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.

Wednesday 31 December 2014


On a personal level 2014 hasn't been great. Working all hours, battling with the NHS all hours, juggling seeing my dad – who is now in a nursing home receiving continuing care – and my mum, who is just about to conclude chemotherapy for her returning cancer.
It was a year in which Annie and I also lost our beloved Burmese cat Billie, who had to be put down just a few months before her 20th birthday one week-day morning before I travelled to London for a shift on the Daily Star. That was a really crap day at work. Annie and I still miss her greatly.

Despite all the misery the year has been interspersed with moments of enjoyment – it wasn't all bad. And really, while my parents are going through difficult times in their twilight years, I find solace in the fact I know I have done pretty much the best I can to help them. Nothing can stop any of us getting old, unfortunately. It's simply a case of getting on and dealing with it.

Birding has pretty much taken a backseat this year, but then it often does. I quickly dropped any ideas of putting together a year list, both UK and Surrey, and I think I'm all the happier for it. Listing becomes a bit pointless when spare time is short. I have to accept I'm a part-time birder.

There have been plenty of birds I've missed this year – so many, it's not worth really mentioning them. But I've also seen plenty of good ones to make up for it. As Johnny Allan used to say when he was birding, every year is different.

And so to the birding year of 2014. My highlights are clear cut for me. Locally, it was seeing my first male Pied Flycatcher in Surrey, and on my local patch at Holmethorpe. That was my Surrey highlight without a doubt.

In Britain, there were some really great moments. The Short-toed Eagle at Ashdown Forest, the Long-tailed Skua at Selsey, the breeding Bee-eaters on the Isle of Wight and the Rough-legged Buzzard at Jevington in East Sussex. They really stick in the memory.

But the best moment for me was undoubtedly on holiday in the Las Alpajurras region of Spain and being alone with at least 50 Bee-eaters flying around me in the Sierra Nevada mountains on a beautiful September morning. That was quite something.

Along the way there have been some remarkable moments involving the birding community. Things have changed quite a bit these past couple of years. Regular bloggers and patch workers have moved on, others have taken their place. In amongst it all we have birders and birds worthy of a Rambler – the birding Oscar.

Below is the list of nominees and winners.

In alphabetical order, the nominees are:
Dave Baker – Tice's Meadow
Lee Dingain – Staines Moor 
 Gordon Hay – Holmethorpe Sand Pits
Rich Horton – Tice's Meadow
Ian Kehl – Holmethorpe Sand Pits
Keith Kerr - Staines Moor
Rich Sergeant – Tice's Meadow
Bob Warden – Staines Reservoir

The winner is:
Lee Dingain
Congratulations to Lee Dingain, winner of the 2014 Patch Birder of the Year. It was a close-run contest, but Lee definitely deserves this award for his diligence and patience (Staines Moor can be a very frustrating patch). His patch has also had to put up vandalism and downright bad behaviour by some members of the local community, including youths riding trials bikes all over the area. Staines Moor may not have the spread of birds other patches have had, but it is an important site for Surrey birding. Lee is involved with the habitat management on the Moor, as well as work abroad in the Atlantic Rainforest of Brazil and conservation work at the REGUA (Reserva Ecológica de Guapi Assu) lodge in Brazil. Some of Lee's best birds on the Moor this year include Brent Goose, Spoonbill, Bittern, Merlin, Marsh Harrier, Short-eared Owl, Water Pipit (patch speciality), Grasshopper Warbler, Dartford Warbler and Whinchat.

The nominations are:
Beddington Sewage Farm
(Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull, Grey Phalarope, Great White Egret, Spoonbill,
Pectoral Sandpiper, Bearded Tit) 
Leith Hill
(Two-barred Crossbill, Rough-legged Buzzard) 
Staines Reservoir
(Bonaparte's Gull, Arctic Skua, Great Skua, Eider,
Black-throated Diver, Snow Bunting)
Thursley Common
(Short-toed Eagle, Black Kite, Great Grey Shrike, Red-backed Shrike)
Tice's Meadow
(Bewick's Swan, Great White Egret, Spoonbill, Pectoral Sandpiper,
Little Stint, Red-rumped Swallow)

The winner is:
Beddington Sewage Farm
Tricky one this. The closest run award of the year, because all the nominees have had some remarkable birds, but there were three sites that stood out this year – Beddington, Staines Reservoir and Tice's Meadow. Beddington just knicked it, but only just.

The nominations are:
Arctic Skua (Queen Mother Reservoir)
Bonaparte's Gull (Staines Reservoir)
Glossy Ibis (Frensham, Beddington)
Great Grey Shrike (Thursley Common, Ash Ranges, Frensham Common)
Great Skua (Staines Reservoir, QEII Reservoir, Queen Mary Reservoir)
Great White Egret (Tice's Meadow, Beddington, many other sightings throughout Surrey)
Grey Phalarope (Beddington)
Pectoral Sandpiper (Tice's Meadow, Beddington)
Pied Flycatcher (Holmethorpe Sand Pits) 
Short-toed Eagle (Thursley Common)
Two-barred Crossbill (Leith Hill)
White-winged Black Tern (Private site)

The winner is:
Glossy Ibis
The problem with choosing the Surrey Bird of the Year is that the best bird of all, the Short-toed Eagle, was only seen by one person – who fortunately was able to take a photo of it as it flew over Thursley Common after one of its flyabout moments away from the Ashdown and the New Forest regions. The other fabulous bird, the White-winged Black Tern, was on a private site with no access, and again only a handful of birders managed to see it. The Bonaparte's Gull only stayed a day, which really only left two contenders in my book – the Grey Phalarope and the Glossy Ibis.

Unfortunately for me, I was unable to find the time to go and see the Phalarope, which stuck around for eight days, but I did see both Glossy Ibis in Surrey this year. The first one appeared at the beginning of January at Frensham and was seen by plenty of people, as it stayed for nine days. The second one, as pictured above, dropped in at Beddington, and stayed for four days. At one time these birds were a real rarity, but are now becoming a regular visitor to Britain and may breed at some time in the future.

The nominations are:
Steve Gale (North Downs and Beyond)
Jonathan Lethbridge (Wanstead Birder)
Sean Foote (The Portland Naturalist)

The winner is:
 Steve Gale (North Downs and Beyond)

There are only a handful of nominations but I chose these three because I read them more than any other blog. Sean's blog is based on an area I love and is well written and just downright interesting. I loved his posts on his visits to Europe and his trip to Fair island. Jono Lethbridge is simply a brilliant writer, with a natural creative wit no-one else can match. He is the writer I wish to emulate, but I don't have the talent. 
But the award this year has to go to Steve for the second successive year. He is prolific, surpassing his total of posts of 2013 (223) with 228 this year. Steve's blog is always thought-provoking, imaginative and invariably a fascinating read.

It will be a major task for anyone to remove Steve Gale, currently Britain's best birding blog writer, from his elevated perch.

2014 Randon's Ramblings top birding moments

1 Bee-eater bonanza in the Sierra Nevada
I normally do a top ten, but I didn't do enough to merit more than eight truly memorable personal moments. Being alone with 50 or more Bee-eater was the great moment of the year. It was truly magical. I'd seen the flock flying low across the valley as I made my way up into the mountains heading towards Trevelez in the Sierra Nevada National Park. I eventually stopped as I came across them again further up the road. They were flying all around me, above my head feeding and perching close by. All I could do was stare and watch in a bit of a daze. Fabulous.

2 Short-toed Eagle at Ashdown Forest
One of the birds of the year in Britain. The Short-toed Eagle at Ashdown Forest kept birders entertained for many days during the summer, including me. I dipped it the first time I tried to see it one late afternoon (it had gone to roost) but I caught up with it a couple of mornings later and what a sight it was as it cruised around looking for prey. I took Annie down to see it a few days later, and even she was enthralled. At one point a woman was quite overcome by the event as the Eagle came into view high above us. "This is SO exciting!" she exclaimed. And it was. It eventually drifted south, and Annie and I gave chase in the car. I caught up with it again about two miles down the road as it silently coasted by high above my head before drifting out of sight. And that was the last time the Short-toed Eagle was seen at Ashdown Forest. What a cracker!

3 Pied Flycatcher at Holmethorpe Sand Pits
A beautiful morning on the local patch, just a five minute drive from my house...  and a Surrey lifer. This male Pied Flycatcher, discovered by Graham James one spring morning, was the only one of the species recorded in Surrey this year as far as I'm aware, which makes it even more special.

4 Rough-legged Buzzard at Jevington, East Sussex
One fabulous bird, which performed perfectly for the birders present. It even managed to grab some food and skillfully hover while readjusting its prey in its claws. A long-stayer, the juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard is still hunting the fields south of Jevington as i write this.

5 Long-tailed Skua at Selsey, West Sussex
A real cracker this one. The Selsey Long-tailed Skua was one of those birds worth travelling a fair distance to go and see. It stayed for some days, flying up and down the beach from Church Norton to Selsey Bill and beyond. I didn't get the uber-close views many got of it resting on its favoured spot, but it was still a joy to watch.

6 Pomarine Skua at Portland Bill, Dorset
The Pomarine Skua is the charismatic bird of the sea and I managed to find my own one morning on Portland Bill. No-one else was around and having waited a couple of hours, seeing two Poms fly past was a big thrill.

7 Birthday Bee-eaters and Glossy Ibis
Birthday birding is one of my treats each year and this year was one of the best. A hot sunny day, blue skies and a trip to the Isle of Wight to see the breeding Bee-eaters on the Wydcombe Estate, followed by the Glossy Ibis at Beddington on the way home and a great meal out in the evening. a very long day, but a really enjoyable one.

8 Wryneck in Margate, Kent
No photos of this one, just an impromtu opportunity while visiting my parents in Margate. My dad was in hospital, and my mum was back on chemo, so a brief interlude on the way home was welcome. The Wryneck favoured the car park of the Bethesda Medical Centre which, coincidently, is my parent's surgery. It showed really well, as did a number Whinchat, a female Redstart and a few Wheatear. Lovely.


So, what about 2015? I'll take it as it comes and hope for the best.

In the meantime, have a happy New Year and enjoy your birding!

Sunday 28 December 2014


OK, so this isn't the Randon's Ramblings Awards – they'll be coming up next. I had just one more opportunity this year to go out birding so I headed off this morning to Pett Levels in East Sussex to see the Lesser Yellowlegs.

The plan had been to hopefully get the Yellowlegs in the bag before driving down the coast to pick up the Rough-legged Buzzard at Jevington for a second time on the way home.

The Pett Pools on Pett Levels
The sea wall at Pett Levels looking towards Fairlight
But making plans and birding don't always go to hand-in-hand. In fact, planning anything around birds is really a bit foolhardy. I arrived just after 9.30am on a beautiful crisp morning, basked in ultra-bright sunshine, to discover the American wader was still about. However, a photographer had turned up about 20 minutes before I arrived and had parked close by the road and slammed the boot of his car, causing the bird to fly off and dive down behind a bank, and it hadn't reappeared.

I pitched up on the sea wall, where I met up with a few other local birders. While it was a beautiful morning, it was bloody cold, and the wind began to pick up a tad.

About 30 minutes in, a Marsh Harrier coasted over the area, causing the Wigeon and other ducks to take to the air, including four Redshank-type waders.

Two Bewick's Swans flew over the Levels heading towards Dungeness
It was looking like a bit of a wait, but while I stood there, gradually freezing to the spot, a couple of Bewick's Swan flew over the Pools, heading towards Dungeness.

But still no sign of the Lesser Yellowlegs. An Avocet pitched up on the edge of the water in the distance, where I saw a Redshank and one other wader, but I couldn't make out yellow legs, and as no-one else seemed that interested, I thought no more of it.

A bit later I was joined, out of the blue, by Roy 'Bulldog' Dennis from Beddington. It was really good to catch up with him. Soon after a few other birders arrived along the beach from the east and they revealed the Yellowlegs was actually in the fields to the east feeding along with some Lapwing.

Off we dashed a few hundred yards up the road, only for the bird to fly back the way we came. Off back to the Pools we went.

Eventually, in the distance, some 300 metres away on the edge of the water, scurrying around behind some sleeping Wigeon, was the Lesser Yellowlegs. Hurrah. It was in a similar spot to where I had seen the unidentified wader ealier, and  I'm certain it was the same bird.

The Lesser Yellowlegs showed distantly
We watched the Lesser Yellowlegs wander this way and that for half an hour until it decided to fly back to the fields.

Most of those around me decided that was enough. I stayed for another hour, spending much of it thawing out in the car, apart from when the Lesser Yellowlegs flew back to its favoured distant spot by the water's edge for another rummage. Its cravings for the field area then got the better of it and it flew back to the field, dropping down out of sight.

At least I didn't dip it.

Wednesday 24 December 2014


More than a month has past since my last post and I've been birding a sum total of three times since then. Once around the local patch a couple of weeks ago to see a lone redhead Smew on Mercers Lake, followed last week by a very quick visit to Swalecliffe on the way down to Margate to see six frustratingly mobile Snow Bunting fly up and down the shingle.

And finally, this morning and a dash down the M23 and along to A27 to the Pevensey Horse Eye Levels to see the long-staying Richard's Pipit. It took me a while to find the right spot, having not visited this area before, but I knew I was close when I saw two Short-eared Owl hawking in the fields alongside the road. They were very close by, crossing over the road directly in front of me on occasions.

Two of five Short-eared Owls seen during the morning
Always an uplifting sight, I would see at least five Short-eared Owls during the hour visit, and sometimes fantastically close sightings to boot.

Thankfully, two other birders were already in position and were clearly watching the Richard's Pipit. I parked and then strolled up and said hello, and one of them – a birder from East Dulwich, who had relocated the bird earlier in the morning (sorry, but if you are reading this I didn't catch your name!) invited me to look through his scope. And there it was, standing typically upright in the field was the Richard's Pipit feeding in its favourite spot.

The Richard's Pipit on Horse Eye Levels
We were then joined by Geoff Gowlett, the man who originally found the Pipit on November 6th. He also relocated the bird at the end of last month when it went missing for a few weeks.

Geoff Gowlett, left, was the man who originally
discovered the Richard's Pipit on November 6
The Pipit stayed put for a good half an hour before we lost sight of it, having been distracted by conversation, more sightings of Short-eared Owls, a distant ringtail Hen Harrier and a male Marsh Harrier. We then heard the Pipit call as it flew across the field as a group of lads found it again.

On the way home, I was amazed to see a Merlin fly across the road on the A27.

It had been a brief visit but an enjoyable one. Coming up soon – the Randon's Ramblings Awards 2014.

Thursday 13 November 2014


There has been an influx of Rough-legged Buzzards cruising into the country this autumn, with the majority sticking to the north-east coast, and East Anglia.

There have, however, been two notable Rough-legged Buzzards in the south and south east – both juveniles – one in Hertfordshire and the other more recently in East Sussex. The Hertfordshire individual at near Braughing at Hay Lane, has been resident for a couple of weeks now and has been giving birders top-notch views every day, while the other one just south of Jevington, near Eastbourne, only appeared on Sunday.

With mid-week mornings the only opportunity to pay a visit to see either, I opted for the Sussex bird. It was going to be a darn sight easier heading south than being stuck in rush-hour traffic heading north all the way round the M25 – and so it proved this morning. The traffic reports were horrendous with accidents at Reigate Hill and Wisley. It would have taken me hours to get there.

The Rough-legged Buzzard was a popular attraction
The trip to Jevington took 70 minutes, which was just fine by me. And as soon as I drove by the area I spotted the Rough-legged Buzzard immediately drifting high above the game crop in the field it favoured by the side of the road.

The best digiscope shot I could come up with
Sighting don't come much quicker than that – I hadn't even got out of the car.  By the time I parked and gather my scope and bins it had drifted off over the hill, keenly pursued by Carrion Crows, a Kestrel and a couple of Magpies.

Already in situ were Gareth and Roy Hughes, and then about 15 minutes later Bernie Forbes arrived with Owen Mitchell (a rare sighting away from Selsey Bill), Dave Sadler and Dorian Mason. A good gang.

We didn't have to wait long the the Rough-legged Buzzard to return. He was soon hovering in the wind looking for potential prey and gave outstanding views. Eventually he spotted something and an unfortunate vole was caught in his talons and was soon carried away to be eaten.

Three brilliant images, taken by Dorian Mason, of the
Rough-legged Buzzard catching a vole
The light wasn't great so as a result my digiscope images were truly awful, but Dorian Mason agreed to let me use a couple of his excellent photos taken this morning. 

So, for once, I made the right choice. And I didn't try and over-egg the morning by going to Beddington to see the Grey Phalarope, even though by doing so I've risked missing it in the coming days.

Monday 3 November 2014


My British list isn't very big. Under 300 – I won't say anymore than that. I've seen plenty of rare birds over the past few years, and have travelled plenty of miles to see some of them.

Having said that, I'm aware I'm not a long-distance twitcher. I just haven't the energy or enthusiasm to drive for more than three hours to get somewhere to see a bird. If it takes more than a couple of hours I start to question my sanity.

Then again, it depends what bird it is. I seriously considered going for the Masked Shrike at Spurn, but left it too late. On another day I may have made the effort to drive to Herefordshire to see the Cream-coloured Corser but I didn't have any spare time available.

So my twitching tends to be selective, depending on distance and how interesting the bird is. Some birds are more compelling to see than others. Ducks, for example, aren't high on my list of choices.

I'm not sure why really, but for some reason I can't get that excited by them (unless it's a Harlequin I suppose). I've been lucky to have seen a Ferruginous Duck on my local patch some years back, literally a 15-minute walk from my house. Just as well really as I wouldn't want to drive far to see one.

The Lesser Scaup is another rare duck I just haven't had the urge to travel any distance to see. There are regular sightings each year to the west of the country and in Wales, as well as in the north-west, but unless I happen to be in the area it will always be an omission.

Then remarkably Chris Heard discovered a drake last Wednesday (while I was at the Daily Star) at Wraysbury GPs on the Sunnymeads pit. It was apparently a difficult bird to see due to viewing being restricted to peeking through gaps in a fence by the side of B376 just before the railway bridge.

Saturday was unseasonably warm and another morning grabbed for a spot of birding, and seeing as Wraysbury is only 35 minutes away on a good run, it was the perfect opportunity to strike this duck off the non-wish list.

Parking was a challenge, as all the roads in the area were private. I just couldn't be arsed driving over the bridge and walking back, so I parked about 50 yards up the road on the grass verge.

A few other birders were present and indeed viewing was limited to gaps in the fence, and not helped by branches and tree trunks. But, despite the hindrances, after a few minutes the Lesser Scaup showed itself as it drifted passed from behind the mass of vegetation in the foreground, swimming among a large group of Tufted Ducks.

It dived quite a bit, which meant we lost sight of it on occasions. Even though it was in among these Tufties, the Lesser Scaup managed to disappear for a good 15 minutes here and there. Actually the challenge of getting a decent view made the experience that bit more interesting. A nice duck.

The Lesser Scaup was tricky to see despite being among a large number of Tufties
What I found remarkable was how on earth Chris was able to discover this bird in such a difficult place to see birds. I don't know whether I would be bothered birding in this particular spot, let alone searching out for a possible rarity. An amazing effort.

So on to Kent. I was visiting my parents in the afternoon, and had originally planned to drop in at Elmley Marshes to try to find the Long-eared Owl there, but I spent longer at Wraysbury than intended and had to go on to my next destination at Swalecliffe, near Whitstable.

It's not a place I've visited before, but I was glad I did. A short walk along the coastal path feeding in some loose shingle was a very engaging Lapland Bunting.

What a brilliant bird this was. The path at 3pm was very busy with walkers, dog walkers and joggers, but this bold little bunting was not put off by all the human activity one bit. If a dog got too close he would fly a short distance away before flying back, or if a jogger disturbed him he would circle around the small group that had gathered, fly off about 25 yards further up the path before another dog walker would force him back to fly back to where he started. Remarkably tame and patient.

The Lapland Bunting at Swalecliffe was a very confiding bird
He obviously likes that feeding spot as he is still there as I write this. If you are in the area in the morning I would serious consider paying a visit.

Wednesday 29 October 2014


Red-breasted Flycatcher admirers
I managed to drag myself out of bed early on Monday morning and was on the road heading south before sunrise in the hope of seeing the Red-breasted Flycatcher that has been present since last Wednesday in the old trapping area just half a mile down the road from Beachy Head.

One of many birds on my list of scarce migrants I have yet to see, Red-breasted Flycatchers have been dotted around the east coast since last month, and being unable to take the time off to go birding recently I expected the chance to twitch one to pass me by for another year.

The skies were clear overnight, which was also concern, as it would have been the ideal opportunity for this flycatcher to move on – but after parking up in relatively warm early morning sunshine I joined two other local birders staring into the bushes and within a few minutes the Red-breasted Flycatcher popped up on a branch.

The Red-brested Flycatcher was very obliging
These are the sort of birding mornings, when I have work in the afternoon, that I like. You turn up, walk a few yards and the bird appears within minutes.

And what a little stunner it was. Very active and full of character, it also sat still long enough in the sunshine for a few digiscope photos. It was occasionally chased off by a Robin, but generally it appeared happy enough in this small area.

But appearances can be deceiving. I couldn't help feeling a tinge of sadness as I observed this beautiful little bird basically living on borrowed time.

I'm often on Twitter and follow many birders, including Lee Evans, who will often remind those of us who wish to twitch a rarity of how precarious the situation is for them. The fact this one has stayed put for so long – it was still present yesterday – is a cause of concern for its overall well being.

The plight of rare birds is one of the downsides of twitching. While we watch, admire and enjoy the overall experience, the bird in question is likely to perish.

The Red-breasted Flycatcher: a picture postcard bird
This flycatcher should be on its way to southern Asia and it still has a long journey to go. I keep my fingers crossed for this smashing bird.

On the way back home, I had a quick look around the Horseshoe Plantation, which didn't produce anything interesting. I did see a Peregrine swooping around the fields opposite as well as a few Raven cronking overhead.

Then heading back up the M23 I couldn't resist a quick visit to Beddington for the Bearded Tits to add bird no.200 to my Surrey/Spelthorne list. It would concluded a good morning had they appeared. But they didn't. Not a peep.

Later in the afternoon I grabbed a few minutes to walk around Canons Farm in the hope of finding a Ring Ouzel, but I drew a blank there too. Instead I had great views of what appears to be a resident Peregrine, my second of the day, and a solitary Stonechat.

The orchards at Elmley Marshes on Sheppey beckon on Saturday morning.

Friday 24 October 2014


I've desperately been hoping to write a blog post about the autumn migration and how wonderful a spectacle it has been to see 500-plus Ring Ouzels heading south, as well as an abundance of other fabulous migratory birds this autumn.

I wanted to write something positive and enlightening about birds flying above our heads and landing in our area.

But I can't, because I haven't see any.

I can safely say this autumn has been the most frustrating, unsatisfying experience I have had birding-wise because I haven't managed to spend any time in the past three weeks out in the field.

There have so many places I have wanted to visit but I've been committed to other stuff – family, home and work – and the experience has forced me to recalibrate what I can gain from this hobby so that I don't go half mad with despair in future.

Birding is seasonal just like other favourite pursuits, like football or motorsport. But the difference is you have to wait nearly a year to try and experience what you missed at certain times of the year.

The problem I have is that my busiest work patterns coincide with peak times in the birding year. October is one of my hectic months, and unfortunately it's one of the very best months of the year for birding.

I'm less busy in June and July, and the birding gods deem that period also to be quiet.

Unless I am in the favourable postion where I can retire a wealthy man – not going to happen any time soon – then it will always be thus.

So what can I do?

To be honest, very little apart from enjoy the moments as and when they come. OK, I've not seen one single Ring Ouzel this year, which saddens me greatly, and I know I'm rapidly running out of time to see Red-breasted Flycatcher (there happens to be one hanging on at Beachy Head at the moment) and all the Yellow-browed Warblers presently dotted around the country. Sometime, surely, in the next week I will find a few hours to go looking.

I work in London quite a bit at the moment but I still haven't caught up with the Yellow-browed Warbler at Regents Park. I may go today if it doesn't rain (the forecast doesn't look good and I have to pick up my car from the garage before work so I can't see it happening). There's also the moulting White-winged Black Tern at Rye, the Siberian Stonechat at Titchfield Haven in Hampshire and the Long-eared Owl at Elmley Marshes on Sheppey.

If I can eventually see one or a couple of these in the coming days (Monday is the only real window at the moment) it will at least keep me going for a while.

I just need some time...

Wednesday 8 October 2014


Strange old business, birding. There are a number of bogey birds I have had the displeasure of dipping in Surrey on numerous occasions during the past few years. Yellow-browed Warbler is one, but at the top of the list is that even smaller critter, the Firecrest.

I don't know what it is, but I haven't had a proper view of one for at least four years. Banstead Golf Course is a prime spot for them but I've only ever seen one there a couple of times, and the second of those was for about half a second.

The Devil's Punch Bowl at Hindhead - fabulous place
So it was a surprise when I discovered one last Thursday at the Devil's Punch Bowl at Hindhead.

Hard to believe now but the weather was fabulous at the beginning of the month, and so Annie and I went for what would be the last walk at the Bowl last Thursday before the real autumn weather set in.

We walked along the Highcombe Hike walk, which is about 2.8 miles and includes great views across the area as well as a walk lower down through ancient woodland.

Ancient woodland
It was while walking along the ridge that we came across a mixed flock of birds, mainly Blue and Long-tailed Tits, which got me hoping for a Yellow-browed. Also in amongst the flock were Goldcrest and the first bird I set eyes on through my binoculars, a Firecrest!

What a result and, while a couple of Firecrests had been seen the day before in the area, completely unexpected.

A look at that days recorded sightings in Britain, Firecrests were popping up all round the south-east, including at Esher Common and Thursley Common, so this one was part of a wave of migration of the species that day.

It proves that by not having a target bird in mind something might simply turn up – unless it means walking around my local patch. I've taken a few evening strolls around the Water Colour lagoons, the Moors and Spynes Mere at Holmethorpe, and there's been little about. I even managed to dip a Stonechat, a rare bird for the patch, the other day.

Still, there's still time for a Yellow-browed to turn up locally somewhere or when I next travel down to Margate. A Ring Ouzel would be nice too, or a Dotterel – I think I deserve one of those after what happened a couple of years back... 

Sunday 5 October 2014


I had to make another trip down to Margate last week to visit my parents during the fantastic spell of unseasonally warm weather we were having. I took a quick stroll around Foreness Point beforehand and briefly on the way home.

The grass that had been mown a few days earlier had transformed into large circular hay bales and in amongst them a few birds had gathered.

There were plenty of Meadow Pipit neurotically flying around, the odd Willow Warbler, plus a very showy Sparrowhawk perched on a bale.
A Sparrowhawk was extremely showy at Foreness Point
A few Wheatear appeared, plus a number of Stonechat. Stonechats, it transpired, had been prevalent around the south east that day, as my local patch had recorded at least eight – and we normally only get one or two a year.

Male (top) and female Stonechat
A Wheatear on the move
Taking the dog for a walk...
 Down on the beach, the tide was out and there were the usual Oystercatcher, Curlew, Ring Plover and Turnstone. Added to this group were at least 75 dozing Sanderling – the most I have ever seen here.

Dozing Sanderling on the beach
It had been an enjoyable interlude. Peaceful.

Margate harbour at sunset