The sun is now setting on the weekend as I sip on what I believe to be a well-earned glass of Italian red wine (a Dolcetto D'Alba from Monte Aribaldo - currently on offer at Waitrose for £7.99, reduced from £11.99).
Saturday started off relatively quiet, but with the sun out and having finished the drudge around the supermarket and other tedious chores, Annie and I decided to go for a walk. Obviously, I would normally have suggested somewhere that had a good chance of seeing some interesting birds, but she would have seen straight through that idea. So it was only fair to go somewhere that was a pleasant walk without any strings attached, so we went to the Denbies Vineyard at Dorking and climbed up the hill and walked across the Downs and back down through the vineyard.
I took my binoculars just in case, and it was just as well. I spotted a Buzzard circling high up as we looked across to Box Hill, and then out of left field came a black bird that looked like a crow but was obviously bigger - about the same size as the Buzzard - with a fan tail and a large head. It also made a deep noise I hadn't heard before. Circling and soaring to about the same height as the Buzzard the Raven drifted off over Box Hill. It must have been at least 2,000ft up or more.
A great spot, as I'd never seen a Raven before. I've never even been to the Tower of London.
So, on to Sunday. I wanted to go to Staines Reservoir as there are plenty of good birds currently showing. The only snag was it required getting up early in the morning - something that tends to make me come out in a rash. With too many things to do during the day - uprooting the Jasmine plant, taking loads of rubbish to the dump, cooking the roast dinner (my responsibility on Sunday afternoons) - there was nothing else for it.
I wouldn't have staked my life on succeeding, however, as we had drunk quite a lot of wine on Saturday night and didn't hit the sack until about 1.30am. But get up I did at 6.15am. I got to the reservoir an hour later.
It was bloody cold and it was blowing a stiff breeze, as it always tends to do at Staines, but I'm glad I made the effort. It's a difficult place for me as I don't own a scope, so any birds that are on the northern or southern edges of the reservoir I haven't got a hope of seeing. Luckily, other birders are always very helpful and generous with their scopes. I met up with a chap called Bob, who let me have a look at three Oystercatchers, which was a nice start and followed up with a view of the Great Northern Diver, one of the birds I'd come to see even though he continued to dive out of site for an age before surfacing again.
As I made my way to the far end of the complex, spotting a couple of Black-Necked Grebes along the way, I startled a Sanderling that was on the water's edge, close to the big pipes at the far end of the reservoir. Once at the other end I had a great close up view of a male and female Garganey, a bird I'd missed at Holmethorpe, so that was a really good first sighting for me.
Walking back I met up with Bob again and another birder, Don, and we spotted a Common Tern, with a number of Black Headed Gulls. So that was five birds not seen this year (I saw the Black-Necked Grebes a month ago), three of which I'd never ever seen before this morning. I was hoping to see White and Yellow Wagtail, but none made an appearance. Bob mentioned a Cetti's Warbler was showing well on the north pathway leading to Staines Moor, so the Moor was the next stop.
I must admit I love this place. I wouldn't have known to go there if it hadn't been for the Brown Shrike last year, but I've always discovered something new to see ever since. Considering it is near a built-up area and close to Heathrow Terminal 5, it is - as another birder, Ken, put it - 'a little oasis'.
It didn't disappoint. The Cetti's Warbler was singing its heart out, although it didn't want to come out to play - you could just see some movement in the bushes. A bit further down a couple of Blackcap were showing really well and also singing, and further on still, near an old burnt-out car in the reeds, a Sedge Warbler was going ten-to-the-dozen. Fantastic stuff.
On the Moor itself a number of Skylarks were climbing and singing with gusto, plus a number of Reed Bunting, flitting from tree-to-tree. To cap a brilliant morning, high over the Moor a Red Kite circled overhead. I don't think I could have asked for more, although I think I saw a couple of Tree Pipits, but I'm not certain.
Tomorrow work will bring me down to Earth with a bump.