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 30 May 2011


Well, it's been a quiet few weeks hasn't it? Even this week when the weather started to change and the rains eventually came, nothing much happened to get excited about. The spring migration came and went without much to show for it during the latter part of May around the county.

I've only had a couple of trips out locally in the past week. After hearing the Quail on the Saturday, I went to Chobham Common on Sunday evening to see the Nightjars (144). Always a fascinating bird to hear and to watch, I had to wait until 9.15pm as the sun went down and it was getting dark before I heard the first Nightjar churring. I eventually heard at least five and saw two, both perched on branches, but both flew off before I could get a photo - missing good shots is becoming a habit with me at the moment.

That was last Sunday, and yesterday was the first trip out since then. I went back to Chobham to look for a Dartford Warbler, but only found a brood of Stonechats. It was probably too windy (the wind has been a factor for weeks) so I decided to call off the search and head for Staines Reservoir.

It was a good decision. The first thing that struck me when I arrived was the huge amount of Swifts in the air, swooping over the causeway. There must have been at least 100 of them. There were plenty of Common Terns on the north basin, and more interestingly, two Arctic Terns, one being a first-summer bird, noticeable with its white forehead - it was almost certainly the same bird that had been seen earlier in the week at Island Barn Reservoir. I do like Terns, attractive birds and interesting to watch as they feed.

Added to that was a feisty first-summer Little Gull, which was constantly being mobbed by the Black-headed Gulls over one of the rafts.

All in all, a good visit after such a desolate few weeks on the Surrey front.
Surrey (including Spelthorne) 2011 list: 144
This time last year: 135

Saturday 21 May 2011


The last couple of weeks have been disappointing, there's no getting round it. The weather has been the problem. When it's fine, migratory birds have the strength to continue on to their summer haunts without stopping at a bird service station on the way (like landlocked Surrey) to refuel. And it's been fine for weeks now. No rain to speak of and plenty of sunshine - good for the early tan but disastrous for spotting new arrivals.

Fortunately, Canons Farm near Banstead - which is just up the road from me - comes up with the occasional gem when everywhere else is scratching around for anything interesting to report. And so it was today.

At 11.15am I got a text from David Campbell: "QUAIL singing at Reads Bottom at 11.14am." About an hour later I arrived. David had been joined by a throng of birders, including Johnny Allan and Mark 'Posh' Spicer. They were walking back up the track, heading for another vantage point in the Horse Paddock field next to a derelict barn.

We waited for about 45 minutes before eventually the Quail (143) sang in the undergrowth. It sang intermittently a few times before going quiet again, but it was enough. Quails are notoriously hard birds to see, being a highly secretive bird, so hearing it was going to be the best I could do, unless I had hours to kill, which I didn't.

So, I didn't get a photo, apart from those attached, including one of a Yellowhammer singing - but the way things have been recently I'll settle for that.
Surrey (including Spelthorne) 2011 list: 143
This time last year: 133

Friday 13 May 2011


Is it me, or is there a noticeable dearth of migratory birds out there at the moment? For the past few days all has been very quiet - nothing new has turned up of any note apart from a Roseate Tern at Staines Reservoir which I promptly dipped.

I was hoping for a few interesting passers-by, but nothing. The weather hasn't helped - it's been too nice. The one spring arrival I seem to succeed in virtually bumping into all the time, however, is the Cuckoo. This is a bird whose numbers have apparently dropped and is the cause of concern amongst wildlife experts, but after another sighting, this time on my patch at Holmethorpe a couple of days ago, I saw my sixth Cuckoo this morning at Chobham Common.

I was up early and arrived at the Common at 6.30am in the hope of finding a Dartford Warbler to photograph. But for the second time this week I failed. Didn't even hear one singing, so not sure where the little blighters have hidden themselves, but it means a few more trips are in order, probably to coincide with a dusk visit to hear and see Nightjars sometime in the next couple of weeks.

So, all I could muster during three hours were a few Stonechat and Woodlark, as pictured. I'm also seeing plenty of Buzzards and the odd Kestrel on my travels lately, but it would be fantastic to look up at the right time and see a Honey Buzzard instead. An Osprey would be nice, too.

On an very local front, the Swifts are back nesting in the small hole in the rafters of next door's house. Always an enjoyable sight to see them swoop low over our heads as we watch them from our back garden (more of a courtyard than a garden, actually).

Footnote: Seventh Cuckoo of the year seen at Bookham Common on Friday afternoon

Sunday 8 May 2011


Since the Staines Tern extravaganza last week, I haven't had much chance to venture too far from home. Car trouble meant a visit to the garage on Friday - the Peugeot needs new shock absorbers, and a bunch of other bits to stop it feeling like I'm driving over cobbles when on the motorway.

Yesterday evening was spent in Margate for my parents Diamond Wedding anniversary party at their local bowls club. It was a good bash - it was good to catch up with family we haven't seen for ages. My parents have a large group of friends who all turned up - their average age must have been about 98. They all managed to survive the evening - I think Annie and I were more knackered by the end of it than they were. It was like a scene from the film Cocoon - it must be all that sea air. The party went on until nearly midnight. We eventually arrived home and put the key in the front door at 2am.

From a selfish point of view, I didn't miss much on the birding front. In fact, the migration sightings over Surrey have been relatively few in recent days - the weather has just been too nice. If you get good weather in Surrey it generally means any migrating birds will continue their journey to their breeding grounds and won't feel the need to stop off en route.

Annie and I took a trip out to Holmbury Hill late on Friday. It is one of our latest favourite haunts. Very peaceful and great views. It's also pretty good for birds. Having heard them calling, I caught sight of two Cuckoos at the top of the hill as they flew down the hill. A Sparrowhawk drifted past, and two Tree Pipits were singing and parachuting to their hearts content.

I also took a quick visit to my local patch on Saturday morning, and remarkably for me I came up with a first sighting for the year for the patch. While searching Spynes Mere and Mercer's West lakes, I caught sight of a Black Tern feeding on Mercer's West. I didn't have my camera, scope or mobile phone with me - just my bins - so I had to sprint back home to send the message out.

By the time I got back, both Graham James and Gordon Hay were at the scene, but the Tern had gone. We all took a quick look over at Mercer's Lake to see if it had moved on there but nothing doing - just a Common Tern that had been on the Lake for the last few of days.

Apart from that, and Gordon spotting a Hobby this afternoon, all is quiet in the area. Although I personally prefer the good weather, what we really need in the next few days is plenty of wind, rain and cloud to force some birds to pay Holmethorpe a visit.

Tuesday 3 May 2011


The wind was still blowing today, and with it big numbers of migratory birds have been moving across the country. Waders have been seen in huge flocks flying up the Channel for the past few days, notably Bar-tailed Godwits, and a number of Wood Sandpipers have been dropping in at various places.

Plenty of seabirds are being watched, notably Little Gull, Common, Arctic and Black Terns. In Berrow, Somerset, more than 1,500 Arctic Terns were counted plus 50 Black Terns.

It was this current wave that drew me to Staines Reservoir this evening. I'd seen on the London Bird Club website that more than 21 Black Terns had been seen there, plus plenty of Arctic Terns. Also the Swifts had arrived. I didn't arrive until 6.30pm, but I was really looking forward to watching a bumper crop of seabirds using the reservoir as a feeding station during their migration.

I wasn't to be disappointed. It was a busy place. Pride of place went to 22 Black Terns (140) feeding on the north basin at the eastern end. What a great sight - I'd never seen so many Black Terns in one place before. I also spotted four elegant Arctic Terns (141), also feeding on the north basin with numerous Common Terns. The Little Tern remained elusive.

On the south basin there were four Little Gulls, plus I actually got to see the summer plumage Slavonian Grebe at the eastern end at long last.

I didn't see any at first, but soon at least 20 Swifts (142) joined the party as the sun began to cast long shadows over the water.

Back on the north basin I caught site of two Black-necked Grebes but couldn't find the Turnstone that had been recorded earlier. It didn't matter, though. It had a brilliant early evening Staines display and I'd got to see pretty much everything I had come for, which doesn't happen that often.
Surrey (including Spelthorne) 2011 list: 142
This time last year: 130

Sunday 1 May 2011


Although I told anyone that would listen that there was no way I would watch the Royal Wedding, having little or no interest in it, I ended up doing exactly that. And, to make matters worse, I felt quite stirred by the occasion. I think it was something to do with the fact we are really good at this kind of thing, probably better than any other nation on the planet, and that in general it made people feel good - it was certainly a distraction from all the normal doom and gloom of everyday life.

On the birding front, I went out this morning for another attempt at finding a Dartford Warbler at Chobham Common. I parked up at the Longcross end of the Common at about 9.00am and spent the next couple of hours looking in totally the wrong place. I had been sent some Ordnance Survey co-ordinates by Rich Sergeant but hadn't looked at the map (actually I used the Streetmap website) properly.

I did see my first of two Garden Warbler (136) of the year, singing enthusiastically close by. I managed to see these two quite close up but they didn't stay still long enough to take a record photo.

It's the nature of digiscoping, particularly if you are like me and you don't have a jig to drop on to your scope. I just butt my Fujifilm FinePix S7000 directly up to the rubber eye piece and hope for the best. It all takes time to set up though, and if you have a hyperactive moving target it can pretty much be a hopeless, or hapless, task.

I heard a Tree Pipit in the distance, heard countless Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap, plus I also had good views of a couple of male Stonechat, and saw a couple of Redstart fly over after I had startled them out of a tree.

All very nice, but still no Dartford Warbler. Then, as I made my way back to the car park, I looked on the Streetmap site again, and eventually discovered my mistake. I had to look further east. I followed the path down from the car park and then took the first fork to the left. Another 300 yards further ahead passed some pine trees, I suddenly heard the distinctive chatter of a Dartford Warbler (137). It was a striking male, and it perched on a gorse bush branch just next to the footpath. The sun was shining, the Warbler was just ten feet away, the photo of a lifetime.

Then a dog bounded towards me.


"Oh, what the f... Morning."

The smiling dog walker, (he was friendly, I'll give him that) plus child and two dogs, trotted past the Warbler and then me. The Dartford Warbler took flight, never to return for the next hour.

I had to give it up. I could always come back another time. At least I now knew where to look. And I'd make sure to turn up earlier in the day.

I plonked my stuff in the back of the car and headed off for Staines Reservoir, not that far up the road from Chobham. Waders had been quite active around the Surrey area for the past couple of days, notably Bar-tailed Godwit, Greenshank and Wood Sandpiper.

It was a breezy day, so it was no surprise that the wind was particularly fierce up on the causeway. There were plenty of gulls around, with a few Little Gulls in amongst the Black-headed Gulls. Also on the causeway was Tim Harrop from Teddington, who I had met a few months back at Bookham Common where we had both been looking (successfully) for Hawfinch.

Just ten minutes earlier he had seen a Little Tern on the north basin, but we couldn't locate it again. We saw a couple of Common Terns, but no Little 'un. Tim had to leave for a christening, so we walked up to the eastern end of the causeway together - he departed for his car and I stuck around in the hope of seeing a Slavonian Grebe in full summer plumage - but I couldn't see it anywhere.

What I did see, however, were a group of five waders on the eastern bank of the south basin. They were a bit too far away to see very well, but I could figure out that one of them was a Greenshank (138), but wasn't sure about the other four, only that three were the same species. I took some record photos and left.

Once I got back home, I blew a couple of images up and sent them to Graham James, to see what he thought they were. I had already looked of the London Bird Club site to catch up with what had been seen today, and before I had arrived there this morning, a Greenshank had been recorded (confirmed), three Bar-Tailed Godwit, and a Turnstone, as well as the near-resident Great Northern Diver and Slavonian Grebe (dammit).

Three of the birds, all sleeping on and off, had the same plumage. One of the others had distinct black markings on its head and chest. Graham came back to me and reckoned the black-marking bird was a summer plumage Grey Plover (139). Looking at it again, it almost certainly is. Later in the day, two were seen flying over the area. Graham also thought the shape of the others would match the Bar-tailed Godwit (140) seen earlier that morning. I decided this evidence was enough to give me the ticks allotted - unless, of course, anyone really thinks I'm clutching at straws. If enough people think that's the case I'll bin the 'Wit.

So, that was better than expected. Later in the early evening I went over to my local patch at Spynes Mere to see the Greenshank that was still present from late morning. it had been joined by a couple of Common Sandpiper.

Tomorrow, if I get the chance, I'll return to all three destinations in the hope of getting a decent photo of the Dartford Warbler, and to see what other waders decide to pay us a visit.

Note on May 3: Having looked at some of the other images I have of the birds on the bank at Staines, I've come to the conclusion that the Grey Plover is actually another Bar-tailed Godwit, so I'm taking it off my list.