Thursday, 23 February 2017

Dungeness interlude

A two-day trip to the shingle, staying at 'Hotel Hollingworth' where the current offers included a single-malt taster session, Champions League football, Tom Petty playing live in the lounge and personal chauffeur. I well may re-book...

A bit of a whistle-stop tour of the pits and avian highlights that resulted in a tidy total without much effort being needed - the drake Ring-necked Duck on Cooke's Pool was still present, the two roosting Long-eared Owls put in a welcome appearance by the dipping pool, both first-winter and second-winter Iceland Gulls were seen over the patch, a literal 'wild-goose' chase provided both five White-fronted and a single Pink-footed, plus back up sightings such as Smew, Peregrine, Merlin and Mediterranean Gulls. The sea was lively, as good numbers of Guillemots (2000), Razorbill (50) and Great Crested Grebe (330) littered the waves, with a steady offshore passage that included Red-throated Divers, Gannets, Fulmars and Brent Geese. It was a pleasure to catch up with many of the Dungeness 'family', including Chris P, Dave W, Martin C, Pete B, Pam S, Paul T and Barry C. A few dodgy record shots follow...

Drake Goldeneye on Burrowes...
...with a female close by
Redhead Smew from the Christmas Dell hide
Turnstone that interrupted my sea watch
Very dodgy record shot of the drake Ring-necked Duck

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Shaping up nicely

17.50hrs and I've just switched on the garden MV. I could make a case for it still being light, it is undeniably mild and there are several Blackbirds in full song. Yes, it really does feel like spring! My visit to Priest Hill yesterday afternoon was made in (relative for February) positively balmy conditions - weak sun, no wind, just a jumper on - but the downside was that the weather seems to have given notice to the birds that had been present there recently, as not a single winter thrush remained and I could not find any of the Reed Buntings. A winter clear out to make way for the first spring migrants? Too early for a White-arse maybe, but just right for a trickle of these little beauties...

Friday, 17 February 2017

Inverts to the fore

Last night the garden MV was switched on for the first time this year. In previous winters I have run it throughout January and February, accepting each blank as something to endure in my quest to record those few species that do fly when the nights are long and cold. As the years have rolled by my enthusiasm for these nil returns has faded somewhat. However, it was mild enough overnight to expect something in the trap, and so it proved to be, with two Pale Brindled Beauties (above) and a Light-brown Apple Moth - both species to be expected but welcome all the same.

While photographing the moths this morning in gloriously mild and sunny weather, the Stinking Hellebores were attracting a few insects to their flowers, with Buff-tailed Bumblebees (Bombus terrestris, below) and Western Honey Bees (Apis mellifera) being the most numerous. By early afternoon I was surprised not to have seen a butterfly.

I am assuming that the top images are of a worker, with the bottom image being a much larger queen.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Just standing still

At times you can thrash a patch for little reward. My mid-day/early afternoon visit to Canons Farm had seen me yomp across fields, crash through woodland and march up and down hollows - and all I could ascertain was that it was quiet - very quiet indeed. As I approached Canons Farmhouse I did consider cutting my losses and moving on, but instead resolved to stand by the 'watchpoint' and just see what would come to me - and as it happened, quite a bit did. First up were two Red Kites, which meandered their way westwards (cue dodgy record shot of the leading bird). At least four Common Buzzards were in the vicinity, with one pair indulging in a wrestling match on Broadfield, being watched, and then joined, by two Carrion Crows. Scanning the tree-line of Lambert's Shaw was rewarded with the constant too-ing and fro-ing of a large mixed thrush flock, comprising 125 Redwing and 50 Fieldfare. Turning my back on all of this activity then revealed 50+ Skylark and c40 Linnets playing hide-and-seek in Tart's Field. It was an altogether agreeable hour which was also blessed with what can only be described as warm sunshine. Sometimes you don't need to try at all, but just stand still and wait...

Monday, 13 February 2017

Back in the saddle

It's been cold, hasn't it? The thermometer might not have hit the lows that it had done earlier in the year, but the low grey gloom, piercing easterly wind and stinging sleet kept this part-time birder indoors. I found myself a new natural-history themed project to get my teeth into, but more about that another time.

Back to today. Sun! What a treat, all day sunshine which, when out of the still persistent easterly, had a touch of warmth about it. I ended up on Walton Downs, part of which is taken up by Langley Vale Farm - the very same farm where the Woodland Trust is creating the Millennium Wood. I've banged on about this project at length, mainly from the perspective of worrying that the rich arable plant flora will be lost, the ancient shaws and hedgerows be irretrievably merged into the new planting, and that the few pairs of Lapwings that breed there will disappear.

There was a lot of activity going on. A tractor was disturbing the soil in fields to the north of Round Wood, not a ploughing per se, more of a scarifying. Up to 400 Jackdaw, 300 Black-headed Gull and 75 Common Gull were in close attendance. Teams of men were erecting a high fence across the field south of Little Hurst Wood, and when I say high I'm talking 2m plus! More planting appears to have been carried out in the fields butting up to the 'drove way' footpath that leads towards Headley. And the scarifying of further fields has been carried out on the eastern side of the site, with more of those awful plastic pipes for the protection of young trees dumped alongside. It doesn't look promising... however, just to stop me from becoming all 'doom and gloom', one of these fields held a resting flock of 17 Lapwings - they were gone three hours later.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

An inspirational man

Social media was reporting last night that the entomologist, Bernard Skinner, has died. I don't think it is exaggerating to say that he was most probably responsible for inspiring more people to take up an interest in moths than any other person, all thanks to his ground-breaking 'The Colour Identification Guide to Moths of the British Isles' that was first published in 1984. Before this marvellous book came along, most of us were struggling to identify our moths using South's two volumes, which both dated from 1907! With the publication of Bernard's book, we were able to pore over colour plates of set specimens, all photographed to scale, showing upper and underwings. Each species had a succinct write up, informing us of similar species, identification pointers, variations, status, range, flight times and larval food plants. Where considered necessary, line drawings were supplied to aid identification.

I purchased the book soon after its publication, and was used to the point of disintegration, being taken out into the field at every opportunity. In the end I needed to replace it with the second (updated) edition. Today we are spoilt for choice with field guides for moths, but back in 1984 this book was simply revolutionary. It was also at a time when the birding fraternity was looking for other forms of natural history to embrace, especially during the summer months. Many took up the 'moth baton' and most of these were inspired to do so because of Bernard's book.

I didn't know him, but did meet him on several occasions. On the first meeting I was nervous about talking to him, and will admit to being a tiny bit star-struck, but he put me at ease and came across as a down-to-earth and modest man. I never did thank him for helping me to move from the status of 'complete novice' to 'passable lepidopterist', but I do owe him a debt of gratitude. Without his book, I would still be floundering with Mr. South. So, belatedly, thank you Bernard.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

When Belted Galloways attack!... vegetation

BEFORE the ungulates start chomping
AFTER they have been let loose for a couple of months
The top two photographs, taken at Priest Hill this morning, illustrate how the Belted Galloway cattle have removed the dead vegetation from the largest field, opening it up for Skylarks and Meadow Pipits to populate this coming spring. The beasts have now been moved to the other (two) smaller fields to start the chomping process all over again. A lively visit, with thrushes starting to gather and good counts of Stock Dove and Starling being made. Kestrel (1), Green Woodpecker (6), Stock Dove (30), Skylark (10), Fieldfare (15), Redwing (160), Stonechat (1 male), Starling (225), Reed Bunting (5, including a very smart male).

The garden feeders back home have seen a ready procession of takers enjoying the sunflower hearts on offer. So far, Blackcap (female), Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Robin, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit and House Sparrow have been regulars, with Blackbird, Dunnock, Wood Pigeon and Collared Dove hoovering up the crumbs underneath. There is one species of bird that eats far more than all the others put together. Any guesses? Like a clue?