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.

Saturday 30 June 2012


For the past week I've been chasing shadows, or rather I would have been if the sun ever came out. One shadow was a White-winged Black Tern that appeared briefly at Grove Ferry in Kent on Monday morning before flying off but was then seen very late in the day – just after 9pm – at Staines Reservoir. It was still feeding when Rob Innes, who discovered the bird, left at 9.30pm.

There was nothing for it but to aim to get to Staines the following morning at first light and hope it had stuck after roosting for an hour or so. That would be enough time to see this splendid bird and get back home before rush hour and catch a train to Canary Wharf.

It meant a very early start. I arrived at 5.30am, just at the same time as Bob Warden. Dave Baker and one other birder had already arrived.

As Bob and I walked up the causeway, we knew the Tern had already left. Neither of the guys ahead of us were looking intently at anything in particular. Poor Dave had been at the reservoir since 4.30am and had to leave for work. "Gutted," he said as he left.

It's odd but I wasn't too disappointed. If it had gone just before I had arrived, that would have been different, but the White-winged Black Tern must have flown off a long time before anyone turned up in the morning.

I stayed for about an hour, during which time I mustered two Surrey year ticks. Perched up on the gantry on the King George VI Reservoir were four Yellow-legged Gulls (149), and a flock of seven Black-tailed Godwits (150) flew over the causeway heading south west. A welcome surprise. A Hobby also flew low from the north basin and landed on a fence post on the south basin for a while.

Yellow-legged Gull on the King George VI Reservoir gantry
So, some compensation for the White-winged Black Tern, which turned up again in Wiltshire and was been seen yesterday in Somerset over Shapwick Heath. Hopefully, it will turn round and come back to the south east this week.

The other shadows were three White Storks. Originally four birds, until one was electrocuted by overhead cables, they have been a feature flying around Britain for the past month. Having been seen in South Wales for a few days they reappeared in West Sussex on June 20, not far from Bognor Regis at Sack Lane, Lydsey by birder Hannah Seabrook, who was on a train. They then moved to Hoe Farm, Flansham and I was hoping they would stay long enough for me to see them on Wednesday, as I planned to take the afternoon off, but alas they had flown eastwards that morning.

They had been seen circling over Pulborough Brooks on Thursday, followed by Pagham Harbour yesterday so I hope they haven't gone far, although they could have made their way over the Channel by now.

I took the morning off yesterday because of the weather forecast. It was due to be stormy with strong south-westerly winds. Having enjoyed the seawatch at Selsey Bill last week, and with it being so quiet locally, I headed for the coast again.

I arrived at the Bill at 7.30am, and while it was blowy it wasn't too bad. No-one else was around so I set to work, in the knowledge I would find things that I wouldn't recognise. As it transpired, it wasn't the most challenging morning out at sea although a flock of five somethings did fly west at one point and I didn't have a clue what they were.

Seawatching is something of an acquired taste. It's true hardcore birding, especially when the wind is full-on in your face (as it was yesterday when the winds became southerlies). But once you get your eye in it can be really satisfying. Also it means you don't have to walk anywhere, which can be a bonus. Selsey Bill is just perfect in that regard. You drive up, park and sit on a bench protected from the wind (just about) and just wait and watch. Brilliant. As you can tell, I'm quite into it at the moment.

Seawatching is a challenge because the majority of birds are either far out and silhouettes on the horizon or travelling fast with the wind behind them. Understanding and taking in what you're looking at it is difficult at first, but you just have to accept you are not going to clock everything you see, especially if you are a novice at it (like me).

Gannets were the feature bird species of the morning
Three Gannets fly into a stiff headwind as a Cormorant looks on
It's a tough life
I stayed for four hours and was joined for one of them at 10.00am by Owen Mitchell. During my visit I saw numerous Gannets, more than 40 in all, a couple of Fulmars, groups of Common Scoter, totalling 25, predominantly flying west to east but one group later did go the other way, a couple of Sandwich Terns, one Little Tern, four Common Terns, an Oystercatcher and best of all five Manx Shearwaters, scything low across the waves with the wind behind them. Oh, and a few Cormorants (see picture above).

OK, I didn't see any Storm Petrels (apparently it doesn't have to be windy to see one - they can even turn up in dead calm) or a Balearic Shearwater or a Pomarine Skua, but if the majority of the above list appeared in Surrey at any one time most local birders would be going nuts.

I'll be heading down to the Bill again soon. I can't wait.

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