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 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