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 2 April 2013


It is the topic of the moment. The unseasonal cold weather and how it has thrown everything out of kilter. Chatting with David Campbell the other day we listed the birds we should have seen by now locally but hadn't. Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Sand Martin were the obvious ones. The first two have been really noticeable by their absence. At least today the first Chiffchaff of the spring made itself known at Canons Farm – it's a start.

These cold easterly winds have have had a strange effect on the spring migration and undoubtedly kept many migrating birds from venturing over to Britain. It makes me wonder whether, once the winds change direction and sweep up from the south and west rather than barreling over from the east, we will suddenly get a massive influx of birds.

Let's hope so. In the meantime unusual sightings are occuring around the county. I recently pointed out how Surrey isn't the best county in the country for rare bird sightings but it has surpassed itself in recent weeks.

First there was the remarkable 100-plus Hawfinch flock at Mickleham, a couple of early Ring Ouzel sightings and then on Thursday evening I received an e-mail from Michael Bassett, who had been walking around the Holmethorpe Sand Pits patch and believed he had seen an adult Little Gull in winter plumage on Mercers Lake.

I forwarded the message on to Gordon Hay and Ian Kehl, and the following morning they were able to confirm that indeed there was a Little Gull on the patch. It had been on Mercers West but had relocated again on Mercers Lake.

Brilliant. I wasn't around to see it on either Good Friday or Saturday – I was away with Annie for her birthday – but I took a quick look on Sunday lunchtime. Thankfully the Little Gull was still bobbing around on Mercers Lake – a patch first for me.

The adult Little Gull in winter plumage on Mercers Lake
Holmethorpe has been relatively quiet in recent months but this Easter it has bounced back with a vengeance.

Between them, Gordon, Ian and Steve Gale have seen a Little Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Redshank, nine Jack Snipe and a Little Ringed Plover, which I also saw on Water Colour lagoon 2.

Steve also discovered a dead Kittiwake by the Water Colour lagoons. This is an unusual bird to appear on the patch. Whether it died due to being blown off course, a lack of food because of the harsh weather or a disease of some sort, it's impossible to know, but it's strange that this is the second dead Kittiwake to be seen in Surrey in the past week – the first being at Tice's Meadow.

Holmethorpe has continued to tempt some decent birds today, with six Black-tailed Godwits on Spynes Mere (they flew off north east after 9.20am so I didn't get a chance to see them) and the Little Gull has stayed for a sixth day.

The Surrey highlight this week, however, was a Pallid Harrier near Papercourt Meadows by Newark Lane. It was discovered on Sunday afternoon and it was hoped it might roost there and make an appearance the following morning.

I'm not sure why, but I didn't think it would show up so I didn't join the large group of birders looking for it at first light. It failed to appear.

Instead I went to Staines Reservoir to see the Long-tailed Duck – presumably the same bird that has been a long stayer on the Queen Mother Reservoir – and the Slavonian Grebe, which had arrived on Good Friday.

It was bitterly cold up on the causeway. Boy, this place can be really inhospitable when the weather is testing. My eyes were streaming from the brisk wind and my face stung. After being given the heads up on the duck's whereabouts by Kevin Duncan, who was on his way home, I found the Long-tailed Duck on the south basin at the eastern end quite close by the causeway. It was with a Black-necked Grebe (in summer plumage) and a couple of Goldeneye and a few Tufted Ducks. It was difficult to get a digiscope photo as it was constantly diving, but I managed to grab a few.

Long-tailed Duck showing its lack of a long tail
The noticeably smaller Long-tailed Duck with two Tufties
Black-necked Grebe in summer plumage
I couldn't find the Slav Grebe anywhere but I did find a Redshank and a Dunlin on the east banking. The grebe predictably was seen half an hour after I left, so I made a second visit this evening where I  dipped again but at least located the Long-tailed Duck with around 20 Goldeneye for company.

The Long-tailed Duck with Goldeneye

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