Sunday, 13 April 2014

Somewhere in the Surrey Hills...

Sometimes you need to engineer a change to get your enthusiasm back, to recharge your batteries or to keep your mind sharp. So far this year my local birding has been, well, predictable. Last week saw me take part in - and enjoy -  an organised visible migration watch from Leith Hill Tower (see here).  This made me try something different this morning, so rather than head for the 'same old, same old',  I took an OS Map, my binoculars and headed for the outer Surrey Hills, to explore places that I only vaguely knew, or hadn't visited at all. It was just what the doctor ordered...

It was a glorious morning. The woodland ground flora is well advanced, with lots of Bluebells already in flower, with plenty of Wood Anemone, Greater Stitchwort, Cuckooflower and even a patch of Yellow Archangel colouring the scene. Around me were calling Cuckoos, singing Willow Warblers and Firecrests. Venturing out onto more open ground, a few hirundines were heading north, with Swallows and House Martins arrowing northwards while above them up to 20 Common Buzzards were wheeling, displaying and soaring. They were not the only raptors. 4 Sparrowhawks, a Red Kite and best of all both male and female Goshawks were recorded, the latter species showing particularly well, the female an enormous beast. An area of heathland held displaying Tree Pipits, singing Siskins and loafing Common Crossbills. Most agreeable.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Back to work

After three months of bone-idleness I find myself back at work for the next fortnight - employed as a graphic designer in a small studio. My freelance career is thus launched. With a mixture of nervousness and excitement I entered the fray yesterday morning, but soon got into the swing of things. It helps that the other designers are very friendly and are kindly spoon-feeding me projects to work on.

I have hardly checked my phone for the past two days and 'summer migrants' are but a figment of other birders imagination, as I have seen precisely Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Sand Martin so far this spring - utter pants for April 8th! However, think of the adrenalin rush that I will get when I do wander out again in several days time, to be surrounded by singing Reed and Sedge Warblers, calling Cuckoos, displaying Bee-eaters, flocks of scything Alpine Swifts, lurking Bluethroats...

I'd better stop now.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Vis-migging for the hard of seeing

There are birding places that are famed for the sheer spectacle of the avian migration that appears above them - The Bosphorus. Eilat. Falsterbo. The Straits of Gibraltar. Leith Hill. Hold on, what was that last place mentioned? Leith Hill? That pimple of a hill to be found in deepest, darkest, southern Surrey?

National Trust ranger and Indiana Jones look-a-like Sam Bayley has set up a migration watchpoint from Leith Hill Tower (the top of which measures in at a dizzying 1026 feet above sea-level). Big for us southerners, laughably small to you northerners. This morning was the first organised watch and eight motley Surrey birders (including myself) gathered out of a mixture of enthusiasm, nosiness and a belief that our much-maligned county has a migration hot-spot waiting to be discovered.

We gathered at 05.45hrs in the dark. And in the fog. The picture above was taken at 07.00hrs, in the fog. You can just see the sun fighting a losing battle with the stuff. We were still fog-bound at 09.30hrs. Then it cleared. Not the most auspicious start to this brave new enterprise. But, when all was wrapped up at 13.00hrs we had recorded Peregrine, Common Buzzard, Raven, Firecrest, Crossbill and  Brambling among others. None of these were actually moving through though - to be honest little was moving, although a Swallow did nip through northwards and three Lapwings coasted west.

However, it was an enjoyable morning, the fog-shrouded (and mostly bird-less) hours filled with much banter and preposterous predictions as to what might be seen from here in future watches. Black Kite seems to be the most realistic of the suggestions. Watch this space...

Friday, 4 April 2014

Bohemian 'Chinese Pond Heron' Rhapsody

RIP Chinese Pond Heron - found dead last week in Hythe (with apologies to all fans of Bohemian Rhapsody and Queen)

Is this a real tick?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in confusion,
No escape from reality.

I open my eyes,
Look up to Hythe and see,
I'm just a twitcher, I need your sympathy,
Because I'm not easy come, easy go,
I tick a few, but some say no,
Anyway the splits go, it really does all matter to me, to me.

Someone, just killed Pond Heron,
But took away its head,
Left some feathers, now he's dead.
Pond Heron, life-list had just begun,
But now you've gone and died and flown away.

Pond Heron, ooh,
Didn't want to see you die,
If your not back on my list this time tomorrow,
I'll carry on, carry on, although it really, really matters.

Too late, your time had come,
Sent shivers down Birdline,
The Grim Reaper calling time.
Goodbye, Pond Heron, you had to go,
Gotta leave us all behind to find the truth.

Pond Heron, ooh (anyway the wind blows),
Didn't want to see you die,
I sometimes wish you'd never turned up at all.

I see a little silhouetto of a man,
Lee Evans, Martin Garner, will you do the identification?
Remiges and retrices,
Very, very frightening me.
(Can I tick it?) please tell me.
(Can I tick it?) please tell me.
Can I put it on my list?

I'm just a poor birder nobody understands me.
He's just a poor birder divorced from his family,
Spare him his life-list from this monstrosity.

Easy come, easy go, but will you let me tick?
It's a Squacco! No, we will not let you tick. (Let me tick!)
It's a Squacco! No, we will not let you tick. (Let me tick!)
It's a Squacco! No, we will not let you tick. (Let me tick!)
Will not let you tick. (Let me tick!)
Never, never let you tick
Never let me tick, oh.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no.
Oh, Mr Evans, Mr Garner (Evans, Garner, let me tick.)
Chinese Pond Heron has a tick put aside for me, for me, for me.

So you think you can fool me and blind my birding eye?
So you think you can deny me and leave me to cry?
Oh, Pond Heron, can't do this to me, Pond Heron,
Just gotta tick, just gotta get a tick outta this.

(Oh, yeah, oh yeah)

Nothing really matters,
Anyone can see,
It's a Chinese Pond Heron,
That's all that matters to me.

Anyway the wind blows.

(Dedicated to those of you who spent far too much time sitting in a car on top of that Hythe hill waiting for the pond heron to 'fly in')

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

In a world of wounds

In George Monbiot's latest post (click here), he writes:

To understand what is happening to the living planet, the great conservationist Aldo Leopold remarked, is to live “in a world of wounds … An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”

In my ignorance, I have only vaguely heard of Aldo Leopold. I was intrigued to see from where this quote was taken. It comes from his book 'A Sand County Almanac' and was published in 1949. 

I had to read that date of publication again. 1949. The quote seems so fresh, so now. It only goes to prove that the realisation that our planet is not well because of the hand of man is not a modern phenomena. It's just that, in the intervening years since Mr. Leopold's observation, very few of those in a position to do so have done much to alleviate the planet's ailing health. 

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Moth-mugged by a Robin and a Box Bug

I put the MV out in the garden last night and had a modest, but welcome catch: Early Thorn (1), Red-green Carpet (1), March Moth (1), Double-striped Pug (5), Hebrew Character (3), Oak Beauty (2), Common Quaker (5), Early Grey (2), Oak Nycteoline (1), Emmelina monodactyla (3) and Acleris literana (1).

One of the Oak Beauties was, as the name suggests, a beauty, so I couldn't pass up the chance to get a decent photograph of it. I placed the moth on the trunk of a tree and waited for it to settle. As I was doing so, I felt something land on my head. I was then was aware of something hovering an inch in front of my nose. And finally registered the Robin as it picked off the Oak Beauty and landed on the lawn not ten feet away where it proceeded to have a late breakfast.

If I ever catch a scarce moth in the garden I take my pictures in an enclosed porch, mainly to insure against them flying off into the distance. I will now do so to stop Robins from mugging me.

Shortly after that little episode, I was pleased to find this Box Bug on the garage wall, a species that has broken away from its former range of 'Box Hill' and is coming to a garden near you soon (if it hasn't already). This was my first.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Wheatear Trophy Winner 2014

The North Downs and beyond Wheatear Trophy is up there in kudos with an Academy Award Oscar or the Nobel Peace Prize. Grown men have been known to cheat, steal and commit acts of violence to try and get their hands on it. The rules are simple  - which blog has unashamedly posted gratuitous images of Wheatears as the delightful little white-arses arrive on our shores. But there can only be one winner...

The 2014 NDB Wheatear Trophy is awarded to.....


This morning, at a lavish ceremony held at the Dungeness lifeboat station, last years winner (Gavin Haig), presented the trophy to Martin, who, as you can see from the photograph above, came dressed-up as his favourite species of bird. Two other blogs are worthy of mention in this years competition - Plover's Blog (Barney and the Bedford Plover) and Wanstead Birder (Jono Lethbridge) - both are to be commended on plastering their blogs with plenty of Wheatear action. They were beaten by a more driven (and some might say more 'desperate' man). So, the Wheatear flame has been passed from Devon to Kent. Can Essex wrest it from Kent's hold in 2015? And does anyone care?