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.

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.