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 30 March 2011


I got a phone call from Gordon Hay this morning at 9.30am. Two Avocets at Mercers West. I had jobs to do, but I managed (as you do) to fit in a visit to the Sand Pits. The pair of Avocets (112) were feeding happily on the edge of the lake, and stayed there all day.

The year list ticks are now coming at an increased pace now the migrant season has well and truly started. Also at Mercers West this morning were at least ten Sand Martins (113), frantically feeding alongside a lone Swallow. Later in the day I saw one of the two Little Ringed Plover (114) on the same spot as the Avocets. The LRPs are a regular visitor to Holmethorpe, as are Wheatear but, as yet, none have dropped in.

That in itself is a surprise, as is a Sedge Warbler at the Water Colour Lagoons. Gordon, among others, heard the Sedge's sub song in a similar place to where one was located last year. Chiffchaff are now in abundance, and the first Willow Warblers are settling in at the Spynes Mere end of the patch.

It can only be a matter of days before the rest of the regular migrants turn up.

Tuesday 29 March 2011


Some days go to plan, some days don't. Some days you imagine exactly how you expect to see x, y and z, but when it comes down to it, you end up seeing very little. Then there are other days, when it all goes well. Today, I am happy to say, was one of the better days.

Staines Reservoir was the first port of call. As I walked up the path to the causeway, there was no wind, the sun was trying to come out, and one of the two Great Northern Divers was swimming and diving very close to the water's edge.

A good start. I walked further up the causeway and met up with Staines Reservoir birding guru, Bob Warden, who had spotted Little Gull and Rock Pipit over the weekend. We picked up a couple of Little Gulls (108) skimming over the water feeding at the far end of the south basin.

I was keen to try and find the Rock Pipit, but Bob had struggled to get good views of it over the weekend, as it tended to drop down into the tall grass by the water's edge when flushed. The bird that grabbed my attention, however, was my first Wheatear (109) of the year. A true sign spring has arrived. It took off, flashing its white rump, from the northern bank of the causeway, and landed some way further up.

As I approached the eastern end of the reservoir, where the metal fencing gets higher and more intrusive, a brown bird flew up - again from the north bank - and flew low along the causeway before landing on top of the fencing. I couldn't believe my luck. The Scandinavian Rock Pipit (110) stayed put for a few minutes, allowing me a chance to get great views of it.

So that was three new birds for 2011 in a matter of minutes. Just to add a cherry on top, moments later a lone Swallow (111) flew overhead.

The next destination was Staines Moor. On the walk down the path to the north of the Moor, I saw eight Shelduck on the banking of the KGVI Reservoir and I heard the first of two Cetti's Warbler. As I approached the wooden boardwalk just before the Moor itself, I had my best-ever views of a second Cetti's. This particular bird was perched relatively conspicuously - enough for me to see it singing at full pelt. Brilliant.

A walk around the Moor produced another two Wheatear, but they didn't stand still long enough for a photo. I couldn't find any Water Pipit, but there were plenty of Reed Bunting, as well as a couple of Lapwing in the boggy area to the centre of the Moor, and three Little Egret on the River Colne.

On the walk back I heard a Willow Warbler and numerous Chiffchaff amongst the usual mix of Tits, Linnets, Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers.

By now it was coming up to 11.00am, so a return home was hastily required.

As the weather was so nice, and work turned out to be a bit slack, Annie and I went for a walk along the Wey Navigation Canal, near Ripley, near the site where I saw the Barn Owl a few days ago. During the couple of hours walking, birds of note were a Kestrel, a Grey Wagtail and three Egyptian Geese, but not much else. We went for a quick drink at the Anchor Inn up the road - a great spot next to the canal - and afterwards came back to the River Wey in the hope of seeing another Barn Owl. It meant standing around for more than an hour, but we did eventually see a Barn Owl fly over, swoop down to catch something in the long grass and then fly off with its catch.

With that, the sun set (hence yet another chocolate box picture to sign off) and we headed home.

Saturday 26 March 2011


Lots of late afternoon walks in the spring sunshine after work with Annie this week - Denbies Vineyard, South Park/Wychroft near Bletchingley and on the North Downs near Woldingham. The walks were specifically just that, walks - not a birding exercise. Annie isn't that interested in birding (why should she be?) so if we go out for a couple of hours in the late afternoon sun, she wants my undivided attention - quite rightly, rather than have me stop in mid-sentence to peer through my bins at a raptor in the distance (it might be a Red Kite!).

Having said that, I did see a couple of new birds for the year this week. My first two Blackcaps (106) at Mercer's Lake, plus a male and female Red-legged Partridge (107) during the walk around the Wychroft area.

Today, however, I had a spare couple of hours late on to have a wander on my own. Trouble was, I didn't have a plan. I thought about going to Staines Reservoir for the eight Little Gulls seen there today, but then at 4.00pm the rush-hour traffic was going to cause major hassle. I thought about sticking to my local patch to see the Little Ringed Plover that had just dropped in, but then I reckoned I could catch that over the weekend. Puttenham was a possibility for an outside chance of a Raven or Red Kite sighting, or Waxwings in the village. I also considered after Puttenham sprinting back up the A3 to see the Barn Owls at Ripley by the Wey Navigation Canal.

The A3 was the way I headed the car, but I went straight past the Puttenham turning and found myself heading towards Thursley Common instead. Ravens and Red Kite have been seen in the Thursley area, and what the heck, the light was so good I couldn't resist another walk round the Common anyway for some more views of a Great Grey Shrike. You will have noticed by now that I have a thing about Great Grey Shrikes...

What was apparent on the walk to Shrike Hill was the abundance of Stonechat and Woodlark. I saw five male Stonechats plus excellent views of a female, and also at least six singing Woodlarks. Their song was interrupted by the call of a Curlew in the distance.

I trudged up Shrike Hill where I met with another birder from Tilford who hadn't seen a Shrike at all this year. He was heading off back to the car park after a fruitless search when I was forced to whistle to attract his attention and call him back, as I had spotted one of the wintering Thursley Common Great Grey Shrike perched on top of a Silver Birch. I'd only been on the Hill for less than five minutes. Very typical when it comes to seeing this particular bird. Finding it either involves a search that can take half a day or seeing the bloody thing almost immediately.

Normally quite a mobile bird, he stayed put for at least 20 minutes. As it transpired, he was digesting a meal, managing to regurgitate a food pellet at one point. He was also quite vocal, calling in a quiet, warbled tone. Who to? Who knows?

As the sun set he moved on, flying off into the distance underneath pink and orange skies. A tranquil setting, and a splendid way to end the working week.

Monday 21 March 2011


An early start this morning, and the weather was brighter than forecast. Setting off at 6.15am I was parked up and making my way to the Circle Field behind Aberdour School, near Canons Farm. Almost immediately I heard drumming in the woods to the east of the field, and within minutes I was watching a male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (105) drumming and calling near the top of a dead tree.

It wasn't long before he flew off across the pathway to an oak tree in the adjacent field and then in the direction of the school.

I bumped into local birder Paul Cox, who had seen the pair of Lesser Peckers yesterday morning and he explained how the male appeared to favour the end of the field where I saw it minutes earlier.

Before long the drumming started up again and we made our way down the pathway and found the bird on a dead tree stump, drumming for all he was worth. I couldn't really have asked for more for my first Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. All this and it was only about 7.30am.

The Canons Farm/Banstead Woods patch has three pairs scattered around the area, but as the Farm's patch lister, David Campbell, mentioned in a comment posted on my blog recently, the Aberdour pair are the easiest to see.

So, a great start to the morning.

Next stop was Chobham Common. I wanted to get a half decent digiscope photo of the Chobham Common Great Grey Shrike, as this bird has been easier to see and follow than the Thursley Common bird(s), which tended to be more mobile and can fly a fair way off in a short time. Added to which Thursley is a tricky place to get around at the best of times due to the boggy terrain.

I'd been at the usual spot, on the edge of the burnt area to the south of Jubilee Mound, but just couldn't find it - a couple of Woodlarks and a male Stonechat, but no Shrike. A local birder had also been searching for it, but it was looking like I was going to come away empty handed. However, on another circuit of the area, the local chap had found it in a different place to its usual haunt, perched on a silver birch quite near the area where people fly their remote control airplanes.

Once I knew where it was, I found the Great Grey Shrike without too much trouble. He eventually flew back to his usual spot, where he had a larder for his catch, mostly lizards (he went down to feed on one at one point), and for the next 90 minutes I followed the Shrike around as he flew from tree to tree. A brilliant bird.

After that, I thought it only fair that I left him in peace for the rest of the day. The first Sand Martins have arrived around the Surrey area, and there have been a number of sightings of Red Kite, plus Little Ringed Plover and a Yellow Wagtail at Beddington. None of those mentioned has made its way to Holmethorpe as yet, but the coming week was the time last year when notable migrant arrivals, including Wheatear, dropped in. Having travelled around the county quite a bit recently it's time to return to the patch.

Friday 18 March 2011


A cryptic headline but it fits the bill. Today was a typical birding session - 10 per cent inspiration (probably even less than that in my case) and 90 per cent perspiration.

The day was hindered by rain in the afternoon, so I left it late to go on the hunt for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in the fields next to the Aberdour School, near Banstead. I spent a good hour looking for one, but all I could muster as I circled the aptly named Circle Field were two Great Spotted Woodpeckers. I'll have another go, hopefully, on Sunday morning.

Rather than going home empty handed, I took a detour down the M25 (during rush hour) to Ripley and the Wey Navigation Canal as the sun at last appeared low on the horizon. Kevin 'Kojak' Guest and Johnny 'Badgeman' Allen had seen two Barn Owls late yesterday after a tip-off from a local Surrey birder, and after a quick phone call to Kojak for directions, I was on site, by the River Wey, just before the bridge that leads to the Newark Abbey ruin.

Right on queue at about 6.15pm (Kojak and Johnny had seen the bird at almost exactly the same time yesterday evening) and as the sun was setting while I was taking these photos, I was aware of movement in my peripheral vision. A gorgeous Barn Owl (104) was flying low over the flood plain before turning and disappearing out of view behind a clump of trees.

I waited for at least half an hour for the Owl to quarter over the area in front of me by the river but it didn't show. By now it was almost completely dark as the full moon was shining bright - a return visit is in order to get a better view of one of the most majestic and increasingly rare British birds.

So that was it. I had set off from home just after 4.00pm and walked back through the front door at 7.30pm. During that time I had seen one target bird for less than 15 seconds. But that's how it goes with this hobby. Always appreciate small victories.

Thursday 17 March 2011


A brief walk around Headley Heath this afternoon was the only option available today - Annie wanted a bit of fresh air and likes the walk around the Heath - before a trip to Waitrose in Banstead to do a bit of early pre-weekend shopping.

The walk was pleasant enough and the sun made an appearance, which was welcome after so many grey days during the past few weeks. The birds were scant, though, apart from plenty of Long-tailed Tits and a Greater Spotted Woodpecker drumming in the distance.

On the walk back to the car, I was already scheming a course of action for tomorrow afternoon if the predicted heavy rain had passed over. I hoped to try for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in the fields at the back of Aberdour School near Canons Farm, or failing a sighting there, a visit to Tilford, where at least three have been seen recently. Or, if Sand Martin and Wheatear turn up, a visit to my local patch.

Then, suddenly, a song I recognised, and a first for the year. A Willow Warbler (103), followed by another one in the distance. Headley Heath is a very good site for Willow Warbler - I remember seeing at least ten on one visit here last spring, so they obviously like the place, but this was very early to say the least. Normally, you wouldn't expect to see one of our most common migrants until the end of March/beginning of April. A candidate for the earliest recorded in Surrey, perhaps?

I looked on Rare Bird Alert later to see how many have been seen around the country recently. A single bird today in Dorset, plus one in Crosby, Lancashire and four in Leasowe, Cheshire yesterday appear to be the only Willow Warblers recorded across the country so far. After what started off as a run-of-the-mill walk, I now feel quite privileged.


It had been a beautiful spring day yesterday - spent at home painting the bathroom. Today I was out and about, and it was cold and grey as soot - again. Never mind. I had target birds to find.

The first one was at a typically cold and blustery Staines Reservoir, where I struggled to locate Black-necked Grebe (I thought I saw one in winter plumage at the southern end of the south basin, but I couldn't be absolutely sure) until I bumped into Tice's Meadow man John Hunt after an hour's search, and he steered me in the direction of two close by. I've now seen all five Grebes you are likely to see in Surrey, three of which I have seen at Staines (it counts for me as part of the county, for now at least).

The two Great Northern Divers didn't show while I was there, although they had been seen earlier in the day.

Next stop was Staines Moor. Walking down the path that is to the north of the Moor, I heard my first Cetti's Warbler (102) of the year. The Cetti's Warbler is a regular visitor to the brook here, and will no doubt burst into loud song for quite a number of weeks now it has returned.

On the Moor itself, walking along the River Colne, I found one of my targets - a Water Pipit. Water Pipit are a Staines Moor speciality - there were eight reported here yesterday. I saw two today. The bird species that stood out, however, was Fieldfare. There must have been at least 50 of them perched in the trees and swooping down into an area north of the river. There were also plenty of Reed Bunting, Linnet and Meadow Pipit, plus a few Lapwing.

My other target, Wheatear, didn't make an appearance. There have not been many sighted so far in Surrey so I reckon it will be another week before they start dropping in everywhere.

By now the light, for what it was worth, was beginning to fade, so rather than travel to Tilford in the hope of seeing Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, I dropped by Chobham Common on the way home to see the Great Grey Shrike again. It took a while to find it, but I was helped this time by Surrey birder Dick Haydon, who saw it perched halfway up a tree near its larder, just south of the burnt area of gorse mentioned earlier in the week. It was a long way off and any hope of a decent photo wasn't helped by the lack of decent light. It soon flew off and we couldn't re-locate it after that.

The only other birds of interest were a male Stonechat perched on a post close to where the Shrike was last seen, and a flock of at least 150 buzzing Lesser Redpolls that never seemed to land, so it was impossible to see whether a Mealy was amongst them.

Before long it was time to leave to catch the rush-hour traffic on the M25. There are still a few birds I'd like to see before the spring migration really gets going - Brambling and Firecrest are the notable winter/early spring absentees from my list, but it's not been a bad first quarter of the year.

Tuesday 15 March 2011


I could have gone to Staines Reservoir yesterday afternoon to see the Black-necked Grebe. I could have gone to Beddington to see the Iceland and Mediterranean Gulls as texted via Kevin 'Kojak' Guest. In the end I did neither, and instead went to Chobham Common to find a bird I had already seen twice this year.

It is evidence, hopefully, that I'm not succumbing to Surrey or patch listing, but rather going to look at birds I enjoy. All of which is true, but it still doesn't hide away obsessive tendencies - a birding condition, if we really admit it. Our wives (if we still have one) will tell you as much - seeing as we would rather spend hours walking around a burnt area of Common ground on a Monday afternoon, than spending time at home doing constructive things like painting the bathroom skirting board and window frame (a forfeit I will suffer today).

Yesterday's target bird was a Great Grey Shrike at Chobham Common, as first seen by top Surrey/Bucks/Berks patch lister Kevin Duncan and posted on Birdguides at 1pm this afternoon. The fact is I really like Shrikes. They're just such interesting birds - and there aren't many of them in Britain at any one time - probably no more than 40 in the British Isles at the moment - so in a way it's a privelege to see one, let alone two in a year.

Predictably, having arrived at 2,30pm, I couldn't find it. Plenty of Lesser Redpolls - at least 20 (couldn't tell you if there were any Mealys amongst them, as they wouldn't keep still for long enough to look properly) - but little else.

I had bumped into another Surrey birder from Richmond, who had yet to see a Shrike this year - and, unfortunately, he hadn't located it. After walking around completely the wrong area for an hour, I saw him and another birder (it was Kevin) focusing on an area through their binoculars, and there it was, in typical pose, perched high in a tree.

This Great Grey Shrike stayed in the same place for a good 30 minutes at least, and so was unlike the Thursley Common bird, which tends to move around a lot more. The reason, it transpired after talking to Kevin a little while later, was that this Shrike had a larder set up a short distance away, where it had already caught and impaled a lizard. We actually watch it drop down and feed for a while from its store, before moving on. This Shrike was a top performer and well worth anyone travelling to Chobham to watch. It tends to stick to an area of flatter ground just on the edge of the burnt region, south of Albury Bottom just before the pylons. Well worth a visit if you have a few hours to spare.

I'm now up to 100 species for Surrey this year - a pair of Grey Wagtail (100) got me there. They are a nailed-on certainty near Leigh Mill House, just off the A22 south of Godstone, where a fast-flowing stream joins a fishing lake.

Next up, Wheatear. None yet seen on the Holmethorpe patch, but it can only be a matters of days before they are.

Thursday 10 March 2011


I got up early this morning and paid a proper visit to my local patch at Holmethorpe rather than traipsing off somewhere in the hope of catching up with a new Surrey list bird.

As it transpired, the walk proved profitable on that front anyway, and I only had to drive two minutes down the road.

The plan was to try and find Holmethorpe's first Wheatear, Little Ringed Plover or Sand Martin of the year. No joy on any of those fronts, but they will arrive soon. What I did find, however, was my first Jack Snipe of 2011, two of them seen in flight at The Moors. Also on The Moors were three Common Snipe and two Meadow Pipit. Further along the walk, on the path alongside the landfill site, two flighty Little Egret took to the air.

On the path heading north from Mercers Farm, I saw a Yellowhammer fly into an oak, before taking off again, while over at Spynes Mere, the juvenile White-fronted Goose was still present on the field south of the lake, with four Canada Geese and 22 Greylag Geese. A couple of Reed Bunting were singing heartily, while the Green Sandpiper and the pair of Shelduck were still on the Mercers West lake.

On the way back to the car, I saw a couple of Goldcrest by Mercers Lake and also my first Chiffchaff of the spring. I'm now on 99 for the year in Surrey, so it will be interesting to discover what takes me to the ton in the coming days. I hope it's a good 'un.

Wednesday 9 March 2011


After the excitement of seeing the White-tailed Eagle in Hampshire yesterday, there was another fillip to my birding week this morning when Graham James emailed me to let me know of a first-winter White-fronted Goose with a flock of Greylag Geese in a field south of Spynes Mere. The Holmethorpe patch had also produced the first migrant Chiffchaff of the spring so far, as well as a Red Kite flying north over the area at about 9.00am.

I couldn't get over to see the White-fronted Goose until mid-afternoon, but he wasn't hard to find, being darker and noticeably smaller than the Greylags, with the distinctive white blaze at the base of its bill.

An excellent addition to the Holmethorpe list - Graham reckons this bird has been in the area for a few days. Another addition to my own personal Surrey and Holmethorpe year lists was a Green Sandpiper probing the edge of the water on Mercers West.

On a brief tour of the area I picked up four Goldcrests but still haven't found a Yellowhammer - only a question of time though. The winter bird I hope to pick up tomorrow (if I get up early enough) is Jack Snipe. The Moors wetland area is the place to find them, and Little Egret, with three seen at the Moors by Kevin 'Kojak' Eason and David 'Devilbirder' Campbell this afternoon.

With the first spring migrants arriving on British soil local patch listers will be hoping to be the first to see a Wheatear at Holmethorpe in the next few days - Beddington had their first touch down today. Little Ringed Plover and Sand Martin are other early Holmethorpe migrants to keep an eye out for.

Tuesday 8 March 2011


Anticipating it would be a lovely morning, I took myself off over the border into Hampshire this morning. The first-winter male White-tailed Eagle has been a major attraction in the Old Basing area these past few weeks, and I thought it was high-time I went and had a look for myself.

I arrived on Newnham Road just after seven and had a look round. It turns out this area is good bird-watching country. I saw the first of three Red Kite perched in a tree close to the road, plus a couple of Buzzards and a Kestrel. Other notables were a male Bullfinch, showing well in the sunlight, and a Yellowhammer.

But no Eagle. I wasn't aware of it at the time, but this Eagle is a creature of habit and favours a particular tree in a particular field to perch in. I was lucky, however, because I bumped into a couple of blokes from Weymouth who had missed the Eagle yesterday by 30 minutes and had come back for another go. They had parked up and got a result.

So there he was, partially obscured by branches. This huge White-tailed Eagle perched in his favourite tree. And there he stayed for about half an hour, occasionally preening himself, but in no hurry to go anywhere. He may have already eaten a rabbit (his favourite food - someone saw him grab one yesterday, which must have a been a remarkable sight), so any hope of an aerial display was going to have to wait.

Another Surrey birder arrived with a friend, and as we were chatting, the Eagle decided it was time to take to the air. What a sight. This Avro Vulcan bomber of a bird swallowed up the sky. It flew across the field to be met by a couple of irate Buzzards, that chose to mob the magnificent Eagle as it circled in an adjacent field.

Now, a Buzzard isn't exactly a small bird. When I see one soaring I always take notice. And yet, these two were tiny by comparison. This White-tailed Eagle was only a year old, so he's still got a bit of growing up to do, and his wingspan will stretch to a remarkable 240cm. That's nearly eight feet from wingtip to wingtip.

And so that was that. This bad boy drifted off across the valley and out of sight. It's possible he may stay in the area for some time. He won't breed for at least another couple of years, maybe even seven, so there's no need to go anywhere if food is plentiful. I have a feeling I may be back, too.

Sunday 6 March 2011


Spring is almost open us, and the amount of bird activity building up presently across the south east is a tell-tale sign. On the south coast, the first Sand Martins and Wheatears have landed, plus locally we've had Curlew back at Thursley Common, plus plenty of sightings of Red Kite, and a number of Grebes and wildfowl dropping in on various places.

I made my way to Staines Reservoir yesterday morning. It was bitingly cold. During the winter months at Staines it always is. It doesn't make any difference if there's little breeze, once you walk along the causeway a cold wind does its best to burn your face off.

I'd made a point of travelling to Staines to see a Black-necked Grebe that had been seen the day before, and better views of the two Great Northern Divers that had been on the reservoir regularly for the past week or so. I arrived at about 7.30am, and there were already plenty of other birders around. I met up with Bob Warden, but he hadn't seen much before I arrived. We scanned the area for a good hour but apart from the Scaup (it had been at the reservoir for a number of days), we saw little apart from plenty of Goldeneye.

I then had an epiphany moment (they don't happen often), when I was considering leaving and heading off somewhere else. As I said my farewells, I happened to ask another birder whether he had seen the Great Northern Divers, and low and behold, he had - just 30 minutes earlier on the south basin - and as far as he was aware, they hadn't flown off.

They had to still be around. Before long, after another scan of the area, remarkably, I locked on to the first of two Great Northern Divers. I hadn't seen anything for an age, but as soon as someone had said they must be still in the area, I was on to it without a problem. This birding hobby is 80 per cent exasperation and 20 per cent inspiration.

To add to the enjoyment of the moment, this Diver disappeared underwater for some considerable time, only to reappear with a very large fish - of which it spent the next 30 minutes at least, trying to eat. Eventually, the second Diver drifted into view.

Before long, other birds made an appearance. A drake Smew dropped in out of nowhere, and moments later Bob spotted a Slavonian Grebe land on the water, which I picked up soon after. While the Black-necked Grebe had been seen on the north basin a couple of hours earlier, none of those present - including me - could find it.

It didn't matter much really. It had been a very successful morning, all in all. No additions to my Surrey list, but that shouldn't really be the point. I had, in the end, made the correct decision by staying put in one place, rather than moving to an another site. If I had have upped sticks, I would have seen nothing memorable. As it was, I had a very good morning's birding.

Over the past couple of days, I had taken a few lightning-short visits to my local patch at Holmethorpe and come across a group of Treecreepers. An unusual sight, as I have only ever seen a couple of birds together, never alone three to four. They are remarkably well camouflaged. One bird sat statuesque on the side of a Silver Birch - it could have easily have been missed - and it stayed put until I got really close to it. It made me realise what an attractive little bird a Treecreeper is, and unusual.

The other new birds for 2011 were three Lesser Redpoll, seen at Headley Heath on Friday. Annie and I went for a very late afternoon walk, and with a Goldcrest, a singing Marsh Tit (didn't see it) and a Nuthatch, it had been a very relaxing end to the working week.

Next stop will be a visit outside of the Surrey listing area to Old Basing - if I can - to see the White-tailed Eagle. I keep my fingers crossed it stays put for the next couple of days.