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 31 December 2014


On a personal level 2014 hasn't been great. Working all hours, battling with the NHS all hours, juggling seeing my dad – who is now in a nursing home receiving continuing care – and my mum, who is just about to conclude chemotherapy for her returning cancer.
It was a year in which Annie and I also lost our beloved Burmese cat Billie, who had to be put down just a few months before her 20th birthday one week-day morning before I travelled to London for a shift on the Daily Star. That was a really crap day at work. Annie and I still miss her greatly.

Despite all the misery the year has been interspersed with moments of enjoyment – it wasn't all bad. And really, while my parents are going through difficult times in their twilight years, I find solace in the fact I know I have done pretty much the best I can to help them. Nothing can stop any of us getting old, unfortunately. It's simply a case of getting on and dealing with it.

Birding has pretty much taken a backseat this year, but then it often does. I quickly dropped any ideas of putting together a year list, both UK and Surrey, and I think I'm all the happier for it. Listing becomes a bit pointless when spare time is short. I have to accept I'm a part-time birder.

There have been plenty of birds I've missed this year – so many, it's not worth really mentioning them. But I've also seen plenty of good ones to make up for it. As Johnny Allan used to say when he was birding, every year is different.

And so to the birding year of 2014. My highlights are clear cut for me. Locally, it was seeing my first male Pied Flycatcher in Surrey, and on my local patch at Holmethorpe. That was my Surrey highlight without a doubt.

In Britain, there were some really great moments. The Short-toed Eagle at Ashdown Forest, the Long-tailed Skua at Selsey, the breeding Bee-eaters on the Isle of Wight and the Rough-legged Buzzard at Jevington in East Sussex. They really stick in the memory.

But the best moment for me was undoubtedly on holiday in the Las Alpajurras region of Spain and being alone with at least 50 Bee-eaters flying around me in the Sierra Nevada mountains on a beautiful September morning. That was quite something.

Along the way there have been some remarkable moments involving the birding community. Things have changed quite a bit these past couple of years. Regular bloggers and patch workers have moved on, others have taken their place. In amongst it all we have birders and birds worthy of a Rambler – the birding Oscar.

Below is the list of nominees and winners.

In alphabetical order, the nominees are:
Dave Baker – Tice's Meadow
Lee Dingain – Staines Moor 
 Gordon Hay – Holmethorpe Sand Pits
Rich Horton – Tice's Meadow
Ian Kehl – Holmethorpe Sand Pits
Keith Kerr - Staines Moor
Rich Sergeant – Tice's Meadow
Bob Warden – Staines Reservoir

The winner is:
Lee Dingain
Congratulations to Lee Dingain, winner of the 2014 Patch Birder of the Year. It was a close-run contest, but Lee definitely deserves this award for his diligence and patience (Staines Moor can be a very frustrating patch). His patch has also had to put up vandalism and downright bad behaviour by some members of the local community, including youths riding trials bikes all over the area. Staines Moor may not have the spread of birds other patches have had, but it is an important site for Surrey birding. Lee is involved with the habitat management on the Moor, as well as work abroad in the Atlantic Rainforest of Brazil and conservation work at the REGUA (Reserva Ecológica de Guapi Assu) lodge in Brazil. Some of Lee's best birds on the Moor this year include Brent Goose, Spoonbill, Bittern, Merlin, Marsh Harrier, Short-eared Owl, Water Pipit (patch speciality), Grasshopper Warbler, Dartford Warbler and Whinchat.

The nominations are:
Beddington Sewage Farm
(Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull, Grey Phalarope, Great White Egret, Spoonbill,
Pectoral Sandpiper, Bearded Tit) 
Leith Hill
(Two-barred Crossbill, Rough-legged Buzzard) 
Staines Reservoir
(Bonaparte's Gull, Arctic Skua, Great Skua, Eider,
Black-throated Diver, Snow Bunting)
Thursley Common
(Short-toed Eagle, Black Kite, Great Grey Shrike, Red-backed Shrike)
Tice's Meadow
(Bewick's Swan, Great White Egret, Spoonbill, Pectoral Sandpiper,
Little Stint, Red-rumped Swallow)

The winner is:
Beddington Sewage Farm
Tricky one this. The closest run award of the year, because all the nominees have had some remarkable birds, but there were three sites that stood out this year – Beddington, Staines Reservoir and Tice's Meadow. Beddington just knicked it, but only just.

The nominations are:
Arctic Skua (Queen Mother Reservoir)
Bonaparte's Gull (Staines Reservoir)
Glossy Ibis (Frensham, Beddington)
Great Grey Shrike (Thursley Common, Ash Ranges, Frensham Common)
Great Skua (Staines Reservoir, QEII Reservoir, Queen Mary Reservoir)
Great White Egret (Tice's Meadow, Beddington, many other sightings throughout Surrey)
Grey Phalarope (Beddington)
Pectoral Sandpiper (Tice's Meadow, Beddington)
Pied Flycatcher (Holmethorpe Sand Pits) 
Short-toed Eagle (Thursley Common)
Two-barred Crossbill (Leith Hill)
White-winged Black Tern (Private site)

The winner is:
Glossy Ibis
The problem with choosing the Surrey Bird of the Year is that the best bird of all, the Short-toed Eagle, was only seen by one person – who fortunately was able to take a photo of it as it flew over Thursley Common after one of its flyabout moments away from the Ashdown and the New Forest regions. The other fabulous bird, the White-winged Black Tern, was on a private site with no access, and again only a handful of birders managed to see it. The Bonaparte's Gull only stayed a day, which really only left two contenders in my book – the Grey Phalarope and the Glossy Ibis.

Unfortunately for me, I was unable to find the time to go and see the Phalarope, which stuck around for eight days, but I did see both Glossy Ibis in Surrey this year. The first one appeared at the beginning of January at Frensham and was seen by plenty of people, as it stayed for nine days. The second one, as pictured above, dropped in at Beddington, and stayed for four days. At one time these birds were a real rarity, but are now becoming a regular visitor to Britain and may breed at some time in the future.

The nominations are:
Steve Gale (North Downs and Beyond)
Jonathan Lethbridge (Wanstead Birder)
Sean Foote (The Portland Naturalist)

The winner is:
 Steve Gale (North Downs and Beyond)

There are only a handful of nominations but I chose these three because I read them more than any other blog. Sean's blog is based on an area I love and is well written and just downright interesting. I loved his posts on his visits to Europe and his trip to Fair island. Jono Lethbridge is simply a brilliant writer, with a natural creative wit no-one else can match. He is the writer I wish to emulate, but I don't have the talent. 
But the award this year has to go to Steve for the second successive year. He is prolific, surpassing his total of posts of 2013 (223) with 228 this year. Steve's blog is always thought-provoking, imaginative and invariably a fascinating read.

It will be a major task for anyone to remove Steve Gale, currently Britain's best birding blog writer, from his elevated perch.

2014 Randon's Ramblings top birding moments

1 Bee-eater bonanza in the Sierra Nevada
I normally do a top ten, but I didn't do enough to merit more than eight truly memorable personal moments. Being alone with 50 or more Bee-eater was the great moment of the year. It was truly magical. I'd seen the flock flying low across the valley as I made my way up into the mountains heading towards Trevelez in the Sierra Nevada National Park. I eventually stopped as I came across them again further up the road. They were flying all around me, above my head feeding and perching close by. All I could do was stare and watch in a bit of a daze. Fabulous.

2 Short-toed Eagle at Ashdown Forest
One of the birds of the year in Britain. The Short-toed Eagle at Ashdown Forest kept birders entertained for many days during the summer, including me. I dipped it the first time I tried to see it one late afternoon (it had gone to roost) but I caught up with it a couple of mornings later and what a sight it was as it cruised around looking for prey. I took Annie down to see it a few days later, and even she was enthralled. At one point a woman was quite overcome by the event as the Eagle came into view high above us. "This is SO exciting!" she exclaimed. And it was. It eventually drifted south, and Annie and I gave chase in the car. I caught up with it again about two miles down the road as it silently coasted by high above my head before drifting out of sight. And that was the last time the Short-toed Eagle was seen at Ashdown Forest. What a cracker!

3 Pied Flycatcher at Holmethorpe Sand Pits
A beautiful morning on the local patch, just a five minute drive from my house...  and a Surrey lifer. This male Pied Flycatcher, discovered by Graham James one spring morning, was the only one of the species recorded in Surrey this year as far as I'm aware, which makes it even more special.

4 Rough-legged Buzzard at Jevington, East Sussex
One fabulous bird, which performed perfectly for the birders present. It even managed to grab some food and skillfully hover while readjusting its prey in its claws. A long-stayer, the juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard is still hunting the fields south of Jevington as i write this.

5 Long-tailed Skua at Selsey, West Sussex
A real cracker this one. The Selsey Long-tailed Skua was one of those birds worth travelling a fair distance to go and see. It stayed for some days, flying up and down the beach from Church Norton to Selsey Bill and beyond. I didn't get the uber-close views many got of it resting on its favoured spot, but it was still a joy to watch.

6 Pomarine Skua at Portland Bill, Dorset
The Pomarine Skua is the charismatic bird of the sea and I managed to find my own one morning on Portland Bill. No-one else was around and having waited a couple of hours, seeing two Poms fly past was a big thrill.

7 Birthday Bee-eaters and Glossy Ibis
Birthday birding is one of my treats each year and this year was one of the best. A hot sunny day, blue skies and a trip to the Isle of Wight to see the breeding Bee-eaters on the Wydcombe Estate, followed by the Glossy Ibis at Beddington on the way home and a great meal out in the evening. a very long day, but a really enjoyable one.

8 Wryneck in Margate, Kent
No photos of this one, just an impromtu opportunity while visiting my parents in Margate. My dad was in hospital, and my mum was back on chemo, so a brief interlude on the way home was welcome. The Wryneck favoured the car park of the Bethesda Medical Centre which, coincidently, is my parent's surgery. It showed really well, as did a number Whinchat, a female Redstart and a few Wheatear. Lovely.


So, what about 2015? I'll take it as it comes and hope for the best.

In the meantime, have a happy New Year and enjoy your birding!

Sunday 28 December 2014


OK, so this isn't the Randon's Ramblings Awards – they'll be coming up next. I had just one more opportunity this year to go out birding so I headed off this morning to Pett Levels in East Sussex to see the Lesser Yellowlegs.

The plan had been to hopefully get the Yellowlegs in the bag before driving down the coast to pick up the Rough-legged Buzzard at Jevington for a second time on the way home.

The Pett Pools on Pett Levels
The sea wall at Pett Levels looking towards Fairlight
But making plans and birding don't always go to hand-in-hand. In fact, planning anything around birds is really a bit foolhardy. I arrived just after 9.30am on a beautiful crisp morning, basked in ultra-bright sunshine, to discover the American wader was still about. However, a photographer had turned up about 20 minutes before I arrived and had parked close by the road and slammed the boot of his car, causing the bird to fly off and dive down behind a bank, and it hadn't reappeared.

I pitched up on the sea wall, where I met up with a few other local birders. While it was a beautiful morning, it was bloody cold, and the wind began to pick up a tad.

About 30 minutes in, a Marsh Harrier coasted over the area, causing the Wigeon and other ducks to take to the air, including four Redshank-type waders.

Two Bewick's Swans flew over the Levels heading towards Dungeness
It was looking like a bit of a wait, but while I stood there, gradually freezing to the spot, a couple of Bewick's Swan flew over the Pools, heading towards Dungeness.

But still no sign of the Lesser Yellowlegs. An Avocet pitched up on the edge of the water in the distance, where I saw a Redshank and one other wader, but I couldn't make out yellow legs, and as no-one else seemed that interested, I thought no more of it.

A bit later I was joined, out of the blue, by Roy 'Bulldog' Dennis from Beddington. It was really good to catch up with him. Soon after a few other birders arrived along the beach from the east and they revealed the Yellowlegs was actually in the fields to the east feeding along with some Lapwing.

Off we dashed a few hundred yards up the road, only for the bird to fly back the way we came. Off back to the Pools we went.

Eventually, in the distance, some 300 metres away on the edge of the water, scurrying around behind some sleeping Wigeon, was the Lesser Yellowlegs. Hurrah. It was in a similar spot to where I had seen the unidentified wader ealier, and  I'm certain it was the same bird.

The Lesser Yellowlegs showed distantly
We watched the Lesser Yellowlegs wander this way and that for half an hour until it decided to fly back to the fields.

Most of those around me decided that was enough. I stayed for another hour, spending much of it thawing out in the car, apart from when the Lesser Yellowlegs flew back to its favoured distant spot by the water's edge for another rummage. Its cravings for the field area then got the better of it and it flew back to the field, dropping down out of sight.

At least I didn't dip it.

Wednesday 24 December 2014


More than a month has past since my last post and I've been birding a sum total of three times since then. Once around the local patch a couple of weeks ago to see a lone redhead Smew on Mercers Lake, followed last week by a very quick visit to Swalecliffe on the way down to Margate to see six frustratingly mobile Snow Bunting fly up and down the shingle.

And finally, this morning and a dash down the M23 and along to A27 to the Pevensey Horse Eye Levels to see the long-staying Richard's Pipit. It took me a while to find the right spot, having not visited this area before, but I knew I was close when I saw two Short-eared Owl hawking in the fields alongside the road. They were very close by, crossing over the road directly in front of me on occasions.

Two of five Short-eared Owls seen during the morning
Always an uplifting sight, I would see at least five Short-eared Owls during the hour visit, and sometimes fantastically close sightings to boot.

Thankfully, two other birders were already in position and were clearly watching the Richard's Pipit. I parked and then strolled up and said hello, and one of them – a birder from East Dulwich, who had relocated the bird earlier in the morning (sorry, but if you are reading this I didn't catch your name!) invited me to look through his scope. And there it was, standing typically upright in the field was the Richard's Pipit feeding in its favourite spot.

The Richard's Pipit on Horse Eye Levels
We were then joined by Geoff Gowlett, the man who originally found the Pipit on November 6th. He also relocated the bird at the end of last month when it went missing for a few weeks.

Geoff Gowlett, left, was the man who originally
discovered the Richard's Pipit on November 6
The Pipit stayed put for a good half an hour before we lost sight of it, having been distracted by conversation, more sightings of Short-eared Owls, a distant ringtail Hen Harrier and a male Marsh Harrier. We then heard the Pipit call as it flew across the field as a group of lads found it again.

On the way home, I was amazed to see a Merlin fly across the road on the A27.

It had been a brief visit but an enjoyable one. Coming up soon – the Randon's Ramblings Awards 2014.