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 20 August 2013


The second half of 2013 has so far been pretty dire on the birding front as far as I'm concerned. Not having the chance to venture very far recently I've focused a bit more on my local patch at Holmethorpe.

The Moors pools at Holmethorpe is developing into ideal wader territory
Holmethorpe is one of those sites that can have a great run of decent birds or a mind-numbing dearth for ages. While not visiting the patch as much as I should do, I record all the sightings there for the Holmethorpe blog. It's been pretty quiet there in recent weeks apart from a few decent butterflies like the Clouded Yellow.

This in itself is quite strange really because part of the patch, The Moors, is really turning into great habitat for waders at the moment. We are getting some – plenty of Green Sandpiper and the odd Common Sandpiper – as well as a number of Little Egret, but bugger-all to get the pulses racing.

And yet at the other end of Surrey, Tice's Meadow has had plenty of good birds, a Wood Sandpiper that stayed for a week, plenty of Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Ruff, plus five Yellow Wagtails briefly today.

What I'd do to see a Greenshank or a Wood Sandpiper on the local patch before the end of the week! Better still a Curlew Sandpiper or a Temminck's Stint. Wow, that would be something.

It may happen, you never know. 

Instead of watching the same old waders bobbing up down around the edge of the Moors pools, Annie and I went out late yesterday afternoon for a bit of sun, not really knowing where we were heading.

The Devil's Punch Bowl at Hindhead
In the end we turned up at Hindhead and the Devil's Punch Bowl, somewhere I haven't been to for a couple of years. The last time I was there the main A3 route ran right the way through it, whereas now the bypass and tunnel mean that it's a car-free zone, and all the better for it.

The place is magical. Wonderfully quiet and peaceful, fantastic views and there were plenty of butterflies about.

Now, no matter how hard I try, I can't get Annie even faintly interested in birds, but butterflies... this  an area she has taken to straight away.

We saw quite a few, and being even more of a novice on the id of butterflies than I am with birds, we couldn't put a name to many of them.

Clouded Yellow
Common Blue
Small Skipper
Some I did know, the best of which was the Clouded Yellow. There were at least six we came across, probably more. They are a species that don't open their wings when they rest or feed so you only get a fleeting glimpse of the striking dark borders on the upper part of their wings when they fly off. Exciting though, I have to admit.

There were plenty of Common Blues around, as well as Small Skipper (I found out later via butterfly guru and Racing Post pal Francis Kelly what the above photo was). There were some bigger blue butterflies flying about but I didn't get a photo so have no idea what they were.

All-in-all though, an excellent afternoon. I only hope I don't get too involved in all this butterfly lark, as one obsession is plenty for me at the moment.

Saturday 17 August 2013

MY SIDE OF THE FENCE by Jeremy Early

A very good friend of mine, Jeremy Early, who lives in Reigate, asked me to design a book for him called My Side of the Fence.

It has now been published and you can read about it below. It is a fascinating insight into the wildlife literally on your doorstep.

Britain’s wild places host a remarkable variety of beautiful fauna but they are not the only locations boasting such richness. The private nature reserves better known as gardens also attract species galore, many of them often unnoticed. With wildlife coming under pressure in so many places, these havens have the potential to play an ever-increasing role in nature conservation.

Books on the wildlife found in gardens are almost two a penny nowadays but very few of them focus on individual gardens with their ups and downs, showing the species that live there or visit. Even fewer pay much attention to species beyond the obvious ‘cuddly’ ones led by mammals, birds and butterflies.

Published in June 2013, My Side of the Fence – the Natural History of a Surrey Garden sets the record straight by putting in clear focus the wealth of wildlife seen in a family garden in Reigate over the last 50 years. In hardback and measuring 170mm x 240mm, the 256 pages, with a Foreword by Professor David Bellamy, contain over 500 colour photographs of 350 species ranging from large mammals to tiny bees, wasps, flies and beetles. Accompanying the images are full lists of species recorded, including 13 mammals, 53 birds, 22 butterflies, 82 bees, 77 wasps and 58 hoverflies. A good proportion of these are scarce locally or nationally. There are also details of observed behaviour, analysis of population changes and suggestions about how wildlife may be drawn into a garden.

My Side of the Fence offers a unique and eye-opening opportunity to anyone who cares about wildlife or gardens. Copies are available in the United Kingdom at £20 plus £6 postage and packing from Jeremy Early at 30 Park Lane East, Reigate, Surrey RH2 8HN. For purchasers in the Republic of Ireland or mainland Europe, the price of the book is 24 euros, plus postage and packing.

Please e-mail My Side of the Fence with your details and any queries. Cheques or postal orders should be made payable to Jeremy Early and sent to the address above. Payment may also be effected by card through PayPal, providing I have your email address for invoicing purposes. No personal information from anyone contacting me will be shared with other agencies. For every sale, £1 will be donated to Surrey Wildlife Trust.

Sunday 11 August 2013


The first post for a while, but having been out of the loop for a few weeks it was high-time I went back out into the field, and there's no better day to do that than on your birthday.

I had a few options to choose from on Wednesday. Should I go for the Long-billed Dowitcher at Lymington? I dipped the one at Slimbridge last year so it would have been a welcome tick. As it transpired I would have dipped this one too if I'd gone as it had moved on – if only about a mile or so. The Night Heron in Leicestershire was tempting but just a bit too far away. In the end I settled for a regular haunt in Kent – Elmley Marshes.

The temptation was a Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Cattle Egret, a few Wood Sandpiper and Curlew Sandpiper. Any combination would be good.

I overslept, which didn't start the day off too well, but I got to Elmley by 7am. I hadn't done my homework, however, as high tide wasn't until 1pm so most of the waders were on the Swale.

Having parked at Kingshill Farm, where there were a few Yellow Wagtail present, I began the long walk down towards the reserve itself. I counted at least six Marsh Harriers on the way, plus more than 100 Curlew feeding in the fields.

One of three Wood Sandpiper at Elmley Marshes
There were plenty of striking Yellow Wagtails at Elmley
 At the reserve proper, I trudged around the hides, and managed to find three Wood Sandpiper during the day, plus plenty of Ringed Plover, Redshank and Avocet, more Yellow Wagtail, a couple of Green Sandpiper, a Common Sandpiper, Golden Plover, two handsome Knot in summer plumage and a few Black-tailed Godwit.

A Cuckoo flew across while viewing in Wellmarsh hide, plus a Peregrine got the Avocet up in the air to see it away from their young.

The South Fleet hide was where the Buff-breasted Sandpiper had been seen in recent days, but no matter how long I stayed, it didn't appear. Neither were there any Curlew Sandpiper.

One birder from Guildford went further afield and ventured down to the most distant viewpoint – Spitend hide – to watch across the Swale and he struck lucky with a couple of Arctic Skua and a Sandwich Tern.

I'd been at Elmley for at least eight hours and had yet to see anything more interesting than the three Wood Sandpiper. I bumped into local Surrey birder John Benham, and he had seen the Cattle Egret earlier in a field behind the Counterwall hide feeding with a herd of cattle.

As it was getting late and the Buff-breasted Sandpiper was nowhere to be seen, I took a punt and walked down the path towards the hide where I could see a birder looking across the fields. As I approached he was walking away. I assumed he had drawn a blank, but actually he'd enjoyed good views of the Egret feeding amongst the cattle.

Cattle Egret at Elmley Marshes
What a relief! As I stood up on the embankment and looked across the field to where the cattle where grazing there was the Cattle Egret skulking among them. It would surreptitiously creep up to one of the cattle, peck away at its leg, ear, nose or stomach and then creep back down into the surrounding ditch for a while, before venturing out again.

The Cattle Egret was a first for me so made the trip a worthwhile one, even though it had been a bit of a grind – as is always the case with Elmley, there was plenty of walking involved.

East Flood at Oare Marshes
After 3pm both John and I opted to visit Oare Marshes in the hope of finding some Curlew Sandpiper but no joy. I couldn't find the Bonaparte's Gull either, which was annoying even though I'd already seen the Eastbourne bird earlier in the year. Despite the lack of a decent find it was still interesting to study the waders on the East flood closely.

All-in-all, not a bad day.