Showing posts from February, 2021

Missing - km3

There are plenty of species missing from my latest lockdown list that, quite frankly, should have been recorded within the 3km circle by now. Cormorant, Red-legged Partridge, Great Black-backed Gull, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Brambling and Siskin immediately spring to mind - all should be recorded in the coming month. March should also see the first incoming 'summer' migrants along with a wider cast of passage migrants. If last year is anything to go by, the odd night-time surprise - calling wildfowl and waders - will be possible and readily accepted. These will otherwise be hard to record across this largely dry recording area. I am also hoping that the 100th species to be recorded from the garden will appear - it's been stuck on 99 since last April. My prediction would be Mediterranean Gull, although Little Egret, Common Snipe or a night-calling Dunlin would not be hugely surprising. The way birding goes it will probably fall to a left field species that was not on my radar,

Dartford dry - km3 audit

I am now 38 days into this current birding lockdown project. As we are almost at the month’s end, it seems like a good time to look at what it has provided - and, for an area that is half suburbia, half open land, I’d say that it has provided quite a lot. My home is on the south-western fringe of Banstead, happily surrounded by downland, horse-paddocks, farm and wood, but with plenty of residential area, particularly to the north. It is also dry, save for a couple of town/village ponds and one short section of a modest river. 74 species have been recorded, with the highlights (loose definition) being Red Kite, Peregrine, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Woodcock, Mediterranean Gull, Barn Owl, Little Owl, Kingfisher, Woodlark, Stonechat, Dartford Warbler (above), Firecrest, Marsh Tit, Raven, Hawfinch, Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting. On reading that list back, that isn't bad for an area just outside of a London Borough, with no appreciable water - a dry hinterland, if you will. The Dartford Wa

Beating the bounds

The past week has been mostly a case of beating the bounds of the '3km from home' circle. It has had its moments, with a Woodlark that circled the western-most fields at Canons Farm for a couple of minutes (on Monday) and an oh-so brief first-winter Mediterranean Gull on the football pitches at Priest Hill (today). In between these bursts of action it has been largely quiet, with Linnets (above) and Skylarks still present in fair numbers in the general area, plus signs of the early-Spring Stonechat passage getting underway, with five at Priest Hill this morning (where I spent some time unsuccessfully searching for a Dartford Warbler).

Late-winter colour

One of those lazy days spent in the garden, tidying up and getting ready for the coming season. Even though it was mild, and the odd sunny spell was enjoyed, no butterflies were seen. A few bees were on the wing (Buff-tailed and Honey) and the MV produced a March Moth. There is some colour in the garden, and over the past few days have taken a few pictures to capture it. Here's a selection. Daphne odora, same family as Spurge-laurel and Mezereon Iris 'Blue Note' Free-form jazz from the iris world. Nice... Iris 'Katharine's Gold'  Sarcococca confusa - or Christmas Box. Gives the winter air a punchy whiff The 'Daddy' of our Stinking Hellebores arrived here unaided. It grows wild nearby. Viburnum bodnantense - waxy blooms

One laid back Harrier

Mid-morning, Katrina suggested that, to break-up our lockdown fever, we go and visit one of our favourite garden centres which is nestled at the bottom of the north downs at Buckland. I'm not adverse to mooching around such establishments, so armed with face masks and hand-gel we undertook the short journey and were soon looking at our prospective plant purchases out in the open air. Now, this garden centre is placed in quite a good position to observe birds that might be making their way along the scarp slope. I have seen Hawfinch from here, plus observed decent Common Buzzard and hirundine passage in the past (whilst, of course, nodding sagely as my wife points out the plants to me). This morning was no different, and I had one eye on the sky as we were examining a quite delightful flowering witch-hazel. I couldn't help but notice a low raptor just in front of us. I had no optics, but this bird was so low and the light so good that I didn't need them - a dark, immature fe

Mr Holmethorpe's significant birthday

Our great friend Gordon Hay reaches a significant age tomorrow, so to mark that occasion the pencils came out and he was, this evening, presented with the artwork above. It is of the Holmethorpe Black-throated Diver that, back in February 2019, provided him with his 200th species of bird at those very same sand pits. Happy Birthday Gordon!

Thrush thaw - km3 (Days 21-24)

It is still cold outside, but the wind has shifted to the south-west and we are promised milder temperatures as from this evening. My Lapwing count has refused to budge over the past couple of days, and even though passage over Surrey has eased up, they are still being seen - I'll just have to chalk this down to bad luck, not being in the right place at the right time and the like. Locally there have been some sluggish thrushes moping about, too tame for their own good. Let's just hope that not too many have succumbed and the thaw will come to their rescue. I had my Covid jab on Saturday, at a major hub that has been set up at the Epsom Downs Racecourse. I walked (only 40 minutes on foot from home) but confused all of the volunteers because I didn't arrive by car. There was no pedestrian access so had to duck under tape and push aside crash barriers to enter and exit. Not all that low-carbon friendly! Arm aches, feel a bit flu-like, but those are small side-effects to have

Bolt holes and balm

Tring - a market town in Hertfordshire - was mentioned recently. My ears pricked up and, on hearing that town’s name, deep within me a warm glow of happiness was released. It was a reaction not unlike the salivation of Pavlov's dog to the sound of a bell, or Proust's relationship with the taste of a Madeleine biscuit. It was a physical and mental reaction in response to an unexpected trigger. Such reactions can come via a sound, a taste or, in my case, a word. And my word was Tring. It was my childhood home, the place where, between the ages of three and 12, I lived, a stone's-throw from open farmland and the Chiltern Beech woods. We moved away from Tring in 1970 - now 51 years ago - and my memories of those years are now becoming hazy. I can recall such things as the layout of our house, the garden, the roads close to home, my school and my friends. But they are largely snap shots, images that don't move, with no sound and no accompanying narrative. They are stills tha

Traces - km3 (Day 20)

Another morning that was spent in the snow at Canons Farm. I was on the edge of a cloud bank for much of the time, being in either bright sunshine or snow-bearing greyness - at times this line was clearly delineated and made for a surreal and spectacular sight - my left half bathed in a golden ‘warmth’, my right chilled and spattered with ice. Headline news (of sorts) was that I got in on the cold-weather movement that has been recorded over the past couple of days, with a modest return of 25 Lapwing west and a couple of Golden Plover north. The passerine flock that has been faithful to the site for several weeks now had reduced by 50% overnight, now numbering 100 birds (50 Skylark and 50 Linnet). They fed in the open, between bare strips dividing the rows of stubble, with the larks leaving some tell-tale traces behind in the snow (below). A bit of video of some of these birds feeding is also provided. A morning for living in the moment and appreciating what was set out before me.

Missing out - km3 (Days 13-19)

You wait three years for another 'Beast from the East' to turn up, and when it comes it has very little of the beast in it - better for the birds, not so good for the birder seeking a thrill. As far as the 3km area is concerned, the snow sort of came on Sunday and dribbled its way onto the ground throughout both Monday and today, in fits and starts. The easterly wind is cold, but is not getting above force 2-3, and does not carry that rapier like edge that the Beast did. Standing water has hardly frozen, and it was surprising to be walking along muddy paths this morning that were soft. However, some have been treated to a bit of overhead wader movement in response to the cold weather - to the north, south, east and west of me, Lapwings, Golden Plover and Common Snipe have enlivened many a skywatch, but even though I have diligently been out in the field for the past three days, not a single Lapwing has passed over me. I cannot complain, my home area has provided me with many me

If not a White-cheeked Tern, then what?

It is raining outside, Covid lockdown still has its grip upon us, so, as a refuge, let us travel back in time and revisit a bird that caused many eyebrows to be raised and a rarities committee to pronounce it as 'not proven'. I give you one White-cheeked Tern, at Dungeness, Kent on 13th May 1989. These are my notes that were submitted to the BBRC at the time. —————————————————————————————————————————— At approximately 10.00hrs, P Boxall, JP Siddle and RE Turley and myself were sitting in the common room at Dungeness Bird Observatory when two birdwatchers came into the room and, whilst chatting to us, casually mentioned that they had been watching a tern feeding over the 'patch'. They described it as being "a Black Tern with with white cheeks which was as large as a Common Tern". All four of us left our hot drinks and drove to the area of beach opposite the 'patch' - an area of sea disturbed by the power station outflow some 100m offshore. When we scann

Golden moments - km3 (Day 12)

I’ve been avoiding Epsom Downs because most of the good people of north Surrey seem to empty themselves onto the open grassland there, accompanied by dogs, bikes, bubble buddies, non bubble buddies, Lycra, kites, balls, scooters, horses, rucksacks, thermos flasks and those odd walking poles. Today I decided to (sort of) join them with my binoculars. It is a large enough area to be able to get away from the throng, and I spent a pleasant enough couple of hours on the southern flank. Undoubted highlight was a group of c20 Golden Plovers that moved through northwards, surprising in as much as such a sighting here would normally go hand-in-glove with hard weather. Able back-up came in the guise of a Peregrine. Apart from these birds however it really is very quiet. This lockdown 3km is hard work, but it isn’t as though there is anywhere else for me to go.

Crests and cocks - 3km (Days 10-11)

Woodcock real estate at Banstead Wood - two birds came out of this tangle A new month and, let's be frank, who isn't glad to see the back of January? A doubling of effort was called for this morning, with a dusting down of enthusiasm and a big kick to send moroseness into touch. Did they work? Well, sort of... I had two bird targets this afternoon, both in Banstead Wood and both species that had so far eluded me this year. First up was Firecrest. Local birder Ian Ward had located a pair over the weekend, and he had kindly mentioned the area that he had found them in. It was an area of semi-open woodland with a profusion of mature Holly. It only took five minutes to find one - then possibly two - although no song was heard. Next up was Woodcock. During the winter this wader can be flushed from the woodland floor, but it is rather hit or miss as to whether you will come across them. Luck (and patience) plays a big part, and for me both were present, as I flushed two in quick succ