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.

Thursday 29 December 2011


The past year has gone by as fast as a Peregrine pursuing a Lapwing and before you know where you are it’s time for the Randon’s Ramblings Awards for 2011.

Once again I would like to thank everyone I have met on my travels during these past 12 months. My birding this year has been a mixture of some truly memorable moments and some downright disappointing ones. The more I get involved with this recreational pastime, the more I realise that birding involves plenty of psychological fortitude as it does actual bird-watching.

You have to be strong mentally to keep sane. I would like to give special mention to a number of people who have helped me in that department. Graham James, as always, for all his help and encouragement, Johnny Allan, for the same reason, and David Campbell for his determination that I wouldn’t dip every bird I wanted to see.

My 2011 Surrey list (which includes Spelthorne - apologies to the traditionalists) has ended on 167 bird species. It would have been more – probably more than 170 – but for the past six weeks or so birding has had to take a backseat. There are far more important things to focus on in life sometimes.

As Johnny often says, every year is different. And so 2011 proved. Unlike in 2010, this year I managed to connect with a Bittern, Hoopoe, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Mediterranean Gull, Slavonian Grebe, Velver Scoter, Wryneck, to name but a few, but unlike last year I didn’t see a Yellow-legged Gull (I didn’t actually look very hard), Firecrest, Hen Harrier, Garganey, Mealy Redpoll or Raven. The gull would have been easy if I had gone to Beddington, but as I have said before, I find it hard to get excited about gulls, so I didn’t bother.

Targets for 2012? We’ll take it as it comes. I’ve realised more than ever that I have an interest in some birds more than others, so I could end up studying Harriers and Owls, two of my favourite bird species. Or perhaps I could have a bash at sea-watching – something I haven’t done this year at all, or ever, really.

Now for the awards. This year I have introduced an additional award for Bird Photograph of the Year – and there were some real crackers to choose from.

In alphabetical order, the nominees are:

Johnny Allan – Beddington Sewage Farm
David Campbell – Canons Farm
Kevin Duncan – Tice’s Meadow
Rich Horton – Tice's Meadow
John Hunt – Tice's Meadow
Graham James – Holmethorpe Sand Pits
Brian Milton – Unstead SF
Bob Warden – Staines Reservoir

The winner is:
David Campbell

Congratulations to David, who has seen 108 different bird species at Canons Farm this year. Doesn’t sound like a lot but no-one has been as dedicated to his local patch than David in 2011. He was able to keep a remarkable log of the birds he has seen, and he has seen some excellent ones, including the one Wood Warbler probably seen in the whole of Surrey this year, breeding pairs of Lesser-spotted Woodpecker, Short-eared Owl, Barn Owl, Quail, Grasshopper Warbler and Black Redstart. David also hosts two excellent blogs – Devil Birder and Canons Farm & Banstead Woods Birds (see links). He also produces the annual Canons Farm & Banstead Woods Bird report – a finely detailed and relevant full-colour report on his findings every year. Still only in his teens, David a remarkably knowledgeable birder, but he should also concentrate as much on his education – the birds will always be there, but the brain cells or future working career won’t be.

The nominations are:
Beddington Sewage Farm
Canons Farm
Holmethorpe Sand Pits
Staines Reservoir
Tice's Meadow

The winner is:
Beddington Sewage Farm

Congratulations to the Beddington team on winning the award for the second consecutive year. Beddington never ceases to amaze with the quality of birds it has visiting or flying over year in, year out. This year, of the 156 birds seen at the site, the highlights have included a Black Kite, Short-eared Owl, Snow Bunting, Pectoral Sandpiper, Iceland Gull, Caspian Gull, Glaucious Gull, Spotted Crake, Common Crane, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and Ring Ouzel. As I have said before, a great deal of work goes into making Beddington such a bird haven, notably from Peter Alfrey, Johnny Allan, Mike Spicer and Roger Browne and plenty of other birding headcases who have spent more hours at the farm than they do at home.

The nominations are:
Black Kite (Beddington SF)
Great Grey Shrike (Thursley Common and Chobham Common)
Hoopoe (Farthing Downs, Coulsdon)
Red-rumped Swallow (Unstead SF)
Shorelark (Queen Elizabeth II Reservoir)
Short-eared Owl (Papercourt Water Meadows)
Waxwing (everywhere)
Wheatear (ditto)
Wryneck (Ranmore Common)

The winner is:
Short-eared Owl

A very close call between the winner and the Farthing Downs Hoopoe, but in the end the Short-eared Owl wins the best bird in Surrey award for 2011. This bird may not be as rare as the Red-rumped Swallow seen at Unstead in the late summer, or as unusual as the Shorelark seen at the QEII Reservoir last month, but there are few birds so enthralling to watch. I had some great views of them recently. Having been in the area for a few weeks now at Papercourt Water Meadows, near Woking, you will be able to watch at least four, and possibly as many as six Short-eared Owls quartering the region searching for food as the light begins to fade in the afternoons.

The nominations are:
Johnny Allan
David Campbell
Kevin Duncan
Dave Harris
Gordon Hay
Rich Horton
John Hunt
Graham James
Brian Milton
Rich Seargent
Bob Warden

The winner is:
Johnny Allan

A great list of birders but there could only be one winner and that is Surrey’s record-breaker. Johnny saw 198 species in Surrey this year – an all-time Surrey record. For a land-locked county where he only includes the old vice-county borders, that is a magnificent achievement and he achieved it with weeks to spare. Johnny just fell short of the magic 200 mark but in 2011 he couldn’t really have done any better. He also managed to travel to the far reaches of Britain for a few lifers along the way.


2011 Randon's Ramblings Personal Dip of the Year

The nominations are:
Grasshopper Warbler
Yellow-browed Warbler
(There are many others but it's these that still cause my blood pressure to rise)

This year has been another bad year of dipping. Where do I start? The Grasshopper Warblers at Canons Farm were a nightmare. I spent hours watching various bushes only for the little buggers to appear after I left. This happened on more than a few times. Worse was the Yellow-browed Warbler at Newdigate. I never saw it or heard it in five visits to the site. Rubbish. But undoubtedly the dip of the year for me has been the Firecrest. I dipped this little critter so many times I stopped counting after I got to ten. I went searching at various sites around the county. Banstead Golf Course, Effingham Forest and my local patch Holmethorpe were the most frustrating. I’ve stopped looking now. If I bump into one, that’s fine, but I’ve now made a pact with myself that I will not go out of my way to look for a Firecrest. Not now, not ever.

2011 Randon's Ramblings ten most memorable moments

1. Burpham Pallid Harrier 
Quite simply the best bird I have seen all year bar none. Spectacular and beautiful. 
I went back three times and savoured every minute.

2. Papercourt Short-eared Owls 
I had been trying for a while to see a Short-eared Owl in Surrey and Papercourt Water Meadows didn’t disappoint. I regularly saw four owls at a time quartering the flats there.

3. Farthing Downs Hoopoe 
Just 15 minutes up the road, a lovely bird to watch, and it stayed for more than a week.

4. Frenches Road Waxwings
After running around trying to connect with these intriguing birds, 60 of them ended up locating in the road next to my house – feeding on rotting apples – I could even watch them from my living room window.

5. Beddington Pectoral Sandpiper 
After missing out so disastrously last year, it was a relief and satisfying to eventually see one at Beddington. I got to within 10 feet of this one, too.

6. Thursley Common and Chobham Common Great Grey Shrikes 
I became a regular visitor to both Commons and enjoyed some great views of these brilliant Shrikes.

7. Basingstoke White-tailed Sea Eagle 
When it eventually took to the air it was like watching a Vulcan bomber in flight. Absolutely dwarfed the Common Buzzards that tried to mob it.

8. Canons Farm and Staines Moor Ring Ouzels 
Fabulous birds, often tricky to see, but these two sightings were very enjoyable.

9. Canons Farm Lesser-spotted Woodpecker 
After more than two years without seeing one, these were one of the gems of Canons Farm. Showed really well, too.

10. Staines Reservoir Black Terns 
Seeing more than 20 at one time flying up and down the north basin as the sun went down was a great sight.


The winner is: 
Tom McKinney
Boy, are his writings in complete contrast to his day job as an award-winning musician. Tom’s musings are not for the faint-hearted, but they are acerbically hilarious. His use of old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon terminology may offend some and he isn’t as prolific a writer as that other excellent blogger, Jonathan Lethbridge, but to my mind McKinney is the most gifted writer in the birding world. He is to writing what George Best was to football (and I don’t mean he likes a drink). Pure genius. If you haven’t read him before take a look at this: http://birdingblogs.com/2011/tommckinney/are-you-a-real-birder

I have always loved photography – it is part of my job to look for good images as a magazine designer. One photographer I approached didn’t want his photo included in these awards – he probably felt it was beneath him – but fortunately there are so many brilliant birding photographers out there I have been able to put together a remarkable short-list. These five have captured some amazing birding moments, and I just had to show you them. 

Here are the nominations:

Pallid Harrier by Richard Ford

I love this serene image of the Burpham Pallid Harrier. Richard has taken a striking photo, beautifully lit, and shows the Harrier concentrating, transfixed on the ground below as it quarters up the game strip in one of the fields on the Duke of Norfolk’s farmland. I was also there on that very day the photo was taken. To see more of Richard's photographs visit http://birdinghampshire.blogspot.com/

Kingfisher by Noel Marry

A remarkable photo, although this one was taken last year – but I still felt I had to include it. Noel set up a tank bated with minnows and after gradually raising the tank over time he was able to get this image taken remotely from a nearby hide. The culmination of a year’s hard work. To see more of Noel's photographs visit www.noelmarrywildlifephotography.net/

Swift by David Moreton

If there is one bird that must be difficult to get a decent photo of, it is a Swift in flight, let alone one that is feeding on the water. What makes this photo so brilliant is the symmetry and the detail. David has captured the moment when the Swift’s beak is just touching the water. The reflection is fantastic, too. To see more of David's photographs visit http://dmoreton.co.uk/

Starlings by Jackie Moreton

Starling flocks are one of the wonders of the bird world, and Jackie has caught a beautiful moment just as this flock rises up at sunset in Blackpool. The composition is majestic, as are the colours. To see more of Jackie's photographs visit http://dmoreton.co.uk/

Hawfinch by John Robinson

Such a beautiful image of a Hawfinch drinking by a pool. It looks like a painting. Hawfinches are notoriously difficult to see at the best of times, but John has taken a photo that is quite sublime. To see more of John's photographs of Hawfinches visit http://www.birdingtoday.co.uk/hawfinches_wyre_forest_92.html

The winner is:
by David Moreton
Simple, difficult to take, perfect.

by John Robinson

So that’s it for another year. Thank you for reading my streams of consciousness during the past 12 months and we’ll reconvene on January 1, 2012.

Tuesday 27 December 2011


It's been three weeks since I last posted anything. I haven't felt like it, to be honest.

Annie and I have been married for 19 years, and for more than 17 of them we have had two Burmese cats, Billie and Cato. These two have been part of the very fabric of our life together.

Cato came first. He was a handsome blue Burmese boy kitten, so full of personality, you could be mistaken for believing he was a small person in a catsuit. As an adult he was full of energy and had a fun for life. He was handsome, athletic and strong, such a comedian, and very loving. We've never known an animal with such a sweet, generous nature. Everyone who came into contact with him loved him. We loved him, too.

Billie, a blue Burmese girl, arrived six months later. For a cat, she is very bright. They call Burmese cats the dog cat, because some of their behaviour is similar. If you throw them a ball of paper, they will retrieve like a dog.

Billie is a feline hoover. Loves food. Obsessed with food. Aloof as a youngster - you couldn't pick her up for wriggling, trying to escape. Now though, as she has got older, she is adorable. We love her to bits.

In May, Cato went for his annual booster jab and check-up. The vet, Andy Trevan, who owns the Gayton Veterinary Group, was full of admiration of his overall condition. For a 17-year-old cat he was in fantastic nick - and given a clean bill of health.

But then about three months ago we noticed he had started to lose his appetite. Only gradually, he was still as vocal and and as active as ever, but he began to lose weight. Then two months ago we decided to take him to the vets to find out what the problem was.

After a barrage of tests, nothing could be found wrong - maybe a virus, they said. Then he got worse. Eventually, it was discovered that he had a separated jaw at the chin end - being clumsy he must have bashed it. It was the repeat of something he managed to do some three years previously, which meant it was painful for him to eat.

Back then he had it wired up, only for the vet to discover he had a swollen kidney, and he needed to be operated on immediately. It was a worrying time, but he was a tough lad and got through it. He batted that off, no problem.

And so, two months ago he went through the same process with the jaw again. We thought that was the end of our concerns. Problem solved. But no.

He still lost weight and wasn't eating like he should. Into the vets again, and this time he had x-rays done on his chest - the vet didn't like the sound of his breathing. It was bad news. Cato had fluid on his lungs and once that was drained, it was discovered he had a mass on his chest. The biopsy came back. He had a malignant cancer and it was inoperable.

Since then Cato had been on chemotherapy - a treatment which has had positive results with oriental cats. For a time he rallied and started eating well again. He was still losing weight and getting very tired but for all of that, his spirits were good. If they hadn't been we would have taken the difficult decision and eased his suffering.

On Friday, Cato was the happiest he had been for some time. He was talking to us like he hadn't done in a while, purring and was like his old self.

Then on Christmas Eve he went downhill fast. By the evening he was very weak. After a nice massage and fussing session with Annie and I in the evening, he climbed on to our bed - his favourite place to rest, and feel asleep. He woke momentarily and looked at Annie. She soothed him and made him rest his head back down on the duvet. He then drifted off to sleep again. Billie - his companion for 17 years, Annie and I were with him.

He didn't wake up again.

At 11.45pm of Christmas Eve, Cato - our beautiful Burmese boy - passed away. We will never have another animal quite like him. He was very special and we will miss him terribly.

RIP Cato. We love you. X