Monday 31 January 2022

British Birds Article this month

Our Corvo ringing write up is published in this month's British Birds. A bit more on our project site HERE (Click on Project Log). Publications page updated HERE. Good to have something in British Birds on Corvo as we usually publish in Dutch Birding which has a more Western Palearctic focused readership. Considering it was the British that 'discovered' (from a birding perspective)  Corvo HERE, it's good to see it coming home a bit. Should really do more for BB, maybe something comparing British and Azores vagrancy? 

Friday 28 January 2022

Fossil hunting at Warden, Isle of Sheppey

I went paleo-birding on Wednesday in what I hope will be the beginning of a mini-project to try and find a fossil bird. The Eocene London Clay, particularly in the 'D  division' which is exposed on the Isle of Sheppey between Warden and Minster is one of the best places in the UK to look for fossil birds. Species found here include Dasornis emuinus, Odontopteryx toliapica and Pseudodontorn sp.  More here

I spent the first session just trying to get some bearings and work out the techniques involved. There are basically two main techniques for finding fossils here 1) Scouring the foreshore on your hands and knees, looking amongst the shingle and pyrite nodule accumulations for fossils which have been washed out the cliffs and 2) Checking for phosphatic nodules anywhere below the high water mark at low tide which may contain fossilised crabs and lobsters and even (rarely) birds. Before I visited I joined a few facebook groups including London Clay Fossils Here and Sheppey Fossil Forum Here, read the information on the Sheppey Fossils website Here and also watched some Sheppey Fossil hunting You Tube videos Here. I also bought the excellent book London Clay Fossils of Kent and Essex by Rayner et al Here.

I found a few bits, the highlight was a shark tooth which I believe is Otodus obliquus, an extinct species/genus, dating in this area from about 52 million years ago in the Lower Eocene. I also found a few gastropods and lots of unidentified fragments. The London Clay in this area represents an assemblage of organisms associated with a warm tropical sea with a land mass nearby dominated by crabs. lobsters, sharks, rays, turtles, fish with the occasional bird and snake and mammal washed in from the nearby landmass. 

In the late afternoon I went to the Capel Fleet Raptor view point for a bit of modern day bird action with the raptors coming into roost. Had 10 Marsh Harrier, 1 Hen Harrier, 2 Merlin, 1 Great Egret and 35 Corn Buntings. 

Otodus tooth 
Lots of gastropods and also what might be a lobster borrow (bottom), trace fossils (bottom left), maybe a coprolite (right) and maybe a seed (middle left of maybe a bit of fossil wood). I will check these with the facebook group but thought I would put down my guesses first as could be useful for absolute beginners like myself in the pitfalls and fossil lookalikes .  
Warden. The toe of a clay landslip which I presumed was a good place to check the foreshore here for any fresh washed out fossils. It was in this area I found the shark tooth. 
Brents were feeding off shore and there were Sanderlings running around the foreshore where I was fossil hunting
Marsh Harrier coming into roost nearby at Capel Fleet 
Corn Buntings coming into roost at Capel

Tuesday 25 January 2022

Otmoor Wipit

 Did Otmoor today. Highlights were a Water Pipit from the second screen (Oxon lifer), a Chiffchaff from first screen, three Marsh Harriers, a Dunlin, good numbers of Snipe and good numbers of Golden Plover at last. Also had a load of Goldies (about 400)  near Bernwood Forest on the way over to Otmoor.  Ebird list from today HERE

Water Pipit (above and below) 

Reeve's Muntjac by the feeders. Also had 3 Roe Deer, another Muntjac and 3-4 Brown Hares today. 

Early Moth

The Old Vic moth year list kicks off with an Early Moth over the porch light. 

Early Moth
This partially leucistic Redwing is still around the garden 
The garden Siskins are still performing- not seen them here in previous winters so not sure how unusual this winter's influx is 

Monday 24 January 2022

Don't just read the Guardian or the Daily Mail for Nature Conservation/Environmental News

 The two most polarised  sources of news in this country are widely recognised as the Guardian and the Daily Mail. In terms of quality personally I think they are worse than the Sun which is neither pretentious or obnoxiously snobby and nobody really takes it too seriously which sadly appears to be not true for the Guardian or Daily Mail.  For a modern, multi-source balanced view (well you get all the information anyway to construct your own narrative) on nature conservation and environmental matters INKCAP Journal is pure brilliance bringing together more or less everything from everywhere written about nature conservation every single week of the year. 

I guess nobody reading this actually does only read one source of news from the old fashioned increasingly ridiculous and irrelevant pre-digital main stream media but there is a small chance not everyone interested in UK nature conservation and the environment have subscribed to INKCAP yet. If not here's the link. 


Also while on the subject of the disease of division, great to see Birdguides with Lucy McRobert flying the flag for balance and choice here : ANTI-SOCIAL MEDIA

Sunday 23 January 2022

The Old Vicarage Winter Weekend

A few more garden year ticks this weekend including Black-headed Gull, Fieldfare and Grey Heron. Now on 45 species for the year HERE . Highlights included a flock of 35 Siskin flying around the village (with up to four on the feeders) and the Blackcap is still around. Lots of territorial behaviour especially Robins and Dunnocks (singing and fighting), Collared Doves and Stock Doves singing, Greenfinches singing, Jackdaws inspecting holes, Great Spotted Woodpeckers drumming and fighting and Green Woodpeckers chasing each other this morning too. Song Thrush are still hard to come by, one was in the garden yesterday and there is a distant singing one but no territories in the garden yet. The Tawny Owls were calling again last night. 

Went to Crocodiles of the World Zoo today with the family. Just when you think the weird world of Oxon/Bucks biodiversity can't get any more strange then this happens- a Crocodile Farm! . Basically a series of ram shackle agricultural sheds in the Cotswolds stacked full of crocodiles and reptiles. HERE. Apparently there are 23 species of Crocodiles, Alligators, Caimans and Gharials globally and there are a good selection of the species here. 

Still haven't caught or seen a moth this year. 

The mini-farm still has Beetroot, Kale, Parsley and Savoy Cabbage still ready for harvesting and the Onions, Garlic and Broad Beans are coming along. Might need to do a bit more bed extension and winter clearing before the Spring comes. 

We've added a couple more species to Jacob's bedroom zoo. There are a couple of excellent outlets nearby at Bradmore Farm. A reptile shop called EXOTICS AT HEART  HERE (check out this incredible species stock list HERE- over 150 species of Reptile, Amphibian, Scorpions, Spiders, Millipedes and Mantis) and an Aquarium called  FISHNFINS HERE.  This weekend we added Black-fin Cory to the Aquarium and a Giant Asian Mantis to replace the Syrian Hamster which unfortunately died this week (they only live about 2 years). 

Male and female Siskin (above and below) 

Male Chaffinch
Female Greenfinch
Schneider's Dwarf Camain 
Nile Crocodile 
Also a Fishing Cat thrown in to the collection! 
Our leopard gecko meets the aquarium 
Western African Dwarf Crocodile with West African fish species including Chichlids and Talapia
The new Black-fin Corys in our Aquarium 
Our new Asian Giant Mantis. Only about 2 inches at the moment. Feeds on fruit fly. The prey items we have to feed our mini-zoo animals on are also interesting including Meal worms, Wax worms (the larvae of Wax moths), Desert Locust and now Fruit flies. What with the exotic plants to add to the tanks and the stowaways such as snails etc the mini-zoo species lists continues to grow. 

Friday 21 January 2022

Natural Capitalist Update


A quick update on how this is going (Background here) which is basically an investment drive to raise enough money to buy a 12 acre farm for regenerative agriculture/rewilding within five years and to support/grow satellite projects. 

1) Further Investment in the buy to let market in Hackbridge (Hub of Wandle Valley Regional Park and Beddington Farmlands) 

Going pretty well so far, we won an auction on a new buy to let property (at a very good price) and so far looking good in raising the finance and working towards completion.  Refurb builders and letting agency all ready to move forward too. 

All good on our existing rental property in Hackbridge. We continue to work on the Beddington Farmlands and Hackbridge Development Project in order to achieve community improvements and nature reserve integration in this area HERE to improve the whole environment. 

2) Investment in Green Investment Funds and Stocks/shares in Green Transition/Alternative Markets

Not so good. As warned by my advisors, investments in Green Funds are long term investments (no expectation of short term gain) and indeed the Jupiter Green Fund we invested in has dropped by 15% since COP26 resulting in a 10% overall drop in our stocks and shares fund. That has been countered by good returns on Solona and Etherium cryptocurrency, punting the FTSE (currently shorting it with 2X geared ETF vehicle) and some steady traditional investments. Our KKR investment has been terrible too (the investment company that own Beddington Farmlands).  Overall a trading loss across the platforms (HL and FTX) of about £200 (From a £5000 investment with another £5000 to invest once more experience gained) . By investing in Jupiter Green seems like we are basically subsidising the green transition which we expected but not quite to the tune of 15%! Anyway all new and interesting and paying the price for 'investment training' (aka being mugged off :-) )    

3) Purchasing of land in project sites such as Bulgaria, Ghana and also UK and explore opportunities in carbon credit trading/ tree planting/ carbon storage financial incentives. 

All good, our local partner bought a further 1000m2 in Bulgaria to add to the existing plot last year and we have allocated funds to construct a small lodge this year for birding holiday renting. Some ground clearance were carried out last week and currently looking to tender the lodge construction (a small 'mobile'/ready made wooden cabin/tiny house). 

Hope to visit Andy's farm soon, he is looking into the new incentives available in the new natural capital government schemes.  Also keeping an eye on the land/farm market- got my heart set on East Kent. Might buy a small area of woodland within next five years just to get the ball rolling and do some hobby woodland management - can pick these up for about £10K an acre in some cases. Five years is a long time to wait! so this will be a way of 'doing something' while waiting/saving up.

4) Growth in core business activity of green space management 

All going well, busy through the winter and working on our online marketing. Working on one of our favourite jobs next week - doing the trees at the London Wetland Centre.  Got a few tree management plans to do over the next few weeks too which is good winter work. Record turnover last year, so fingers crossed that keeps up.  

5) The monetisation of projects in Azores and Bulgaria (through eco-tourism) 

The lodge in Bulgaria is the main objective at the moment. Will keep an eye on the travelling environment whether to try and get the Azores Safari running next year. Hopefully the Azores pelagic trip will run this year. 

6) Continue investment/improvements into current HQs in London and Bucks.  

We got a new mop! 


Tuesday 18 January 2022


Finally managed to get out in the field. Spent a few hours at Otmoor. Ebird list HERE. Very quiet really although I didn't have my scope (in for repairs) and there was a lot of work going on in the reed bed. Seems a lot drier than last winter too.

At least one female-type Marsh Harrier around. Also had Peregrine.
Good numbers of Wigeon and Teal around but didn't see many Golden Plovers or Lapwings this morning. Had a couple of Dunlin. 
Female and male Bullfinch (above and below) 

Monday 17 January 2022

West Midlands Safari Park

Another family day out and more exploring into the weird and wonderful world of 'Wildlife Parks' , this time West Midlands Safari Park. The prehistoric large mammal display is a clear highlight and the dinosaur display is one of the best we've visited too. These displays of incredible lost megafauna set the context of present day natural history and the threats to surviving megafauna which frames the park's captive breeding programs of extinct-in-the-wild and threatened species relevant, important and urgent.

The focus on ungulates, particularly antelopes and deer is a fascinating focus (quite an academic one presumably afforded by more populist attractions elsewhere in the park) and there is an incredible range of species including Ellipsen Waterbuck, Red Lechwe, Eland, Gemsbok, Barbary Sheep, Ankole Cow, Congo Buffalo, Cape Buffalo, Persian Fallow Deer, Eld's Deer, Axis Deer, Formosan Sika Deer, Blackbuck, Barasingha, Banteng, Bactrian Camel, Lowland Anoa, Philippine Spotted Deer, Pere David's Deer, Nilgai and domestic breeds of sheep too. 

What with Sea Lion shows, all the other classics (Penguins, Lions, Tigers etc), Reptile house, Aquarium and Bats plus a full on amusement park and roller coasters thrown in on the side, this is pretty mega place but not one to visit while simultaneously attempting to inspire your four year old with hybrid large gull identification. 

A lot of the deer groups were mixed up so not sure on the identification below (please jump in on any mistakes) 

Presumed hybrid adult Lesser black-backed x Herring Gull 
Red Lechwe
Pere David's Deer (Extinct in the wild)
Eld's Deer?
Axis Deer
Persian Fallow Deer ?
Phorusrhacos (Terror-bird) - 5 million years ago
Embolotherium (on right about 30 million years ago) and Chalicotherium (about 4 million years ago)
Playbeledon (left) the ancestor of elephants about 10 million years ago and Enteledont (aka Terror-pig) from 16 million years ago
Ice age animals, Woolly Mammoths, Cave Lions and Elasmotherium 

The ancestors of gulls proved more interesting than the gulls themselves to my other family members 

Thursday 13 January 2022

Old Vic Ticks

Still house and work bound (been busy with both family and making various investments recently to save up for the farm- going pretty well, will update on how my 'natural capitalist' adventure is going soon). So still mincing around the garden and been having a look at fungi recently with the help of Lee Dingain. Here's a few which are new species for the Old Vic (now on 1023). 

Hairy Curtain Crust Stereum hirsutumn (above and below). Also known as False Turkey-tail. 
Turkey-tail Trametes versicolor (Probably this species, Lee wanted to looked at the pore spacing more closely, images above and below, showing the underside below and the difference to 'False Turkey-tail' or Hairy Curtain Crust also featured in this post, with Turkey-tail being white on the underside ) 

An Exidia sp, probably nucleata also known as Crystal Brain.
Possibly Smoky Bracket (Bjerkandera adusta)
A table from the Pan Species Listing Facebook group showing the total number of species in different groups. There are 15000 species of fungi in UK compared to 620 odd species of bird. I'm hoping Lee will visit soon so we can explore for more garden lifers. 

Tuesday 11 January 2022

Not allowed to be happy according to former lead conservation adviser at Natural England

According to the former lead conservation adviser at Natural England, Jonathan Hickling (now retired),  I'm not allowed to be positive about the new nature conservation framework and the capitalisation of nature. Check out his comments on this Birdguides facebook post below (the comments were removed from the post so I've reproduced them here also with the other interesting comments he was making ). He launches into an attack on me for being positive and keen to embrace the new changes and to deploy a diverse strategy  to maximise opportunities (he calls that a rosy and narrow view) and even though my family are successful nature conservation/nature friendly small holding farmers and horticulturists/arborists he calls me a private sector worker with unfounded views, told me before I comment I should research first and someone who doesn't understand rural communities and that I live in a private working world cocoon. None of that is true considering I work from a rural small holding (where my brother lives and my other brother is an organic farmer in Bulgaria) in North Surrey where we operate our arboriculture/horticulture business and have spent a lot of time volunteering in the public sector at Beddington Farmlands and working in Localism. I also live in a rural village in Bucks with a pheasant hunting father in law, a father in law whose mates are all farmers. 

Hickling also dismisses projects like Knepp and celebrity led re-wilding and the whole boom in private companies jumping on the re-wilding band wagon, dismissing it as a millionaire culture. I agree what he says when not all farmers are millionaires (e.g, some hill farmers) but a lot of them are, especially round here! Maybe he is echoing others people's concerns of a private wildlife inaccessible to the public- but a lot of RSPB and wildlife trust reserves are mostly inaccessible and kept low profile from the public anyway.   

These senior government advisers (or at least former ones) don't do themselves any favours in terms of dispelling the myths of being detached from the people they are supposed to be representing. He sounded a bit worked up and really upset about Brexit and referred to an optimistic past and looks like a bit of an old boy. I can sympathise that things didn't turn out the way they had hoped, in the way they wanted but attacking people who still have a bit of hope and keen to look for a new road ahead is a bit odd.   I didn't vote for Brexit for fucks sake, I wrote Revolution not Referendum on my ballot paper as I want to see Proportional Representation in this country and the introduction of multi-value indices to replace GDP (like New Zealand). If I can't live in a country that does that I'll create a parallel structure (a bubble) that creates that around me.   It was actually an interesting conversation/debate and very helpful for me so I don't know why he deleted it. I was agreeing with him for most of it just could have done without the offensive patronising that clearly reveals some deep prejudices and polarised opinions (maybe the problem of 'lefties' that I keep sensing).