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.

Wednesday 29 December 2010


The waiting is finally over.

It's time to find out who took the honours this year. Before I start, I would just like to thank everyone I have met on my travels during this past 12 months. It has been memorable on so many fronts and everyone has contributed into making 2010 the best year for me as a bone fide birder. Special thanks go to Graham James, for all his help and encouragement when I've needed it, and also to Johnny Allan, without whose assistance I wouldn't have seen half the unusual birds in Surrey that I eventually did.

My 2010 Surrey list (which includes Spelthorne, but maybe won't in future years) has ended on 164 bird species. Not bad, I guess, for a first effort. It could have been a lot more but events out of my control have meant I am unable to get to the London Wetland Centre at Barnes this week to see one or two Bittern, or to Beddington in the hope of catching sight of an Iceland or Caspian Gull. I also managed to miss many other birds this year - particularly recently - including Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Brambling, Velver Scoter and Mediterranean Gull.

I'm not sure what my targets will be in 2011. Perhaps I'll stick more to my local patch, but then I could go full-steam ahead for another Surrey, or South East England, year list. It probably depends on how January and February pan out.

So, without further waffle, here are the awards.

In alphabetical order, the nominees are:
Johnny Allan - Beddington Sewage Farm
David Campbell - Canons Farm
Gordon Hay - Holmethorpe Sand Pits
Rich Horton - Tice's Meadow
Graham James - Holmethorpe Sand Pits

The winner is:
Graham James
Congratulations to Graham, who has seen 123 different bird species at Holmethorpe this year. While his mate and fellow Holmethorpe lister Gordon Hay saw ten more than him, no-one is more dedicated to his local patch than Graham, who also runs the excellent Holmethorpe blog which is so useful for anyone interested in visiting the site.

The nominations are:
Barnes WWT
Beddington Sewage Farm
Canons Farm
Holmethorpe Sand Pits
Tice's Meadow

The winner is:
Beddington Sewage Farm
Congratulations to Beddington and all the team there. It's a remarkable site, so close to the concrete urban mass that is Croydon. Never a place to go for a holiday, unless you like landfill sites and plenty of mud when it rains, but the birds love it. A great deal of work goes into making Beddington such a bird haven, notably from Peter Alfrey, Johnny Allan, Mark Spicer, Kevin Guest, Roger Browne and plenty of other birding nutcases who have spent more hours than I care to count staring out across the scrapes and gazing endlessly at the sky looking out for unusual birds. Some of the birds this year include Pacific Golden Plover, Snow Bunting, Lapland Bunting, Common Crane, Pectoral Sandpiper and Short-eared Owl. Oh, and about a trillion Gulls (the lads actually counted them all).

The nominations are:
Common Crane
Ferruginous Duck
Lapland Bunting
Pacific Golden Plover
Red-backed Shrike
Spotted Crake

The the winner is:
Couldn't be anything else really. Never has a bird been written about so often or its arrival anticipated with so much excitement as the Waxwings of 2010. The numbers to have crossed the North Sea have been huge this year, so much so that Rare Bird Alert demoted them for scarce to uncommon from December 13 for the rest of the winter. And although it took them a while to migrate down from the north and east into Surrey, they certainly made themselves noticed. Such a beautiful bird, with plenty of character - everyone loves a Waxwing, even if it personally took me more than ten attempts to see one. After that, of course, I saw them all the time - even from my living room window. We can't predict when the next Waxwing invasion will be, so it's a case of making the most of their visit now.

The nominations are:
Johnny Allan
David Campbell
Kevin Guest
Gordon Hay
Rich Horton
Graham James
Rich Seargent

The winner is:
David Campbell
Congratulations to David, a well-deserved winner. This young lad, also known as Devil Birder, is still at school doing his 'A' levels. David has had a great year (mainly skiving off from his studies, from what I can deduce) and by dedicating so much time and effort into his local patch, he has put Canons Farm well and truly on the birding map. He has seen so many great birds at the Farm, including the only Quail seen in Surrey in 2010, a male Hen Harrier, Waxwing, Short-eared Owl, Black Redstart and Corn Bunting - only the second sighting of this Bunt in the county this year. While his patch list is relatively small (99), his is still a remarkable list of birds.

The winner is:
Johnny Allan
Johnny has merited this award on two fronts. Firstly, by breaking his Surrey listing record this year with a remarkable 193 birds, and secondly because he always takes the time to welcome new birders, such as myself, into the fold. A credit to birding.


2010 Randon's Ramblings Birding Blog of the Year
Winner: Wanstead Birder by Jonathan Lethbridge
Being new to this business, I only came across this blog earlier this year by accident and now I can't miss Jonathan's musings every week. He also has a column in Birdwatch magazine on alternate months. Apart from being the most entertaining and amusing read on bird-watching by a country mile - his daily reports from his visit to Shetland was a brilliant read - his photographs are top-notch, too. He makes it appear all too easy. Annoyingly multi-talented.

2010 Randon's Ramblings Personal Dip of the Year
It could have been Waxwing, but thankfully it wasn't in the end. The Great Grey Shrike took five attempts before I got a sighting. I missed both the Hoopoe at Chertsey and both Red-backed Shrikes at Woodmansterne and Richmond Park, but nope, the dip of the year for me was undoubtedly the Pectoral Sandpiper at Beddington. Everyone I know who went to see this bird got on to it almost immediately. I went twice, and was met the first time by Johnny and we couldn't find it after two hours, and then by Kevin 'Kojak' Guest on the second occasion and failed again after another two-hour search.

2010 Randon's Ramblings five most memorable moments
1. Eventually seeing a Waxwing
2. Watching the Nightjars calling and circling in the half-light on Chobham Common
3. Going to see my only mega rarity of the Year - the Marmora's Warbler in South Wales
4. Listening to the Nightingales on Little Bookham Common
5. Eventually seeing a Waxwing

So, that's it. The Awards for 2010. All there's left to say before Big Ben chimes at midnight on Friday is to wish everyone a very Happy New Year. Let's hope 2011 proves to be as good a birding year as 2010!

Thursday 23 December 2010


As you may have noticed I haven't been very active for the past couple of weeks. Nothing to report due to work, Christmas parties, Christmas shopping, loads of snow and meeting up with friends and family.

I also found time to think up something totally indulgent on the run up to the new year.

That's right, the Randon's Ramblings Awards. No prizes, just prestige. The categories include my Surrey Birder of the Year, Surrey Birding Site of the Year and Surrey Bird of the Year. There's a few others too, so something not to miss next week - surely...

On a personal note, I'm on a quest before January 1, 2011 to find six new birds for my Surrey list. A tall order, but hey, it's worth having a go.

In the meantime, I wish everyone a very Happy Christmas!

Saturday 11 December 2010


As soon as you see one, you can't stop seeing them all the time. Waxwings. Waxwings everywhere. After chasing around the county hunting for these exotic little birds, I've got a flock of more than 30 just over the road in the Holmethorpe Industrial Estate by the railway line.

I went down to watch them yesterday and today and a fantastic sight they make, too.

In fact, it's getting to the point where I don't even have to open the front door to see them. Just a glance out of the living room window, and there they are perched in a tree in Alpine Road. They also like flying over my house and also perching in trees 50 yards away on Frenches Road.

It will be interesting to see how long they stay for - there's certainly plenty of hawthorn berries to consume on the railway embankment. My only task now is to get some decent photos - the constant flow of trains going by forces them to take to the air every five minutes - so perhaps tomorrow being Sunday, it might be better.

There's plenty going on at Holmethorpe at the moment. What with Waxwings, we've got a Kingfisher or two, Little Egret, Cetti's Warbler, Smew (becoming a regular visitor), Snipe, two or three Water Rail (although we might be minus one after Graham James thinks he saw a Kestrel fly off with one in its talons yesterday) and Brambling, which I need for a Surrey year tick. Definitely well worth a good trek around the area, I would say.

Wednesday 8 December 2010


Maybe it's a sign...

Let's hope it's a good one.

Well, after ten previous dips (including first thing this morning) I have now laid my bogey bird to rest.

It started off badly. The message had gone out the previous evening about 19 Waxwings in the trees by the railway line at Holmethorpe Water Colour Lagoons. I arrived at the right spot just after 8.30am, where Holmethorpe birding guru Graham James and his mate Paul Kerry were already present.

All was quiet apart from loads of Fieldfares, Redwings, Goldfinches and Chaffinches. Graham had been at the site before sunrise. We waited for an hour but nothing materialised.

We were all a bit sceptical, partly because there was no record of who had actually seen the birds. Graham had contacted Birdguides, but they didn't have a name. Normally, a regular birder at Holmethorpe Sand Pits would contact Graham, and he would put the record on his website.

Having advertised my Waxwing woe on this blog for a number of weeks, I was also beginning to be concerned that someone had claimed to see the birds just as a wind up, and a means to poke a bit of fun at me. Not that missing Waxwings was getting to me or anything...

Anyway, we gave it up as a bad job. I had joked at around dip number six with Johnny Allan that I was aiming to get into double figures. Dip number 10 was now complete.

Annie was off to the gym this afternoon, so I dropped her off in Redhill, and went for a brief drive round, just in the hope I might find them.

I ended up back at the Water Colour complex, and parked up next to another birder, who was about to leave. It transpired he was the guy who had seen the 19 birds yesterday afternoon. His name is Richard Perry, and he had come up originally to find the Smew that were previously on Mercer's Lake.

They had gone, but while walking round the area he discovered the Waxwings. Another regular Holmethorpe birder, Des Ball, was also present. The birds arrived around lunchtime and stayed for about an hour and a half. He'd come back to have another look, but had drawn a blank.

I gave it a go and met up with Des, who was already in position. Within five minutes I was looking at the unmistakable silhouette of ten Waxwings (164) perched high in a Silver Birch by the railway line. They took to the air as soon as a train rushed by, but they always returned to the same tree, before dropping down into some berry-laden Hawthorn bushes below.

Having been an impromptu visit, I hadn't brought my scope, so I rushed back home to get it and was back in ten minutes. The birds had flown off, spooked again by the trains going by, but after about half an hour as Graham arrived, five made a return visit.

There was quite a gathering of local birders watching by now, including Gordon Hay, with the Waxwings perched in the same tree again. They were a bit hard to get a clear view of (consequently the photos are rubbish), but it was fantastic to see these extraordinary birds at long last.

How amazing, that after all the previous disappointments, I get to see these Waxwings on my own patch, less than 400 yards from where I live.

Tuesday 7 December 2010


Having been seen regularly for the past week, I opted for a quick visit to Little Bookham Common yesterday to find Hawfinch. I had a vague idea of the exact location but wasn't sure, and arrived near the site at the same time as Birdwatch magazine editor Dominic Mitchell. After a brief detour - Dominic's navigational skills aren't quite World Rally co-driver standard - we both parked up at the right spot and made our way to a group of bushes where another birder called Tim had set up shop.

After an hour's search we came up with very little apart from a stack of Redwings and a Snipe that flew past us. I was on the usual tight schedule and reluctantly had to make my way back to the car, where I bumped into Mike 'Posh' Spicer, who had just arrived. After we had a laugh at my Waxwing dipping prowess (actually, it's not that funny anymore), I was about to get into my car when I heard a shout. Looking up at frantic arm waving in the distance, it was clear both Tim and Dominic had struck gold. As Posh and I scurried over to the spot, Dominic shouted out 'to your right!' as the birds flew off. Scanning manically at the skyline, I saw nothing.

After a brief look in the trees, it was apparent I had dipped again.

Curiously, I wasn't too upset. I immediately planned to go back this morning, arriving just after 9.00am. I waited. Nothing. I had a good look around the area - in the bushes and tops of trees - still nothing.

Panic started to set in.

I couldn't bear the thought I might draw another blank. Everyone I know in birding is currently branding me as a dipping professor, and the nickname 'Dipper', rather than 'Factor', was becoming an alarmingly realistic prospect.

I scanned the tall trees behind the car park and saw what looked at first glance like a Chaffinch. I had a look through the scope and, lo and behold! A Hawfinch (162) at last! What a blessed relief.

Such a striking and attractive bird - big and bulky, but strangely beautiful. If it were a World War Two fighter plane, I'd compare this thick-set finch to a Thunderbolt.

It didn't stay long before flying off in the opposite direction to where I was standing, but not to worry. I'll be back to get a better view over the coming weeks. Hopefully, these birds will stick around before the year is out.

Next stop was Papercourt, near Ripley. I was on a tick mission and dutifully succeeded without mishap. Actually, it was a soulless, cheap and nasty tick. I parked the car, walked across the road to the side of the lake, pointed the scope in the general direction of some wildfowl swimming in the thawed out area of the water, saw three Goosander (163), took a photo to record the moment, and left.

No time to try for Waxwings in Guildford, so I went home to catch up on work. As the sun went down and thoughts drifted towards making Cottage Pie and crashing out in front of the telly, I had a look on Rare Bird Alert (fatal mistake) to see what had been going on around the country today.

Another blue triangle appeared right smack-bang in the middle of the south-east of England. 19 Waxwings. OK, probably the Teddington lot again. I zoomed in... Redhill. Holmethorpe... Water Colour Lagoons in trees next to the railway... Only a five minute walk from my house...

This is becoming pathological. I have possibly 19 Waxwings roosting less than half a mile from me as I write this, on my patch (which I have disgracefully ignored for most of the past four months), and will have to wait until first light to see whether they are still there.

Maybe it's a sign...

Let's hope it's a good one.

Sunday 5 December 2010


I should have been in Northumberland this weekend with Annie visiting my brother-in-law Alan and family near Hexham.

Despite the snow and road conditions, we got to Gatwick in good time for our flight to Newcastle on Friday, which was due to take off at 4.20pm - except it had been cancelled by the time we got there. We were re-booked on to a later flight at 8.05pm, but by 10.30pm we were still in the departure lounge, none the wiser as to whether this Flybe flight was ever going to get off the ground.

Having been stuck in the airport for eight hours with no information available on the boards - it was a complete shambles - we decided to abort our trip and go home, eventually walking back through the door around midnight. The flight did get to Newcastle eventually that night - at 2.00am.

The following morning I went back to Gatwick to pick up our suitcase, but not before dipping Waxwings for the ninth time at Teddington, where 19 had been seen at lunchtime near the police station.

Now we were back home, I had hoped to go to Bookham Common to find the two Hawfinches that are there at the moment, and had loosely arranged to meet up with Rich Sergeant and Rich Horton first thing on this morning.

Our friends who live in the next road, who were looking after our two Burmese cats while we were supposed to be away, invited us round for dinner yesterday evening, and we happily accepted.

A few bottles of Pinot Grigio and Gruner Veltliner later, I wasn't going anywhere by the time the sun rose this morning. My hangover and mood were lifted, however, by a text from Johnny Allan. A unringed juvenile Common Crane had landed on the lake at Beddington at about 11 o'clock.

Two hours later I was looking at my first Common Crane (161) amongst a throng of Surrey and London's birding glitterati.

It was the second Crane to be seen at Beddington this year, but the first to actually land. It looked as if it was going to stay for a while, although the Gulls at the landfill tomorrow might force it to move on. A cracking bird, and totally unexpected.

Later, Kojak texted me to let me know of two Waxwings on the Surrey University Campus at Guildford. I might head off there first thing.