Welcome to my blog. If you live in Surrey and birding is your obsession (to get out of bed at some ridiculously early time of the morning, no matter what the weather, to go and look at birds isn't normal behaviour, believe me) and you're still a bit of a novice (like me) then, hopefully, this blog is for you.

Friday, 5 January 2018


Is it the beginning of 2018 already? The year has flown by, so with that in mind, and ignoring the endless discussion about Brexit, it must be time for the 2017 Randon's Rambling Awards!

As always, I intended to actually get these done before the end of the year but it has ended up going out a week into the following one. Apologies. The 2017 Surrey birding equivalent to the Oscars, Golden Globes, SPOTY, Baftas, Brits and the Turner Prize has got bigger (and hopefully better) over time, and you never know, one day they might actually become a thing, with trophies and a proper ceremony. One can dream...

So what was the year like on a personal level?  Certainly not as good as the previous year – in fact, I sometimes forgot I was a birder.

Less time on the patch and less visits to exciting birding sites. Much of that has to do with cars with V8 engines that hurtle around a track hitting each other as part of a new role I took up in 2017 on top of my other freelance work. Weekends were taken up with media-related activities and, as a result, eroded most of any spare time I had.

Pomarine Skua at Dungeness
Having said that, the year had its moments. Pomarine Skua migration at Dungeness in May is always a joy, as was the recent appearance of 16 Parrot Crossbill at Wishmoor Bottom near Camberley recently. 

White-winged Black Tern at Staines Reservoir
Parrot Crossbills at Wishmoor Common
Staines Reservoir was been very good this year, including three brilliant White-winged Black Tern in late spring. I made visits to a few new places, including Languard for the Great Reed Warbler, and returned to the excellent Frampton Marshes, where I lucked into a female Dotterel.

Great Reed Warbler at Languard
I made plenty of early-morning visits to Oare Marshes prior to seeing my ailing mum in Margate, which included the Long-billed Dowitcher and Wilson's Phalarope, and I had a couple of Holmethorpe firsts, a flyover Hawfinch in October and a couple of Goosander on Mercer's Lake in November.

The weather played its inevitable role, with the autumn producing the usual excitement in Shetland and the eastern side of the country but maybe not as much compared to a year ago. But the Orkney Isles, so often the bridesmaid compared to its more northerly counterpart, smashed the bird rarity stakes out of the ball park with a Siberian Blue Robin probably the bird of the year nationally in my view.

Scilly Isles came up with the goods compared to previous years, with a (admittedly moribund) Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Wilson's Snipe, Cedar Waxwing, Cliff Swallow, Isabelline Wheatear and Grey-cheeked Thrush to name a few.

The worst personal moment? I can't say I really spent enough time to have one, but probably it was not being able to go and see the Rock Thrush at the Blorenge in Gwent even though I was only half an hour down the road at the time...

Elsewhere, the local birding community has been as busy as usual, and Surrey bird sightings have been some of the best in recent years.

Now, before we continue, the Rambler Awards, unlike other official Surrey bird sighting activity, does include both the Surrey vice county boundary and Spelthorne as part of Surrey. The Surrey border does open up lengthy discussion but these are the Rambler Awards – and I decide the rules. Capiche?

As with every 12 months, bloggers, tweeters, twitchers and patch workers come and go, but it is those who have made 2017 memorable who are worthy of a Rambler – the birding Oscar.

Below is the list of awards, nominees and winners. And for the first time, I have included a top three podium.




In alphabetical order, the nominees are:
Ray Baker – Holmethorpe Sand Pits
The Beddington Crew – Beddington Farmlands
Mark Elsoffer – Tice's Meadow
Dave Harris – Walton Reservoirs
 Gordon Hay – Holmethorpe Sand Pits
Rich Horton – Tice's Meadow
Dominic Pia – Staines Moor/Reservoir
Rich Sergeant – Tice's Meadow
Ed Stubbs - Thorncombe Street
Bob Warden – Staines Reservoir

The winner is:



2nd place: DOMINIC PIA
3rd place: RAY BAKER

Congratulations to Bob Warden, who wins Patch Birder of the Year for the first time! 

It was a tough decision, as two other birders deserved to win the accolade this year. Both Dominic Pia and Ray Baker were vying for the award, but in the end with Staines Reservoir having such a remarkable 12 months, it was a coin toss between Dom and Bob, with Bob just edging it.

But Ray Baker deserves mention and not just because he walked my local patch!

Ray is not one for Twitter or Facebook, rarely twitches and has been dedicated to the Holmethorpe patch in recent years. and while Staines Reservoir has had birds drawn to its site as a result of the draining of the south basin, Holmethorpe has needed the patience of a saint to garner any excitement. This year has been pretty hard work on occasions but Ray has shown remarkable diligence – more I would say than any other birder in Surrey this year.

He would visit the patch at least three times a week from first light and walk every inch of it – and that is a long walk. Not only that, but he would record every bird he saw. And I mean every bird, not just species, so he has records that are second-to-none for Holmethorpe – which is fantastic, but there is a caveat to this. Ray has moved out of the area in November and now lives near Pulborough!

And so in 2018 Holmethorpe will suffer a huge void in its records, not just for birds, but also for butterflies and dragonflies, both of which Ray also recorded in detail.

Runner-up Dominic Pia had a remarkable year, and it was made all the more enjoyable with the south basin at The Res being drained for the second half of 2017. A regular at Staines, Dominic, like many of us, has to juggle work and family commitments with his favourite pastime. It used to be an in-joke that he would take detours to The Res when out on a Tesco's shopping run.

But Dom's patch birding highlights didn't just rely on the newly-formed mudflats of the south basin. There were great discoveries to be had when the basin was full of water, notably three self-found White-winged Black Tern – two adults and a first summer juvenile that went on to entertain the growing gathering of birders (including me) during that sunny May 23rd day.

"The best bird of the year was the Horned Lark, but the highlight, without doubt, was the White-winged Black Terns," says Dominic. "The adrenalin rush of a self find can't be beaten."

Dominic missed out on a few corkers, notably an Arctic Skua, a bird Bob missed out on too.

So it's Captain Bob Warden, a legend among Surrey birders, often accompanied by his able sidekick and photographic maestro Corporal Dave Carlsson, who has made Staines Reservoir his second home (his first home is in Woking).

Along with Dominic Pia, Bob has had a great 2017 and only missed out on a handful of birds at his beloved Reservoir. He missed out on Smew, the Arctic Skua, Marsh Harrier, Kittiwake, Yellow-legged Gull and Brambling, but little else. While not as sprightly on his pins these days (rumour has it he is at least 200 years old) you will always see him along the causeway at some point each week and during this past 12 months, even more often than usual.

Bob has been birding longer than most of us can remember and ever since I started on this extraordinary hobby, Bob has always been a feature. Even the local Carrion Crows along the causeway know him, as they wait in the sidelines hoping he will offer them a tasty bit of breakfast first thing in the morning.

Always friendly, approachable, helpful, informative and enthusiastic, Bob is a fine birder, who I personally haven't seen as often in recent years (due to being stuck behind a computer screen most of the time) but he is someone I class as a true pal. A top bloke and a worthy, and long-overdue, winner.



The nominations are:
(Caspian Gull, Glaucous Gull, Great White Egret)

(Cattle Egret, Great White Egret, Marsh Harrier, Goshawk, Spotted Crake, Temminck's Stint, Sabine's Gull, Caspian Gull, Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull, Turtle Dove, Long-eared Owl, Dartford Warbler, Waxwing, Twite, Hawfinch)

(Long-tailed Duck, Marsh Harrier, Osprey, Red-footed Falcon, Great Grey Shrike) 

(Whooper Swan, Smew, Great Northern Diver, Great White Egret, Red-necked Grebe, Slavonian Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Marsh Harrier, Merlin, Little Stint, Pectoral Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Red-necked PhalaropeGrey Phalarope, Arctic Skua, White-winged Black Tern, Roseate Tern, Horned Lark)

(Glaucous Gull, Great White Egret, Honey-buzzard, Goshawk, Osprey, Merlin, Dartford Warbler, Hawfinch)

(Cattle Egret, Waxwing, Hawfinch)

(Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull, Little Stint, Temminck's Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Grey Phalarope, Red-rumped Swallow)

The winner is:



Now, barring the traditionalists who will say that The Res doesn't count because it is not part of the old Vice County, the Ramblers Awards ignores that and legitimises Spelthorne for Awards purposes.
Also it had a bloody amazing year!

Having said that, it was run very, very close by Beddington – very close! Beddington will always be favourite at the beginning of each year to win this award and only just came up short. But it wasn't because it lacked the variety of rare and scarce birds, far from it. It produced a stack in 2017 despite to introduction on the infamous incinerator and some remarkable birds are always lured to this London site.

With a fine group of regular patch watchers the list of 159 Beddington birds in 2017 is perhaps more interesting overall than Staine Reservoir, the variety is extraordinary, but what Staines lacked in variety it made up for in numbers.

In the end Staines Reservoir had to win it for the fun second half of the year for all visiting birders. Anyone who turned up would have had enjoyed some stellar wader action – numerous common waders to go with a handful of scarce delights – as well as the odd rare.

"The autumn passage was amazing," says Dominic Pia. "Phalaropes, Pec Sands and loads of Little Stints, Curlew Sandpipers, a Merlin, a Marsh Harrier and a drake Garganey too."

Once the south basin had been drained it was almost certainly going to feature prominently with all the wetland birds it was sure to entice. But even before the basin's water levels began to drop, the reservoir was the site of a number of remarkable birds during the first half of the year, With the White-winged Black Terns and a Roseate Tern being highlights.

So it couldn't really be anywhere else, could it? Congratulations to Staines Reservoir, winner of the Patch of the Year award for the first time.

Special mention must go to Frensham Ponds, who made the nominations and on to the podium for the first time. The area came up with a few great discoveries, including the Red-footed Falcon, Great Grey Shrike, Long-tailed Duck and the now regular Osprey sighting.

Tice's Meadow successfully defended the Horton Hay Cup – the annual yearly Surrey bird list challenge between the patch and Holmethorpe Sand Pits. Not much of a contest in 2017 to be fair they won handsomely 144-132. Their highlights were probably Honey-buzzard and Glaucous Gull.

I live in hope we can turn that round one day – maybe this year!



The nominations are:
Cattle Egret (Beddington Farmlands)
Red-footed Falcon (Frensham Ponds)
Spotted Crake (Beddington Farmlands)
Temminck's Stint (Beddington Farmlands)
Red-necked Phalarope (Staines Reservoir)
Grey Phalarope (Staines Reservoir)
Arctic Skua (Staines Reservoir)
Sabine's Gull (Beddington Farmlands) 
Glaucous Gull (Beddington Farmlands, Tice's Meadow) 
White-winged Black Tern (Staines Reservoir)
Long-eared Owl (Beddington Farmlands)
Great Grey Shrike (numerous sites)
Horned Lark (Staines Reservoir)
Twite (Beddington Farmlands) 
Parrot Crossbill (Wishmoor Common)
 Hawfinch (numerous sites) 

The winner is:




A year when the red-hot favourite picks up the prize. The mighty Hawfinch takes a well-deserved award. Looking back at previous winners I was sure the big-billed beast had picked up the prize in 2013 when that incredible flock of 100-plus bird arrived at Juniper Bottom, but for some unbeknown-to-me-now reason, it didn't.

The competition was fierce, however. What a year for Surrey birding! A flock of at least 16 Parrot Crossbills late on in the year would normally steal the show as they migrated between Surrey and Berkshire along Wishmoor Bottom, and also the Red-footed Falcon at Frensham was another stonking bird, and a classic Surrey rarity.

Add to those beauties, there was a Sabine's Gull that dropped in at Beddington, the site that also gave us an inland Twite (that is still present apparently). There were plenty of others too, but the Hawfinch was the obvious winner for being such good value during this autumn and winter. They have turned up pretty much anywhere in Surrey, you just had to be in the right place at the right time – a bit like the Waxwing of a few years ago.

And while it took some people a few frustrating attempts to see one ot two, when they did turn up it was such a thrill! I had my brief Hawfinch fix at Headley Heath, when six dropped into a tree while I was walking back to the car park. One of my highlights of the year, to be honest.

And that is the thing about these magnificent finches, they are a bird that make the pulse race that little bit, something some more rare species fail to do.



The nominations are:
PETER ALFREY (Non-Stop Birding)
STEVE GALE (North Downs and Beyond)
GAVIN HAIG (Not Quite Scilly)
PAUL TRODD (Plovers Blog)
STEVE WAITE (Axe Birding)

The winner is:


(Wanstead Birder)


I firmly believed there was no stopping Steve Gale, but it is Jonathan Lethbridge, after four years of following in the shadows of the great man, having been the bridesmaid so often, who takes the Rambler for Birding Blog of the Year for a second time.

Unbeknown to both bloggers, it was a 12-round battle a birding blog Muhammed Ali v Joe Frazier Thriller in Manila – in which both had claims for the title.

In the end Jonathan won it with some great posts that often had great photos attached. One of his photos is seen below – probably the finest bird photo of the year. He came into 2017 fully-armed, and it worked.

I say it year in, year out, but somehow Steve Gale is able to create fascinating and thought-provoking blog posts at will. There is no-one as prolific. He had another great year but it had to happen one day, when someone broke the domination.

I actually didn't believed it would happen this time around, but Mr Wanstead Birder really stepped up to the plate in 2017. Steve's domination has been something we should savour, however, because without North Downs and Beyond, the world of birding would be a poorer place.

I'm delighted to put Peter Alfrey's blog into the top three because here's a man with a passion for birding and for Beddington in particular that is both admirable and inspirational. He is a truly great birder too. One of the best there is.

Gavin Haig once again threatened to become a challenger but latterly steered away from being a birding blog into one on fishing – his other passion. Sometimes Gavin goes off radar, phasing sometimes being the culprit. I have to admit I have more moments suffering this affliction than I care to admit these days. Still, I'm just grateful Gavin still writes now and then, because he is one of my true favourite scribes.

I've included Paul Trodd's blog, based on Dungeness and its environs, for the first time because it is one I always refer to and enjoy reading. It has been an excellent 12 months on the shingle.

Steve Waite's blog is one of the very best pure birding blogs out there and once again a worthy short-list entry.

So Steve Gale's stranglehold on birding blogs has been released – for now... 



The nominations are:
STEVE GALE (North Downs and Beyond)
What is means to be a birder. 

 GAVIN HAIG (Not Quite Scilly)
A day to remember
Memories of a very successful day's birding in 1984.

Waders – a decade of retrospection
A look back at patch birding at Wanstead and patch gold – the elusive wader.

The winner is:

GAVIN HAIG (Not Quite Scilly)


This year's winner of the Randon's Ramblings Blog Post of the Year goes to Gavin Haig for 'A day to remember'.

Always a pleasure to read, Gavin, while not exactly a prolific blogger, does come up with some real gems. This was one example of a few he wrote this year. His writing has a light touch, he adds humour and is able to create a picture in your minds eye. Very difficult to do, but he does so with apparent ease.

I also really enjoyed notquitescilly2.blogspot.com/2017/05/sharing-is-caring.html amongst others. 

And finally, the Twitter users who have made comments this past year that have stuck in the memory.



The nominations are:
SIMON EDWARD (@eddybirder - new entry with 512 followers)
MARK ELSOFFER (@Mark_Elsoffer – 396 followers in 2016 - 493 in 2017)
SHAUN FERGUSON (@sferguk – 295 followers in 2016 - now 469)
IAN JONES (@ianeagle67 – 277 followers - now 355)
KEITH KERR (@akkwildlife – 1,839 followers - now 2,044)
STEVE MINHINNICK (stevie69000 – 324 followers - now 361)
RICH SERGEANT (@TicesBirder – 1,933 followers - now 2,189)

The winner is:




Congratulations go to Shaun Ferguson on winning the Surrey Birding Tweeter of the Year.

The South African birder who has made Surrey his home has entertained all year with his twitching exploits and some fascinating birding trips abroad, notably in his native country. Never a dull moment following Shaun. He's a bit bonkers – worth the ticket and takes his birding seriously.

Never a day goes by without a tweet. Some are gripping even when few words are used. That is a skill in itself. Very creative.

So well done to Shaun and to all the winners and nominees in each of the categories – every one was worthy of recognition as they made 2017 all the more rewarding.


So, that's 2017 out of the way. Let's hope 2018 will make us smile.

Happy New Year one and all and enjoy your birding!