Tuesday, 30 November 2010
Sunday, 28 November 2010
Saturday, 27 November 2010
Go on, even if you don't like gulls all that much, they do make a spectacle, and on a day like today when nothing much is moving, it is something to look through with the added bonus of a good chance of picking up the uncommon.
Friday, 26 November 2010
Thursday, 25 November 2010
Tuesday, 23 November 2010
Monday, 22 November 2010
Sunday, 21 November 2010
Friday, 19 November 2010
It's almost a given, a universal law, that us human beings think that the younger generations get it wrong, that they don't know how well off they are, and do not hold dear such old cherished values as manners, dignity and gratefulness that we elders still clutch tightly to our chests. It's also the way of the older and more experienced practitioner to look down at the newcomers and Johnny-come-lately's as if they are in need of pity, ridicule and - even more damning - to be ignored altogether. Not everyone thinks this way, but enough do to make it far from uncommon.
This is where it has all gone horribly wrong.
Why should a newcomer or youngster want to follow such miserable old gits into this life of natural history appreciation if they get frequent knock backs. Why should they continue if there is no encouragement. In which case, who will be left to carry the torch when we all inevitably die?
There is a counter argument, and that is that the behaviour of some of the new order is based not just in ignorance of etiquete, but in an ignorance of common sense, social manners and a lack of true appreciation of what is around them. This is gross generalisation I know, and also a case of sitting on the fence, but I have always seen things in 'grey' throughout my life and hardly ever in black and white.
Alan's post in particular got me thinking. How am I helping the future of natural history study? Should it matter? So I conducted a simple experiment. If I died tonight, what would my legacy be to the natural history of the UK? What would I leave behind?
Not a lot as it happens...
My possessions: notebooks (in a skip most probably, maybe one or two kept as family mementoes), books (mostly given away to friends), optics (kept by the family but not used in earnest). Net result: no tangible trace.
My data: I have kept records since 1974, they have all been sent off, each year, to the relevant committees and clubs. Net result: a small contribution to the overall picture of UK natural history in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
My 'human' legacy: no member of my family has taken up any natural history study beyond the enjoyment of seeing the odd thing on walks or birds in the garden. No friend or aquaintance, as far as I know, has been 'converted' into an active participant. Net result: a handful of people that will appreciate natural history in the future and might possibly join the RSPB at some point, but not become actively involved in its safeguard.
My efforts: most of them selfish. No fundraising (not beyond membership fees at any rate), no conservation work, a little administrative undertaking. Net result: a pretty empty space.
Being brutally honest, beyond my enjoyment and recording of wildlife, my contribution towards its safeguard and in helping others to become passionate about it is poor. Very poor. Maybe I am getting to a time in my life where I need to start putting back into the hobby some of what I have taken out.
This blogging lark is good for the soul. You can come clean, it's carthartic, but you also run the risk of reading some hard truths in other peoples posts whether they are directed at you personally or not.
Wednesday, 17 November 2010
Seawatching and vizmig are Nirvana for people like me. The birds pass by to be collected, to be counted, to be collated, to be committed to the database. When driving, the Common Buzzard over Clackett's Lane services on the M25 isn't just a Buzzard, it's the third Buzzard of the journey. The flock of Pied Wagtails on a playing field as I pass by aren't a flock of Pied Wagtails, they are 14 Pied Wagtails.
The irony of all this is, I hated maths at school and was crap at it. Instead of asking me such questions as "If John walks 100 yards in two minutes and his school is still 725 yards away after he has been walking for five minutes, then how long has he walked once he gets there?" it might have been better all round if the questions had been dressed up, such as "Steve has seen 55 Waxwings, 25 Bramblings and 150 Goldfinches in 30 seconds. If the visible migration carries on at this rate, what is his total after five minutes?"
Tuesday, 16 November 2010
As I gained experience I felt the need to be accepted by the others who persued my interests. I wanted them to look upon me a not just competent, but good at what I did. I wanted a reputation as someone who was reliable. Who found rare things. Who was able to act as an expert. These things I strived for, but of course never satisfied myself that I ever achieved. So I pushed myself harder, went out of my way to infiltrate and ingratiate within the right circles, tried to be seen in the right places at the right time.
But I was never destined for greatness. Was never a real contender. A career, a marriage, having children, they all became the focus of my waking hours and relegated the 'other stuff' to a weekend daliance, to infrequent holidays, to a dream of 'what might have been'.
What might have been.
I think I know what might have been, and that is, if truth be told, not a lot. I didn't have the killer instinct in me, and I never have had. There would have been no crazy flights in chartered light aircraft to remote Scottish islands to get a tick. There never would have been dawn til dusk vigils at headlands for seven days a week either. I wouldn't have dropped everything to go to Essex to see the latest dragonfly addition to the British list. Or hunted all of the Herefordshire beechwoods to track down that Ghost Orchid. I wouldn't have spent the hours and hours of study to become an expert in grasses and sedges and rushes. I would have baulked at sorting out the many, many beetles and flies.
So why am I now content? It's because I now know that I have stopped fooling myself that I am in some way a 'player' in the world of natural history. I've been kidding myself for too long that I was in self-imposed exile, biding my time and waiting to be unleashed once more into the field, to take on all comers and ride triumphantly back into the natural history world. I may be a middle-aged man, but I was still dreaming of scoring that last-minute goal in an FA Cup final, of hitting the winning run in an Ashes series, of playing a killer guitar solo at Glastonbury, of collecting an oscar as leading man in LA - or even finding a first for Britain.
It isn't going to happen and I'm happy and relaxed about that. What I do now and how I do it, I am happy with. If I stumble upon something unusual then great! If I can share it with others, then all the better. If I cock up an identification, so what? I have, for too long, pressurised myself in my interests. To accept that I have never been a contender is liberating. It's a shame that my immaturity has meant that I have come to that conclusion thirty years later than I should have done.
Sunday, 14 November 2010
Thursday, 11 November 2010
Christmas is coming,
The waxwings are getting fat,
Please put a penny in this ex-twitcher’s hat…
The Running Sky by Tim Dee
This is quite simply the best book that I have come across that explains the wonder, joy and hurt that watching birds can bring to human beings. Part autobiography, the author cherry picks events from his life and couples them with a month of the year, starting in June and ending in May.Birds act as a conduit to exposing his emotions towards the natural world and the people who share his life. The first chapter sets the reader up for the delights to come, with a vivd description of a cliff top vigil at a seabird colony. I almost considered an overnight drive to Bempton cliffs after reading it. Buy it now!
North Downs rating: 10 out of 10
A Single Swallow by Horatio Clare
I liked the premise of this book – to follow the hirundines on their spring migration from South Africa back to the authors home in Wales. He tries to time his own overland passage with theirs. The book delivers much more. Clare’s writing is as much a travelogue as it is a study of the swallow, which reminded me of the work of Redmond O’Hanlon, which is praise indeed. The author’s mental breakdown towards the end of the journey is unexpected when considering his devil-may-care attitude that is brought to the expedition, and draws a neat parallel between the Swallows precarious migration and his own.
NDR: 9 out of 10.
Weeds by Richard Mabey
The author should need no introduction as he is one of the leading figures in the so called ‘New Wave’ of nature writing. This is an intelligent work which introduces us to ‘weeds’ and explains why they deserve our admiration, from the way in which they have evolved to fool us into thinking that their seeds are the same as the very crop that they grow alongside, to the uses that they have to humanity (as food and medicine) and also the folklore that has grown up in their relationship with us that reflects the longevity of our relationship with them. You do not to be botanically minded to enjoy this book and you may after reading it to never weed a garden again.
NDR: 9 out of 10
The Bird Observatories of Britain and Ireland by various authors
A Poyser publication, which I’ll admit to not having read yet. A copy of this book was snatched out of my sweaty palms by my wife to be hidden away until Christmas Day. I cannot wait to read it! As a big fan of bird observatories, I can boast (or sadly admit to) having stayed at Dungeness Bird Obsevatory close to 550 nights, spent several breaks at Portland Bill and enjoyed a fortnights holiday at Spurn. These establishments have been instrumental in our current understanding of bird migration and identification. As to what role, and what future they have to play in the 21st century is a question that I for one am keen to see answered. Expect potted histories, plenty of rarities and enough ringing data to keep you satiated well into the new year.
NDR: to be announced.
STOP PRESS: A single calling Waxwing flew over me this lunchtime in Sutton. (Tilmouth and Sexton! Stop yawning at the back of the class. We haven't had that many down south yet!)
Wednesday, 10 November 2010
Tuesday, 9 November 2010
Back in 2002, after a morning botanising in Chipstead Bottom, I looked at my OS map and decided to take a short cut home through farmland. Even though I was no more than two miles from home, I had not visited the area before. I was pleasantly surprised at how picturesque the land was and more than interested in the singing Yellowhammer and displaying Lapwing that I found. I made a mental note to revisit…
I t was another three years before I did so, when a Yellow Wagtail flying through a clear April sky reminded me that I really ought to take a serious look at the place. And so, in the autumn of 2005 I did so. I had trawled through my old London and Surrey Bird Reports but could find no mention of the farm. It appeared to have not been actively birded before and I felt as if I were pioneering a new patch. I met no other birders and gathered ornithological data with keenness. My coverage was not quite weekly and I found species such as Crossbill and an immature female Goshawk that got the pulse racing and also revealed significant wintering flocks of Skylarks and Yellowhammers.
Over the next three years I gave Canons Farm moderate coverage and added Woodlark to the list of unexpected species. The one event that brought the farm to local prominence was ’my’ massive flock of winter finches in early 2008, that peaked at 1200 Brambling and 1650 Chaffinches. At least 50 birders made the trip to watch the spectacle.
At the end of 2009 David Campbell, a local schoolboy, arrived as a regular observer. His enthusiasm and keen eye proved what I had earlier suspected, that Canons Farm was somehow special. Through sheer hard work, during 2010, he has found Raven, Black Redstart, Goshawk, Osprey, Quail and Corn Bunting – and before you jump to conclusions that some of these must be the imaginings of a yound mind, they are all either multi-observer records or have been photographed.
For me, his best find, and the crown jewel of Canons Farm sightings so far, is not the rarest. Yesterday evening, David, typically keen, decided to visit the farm in the last murky hour of daylight on a cold and damp afternnon. He was rewarded with a superb male Hen Harrier. He watched it go to roost and, at 06.58 this morning I was very happy indeed to see this stunning beast take to the air and head purposefully eastwards.
What next for Canons Farm? Well, it is a site that will only reward those who bird it intensely. My occasional forays before this year proved that it can deliver, but not on the scale that David’s efforts have proved. It can be hard work in the spring and summer. Autumn sees it at its best and winter can be interesting as well.
My fear is that if David loses interest or moves away from the area, the current coverage will not be maintained and the records will once again , if not totally dry up, then certainly slow down significantly.
Saturday, 6 November 2010
Friday, 5 November 2010
Tuesday, 2 November 2010
I am commenting on this situation as a lapsed twitcher and somebody that has only met you a few times, and that was back in the late 70s and early 80s. I am still an active birder and, although I rarely go to a rare bird, I know plenty who still do.
You are correct in stating that you do have your critics, but I am sure that you would expect this when you set yourself up as a ‘policeman’ and ‘judge, jury and executioner’ to the birding world (I think that they were your words, and if I’m incorrect, forgive me). As you have never been elected, or asked to keep a watching brief on all the UK birders lists’ (as to accuracy and honesty), then again, you cannot be surprised when this causes offence or indignation among them.
There are over a million members of the RSPB and viewing figures for BBC’s Autumn watch well in excess of that. I doubt that any more than a few thousand of them have heard of you, the UK400 club or any other twitcher for that matter. Therefore the pool of birders who you have (or have not) annoyed is quite insignificant compared to those who get enjoyment out of ornithology. That is worth keeping in perspective.
People who join the UK400 club are willing members and as such agree to abide by the rules as set out by the club (and by ‘the club’ I assume that means you). If they do not agree with this then they can leave. Those that are left are under no illusion as to what to expect. What anybody else in the birding world thinks is, to be quite honest, not your problem. If some of the aggrieved are within your club membership, then that needs your urgent attention.
You have asked for feedback and for what it’s worth my humble opinion is that you needn’t worry about what others say, you don’t need to close your club and you should carry on doing what you are obviously passionate about. Those that have a problem with you can just ignore you and your club, because whatever you say, whatever your club rules are and what species you accept or dismiss is of no relevance to them. Maybe your need to ‘control’ other birders lists is an area that you should address if you are serious about building bridges. This appears to be a major area of conflict.
I think it’s good to have characters in all walks of life, and you are certainly that. One less would be a great shame.