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.

Monday 29 July 2013


It's not been a good few of weeks. It was been a very poor few weeks. It has been a very sad time for my wife Annie, as her father passed away two weeks ago. He had been suffering with dementia for ten years and, together with a number of other serious ailments, the end came relatively quickly and peacefully, with his family at home.

Vic was a very gentle and kind man, an also an extremely clever one. As an engineer who worked for British Aerospace among other companies, he worked on Concorde and the Space Shuttle, could read and speak three languages, was a brilliant mathematician, loved classical music and in his youth enjoyed many a long ramble in the hills of Austria. It had been a pleasure and privilege to have known him for 22 years.

It is at time like the death of someone you have known closely for many years, all this twitching and patch birding stuff really doesn't matter in the general scheme of things. It is a lovely pastime but family should always come before an obsession, which twitching for many birders certainly is.

To really get the most out of it, you need to be pretty selfish, which I can be, but also have plenty of time and plenty of money – and I have neither of those.

Not being able to give something I really enjoy more attention truly frustrates the hell out of me but there's nothing I can do about that. All I can do is take the opportunities I get and make the most of them.

Which brings me on to long-distance twitching. How does anyone who has a full-time job, or any job for that matter, manage to organise last-minute trips to Shetland for a Pine Grosbeak, or the Outer Hebrides for a Harlequin Duck, or the Farne Islands for a Bridled Tern? I just don't get it! If I did that I would almost certainly be out of a job by now, and definitely out of pocket.

It just baffles me. But I'll get over it. I'm just envious.

Added to the emotional traumas, my car broke down last week. Actually, it has broken down a few times recently, once three weeks ago when Annie and I went to see my parents and while we were there my dad was taken ill. We couldn't get through to his surgery on the phone and amazingly the new 999 service decided it wasn't serious enough to call out an ambulance, so Annie and I dashed down to his local surgery to see if we could get a doctor out, which we could, but the car wouldn't start to get us back to the house.

To say I was stressed doesn't accurately reflect how I felt at that moment. Luckily the doctor gave us a lift back. In the end my dad ended up in hospital overnight, and we're not sure what caused the dizziness and violent sickness. A mini-stroke was suggested as a possibility.

So, it's not been a happy time. My patience is short, my mood fragile.

On the birding front this past month I have managed to see a Yellow-legged Gull at Staines Reservoir, plus a couple of Black-tailed Godwits at Holmethorpe.

The Caspian Terns and Bridled Tern many birders have enjoyed recently will have to wait for yet another year. Or maybe never.

Black-necked Grebe at Staines Reservoir
A Little Owl at Holmethorpe
Two Black-tailed Godwit at Holmethorpe

Thursday 11 July 2013


I've just gone more than three weeks without picking the bins up (my wife would suggest it's been longer than that, but she means the polythene ones filled with rubbish), and, amazingly, I survived. I feel fine. Really!

I'm not even sure when I will pick them up again, either, seeing as there is so little going on at the moment. Birding seems to run parallel with the football season, where there is a crescendo in May, it all goes quite during the summer and then starts up again in earnest during August and September.

Lethargy also comes into the equation on my part. That and whenever a rare bird crops up it invariably drops in somewhere more than 300 miles away, and so out of reach.

It has also been very quiet locally, although a few Surrey year list ticks have hovered around (Yellow-legged Gull, Oystercatcher, Greenshank) but I've given them a miss. It's too much effort dragging around the county for the sake of an Oystercatcher, when I've seen hundreds elsewhere. I do this every year. I get all enthusiastic with my Surrey year list until about this time of year, and when I start missing a few migrants I lose interest again. I'm on 155 so far. It has been my best year to date but I've missed too many during the spring to make it worthwhile continuing with it. If I could get to 170 by the end of the year I'd by happy, and if I got to 225 for the British list by the same time I would also be satisfied. But both are long-shots.

For the past fortnight it has been the tennis at Wimbledon that has totally consumed me. It has been an amazing orgy of high-quality sport, and Andy Murray's road to victory in the final was incredibly stirring (and stressful) to watch. I don't mind admitting it gave me a lump in the throat when he eventually won.

I don't follow the ATP tour all year round, but I do get heavily involved in watching the majors and Murray in particular. While my media background is in horse racing and motorsport, neither can compare to a major tennis event for drama, where every single point is vital to the outcome of a contest which can last five hours or more.

Watching Murray is heart-thumping stuff, an emotional roller-coaster ride where a positive outcome is never certain, and yet he is now Wimbledon champion, holder of two of the four major titles, as well as Olympic champion. He's pretty darned good that lad. I look forward to watching him win many more majors.

And so what about the birding? What can I do to sum up the enthusiasm to walk around the local patch when I know darn well the highlight of the three-hour walk will be one Reed Warbler?

I'd really like to take a trip to the coast somewhere while the sun is shining. There's still enough sea breeze around so you never know, a Balearic Shearwater might swoop past if I look long enough (I probably won't recognise it though so it will go down as a sp.).

In the meantime I'm spend my spare time relaxing in the sun – the first decent period of summer we've had in about four years – and reading Rare Bird Alert and Twitter to see if the recent Bridled Tern edges further south enough to a relatively nearby coastline for me to go for it.

Just to pass the time I've put together a small list of highs and lows of the first six months of 2013.

Bird of the year so far: The Roller at Broxhead Common, although the Bee-eater at Pegwell Bay was great.

Birding highlight of the year: Trip to Lakenheath and Cley with my birding pals.

Biggest disappointment of the year so far: Failing to get away from work in time to go and see a Wood Warbler at Beddington, Canons Farm, missing Black Tern, Little Tern and Sandwich Tern on my Surrey list and the lack of rarities in the London area so far compared to last year. 

Worst dip of the year so far: Black-winged Practincole on Isle of Sheppy. – it had flown off before I'd got there – and an Arctic Tern on my patch at Holmethorpe that would have been a patch first. Surprisingly for me, there haven't been many others. 

Surrey highlight of the year so far: A visit to Beddington in January, when I saw my first Surrey Merlin, and the six Nightingales I discovered near Newdigate. The Redstart influx on April 15 was also memorable.

Surrey Patch of the Year: Tice's Meadow is looking odds-on favourite at the moment.

Surrey Birder of the Year: Rich Horton, unless someone manages to find a number of jaw-dropping rarities on their patch this autumn.

Surrey Bird of the Year: Might be the Clandon Park Ring Ouzel, but only because I was one of only a handful who managed to see one this spring.

Blog of the Year: Steve Gale's North Downs and Beyond is the front-runner, followed by Not Quite Scilly – one of the rare blogs to make me laugh this year.

Photo of the Year: The list grows by the week.

Birding Twitterer of the Year: Rich Sergeant, sorry I mean SE4955.