March - started by an Italian ornithologist to gather some camaraderie amongst locked-down Italian birders, it gathered pace and was adopted across the world. This very blog hosted over 60 garden

A stink in the woods

It's late autumn, it's been raining, therefore logic suggested that there would be a lot of fungi sending fruiting bodies up above ground. My morning visit to the beech woodland close to Mickleham was a partial success - yes, there was fungi, but not in the numbers that I was expecting. Maybe it will be better in the next couple of weeks. I'm not anything other than a mycological dabbler, so I was quite pleased to identify (within reason) twenty species: Orange Bonnet, Lumpy Bracket, Porcelain Fungus, Southern Bracket, Turkeytail (below), Beech Woodwart, Candlesnuff Fungus, Green Elfcup, Oak Pin, Toothed Crust, Marasmius cohaerrens, Fairy Inkcap, Lemon Disco, Flat Oystering, Burgundydrop Bonnet, Lilac Bonnet, Stinkhorn, Ivory Woodwax, Inky Mushroom and Cabbage Parachute. Haven't they got fantastic names? The Stinkhorn is always a highlight - foul smelling and covered in flies (but which species?) Today's three individuals all lacked the black goo (spore mass) that n

PSL clean up

Dryad's Saddle Yesterday I had the bright idea of spring-cleaning (or should that be autumn-cleaning) my Pan-species list (PSL). If you want to find out more about this PSL madness have a look here.  My PSL 'career' has been one of bursts of enthusiasm, followed by troughs of neglect, but the list has always been steadily maintained even if not actively pursued. Even before Mark Telfer launched the PSL initiative, I had already been keeping such a list (all taxa species personally recorded in the UK), and it was a pleasant surprise to find out that others were also doing so. My Top Ten listing in the first 'league' table was a false dawn as I soon started to fall down the ladder as others joined in  - many of them professional ecologists. Even now, hovering around 40th position, is not a true reflection on who has seen what in the UK, as I know of many naturalists who have recorded far more than I but who do not appear. I do not keep an all-encompassing database of

Autumn colours

Sheffield Park in East Sussex is famed for its autumn colour, so Katrina and I paid it a visit this morning. The gardens were largely laid out in the 18th-century by Capability Brown. The overall effect was quite stunning, if a little saccharine for my taste, but there is room in this world for a classically-influenced wet-dream garden as much as there is for a bit of decent birding habitat I suppose.

Wonder of the day

The Merveille du Jour is a striking species of moth, as the photograph of the individual above, that came this morning to the Banstead MV, attests. The direct translation of its French common name is 'wonder of the day' - most apt. The first one that I laid eyes on was at Spurn Bird Observatory in October 1985, when birding legend John Cudworth walked into the common room with one perched on the end of a finger. A 'wow' moment if ever there was one, as he was crowded by a mob of appreciative birders. For some it would have been the first time that they had ever taken notice of a moth. Here in Banstead they are not quite annual, so when one comes along they are rightly treated with reverence. As we get to the back end of the autumn the number of moths, both individuals and species, drops off. But the lepidopterist cannot pack up the MV yet! It is a good time to jam in on a migrant or two, especially if a plume of warm air comes up from the south of Europe. There are also

Natural history books of the year

The following three natural history books were published during the year and deserve as much publicity and praise as they can get. If you haven't read them then I can whole-heartedly recommend each and every one. Greenery by Tim Dee is part travelogue, using the season of Spring as a framework on which to hang a series of essays covering much more than the awakening of the natural world. It is a thought-provoking book that ends with the author pondering his own life's journey, the fall into autumn being mirrored by his own bodies frailties. Powerful stuff and, as always from Mr Dee, superbly written.  His Imperial Majesty by Matthew Oates is the author's love letter to the Purple Emperor butterfly. For a book that is dense with intrinsic information it is nothing but a joyful read. The insect’s life cycle, distribution, abundance and a site gazetteer is amalgamated into the story of all those obsessives who spend each summer in HIM's presence.  Owls of the Eastern Ice

A Stonechat. Discuss.

Yesterday afternoon, in dull light and rain, I came across a strikingly pale Stonechat in a grassy paddock at Little Woodcote in Surrey. It had something of the Whinchat about it, all creamy peaches and obvious supercillium, but it was distant and flighty. My schoolboy error was in not having my scope with me, and seeing that I needed to get home, the bridge camera came out and I took a couple of dodgy shots. These were enough to elicit interest from a few birders, one of which, Peter Alfrey, met me shortly after first light this morning to try and see if the bird was (a) still present and (b) a wanderer from further east. Thankfully the bird had stayed overnight and had remained in the meadow, and not only that, it was an awfully lot closer than yesterday. A ‘typical’ female Stonechat was keeping it company, highlighting the striking paleness of ‘our’ birds underparts, lacking the orange-russet tones of its typical hibernans companion. Again, the supercillium was marked and obvious.

2021. Too early?

I love having natural history projects on the go, future plans and aims in which to get motivated and add a level of order to my wanderings. 2020 has, so far, been a year of being diverted, largely governed by COVID restrictions and moral choice. Three holidays/trips were cancelled and my searches for new species of micro-moths were severely restricted. However, this forced me into spending far more time in my immediate area and this had many positive results - the end of year round-up will heavily feature these. Is mid-to-late October too early to start planning for next year? I don't think so - in fact I've already started. So here are my initial thoughts on what 'ND&B 2021' might look like. And yes, things beyond our control might just alter them at short notice... I'm blessed that I can still get so much out of the wildlife on my doorstep. It does help that I live on the edge of suburbia that then quickly becomes chalk downland, farmland, heath and woodland


The past couple of days has seen me mooching about the place locally, counting thrushes, hunting chats and just being content with my lot. I did nip over to Beddington SF this afternoon to pay my respects to White Stork GB35, a Knepp release. I cannot get too excited about this project and I really don't know why it was started in the first place - my loss. The bird was loafing on the 'wet grassland', more mud and water than vegetation, but hopefully the area will develop into something special. Also present was a Great White Egret, not unexpected these days, even up here on the edge of London. Yesterday (and today) I finally got around to visiting Little Woodcote, an area of horse paddocks, small holdings, nurseries, hedges, copses and rough grassland. It has an ornithological history and is currently being checked regularly by a number of birders, including Peter Alfrey, Ian Jones and Arjun Dutta. Considering that it is only three miles from my home, and I like to think o

A strange place

Mark Davis's evocative shot of Box Hill being photobombed by London I do find myself in a 'strange' place. 'Strange' because I have, after 46 years of birding, finally come to a place of contentment. 'Happy with my lot' kind of contentment. This after years of 'stop-start' twitching, adopting patches that were over 90-miles away from home, taking on limiting projects with grandiose ideas of what they would yield - I could go on... This year of COVID-19 did force us (well, most of us) to stay closer to home, limit travel and take on-board the 'new ornithological normal' of walking into a garden or looking out of a window and actually birding - proper birding - as opposed to the pre-COVID19 habit of half-heartedly looking up into the sky as we walked to the car to travel elsewhere. The results were truly unexpected. 'Hidden in plain sight' passages of birds, nocturnal waders and wildfowl and all-day raptor streams that made us get up in


The past three Octobers has seen my birding effort dedicated to finding decent visible migration spots in Surrey. My search has been deliberately confined to within ten miles from home. So far, and largely with good return, I have tried Box Hill, Colley Hill, Denbies Hillside, Epsom Downs, Canons Farm, Priest Hill and last, but not least, my back garden in Banstead. It is the latter that I will expand upon for this post. I am on (for Surrey) fairly high ground, a northerly spur of the North Downs. The garden is of moderate size and is north-westerly facing, looking up and along a slope. Neighbouring roof tops and a mature Ash tree cuts down visibility somewhat, but I can position myself to be able to see most of the sky, with the southwards views quite good and, looking across to a slightly higher ridge some 600m away, far-reaching in places. Back-garden vis-migging was born out of convenience, but it soon became apparent that it would repay my efforts. Big hirundine and thrush movemen

A week on the shingle

The last seven days have been spent birding the Dungeness area. Weather-wise it was largely benign, with just one speedy wet low giving as 24-hour period of moderate to blustery south-westerlies and rain. The rest of the time it was sunny and warm, the wind normally getting up by the early afternoon. Among the suite of semi-resident birds were two Glossy Ibis, up the three Great White Egret and a small number of Cattle Egrets that appeared and disappeared like rabbits out of a magician's hat. Other highlights were: Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Merlin, Stone-curlew (out in the open shingle beyond the Water Tower), Short-eared Owl, Woodlark, Dartford Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler, Red-backed Shrike (Littlestone Golf Course) and Lapland Bunting (fields NE of airport). There were a couple of days of hirundine movement, lazy clouds that fed as they circled down towards the point, the best day being 9th October with 5,000 outgoing Swallows. Incoming were Redwings, with a concentrated arriv

Red-backed Shrike

It was an absolute delight to bump into this juvenile/first-winter Red-backed Shrike at the northern end of Littlestone Golf Course yesterday afternoon. It was showy and confiding, taking little notice as the local birders gathered to enjoy the spectacle. Cars brushed past the bird's roadside bush without bothering it, and some birders were able to turn up, momentarily stop the car, wind down the window and to watch the bird just feet away. It was feeding well, and, at the end of the afternoon once having regurgitated a pellet, was observed to roost deep inside its favourite bush. Still present this morning. A full account of my week's stay at Dungeness will appear later.

Rarity and COVID

The east coast of Britain, plus a rash of Scottish Isles, is/are playing host to a stellar cast of rare vagrants - Masked Shrike, Tennessee Warbler, Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, Siberian Thrush, White’s Thrush, Eye-browed Thrush, Two-barred Greenish Warbler - I could go on... plus a mouthwatering back-up courtesy of multiple Red-flanked Bluetails, Radde’s Warblers and more Yellow-browed Warblers than it is possible to accurately count. For many birders the knee-jerk reaction is to head straight to the hot-spots where the rarity - and the action - is taking place. And who can blame them. But, things are different now. Joining the ‘to be expected’ moral conundrums that usually accompany such a birding scrum (trespass, toggers and carbon foot-print) there is a new concern in town, that of the COVID-19 virus. A rare bird = a birding crowd. When something as modest as a scarce migrant can gather 20-30 birders within minutes, what chance do we stand of conforming to health guidelines? There

Social dilemma

I have just watched the Netflix documentary 'The Social Dilemma' that deals with the algorithms and business models behind monetising social media, in particular Facebook. It is a sobering watch. Whenever my attention is turned towards such things I find myself thinking very hard about my own use of social media. Here is where I currently stand... FACEBOOK Binned it a few weeks ago, mainly down to the volume of incoming posts from the (few) natural history groups that I was a member of. Also friend and family pressure lead me to 'friend' people who then gummed up my timeline with vacuous and pointless images of their latest meals, pouts and 'look at me' moments. I have not missed it at all. INSTAGRAM A very short membership of this platform, which I joined to access a local Art Group account and I left due to - you've guessed it - pressure from friends and family to 'befriend' them who then gummed up my timeline with vacuous and pointless images of