Showing posts from January, 2021

Moths, at least - 3km (Days 8-9)

The birding may have been mundane, but the moths have started to show, with the past two nights resulting in four Spring Usher (above) and a single Agonopterix heracliana. Over at Priest Hill are several clumps of Mistletoe, low down enough to be able to almost touch. Illustrated above are the profusion of berries, plus some soon to open flower-buds. With February coming up on Monday, and the daylight stretching out into the evening, there is definitely a feel of Spring. For me, it will be welcome like no other.

A wobble - 3km (Days 5-7)

The continuing lockdown, and the reduction of my birding footprint, got to me yesterday. I stayed indoors and chose to feel sorry for myself, watching films on the TV in preference to getting out to go birding. As pathetic as this sounds, I can be prone to a low mood at times, and, without going into detail, do have valid reasons for being like it from time to time. And, at times like these, it is best to cut myself some slack and not punish myself for feeling like it. So, what of the birding that I have done? Well, on Tuesday I ventured to the only bit of water that is likely to supply a few birds, that of Bourne Hall Lake and the adjacent River Hogsmill. Let me temper any visualisation that you may have of these water bodies - the lake is a modest pond and the river a stream. But, they are wet enough for me to have added Mute Swan, Greylag and Canada Goose, Tufted Duck, Kingfisher and Grey Wagtail to the list. Just over the 3km border, so close but so far, is a section of the river w

Comeback tit - 3km (Day 4)

The two inches of snow that fell in the Banstead area yesterday was still in place, with sub-zero temperatures overnight giving it all a hard crust, the roads and pavements being slippery as a further result. After the big influx of Skylarks at Canons Farm as a result of the weather, I returned to monitor their number - still 120 present, but down from yesterday’s 200. They were feeding on a couple of the western-most fields along with 150+ Linnets. When they all took to flight, the flurry of clean whites and buffs in such dazzling light, under lit by the reflecting snow, was dazzling. Adjacent to the farm, on the eastern flank, is Banstead Woods. I spent an hour trying to kick up a Woodcock (in which I failed), but a great success was locating a single Marsh Tit, my first here for several years. When I used to visit these woods from the late-70s this species was ‘a given’, 2-3 individuals easily picked up within just a few minutes. Alas, over the last 10-15 years it has been a difficu

Snow - 3km (Day 3)

For those of us who live on the edges of London, snow is almost as unusual as finding as BBRC rarity - not quite annual and worth talking about when it does happen. The 'white stuff' started to fall by mid-morning and deposited a good couple of inches before stopping by lunch time. My knee-jerk reaction to snow is to stare up into the skies just in case a few birds have been made to move, but it takes more than a bit of localised winter to stir things up. Never the less, I did visit Canons Farm this afternoon and the snow had in fact played its part in providing a bit more to look at, as at least 200 Skylarks had gathered on InFront George East (that is the name of a field by the way), along with 75 Linnets. The Barn Owl put on a further show, short video attached. I will continue to stare up, hoping for a wayward Golden Plover or Snipe to add to the growing 3km lockdown list.

Discovery - 3km (Day 2)

Three kilometres from home is not a big distance. And when you have lived in the same house for over 30 years, you would expect to know all of those three kilometres intimately, in whatever direction that you choose to take from your front door. And you would be wrong. If lockdown has any silver lining it is that our enforced retreat into the home area opens up the possibility of discovery. When I look at an OS map of my home area, I am familiar with what lies due south (and to a certain extent north) of me - but not so much to the west and certainly hardly anything to the north-east. I have walked thousands of miles from home, quite literally, but for some reason my inner-compass has taken me away from the north-east. Today I went in search of this 'empty quarter'. I started with a visit to Priest Hill (north-west and 15+ Greenfinch), then Banstead Downs (north and 40+ Redwing), then veered of into the mysterious north-east. Here I hit the edge of my 3km square, hard up agains

Owls - 3km (Day 1)

A post-midnight Tawny Owl, heard calling from the gardens in front of the house, kicked off this latest lockdown sideshow. Two brief birding forays were made - this morning to Priest Hill (very quiet, scratching around for the odd Redwing or Meadow Pipit) - and this afternoon to Canons Farm, where a Barn Owl put on a hunting performance between 14.30 - 45hrs, before being seen to re-enter its roosting site having caught nothing. A very modest video can be endured, above. A flock of 50+ Skylarks and a group of 8 Meadow Pipit helped rescue a rather quiet time. And so the first day (of who knows how many) is underway - bringing with it the chance to discover all sorts of wonderful natural history on my doorstep, or, if not, a step closer to madness.

Biting the bullet

The 3km circle based on the shape of a square. All is explained... They're all at it, all of my blogging chums - Seth, Jono, Stewart, Gavin, Dylan - you can see their blogs over on the right hand side of the screen under the 'Worthy Blogs' tab. And what have they all been up to? Adopting lockdown recording areas, close to home and in the spirit of community welfare, that's what. And all credit to them for doing so. Some of them have decided to record in an area within a five kilometre circumference from home - others have plumped to go imperial and swap kilometres for miles. As for me, I’ve dithered about somewhat. At the end of last year I’d decided to keep within my Uber patch, but that is an area where the extremities need a car journey. After the early-January lockdown I switched to my mini-Uber patch, the furthest point being maybe two-hours on foot from home. But, in light of the way that this pandemic is evolving, there was no way that I now feel comfortable in e

We will remember them

When the Woodland Trust purchased Langley Bottom Farm several years ago, it most probably saved this corner of the Surrey downs from becoming yet another golf course or, worse still, a housing estate. The farmland of the north downs has always struggled to provide well, with the dry chalky soil riddled with flints and it does not carry much value. Langley Bottom Farm had been cared for sympathetically, with a good arable flora and set-aside strips and game cover present that catered for a small shoot. Lapwings still bred on three fields and a good population of Skylarks were present all year round. Small copses had been left alone, and much of the hedgerow was deep and ancient. Needless to say, when the Woodland Trust revealed their plans for the farm, and of their intention to plant it with trees to create a commemorative wood, the local naturalists were concerned. After several meetings with interested parties a compromise was agreed. Open fields would be left for the Lapwings, and a

Getting to know you

Not the hedgerow mentioned in the text, but one of many to check across the site Seeing that most of us are adhering to lockdown rules, our birding footprint has become a much smaller one, modestly centred around our homes. I have become slightly obsessed with what I can hope to find on Epsom and Walton Downs, especially as I can easily walk there in 20 minutes, and the furthest point is only a further 30 minutes on from there. Canons Farm is a similar distance, and a place where I have had far more birding success, but it is the former site that is interesting me at the moment - and I do tend to think of it  - Epsom and Walton Downs - as one site, even though cartographers may argue otherwise. The farm fields and copses flow across the boundary lines, as do the Skylarks, thrushes and chats. Historically E&W Downs have thrown up good birds and good counts. During the 1960s and 70s they were actively covered and the Surrey Bird Reports of the time make interesting reading. My own mo

The chat mystery

Another lockdown walk from home saw me scouring the fields, copses and downland across Epsom and Walton. Yet again it was underwhelming. Very few birds seem to be wintering here, certainly not the expected numbers of finches and thrushes during the winter months. Even the Skylarks, which numbered 125+ only last week, have dwindled away. So, thank goodness for Stonechats! One of my favourite species at any time of the year, but when you have them performing on a grey and dreary morning, when there appears to be little else on offer, they become even more special. Last Sunday I had found a pair, lurking with the sheep, down in a fold in the hills on the border of Epsom and Walton Downs. Two days ago they had enticed another male to join them. This morning, all three were still present and correct. Or were they? On looking closely at the female, I could see that it was ringed - the female that I had watched earlier in the week had not been. So, either this is a new bird (and the other has


For a number of years, I have trawled across the footpaths of the Uberpatch and come across these white posts. And for a number of years I have dismissed them, assuming that they are boundary markers of a parish council or administrative border. Recently curiosity has got the better of me... They are coal tax boundary markers. Coal imported into the City of London had been taxed since medieval times and, as it was originally all brought by sea to riverside wharfs, the collection of the duties was relatively easy. By the 19th century however, there was increasing trade by canal and rail, and various Acts of Parliament extended the catchment area to include these new modes of transport. In 1845 the boundary was set at a radius of 20 miles from the General Post Office , London . In 1851 an Act permitted the erection of boundary markers to indicate where this boundary lay; and about fifty markers were erected. In 1861 a further Act was passed, reducing the area to that of the Metropolita

It's psyllid time

We have plenty of Red Valerian in the garden, a plant I like due to its ability to attract insects. I had noticed that a clump, by our front steps, was exhibiting a rose-coloured gall along some leaf edges, so investigated further. It is a fairly straightforward identification apparently - it is caused by Trioza centranthi (a species of Psyllid). When looking at the above image on the computer, I noticed that there was an insect on the leaf that I had photographed. The resulting magnified crop is below. Could it be? Well, identifying the adults is meant to be tricky, way beyond my skill-set, but looking at images of adults on-line, this looks like a good match. Its presence on the food plant must count for something, if nothing more than a strong suggestion that this is, indeed, an adult  Trioza centranthi . An enjoyable lockdown interlude.

Fog and ice

A hard frost with a large helping of fog greeted me at dawn this morning. A route-march up onto Epsom Downs soon had me warm, and a quick circuit across the race-course and the fields of Walton Downs provided the following highlights: 8 Red-legged Partridge, 70+ Skylark and a pair of Stonechats. The male of the latter was ringed - I cannot get anything on the inscription, but it looks like a newish BTO-type band. I'd like to think that it was ringed by those kind people at Dungeness Bird Observatory, and it has quite rightly decided to pay this corner of Surrey a visit... The vegetation remained resolutely iced, frosted, hoary and rimed. Rather invigorating.

Going local to prevent going loco

The latest Government suggestion is that we behave as if we ‘have the virus’, which would mean that none of us leave home for any reason at all - no shopping, no going to work, no exercise. The GOV.UK website is, however, suggesting that we can still exercise, once a day and locally. There is no definition of ‘local’ nor of any time constraint. And does exercise mean that we can birdwatch during said exercise? From a personal point of view, seeing that the government have announced that fishing and rough shooting can be considered as exercise, I’m taking that as a green light to carry my binoculars without guilt. As for the vague definition of what is local, I’ve decided to only birdwatch from home, on foot. In effect this has confined my birding radius to Canons Farm, Epsom and Walton Downs, Epsom Common and the watery Ewell sites (plus the dry Priest Hill). Of course we may get further directives which are more detailed, and these may alter my take on it, but for the time being this

Confined to barracks

A morning walk from home, to Ewell and back, via Priest Hill. The birds were largely forgettable, save for a show-off Kingfisher (close to the mill along the River Hogsmill). Priest Hill provided a most unusual gathering - three birders! I have seen Steve Thomas there on several occasions (along with his better-half Alison), but this morning we were joined by Shaun Ferguson, who has just moved into the area. We chatted for a few minutes at a safe distance and tried to bouy each other up with confident declarations of the good birding yet to be had on our doorsteps. Enthusiasm or delusion? We will see.  My plans to spend more time this year at both Beddington and Holmethorpe are now having to be put on the back burner, as both are a good 7-9 miles from home and beyond a comfortable walk. Canons Farm, Epsom Downs and the Ewell sites are going to have to take over the role as the places to bird - all easily reached on foot and all with a modest, but at times noteworthy, birding pedigree.

Walking safely

  Birding lockdown walk (number one) was a circular affair from home, looping across Epsom and Walton Downs, then onto Walton Heath. Very quiet, with the birds coming in sudden bursts - 125 Skylarks across two fields, 30 Meadow Pipits in a flock, a pair of Stonechats, plus maybe 60 Fieldfares and 150 Redwing (above). Botanical highlight was my annual visit to the (expanding) patch of Green Hellebore in a copse on Walton Downs (below). Not much of it was in flower. If I had have found a Little Bunting, or Great Grey Shrike, or Black-throated Thrush, I wouldn't really have been able to announce it, what with all the restrictions currently in place. So when I do, you won't know. If I have already, I couldn't say...

The best laid plans...

 ... of birds and men, often go awry. There was I, back in December, spouting on about my plans and targets for the uberpatch - but, if I'm being honest, in the back of my mind I knew that another Lockdown was a strong possibility. And tonight, that lockdown has been nationally declared. There are positives for those of us that have so far escaped the negatives. The two vaccines that are being rolled out and delivered to arms will, God willing, start to suppress the virus. There was suggestion that, everybody who fell within the government's definition of the most urgent cases for the jab, would receive their first of two by mid-February. As somebody that is considered to be 'clinically vulnerable' this is positive stuff. Another positive is that there is recognition of the need to get out into the fresh air for exercise. I've just been on the governments website which states: exercise with your household (or support bubble) or one other person, this should be limit

Dunnock in the dank

  Dank early starts seem to be a theme so far this year in Banstead, this mornings rain doing little to help brighten up an already stygian sky. By the time I'd made the short journey to Canons Farm, a developing brightness in the sky soon gave way to a couple of wintry showers. Undaunted, I donned the wellington boots and braved the muddy interior... The farm was quiet. As any seasoned Canons birder will tell you though, even if the first 19 fields you check are empty, the 20th might just hold the prize. My prize(s) were not of the rare, or even of the scarce, but of several flocks that were, if nothing else, notebook fodder. Highlights of 40 Skylark, 40 Fieldfare, 80 Redwing, 200 Starling, 210 Chaffinch, 170 Linnet and 3 Yellowhammer can hardly be called shabby though. A tame Dunnock (top) and Blackbird (below) posed for the camera.

Footpaths of mud

New Year's Day dawned grey, foggy and eerily quiet in Banstead. The silence was finally broken by a singing Robin, once again this species claiming the coveted 'first bird of the year' award. My birding endeavours were modest, partly in response to the COVID situation and my not wanting to share space with others, so no coast, no hides and no rarity. With this in mind I had devised a circular rambling walk along some of the lesser-known footpaths to be found in the Reigate - Betchworth area. There was some method involved, as the walk took in the sites of two species that are not a staple diet of Uber-patch birding. Priory Park, Reigate boasts a small lake that, later on in the day, would be the scene of family gatherings, with toddlers riding Christmas bikes and scooters, prams and push-chairs being pushed, dogs yapping and frazzled parents parenting. One of my targets, the 'wintering' Ring-necked Duck, was still present on New Year's Eve, and was delighted to