The old and the new

Brenda writes: “A new flower species today, definitely a speedwell, but which one? The speedwell family is numerous and some like green alkanet, germander and ivy-leaved are really obvious but many, particularly early in the season, are much more tricky and you have to look at how the plant behaves (does it sprawl or stand up, large or small), the leaf shape and the flower colour and shape.

When I saw today’s specimen nestling in the grass by a fence post at the top of the drive it was at the end of the day and the flowers were neatly furled, so for now I can only narrow it down to either green field-speedwell, grey field-speedwell or slender speedwell. Green is most likely because the field-guide says it flowers all year but I see numerous species flowering outside their official flowering season so it will all hinge on looking at the flower tomorrow – hope it’s sunny.

This project is doing me good because I’m being much more careful with my identification. I’ve also bitten the bullet and started using the Collins Flower Guide (Streeter, Hart-Davies, Hardcastle, Cole & Harper) Steve bought me a couple of years ago, but already I’m still cross-referencing my ancient and very worn copy of Wild Flowers of Britain and Northern Europe (Fitter and Blamey) which I graduated to in 1985 when I quickly outgrew the Collins Gem introduction to wild flowers. It is no longer in print but can still be picked up second-hand. No one field guide is perfect so it’s good to have a selection and, at the end of the day, although the text is really important, the quality of the botanical drawings is crucial. It’s useful if it’s also practical to carry around and it has to be said that the Collins one is twice as thick (and heavy) as the other one!”

guess which is the old one!

We went out to see if a photo of the mystery speedwell would work, but we’d left it a bit too late – the flowers, as Brenda mentions above, had furled up, and we were losing the light. We’ll try again tomorrow!

Although, as I mentioned previously, my current life list of UK birds is not high by serious birder standards, it does mean that over the years I have seen a relatively high number of the species that are regularly found in the UK. There are a good number of exceptions, but they’re generally exceptions for one of three reasons: rarity, difficulty in identification (for me at least!), or very limited habitat range.

When I started this blog I fully expected to add a few new species to my life list, but not as many as has proved to be the case in January: long-billed dowitcher (pretty scarce, but I was aware of them as I have had trips to north America and seen the similar short-billed dowitcher), Hume’s warbler (pretty scarce, and I wasn’t even aware of their existence until recently!), and pallid harrier (very scarce, and hard to identify).

In the end the dowitcher – once sighted – was quite clearly identifiable, as was the Hume’s warbler, which I saw well. Yesterday’s pallid harrier I think I would be able to recognise again, but the initial help from the experienced birdwatcher I met at Warham Greens was invaluable. Whilst we were chatting he reminded me of the long-standing raptor viewpoint near Swanton Novers – about 20 minutes from here. Although it’s mostly popular in the summer months for the possibility of seeing rare honey buzzards, he mentioned that he had been seeing goshawks displaying over the woods there: At this time of year they cement their pair-bonds with pre-nesting aerial displays. I have never seen a goshawk!

So mid-morning today, as it was still sunny, hopefully providing some heat and thermals for raptors, I headed to the watchpoint. As I arrived I discovered that the actual parking area is closed in the winter and that there was a car parked at the entrance. I therefore pulled in opposite the locked gate to discover that the single birder already there was my friend from yesterday – a nice coincidence. I now know he’s called Robin, and – when I arrived – he had been there for about twenty minutes but had not yet seen a goshawk. But as luck would have it he saw one within a couple of minutes and I managed to get it in the telescope: Distant, but with the bright white under the base of the tail, and the size, clearly a goshawk. As I was watching it I saw another come into shot and the two flew around together for a while, joined by a sparrowhawk and two common buzzards – excellent for size comparison.

looking toward the woodland where I saw the goshawks – distant but clear!

So now my all time UK bird list has gone up from 282 to 286 in 32 days – I wasn’t expecting that!

New species for February 1st:
Birds: goshawk
Flowers: green field-speedwell (?)

Birds = 114
Moths = 2
Wildflowers = 12