I've been based at Holly's since the weekend. I almost headed west to Cornwall for a few days but decided instead to focus locally so I visited Oakley Airfield Ebird list here and Farmoor Reservoir Ebird list here. Highlights at Oakley were the Merlin again, the Golden Plover flock has increased to about 700 and I finally found Stonechats (3) in this area (a Wormingall area tick- 104 now). Farmoor was very quiet again, highlight was a county tick for me, a Treecreeper (now on 150 for Oxfordshire).
It's been either too wet or too cold to bother putting the moth trap out but I had a few at Beddington before I headed this way including a few October specialities like Large Wainscot and Mallow.
Stonechat- surprisingly the first ones I've found in this area
All this Stonechat talk reminded me of a lifer I had last year in Uganda which got a bit lost in all the tropical specialities. Here's our trip report: UGANDA TRIP REPORT. According to IOC and also Shirihai and Svensson, African Stonechat is a separate species to Siberian, Stejgneger's and European Stonechat. African Stonechat occurs in the Greater Western Palearctic on the Arabian Peninsula (of the race felix) and is widely distributed on the African continent with up to 13 sub-species. Perhaps it's a potential vagrant to the Western Palearctic?
As far as I can work out a bird in Uganda is either albofasciatus or axillaris. On the limited information I have the pair we saw in Uganada fits the description of axillaris; deep red confined to upper and central breast, very contrasting (almost black and white) and clean white rump. A striking bird in adult male plumage but presumably a lot trickier in immature and female plumages.
Mark Avery updated on this on his blog recently SEE HERE and here is the latest corporate video from Viridor.
Mark Avery asks in his blog post what I make of all this and refers to the post about the situation that I wrote for his blog in 2016 HERE.
Any regular reader of this blog will know exactly what I make of all this. More to come this weekend if I can summon the will to write something in a civilised manner instead of just writing a summary of the situation in native terms which would utilise the words 'bollox, of, load, fucking and a' . So best not to do that and write something more thoughtful. More to come on this.
*Ok so here goes. What do I make of Viridor's press release? Firstly, what has happened since 2016 and the state of things that were outlined on Mark Avery's blog HERE. In 2016 Tree Sparrows were hanging in there (following a crash) and Lapwings were stable. A further seven target species had either declined drastically, had become extinct or failed to establish and one target species, Reed Warbler, was doing well. So in 2016 two target species out of ten were above or at baseline figures- a score of 2/10- not very good. Surely things could only get better? Wrong! Since then Tree Sparrows have become extinct as both a breeding and wintering bird (see here) and Lapwings are now facing the threat of imminent extinction (due to massive land use changes on the Thames Water managed part of the site) with a decline to 8 pairs this year (a figure now below baseline). The Lapwings are now the focus of a campaign, 'Save the Lapwings' see here and a petition association with the campaign is nearing 3000 supporters see here.
So Viridor's scoreboard for conservation success is now at 1 out of 10. Only Reed Warbler has been a success story. Basically a complete and utter fail. LOSERS! A shameful and pathetic result for everyone involved- Viridor, the Council and all stakeholders in the CSG and the CAMC (They kicked me off these committees in 2018 INSIDE CROYDON ARTICLE HERE for contesting the disgraceful conduct and shameful work).
Meanwhile our bird group and independent local community effort has gone from strength to strength e.g. see Project Log at RESEARCH GATE BEDDINGTON FARMLANDS . We were nominated for the BTO Marsh Awards in 2019 and the 2019 Birdwatch Conservation Heroes awards and our impact in the local community has continued to build and increase.
However like most things in late stage Capitalism the smart people are not in power and the dumb people in power have higher authority than the smart people- the world is literally upside down, everything is wrong, our world is currently literally led by donkeys. Any late stage system is defined by that structure- a complete and total loss of confidence in the official and established leadership. A recognition of the need for a complete overhaul and upgrade.
That is what has to change because despite our heroic efforts and award winning works we have not been able to save Beddington Famlands (e.g see here) and nearly all our wildlife has been lost. We have not saved anything but we have had one major and critically important success- we have proven, mapped out and forensically recorded the nature of systemic political and planning system corruption that leads to biodiversity loss and community disempowerment.
We have documented in intricate detail a conspiracy of council biodiversity officers, professional ecologists on the take and bird group and power crazed community informants and collaborators working for the interests of Corporate leaders. We have effectively identified all the errors in the planning and political system algorithm and now have the knowledge of how to re-write that algorithm to ensure that people and planet is prioritised above the interests of corporate leaders and their gangs of dicks.
We need to use our knowledge in an all out challenge (community empowerment, political challenge and legal challenge) against the council-corporate-bad community axis, we need to put smart people in power, ensure that Beddington farmlands is led by smart people and not the donkeys, we need to take control and power if we are to save our local community and nature.
So what do I think of Viridor's press release? Apart from the cringing video of community lapdogs begging for biscuits in a sinister ,creepy and sickening greenwash, the latest press release is simply more of the same thing- an attempt to conceal a slow and degenerative disease, the disease of slow multi-decadal decline, the inexorable erosion of people and planet that Capitalism and its corporate leader captains inevitably delivers, the increasing loss of biodiversity and increasing in human inequality. If it can't be stopped we are all consigned to depressed, lack lustre, powerless and natureless states that can in theory last for generations and generations. Hell on earth is emerging. The wet grassland that the press release features is 10 years behind schedule, over 200 acres of wetland and Lapwing breeding habitat is currently being 'drained', the wet grassland will take years before the Lapwings can move into this new habitat which in no way will compensate the current loss of habitat. It's all too little too late. The Lapwings will almost certainly either become extinct or will decline further. Furthermore Viridor have already started the first in what will presumably be a wave of planning applications to clear existing conditions (see here ) and despite the graphic presented in the press release there is also discussion to clear the condition to create acid grassland and heathland. The reality is that Beddington Farmlands is on an escalating crash course and the hidden agenda of Viridor is to deliver a mere shadow of what they initially promised but to conceal that until the very last minute when it will be easier to achieve that because they would have slowly destroyed everything they were legally obliged to save and will push through completion in the name of meeting deadlines while simultaneously clearing conditions in order to achieve those deadlines. This is the same story of corporate conduct not just with regards to ecology but other societal aspects too. A value extraction agenda that leads to loss of nature and quality of human life with a paper trail that is slowly lost through time and concealment, an agenda that is turning the whole of society and planet to rust.
We need an upgraded and modern system, one that embraces the positive aspects of capitalism, meritocracy, incentive and individualism but one that also has checks and balances against disaster capitalism and its impacts in the destruction of nature and local community. We need a system where the smart people are in power, people that value nature and community and one were corporations do work in balance with community and nature. We need a sustainable and regenerative system. We need an upgrade. So that is exactly what we need to achieve. We have some very exciting plans brewing :-)
In between work today I've been reading and talking about Stonechats inspired by both recent experiences and also Steve Gale found a pale Stonechat on Little Woodcote yesterday evening so I met him there this morning. Steve's full account of that bird HERE which contains some lovely videos and good discussion.
There's certainly a lot of complexity surrounding Stonechat identification and taxonomy. In short, in a vagrant context in the UK there are several taxa to consider including:
a) two 'European Stonechats' -Atlantic Stonechat (hibernans) and Continental Stonechat (rubicola)
b) three 'Eastern Stonechats'- Siberian Stonechat (maurus), Stejneger's Stonechat (Stejnegeri) and Caspian Stonechat (Hemprichii)
According to IOC taxonomy there are three species involved: European Stonechat (including hibernans and rubicola), Siberian Stonechat (maurus and hemprichii) and Stejnegner's Stonechat (stejnegeri).
Atlantic Stonechat (our default resident taxon) is generally richer toned and darker than Continental Stonechat but there is a lot of variation (and intergradation). Continental Stonechat has not officially been recorded in the UK but it is a suspected (but yet unproven) migrant.
Eastern Stonechats differ from European Stonechats in generally having paler rumps, darker underwing coverts and overall paler in all plumages. In first-winter plumage (the most likely plumage a vagrant will be) Siberian Stonechat is peachy toned, with a contrasting white throat, pale wing panel and peachy wrap around rump and clear flanks. Stejneger's Stonechat is generally darker than Siberian overall with a chestnut rump (with 60 percent of birds have streaks on the upper tail coverts) and has a broader bill base. Caspian Stonechat is similar to other Easterns but the critical feature is the white at the base of the tail feathers which in extreme cases can resemble the tail of a Black-eared Wheatear.
The official BBRC line at the moment for the acceptance of either Siberian or Stejneger's is that the plumage and DNA evidence need to support each other with the majority of records being classified as Siberian/Stejneger's (over 400 historical records). Basically DNA evidence is essential to separate the two.
So that's it in a nutshell (for UK - there's more to it but that's all we need to know in a UK context). Here's a few shots of a mix of Stonechats from recent birds and a few other relevant birds that have featured on this blog in the past.
The Medmerry first winter female 'Eastern Stonechat' in comparison with a presumed first-winter female Atlantic Stonechat (above and below) . The above shot showing the contrast in the rump colour and contrast is striking!
Today's pale bird at Little Woodcote. Another female bird. See Steve's blog for full discussion HERE. The pale supercilium, pale wing panel and paler tones are all features of Eastern birds but the underwing coverts appeared grey and the rump was well marked. This could be a Continental Stonechat candidate.
A couple of pale end spectrum female European Stonechats (above and below) . They can get even paler than this. Remember the Richmond Park bird HERE.
A few darker female European Stonechats (above and below) Presumably Atlantics.
A particularly dark female European Stonechat (presumably an Atlantic)
...and a male European Stonechat (presumed Atlantic) from yesterday showing an evenly well marked rump typical of European Stonechat. Identification of males in winter and summer plumages is another box of chocolates altogether - not for here or now. The best reference for the current state of play on all this is 'Eastern Stonechats' in Britain, British Birds, 112: 517-534.
Luckily the Eastern Stonechat was still there today at Medmerry Rspb and got some better shots that support the initial impressions yesterday. Thanks to Josh Jones, Ed Stubbs and Chris Townend for discussions on this bird. Matt Eades has managed to collect a faecal sample so hopefully we can get some DNA information. Phenotypically the chestnut coloured unmarked rump and rather brown tones (variable in different lights) look good for Stejneger's so will be very interesting to see whether or not the DNA results support these impressions.
The purpose of my visit to the Selsey Peninsula was to look for migrant moths and look out for an Iberian-North African bird vagrant in the warm southerly airflow, I wasn't expecting a Sibe! In birding for as long as you've got a plan and target, that is all that matters- it gets you out in the field and you often find something that wasn't even on the radar.
The moth trap blew over again on the coast but luckily I caught a few migrants at the campsite MV.
The un-streaked warm chestnut coloured rump contrasting with the black tail is extremely striking (above and below)
In this light (above and below) the bird look more peachy and Maraus-like but the field impression was more like the pic below the one below
Dark underwing coverts - another essential feature for 'Eastern Stonechat'. If proven to be a Stejneger's it will be a first for Sussex- fingers crossed.
Migrants (or suspected migrants) in the MV at Stubcroft Farm Campsite included 3 Palpita Vitrealis (above), 1 Delicate, 1 Clancy's Rustic, 2 L-album Wainscot, 1 White-point, 3 Turnip moth, 5 Angle Shades, 1 Silver-Y and 4 Rusty-dot Pearl
I hadn't seen a Merveille du Jour a week or so ago and now I cant stop seeing them- at least six in the trap at the camp site last night and one even stowed away on my coat and I found it in the van this afternoon
My moth trapping attempt failed epically last night because the wind blew the trap over. I've got an MV up at campsite and a heath trap on the coast so hoping for some moth migrants tonight- its a warm southerly and 15 C tonight and immigrant moths have already been recorded elsewhere along the south coast today.
I birded the morning at Pagham (Ebird list HERE ) and the afternoon at Medmerry (list HERE ). Highlights included a Firecrest, Merlin and Wheatear at Pagham and Ring Ouzel and at least 8 Dartford Warblers at Medmerry. Also at Medmerry was at least 30 Stonechats along about a mile stretch including a very interesting bird showing features of Siberian/Stejneger's Stonechat. It was getting dark when I first came across it so the photos are a bit grainy to be certain - hope it's still there tomorrow.
Firecrest at Church Norton
Ring Ouzel at Medmerry
I had no idea this was a Dartford Warbler site, at least 8 along a short stretch
Possible Siberian/Stejneger's Stonechat
The unmarked chestnut rump is indicative of Stejneger's (Maurus has a peachy rump and is overall more peach toned)
That rump again
Even a hint of dark underwing coverts in this shot . My main doubts on this bird is that it was getting towards dusk when I first noticed it and the photos are quite grainy (although it stood out amongst the 30 odd other Stonechats). Will be getting up early tomorrow to get some better shots- fingers crossed it's still there!
Spent the day with the family while waiting for the wind to switch to the south east and then I headed off to the south coast to look for migrant moths. I'm currently campervaning on the Selsey Peninsula with an actinic up on the beach. I really should have the MV trap out but I was too tight to buy a generator yet. The migrant lepidoptera facebook group have called this wind the 'Canary Islands Corridor' with warmish southerlies sweeping up across the Atlantic and over Iberia with migrants expected over the next day or two. I'm also hoping it might bring in the odd Pallid Swift or other Iberian/ North African bird vagrant so will be on the look out for that too.
I've missed the odd blog post recently because a lot been going on. I did Beddington on Saturday morning- not too much but a bit of vis mig. Ebird list HERE.
The MV at the Old Vic last night was quite interesting with my first appearance of 'winter moths', presumably November moths and after my first Merveille du Jour last week, there were three of the beauties this morning. Also a nice selection of other classic autumn leaf coloured moths including Sallow, Barred Sallow, Brick, Beaded Chestnut, Chestnut and Yellow-lined Quakers.
November moth (agg) - winter is coming!
Merveille du Jour- took years to get my first one and now four in one week
Brick (above), Yellow-lined Quaker (below) and Chestnut (below that). A nice comparison of relatively similar looking autumn moths.
Heath trap out on the beach. I hope it doesn't get blown over- it's pretty blustery tonight
I'm on a bit of roll. Had this Dotterel flying over Oakley Airfield this morning, walking distance from Holly's. Presumably it broke from the Golden Plover flock that is present in the area (I had over 350 today). Vis mig and migrant Ebird list HERE.
A bit of a Fieldfare day with 151 counted. Not so many migrants on the ground today- a big reduction in Skylark and Linnet numbers but an increase in Meadow Pipits.
The Dotterel is only the 8th record for Bucks and the first in 24 years.
I had an excellent day yesterday at South Foreland valley. Ebird list HERE. The undoubted high light was finding my all time WP and World bogey bird- a Dusky Warbler, a self found lifer (2923rd species), I don't get many of those in the UK nowadays. The supporting cast was also good with a Yellow-browed Warbler, 3 Ring Ouzel and some amazing vis mig including 1506 Goldfinch, 237 Siskin, 202 Lesser Redpoll, 11 Brambling, 81 Chaffinch, 99 Linnet, 3 Yellowhammer, 2 Tree Sparrow and 15 Crossbill.
10 hours in the field literally from dawn to dusk- absolutely brilliant. Not been a bad week with self found Dusky Warbler, Pallas's and Yellow-browed Warbler. Just what I was hoping for this autumn (my big October) and still only half way through. The winds shift to the south next week so I'm hoping to target southern vagrants and moths. Will see how I get on.
Dusky Warbler, typically elusive, keeping low in dark areas and calling often. Call and sonogram on Ebird HERE . The third record for South Foreland Valley in 43 years. South Foreland Valley birding website HERE.
Most migrants were going overhead today so good to get a record shot of a Brambling on the deck
Goldfinches over the Channel (France in background)