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 31 December 2013


At last! After two months of virtually no birding I finally had a window of opportunity on Saturday for a trip out.

Prior to the weekend, my prime target was the Ivory Gull in East Yorkshire – a very long round trip for me but this bird was so charismatic I really wanted to go for it. Typically, however, it just didn't stick around long enough for me to make the journey. Hopefully there will be others to see in the not too distant future.

So, in the end I chose a bird I doubted I would ever see again, let alone in the near future – the Brünnich's Guillemot at Portland Harbour, Dorset. This first-time visitor to the south coast from the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions on the North Atlantic is very rarely seen alive south of Shetland when it is discovered, as most sightings unfortunately tend to be of birds washed up on the shore dead.

I hadn't been to Dorset this year so it seemed a good excuse to go. Having said that, a Christmas social visit at 4pm back home meant it was going to be a bit of a dash, and any hope of a saunter down to the Dorset coast was scuppered when I slept through my 4.30am alarm. The added bonus of a White-billed Diver at Brixham was, therefore, out of the question.

I didn't leave the house until 7.45am, and er, I didn't exactly spare the horses for the two-and-a-half-hour journey. The roads were busier than I had hoped but I still managed to park up at the harbour under bright sunshine by 10.30am.

I shouldn't have been surprised but I didn't expect quite such a huge crowd of birders to be there when I arrived. There must have been 200 of them crowded around the marina area of the harbour hoping to see this very rare auk. I've been on a few twitches but to witness this amount of people staring into the harbour did look a bit strange – but then again I was one of them.

As it transpired, the Brunnich's Guillemot wasn't difficult to see, although it spent more time under water than bobbing around on top of it. A handsome individual, it would dive lazily with its characteristic arch-winged posture and reappear a few minutes later somewhere completely different. It was virtually impossible to digiscope but, for all of that, it was an enjoyable bird to watch.

The Brünnich's Guillemot drew a large gathering of birders on Saturday morning
Now you see it...
...now you don't
While the Guillemot made a circuit of the harbour I focused on a few other bird species on the water, of which there were plenty. Umpteen Red-breasted Mergansers swam around the area, as well as a two Great Northern Divers, a couple of Black-throated Divers, a Black Guillemot (which a few people mistook for a Long-tailed Duck) and a couple of Razorbill close by. 

Black Guillemot
Black-throated Diver
Great Northern Diver and Red-breasted Merganser
A pair of Razorbills
Drake Red-breasted Merganser
Around midday a storm blew across from the Channel making everyone dive for cover and during this 15-minute deluge the Brünnich's Guillemot disappeared, but was then rediscovered about half an hour later to the west of the marina. It eventually made its way back to its usual feeding area, but by 12.45pm it was really time for me to head home.

Glossy Ibis
Fortunately, the trip back happened to coincide with Radipole Park Drive in Weymouth where a Glossy Ibis was feeding in a flooded football pitch. It couldn't have been easier to see. Having watched this striking bird feed for a few minutes I made my way back to Surrey.

A worthwhile trip to a fantastic county for bird life, no matter what time of year.

Next up, the Randon's Rambling Awards.

Wednesday 18 December 2013


After a lull of seven weeks (could be more, I've lost count) without writing a single word on the blog, the Randon’s Ramblings Birding Awards are almost upon us (next week).

I haven't written much recently or been birding, mainly due to other commitments, some good (plenty of work), some bad (death in the family).

On a personal level life could have been a lot better. The death of my father-in-law in July, a great man who succumbed to a ten-year battle with dementia, had a big impact on our family and was followed a few weeks ago by the death of one of my uncles.

I wasn't that close to my uncle but it was when I became aware of his situation and then personally involved in trying to help him prior to his passing that affected me greatly. I experienced what can only be described as gross ineptitude by those who should have known better and acted sooner.  

The Dusky Thrush saga
It's when you are dealing with real life that you realise pastimes such as birding should be enjoyed for what they are rather than used to pontificate over whether it is the right of all birders to see a rare bird, especially when it appears in someone's garden.

While glued to a computer for most of the past month and a half I'd been engrossed by the Devon Dusky Thrush saga. It was fascinating and ridiculous in equal measure. The finder, the recorder, the photographer and the artist all played their parts commendably (the artist's illustration of the bird was quite brilliant, I have to say). The problem the finder made for himself was naively waiting for the bird to disappear before announcing he had invited a handful of mates to come and see the bird.

That in itself wouldn't be much of a big deal in every day life, but having a rare bird in your garden unfortunately exposes you potentially to the extreme end of the pastime – the obsessive, compulsive birder. The hard-core twitcher.

For a hard-core twitcher nothing will get in the way of seeing a rare bird, no matter where it may be, whether it affects family, friends, work, finance, sanity, whatever. The only thing that will stop a twitcher seeing a rare bird is if he doesn't know it exists. So it was inevitable there would be a reaction once it was known the finder of the Dusky Thrush had suppressed the information, whether it was his intention or not.

There is no clear answer to this argument, no right or wrong. It was just the way it happened. But perhaps the most disappointing element of the saga from my point of view was the decision by Gavin Haig to close his excellent blog Not Quite Scilly.

Coming from a media background I have had my moments when I've written something, or orchestrated something to be written, I knew was likely to create a reaction. In my days at Motorsport News, I had run-ins with the likes of the Jaguar F1 press office, David Coulthard (via his manager), Ross Brawn and Tom Walkinshaw (who threatened legal action).

None of these instances actually came to anything, as the usual 'clarification' printed somewhere discreetly as a means to settle a disagreement usually solved the problem with the minimum of fuss. And frankly, all these people were/are big and ugly enough to deal with it if a clarification wasn't justified. Also, and more importantly at the time, I was paid to deal with these situations.

If a blogger gets inundated with responses he doesn't want, however, there's no financial gain at the end of the day to make up for it.

A blogger has no comfort blanket. Nail your colours to the mast and write a piece that is likely to be inflammatory, be prepared to take the flak.

Unfortunately, Gavin couldn't. It was disappointing because his blog was so good and the piece he wrote – at the time he even stated he might regret writing it – was from the heart and was something he believed in.

Whenever someone writes afterwards 'I didn't mean to cause upset', you have to ask the question: If that is the case, why write something that has the potential to upset someone? Unless you are willing to stick to your principles when you write something publicly, then frankly, it's not worth bothering.

We have to remember a blog is simply an indulgence. None of us get paid for writing what we do. We're on a hiding to nothing. Maybe that's why Gavin ditched it. A great shame, as I miss it.