31 January, 2013

1000 species, 1 square

What with it being a new year and all, I thought I'd set myself a new challenge- to find and record 1000 species in a single 1km square. Unfortunately, I can't take credit for sprouting the idea behind this brilliant task- that hat goes to a man called Andy Musgrove, who thought it would be a great idea to completely bio-blitz his home 1km square just outside Norwich, by setting himself a target of 1000 wild species by the end of 2013.

Since putting the idea online, he's gained a number of followers willing to add their square to the challenge, and thus an element of competition has brewed to see who can reach the big four digits first, and possibly go beyond. You can find the challenge at http://1000for1ksq.blogspot.co.uk/

With a lot of committment, and a few late nights spent identifying those obsure green fungi, I'd like to think its a do-able task, even in suburban Surrey, and after spending a good hour staring at the OS map trying to work out how to get the best out of the (limited) habitat in the local area, I've measured up my very own 1km square in Thames Ditton, from which I hope to make a decent attempt at recording 1000 species.

Hopefully, most of the magic is going to happen where that blue bird is sitting in the middle of the square, on my local urban fringe site, Stokes Field. It's a small mix of woodland and grassland, along with an exposed hilltop, and abandoned rose field at the south of the site, which should be good for invertebrates (just before the A309- which I'll be using as the southern most boundary to the km square). The blue arrow to the west indicates the most important habitat in the square, the garden. At the end of the day, it's the easiest place to get to, and it also happens to be where I run a moth trap pretty much every night through the summer, so it would seem mad to leave it out.

The likelihood that I'll actually reach 1000 species is pretty low, as is the likelihood that I'll remember to keep this going throughout the year (or at least until October when I head off to Uni), but if it gives me a bit more motivation to stick to the patch, and the chance to improve identification skills on insects that I wouldn't normally bat an eye lid at, then its worth a try. I'll still be able to stay dedicated to other local patches (Bushy Park etc), but this'll be a interesting little thing to do on the side.

Let the fun begin...

28 January, 2013

Adapting to the Cold

The Fieldfare that hung around in the garden during the recent snowfall appears to finally have parted ways, allowing other birds, such as this female Blackcap, to get their share of the apples...

In recent winters, both male and female Blackcap have turned up in the garden on odd occasions, mainly during very cold weather. Blackcaps are one of the few warblers- along with the Chiffchaff- to be able to hold a sustainable wintering population in Britain, partly owing to their ability to widen their diet during hard times- when insects may not be so easy to find. Whilst the apples have provided the main attraction in the past few weeks, this female Blackcap has also become a pro at cracking open sunflower seeds from the seed feeder, and even hanging acrobatically from the fatballs!

26 January, 2013

Pallas's Warbler

I don't know what came over me to even consider doing it, but this morning I found myself boarding an hour long train to Berkshire, just as any normal person would do at half 9 on a Saturday. I've always considered myself a patch birder at heart- there's few places I'd rather spend my time birding than out on my local patch, Bushy Park- with the odd trip here and there around Surrey if something nice turns up- but only once have I ever been out of the county to twitch something, and that for a Sparrow, many moons ago.
The main motive behind this random inter-county trip to Berkshire was the promise (or rather, hope) of an absolutely stunning Pallas's Warbler spending the winter along a small stretch of the river at Moor Green Lakes, near Sandhurst. The warbler in question, a scarce wintering bird from Siberia, has been seen on and off at the Lakes for almost a month, and since I've had a little bit of a thing for small, bright green warblers ever since the experience of wading through Yellow-browed Warblers on Scilly back in October, it seemed only right to pay it a visit.

It's small size and its tendancy to associate with extremely active tit flocks in vegetation on the other side of the river, made the Pallas's very hard to pin down; never staying in one spot for more than a few seconds. Still, on the one occasion it did come out into the open during my visit, it showed just why its been drawing in the crowds. Look at that eye-stripe.. what a beauty!

 P.S. You may have noted that the blog has undergone a radical make-over for 2013. Testing out a few new looks for it at the moment, so do let me know if you think it absolute rubbish... I'll try and hold back the tears.

25 January, 2013

Smew & Bittern at the Wetland Centre

With a free afternoon, I hit the London Wetland Centre at Barnes, with numerous reports of Bittern and a redhead Smew looking ever more appealing. I haven't been to the Wetland Centre since the start of the summer, and looking up at the admissions fee board on arrival, I can see why... £10.50 for adult admission (£11.50 with gift aid.. I always feel like a bit of a Scrooge when I don't) and £30 for a family of four to get in!
Once I'd got over the gaping hole in my trouser pocket, the birding was surprisingly good. A Peregrine briefly attempted to hunt Lapwings over the main lake before giving up, and a 'redhead' Smew- a rather scarce wintering duck in the London area- gave great views from Dulverton Hide along with a pair of male Pintail.

It spent most of the time diving around the far fringe of the lake out of sight, but after a bit of waiting, the Smew eventually gave a nice swim-by the hide.  Much better views than those of the Molesey bird a few days ago...

At least two Bitterns were active around the main lake, with this bird flying right across Dulverton Hide at one point; attempting to land on a tiny island, before continuing into the reeds...

A very distant Peregrine...

Highlight of the day though had to be parting with £6.50 for a Panini and a bottle of water... who knew birding could be so expensive?

Fieldfare, still there

The snow has pretty much completely thawed, but the Fieldfare- that turned up in the garden a few days ago- is still bossing about the garden and feeding on apples left out. The bird was noticeably shier this morning, with even the opening of an upstairs window sending it flying. It soon became apparent that the only way to get shots of it would be to shoot through the double glazed kitchen window. Not the most ideal, but it worked...

24 January, 2013

Local Smew

Couldn't resist a mini-twitch for my first ever 'redhead' Smew, found by the Dave Harris along the River Ember in Molesey, less than a 15 minute walk from the front door. It was first seen floating about with a Pintail and around 50 odd Tufted Duck back on the 21st, along the stretch of river bordering Island Barn Reservoir. Naturally, being within a mile radius of the Thames Water owned reservoir, the whole area is in complete lockdown to anyone and everyone who doesn't own a yacht at the sailing club there.



What? Don't tell me you wouldn't do the same for such a quality bird so close to home. Shame really, as Dave (who makes a sterling effort to keep records coming from the site) turns up some brilliant birds at that reservoir, and the greater recording coverage that would come out of making the site more accessible to the general public (not to mention the money they would make through a permit system) could only benefit Thames Water.

23 January, 2013

Don't Mess With a Fieldfare

With plenty of reports of winter thrushes turning up in gardens during the recent snowfall, I cut up a few cheap, old apples and stuck them on the lawn, in the hope that they would do the trick and bring in a few Fieldfare.

The apples worked a treat, and within no time, a Fieldfare had dropped down to claim the garden to itself, squaring up to any bird that venture onto the lawn. This was pretty bad news for the Blackbirds, who were the main target for the Fieldfare's aggression, but great news for the camera. I spent a good hour or two watching this beauty from the kitchen window.

Threat posture...

22 January, 2013

Quadruple Tit Day

Today was a very special day for the garden... a Quadruple Tit day.

Quadruple Tit days don't come around very often down here. Plenty of double tit days, but to have all four 'garden' tits; Long-tailed, Coal, Great and Blue feeding at the same time is a pretty damn big occasion in these here parts.

Unfortunately, neither the Coal tit or Long-tailed tit stayed for very long; the Long-tailed tit probably heading off to join a massive group of mates in the local woods, while God knows where the Coal tit will disappear to... I've seen more Hawfinches this year than I have Coal tits.

Plenty of Blue tit action this morning, with the birds taking a particular liking to Hazel catkins, despite stocked up feeders...


Bit cold...

19 January, 2013

Snow Birds

As predicted, the snow arrived yesterday, and with it, so did the birds. Couldn't resist setting up the camera for an hour or two to capture a bit of the action, as Chaffinches, thrushes and tits became noticeably more approachable in their urgent search for food. Still no sign of the annual wintering flock of Redwings that set up in the garden around this time to feed on a large pyracantha bush, although it appears to be quite a poor year for the species.

A few halved apples on the lawn seems to have worked a treat for the Blackbirds, but there's always one male that doesn't like to share. Hopefully the Blackbirds increased presence in the garden will encourage a few more winter thrushes down later in the month...