Sunday 28 February 2021

Otmoor- the difference a week makes

The change of the guard is well underway at Otmoor. Since my visit last week Redshanks, Curlews and Oystercatchers have arrived and started displaying, at least five singing Chiffchaffs are holding territory and there has been a clear exodus of the larger number of winter waders and ducks (although still plenty around). There was also a rather incredible 14 Ruff and 40+ Dunlin. 

The fog did not lift until about 9am so I spent the early morning in Noke Wood trying to find a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker but despite a negative result I got an Otmoor tick- Treecreeper and the wood was full of singing woodland birds including Marsh Tits, Nuthatches, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers and a flock of Redwings in sub-song choir. Ebird list from today HERE . What with the pre-spring arrival of summering birds I finally managed to break the 70 mark on an Otmoor day list with 71 species today. 

Lapwings and a flock of Dunlin to the left of the image 
Treecreeper in Noke Wood 
A few recordings below including (top to bottom) 1) singing Curlew and calling Redshank on Greenaways 2) a choir of singing Redwings in Noke Wood, 3) a Treecreeper calling, a short song and other woodland birds in Noke Wood and 4) a Song Thrush leading the dawn chorus from Morleys (will be interesting to compare this sound scape as the spring unfolds) . Other recordings HERE too. 

Saturday 27 February 2021


 Another relatively quiet week on the London shift, it was busy at work so didn't get out in the field much apart from keeping an eye out the window and a night walk with Gillian to Beddington Park- the Little Owl was 'singing' again, (a scops-like single soft hoot). 

The 'guys' were noticing spring unfolding at the farmlands with Brimstone and Small Tortoiseshell on the wing and I had the first Common Quakers and March moths in the moth trap. The blossoms on ornamental plums also came out in the last couple of days at work and the early bulbs are also springing up. The first summer migrant birds were reported across the country, in the very mild and sunny conditions (a stark contrast to a week or so ago).    

Quite a poignant week as hopefully I move towards a new chapter in life as we put the London flat (the Beddington obs) on the market this week - with the hope of selling up, cashing in and getting ready to buy a new house with land (to create a mini-nature reserve) and finally all live at one place as a family (it's been great living in two places but Jacob goes to school in September so we need to settle somewhere). 

Small Brindled Beauty - the first for year, a typical very early Spring moth 
Common Quaker - the classic very early spring 'congener' 
Winter Shade, Tortricodes alternella - a particularly well marked one. Up to three in the trap this week. Also up to 8 Agonopterix Alstromeriania 
Herald- been hibernating at my mum's house and been stirring recently  

Tuesday 23 February 2021

Med Gull in the village

Did an hour or so this afternoon checking out the gull flocks around the Ickford and Shabbington bridges (the best places to view the River Thame from public areas). Had a first-winter Mediterranean Gull (a ringed bird) - the first time I've had one in the 'Worminghall area' (an Ebird hotspot I set up which is basically anywhere from the Old Vicarage that I could walk to during lockdown). The main areas in this hotspot area are Oakley Airfield, The Thame between Shabbington and Waterperry (including the Ickford and Shabbington bridges) , Waterstock LNR, Waterperry Gardens and the Old Vicarage, all of which are individual hotspots across two counties.   Today's ebird list HERE.

Also good numbers of Wigeon on the river banks between Icky and Shabby. We did a family walk round Oakley Airfield on a couple of recent days- still over 100 Golden Plovers up there and the Skylarks are singing on both the airfield and near Ickford Bridges. Luke and Nick had the first Curlew back on the river Thame over the weekend. 

The noc-mig was quiet yesterday evening, just Moorhen, Wigeon, Teal, the Tawny Owls, Pheasant and Redwings. Sounds also HERE

Sunday 21 February 2021

Otmoor- Ring-necked Duck

A brilliant day at Otmoor, the highlight being a male Ring-necked Duck found by Nick. Supporting cast included 9 Ruff, 25 Dunlin, 5 Marsh Harrier, 2 Crane, the female Brambling, 12 Yellowhammer, 57 Barnacle Goose (no White-fronts for the first time in a couple of months) and the Lapwings and Golden Plover are back from their winter exodus- in larger numbers than before by the looks of it. Ebird list HERE

Certainly felt like spring was not too far away with singing Chiffchaffs, Skylarks, Chaffinches, Reed Buntings, Lapwings doing territorial display and Song Thrushes. First time this year I woke up to a spring chorus at the Old Vic too this morning. 

Male Ring-necked Duck with Pochard and Tufted Ducks (and 'Luke' the leucistic Pochard) 

Second calender year (First cycle)  Marsh Harrier 
Dunlins, Ruff and Lapwing 
The Barnacle Goose flock were flying around a bit- presumably getting ready to move on too 
Common Cranes 
Lapwings and Golden Plovers back in their thousands- this time last week during the freezing conditions there were just handfuls. Obviously not quite ready to go back to the breeding grounds yet. 

Male Ring-necked Duck at Otmoor today (found by Nick). Also Common Cranes and 5 Marsh Harrier. More on the blog:

Watermeads , the Wandle Trail

A bit of a slow week in London, no moths despite a couple of attempts, the White Stork was flying around again and on Thursday evening I finally had the chance to visit Watermeads on the Wandle. The Firecrest was still in the tree it's been in all winter but no sign of any Siberian Chiffchaffs which seemed to have moved on. There were 4 Common Chiffchaff and 2 female Blackcap. 

We (Zach and Co and Steve) waited till dusk to count the Little Egrets coming into roost- we had 16 (there have been up to 21 recently) . 

I put the noc-mig gear up at Steve's on Little Woodcote on Thursday evening- Little Owls calling, a couple of Coot flying around, a Skylark and a few Redwings. Sounds HERE.

Little Egret at dusk and Firecrest (below) 

Tuesday 16 February 2021

Night life at the Old Vicarage

 It was mild last night for the first time in a while so I put out the heath trap and also put out the noc-mig gear. Only Pale Brindled Beauty and Chestnut in the moth trap. The sound recording was more interesting with a steady migration of Wigeon going over, a few flocks of Teal, Gadwall and some mystery waterfowl, maybe Pintails and possibly even White-fronts (but not sure). (Thanks to Dave Lambert, Paul Morton and Arjun Dutta for comments).

All Sounds HERE. Below top to bottom 1) Goose sp 2) maybe Pintail 3) Flock of Wigeon 

Sunday 14 February 2021

Otmoor- Hungry Raptors

An interesting morning at Otmoor , Ebird list HERE. Seems like there's been a big clear out of birds in the harsh conditions. Instead of 5000+ Golden Plovers there were about 50 and the flock of 140 White-fronted Geese appears to have moved on - except for three birds still on Ashgrave. Also not many winter thrushes about.

The bleak rather empty landscape took on a rather sinister mood with a gang of raptors (presumably hungry) hunting the weak and struggling remaining birds. There were 2 Peregrines, a Merlin, a Sparrowhawk, 3 Marsh Harriers, a Common Buzzard and about 8 Red Kites quartering Greenaways and Big Otmoor. 

Second calendar year Marsh Harrier attempting to catch a Coot 
Merlin eating a small passerine on Greenaways 
Third calendar year male Marsh Harrier hunting over the reed beds 
Wigeon and Pintail being flushed by Peregrines. Most of the wildfowl were concentrating on Big Otmoor in a small unfrozen area. There were at least 200 Pintails there today. 
Barnacle Geese on Big Otmoor 
Brown Hare sitting out the harsh conditions 

Thursday 11 February 2021



The 2020 report is now available HERE

The  take home messages are 141 bird species and 327 moths species were recorded  (a record year for moths) . Highlights included Cattle Egrets (2nd record), Yellow-browed Warbler, the Twites, Black-necked Grebes, Red-crested Pochard, Goshawk, 4 records of Crossbill (second best year), a Spoonbill, the first Arctic Skua since 2002 and of course the Knepp White Stork.  On the breeding bird front Buzzards bred for the first time on site, Little Ringed Plover recolonised (2 pairs), Pochards bred and Little Grebe, Stock Dove, Linnet, Coot, Cetti's Warbler (9 territories!) and Goldfinch had their best breeding seasons ever. 

12 new species of moth were recorded including the impressive looking Leopard Moth. 

Sadly 2020 was the first year that Tree Sparrows did not breed in over 100 years and the Lapwing breeding population declined further. 

On the campaigning front the save the lapwing petition reached 65,000 signatories by the end of the year and the path (public access) petition reached over 1500 signatories. 

The report also includes a section on ringed gull recoveries and there are two systematic lists for Birds and Moths which detail the all time lists and numbers of records for rarities. 

2020 is the first year that we have completely digitized our bird records and the systematic list is now available on line only through hyperlinks in the report and a QR code. Using Ebird and Irecord to automate the systematic list writing we have beat our previous speed for publication. Previously the soonest we could get an annual report out was 8-9 months into the following year. In 2020 we did it in just over a single month (however this report does not integrate the site ecologist data ((winter bird counts and some other counts but does including CBC data)) as that would have completely undermined the whole experiment this year due to excessive delays in providing data). 

Wednesday 10 February 2021

Day Four in the Freezer

No cold spell would be complete without Jack Snipe and today one was showing from the South Lake hide. 

It was relatively quiet today, a flock of Lapwings migrating at height were seen by Zach and Co and Yellowhammer and Brambling were flyovers (seen by Glenn). 


Jack Snipe (Photo by Shaun Ferguson) 
White Stork- it was flying around at height today. Presumably showing signs of migratory restlessness. The asymmetrical moult is very clear, we think a result of a fox attack.  
Redwing- seemed to be a small increase in numbers
Common Snipe from the South Hide. This is an adult bird which can be aged on the tertial pattern (below). 
The tertials have thick alternating black and buff bars and critically the tertial tip is composed of a large white tip (cut by a black line on the vein)  
Nothing about this bird looks like a Wilson's Snipe and just to confirm the outer tail has diffuse markings lacking the more neat barring of Wilson's Snipe 

Tuesday 9 February 2021

The Little Beast from the South East

Today was not quite as exciting as we were hoping for but nonetheless it was an interesting day. The wind switched to the south east today and temperature got above freezing with the lakes remaining open water (so certainly not as harsh as our last hard weather spell, the infamous 2018 Beast of the East) . Highlights today included a Grey Plover, 203 Lapwings and a Dunlin (I missed it) with an influx of Meadow Pipits (70+) , a few more Chaffinches, a couple of Stonechats, the first Fieldfares in a while, an increase in Shelduck and Mute Swan, a Raven, a Yellow-legged Gull and the usual Caspian Gull seen by Zach . Ebird list HERE.

Elsewhere in Surrey and London, Common Crane and Kittiwakes were found with flocks of Lapwings and Golden Plovers, an Oystercatcher and White-fronted Goose SEE HERE

The cold weather continues until end of this week, what will tomorrow bring?

Grey Plover (above and below)

Lapwings on the move (above and below)

Second-winter Yellow-legged Gull (centre right) and Argentatus Herring Gull (centre left) with Argenteus Herring Gulls 
A migrating Mute Swan at height appearing and disappearing in the clouds pretending to be a wild swan 
Water Pipit 
Song Thrush (above) and Meadow Pipit (below) 

A hybrid Canada x Greylag Goose flying over too
Kestrel- leaning towards a juvenile female on this bird. The mantle feathers have traverse bars, the greater coverts have relatively broad dark bars and the moon-shaped tail tip indicate a juvenile. A juvenile should have single triangles on the mantle and narrower dark bars on greater coverts. This time of year it should also be moulting towards first-summer plumage. 

Monday 8 February 2021

A Day in the Freezer

Looks like this hard weather spell is beginning to displace birds already (day two). Over 600 Lapwings flew west over Capel in Surrey today with other small groups and Golden Plovers elsewhere. There was a Yellowhammer at the London wetland centre, a couple of Skylarks over Arjun's Wallington garden and across the region there were hard weather movements in East London and a Smew arrived in Kent. A flock of 12 Kittiwake on QE2 Reservoir was the most exciting discovery. Surrey bird news today HERE . Conditions are frozen on the near continent and this weather lasts until the end of the week. It's a pretty good bet that tomorrow is going to be rather interesting.

I used  today to wait a bit longer (normally takes a couple of days for birds to decide to become refugees and escape the conditions, presumably as a result of food supply shortages due to snow cover/ice)  and catch up with work while I could and plan to take the whole of tomorrow off to hopefully record displacement movement. I did a one and half hour stint at the obs window which was pretty productive. Ebird list HERE  . Highlight was an adult winter Little Gull and also a flock of 14 Snipe flying around. Only 2+5 Lapwing so far. Knepp's White Stork was also flying around outside the window too.

Adult Little Gull 
Part of the Snipe flock 
Lapwings on the move- the vanguard for tomorrow? 
Male Sparrowhawk at the obs bird feeders

The Nature Economy - the future?

Environmental economics is pretty complex but is key to unlocking solutions to solve the ecological and climate emergency. Nature economics has evolved several main streams- economic capital generated by tour companies, optic companies etc, economic capital generated in the ecological consultancy sector,  the NGO/charity sector (funded through donations, grants, funding pots etc e.g. RSPB, Wildlife Trusts etc), the academic sector (funded by both private and public investment e.g. Cornell Lab etc), other small sectors (nature media etc)   and last but not least the somewhat more intangible community kudos or social credit 'sector' (e.g. facebook likes, blog stats, other social media credits, life lists, finds lists, publications lists etc). The social credit aspect in birding/natural history  is presumably quite unique in society. Not many people make any money from writing a bird book, or annual report, or running a bird club, or finding a rare bird or moth, or running a facebook page,  or building a birding website and despite this lack of monetary incentivisation there are some ground breaking achievements being achieved in some natural history quarters by privately funded non-profits (e.g the Norfolk Moths website, The Sound Approach, Gull Research Organisation and us at Little Oak Group :-)). It's clearly bollox that market forces are the only forces in creating innovation. 

There is clearly a huge over supply of labour in natural history which is why so many people are quite happy to provide data to e.g. BTO or Ebird for free and to volunteer in the birding community. Its a hobby for most people but for many people they engage in a way that it is much more than a 'hobby'. It's a lifestyle choice/ sub-culture which is counter current.  Another way of framing this is that natural history is hugely undervalued and there is an enormous potential for growing the sector. Surely this is key to solving the ecological and climate emergency and creating the sustainable society. 

While it is laudable that so many people are willing to volunteer it is also problematic in that it out competes those who are trying to make a living out of it and leads to certain bodies like the CIEEM actively persecuting the volunteer sector and blocking the use of citizen science data in decision making. This is fundamentally the result of a limited resource, which is also diminishing fast (through ecological destruction) with too many players and not enough 'consumers' (people paying for it).   

The problem lies in the lack of a 'currency', that can be traded and can facilitate in the development of natural capital 'industries'. Over the last decade or so, carbon markets, carbon exchanges, carbon offsets have emerged in a drive to measure carbon footprints and then rewarding those who are reducing their footprints and effectively punishing those who are not (carbon reducers are awarded carbon credits that polluters have to buy to offset their inability or unwillingness to reduce theirs) e.g. in 2018 EU Carbon credits traded between approx $8 and $26. At the moment companies do this voluntary although of course a crystallised version of this needs to be mandatory in the future to achieve global net zero and avoid climate chaos in Post Capitalism.     

The same is true of the biodiversity crisis. We need to be establishing baselines, forming biodiversity credits and building markets and exchanges. How do we do this?- carbon is an element, carbon dioxide a molecular and measuring it is relatively simple. However biodiversity is basically everything alive that isn't human.  A metric would have to be an index (like the FTSE)  and certain types of measurements would need to form that index- e.g. number of breeding territories, number of species, number of red data list species in the context of e.g. per hectare. People generating natural capital should be rewarded by being awarded biodiversity credits that could trade in the same way as carbon credits.

Furthermore there are other ways of creating currency to increase more fluidity in achieving net biodiversity gain. Providing data could be incentivised further (how long can we be sustained by social media likes and isn't it biased towards dumb stuff like twitching a rare bird or adopting some polarised position and becoming a covid or carbon police twat?). The BTO and Cornell have people in relatively well paid positions that make their money from processing data provided by free labour. This is basically slavery but voluntary (so its okay?)  but you could argue in late stage Capitalism with only poor quality paid jobs available and mass obsolescence that it makes sense to increase this labour market by paying people to collect data  and populate these emerging global databases e.g. Ebird.  These platforms could be monetised even by their own virtual currency (a birding cryptocurrency - BIRDCOIN that could even be traded). More simple monetary incentivisation could be achieved by providing e.g. Free subscriptions to Cornell's Birds of the World for Top Ebirders (those submitting so many records or checklists a year) or the State could provide solutions by providing birding options as get back to work route options (tie it into Universal Basic Income or Universal Credits- you only get your dole money if you go birding!). Basically the fundamentally principle is - maximise incentive to engage in nature to build the community and increase value. However this also needs to be done while simultaneously punishing and torturing those who are destroying natural capital- through taxing to death the unsustainable sector- the role of groups like Extinction Rebellion increasing security/developments costs for capitalists is also vital as the governments are too lobbyist infiltrated .  

The nascent position of the natural history community is very problematic. Those who seek to make a living from it will try and hold down others because the community actually requires massive investment to get it off the ground and trying to make a living out of it now is like trying to milk a heard of bulls- it will drive people crazy. We need big investment in the infrastructure to build the nature economy.

Valuing nature correctly is key to protecting it.  There needs to be stock markets in natural capital, we need natural capital billionaires (people who own more species and bird territories than anyone else) , we need gorgeous and sexy celebrities (not Bill Oddie !)  who have massive twitter followers because they are wealthy in natural capital and show off natural wealth that creates envy and inspiration), we need Birding Forbes and society platforms (like Hello Magazine) that feature prats at home showing off what they've got (in this case a f@ck off massive bird table) which seem popular in capitalism, we need competition, people clawing each others eyes out to hoard nature (instead of filthy lucre), it needs to be cutting edge and exciting, egos need to balloon in this environment (we have to be realistic that even in a post capitalist world we will still need space for narcissism) , it needs to be scandalous, we need to get to a point where a life list will get you the girl (or whatever you want). In short Nature needs to be 'God' in the increasing computer system controlled world that we inhabit, the algorithms need to be written to reward those who protect and enhance it and punish those who destroy it. Realistically it needs to be 'a God', in a deity trinity alongside consumer wealth and social capital - any future post capitalist society needs at least three main values/currencies in no particular order - Natural Capital, Economic Capital and Social Capital. We need natural capital currencies/metrics - this is the Emergency.        

Saturday 6 February 2021

Deep Winter Moths at Beddington Farmlands

Caught a couple 'new for years' in the moth trap this week including Pale Brindled Beauty and Winter Shade. There is a very cold spell starting tomorrow so presumably the moths will dry up for a bit but as we go further into February it won't be long before the Quakers and the 'early Spring' moths appear. In tribute to winter drawing to a close here's a few winter hardy souls in the moth world that are on the wing through the deepest dark nights of the deepest part of winter in this part of the world. 

December moth- looks well prepared for winter with it's thick winter coat
Agonopoterix alstromeriana - a bit of a Beddington speciality , there were up to three in the trap this week . Also known as the Hemlock moth or Brown-spot Flat-body
Winter Shade, Tortricodes alternella 
New Zealand Light Brown Apple Moth- I don't think this chooses to be on the wing in mid-winter. An adventive moth that has colonised the UK after being accidently introduced through food trade from New Zealand. Seems to survive well even though it's switched hemispheres knackering it's life cycle synchronisation. 
Beautiful Plume- amazes me that something this fragile can survive the mid-winter nights 
Spring Usher- there was only one previous record of Spring Usher for Beddington Farmlands before this winter but this year we've had a run of them. A seemingly very variable species SEE HERE
Pale Brindled Beauty
Narrow-winged Grey, Eudonia angustea
A member of the Acleris family that I can't identify and are in fact mainly identified by dissection. A few of these are also on the wing in mid-winter.
Mottled Umbers and Winter Moth (bottom left). Didn't actually get a Mottled Umber here this winter but this picture is from a previous January
Satellite- another one that appears in mid-winter, again not this year but a previous January