Thursday, 30 September 2010

Options

I have all day Saturday too go birding. A 24 hour pass from domestic chores, not that I do that many domestic chores to be honest. There is a bit of painting and decorating that could be done, there's a back door that has started to stiffen up and a bit of insulating that could be laid in the loft. But no, they can wait (my wife may suggest that they permanently wait).

So, Saturday. Where to go? What to do?

The options are:

Dungeness. There are two Buff-breasted Sandpipers in the area and I've no doubt that migrants have been stirred up a bit this week so there could be plenty on offer.

Another south-east site: Oare Marshes (White-rumped Sandpiper), Bockhill (lovely place but I never score there), Pagham (an old favourite).

Birdguides: weigh up the options on Friday evening and follow the sheep to the nearest goody.

Stay local: hmmm, a few Yellow-broweds dotted about the country, Ring Ouzels leaping about urban wastelands throughout London, both of these would be more than acceptable locally.

At the moment, local trailblazing is winning. I could do a Holmethorpe/Colley Hill/ Canons Farm grand tour, but I really do need to tone down my expectations if I do this. Enjoy the day (it won't be pissing down as tomorrow and Sunday will be). There might even be a few late butterflies on the wing. This all sounds quite acceptable at the moment.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Serious, for a change

As one who normally posts with, shall we say, a 'glass half-empty' philosophy, it is high time that I became a touch more positive. What has turned me from Victor Meldrew into Archbishop Desmond Tutu? Believe it or not, I'm increasingly seeing good in my fellow birder. Yes, that right, good. Let me give you a couple of local examples.

There is a group of birders who stake out Beddington Farmlands (aka Beddington Sewage Farm). They are a mixture of rabid twitchers, dedicated patch workers and frontier birdsmen. The group was formed some twenty years ago, with modest but worthy aims to record the birdlife of the farm and publish the findings. A healthy Tree Sparrow population was studied through the ringing of nestlings. As time went by, various schemes to extract aggregate from the farm and then infill with refuse were hatched by big business. Some of these have come to fruition, but the group were there throughout consultations and public enquiries. Through such actions, patiently and calmly carried out, they now have a political presence that has given them a seat at the table to plan what will be a superb urban reserve when the digging and infilling is complete. This is down to 'birder power' which has been handled intelligently.

My second example is how one individual can make a difference to the perception of local people to the bird life around them. David Campbell is only 16 years old. He is as keen a birder as anyone you will meet. He does twitch, but this does not lessen his passion for the local patch. He has thrashed Canons Farm into submission, found a raft of excellent local species, but his most impressive skill-set for someone so young is his grasp of public relations. He manned a stand at the local country fair, spreading the wonder of the local bird life; he has set up a wiki for the farm that has many visitors, not all of them birders; he engages with the local dog walkers and shooters; he has got involved with the downland conservators when scrub clearance nearby threatened the wintering home of a small flock of Firecrests (that he had found).

These two examples are a lesson to us all, but particularly to me. In all the time that I have been birding, 95% of that time has been spent purely looking and recording. OK, that has meant that my observations have been collated by county bird clubs, the BTO and other wildlife bodies, so it hasn't been without its worth. But, if all that any of us did was just record the wildlife, then we would be falling short as a whole. We need these individuals and groups that go beyond that. We need the people who engage with non-birders, who debate with local authorities and lobby for habitat protection and creation. I should get involved and maybe I will. For the time being I'm using this post to say a big thank you to those that already do.

Tomorrow I may be back in a grumpy, frivolous mood and post more pictures of obscure insects or discuss how things really were better in the crappy seventies.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Wanstead comes to the North Downs

Another addition to my Blog List, this time from Wanstead Birder. Anyone who can see 200 species of bird in London within a calendar year (and it isn't even October yet) is certainly worthy of a read. His latest post, which tells the tale of a route march to Blakeney Point to see a certain flycatcher, is well worth reading. The only time that I've trudged that same shingly ground didn't seem too bad to me, but then again it was during August and I was still in my fit twenties. That particular day was not a success - I had gone to see a Royal Tern, that didn't show, and was later identified as a Lesser Crested any way. Mistakes like that don't happen any longer, do they....

Monday, 27 September 2010

Crane fly on migrane inducing peeling paint

This is Tipula maxima, or a daddy-long-legs with heavily patterned wings to you and I. Please excuse the headache inducing peeling paint that it decided to land upon. Another tick (a very common tick) in my pointless rush towards 3,000 in my all-taxa UK list! A boy's got to have something to do, give me a break...

Also, please spend a bit of time to visit the latest addition to my blog list, 'The Lyon's Den'. This chap knows how to mix and match his natural history and the lucky so-and-so does it for a living. Most envious.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

A picnic with hirundines

There are still some days when the 'hard-core' birder within me tries to break out. Today was such a day. I was sitting on the beach at Ferring, in West Sussex with my family enjoying a rather fine picnic lunch. The sun was shining and the only ornithological interference came from a couple of Sandwich Terns that were patrolling the beach. Then the cloud arrived, and with it the first House Martins, which flew low and purposefully westwards, some of them passing inbetween our sitting group. After five minutes it was obvious that these hirundines were not an isolated flock but the vanguard of something altogether grander. I spent more time paying attention to the visible migrants (apart from when it was time for coffee and cake!) and it was then that I ached for that Empidonax flycatcher on Blakeney Point or one of the inland Gannets that have delighted a number of patchworkers. Calming my birding hyperventalation down, I kept calm, and for the next two hours reckoned on 12,000 House Martins having poured through our picnic site. Magic.

Caddis fly update: I reckon that it is a Limnephilus lunatus. I could be wrong...

Friday, 24 September 2010

Stumped by a caddis fly

In my attempt to identify everything that is living in the UK, I thought that I would start off with this humble caddis fly. My Collins Insect guide kindly illustrates 29 species but also mentions that there are just under 200 species to be found in Britain. As my specimen (photograph above) matches none of them I had to admit that here was a family that needed deeper research. I went onto bioimages brilliant photographic website (thousands of obscure species at your fingertip) but still could not match up my insect. That leaves me with three options: investing in the Field Studies Council 'Guide to adult caddisflies' (only £3.50 folks!); appealing to someone out there knowing what this is; or more likely me never knowing its true identity.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Henbane

This is Henbane. It is a member of the nightshade family and is very poisonous. It contains hyoscyamine and hyoscine, poisons that Doctor Crippin used to good effect when bumping off his wife back in the early 20th century. Unfortunately for him, a noose ended his own life shortly afterwards.

I had not seen this species until last June, when I stumbled upon 20 healthy plants that were growing in a chalky field that had had large quantities of manure dumped upon it. They were of a good size and pleased me greatly. (It really doesn't take much to please me greatly nowadays). The field was along the banks of the River Mole between Mickleham and Leatherhead.

Some authors consider this an evil looking plant, but I cannot see the darkness in it. In fact I reckon that Deadley Nightshade has more 'something of the night' about it.
Please accept this post in lieu of not having anything else to bore you with.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The whole shooting match

So, you fancy broadening your natural history horizons. You've spent many happy days in the company of birds and as a by product of this have taken notice of the butterflies and dragonflies that you see buzzing around. Moths are a natural progression and of course you start to take an interest in their food plants, so you add botany to your wildlife arsenal. And now it all gets a bit tricky.

I have started (and stopped) and started again to look at other things. Hoverflies. Fungi. Mosses and liverworts. Spiders. The truth is, they just aren't like the other families that I have studied. For a start, there are not fully comprehensive field guides to guide you through the species that you will find. You will be given a firm push towards which family or genus that the organism before you belongs to, but to be confident of identifying it to species level - well, that will now involve complicated keys (which are either obscure or a devil to use), microscopes and a dictionary (to find out what the hell the new vocabulary you will come across actually means).

I've recently added my all-species list to Mark Telfer's 'All taxa listing' web page, which has inspired me to start trying to identify every gnat, smut and lichen that I come across. But to do so correctly is a challenge. I suppose it is no different if a mycologist suddenly took up birding, we wouldn't expect them to look at a reed bed full of acrocephallus warblers and confidently pick out the Blyth's Reed, or be able to claim that the pipit before him was a definite Tree. The learning curve ahead is either very long, or steep, and in reality probably both. But think of the rewarding hours ahead.

There is, of course, the risk of becoming a natural history jack-of-all-trades and a master of none of them. But as I do not do any of this in a professional capacity then it really doesn't matter. I always think back to my early birding days when I strode across the mountain tops of Scotland in persuit of such species as Dotterel without a care for the flora at my feet and wish that I had taken that all in - I must have stepped on some choice alpine plants. In turn, I may come to rue the days that I did spend botanising on Ben Lawers but took no notice of the mosses and lichen.

I do have one problem. My wife has accepted the odd moth being kept in the fridge, but I have a feeling of certainty in my water that flies, beetles and spiders will not be tolerated.

Monday, 20 September 2010

What makes a wanderer?

Alan Tilmouth's latest post introduced me to one Jos Stratford, a Welsh birder who now lives in Lithuania. Please take a moment and visit his web site and look at the section entitled 'About Me'. This makes the life of the average MI5 double-agent seem positively sedate and uninteresting. His birding wanderings started when he was barely a teenager. He was scampering over Europe at the tender age of 15. I was, at that age, still having my nose wiped for me and asking for my pocket money so that I could go on daring expeditions as far as, oh let me see, the local chip shop.

I've long been fascinated by my fellow birders who have the character, confidence and burning need to go off on long, distant trips. I'm all the more impressed if the trip has no defined length. A three week trip to Vietnam is commendable, but a birding odyssey that takes 'just as long as it takes' speaks to me of a devil-may-care attitude that I just do not possess. I've always played it safe, gone with the flow, stuck to a nine-'til-five existence, adhered to prudence, sensible budgeting - oh my god, I'm getting bored with myself now!

So, I thank people like Jos for allowing me to go on such journeys vicariously. There are plenty of them out there, either building up a world list or rejoicing in the world in all of its natural wonder.

Now please excuse me, I have a lawn to mow and a gas bill to pay...

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Fooled again

I wandered out of the back door yesterday evening, looked up into a dusking sky that had a fair amount of cloud cover, took note of a relatively mild temperature and hot-footed it to the garage to take out and switch on the moth trap.

This morning saw me eagely hovering over the trap, examining each egg box. The species composition was as to be expected, the moth numbers not too bad. The last egg box was flipped over to reveal a distinctive looking micro, one of those that mimics bird droppings as a way of avoiding predation. It was, I admitted to myself, a fine looking specimen, distintive in its narrow wings and raised thorax. I couldn't immediately put a name to it (not surprising for me with a micro), but I was confident that I could do so as it looked so striking.

I tapped the egg box to dislodge the moth into a pot but it wouldn't budge. I then inserted a small leaf stalk beneath it to move it (this always works) but on this occasion failed to do so. There was nothing left but to gently tease the beast out with a delicate prod from my finger nail. It was then that the truth finally dawned on me. It wasn't a moth. It was a bird dropping. I looked on in disbelief at the dried faeces, now dislodged, lying prostrate before me. It was symetrical to the point of being absurd, both in form and colouring. It looked more like a moth than many moths I've had the pleasure to know.

I scratched my head, packed up the trap and got on with my day, safe in the knowledge that a dollop of bird shit had got the better of me.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Plastic

This morning I went to Holmethorpe Sand Pits, confident that I would add my name to the ever growing list of observers who have found a Wryneck, Lapland Bunting or Glossy Ibis in the UK over the past few days. After being on site for ten minutes I felt as if I had been put into a trance and then awoken in the middle of the wildfowl collection at Arundel. The first pit I looked at contained a Ruddy Duck, 5 Red-crested Pochards and 6 Egyptian Geese. I even digiscoped one (see above). Those of you that were regular visitors to the original North Downs and beyond blog may remember that I got on with digiscoping about as well as a vampire gets on with cloves of garlic. My morning was not without incident, but not incident enough to regale you with. It was all rather average.

This afternoon I went off along the North Downs proper, camera in hand ready to capture marvellous images of the fungi I expected to find. In truth, what I did find were specimens in poor shape that did not want or need their pictures taken.

So, not a good day so far - at least I can rely on Tottenham to lift it with a sound thrashing of Wolves at White Hart Lane. What? We're one-nil down at half-time?
Help...

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Anatomy of a patch watcher

To be a successful patch worker you need...

Optimism - "That flock of Linnets could attract a Common Rosefinch"

Blind faith - "That flock of Linnets will, one day, attract a Common Rosefinch"

Determination - "If I check that flock of Linnets three times a day I will find a Common Rosefinch"

Imagination - "That sparrow-like bird with the Linnet flock could have been a Common Rosefinch"

Appreciation - "My goodness, doesn't that flock of Linnets (without a Common Rosefinch with them) look grand"

But it can all go wrong...

Envy - "That bastard down the road has had a Common Rosefinch in his Linnet flock and he only checks them twice a day"

Anger - "Why the bloody hell as every other Linnet flock within twenty miles got something in with them apart from my flock?"

Despair - "My life will never be complete until I find a Common Rosefinch in my Linnet flock. I'm a feeble, sad, lonely man and a crap birder to boot"

Defeat - "Sod this for a game of soldiers, I'm off to Dungeness. I hate Linnets"

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Choose a patch

Do I detect a subtle shift in the UK birding psyche? Whisper it, but I really do believe that there are birders out there that have rediscovered the joys of working a patch. These are not all wide-eyed beginners or just washed-up faded has-beens (yes, yes, I know, the latter could be me). I seem to be bumping into plenty of people who have done their time - local park, local sewage farm, coastal hotspot, Scilly, Fair Isle, UK twitching, world birding domination - but are now choosing local patch again. I can see a skinny Ewan MacGregor running down an Edinburgh street to the strains of Iggy Pop whilst incanting "Choose binoculars, choose a scope, choose a warbler, CHOOSE A PATCH" If you don't know what the hell I'm on about watch the opening credits to the film 'Trainspotting', which by the way, should be shown to all school children as the best anti-drug message that is available. Blimey, where did that come from....

Back to the patch. Is there really this shift in birding choice? And if so, why? I think that I can offer an explaination. Wherever we wish to go for our birding fix - Dunge, Beachy, Pagham - we know what has been seen there today, yesterday, last week and we can almost make an educated guess as to what will be there tomorrow. The surprise has gone out of well-watched places. Go to Dungeness at the weekend and count the birders, let alone the birds. Several hundred will be present, and that's no exaggeration. Even, by comparison, a relatively underwatched site will have up to a dozen souls combing the bushes. In these days of 'seen-it, done-it' most birders have paid their dues to the birding life and are looking for fresh challenges. Why go to Dungeness to look at someone elses Wryneck when you can find your own? Why drive ninety miles when you can walk down the road to a farm and find your own? Think of the thrill, the warm glow of satisfaction and the thanks and kudos you will receive when other locals come along for a look. And if there is a Wryneck to be found, what else will there be? There is a perverse thrill in birding off-piste. It's like whipping yourself with birch twigs and plunging into ice-cold baths - suffering that will ultimately pay off. The seed has been sown...

Granted, patch watchers will always nip off for an illicit squint at someone elses birds. But watch them blanche when they are told that they have missed a Great Grey Shrike, or a Tree Sparrow on their patch.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

A dip into the bag of summer

This is a Deptford Pink flower, very much a decreasing species in the UK. If you look at the current distribution maps it has but a few, and widely scattered, populations. Kent is a county where it can still be reliably found. This picture was taken in July, at a place where it is not really wild, but has been grown from seed that was taken from a native site in the same county. I don't know the correct stance to take on the deliberate planting or propogation of species, but I suppose that if one site loses the species then the seed bank continues to survive elsewhere - after all, most local extinctions are down to man's interference in the first place. Also, is this spreading of the seed any different from a plant spreading by the agency of birds? I can just look on and enjoy, regardless of the plants provenance.

Monday, 13 September 2010

The commonest species not on your list, list

When something 'big' turns up, if you want to see it, 90% of the time you can. Eastern Crowned Warbler, Citril Finch, Purple Martin, if you had the time, money and inclination, and didn't sit on your hands for 48 hours weighing up whether to go for it or not, then it would be on your list. Most serious listers have all three (and then a few more). Most of the 'part-time' listers of the UK mainland might not island-hop, but will still take a long drive to Flamborough or Nanquidno to knock-off that missing warbler, pipit or yankee warbler. This means that we have a large pool of birders with almost identical lists (most will be missing at least one mega that arrived when they were on holiday abroad - and 550 ticks in Uganda still don't make up for that Long-tailed Shrike). We do now have a number of extreme seabird records that have meant major gaps appearing in the listers list (Tufted Puffin anyone?)

As for me, I have plenty missing from my UK list. A veritable bonanza of 'missing in action' species, most obviously Green-winged Teal, Lesser Scaup,Snowy Owl, Red-throated Pipit, Thrush Nightingale... I could go on.

But. These aren't the real gaps. Those species that are assumed to be on your list, but have somehow evaded you for more years than you care to own up to. Today I launch my latest list - the list that all birders can be judged by - 'The commonest species not on your list, list'. It's more fun to know what others are missing rather than what they've seen. Just as bad news is more captivating than good news, the fact that a UK500 lister might still 'need' Capercaillie is much more interesting than their complete set of UK larks and pipits.

So, my four most laughable blanks are:

Capercaillie (looked, dipped, haven't even heard one), Corncrake (not visited any breeding areas and haven't flushed a migrant), Cory's Shearwater and Great Shearwater (hundreds of hours spent seawatching, but 99% of it in Kent). There, I'm outed. It didn't hurt and it's strangely cathartic. Go on, give it a try...

Sunday, 12 September 2010

A bramble that you can actually identify


These images are of Rubus laciniatus, a species of bramble that even boasts an 'English' name - that of Cut-leaved Bramble. There are currently 334 microspecies of rubus recognised in the UK and I can only recognise one of them, the one pictured here. I might be able to identify more, but, to be honest, I haven't really tried. I imagine that to do so might involve keys, microscopes and a dictionary to decipher such words as 'acicles' and 'tomentose'.

This plant was found on Headley Heath in Surrey. It is, in fact, an alien species to the UK and well-known for its good fruit.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Peregrine's breakfast, lunch and tea

The building that I work in, based in Sutton, Surrey, is also the nest site of a pair of Peregrines. This year they raised four young, of which three definitely made it. A team of London Peregrine champions visited the site, including Tony Duckett from Regents Park, who back in August collected the remains of prey items and posted the photographic evidence. For an inland site the menu is rather surprising. You can see the species that were eaten here: http://regentsparkbirds.blogspot.com/2010/08/10th-august.html

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Getting one's arse spanked

No, the title of this post is not a desperate attempt to lure more traffic into visiting this blog, as I no longer have a statcounter or a flagged-up map of the world to look at. It is reference to my recent lack of finding any half-decent birds locally, even though I am trying, and mainly refers to a whole stream of local birders filling their boots (including a frighteningly focused 16 year old). Even those local species deemed 'good' birds (such as Common Redstart) have firmly kept out of my notebook. But they have entered everyone elses.

One reason for my failure is good old honest toil. It's no use me turning up at the local farm and keeping ornithologically focused for only half-an-hour before losing my concentration to an unhealthy train of thought involving Sarah Beeny and Nigella Lawson. The other failing is stopping to look at plants. The Wryneck may have hopped out onto the path in front of me while I'm trying to decide if the plant before me is Fragrant Agrimony or just plain Common Agrimony. Skill does, of course, play a part. Where as I was once confident of nailing that Tawny Pipit as it flew over calling, now...I'm not so sure. So, years of experience will save the day then - after birding for 35 years I can survey any patch of land before me and confidently tell where the pipits will be lurking, the rare bunting feeding and the phylloscs gathering - er, no. My birding radar seems to be in need of re-setting if I'm honest.

So, to sum up. I've found nothing, tried not terribly hard and have been shown up by a 16 year old birder who has more stamina, will and determination than I could rustle up in a month of birding Fair Isle with a gentle south-easterly and a Siberian Rubythroat hopping at my feet holding up a neon sign introducing itself.

At least I'm in no doubt as to my current status in the world of birding...

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Moth round-up

This summer has seen a bit of a dip in my efforts towards recording moths. The garden MV trap has not been out all that often, so the addition of Orange Footman to the garden list was down to luck rather than hard slog. I did record two adult Toadflax Brocades (pictured above), hot on the heels of last years larvae found on Purple Toadflax (just by the garage door).

My week at Dungeness back in July supplied me with three new species - Cypress Carpet, Orache Moth and Rosy Wave. The first mentioned is something that has been colonising Surrey and I would hope to trap it soon in the garden. Another coloniser of London, Jersey Tiger, has continued to show in good numbers this year, but hasn't come far south enough to be a genuine garden target. One day....

My promise to get 'in amongst the micros' was spectacularly broken. It just hasn't happened. I don't know why I cannot readily embrace the little sods. It's not as though they are all brown and need a microscope to id them.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

2599

Inspired by the writings of other blogs that I have had the pleasure to read, I decided to work out what my own 'Total UK list' is - that is, how many living species have I recorded within these isles? My total - 2599 - elicited neither disappointment not pleasure in me, as I had no idea what the total may be. My breakdown, for those of you that have read this far, or have the slightest interest is:

Flora: 1359
Moths: 675
Birds: 370
Butterflies: 50
Dragonflies: 33
'Other' insects: 35
Mammals: 31
Fish: 17
Fungi: 15
Amphibians: 5
Reptiles: 4
Marine life: 5

I have not claimed any mosses, liverworts or lichens. My general insect score is low, but has plenty of scope to increase. Some of you may wonder at the depresed bird total for someone who often waffles on about great twitches from the 1970s. My listing has slowed dramatically (300 up in 1981, 350 up in 1990, but only 20 ticks in the past twenty years), which shows how little chasing I now get involved with. My only new bird this year was the White-tailed Plover which I just happened to be present when it was found at Dungeness.

So, this now opens up whole new worlds of natural history study. Another reason to try and identify every fly, beetle, lichen, moss and creepy crawly that I come across. For somebody that doesn't chase lists, I certainly do like to create and keep them. What does that make me? Sad? In need of a life?

Oh, I've just realised that my mammal list does not include Homo sapiens. That surely takes me to a nice round 2600?

Friday, 3 September 2010

The most diffcult patch in England?

I recently spent some time on the Dorset coast at Charmouth. As is my want, I wandered the coastal paths close by to try and winkle out those natural history gems. This whole area is part of the 'Jurassic Coast' and the cliffs here are very unstable. The picture above was taken east of Charmouth looking down from the clifftop into an area of slippage that has since stabilised and allowed woodland to establish. Beyond the woods is another cliff that drops straight into the sea. The picture below illustrates the site perfectly (thankyou Google Earth).


Whilst I stared into this green abyss, I wondered how on earth you could successfully bird it. There must be plenty of migrants that have come over from France and dropped in. Some of them must be rare! How many Golden Os, Melodious Warblers and Bee-eaters enliven a late spring day? And what about those rare autumn phylloscs? But, you cannot approach the wood from the top (crumbling descent, wickedly steep incline, deeply rutted) or from the beach (covered at high tide, crumbling ascent, wet unstable slacks). The wood itself looked impenetrable even if you got there. Maybe this is why, when I looked through the 'Birds of Dorset' there is scarcely a mention of any notable ornithological records from the area. But on a still, sunny August afternoon, watching a lone Willow Warbler flicking through the treetops, anything seemed possible.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Yes, a tick does still matter

Back in July I rolled back the years and stayed at Dungeness Bird Observatory for a whole week. It was like being a teenager again. But, unlike my previous July visits to DBO (back in the 1970s and 1980s), there were birds to watch - some of them very good birds. Firstly, the breeding Purple Herons at the RSPB reserve were on show, together with a Great White Egret and a Bittern. I spent hours scanning through the gulls and on one particular evening up to 70 Mediterranean Gulls had gathered by the patch, most of them juveniles. But one bird in particular stood out from the rest - a White-tailed Plover. I don't refer to it as a White-tailed Lapwing, just in case you're wondering, any more than a Nuthatch is a Wood Nuthatch or a Dunnock a Hedge Accentor. Anyway, back to that Sunday afternoon when the plover turned up: I was looking forward to the World Cup final later that evening, so really didn't need any excitement late in the afternoon. However, a vague message reached the observatory about the claim of a WTP on ARC pit. Of course we bundled into a car and went. On arrival no bird was on show and there was a buzz of confusion as to if one had been seen at all. This was rectified when frame-filling photographs of the bird were offered around by the finders. They also let us know that it had flown off, and flown-off high. After an hour, and with no-show, it seemed to have gone. It was then that my state of couldn't-care-less-ness dissolved into a tight-knotted resentment that the bloody thing hadn't hung around. All those recent years of conditioning myself not to get down over missed birds had spectacularly unravelled. Bollocks...

And then we heard that the plover had landed in front of the Screen Hide. Only 200m away. Did I run? Of course I did. And what a bird.

The previous day I had asked Dave Walker, the DBO warden, if he would be watching the Spain versus Holland World Cup final on the observatory television. "Yes," he replied, "but not if a White-tailed Plover turns up." True.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Stinking Hawk's-beard is NOT extinct

Please excuse me as I post a few items from the archives - those archives that exist between when I packed-up blogging and decided to start up again. Cheap and mindless fodder to fill-in until I get inspiration, annoyed or see something worthwhile... First up is a botanical rarity of the highest order. Stinking Hawk's-beard was declared extinct in the UK back in the 1980's. Dungeness was its last station. Seed from the hallowed shingle had been collected and a programme of reintroduction was started at both Dungeness and Rye Harbour (see British Wildlife magazine for a full account). But in July 2010 an undiscovered wild colony was found, numbering several thousand plants. I cannot tell you where for fear of having my nipples surgically removed, but I can give you a clue...it's on shingle. The photo above is of the pappus which is easier to find than its non-descript yellow flower. If you think that you have found this plant then crush its leaves - they smell of TCP. It just shows you how a heavily botanised area such as...whoops, I almost said where... can still throw up such surprises.