Showing posts from November, 2020


On my River Hogsmill walk yesterday I came across an unfamiliar plant growing alongside one of the ponds at Bourne Hall. It was in rude health and next to a similarly robust specimen of Green Amaranth. It was vaguely sow-thistle like, a bit Rudbeckia-ish, but fitted neither. When home, I uploaded the four images reproduced here in the hope that one of my Twitter-chums could furnish me with an identification, and, as hoped, three responded in quick time to let me know that my mystery plant was Niger (Guizotia abbysinica). I've seen plenty of Niger seed in my time at bird feeding stations, but this is the first time that I have seen the plant.

Then and now

Another expedition along the River Hogsmill towards Old Malden, where I once again paid homage to the Millais painting 'Ophelia'. There is a commemorative plaque on a wall close to the spot where he based the painting (pictured), accompanied here by my picture of what that spot looks like today. The Kingfisher that I saw may have been seen by the great artist as he produced his preliminary sketches, but I doubt that a Little Egret bothered his eye-line as it did mine.

Mistle on mistle

Reigate Heath was the starting point this morning, where the birding quiet was broken by this Mistle Thrush that kept guard over a clump of Mistletoe, feeding on the berries in between bouts of sitting out proud. After meeting up with Brother-in-law Bill, we took a circular walk that included much of Buckland, highlights being 18 Red-legged Partridge, a Little Owl and 150+ Redwing. Further clumps of Mistletoe were seen, including some heavy with fruit.

In the murk at Mogador

Colley Hill Car Park was a seething mass of metalwork by 11.30hrs - no room to park plus at least another 50 vehicles tucked along the minor road that leads up to it. Fortunately I was leaving the area at the time, having spent the morning birding the farmland at nearby Mogador. Lockdown plays havoc with the human footfall at any of these 'edge of town' beauty spots. With the shops, cinemas, swimming pools and gymnasiums closed, who can blame people for heading out into the countryside. It will be quiet again once the shops and cafes re-open. Mogador is a relatively small area of mixed arable farmland and pasture, on the edge of Banstead Heath, blessed with big skies and a fair amount of scrub and hedgerow. I have an increasing fondness of the place. Positioned just north of the North Downs scarp at Colley Hill, I have managed to establish a rapport with its birdlife, enjoying spring and autumn migrant action plus a small but select wintering population of thrushes, finches and

Another world revealed

The first time that I knowingly took an interest in moths was during the evening of Saturday August 2nd 1975. I can be that precise as the day had been spent at Lords Cricket Ground, as a spectator watching 'our' boys take on the Aussies in the Ashes test. That Australian team were full of greats - Ian and Greg Chappell, Rod Marsh, Dennis Lillee and Geoff Thomson to name but five. On that particular day though the plaudits went to England batsman John Edrich, who completed a century. But I digress. That evening I attended a family wedding reception in Tring, Hertfordshire. I had only been birding for a matter of months, and my interests in other aspects of natural history were in their infancy to say the least. But as darkness fell, something happened at the bare windows of the village hall that caught my attention. The black panes of glass were alive with fluttering forms attempting to get inside with us. They were moths.  Moving over to the window it was clear that these moth

Released from an obligation

Confession time. After 46 years of sending my natural history records into various societies and organisations, I'm getting fed up with it. Bored. Cannot be arsed. Sounds bad doesn't it? You would think that after playing the game for all of these years and doing the right thing that I would still be up for making sure that my valuable data would be sent to a safe place so that it can be added to the historical record and be used in years to come for research purposes or just entertainment value. I used to religiously send off my paper records to various recorders, and, when the records became computerised, started to visit BirdTrack to upload data, safe in the knowledge that it would get to the right person in good time. But recently there has been a change. A change in me. I am moving further away from my time in the field being somehow all tied up with harvesting data. It's now more personal to me than that. It isn't about number, or identification for that matter, a

Something of the night

There is definitely 'something of the night' about me - not in a vampiric reference such as that famously made about Michael Howard by Ann Widdecombe a few years ago. As twilight starts to assert its authority over the daylight I do get a certain boost - sound and vision is heightened, smells and touch are turned up a notch. It isn't unlike the turning down of the house lights in a theatre or cinema, a prelude to something special. This afternoon saw me walk up onto Epsom Downs, timing my journey so that, as I strolled down Chalk Lane - which for about a mile travels through horse paddocks and copses - I would reach the bottom of the hill in darkness. The paddocks are large and stretch back a fair way. I used to hear Little Owls here with some regularity, but they have gone from this side of the downs, to be replaced by those raucous buggers, Ring-necked Parakeets. Hardly seems a fair swap to me. This evening all that could be heard was a singing Song Thrush and a calling R

Sloe, sloe, milk, milk, sloe

The local footpaths between Woodmansterne and Banstead were searched this morning, but the birds were only notable by their absence, save for a single Reed Bunting that flew low over the meadows behind the Evergreen nursery. The local harvest of sloes has never looked better, the Blackthorn bushes around Banstead are heavy with the mealy purple-blue fruit. In the sunshine this morning, the downs positively throbbed with its colour. The botanical highlight came courtesy of a single Milk Thistle, found in a gateway close to the outskirts of Banstead village. For a quiet, benign and docile November morning it was strangely invigorating.

They're back!

I make no secret of the fact that I love Hawfinches. It pleases me to have these lovely birds as a fairly regular species within the local area, but, typical of that species, they can sometimes go missing for months on end. It is with great pleasure that, over the past week, I have been able to watch them once again, with a minimum of 11 birds (possibly as many as 16) having been seen over the past week in the western valleys of Headley Heath, and up on the adjoining wooded slope at High Ashurst.  I position myself overlooking the valleys on their eastern flank, which gives me good views across the tree lines. Both my sessions here have been from 13.30hrs until dusk. The earliest that a Hawfinch has appeared is 14.00hrs, and the latest 15.42hrs. The busiest time seems to be around 15.00hrs. Views are usually of birds flying along the distant tree line, or circling the valleys. A couple of times birds have alighted and given reasonable scope views. Twice a flock of five has been recorde

Satellite of hope

A mild spell of weather during the 'dark' months of November, December and January will alert most keen students of moths to switch on the MV/actinic trap. Apart from the small selection of species that are still on the wing during the winter there is the chance of picking up a few migrants, especially if the mild weather is due to the airflow coming up from North Africa and Iberia - and that is the case right now. There have been migrants coming to the Banstead MV over the past couple of nights, but so far have been confined to just the expected - a few Silver Y and Udea   ferrugalis . However, hope is high, as there are plenty of high value moths being recorded along the south coast and in SE England. Last night's haul here was fair, with a cast of late-autumn regulars that included this Satellite. The trap is on once more. My walk out to inspect it in the morning will be one filled with more hope than usual.

Just what did this place do to deserve this?

I think it most when I am stationary, maybe sitting in a car at traffic lights, or pausing while walking a footpath that runs alongside a light industrial unit.  “What on earth has this place done to deserve this?” Looking at the acres of concrete, prefabricated buildings, sodium lights and metal gantries, I’m compelled to look beyond this man-made horror and imagine what lies beneath. What was once here? A field? A wood? I can now imagine someone walking across this very spot, flat cap, roll-up stuck in the corner of his mouth, on the way home after a day’s work. There is the row of cottages of which one he calls home. A mile from town, but still well served by a couple of pubs and several homesteads that sell fresh produce. The earth roads this way see little traffic, they’re more like tracks and see just a few horses each day, and certainly no wandering stranger. Our ‘ghost’ was born in the very same house that he is now walking to, he was christened in the church that we can still

The turning of time's circle

Early November has become special to me. It may well be autumn past its birding best, but there are plenty of opportunities to seek and find, plus experiences to be had that mix the ornithological with the spiritual - something that other times of the year just cannot replicate. Yesterday afternoon found me sitting on the top of a valley at Headley Heath. My views were directly westward, looking straight at the setting sun, a yellow ball ladling out a watery golden light, its weak warmth just winning over the still chillness of a calm day. As I peeled off a couple of layers and luxuriated  - even bathed - in this November ‘heat', I couldn’t help but feel very pleased with things. For the next few hours, all things Covid, Brexit and Trump were banished, and my quest to count birds coming into roost was in the ascendency.  My vantage point allowed me to see across two steep-sided valleys, lightly wooded on their sides but clear at both their bases and tops. Anything that flew over, o

You’re so tame

This Grey Heron just didn't want to budge from its riverside perch this morning. I was walking along the River Hogsmill (more a stream really) between Ewell Village and Tolworth, not seeing much (bar a Little Egret and Kingfisher) and meeting lots of lockdown joggers, strollers and dog-walkers. This afternoon provided a far more pleasing experience - and that account will feature in a forthcoming post. I can promise you Hawfinches!


My natural history library sprawls across several rooms, my families acceptance of it much appreciated. I have, in the past, had mini-culls, normally of books that had served their purpose and become redundant, superceded by more up-to-date publications, although some of these 'retired' tomes will forever be held onto - there is too much history between us. One section of this collection is dedicated to that of 'nature writing', populated by the likes of Macfarlane, Mabey, Dee, Cocker, Deakin, Oates, Dunn, Goulson and Marren. These are books not to be used as reference but to be read for pleasure and nourishment, not that you do not learn an awful lot from them as well. The most fluid part of the library is that of subscription journals and bird reports. It has had to, over the years, suffer major culling due to shortage of space. - and, if I'm being honest, because they largely go on the shelf after their initial read never to be taken down again. My Surrey, Kent a

Who made honey long ago...

Sometimes I like to pretend that I have a thin vein of culture running through my body, and so I sometimes immerse myself into reading some classical prose. Today's 'offering came courtesy of Edward Thomas's 'South Country', written in 1909. It is his love letter to the southern counties east of Devon and south of London. Thomas is highly revered amongst the literati, and is often quoted and name-checked. There was a particular passage that struck me... "...sees the house behind them. The wayfarer knows nothing of those who built them and those who live therein, of those who planted the trees just so and not otherwise, of the causes that shaped the green, any more than of those who reaped and threshed the barley, and picked and dried and packed the hops that made the ale at the 'White Hart'" It struck me because this is exactly how I react to seeing an old abandoned house, a wooden barn, a lone tree in a field. The questions flow and my imagination