Friday, 3 December 2021

New family member

So in addition to our 1020 species in the garden, 3 dogs, one Pony, one Syrian Hamster, 4 Mountain Minnows, 3 Lyre-tail Guppies, 1 Siamese-fighter, 3 Platies, 1 Amazon Angel Fish, 5 Neon Tetras and 5 humans,  yesterday we welcomed our newest member into the family, Isaac Ronald Alfrey.  

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Little Auk on the River Thames

Holly was in latent phase labour yesterday and I thought my run of bad luck was continuing and I wouldn't be able to twitch the Farmoor Little Auk. Luckily the contractions stopped for a few hours this morning, enough time for me to get work sorted, get Jacob to school and twitch the Auk and try for the Red-breasted Geese too at Otmoor (dipped them- bummer)  before racing back home , picking up Holly who by now was in more established labour and then off to the maternity ward which is where we are now awaiting the arrival of Jacob's brother.  

The Auk was taken into care and after examination was released in Somerset on the River Severn so all good all round!   

More on the Auk on the Oxon Birding Blog HERE

Monday, 29 November 2021

The Old Vicarage- November Snow

A nice dusting of snow last night. A couple of Skylarks flying over the garden might have been cold weather displaced. 3 Siskins again. Otherwise nice conditions for a few photos. 

Adult Red Kite- saturated in the winter light 
Blue Tit on the feeders 
Redwing on Hawthorn
Female Chaffinch in the snow 
This cold weather should be sweetening these Cotoneaster berries up for winter thrushes later 

Views of our garden (two above) 
Took a walk with Holly through the village- the neighbours house looked pretty impressive 
Goldcrest singing (above) and Garden Soundscape (Wren, Chaffinch, Blackbird, Starling, Pied Wagtail, Starling, Blue Tit, Redwings, Robin)

Sunday, 28 November 2021

The Old Vicarage Kestrel

Did a couple of hours in the garden today. 208 individuals of 31 species (in and from). Ebird list HERE. The new bird feeders are in constant use now, added Niger seeds to the menu to try and get the Siskins down (only two today, feeding in the Lawson's Cypress again). Three Pied Wagtails are feeding in the horse paddock and good numbers of Redwings around. 

The usual Kestrel showed well today (I haven't seen our Buzzard for a few weeks so presumed it's got a new favoured perch).  


Kestrel- the uniformity of the plumage and squared off tail tips suggests a juvenile and the equal width of the black and reddish brown barring on the coverts and relatively large dark centres on the mantle feathers suggests a female. A juvenile should also have a streaked breast which this seems to have a streaked upper breast and more spotted lower breast. Spots are a feature of older females so the bird could have moulted some underpart feathers. It did have quite a distinctive grey rump which is a feature of juvenile male but still the balance seems to be leaning towards a female. Not sure an adult female can be ruled out altogether either. Any comments most welcome. 
Female Pied Wagtail 

Saturday, 27 November 2021

Please Comment and Help

I've noticed a reluctance for people to comment on this blog and some would rather start separate threads on twitter, discuss things I've said privately or message me personally (which is great too). I'm just trying to do my bit and using this blog to try to record information, sightings etc and straighten my thoughts that I will then apply to Little Oak Group, our business and our projects. It's extremely difficult (impossible probably) to go against the flow and try and run and grow an independent self funding small nature conservation/birding venture so feedback, counter argument and engagement is really helpful. I'm always indebted to anyone who helps with validating/correcting identification on moths etc (I might even make the odd birding mistake- I will punish myself if I do!) and if any opinion piece blogs cause offence or any kind of reaction please do weigh in in the comments section. As what I'm trying to do is basically impossible and involves various contradictory trade offs,  what any of us can hope for is to gain optimisation (making the best out of an impossible situation) and that requires checks and balances so feedback and criticism is vital. 

I had to apply comment moderation on this blog because a parrot selling company kept spamming my posts with literally hundreds of parrot ads but I won't censor anything apart from spam.    

As an example of the disconnection between readers and the comments section here is a recent tweet from Low Carbon Birding's Tim Allwood.  I had over a thousand reads of the Bird Fair post he was referring to but no comments (update. there are comments now)  on the blog but plenty of feedback from various other sources. Tim is a zealot advocate of low carbon birding, an extreme critic and hard liner. I've called him a Carbon Inquisition Priest in a previous spat which is pretty accurate as he is very judgemental, damning and critical of other people's behaviour (remind's me of my mother a lot). However, he certainly doesn't mind putting his neck out and seems pretty fearless and while I don't agree with the absolutism in his preaching I do agree with a lot of what he says and I do try to take it on board. I find blogger (and facebook even) is a better place for discussion than twitter although the character restrictions on twitter do help with choosing words carefully but its not a good platform for discussion. Blogger comments section is better for that. Of course meeting up and discussing things in person is the best way so I've asked Tim to meet up for a drink so hopefully will meet soon.     

So please do feel free to comment and criticise. It might not come across like it (or maybe it does, come to think of it maybe it does too much and I'm not keeping up the farce-in-which-we-are-all-compelled-to-act-in enough) but like everyone I struggle everyday to make sense of things and act in a way which makes that struggle easier with enjoyable break throughs and moments that make it all worthwhile, a struggle to find meaning and purpose , direction and progress  (in my case through the window of natural history) so any comments and help much appreciated! I do all I can to share everything I think might be useful or interesting to others (most people don't give a flying fuck but that's all part of this challenge) so appreciate any help back too.  So please do comment and criticise. 

Wednesday, 24 November 2021


Did a few hours at Otmoor today. Highlights included Hen Harrier, 3-4 Marsh Harriers, good numbers of winter thrushes on Morleys and a few Stonechats. My rarity drought not only continues but has quite remarkably headed even further south as I was hoping to see the Red-breasted Geese that have been around for a few days (presumably the same ones that were in Essex last week HERE and appear to be given the benefit of the doubt by Birdguides HERE) and once again failed in my quest. This is the longest run of bad luck in birding I can remember, a Black Patch as opposed to a Purple Patch.  Dipping potential plastic is a new low. 

Meanwhile back at the Old Vicarage its been pretty static, the odd Winter moth on the side of the house, a small flock of Siskin still around. Weekend family stuff included a visit to the Falconry centre at Millets Farm. Steppe Eagle,  Black-shouldered Kite, Laggar Falcon and about 30 other raptor species have now been added to my list of the curious captive species lurking in Oxon/Bucks. 

'Ring-tailed' Hen Harrier. Better photos and videos of presumably this same bird HERE and HERE. Not entirely sure of the age or sex of this bird but there appears to be a moult contrast in the secondaries and certainly appears to have heavy blotching/marking on the flanks and under tail coverts. In the linked photo, the bird clearly has a yellow eye which in a juvenile would indicate a male but the wide secondary trailing edge bar (which surprisingly tapers into quite a narrow dark edge on the inner hand) and the rufous dense markings on the underparts and auxiliaries are more older female features so my best guess is that this is non-juvenile female. The tail seems like a moult contrast in it too.  Would really need better photos and expertise but at a push I would guess a 2nd calendar year or older female. Barring in the primaries (from above) is also a feature of older females.  Comments/correction welcome. 
One of three to four Marsh Harriers today 
Redwing- good numbers on Morleys and also in the hawthorns on the roadside verges on the journey. 
Male Stonechat
Must be winter, flocks of Wigeon are back on Big Otmoor 

Birdfair Axed- the death blow of the global birding society or the new dawn?

So as the UK drifts further into a backwater of the planet, it seems to have taken birding with it. Yesterday the Leicester and Rutland Wildlife Trust announced they will no longer be hosting the International Bird Fair. Full statement HERE. Seems that in addition to financial challenges and other risks, the Bird Fair has become victim to the carbon narrative, a narrative that proclaims that instead of reforming global trade systems and global nature conservation, nature conservationists should burrow in locally, protect their own and promote sedentary low energy lifestyles. While that is indeed part of the solution to the ecological crisis, the extreme overcompensation of completely axing the Bird Fair probably highlights the undercurrent in the Wildlife Trusts, a reliant on over-local type people for funding and corporate greenwash money, which effectively has pulled them into the whole culture of slow managed decline that does not challenge corruption and retreats into the roots of society (that was certainly our experience in the Beddington Farmlands Campaign too, where the London Wildlife Trust rep actually voted me off a stakeholder committee in order to appease corporate and council interests). I guess the Wildlife Trusts had their day in the 1970s- they made some incredible leaps and successes but indeed were part of the GDP paradigm (it was all tied up in corporate greenwash and local authority eventual demise to the power of lobbying generated by that greenwash) and looks like will drift into history with it.  

The Bird Fair did need reform of course. A global birding culture focused on expensive high carbon birding trips for wealthy boomers was always a flawed model.  Global birding society needs young people, innovators and local/indigenous society at it's nucleus. Bird Fair was unfortunately an arm of the unsustainable society, a neo-colonial trade fair dominated by expensive optics companies and all-the gear-no-idea boomers (who presumably had made their money supporting global capitalism and destroying the planet). Basically old birding boomers could buy their way into an elite society and swan around the world collecting bird ticks armed with tens of thousands of pounds of equipment and then return to their mini-bourgeois hyper inflated  middle class homes/ index linked pensions and stocks and shares isas and corporate working families after the trip. Field craft, contributions to science, deep understanding and zen connections, soul building, ground breaking exploration and empowerment of local people/society was not on the radar of most company owners. For the most part Bird Fair was an exploitative capitalist orgy. 

However, that was just for the most part. Deeply embedded within Bird Fair was also something else, a nucleus of a global birding society, young birder groups, innovative non-profit birding developments (e.g. the Sound Approach), friendships, partnerships between the global north and south, decently skilled and appropriately equipped boomer birders, the support of local/indigenous lodges and businesses, the transfer of wealth from the global north to south and the contribution of data to Ebird and citizen science contributions. There was also the £5 million donated to Birdlife International (a rather pathetic small amount of money over 30 years for the entire cause of global conservation- the capitalists themselves have just created a $100 trillion fund for a green revolution!) and only God knows whatever happens to that money (there are many stories). However as we all know, key to nature conservation and local community empowerment is low cost, high impact strategies, which nature conservation is perfectly evolved for so £5 million spent wisely could indeed change the world. 

The focus of Bird Fair should have been on young people in the UK and local/indigenous people who are the guardians of the planet's major areas of biodiversity. The focus on young people should have been empowering them to connect with nature deeply and understand in detail the global ecological crisis, for boomers money to go into taking youngsters round the world for educational reasons. For Boomers it is too late, they have already fucked everything up- it should be them sitting at home on their local patches, not young people who need to connect and understand the global society and globalisation. It's completely paradoxical that young people cant afford to travel to support global nature conservation and old burnt out useless boomers can- a travel experience and knowledge that will never be used for anything useful!  For Young people they need to follow a completely new path, detached from the GDP paradigm, not just working all their lives creating hyper-inflation in housing and hoarding wealth to become burnt out and useless (ironically a lot of these capitalist collaborators often loose that wealth in long terminal health declines in expensive nursing homes so in many cases the whole thing was completely pointless) , they need to be working with local/indigenous groups, creating ground up reform and empowerment and reforming globalisation. Young people themselves need to be creating parallel structure businesses and tour companies that do get young people out there, perhaps where one boomer pays for one young person, turn the boomers into something useful? At the moment some of the only good boomers are the ones who are willing to glue themselves to the Beddington Farmlands incinerator (what does it matter if they get a criminal record now) so surely considering martyrdom is always a hard sale best to sell a boomer experience tied in with young people and local society empowerment. That is not neo-colonialism, that is a global community working together.  Anyway I'm kicking off now so will shut up. There is loads more to this.

So Bird Fair should not have been axed, it should have been reformed. So in a way its quite sad the unsustainable model of Bird Fair (or rather a global birding society nucleus) has come to and end but in another way there is an immense vacuum here that has formed, the opportunity for a new nucleus to form. It may well form organically within the global computer system, in fact it probably will, something around Ebird/ Cornell and new innovative birding IT, digital market places and new metrics, serving a more de-centralised localised network. It's likely to involve the $100 trillion green transition fund, the rise of ethical investment and the evolution of birding from a pioneer community to a cutting- in-community of a main stream of the future sustainable global society involving very large sums of money (that multiply from carefully cultivated seed money) and huge amounts of political capital. Will be interesting to see how all the pieces re-align now , within this vacuum in the birding cosmos. One thing for certain by looks of it, is that a new nucleus will not be coming from the Wildlife Trusts and the traditional UK nature conservation society if Leicester and Rutlands behaviour is anything to go by.  Its good to be small minded but there is good small mindedness and bad small mindedness. Think Global but act Local. Not think Local and fuck Global. 

Monday, 22 November 2021

Website Re-vamp


This video below is along the lines of what we are part of. We are what is known as a Parallel Structure which is an organisation that lives by a set of values, self reliant and independent systems outside of mainstream society at a time when mainstream society cycle is reaching late stage. 


Friday, 19 November 2021

Little Oak versus Mighty Oak

 A few more pics of the dead giant Oak we were working on this week. One of the largest trees we've had to take down. 

This Peregrine flew over while I was taking these pics 

Wednesday, 17 November 2021

Big Job

Doing this big tree at the moment on the tree and garden care front. We don't do many big fells as we generally refuse to do them (unless dead or dangerous) but sadly this majestic old Oak was dead and could become potentially dangerous. We will monolith it instead of taking it down altogether and leave a safe standing pollard which will be good for woodpeckers and anything else that likes deadwood. 

To view on facebook with videos etc click on facebook symbol 

Tuesday, 16 November 2021

The Old Vic

Nice to have Siskins as a recent daily feature of the garden this autumn. There's been up to 10 or so, often feeding on the Lawson's Cypress trees. Also had another flock of Golden Plovers flying over and small groups of Redwings and Fieldfares. Tawny Owls calling most nights and Coal Tit on the new feeders.

Nothing in the moth trap last night but there was a winter moth by the light in the porch.

As is customary in winter, I've been reading a lot recently and came across a picture in the 2012 Beddington Farmlands report of a moth that I didn't recognise and was un-titled in the report. Nowadays if there is a moth I don't recognise then its something not too bad (or rather not very common) . Back in 2012 I was a complete novice and I didn't recognise hardly anything so I've started to go through old photos in UFO albums and blog posts. The moth in question looks like one of the more distinctive Coleophora species perhaps something like C.ochrea which would be a vagrant from the nearby Chalk downlands. Presumably it's a gen den one so I still don't know what it is. 

Winter moth 
Coleophora sp from Beddington Farmlands 2012 

Monday, 15 November 2021

Shellness, Sheppey

7274 birds of 61 species today at Shellness HERE. In true autumn 2021 form I didn't find anything particularly interesting in what was my last ditch attempt on the back of a short period of easterlies in the dusk of autumn before winter true unfolds. Even dipped the Shorelarks that were there yesterday and my target species to find, which was Snow Bunting, were found in a couple of sites nearby. However it was still brilliant to see the Thames Estuary winter waterbirds and Black-throated Diver and Razorbill are not too bad for the area.    

In the afternoon I decided to check out Warden Point but for a different type of birding. The Eocene geology here has hosted some prehistoric bird species fossils and I've been meaning to do a quick recee for a while. Jacob is dinosaur and prehistoric creature mad so am hoping to start doing some fossil hunting with him soon. Fortunately I bumped into one of the admin of the London Clay Fossil Facebook Group who very generously gave me two shark teeth and a fossil crab (which he had just found) from 48-52 million years ago when Sheppey was joint to North America, situated nearer the equator and was a sub-tropical sea teeming with prehistoric shark, turtles, crabs, lobsters with a delta nearby populated by prehistoric pelicans, rollers and waterfowl. The guy I spoke to has actually found a new prehistoric bird species for science on Sheppey, now that is a rarity find in a different league. 

Shellness Brents and waders. The high tide roost included 3000 Oystercatcher and 2000 Knot. Not a sub-tropical sea today but an equally impressive major estuary and internationally important bird area. Amazing the pages of evolution, stacked up on top of each other like old newspapers, with todays paper on top and today's ink being these Brents and waterbirds.  Chilling how temporary and fragile everything is especially as the Sixth great extinction unfolds, presumably we are the first creature to see the risk of our own extinction coming and also the only one that could ever have a chance to do anything about it.   
About 50 Sanderling (above) and about 350 Dunlin (below) in the high tide roost 

Grey Plover
Juvenile Red-throated Divers in the estuary- about 10 of these. The off shore waters in the Thames Estuary is one of the most important wintering area for Red-throated Divers in UK.
Had this Black-throated Diver fly up the Swale
Eocene Shark teeth and Crab (will get scientific names for these soon)
The fossiliferous cliffs of Warden Point. Deep water marine deposits from when Sheppey was a sub-tropical shark infested sea which has evolved in the present to a cockney holiday hub and internationally important site for waterbirds (a RAMSAR site).