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.

Friday 30 May 2014


As is often the case when I've returned from a trip, the birds come flooding in where I've just left. While at Portland, I saw virtually nothing on the land migrant front, but a week later – the week I really wanted to take off but work forced the issue – the predicted Bee-eater appeared at the Portland Bird Observatory, four in total, plus a Serin, a Common Rosefinch and a Red-footed Falcon.

The last three would have been lifers, but that's simply how it goes. Last year I went to Spurn in September the week after the influx of Greenish Warbler and Wryneck and left two days too soon to see a Great Snipe.

I really need to take a couple of weeks away somewhere abroad to really get a fix of decent birds. Stuart Winter at the Express told me about a trip he'd recently made to Morocco which sounded utterly fantastic, and Sean Foote has recently written a number of posts about his amazing trip to Provence.

It makes you wonder why we bust a gut to see some of the birds that drop in here, birds that are really two-a-penny on the continent. But maybe this dearth helps keep us on the level and appreciate any half-decent scarcity when it turns up. I live in East Surrey so I should know this better than most.

I've had a couple of trips to Hindhead and the Devil's Punch Bowl recently. One prior to Portland and one yesterday afternoon. Prior to Portland I saw a Spotted Flycatcher, which was nice, and today a Cuckoo perched on some wires and a pair of Redstart.

The Devil's Punch Bowl
Beech trees in the ancient woodland down in the valley
A very small butterfly on our route. No idea what it is
While there were no Wood Warbler anywhere to be heard or seen, it is always an enjoyable place to visit. A beautiful spot and such a variety of habitat.

On Sunday I had time to venture out and chose to visit Cliffe Pools in Kent. I went to see the Black-winged Stilt, although prior to the visit I didn't know exactly where they were supposed to be.

Having walked around the site for about two hours without any luck, although I'd seen numerous Avocet, heard plenty of Nightingale and seen a couple of Cuckoo – I was about to give up when I had a stroke of luck. Walking up one of the paths alongside the lagoons I noticed an RSPB 4x4 parked by the edge of the water and a scope pointing out to one of the islands ahead. Lucia, a volunteer, was sitting in the drivers' seat reading a book. I asked if the Stilts were visible and she pointed out the female Black-winged Stilt sitting on the nest. As they were clearly trying to breed, the RSPB had set up a 24-hour watch of the Stilts just in case unwanted egg collectors came poking their noses around the area.
The male Black-winged Stilt takes over duties from his partner
Every 45 minutes or so, the pair of Stilts would swap over to allow the other to go off and feed. The male was late, arriving back a good 30 minutes behind schedule, the female had been getting more agitated as the timed ticked by, and it wasn't long before she flew off over the water towards her favoured feeding spot.

What a result!

Lucia asked me not to put the word out and Rare Bird Alert confirmed they were issuing a news blackout. But then on Wednesday the website announced the RSPB 24-hour watch at Cliffe and also Birdwatch featured a news item about the breeding attempts by the Sussex pair online.

Historically results have not been great for breeding Black-winged Stilts – only two successes, in 1945 and 1987. The other pair of Stilts currently sitting on a nest, at the Medmerry RSPB reserve at Bracklesham Bay in West Sussex, are attempting to breed in a rather precarious spot, very close to the waters edge where there is a risk of flooding. The Cliffe Pools pair, however, are in a much more secure and less risky position, and one can only hope they are successful. We'll see in due course.

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