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 30 September 2014


After the holiday to Spain it was abruptly back down to earth and the reality of work and family commitments. Bloody hell, the older I get the less respite there seems to be.

We touched down at Gatwick around midnight on Saturday and I was back working at my desk the following afternoon. Being a freelance, taking a week off has its drawbacks. There's so much catching up to do – a week's worth, as it happens.

So the following week was flat-out. There was just one contrived, half-planned opportunity to take a quick visit somewhere local.

On the Thursday, I convinced Annie we should pay a visit to Lidl...

There was some method to this slight madness, in as much we're both wine drinkers and Lidl have a great promotion going on at the moment with some stonking value French wines on offer that are simply too good to miss.

So we went on a trip to Lidl, not the local one in Horley but a bigger store in Farnham, via Tice's Meadow... obviously.

Tice's had been going through another one of its purple patches, and I'd been away when it all really kicked off.

The influx of waders has been fantastic there – and has included Ruff, Wood Sandpiper, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and the big prize, a Pectoral Sandpiper found, not by one of the Tice's birders but by David Campbell and Franco Mareovic on September 8, and was still present. Add numerous Garganey to the list and you have an impressive array of scarce and uncommon birds dropping in at this remarkable Surrey site.

When we arrived, there was no-one else around, so finding the Pec Sand or the Little Stint was problematic. To view the scrapes at Tice's you stand on a mound overlooking the whole area and finding a specific distant wader against the sun is very difficult if you don't know where to look.

Fortunately, the Patch Commander, Rich Horton, and his trusty sidekick Duke the dog, arrived soon after and was able to steer me in the general area to focus on. Another mate, Dave Baker, also turned up and it wasn't long before he locked on to the Pectoral Sandpiper.

Yes, there is a Pectoral Sandpiper in there somewhere...
A distant view of a female Garganey
A splendid Wasp Spider, one of a number at Tice's Meadow
It was great catching up with the lads at a site I haven't visited all year. We couldn't locate the Little Stint, but did see a Ringed Plover, one of a pair of Garganey and three Pintail.

Another highlight was a close-up view of a Wasp Spider, one of at least four at the site.

The trip to Lidl, by the way, ended up a bit of a wine dip, as most of the decent wines we were aiming to buy had all sold out.

After the trip to Tice's my only other birding before last weekend took place at my local patch at Holmethorpe which didn't produce an awful lot, apart from three Snipe.

So, on to Saturday, when I was due to see my mum and visit my dad in the home in Margate. On the way down, I diverted to Reculver in the hope of seeing a Yellow-browed Warbler, seen earlier that morning. It had relocated to trees around the perimeter of the caravan park, but try as I might I just couldn't find it. The Yellow-browed is proving to be one of my bogey birds.

What I did find, however, was the very obliging Snow Bunting on the beach about 300-400yards east of the towers. A fabulous little bird. Also at Reculver four Brent Goose flew over.

A Snow Bunting/Meadow Pipit face-off. The Mipit was quite aggressive
The Snow Bunting fed very close to the path
Down in Margate, close by where my parents live, the area around Foreness Point had changed. The untouched long scrub and grass had been mowed ready to turn into hay, which was a great shame because it had made for interesting habitat, and was a draw for Whinchat and Pied Flycatcher in particular. Only a couple of confused Wheatear and a Willow Warbler were present.

Mowed habitat at Foreness Point
The view from Foreness Point
Down on the beach, the tide was out and many Oystercatchers, Curlews and Turnstones were feeding.

Foreness Point is a fantastic patch – I just wish I could spend more time exploring it.

Tuesday 23 September 2014


...started off with a quick walk around the villa, which resulted in the Hoopoe feeding in its favoured spot, two Sardinian Warblers and also the Spotted Flycatcher made another appearance in the trees on the north-side edge.

Spotted Flycatcher
Having made the recce up the mountainside towards Trevelez the day before, I coaxed Annie to come with me on Tuesday morning.

Any roads with sheer drops (even if they are on the other side of the Armco), and numerous twisty bends in the road (to assist with car sickness) are not really going to appeal to Annie, but she went for it nonetheless.

It took nearly an hour to make the journey 5,000ft above sea-level to Trevelez. It made for a dramatic setting. We parked down by the river, the Rio Trevelez. The first thing I noticed was the sound of Spotless Starlings and a mix of other birds in the trees by the river.

What was also striking was how fresh the air it felt, at least 5C cooler here than down in the valley, with a welcome cooling breeze. A fabulous spot.
Dodgy image of a couple of Serin feeding at Trevelez
It was clearly good for birds here. Immediately, a small flock of Serin landed in the trees next to us before they flew down to the edge of the river to feed. They were very active so digiphotos were difficult, hence the indifferent image here.

Two Alpine Swift above the village
Above the village high up, a flock of House Martin circled feeding on insects. Then I noticed two Swifts amongst them, much larger... with white bodies – two Alpine Swift! My first ever. I was really pleased to see these as I wasn't expecting to see any.

Behind me I could hear a Bee-eater calling, and located it flying to and from a dead tree up the mountainside.

A walk along the river conjured up three White Wagtails and another Sardinian Warbler.

We stayed for lunch, which was the poorest meal we ate all week, before setting off back down to Orgiva. On the way, I saw a  Booted Eagle and a couple of Bee-eater.

Back at the villa, the afternoon produced another Booted Eagle (maybe the same one), more Red-rumped Swallow, a Willow Warbler and six more Bee-eater, which flew north late on.

Wednesday was the hottest day of the week, 34C, with less breeze, so we spent the day swimming and generally lazing around. A dossing day – it was supposed to be a holiday after all.

The Hoopoe was feeding in another garden, where I once again disturbed it. The highlight of the morning were six Bee-eater circling low right above the villa feeding.

I went down to the Rio Guadelfeo, the river than runs below the town, later to see what I could find – more Willow Warbler (well, that's what I thought they were – see photo), two Cetti's Warbler and a Crossbill flew overhead. I also managed to get a digiscope shot of a couple of Red-rumped Swallows perching on some wires, while having a quick drive round the outskirts of the town.

Rio Guadelfeo

Unidentified warbler - probably a Willow Warbler
A pair of Red-rumped Swallow
New species for the day was a Peregrine Falcon that flew over the villa heading south.
A much windier day so it was more difficult for finding birds. We spent the morning at the town market, before having lunch at a fantastic Moroccan restaurant. The garden list today included the Hoopoe, two Serin, at least 10 Red-rumped Swallow, a Booted Eagle, four Rock Dove, ten Bee-eater flying in to roost, and new species for the list, a handsome male Redstart.

Having spent the previous evening eating out at an excellent pizzeria, surrounded by orange groves in the restaurant's garden, the penultimate day of the holiday was a lazy one (again). In the morning 14 Bee-eater left their roost south of the villa before heading north.

Having spent all week trying to get a photo of a Sardinian Warbler I finally managed it.

A Sardinian Warbler finally sits still long enough...
A pair of Spottless Staring
A juvenile Serin
The highlights today were a juvenile Serin, the resident Hoopoe, what must be the local Booted Eagle and much to my surprise and another welcome garden tick, two probable Ortolan Bunting.

I wasn't sure what they were at fist. They flew overhead and landed in a neighbouring orchard in a dead tree, before one dropped down to ground. Typically, I didn't have my scope with me at the time but a look through my bins showed a rufous-brown back with heavy black striping and when its head turned, a distinct ringed eye. Couldn't really see it being anything else but I'm still not 100 per cent sure.

Probable Ortolan Bunting. Hard to make out from these images,
but I'd be happy to receive other opinions
While that was interesting, the real highlight of the day was the return of the 14 Bee-eater to roost further down the hill. They flew around for some time, after perching up in telephone wires.

Five of the 14 Bee-eaters that returned in the evening
The last morning, already! A fabulous week had gone by too quickly. I had one last walk around the garden and found another (or maybe the same) female Pied Flycatcher. It didn't sit still long enough to get a photo unfortunately. I also saw six of the 14 Bee-eaters heading off for the day and the Booted Eagle paid another visit, circling high above the villa.

While we waited for villa's owner to arrive to pick up the key before we set off back to Malaga, and as I enjoyed watching the Bee-eaters, House Martins, Barn Swallows and the Red-rumped Swallows flying around, another bird flew over the villa towards the tall trees below. I thought it was another Bee-eater, but the colour didn't look right. It was more green and black...

As it flew into the trees and hopped onto a branch it was as clear as day what it was. A Golden Oriole! I hadn't seen one all week, or ever before for that matter, and just as we were about to leave, one appears! Amazing.

A perfect end to our holiday at Casa Vicente in Orgiva.

One the way home we stopped off at Nerja by the coast for lunch – a beautiful spot. Our flight wasn't until 9pm so we had plenty of time to sit back for a while. We ate great tapas for less than a tenner each, and watched the day go by in the square, including a wedding.

After the wedding photos
After that it was a cruise back to Malaga airport along the coastal road, where two Cattle Egret flew into some trees as we drove over a river estuary. The final birds on the list.

I hadn't gone out of my way to find birds while we were away, but even during one of the least good months to see them in the rea I was pleased with my self-found list:

*Cattle Egret
Booted Eagle
*Short-toed Eagle
Rock Dove
Collared Dove
Little Owl
*Alpine Swift
Great-spotted Woodpecker
Red-rumped Swallow
House Martin
*Grey Wagtail
*White Wagtail
Willow Warbler
*Cetti's Warbler
Sardinian Warbler
Spotted Flycatcher
Pied Flycatcher
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Spotless Starling
Golden Oriole
House Sparrow
Ortolan Bunting
(* birds seen from areas outside of villa)

Wednesday 17 September 2014


Holidays are good, aren't they? With all that has gone on this past year, having the opportunity to go away for a week was a real blessing, grasped with both hands. Annie and I flew out to Spain on September 6, arriving in incinerator hot Malaga by lunchtime.

We had a bit of a wait to pick up the hire car – in fact, it took almost as long as the flight, the queue was so long, but that was soon forgotten as we headed off down the coast to Motril and then north to Orgiva, the small town in the valley at the western end of the Las Alpujarras region, south of Granada.

It's an area we know quite well, having been twice before. Orgiva is a simple town, dominated by a twin-spire church, bandy-legged, die-haired old biddies and a large dreadlocked hippie community who are predominantly English and well-spoken. Trustafarians as Annie calls them.

It's hot and dusty, and the atmosphere is laid-back. The surrounding countryside is breathtaking. Mountains dominate both north and south, and holiday villas are peppered around the outskirts of the town, one of which, Casa Vincente, we were staying in.

Once we met up with the owner and were led to our destination – a gated-off, three-bedroomed villa, with a private pool surrounded by orange and olive groves, we instantly settled into holiday mode and relaxed.

While there is some very good birding to experience in the area, particularly in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, September isn't the best month. Spring and October are the best times to visit, but we were aiming to eat and drink well, enjoy the pool and the sun as well as me having the chance to spend a bit of time looking for birds.

The Sierra Nevada is a hot-spot for birds of prey, predominantly eagles and vultures, while the valley area is good for Bee-eaters and Golden Orioles, with plenty of good habitat for other species.

I had a wish list, obviously, but I tried not to focus on that too much in case I was disappointed. I just went out to try and find what I could.

I had two main areas to focus on. One was the meandering drive up the mountainside towards Trevelez, one of the highest settlements in the region at 1486 metres, that sits below two of Spain's highest mountains, Mulhacen and Alcazaba.

The other was the garden area of the villa, which had a great view of the surrounding countryside, as well as decent habitat within it. As the week progressed, the garden patch list became quite extensive, and very satisfying as a result.

Hard not to like
The view from the veranda was stunning
The pool wasn't bad either
The villa's olive groves, looking west
The villa's olive groves, looking south
So, now settled in, time to focus on the birds.

Sunday was spent at the villa. We were tired from travelling the day before so having gone shopping for food the night before, a chicken was roasted for a late lunch and we ate and drank wine all afternoon. While we relaxed during the day, I wandered around the garden and managed to start up the beginnings of a tidy garden list.

First on the list, and a delight all week were at least 25 Red-rumped Swallows. I've only ever seen, or been aware of, two before – one at Unstead and the other at Beddington last year, but here they were as common as Barn Swallows.

Next up a couple of Bee-eater called out down in the valley, and showed for a few minutes while feeding before flying off. What next? A male Sardinian Warbler, one of a pair that would flit around the garden patch all week, scratched its song in the olive groves.

Later, appearing low to the south before soaring and then gliding out of view, a Booted Eagle was on the hunt for food, and would become another regular visitor during the week.

A Hoopoe face-off
Walking around the eastern edge of olive groves I looked over to the neighbour's garden and instantly spotted a Hoopoe at the same time the Hoopoe spotted me. There was a bit of a stand-off. He was staring at me, not moving a muscle and I was doing the same back at him. I managed to take a few images through the scope before the Hoopoe decided that was enough and flew over to another garden.

The Hoopoe would appear every day, sometimes I would flush him out accidently or I would see him flying across the garden to another feeding spot.

Another resident bird, or birds, were at least six Little Owl, screeching around the place on and off throughout the day.

A very pleasant afternoon!

I didn't wait long for an excuse to travel up the mountains. I was up and about early, just as the sun rose and was soon heading off up the road north of Orgiva, past the first of the popular tourist destinations in the area, the three white villages of Pampaneira, Bubion and Capileira and on towards Trevelez.

After a brief stop to watch and listen to a small flock of Spotless Starlings I parked up en route over a promising valley. It was one of those moments that can only happen by good fortune. As soon as I got out of the car, I heard Bee-eaters. A lot of them. Below I could see them flying across the canyon and then up over the mountainside behind me. There must have have been at least 20 of them.

Bee-eaters flying along the Las Alpujarras valley
While these fantastic birds flew out of view, but heading in the direction I was intending to drive towards, I noticed three small birds perched on a dead tree branch – three Serin. This was a very good start to the morning. Also I saw another Sardinian Warbler scampering around the shrubbery and three Kestrel gliding around the area. I hoped they may be Lesser Kestrels, but then one called like a Kestrel so those hopes were dashed.

Driving up the mountain further I noticed a large eagle soaring high above the mountains but I couldn't stop to check it out. I looked big enough to be a Golden Eagle but I will never know.

So, onwards up the mountainside. What happened next will live long in the memory.

Around a sharp bend before a narrow bridge I looked up and there were the Bee-eaters again. I managed to find a spot to pull over off the road and as a result was able to take in an amazing spectacle. There must have been at least 50 Bee-eaters perched in the trees or flying around feeding. It was just me and the Bee-eaters. A Zen-like moment I won't forget. I was surrounded by them. It was a truly magical few minutes of the birding part of the holiday. They were everywhere. Wonderful.

Bee-eaters everywhere
Unfortunately, the crap camera I took with me couldn't capture the moment. Any pointing up at the sky resulted in out of focus shots, or they were over-exposed. A shame. But despite that the spectacle was awe-inspiring. I felt like a very lucky man.

Over-exposed rubbish digiscope shot of a juvenile Bee-eater.
Jono Lethbridge quality it ain't

While I was close to Trevelez it was really time not to be selfish and head back. But the birding didn't end there.

Driving back down the mountain I noticed a small eagle soaring around the small village of Pitres. The black and white underside of the wings gave it away as a Booted Eagle. Further down the road, past the three villages I spotted another eagle soaring high above the mountain tops. This one was bulkier and was easy to identify, as it is a typical bird of the area -– a Short-toed Eagle.

A Booted Eagle
Back at the villa, another walk around the olive groves a smart female Pied Flycatcher flew up into the bushes – a bird I wasn't expecting. Then, while dozing by the pool later in the afternoon a bright yellow bird dived in the trees that bordered the villa to the north – another Serin. Later, in the same batch of trees a Spotted Flycatcher appeared and showed well for a while.
A smart male Serin made an appearance in the garden
A Spotted Flycatcher was a nice addition at the end of the day
I'm not an experience birder abroad – this was my first conscious effort to log all the birds I had seen but to me it had been a fantastic couple of days. Birds you would cut your right arm off to see in Britain were around the next corner here. In British birding terms I had seen three megas, two rarities and two scarce species.

The first couple of days had been amazing.