Showing posts from March, 2021

Summer lovin'...

...happened so fast. After a few hours stomping around Epsom Downs, a male Wheatear appeared close to the grandstand, that made for a good end to the birding session. More to come in the next few days hopefully.

Birding without Borders

Fancy spending a whole year travelling the world to see how many species of bird that you can rack up in twelve months? Well, if you do, don't try and then write a book about the experience, because that will be a harder proposition than the 365-day birding jaunt was... I have just finished Noah Strycker's account of his 2015 odyssey, titled ' Birding without Borders - (BWB) '. I was looking forward to reading this, having read nothing but positive reviews. I had already read Alan Davies and Ruth Miller's account of their 2008 world record attempt ( The Biggest Twitch - (TBT) ) and it was interesting to compare the two books. BWB comes in at 326 pages, with a large and airy font. This means that the book is not particularly word heavy. The author was out in the field every day, no breaks, and (spoiler alert) recorded 6,042 species. It is reasonable to understand that this means that there are more days spent in the field than there are pages in the book, and that if

24 year grip-back

On January 1st 1997 I had spent a memorable morning at Holmethorpe Sand Pits in the company of Gordon Hay. We had found an Iceland Gull, at first light on Mercer's Lake; a Peregrine had blasted through above our heads (it was still a notable species then); recent cold weather had left a whole suite of wildfowl to pick through, that included Scaup, Pintail and Smew; unfrozen ditches had given up Water Rail, Jack Snipe and Woodcock - it was a splendid few hours of local birding. I had to return home for an afternoon family get-together, so left Gordon on his own shortly before mid-day. And just after mid-day he was treated to the sight of six Whooper Swans fly in, circle the lake, and fly out again. To say that I was disappointed to have missed them is not to be down-played. In fact, only yesterday I was thinking about them, and still managed to give out a huff.  News broke this morning that five Whooper Swans had been found yesterday (18th) on Earlswood Lakes, just outside of Redhil

The ND&B migrant index

For a bit of fun, and to spice up what could be a long and difficult spring's birding (lockdown, sticking to dry inland patches, etc), I've devised a scoring system for the more notable migrants. It is loosely based on my perceived status of each species at a local level (hence why acrocephalus warblers have a higher score than might otherwise be expected). Being basically dry (only one modest ‘village’ pond) almost all wildfowl and waders will be flyovers and of few species. Each individual bird scores, thus a flock of 5 Yellow Wagtails would score 15 points. I will also score birds as bird/days, so a Black Redstart that stays on site, and which I observe over four different days, will score 28 points in total. All meaningless but a bit of fun - it will, at the very least, amuse me. The patches that will be covered are all within two miles of home: Priest and Howell Hill; Canons Farm; Epsom and Walton Downs. Plus the garden and anywhere in-between. 1pt   Wheatear, Willow Warbl

Time. Experience. Drive. Luck

How can you get the best out of your birding, particularly if, by getting the best, you actually mean finding good birds? You could do a lot worse than viewing the YouTube video in which Niels Goulem interviews Belgian birder Johan Buckens, about the methods behind his tremendous track record of finding rarities. You can view it  here .  Johan comes across as a modest, laid back and pragmatic birder. There are no major revelations to his success, but for it all to be neatly packaged is most helpful. He does start by emphasising that if you bird inland, you are at a major disadvantage (at this point I could only nod incessantly in agreement). He is also quick to point out that even if you live by the coast, specific locality can still be a game changer. He had four main areas of attack - Time (the amount of time you spend), Experience (the ability to know when you are on to something and where those ‘somethings’ might hide), Drive (the willingness to keep on at it) and Luck . He was

Waiting for that eureka moment

At the moment my birding time is not, in my opinion, being fairly rewarded, beyond that of being able to see the totally expected. In an ideal world that wouldn't matter, as it should be enough just to be out in the open and accept whatever comes along. However, currently that doesn't work for the ‘spoilt brat’ within me, and I am starting to think that the birding Gods are not on my side. So I plod on, waiting for that eureka moment that is surely getting closer!  Almost an all-dayer today, split between Epsom Downs and Canons Farm, both sites unrewarding. With a few Mediterranean Gulls being picked up across the county I was on high alert, but few 'smaller' gulls were on show. Apart from a group of Herring Gulls on the race course, most were high and overhead. It is always worth checking anything on the deck here, but nothing warranted a second look. The picture above has, in the foreground, one of the hummocky-strips that contours the race course on the southern flan

Thursday Dunnock, and some cakes!

...a Dunnock whose photo was taken some time last week and certainly not on a Thursday. This is was happens when it is blowing a hoolie outside, it is pouring with rain, and when I open up a blog post and my mind blanks. Today's big news is that Welsh Owen has been roundly beaten by English Lee in the making of Welsh Cakes, a kind of retro 'Dungeness Bake Off' if you will. I will now post images of some of my recent baking efforts in an attempt to join in and fill some space. Expect Kentish Jacques to join in the fun very soon... Apple and Apricot Cake Dorset Apple Cake Lime, Ginger and Coconut Cake

Meandering memories

Some time ago I posted about my formative years in Tring, Hertfordshire (1962-70). You can, if you so desire, read that by clicking here . I had reason to reminisce earlier today and a whole tranche of additional 'Tring' memories came flooding back, which I feel the need to commit to 'virtual paper'. Here they are. We lived in Fantail Lane, a new build cul-de-sac on the edge of this quaint market town, with fields and hedgerows within sight. These early-60s houses had been built on fields, and were overlooked by an old disused windmill, called Goldfield Mill. It was the shape of a stout pepper pot with its sails (and fantail) removed (left). I accepted its presence as much as I did the kerbstones and pavement, but there cannot be many homes that had a sentinel windmill surveying all that we did. It was called Goldfield, which also happened to be the name of the brand new infants school that I went to. Prior to this I attended a red-brick Victorian building that was then

Buzzing with Kites

We are now getting to the time of year when, here in Banstead, we see a marked increase in raptor movement, primarily Common Buzzards (with a few Red Kites thrown in for good measure). For a number of years now the Buzzards have been a feature of spring, with the local breeders sharing the skies with their congeners that are passing through. Last year saw plenty of time to keep an eye on the local sky thanks to lockdown, so I was in a good position to monitor this phenomenon.  Between March 21st - May 9th, 145 Common Buzzards and 45 Red Kites passed over the garden, mostly moving through in an easterly direction. The Buzzards tended to slowly drift through the air-space, with the Kites far more direct. I was careful not to count the local birds. I can see two resident pairs from the garden, or at least can see them when they indulge in a bit of extra-limital displaying. Any benign day in late-March to early May will provide a bit of movement, with the highest number of birds in one gro

What of 2101?

I've got a little project on the go that has meant that I am trawling through back copies of the London Bird Report (LBR). In the past few days I have gone from 1941 up to 1980, which has been a labour of love. The London Bird Report has been published on an almost annual basis since 1936 and is highly regarded, having had a long-list of ornithological 'names' as its editor down the years. I’m looking at the report from 1941. Observer’s initials personify the published sightings from all of eighty years ago, like ghosts waving at us from down the years. These observers are all now long dead, but here I am, in 2021, sharing with Howard Bentham, through the medium of ink on paper, his description of a pair of Mealy Redpolls that he saw at Tadworth on April 6th; or reading about L I Carrington’s prowess in finding London’s only breeding Cirl Buntings, on the rim of Surrey. Will somebody be reading of my records, 80 years hence, in the LBR of 2101? Almost certainly not from a p