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 26 January 2013


The weather this morning was in complete contrast to the previous week. The icy cold nip in the air had gone and was replaced with a distinctly milder and sunnier day. Much of the snow had disappeared.

I was out at first light and headed to my local patch to try and find a Jack Snipe. I had been given instructions to where some had been seen but I couldn't locate one. Three Snipe, two Siskin and a Grey Wagtail were my only successes.

I contemplated staying locally, or travelling once again to Beddington, but Dodge had put me off that idea as the wind direction had changed to westerlies and the end result was likely to be disappointing. So instead I went on a tour of Surrey, starting with Barnes and the WWT London Wetland Centre.

Six Bittern had been seen at the Centre yesterday so I was pretty confident I would find at least one. In the end I saw two Bittern, both were quite distant and hard to see in the reeds, but they both ventured out into the sun for a while and so I had reasonable, if not sensational, views. While at Barnes two Cetti's Warbler sang loudly in the reeds, and a Dunlin flew up from the main lake with some Lapwing. A redhead Smew showed well and at least 15 Siskin were feeding in the trees.

The redhead Smew showed well at Barnes
So a good start. After that I set off for Staines Reservoir via Kingsmead Quarry where there was no sign of the Buff-bellied Pipits. Staines was pretty fruitless, with another Dunlin and eight Goldeneye the highlights as I couldn't find the Scaup or the Black-necked Grebe.

After this slight setback I drove to the west side of Surrey and Thursley Common. Target bird here was obviously the Great Grey Shrike, but I was also hoping for Dartford Warbler. Thursley always means a long walk, especially when searching for a lone Great Grey Shrike. The area is big and this Shrike covers much of it, so finding would be a needle-in-a-haystack job.

It took a while but find it I did. Scanning from the tumulus, the Great Grey Shrike was perched in a tree about 400 yards away in Ockley Common, and to get closer meant trudging through very wet and bogey terrain, with loads of standing water.

Eventually I found it again in an area where I had seen Dartford Warbler a few weeks ago. Sadly, no Dartford Warbler this time, but they should be prominent in the spring.

The Great Grey Shrike at the Ockley Common end of Thursley Common
Times was getting on, it was past 3pm so after a difficult walk back to the car through the mud and water I set off for my next location, Crooksbury Common. Crooksbury is a really easy place to walk around, as it's so compact. It's a great place to see Brambling, thanks to Rich Horton, who had discovered quite a number flying in to roost with Chaffinch.

Brambling at Crooksbury Common
I tried a couple of weeks back but failed, but this time I found a couple of Brambling quite easily. By now it was after 4pm and with the light fading I set off home. At the last minute I opted to make a slight detour to Papercourt Meadows, near Ripley, in the hope of seeing a Barn Owl.

Barn Owl in the gloom at Papercourt Meadows
The ground here was completely saturated, not ideal for walking on – just as well I had wellies. I couldn't see any owls at first but when turning round I realised I'd been facing the wrong way as a Barn Owl was hunting behind me at the western end of the Meadow. It perched up for a few minutes – the record shot of it is very poor but there was little light available – before it flew off and out of sight.

A long and busy day, and I'm completely knackered after walking quite a few miles. It's been another enjoyable one, though. I don't know what's come over me...

Monday 21 January 2013


I'm forced to admit I had a really good day on Saturday. Having visited Beddington and failed to connect with the Glaucous Gull on Thursday I took Dodge's advice and arrived at dawn on Saturday morning for another go. Dodge turned up at the same time and with plenty of snow on the ground we walked over the bridge and to the hide at 7.50am.

As we walked to our vantage point we both noticed a large bird flying south. "Short-eared Owl!" said Dodge. He asked to have a look through my bins. They are very old binoculars – not expensive. Self-consciously I handed them over. "Bloody hell. When were these last used? When Rommel campaigned in North Africa?" Probably.

Immediately he identified the bird as a Short-eared Owl. A great start to the morning. We'd only been at the Farm less than a minute and we'd got a good one to kick things off.

We met up with a guy called Steve (he has a nickname – everyone at Beddington does – but I can't remember what it is). He was already set up in the hide but he didn't see the Owl.

Half an hour later we were joined by Kojak – I hadn't seen him since last spring – and Roy 'Bulldog' Dennis.

It wasn't long before Kojak was on to the Glaucous Gull. It wasn't difficult to find. This big, bulky dusky coloured Gull was on the ice on the main lake preening itself and pecking at a hole in the ice for a good quarter of an hour. Target bird sorted.

The Glaucous Gull showed well at Beddington
If you enjoy birding and banter while birding I can't think of a better place to be than Beddington. As the morning progressed we were joined by more of the Beddington gang, including 'Pinpoint' Peter Alfrey and 'Tank'. Plenty of good-humoured chat helps distract you from the fact you have been standing in the same spot for more than an hour and your feet feel like blocks of ice.

During the next 45 minutes a few Reed Bunting and Tree Sparrow fed from the feeders, a number of Lapwing and Fieldfare flew over, plus a couple of Snipe dived into the foliage on the edge of the lake.

All was then quiet until just before 9am. And then the next 30 seconds became the most dramatic I've experienced so far this year.

Suddenly the birds stirred on the lake as a Kestrel flew over heading south. Then seconds later a Peregrine flew low across the lake heading north, creating havoc with the Gulls.

But best of all, Dodge called out "Merlin!". To the south over South Lake a small raptor was in pursuit of a Meadow Pipit. Fighting for its right to live the Pipit desperately headed towards the deck and immediately the Merlin twisted in the air, fanning its tail and turned with impressive agility to follow it. As it dived over the horizon we lost sight of it.

It was brief, but it was fantastic, because this Merlin was the first I had ever seen in Surrey. About 30 minutes later it made another appearance over the South Lake, and then while we were all congratulating ourselves on a great sighting Dodge's phone rang. It was Tank. Dodge had been drinking some tea but immediately threw the beverage to the ground and chucked the cup into the hide. He set off back up the bank and we all followed. Tank had the Merlin perched in a tree close to the railway line. By the time we had all got there through the snow it had flown off, but no matter. This drama is why I go birding. The hunt for a bird.

After that it all went quiet again. I was almost relieved. A couple of Yellowhammers flew over but nothing else much was happening. I had to leave at 11am – I would have loved to have stayed all day but it had been a brilliant morning – the best of the year so far.

After I left the rest of the guys saw a flock of Golden Plover fly over and three Jack Snipe. Jack Snipe would have been nice but they will have to wait.

So patch birding can be fun. Ask Rich Sergeant at Tice's Meadow. Yesterday he had a Gannet, Yellow-legged Gull and late on eight Bewick's Swans drop in on his patch.

I have, in the meantime, discovered my natural home – a landfill and former sewage farm close to Croydon in the middle of south London suburbia. True heaven. Who'd of thought.

Friday 18 January 2013


I've written enough about my hard-luck stories to the point they are becoming tedious to read, so it's time now just to get on with it. If that becomes too arduous I should stop – and I've no intention of doing that.

No matter how often I dip I know the following morning it will be forgotten, or at least the self-loathing and self-obsession will have eased enough to go back for more.

There can be no argument that birding can be hard work during the winter months. It's often cold, wet and muddy under foot. The days are short, usually with little sunlight and birds are reluctant to sing or show themselves.

But no matter. Many people I meet tell me that it wouldn't be so enjoyable if it was easy. I must disagree with that, as many of my other passions have been straightforward to enjoy. I've been a horse racing and motorsport fan (strange mix I know) and I don't know of one occasion where I've gone to Ascot to watch a particular horse or Silverstone to see a certain driver and neither came out of their stall or pit for me to appreciate.

No, birding is by its very nature laced with uncertainty. There are no guarantees – ever. Any victories are hard-won, and therefore well-deserved.

Tuesday was a case in point. The sun came out for once and I took some time out even though I had plenty to do (my excuse was I didn't have much time off over Christmas and I needed a bit of downtime...).

First stop was Kingsmead Quarry, just down the road from the Queen Mother Reservoir, for the two Buff-bellied Pipits. Along with three guys from Rainham, I didn't see them at first and only got a brief view of them flying over as a pair before they headed off back to the reservoir.

The Great White Egret near Chenies in Buckinghamshire
Views of the Great White Egret were a bit restricted
I didn't want to stay too long as it would be a while before their likely return so I set off up the M25 to Buckinghamshire – just 20 minutes up the road – to see the Great White Egret on the river near the village of Chenies. I couldn't see it at first but it soon flew up along the river bank before settling down to a bit of fishing.

The main target bird of the day was the Pallas's Warbler at Moor Green Lakes in the Blackwater Valley back in Berkshire which, after about an hour of searching for with a group of other birders, I located with a flock of Long-tailed Tits as it skipped through the trees and occasionally dropped low down near the river bank, where it was easier to see against the sunlight. Hard work, but worth it in the end. I thought I managed a record photo of it, but when I looked back at the images there was not a feather in sight.

The Egret, the Pallas's Warbler and two Short-eared Owls at Staines Moor (fruitless search for a Barn Owl) have been the best birds of the week by far. I went to Beddington hoping for the Glaucous Gull, but apart from meeting up with Dodge, I had no joy, Another visit to the quarry didn't produce either American Pipit, by which time it was time to head back home.

So another day where I have made the wrong choices. I should have gone to Hyde Park.

It has been a grinding start to 2013. A hard slog, added to which the snow is due to fall overnight and work takes precedence for the next few days. I hope the Pipits and Beardies stick around for a while longer.

Sunday 13 January 2013


It has been a bit of a struggle this past week if I'm honest. And by the end of it I can't say I have enjoyed my birding that much.

After the Goosander/Shelduck debacle I thought I'd go to Bookham Common last Sunday afternoon to see if I could locate the Hawfinch reported there. Bookham is the place to see these magnificent finches during the winter months, and I've been lucky enough to catch up with them in the past.

Not this time though. I walked around the area behind the station and up to the car park at the Little Bookham end and found very little during a muddy couple of hours apart from a few Bullfinch. To cheer myself up I set off for Staines Moor to take in a bit of Short-eared Owl action at Staines Moor. Three owls duly obliged to show themselves, with one hunting close by. It was a gloomy old afternoon so photos via the scope were rubbish to say the least.

Poor record shots of a Short-eared Owl at Staines Moor
I also flushed a typically neurotic Water Pipit by the river, which predictably didn't let me get very close to it thereafter.

I had another go at finding the Hawfinch a couple of days later. Again no luck and again another gloomy, grey afternoon.

At this point I wasn't too worried. I thought I would see one before the winter is through but I didn't want to spend literally hours wandering around a sodden Bookham Common looking at nothing.

Enter stage Rich Sergeant. The Tice's Meadow birder, prog rock fan, avid Man City supporter (what a mixture) and – despite his interests – a top bloke who spent nine months of last year in Afghanistan and yet still managed (and this is no exaggeration) to see more birds in Britain in the remaining three months than I have in a lifetime, is on a bit of a twitching quest at the moment and is on a very good run.

Wherever he decides to visit, and he chooses wisely, he invariably gets results. I know we're only into the second week of the year but I don't think he has had a dip yet (he says he has). I've had five already. As twitching successes go, we're like chalk and cheese.

He will disagree with me vehemently I'm sure, but just to compare our respective fortunes of late, Rich went to Bookham on Tuesday and on his first visit he saw the Hawfinch. Not only saw it, but it virtually posed for him 20 yards away for at least a quarter of an hour.

I went to Bookham at first light on Wednesday morning and spent two hours wandering around again seeing nothing of note. I thought I spotted it fleetingly but by the time I managed to focus the scope it had gone. I was joined by Keith Kerr and his better half and we spent another hour looking to no avail.

I took time out to visit Boldemere lake at Ockham Common to see a Pintail that wasn't there and then returned. Keith hadn't had any luck in my absence and by 11.30 was forced to make tracks home. I decided on one more circuit around the area before giving up. My mood wasn't good. This wasn't much fun at all. In fact, I felt downright bloody miserable.

Just as I was about to leave, there it was. The Hawfinch was stood stock still clinging to a branch of a blackthorn (or hawthorn – I've no idea!). I got relatively close to it and through the scope I could see it was breathing quite heavily and its strong beak had some dirt on it. It must have been hard at work feeding in the undergrowth.

The Hawfinch at Bookham Common – a handsome devil
It was having a rest and I had great views for a few minutes before it flew off into the shrubbery once more. Mission accomplished, but for the first time in a long while I didn't feel euphoric. I still felt quite deflated. And that really concerned me.

I'd spent eight hours in total wandering around this boggy mudbath and I saw the Hawfinch for about five minutes. It was a result, but was it really worth the effort?

For the first time I'm not really sure. I love Hawfinches but I had been, as Steve Gale succinctly put it, chasing rather than birding. I like seeing unusual birds, but somehow I have to find a way which is on my terms.

To make matters worse, the following afternoon I went to Banstead Golf Course to see the Firecrest that has been a feature for some weeks there. It has been seen regularly by many people. I've a history of not seeing Firecrest at this very spot, and it didn't disappoint. I didn't even here a bird, let alone see one. Not a sound. All was still and silent. So I left, probably never to return. I have come to hate that place.

So I went to Cutt Mill Ponds to find a Goosander, which I did. Three of them, one drake and two females. And yep, they look nothing like Shelducks.

After that a quick visit to Crooksbury Common, which was deathly quiet until the Chaffinches came in to roost. I hoped to spot a Brambling, but as it was getting dark, I couldn't.

Saturday morning. Before going off to work at Racing Post for the afternoon, I trawled up to the Queen Mother Reservoir to see the Buff-bellied Pipits. If they weren't around, at least there would be the Slavonian Grebe and wintering Long-tailed Duck as compensation.

Who should I see up there but the Tice's Meadow gang – Rich, his namesake Rich H, Matt and Dave.

I apologised in advance for my appearance, as it was certain with me there they would see bugger all. And sure enough, bugger all was seen. At least it was great to catch up with the guys – I'd like to spend more time with them on a few trips, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be invited as their chances of twitching anything would probably drop through the floor as a result.

I had to leave empty handed but the guys caught up with the Pipits about four hours later at the Kingsmead Quarry where they seem to prefer the puddles rather than the vast expanse of the reservoir.

So, I now lack motivation. Totally childish I know (it's because I'm an only child, so my wife says), but this isn't how an enjoyable pastime is supposed to make you feel.

It will be forgotten the next time I go out and see something memorable, I am certain of that. Could even be tomorrow, but I'm still trying to work out what sort of birder I am. I just don't have Rich's enthusiasm, patience or birding knowledge to year list with any conviction. He knows what he's doing, whereas I don't most of the time. Having said that, he texted me earlier tonight to let me know that the Yellow-browed Warbler he thought he saw at Moor Green Lakes in Berkshire was in fact a Pallas's Warbler. So, at least good birders get it wrong too.

I suppose there is always patch watching, but that isn't really my thing as yet either.

So what sort of birder am I? An adolescent one, I think.

Saturday 5 January 2013


It's the beginning of January and for many it's time to get going with their lists. Lists come in all manner of guises – from life lists to garden year lists, and even year lists on the commute to London or the drive on the M25.

Having started a list I didn't finish last year - the annual Surrey year list - and knowing I have to start all over again, I'm not sure I can really be bothered.

It's such a chore having to go over the same old ground again just to create a list that no-one apart from me really cares about. If I managed 170 Surrey birds this year, other listers will either be pleased they saw more, or cheesed off they saw fewer than me.

If I go to Staines Reservoir tomorrow it will be to tick off a Black-necked Grebe, Scaup and Goldeneye because that is what you invariably see at Staines at this time of year. But going to Staines tomorrow morning won't be very challenging, because I can always see a Black-necked Grebe there whenever I go.

Having said that, it is useful to be aware of the best sites around Surrey for specific species during the winter. It will be a surprise if you fail to see any of the following:

Bookham Common: Hawfinch
Crooksbury Common: Brambling
Holmethorpe Sand Pits: Smew, Little Egret
London Wetland Centre, Barnes: Bittern
Staines Moor: Water Pipit and recently Short-eared Owl
Staines Reservoir: Scaup, Great Northern Diver, Goldeneye, Black-necked Grebe
Thursley Common: Great Grey Shrike (plus recently Dartford Warbler)

Sounds a good list of birds, and if you can pack in many of these during the short winter days you will have a very enjoyable time.

I'm toying with just adding to my life list (which is paltry compared with many hardened birders) but that will mean a lot of driving and I don't have much enthusiasm for that at the moment, or just going out to see as many of my favourite winter birds as I can such as Short-eared Owl, Hawfinch and Great Grey Shrike.

This past couple of days I've managed to fit in a bit of birding. Not much, but still enough to get the old juices going.

My first proper outing was yesterday with a brief visit to my local patch at Holmethorpe.

Smew are a regular visitor to Holmethorpe and they haven't let the side down this winter. For the first time since I discovered birding, a drake Smew has appeared alongside a pair of redhead females.

Three Smew on Mercer's Lake including one drake
First discovered by local mega-patch birder Gordon Hay at the end of last month, I caught up with the drake on Thursday morning on Mercers Lake. Yesterday morning I went over to the lake and found the drake with two females. Not only that but I also discovered in the distance (why are discoveries always bloody miles away) six Goosander.

This was, for me, a great find. I don't, as a habit, find any birds of my own. In the past five years I have only ever found one Black-tailed Godwit and one Black Tern on my patch, so six Goosanders – the first Goosanders found on the local patch on the deck (or in the water) in my memory – was a massive find.

I went home very happy with myself. Annie and I then set off to Cranleigh for the afternoon (I have to admit I sort of orchestrated the trip, but that is a story in itself) and there I saw four Waxwing perched in a tree directly opposite the Baptist Church. These four had been present for a few days and since there were only this quartet, compared to the scores a couple of years ago in the very same tree, I was pretty confident they would still be there. The berries were ample food for them and should last them a good few days yet.

One of four Waxwing feeding on berries in Cranleigh
After half an hour enjoying the Waxwings we headed off for the Parrot Inn at Forest Green for a very good lunch (if you are in the area go and sample their food – a bit pricey but very good).

While sitting down waiting for our lunch, the phone rang.

It was Graham James, who I hadn't spoken too for some time. I'd previously texted him, Gordon Hay, Ian Kehl, plus Twitter my discoveries during the morning. It was good to speak to Graham, but he delivered a bombshell.

He'd been down to the patch that morning and had got back just as I sent him the text. "That was bad luck," I said. "The Goosanders must have dropped in just as you left."

"Yes," said Graham. "I told Gordon your news and he went down to Mercers Lake, but all he found were six Shelduck..."

Bloody Nora. A massive cock-up. How could I make such a mistake? I was stunned. And embarrassed.

The birds where right at the opposite end of the lake when I first saw them and I just assumed, I don't know why, they were Goosanders. Gordon had seen some fly over recently so I must have somehow convinced myself these could have been them.

I showed Annie a photo of a Shelduck and one of a Goosander. To make me feel better she said: "How could you get them mixed up? They don't look anything like each other."

She was right. They don't. And it's not as though I've never seen either before. Shelduck are a regular visitor to Holmethorpe and I've seen plenty of Goosander. Whatever the reason, my credibility has taken a knock. I must be losing my marbles. It's a worry.

I just hope tomorrow morning I don't mistake a Hawfinch at Bookham Common for a Greenfinch.

Tuesday 1 January 2013


It's that time of the year again - well it would have been if I had got these done in time – the Randon’s Ramblings Birding Awards for 2012 in 2013!

Apologies for the slight delay – just not enough time to fit everything in, and due to various constraints the Awards are a bit clipped this time around.

On a personal level 2012 had been a strange year in many ways. It started off with a plethora of new birds and a Surrey year list that promised to be the best yet and then it all went to pot.

It was a year when I spread my birding wings a little further and went on a few longer distance twitches – nothing more than a 300-mile round trip, but that in itself is quite a commitment and involves risk. Fortunately the long-distance jaunts tended to be quite successful ones, it was those closer to home that took more effort and could be the most disappointing.

The Surrey list started with a bang with some excellent species during the first few months, including Short-eared Owl, Iceland Gull, Mediterranean Gull, a satisfying Glaucous Gull, Great Grey Shrike, Dartford Warbler, Raven. It was looking good until I missed out on the 15 Dotterels that arrived at Canons Farm on May 4. I was working at Racing Post that day and just couldn't get back in time to go and see them. They flew off just after dark and that was that. Everyone I know went and I missed out. Very annoying it was at the time. I felt gutted.

Another bird I missed at Canons was a male Pied Flycatcher and it was clear to me at that time, particularly with how work commitments were developing, that any hopes of generating a decent Surrey list were hopeless. Add to the missed or dipped list a Roseate Tern and White-winged Black Tern at Staines Reservoir, a Spoonbill at Barnes and a Great White Egret at Beddington, and it was enough for me to close the book on that quest.

Instead, I focused more on rare birds in general and a London list. London has had a remarkable year with two outstanding megas and a number of very rare birds and scarcities throughout the last 12 months. Rainham Marshes became a regular haunt, starting with the difficult to see, yet ultimately rewarding, Marsh Warbler in June and ended with the even more frustrating but equally satisfying Baillon's Crake in September.

My London list included, in no particular order, the Baillon's Crake, American Buff-bellied Pipit, Little Bittern, Melodious Warbler, Marsh Warbler and Red-backed Shrike. I dipped a Sabine's Gull and Glossy Ibis, and missed out on the Bonaparte's Gulls, Wryneck and Tawny Pipit.

All in all it was an enjoyable London year on many levels, including for non-birding events such as the London 2012 Olympics and 2012 Paralympics. Those were two massive events I will never forget, particularly the latter having had a front-row seat opposite the podiums on the thrilling Thursday night when Team GB won a stack of medals, including fabulous golds for Hannah Cockroft, David Weir and Jonnie Peacock.

It was also a year of change locally. The once Barcelona FC-like super team at Beddington is now minus one of its leaders. Johnny Allan, aka Badgeman, has left the area and may never be back after dipping a Long-tailed Skua one October afternoon.

Also very recently Pete Naylor, the top London birder who discovered the male Red-backed Shrike on his local patch, passed away. I didn't know him that well, but I spoke to him on a number of occasions. He will be sadly missed by many.  

At the end of 2011 my targets for 2012 included studying harriers which, in effect, I did as I wrote my first birding feature for Birdwatch magazine in November, the cover story on the plight of the Hen Harrier. I also thought I might do a bit of sea-watching. This I also did with mixed results but enjoyed it nonetheless.

I am going to keep an open mind for 2013. I'll probably continue the London list and travel a couple hours away to see a rarity or two. But as with most aspects of bird-watching it is best simply to keep an open mind and let the hobby take you where it wants you to.

In the meantime, have a great 2013 and enjoy your birding.

And so to the awards.

In alphabetical order, the nominees are:

Doug and Penny Boyd – Thursley Common
Roger Brown – Beddington Sewage Farm
David Campbell – Canons Farm
Lee Dingain – Staines Moor
Kevin Duncan – Thorpe Park
 Gordon Hay – Holmethorpe Sand Pits
Rich Horton – Tice's Meadow
John Hunt – Tice's Meadow
Ian Kehl – Holmethorpe Sand Pits
Brian Milton – Unstead SF
Bob Warden – Staines Reservoir

The winner is:
David Campbell

Congratulations to David, winner of the Patch Birder of the Year for the second successive year. He would have had a run for his money from Johnny Allan, but the former Beddington mega-lister went walkabout after dipping a Long-tailed Skua over Beddington Farm some months back and hasn't been heard of since, which is a great shame.

David, however, is a deserving winner with some remarkable birds seen at Canons Farm this year, despite having to sit out his birding for a couple of weeks after catching chicken pox last month. The biggest prize of all was the sight of 15 Dotterel landing in a field and staying all day in May until a fox forced them to fly off as the sun went down. These Dotterel were the first to be seen in Surrey since the 19th century so it was without doubt the highlight of the Surrey birding year for those who saw them.

The other great sightings at Canons included a male Pied Flycatcher and many Ring Ouzels, two of which dropped in during the autumn migration – a first for the patch. David hosts two excellent blogs – Devil Birder and Canons Farm and Banstead Woods Birds (see links). He also produces the annual Canons Farm and Banstead Woods Bird report – a finely detailed full-colour report on his findings every year.

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

The winner is:
Canons Farm

Congratulations to Canons Farm on a remarkable year. Dotterel, Ring Ouzel, Pied Flycatcher and Black Redstart were just a few of the species that dropped in to the Farm, which covers an area south of Banstead, just off the A217. While it is basically farmland and woodland, it is remarkable how many species either drop in or fly over the patch.

The nominations are:
Dotterel (Canons Farm)
Long-tailed Skua (Beddington SF)
Great Grey Shrike (Thursley Common)
Iceland Gull (Beddington SF, Holmethorpe Sand Pits)
Ring Ouzel (Canons Farm, Staines Moor) 
Short-eared Owl (Papercourt Water Meadows, Staines Moor)
Waxwing (many sites)
Whinchat (ditto)

The winner is:
Ring Ouzel

The Dotterel was an obvious contender, but I didn't see one, as was the Iceland Gull and Short-eared Owl again, but for me the bird of the year for 2012 was undoubtedly the Ring Ouzel. In 2010 Waxwings came to Britain in their thousands, last year Short-eared Owls were seen all over the place. This year it was the Ring Ouzel. This striking bird was seen throughout the country during the spring migration, and a huge movement was also witnessed on their return journey. More than 100 congregated on the coast in Kent at North Foreland, for example. For my part, I saw one beautiful male on Staines Moor, and three different birds at Canons Farm. You can never tire of seeing Ring Ouzels


2012 Randon's Ramblings Personal Dip of the Year

The nominations are:
Dotterel at Canons Farm
Avocet at Holmethorpe
Pied Flycatcher at Canons Farm
White-winged Black Tern at Staines Reservoir
Roseate Tern at Staines Reservoir

I had a bad dipping patch in the spring, but from then on I managed to avoid many. This was mostly because I didn't get out birding nearly as much as previous years due to work commitments and family illness, which is an ongoing situation. Nevertheless, undoubtedly the dip of the year was the 15 Dotterels at Canons Farm. Not really a dip really as I knew they wouldn't be present the morning after they appeared. But I went along all the same. A grey cold morning didn't get any brighter that day.

2012 Randon's Ramblings birding moment of the year

Desert Wheatear at Worthing
What a little beauty this fella was. Incredibly tame and apart from anything else, a little show-off. Being a bird that spends most of its life in North Africa and away from human beings, it had no fear of the group of strange animals pointing cameras and scopes at it. The American Buff-bellied Pipit and the Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll were equally as tame, but they were oblivious to the attention they were getting. This Wheatear, however, appeared to revel in the attention, often flying down close to your feet before flitting back up to a vantage point. This male Desert Wheatear enjoyed human company. Magical.


The winner is: 
Jonathan Lethbridge

I gave this award last year to Tom McKinney and soon after he stopped blogging. It occurs to me all the great bloggers don't write enough, apart from Jonathan Lethbridge, who writes a lot. I hope he doesn't go the same way as Tom, who was distracted by a newborn offspring. Jonathan has three of his own so my fears are probably unfounded.

I think Jono would prefer to win a photographic award – it is his true passion. However, there are hundreds of good photographers out there but very few great writers, of which he is one. Effortlessly witty. Winner for the second time in three years.


Last year I grouped together five great photos and picked a favourite, whereas this year I simply haven't enough time to do that. And in any case, to my mind there is only one winner and that is...

Juvenile Robin by Alex Berryman

Alex took this fantastic photograph of a young Robin. He has won many awards this past 12 months including the RSPCA Young Photographer of the Year and RHS Young Photographer of the Year. What makes him remarkable is that he has such an awareness of what makes a great image. This one has everything. Composition, simplicity and wit. Truly brilliant. It is also probably important to point out at this juncture that Alex is only 15 years old. A bright future ahead I think it's safe to say.

Happy New Year everyone.