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Spiritual

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That giant of contemporary nature writing, Richard Mabey, has reportedly said - “I really don’t understand what the word ‘spiritual’ means. I am deeply a materialist; I don’t want to have a metaphorical relationship with something beyond its reality.” That surprised me, because, as an avid reader of Mr. Mabey’s words, I have always thought of him as ‘spiritual’. Is my understanding of what ‘spiritual’ means incorrect, or is it that I am just out of synch with the great wordsmith? Spiritual . According to one of the many available dictionaries, it can be defined as: ‘relating to or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.’ I readily identify with the idea of spirituality, which, coming from an unquestioning atheist, possibly suggests that I would be very much at home with the druids and pagans. I do see, and feel, the wonder in our natural world (and, of course, the unfathomable cosmos beyond it), but can also be moved by places that show the scars

Less is more

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Several times over the past few years I've looked at my attempts to identify and record all orders of the natural world and have shaken my head at my futile exercise. It is just all too much. Yes, I am lucky enough to have time on my hands to try such a thing, but in reality all that I end up doing is water down any proficiency that I have in my 'favourite' orders. Take birds for example... Up until the late 1980s I would read almost everything that was published regarding bird identification, and without wanting to come across as big-headed, was more than proficient in the field. I then started to take more interest in moths and plants, orders that boast thousands of species. My mind wandered away from birds and was immersed in these new worlds. There was much to learn, and my time was spent trying to be able to identify such things as the different pugs and crucifers that were now being revealed to me. The birds took a back seat, and because of that I slowly became rusty.

The Great Northern Diver question

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As I have already mentioned in the last post, on the morning of November 11th, while recording a strong movement of Chaffinches over Porth (just outside Newquay) in Cornwall, I observed five Great Northern Divers, seemingly flying on a similar line along with the finches. I think it is worth elaborating on these birds and try and understand what they were up to. I was looking almost due north, along a cliff-line that runs down from Trevose Head until it meets Porth (on a NNE-SSW axis), where the coast suddenly kinks away and heads WSW. Not quite a 90 degree turn, but abrupt all the same. The first bird appeared at approximately 09.00hrs, and was picked up coming in off of the sea, at a fair height. Obviously a heavy Diver, scope views were able to confirm it as a Great Northern. I was somewhat surprised when the bird carried on with its S or even SE bearing, shunning the coast and heading inland, gaining height as it did so. I was quite excited by this. My pulse quickened even further

Cornwall in November

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Two weeks on the north Cornish coast in November? To me, that suggested plenty of wind, chilly temperatures, rain, wet clothing and plenty of reading indoors to escape the weather. Our ‘postponed’ family holiday could not have been any different - apart from the odd flurry of drizzle it was dry; the temperature was never anything other than remarkably mild (I even found myself dressed in a t-shirt whilst sitting on an exposed headland one balmy morning); and the wind did not get up above force 4, many days remaining in the 1-2 region. Although not a birding holiday, the bins, scope and tripod came along, and every day saw me wander off to do a bit - on a few occasions more than just a bit. 80 species were recorded in our 12 days, not bad for the time of year and all seen within walking distance from our base. I went everywhere on foot, exploring the coastal headlands, valleys, set-aside fields and winding lanes that characterise the Porth area, a small town east of Newquay. We were sta

The 'always learning' curve

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We are almost at the end of the autumn visible-migration season, and, so far, it has been pretty decent. Following on from a massive Redwing day, and a more than passable Fieldfare-fest, I have spent the past two mornings at Colley Hill, on the North Downs just above the town of Reigate. Here are the two watches in detail, taken from my postings on Trektellen: Friday's session was four-and-a-half hours of birding that had its rewards, although the bird stream didn't really get going. Of the thrushes, it was three flocks of Blackbird (50, 27 and 25) that were the most interesting, as I cannot recall watching this species visibly migrate through the county before, certainly not beyond the odd one or two. The four Hawfinches were in a flock and briefly alighted. Watching many of the birds as they moved westward was instructive. Most arrived from the east, flying parallel with the scarp slope, maybe 100-200m out (to the south). Plenty just carried on through towards the Mole Gap, b

Fieldfare frenzy

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It's happened again! Another back-garden thrush rush, but this time, instead of the slim silhouettes of several thousand Redwings I was watching the chunkier, more stately shapes of Fieldfare, that most regal of thrushes. I was stood outside at 06.45hrs, wrapped up against a keen NNW wind. At first, just a few Redwing flew over westwards, but as their flock sizes increased so did the odd cameo appearance from Fieldfares, until they took over as the main thrush component (at about 09.00hrs). I was able to latch onto a few tremendous flocks - 300, 100, 90 - and ended up with a grand total of 1,684, backed up by 747 Redwings. Just checking on my previous best Surrey vis-mig counts, this is just higher than my 1,658 (north) at Box Hill on 29 October 2019 and 1,558 (west) at Banstead on 13 October 2020. Needless to say, Wes Attridge eclipsed my Fieldfare count today by recording a new county record of 10,390 from Leith Hill Tower, although he was virtually frozen to the spot at the end

Something old, something new

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"I must go down to Beddington again, to the pungent mud and the sky, And all I ask is a Green Sandpiper and a glass to watch her by" With profuse apologies to the living descendants of John Masefield Yes, I've been up to my old tricks, that of flirting once again with my original patch, the place where I cut my ornithological teeth, Beddington Sewage Farm (or Farmlands as it has been rebranded recently). My presence has been noted there three times in the past 10 days, and I can see it becoming a regular haunt again - I say again, as I have made more comebacks at the sewage farm than Frank Sinatra did in his career. So why the sudden interest? Well, for a start, my perverse adherence to the north Surrey 'dry' downland has taken its toll, or rather this awful autumn has. Plenty of birding has taken place and plenty of disappointment has come my way. I craved wildfowl and waders, something that are rare treats on the downs. And, it must be admitted, a few good birds

Up above

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The Redwing passage that was covered in the previous post carried on to excite and inspire the following morning, here in Banstead (October 14th). Ordinarily, a westerly movement of 5,805 would elicit an awful lot more notice, but coming in the wake of the monstrous 26,013, was somewhat undersold. It was, however, my third highest Redwing total ever - anywhere. There is a perverse part of me that chuckles at the fact that, two days ago, my back garden spanked every other site in the UK for Redwing numbers, apart from that Surrey birding Death-star, Leith Hill tower. It goes some way to convince myself that I am not wasting my time here. There have been a few Chaffinches on the move, in their low hundreds, with a sprinkling of Brambling thrown in for good measure. I was able to watch a flock of 14 of the latter feeding on Whitebeam berries at the base of Colley Hill on October 12th (pictured). The nearby farmland held a flock of 400 Linnet and a local record count (for me anyway) of 40

The day of the Redwing

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Sometimes you are in the right place, at the right time. And sometimes you are only in the right place at the right time because you have stood there for days on end, waiting for it to happen. Today it happened. It has become a bit of an 'October thing' over my garden, here in Banstead - a day (or two) of concentrated diurnal Redwing passage, so much so that I stand outside the house, at dawn from October 1st, waiting for it to commence. My previous back garden successes have included: 7,724 west at on 12 October 2020 5,334 west on 15 October 2020 4,145 west on 8 October 2018  3,203 west on 13 October 2020 The Surrey record, up until this morning, stood at 15,000 west at Beddington SF on 12 October 1997. I had no expectation of ever reaching that figure, and thought that my 7,724 from last autumn was a bit of a one-off. How wrong was I... It started to look good yesterday afternoon/evening, with the Flysafe/BirdTAM website offering up graphs and charts that predicted the follow

End of week report

October has now given me seven days worth of back garden sky watching, so it seems like a good time to report on what has been happening… not an awful lot really. Each day, from a numbers perspective, has been disappointing. Here is a bit of detail: 1st - I was dead keen, in the garden when it was still dark. A gusting wind and heavy rain found me cowering in the garage, watching through a side door that allows a view of the eastern sky. Spent most of that time observing which neighbour’s guttering was in need of repair. Nothing moving. 2 hours of my life that I’ll never get back. 2nd - another 06.45hrs start, again accompanied by a f2-3, then 5-6 SW wind and constant rain. More sheltering under garage and shed than proper birding. A few crumbs moved south - 2 Pied Wagtail, 1 Grey Wagtail, 12 Meadow Pipit, 1 Song Thrush, 2 Jay and 11 Goldfinch. Didn’t feel quite so cheated. 3rd - A three hour (7-10) shift that just proved that I wasn’t standing beneath a functioning fly line, although

Stuff to do

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I've been out and about solidly over the last couple of weeks, but have found very little to blog about. Locally the birding has been quiet, although Mogador did produce an Osprey and a Merlin, so maybe the use of the word 'quiet' is not well chosen. My love of observing birds visibly migrating is usually being taken care of by late-September, but the skies have remained stubbornly empty, give or take the odd pipit and hirundine. Maybe the dam is about to burst... I have a number of projects on the go or in the offing. First up is one for 2022 - an 'on-foot' search for, and recording of, all plant species found and identified within 4-miles from home. I chose that distance as it is about an hour's walk, although any botanists reading this will know that it can take an hour to walk 100 yards if the flora is there to see. The map below gives you (and me) some idea of where I'll be searching. Expect plenty of suburban wandering seeking out those aliens that hav

More Mogador

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Wikipedia succinctly states that "Mogador is a hamlet at the edge of Banstead Heath, about 1 km from the top of the north-facing dip-slope of the North Downs. At an elevation of about 200 metres it is one of the highest settlements in south-east England." As for the purposes of bird recording, the area that I consider to be Mogador begins much closer to the top of the dip-slope, starting with an area of horse paddocks and copses. No doubt the height (relative I know) of the ground must be of some asset to what turns up here. It is very good for chats, much better than the nearby North Downs scarp slope at Colley Hill, which is directly south of Mogador. Colley Hill looks as though it should be a great site to bird, but the hours that I have put in over the years have been scantily rewarded - I have had much more success at Mogador. Birds on the move appear to be more easily and regularly seen at Mogador than Colley Hill, and it has taken me some time to accept that the more d

Tidying up the loose ends

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This post is a bit of a round-up, covering the last few days - those images that didn't quite fit into previous posts, those snippets of information that fell through the cracks in the blogging floor... to begin with, I've been visiting the 'Station field' on an almost daily basis, which is a recently cut meadow that is but a ten minute stroll from my front door. The bales of hay have been left in place, which has meant that any chats present are easy to see as they perch up, sentinel like, surveying all before them. Whinchats have only been present on one visit, although Wheatears (below) have been seen on each occasion, peaking (so far) at four last Sunday. The freshly exposed stubble has enticed up the three Red Kites (above) and six Common Buzzards to search for food. As previously mentioned, this site looks very good for sky-watching, being on proven fly lines. I await a chance to test the theory. After 33 'blank' years, the migrant tortrix Cydia amplana tu

Mogador shines

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Two large chunks of the day were spent birding across the rank grassland and arable farmland of Mogador, the Surrey village that sounds like a place straight out of a Tolkien novel. For the first visit I was joined by local birder and Holmethorpe-legend, Gordon Hay. We were delighted to find that the first influx of autumn Meadow Pipits was apparent, with 50 birds in a loose flock that happily drifted around by our sides. At least five Wheatears and a couple of Stonechats entertained us, and the two Yellow Wagtails that came in from the north and alighted in the long grass were most welcome. It was not until the end of our visit that an immature male Common Redstart bestowed upon us a distant sighting. I was alone in the early afternoon, and it was at once apparent that there had been a further arrival of chats, the Stones having increased to three and a Whin newly in. All five of this mornings Wheatears had moved on, to be replaced by three fresh ones, clearly identifiable as new on p

1980 Part 7 - Cornwall and back

A mid-September Saturday saw me embark on the whistle-stop tour of Kent, starting at Shellness, on the Isle of Sheppey, where a marked passage of hirundines and pipits was most obvious, along with 100 grounded Meadow Pipits, eight Wheatears and eight Yellow Wagtails. Nearby Capel Fleet was playing host to an immature Marsh Harrier. We then dropped down and drove slowly across the flat greenlands of Walland Marsh, where 25 Yellow Wagtails, four Whinchats and a Common Redstart were seen from the car. Arriving at Dungeness it was all too apparent that little was happening, although the following morning was kind enough to bestow upon us an adult female Red-backed Shrike, along with a Turtle Dove and Whinchat. All were keeping low in the bushes thanks to a strengthening south-westerly wind. Along with Dave E, we were whisked down to Cornwall in the early hours of September 21st courtesy of Mike Mc’s Toyota Celica – speed trumped comfort as we lowered ourselves into the cramped interior. Fi

A 'new' location

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Yesterday I was walking back home from Epsom Town centre when I passed a gateway - a gateway that I have walked on by over the years - and noticed that the substantial field on the other side was being cut, the grass neatly piled and baled. My birding brain kicked in with "I bet there will be a Wheatear or two on top of those bales before the day is out" and I found myself back on site later that evening - no Wheatear, but at least six Common Buzzards were gathered, no doubt taking advantage of the recently cut grass to forage for food. I returned early this afternoon, and, joy of joys, two Wheatears were on show, along with seven Common Buzzards and a Red Kite. And there was more, for I went back two hours later and the Wheatears had been joined by three Whinchats! Now, this field is largely unbirdable, with private housing, a railway station and a mature Hawthorn hedgerow keeping observations down to the previously mentioned gateway - or so I thought. I have found a couple

1980 Part 6 - a few characters

I had been introduced to Mike McDonnell by Dave E, who had befriended him on the Isles of Scilly the previous autumn. Mike was a happy-go-lucky birder/photographer who lived in Dartford. I was to spend much time with him over the coming couple of years, regularly being driven to his house by Dave E, where we would invariably wait for Mike to gather his stuff, which would also involve his preparation of lunch for the day’s birding. Mike did not scrimp on his food – he would produce veritable feasts that would shame my simple sandwiches, often featuring an oversized thermos flask full of cuts of meat. It was never a dull moment with Mike, the time being passed with much laughter and the inevitable search for a decent pub at the day’s end. On this mid-August day, we had driven on to the north-Kent village of Cliffe, where a series of Thames-side pools could be found and had a reputation as being good for waders. Our haul included six Wood Sandpipers, 12 Ruffs and two Curlew Sandpipers, al

1980 Part 5 - mid-summer uncertainties

My time as an art student had come to an end. The social element of college life was something that I enjoyed, albeit on my own terms. I was known as someone that would join in when the collective hair was being let down (and our hair was still long for most of that period) but if a good bird was to suddenly appear, I would be missing. Birding came first. My frequent absences, because of last-minute decisions to go off to Dungeness, Norfolk, or the Isles of Scilly, were just accepted by my peers. In later years, one of my fellow students expressed his admiration for my self-confidence, and my willingness to please myself, not worrying about what others thought. It had come at a price however – whereas others had formed firm friendship groups, I was always on their edge, never one on the inside. I had turned and walked the other way whenever there was the hint of a relationship forming, so focussed was I on maintaining my birding connections. I believed that to show any drop in commitme

1980 Part 4 - The Dummer Scops Owl

Every five seconds a monotonous single call note was given – I didn’t know whether to describe it as a penetrating whistle or a hoot. Maybe a bit of both. We were straining to try and get a glimpse of the bird that was making it, but a mature tree in full leaf, in the middle of a field, and at dusk, were proving to be considerable stumbling blocks. After half an hour of standing on a road that ran alongside the field’s edge, the bird dropped out of the tree and made a short, direct flight into another, from where it started to call once more. We were lucky, as unlike most of the 150 birders present, we had been standing in the right place at the right time, able to watch the Scops Owl in flight. The views had not been great but were enough to make out a small grey owl, thinner and more drawn out in shape than a Little. And so, the sleepy Hampshire hamlet of Dummer found itself at the centre of the British birding universe, hosting the first twitchable Scop’s Owl of our lifetimes. Dave