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.

Saturday 16 August 2014


I never thought I'd get the chance but yesterday I managed to find time to travel down to Selsey Bill to see the sub-adult Long-tailed Skua.

I was sure this fantastic bird wouldn't stick around for as long as it has, but two weeks since it was first reported it is still in the area. I'd hopde to see it on my birthday on the 7th, but with no reports coming through that convinced me it was worth taking a chance I went for the Bee-eaters instead – which proved to be a good choice.

Annie came with me for the afternoon's distraction on Thursday – and after driving under storm-filled clouds we arrived just after 3pm at Church Norton, where it had last been reported just before midday. A birder we bumped into, however, said the bird was last seen further up the beach. I assumed this might not be far from the lifeboat launch, where it had been seen on many occasions. We headed over but apart from plenty of Common Terns and Turnstones, there was no sign.

I was at fault for not doing my homework. I should have studied the area and previous reports more closely prior to driving down and as a consequence I compromised a great opportunity to see the Skua close up.

I put a tweet out for help, and luckily birding mate Dave Baker responded.

He said the bird was last seen on the shingle spit by Park Copse, a favoured spot. After driving along a track to where we could see plenty of birders with scopes, I tried to find a parking spot. The first birder I saw was Lee Evans, who came up and asked if I was looking for the Skua. I confirmed I was, but he said it had just flown off having been on the beach for some time.

That wasn't what I wanted to hear. I'd literally missed it by a couple of minutes. The stress began to build. Lee suggested it might have flown up to the grass banking next to the Selsey Bill seawatch area, while others suggested it could turn up anywhere, as it liked to fly up and down the coast, from Bognor Regis to Bracklesham Bay – and anywhere in-between.

Bloody hell. This was turning into a bit of a nightmare.

Off to Selsey Bill we went, but there was no sign so we drove along Kingsway and parked up near the lifeboat launch again, and waited.

I really began to think our journey was going to be a complete waste of time when suddenly I saw a bird out at sea that was clearly not a tern or a gull.

Bingo! After a bit of jostling with some of the terns by the launch the Long-tailed Skua circled and climbed high before our heading way, flying over our heads and off towards Selsey Bill and out of sight.

I thought that was going to be it. It was hard to know how long it would be before he returned, but as it turned out it wasn't long. A few minutes later the Long-tailed Skua was back.

Our luck was in as the Long-tailed Skua landed on the beach 50 yards from to us
After some more tern jousting he cruised low over the sea and, by a stroke of luck, landed on the shingle beach just 50 yards away from where we were standing.

We shuffled up the path to get a closer view. He stayed put for a few minutes, which gave us enough time to get a really good look at this handsome bird. After that he flew off out to sea before landing on the water and then he appeared to head off back to his favoured spot down at Park Copse. We could have gone back, but the heavens then opened with a vengeance.

A Long-tailed Skua striking a pose
What a fabulous bird! So impressive to watch in flight, and so full of character and charisma. Brilliant. Also a blessed relief...

Thursday 14 August 2014


It's been a busy week since the Bee-eaters. I travelled up to Lincolnshire on Saturday for another Brisca F1 stock car meeting and conveniently the RSPB Frampton Marshes reserve was on the way.

Unfortunately time once again wasn't on my side. The original plan was to visit Frampton and then Gibraltor Point further up the Lincolnshire coast near Skegness, but I wasted time trying to get an easier vantage point by the side of the road opposite the area normally inhabited by the Black-winged Pratincole at Ouse Washes earlier in the day.
This detour only resulted in not seeing anything (the Pratincole had flown off earlier that morning anyway) and being stung on my shoulder by a persistent and aggressive wasp.

So the time wasted meant the visit to the Gibraltor Point would have to be postponed to another day and it also meant less time to walk round Frampton Marshes. Time management when birding is obviously not my strong point.

Still, what time I did have was spent pretty well. I've never been birding at Frampton before so it was always going to be interesting. The reserve has also had its fair share of decent birds this year. It didn't disappoint.
Frampton Marshes
It's a well laid-out reserve. Compact, easy to walk round, with a variety of habitats, with saltmarsh, reedbeds, freshwater scrapes and wet grassland. The girl who greeted me at the visitors centre was very helpful and there were plenty of leaflets and maps to help you find your way around, as well as coffee and tea if you wanted stop for a break.
Frampton Marshes visitors centre
Inside the 360 Hide
My first stop was at the 360 Hide, which as the name suggests means you can view the area through a full 360 degrees. It was here that three Spoonbill had made set up shop. I saw two of them. One, as is often the case, appeared to be sleeping while the other, a juvenile, was more than happy to parade around the freshwater scrape feeding and gave great views.

For once a Spoonbill that was awake
The Spoonbill came quite close to the hide – shame
about the bit of vegetation in the photo

There was plenty to decent birds here, with a Little Stint, Wood Sandpiper, two Spotted Redshank and also a female Garganey among the large numbers of Black-tailed Godwit, Avocet, Ruff and Redshank.
The wonders of Photoshop
 The other bird I was keen to see was a long-staying Glossy Ibis, my second in a week. This bird was feeding on the wet grassland area, very close to the road that cuts through the centre of the reserve. It was so close I struggled to focus the scope, hence rubbish digiscope images.

The Glossy Ibis was unfazed by people walking past on the road
next to the wet grassland area
My visit had to end there but I had intended to return the next morning. The Brisca F1 stock car meeting went on until late and I didn't get back to the hotel I was staying in until gone midnight.

In short, I slept in, and then to add insult to injury ex-Hurricane Bertha dumped buckets full of rain on the area, so I decided it was best to head back home, even though a Red-necked Phalarope had turned up that morning. Such dedication.

Monday 11 August 2014


Well, what do you know? It doesn't happen often but everything came together to make for a pretty good day all round. The weather last Thursday was fantastic, the birds were brilliant and it was finished off with a fantastic meal with Annie.

As with the last few birthdays, my 55th (55! How did that happen?) was spent out in the field. The day before I put a message out on Twitter asking for suggestions on destinations. The choices were the Black-winged Pratincole (this wasn't really on the cards, it was going to be just too far to walk – a six-mile hike didn't appeal), the Long-tailed Skua at Pagham/Selsey (would have been first choice, but by Thursday it had long gone), or the breeding Bee-eaters on the Isle of Wight.

The Isle of Wight beckons
A few weeks back a local chap was hunting for dragonflies at the Wydcombe Estate when he spotted four Bee-eaters – it became big news. Three weeks ago, the National Trust announced a pair of Bee-eaters had laid and successfully hatched eggs and ever since then birders have visited the site pretty much every day.

My intention was to become one of them. It wasn't too far a drive to hitch a ride on the ferry at Portsmouth, so I went for it. I was on the water for 9.30am and at the Wydcombe Estate near Niton by 10.30am.

The National Trust had arranged things very well for the
public to see these fantastic birds
The weather was truly glorious. I really couldn't have planned it better. It was maybe a tad too hot really. However, being able to park in a field and walk about ten yards to the edge of a cordoned off area and within seconds view two Bee-eaters perched on telephone wires occasionally dropping down to catch a bee or some other insect to feed on was perfect. There was even, conveniently, a Portaloo in the corner of the field, which helped relieve the two cups of coffee on the journey down. Fabulous.
Birthday Bee-eater!
I was met by a National Trust volunteer, who took my details for their records. I also met with two separate parties from Croydon, who appeared to know who I was from this blog. One family, Jess, Mark and Ellie Barnes, came from north of Purley, and were great company during the visit. Also present was Simon Thurgood, who had made the trip from Devon.
One of the four Bee-eaters with its catch
I stayed for nearly three hours. I enjoyed every minute of it. In total I watched and listened to four Bee-eaters hunt around for food, including an acrobatic pursuit of a butterfly above my head. They were occasionally mobbed by Swallows, who didn't appear to enjoy these new arrivals on their patch, to add to the display. An excellent midday session.

I had to leave shortly after 1pm to catch the ferry back to the mainland. Next stop, Beddington. While I have seen a Glossy Ibis in Surrey this year, I quite fancied seeing another one at one of my local patches. The heat was intense on the drive up, the temperature reached 30C, but was starting to drop slightly by the time I arrived just after 4pm.

The Glossy Ibis returned to Beddington
This Glossy Ibis had made a brief appearance at Beddington earlier in the week and clearly fancied another visit. It was easy to find on the western side of the north lake, happily feeding away, with a Black-tailed Godwit nearby.

After that, a dash back home to get ready for dinner with Annie in Battersea at a Lebanese restaurant called Dalila. It had been recommended by Jay Rayner in the Observer magazine and we fancied giving it a try. It was excellent.

Way too much to eat and the owner and his staff were really nice. We really got on well with our Portuguese waiter, Pedro, who we discovered was a qualified paediatric dentist looking for work in Britain. His father is Antonio Vieira, who happens to be assistant coach at Monaco football club. We stayed until the place closed up. It's not often that the guy who serves your dinner also gives you a lift to the station afterwards.