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.

Monday 31 January 2011


It has been another busy week, which has meant being inprisoned at home - apart from a couple of very brief journeys in the local area.

One of those areas has been immediately outside my front door, and the tree next to the railway line footbridge on Frenches Road, where the Waxwings have been making sporadic visits of late. Their numbers have fluctuated during the past five days from more than 20 to around four of five.

They have found another rotting apple tree, remarkably similar to the one further down the road, but in a back garden right next to the footbridge. This tree had, from the threadbare state of the crop of rotting fruit, been visited quite a few times, so it won't be long before the Waxwings really do move on. It is now about six weeks since these birds first arrived in the area.

It has been the birding equivalent of a Pot Noodle. Just walk out of the front door and look up at the tree - as straightforward and convenient as a ready-made meal.

Apart from that, the only other birds of interest I have seen this week have been two Kingfishers. I saw one flying up and down the brook by the Fordbridge at the Holmethorpe patch, and then another one skimming low over Bay Pond in Godstone late yesterday afternoon.

I was able to get out at about 4pm, and shot over to Godstone to try to relocate the Bittern I had seen on Tuesday. I met up with David 'Devilbirder' Campbell and another chap from Smallfield - who had seen the bird early that morning.

As the sun set and the light faded there was no sign of the Bittern. I had a feeling it would make an appearance at some point, as it had roosted up in a tree earlier in the week, and I expected it would do the same tonight. Sure enough, from behind the undergrowth opposite the footpath, the Bittern reappeared. It stood for a short while before flying up into the branches for the night. We got some great views of it although, once again, the light was too low for any decent photos.

For those interested in seeing this excellent bird, the best times are probably at first light and at sunset.

Having not really been out that much since the turn of the year, I have a bit of catching up to do as far as a Surrey year list is concerned (I'm only on 69). The only consolation is whatever I miss at this time of year I should have a half-decent chance of seeing from November onwards. It really isn't worth getting into a mad panic about it just yet - all those Gulls at Beddington, for example, can wait. As can the Thursley Common Great Grey Shrike, which is proving to be very elusive at the moment.

Tuesday 25 January 2011


A year or so ago I had discussions with a number of local birders about Bittern and the fact there were supposed to be sightings on Bay Pond in Godstone - just a few miles down the road from me.

I'd been down there a couple of times but had never seen one. It was all a bit cloak-and-dagger with the local Wildlife Trust, who were apparently reluctant to disclose the discovery, presumably because they didn't want a rare visitor disturbed. It might have been a local myth, for all I knew.

Fine, I guess, keeping discoveries close to your chest if you don't want local yobs or egg collectors making a nuisance of themselves, but a balance needs to be struck whereby if you are interested in seeing and studying birds - and it's not as if a Bittern is so rare it is going to keel over and die and therefore disappear off the face of the British birding map if you happen to point a scope or binoculars at it - you should be allow to visit a site, that isn't on private land, and enjoy watching an unusual bird.

The Wildlife Trust should make a point of letting birders know of such species. It's exciting news having a Bittern in the local area, for goodness sake! If they want people to enjoy visiting their wildlife sites, it's a bit pointless keeping what they've got there secret. The Wetland Centre at Barnes, for example, has had at least five Bittern at various points wintering there during the past couple of months, and people have able to view them.

The cat is now out of the bag, however. A couple of days ago, I noticed on the Surrey Bird Club website that a Bittern had been seen on Bay Pond. So late yesterday afternoon, I went over to have a quick look to see if I could find it.

I bumped into an excited dog-walker, who regretted not having his camera with him because a Grey Heron was standing just a few feet away close to the footpath. As I walked closer it flew over to the opposite side of the pond. I then noticed something sitting very still in the trees to its left.

Perched on a branch as the light began to fade in the small trees opposite the footpath, and very easily seen by the general public if they knew what they were looking for, was a Bittern. The photo is very poor as it was too dark, but clearly this excellent bird hadn't been given notice that it was supposed to hide away from view.

It is fantastic news to know we have such a great bird in the local area, and one can only hope at some point one or more will drop in at Holmethorpe, which has habitat which should suit them.

The other good thing is it has saved me having to traipse off to Barnes to see one.

Monday 24 January 2011


I had very bad day at the birding office on Friday. Five hours were filled with seeing absolutely nothing of any note at Thursley Common, Crooksbury Common and then Bookham Common.

I managed expertly to dip the Hawfinch at Bookham, having waited for an hour alongside Kevin 'Kojak' Guest. I then reluctantly made my way home only to have Kojak text me five minutes later to let me know a Hawfinch had landed in a nearby tree. I turned the car round and went back, only to stay for another hour and draw another blank.

I made a return visit to Bookham yesterday morning. What a difference a day makes. I was joined by another birder, Tim, a solicitor from Teddington, and within minutes of arriving at the train station car park, walked over the footbridge and waded through the mud on to the Common, we were both looking at a Hawfinch perched high in a tree to the back of the train station.

During the next couple of hours the Hawfinch flew from tree to tree, over our heads and generally stuck around for us to get some great views of it. As an added bonus to the visit, another Hawfinch arrived on the scene late on. A few Bullfinch and Siskin were also present, so it proved to be a morning well spent.

On the journey home I got a text describing a private site where a female Eider had landed. The site was on private land so it was difficult to get a proper view. As it turned out, I couldn't get a decent view of anything - if the Eider was there I could only imagine it.

I'll try again at some point, but after a quiet couple of weeks on the work front, it has come back with a vengeance and any trips will be local and brief during the next seven days.

The local Waxwings are still present, with numbers varying between 10 and 30, although they don't stay for very long on Frenches Road before flying off to a new feeding station somewhere north of Merstham.

Thursday 20 January 2011


It's been a while since I ventured out for some proper birding - life has seemed to get in the way lately - so I organised for a brief trip out this afternoon.

The Frenches Road Waxwings weren't present today, there were only a few knocking around yesterday, and the rotting apple tree is looking quite bare of any genuine Waxwing sustenance. Maybe the little beauties have moved on, we will see in the coming days. All I know is that I will miss them if they have gone on to pastures new. Having Waxwings on my doorstep has been a real treat.

Having only really a couple of hours of decent daylight to play with, I headed off to Bookham Common to see if I could find the Hawfinch that had been seen in the trees behind Bookham station. I arrived at 2.30pm and walked over the bridge and headed off into the Common itself. After 50 yards I stopped to look at a couple of Bullfinch before they flew off and then looked up to my left and in the tree in front of me was a Hawfinch. It had taken me less than five minutes to find it from getting out the my car. I tried to take a couple of record photos as it preened itself in the thick shrub but the images didn't come out well enough. A lovely bird, though.

I walked round for a while before going to Cobham to see the Bewick's Swans and anything else that might be around. I fully expected the 16 swans to have gone to their roost at Walton reservoir, but they were still there, feeding with their Mute cousins. The flood water had receeded back to the river, on which were plenty of Mallard but little else.

Tomorrow I intend on an early start to go and find a Great Grey Shrike - the two at Thursley and Crooksbury Commons have proved to be elusive - but it is a case of being at the right place at the right time.

Monday 10 January 2011


After countless grey days the sun came out yesterday just in time to go looking for Great Grey Shrike. Annie came with me to Crooksbury Common late yesterday afternoon, where we bumped into Kevin 'Kojak' Guest and Roger 'Dodge' Browne, who were just leaving after a good look round came up with nothing. It was obvious that if these two guys hadn't found the Shrike, I wasn't going to fare any better, so we left and headed off for Cobham.

Earlier in the day both Kojak and Johnny Allan had texted me to say that 18 Bewick's Swans had been seen in a flooded field on the outskirts of Cobham. We arrived at about 3.00pm only to find a large number of Mute Swans. There were no Bewick's in sight. It transpired later that they had flown to Walton Reservoir to roost.

This morning I decided to try finding a Shrike on Ash Ranges. I left a bit too late, 7.30am, and got caught up in traffic. Two hours later I arrived at Ash Ranges, only to discover that the red flags had been raised. Being a site used frequently by the M.O.D, if the red flags are on view, it means that the site is out of bounds unless you want your head blown off.

Not a good start. It didn't get any better at Thursley Common, where I saw nothing of note, and also Compton was a disappointment with the Grey Partridge nowhere to be seen, having been very visible the day before.

Thankfully, I received another text to say that the Swans were back at Cobham, and within 25 minutes I was looking at 18 Bewick's Swans feeding in the field they had been seen on 24 hours earlier.

Kojak and Dodge turned up again, along with Mark 'Posh' Spicer and Frank Prater, and then later Rich Horton from Tice's Meadow.

Seeing Bewick's Swans in Surrey is an unusual but welcome sight to say the least, and made up for the earlier disappointments. Not a bad start to the year, all in all. In less than two weeks I've got two new birds on my list.

Back home and my trusted flock of Waxwings were still happily feeding on rotting apples on Frenches Road, and now had grown into a flock of between 50-60 birds. Every morning, when I can, I go out to see these birds and I haven't tired of watching them. I don't think I will, either. I'm just lucky that this flock have stayed for so long and so close to home.

Wednesday 5 January 2011


I took a quick walk around part of the Holmethorpe Sand Pits complex - my local patch - at lunchtime, and picked up the three female Smew that were happily bobbing along on Mercers West lake, along with more than 300 Lapwings, plenty of Teal and Gadwall, and an assortment of gulls. A Shelduck was also on neighbouring Spynes Mere.

On the walk back I had a Kingfisher fly from the Fordbridge near the Water Colour Lagoons housing development over to Mercers Lake, and my visit was finished off with another look at eight Waxwings, which later turned into more than 30, that are still feasting on an apple tree at the back of a house on Frenches Road, just 50 yards from where I live. For an hour's sojourn, I couldn't ask for more, really.

Tuesday 4 January 2011


Having spent most of the past couple of days dealing with family matters I left Annie at her parent's house this afternoon and made my way home to finish off a job that was due to go to print this week.

On the way down from Hitchin I had to go via Heathrow on the M25, and seeing as I had made up good time and it was only a five-minute detour off the motorway, I dropped in at Staines Resevoir in the hope the Velvet Scoter was still about. I didn't have my scope or camera with me, just a pair of bins that are always in the car.

I wasn't going to focus so much on Staines this year, as I'm trying to get a list together using the Surrey border prior to Spelthorne's inclusion, but I couldn't resist it.

Walking up the causeway I met up with Staines patchmeister, Ken Purdey, and - at long last - top Tice's Meadow birder and new birding buddy, Rich Seargent. The Scoter had predictably flown off and had apparently relocated on the Queen Mother Reservoir, so there wasn't much about. A group of Smew had been present, but they had also disappeared.

I spent the next quarter of an hour chatting to Rich, when Ken, who had been quietly getting on with scanning the water, commented: "I'm just going to walk up to the other end of the reservoir, because I think I've seen a couple of Slavonian Grebes."

Slovanian Grebes! Both Rich and I joined Ken on the trek up the causeway. And sure enough, Ken was spot on. Two sleeping Slavonian Grebes were drifting across the south basin. What a great find, and typically, had nothing to do with my birding skills whatsoever. I took a good look using both Rich and Ken's scopes, and after staying for a few minutes to drink in the discovery, we left.

So, a great and unexpected start to January, and I haven't been out for a full day yet (my list is stuttering on 24 so far). Next stop, my local patch at Holmethorpe.

Saturday 1 January 2011

2011 - DAY ONE

I thought it would be straightforward to begin the new year on a good note. Having been to Cranleigh yesterday to get some fantastic views of 27 Waxwings, I went back to the Methodist Church with Annie to take another look this afternoon.

The birds had previously been frantically gulping down berries on two small shrubs on the pavement right next to the church, and I was hopeful of some more close-up shots to go with the photos below.

Cranleigh is a odd place to get to as it takes seemingly forever if you're heading cross-country from Redhill. And once you arrive, everyone drives around in first gear and at a snail's pace - which doesn't suit me at all. For some reason, every man and his dog wants to go to Cranleigh, so the traffic backs up down the high street, no matter what time you arrive.

It wasn't so bad today, apart from the constant drizzle - and the fact the birds had gone. So, we went home.

A wasted round trip of two hours perhaps, but sods law dictates that 21 Waxwings would turn up in a tree on Frenches Road, 50 yards from my front door when I got back. These birds had discovered an apple tree at the back of a house just down the road, and were having a gluttonous time scoffing half-rotten Bramleys.

Annie couldn't believe it (but then she doesn't come out with me on these jaunts very often - if she did she would realise that this is a common occurrence), but at least I could tick off my first decent Surrey bird of 2011 on January 1. It was also a top bird for a new list, my house list, which is based on an area within 500 metres of my gaff. A bit of an urban list this one. It also means I can gain some enjoyment from seeing birds without leaving the confines of the property - escaping Randon Towers has been a problem in the past, because I work from home. But now I don't have to worry so much. Clever, eh!

So, Waxwing is done already, as is Little Owl (seen over at Mercer's Farm in the very late afternoon), Ring-necked Parakeet (we have about 300 that roost in the trees down the road from us), plus a few easy ones, although I haven't really got started yet.

The plan this year isn't actually to go listing, as I don't think my wife's patience can take it, and also I'm not sure I can force myself to go for it again at the moment - after all, when does it all end? You could go on forever, and I'd most likely turn into a bitter and twisted old git who went round constantly talking to himself (pretty much me in a nutshell, actually). What I will be doing this year, however, is drawing birds. Once I have a few decent illustrations down on paper, I will post them up on the site to see what people think.