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.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012


I noted that a Short-toed Treecreeper paid a fleeting visit to the Kent cost a couple of days ago. As you probably would have guessed, I didn't travel down to Samphire Hoe to see it. I haven't travelled very far to view any unusual birds recently, although I'm planning a trip to Pagham to see the Paddyfield Warbler - maybe on Saturday. Not sure yet.

At least the Paddyfield has been showing well recently and I'm likely to see plenty of other interesting birds while down at this part of the south coast. It is a visit that appeals to me because I can drop in at Burpham on the way home to hopefully see the Rough-legged Buzzard, and then a few miles further along the A27, in Worthing, I can call in for a quick turn-up-and-twitch for the Yellow-browed Warbler.

After that it's a 40 minute drive back home, and with luck I'll be sated after a successful day out twitching a wide range of rare birds. Sounds great – in theory.

The Short-toed Treecreeper, however, was never on the cards. I'm not a fan. I know for certain, if I had no knowledge of it being a Short-toed mega, I would have undoubtedly passed it off for its common cousin. I think I'm on safe ground in assuming most people would do the same thing.

It's must be a brave birder who can claim to have seen a Short-toed anything, especially one that is half obscured by a fence, as this 'creeper was. But then I'm still learning the basics. The top birders seem to spot all the subtle differences without fail. I don't know how they do this.

But how straightforward is it?

The Short-toed Treecreeper is a bird that looks so damn close to its near relative as to make it almost impossible to say for certain what it is unless you are able to pick it up and inspect it.

As far as I can make out the Short-toed Treecreeper and the common Treecreeper are identical apart from one has a short toe. Any variation is so minute as to make it nigh on impossible to detect out in the field. You can’t even guarantee you’ll get it right by listening to its song, as they are known to copy one another.

To make matters worse, there are apparently five sub-species of Short-toed. Now that is just plain silly.

It must be the hardest bird to look at in the field and confirm its identity. There may be hundreds of them around the country for all we know, its just that no-one can tell the difference.

The same goes for the Long-toed Stint that was seen at Weir Wood Reservoir last year. The Long-toed is one for the real experts. I wouldn’t have had a clue, like most onlookers, as to its true identity. 

I have seen photos of the Parrot Crossbill at Black Down recently and it looked just like a Common Crossbill, but a bit stockier – maybe. But then it had been chilly and birds do fluff up a bit in the cold. Some say it had a deeper call – but that may be what they wanted to hear. Ifs and buts.

People tell me that is the beauty of bird watching - that it is a challenging hobby full of discussion and interesting debate. I could do without it, personally. I don’t like uncertainty, especially in a hobby. I need definitive answers!

Not to worry. There are hundreds of birds I have yet to see that I can spend the next 20 years (hopefully)  traipsing around the countryside enjoying, not to have to worry whether any of their toes are a bit on the short side.

Crooksbury Common in the sunshine
On the personal birding front Annie and I went for a walk on Crooksbury Common yesterday afternoon. The weather was fantastic, and we had the place pretty much to ourselves.

It was a good visit. Darting around the area with a couple of Stonechats, was a very active Dartford Warbler, so mobile in fact, I couldn't get a digiscope photo of it. We also saw a couple of Woodlark, three Siskin, and also a Common Crossbill flew over. Then at about 5pm as the sun was going down, a flock of Chaffinch came in to roost along with at least ten Brambling - there were undoubtedly more. 

Male Brambling
Crooksbury is a great place to see Brambling. Tice's Meadow birder, Rich Horton, was the first to point out to me where to watch them roost back in January, so it was great to get a decent view of them at long last

I've focused on the local patch recently - the drake Scaup is still popping up on different lakes (it always seems to be asleep when I see it), plus there have been at least four Little Egret on the site. The Water Rail at the Fordbridge is a regular feature – there are one or two others on the patch – plus I've seen a couple of unusually vocal Kingfishers flying around Mercer's Lake.

While I haven't seen one yet, the first Chiffchaff has been heard calling near Mercer's West, and a Common Whitethroat arrived up the road at Canons Farm. 

Spring is on its way.

*Footnote: saw my first butterfly of the year at Crooksbury - a Comma

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