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 2 December 2015


I only wish my horse race tips for the Daily Star were as good as my birding predictions.

It just so happened that last week I suggested a Short-eared Owl would turn up on the Holmethorpe patch – a first on the deck since who knows when (before my time anyway).

Two days later and there it was, on Sunday morning at 10.20am to be exact.

Local patch workers Gordon Hay and Ian Kehl flushed a Shortie while walking around the Water Colour Lagoon complex in an area known as Little Mound.

Little Mound is a recent man-made creation that sits between the bigger, older man-made hillock known as Water Colour Mound and Water Colour Lagoon 2. Little Mound now has a decent covering of grass, young trees and scrub along its edge.

It was out of the longish grass in the area adjacent to WC Mound where the owl flew up and circled before flying high to the south. I only wish I had been there to see it.

There was the possibility this bird would return to the area to roost and another local birder, Ray Baker, thought he may of seen the SEO mobbed by crows on Monday morning in the same spot – but it was too dark to tell for certain.

With this in mind I made my first sortie into the wilds since the beginning of October this morning, in the vain hope of perhaps seeing the Short-eared Owl before the dog walkers were out before sunrise.

Unfortunately, the dog walkers were already prowling the area, but seeing as the owl hadn't been flushed until late morning on Sunday, there was always the possibility – if it was still about – that it was still in the long grass.

But no. In the drizzle and half-light, nothing distinctly owl-like flew up into the grey sky. Never mind, it was still good to be out in the fresh air looking for birds.

The first bird of note was a Stonechat perched on scrub on the edge of Little Mound. Stonechats are not a common bird for Holmethorpe, but during the last 12 months or so they have become more of a presence, with at least three in the area in recent weeks. There is the potential for a pair to breed next spring – they would be a welcome addition to the Holmethorpe patch.

What is also remarkable is that this new area has become a favoured spot for this Stonechat, despite it being next to a a housing complex, a railway line, a popular footpath and industrial estate.

Over on Water Colour Lagoon 1 a Little Egret was still roosting in the trees. There were plenty of gulls on the water and in the meadow on the edge of the lagoon, including Black-headed, Common, Lesser and Great Black-Backed Gulls. A couple of Fieldfare and ten Redwing flew up from the trees.

A walk around the Moors produced plenty of Teal, a sole Wigeon and a few Goldcrest. The circuit took me back to the Lagoons, where a Kingfisher flew low over the water.

So no Short-eared Owl, but for two hours I was able to lose myself in my environment and forget about work, which is where I am writing this!

Wednesday 25 November 2015


It's been a while! A brief glance at my last post and a count up and it has been more than a month and a half since I went out birding.

That's quite a while, even for me. As a result I have missed an awful lot, both locally and further afield. All the top-notch autumn migrants that flocked to the east coast have been and gone, and the winter birding species are already pretty much established.

So why the absence? Partly work, partly apathy. Being a freelance, I can't drop everything and head off to the hills or the coast whenever I want. And then when I do have the odd moment, I'm so knackered I can't be bothered to walk out of the door.

Also, as the days get shorter, wetter, and colder, a quick peek out of the bedroom window before the sun has risen can cause the enthusiasm to wane, too.

No matter. My busy period is about to come to an end and, as my wife Annie often says, there will always be a bird to see on another day.

And that is a very important point. Birding is like football – it's seasonal. Stating the bleedin' obvious I know, but you can pretty much plan your year by the calendar and the periods when certain species are likely to arrive.

If you have a local patch you can go out and have one eye searching for rare patch sightings. This time of year is great for Short-eared Owls, but I can't remember when one has been seen at Holmethorpe – I'm sure someone will tell me – but one thing is for sure it hasn't been for at least six years since I took a keen interest.

And I wonder why that could be? It would appear to be a half-decent spot for them. We get Barn, Tawny (have never actually seen one here prsonally) and Little Owls but I don't think any of the local patch watchers has even had a SEO fly over the area in recent years.

A mystery, but definitely one bird I will be looking out for.

My predictions for this winter – we will get a Shortie, maybe a Bewick's Swan, a decent goose or two, a Glaucous Gull and a Lapland Bunting. Here's hoping anyway!

Wednesday 7 October 2015


While smarting at missing a stream of rarities that continued to spring up at Spurn during the previous couple of weeks, I tried to console myself by twitching rare birds in the south east.

A juvenile Pallid Harrier was identified at The Burgh, at Burpham near Arundel two weeks ago in the same area as the last juvenile Pallid Harrier to entertain throngs of birders in Sussex back in 2011.

I had a window of opportunity to travel down to Burpham last Thursday in the late afternoon. I was met by Lee Evans, who had dipped the bird the previous day, but had had more luck this time. He explained that the best place to view it from was a bit of a trek – more than a mile – to an area called the dewpond looking out over Wepham Down, overlooking the valley where the Pallid Harrier tended to hawk.

Time was short as it was already past 5pm, so I pressed on to the viewing spot a good 25 minutes away (I'm not a particularly fast walker). A small group of birders were still gathered there, including two blokes who had been trying to see this elusive harrier since 8.30am. They decided to go for a spot of lunch in the early afternoon and during that time the Harrier made its one appearance of the day!

While I stood waiting in vain for the Pallid Harrier to show itself, a juvenile Hen Harrier, two Kestrel and about 15 Grey Partridge gave us something to look at.

As the sun set the Pallid Harrier was a no-show.

I made the foolhardy decision to travel down again on Monday morning. What an utterly pointless exercise that was! I arrived at about 7.45am just as the rain started to fall. From then on the weather got gradually worse until the rain became torrential. All I managed to do was get completely soaked to the skin and thoroughly dejected. A Red Kite and a Common Buzzard were the only birds of interest in the gloom.

Fortunately, these two dips were interspersed with an unexpected bonus on Sunday afternoon.

The south Gloucestershire birding gang
Annie and I were visiting friends in Wales over the weekend when a Red-throated Pipit was discovered on the Pilning Wetlands, near New Passage by the River Severn.

The Red-throated Pipit viewing area
The Pipit was still present on Sunday morning, so on our way home in the afternoon I was able to give it a go. It was clear from comments from birders walking back from the viewing area that this Pipit showed occasionally but would go missing from time to time.

All you can do on a twitch for an elusive bird is hope you've timed your visit right. Twitches are all about timing. I could have turned up two hours earlier and seen nothing or as luck would have it, arrive 15 minutes before it showed itself.

It's simply pot luck. And my luck was in.

I hadn't expected to be able to go birding over the weekend, so I hadn't brought my scope with me, and binoculars weren't exactly giving great views – added to which the Red-throated Pipit often stayed in longish grass.

The Red-throated Pipit enjoyed hiding in the long grass (photos courtesy of Brian Hancastle)
All the guys present were all very helpful, however, and three local birders, including Martyn Hayes, who runs the Birds of South Gloucestershire website, allowed me to see the Red-throated Pipit in better detail. Thanks also to Brian Lancastle for sending me his photos from the twitch. A stunning bird.

The following day the Pipit had gone.

I'll be back down to Burpham early tomorrow morning, before work, for one last bid for the Pallid...

Monday 28 September 2015


I'd been back from Spurn since Tuesday – getting home at around 1pm after a traffic-riddled journey along the southern end of the M1 and on the M25. I was straight back into work mode the following morning and had been going flat out to catch up with numerous jobs through to the weekend.

I felt completely exhausted on Sunday morning, but I needed some compensation for missing out on a festival of birding rarities at Spurn that was developing during the weekend in my absense.

And so weariness didn't stop me heading for Essex and a first visit to the RSPB reserve of Vange Marsh for the Wilson's Phalarope.

I really hadn't expected it to stay put for as long as it had, having first appeared on September 21, but stick it did and so on a bright, sunny morning I set off on a leisurely hour drive to Vange.
In many ways the site is similar in its location to Holmethorpe Sand Pits, as it is set next to a built-up area with a railway line running alongside. Also nearby is the Pitsea landfill, which is very good for gulls.

The wetland at Vange is particularly tempting for waders as the water doesn't look as if it creeps too high. The surrounding area is flat and there is plenty of juicy scrub and reed habitat for other birds. 

There is only access half the lake and invariably the birds are likely to be quite distant to view – as was the case of the Wilson's Phalarope, which was feeding at the far end of the lake.

The Wilson's Phalarope gave clear but distant views
Despite the distance, this rare Phalarope was quite easy to pick up in the scope and gave reasonable views.

At one point the waders took flight, as a Marsh Harrier circled the area and landed nearby. Marsh Harriers, like Whinchat, are birds I never fail to see almost anywhere I go at the moment!

The other highlight was a Little Stint feeding relatively close by.

A distant Little Stint
So that was basically that. I'd had a pleasant Sunday morning trip out. Elsewhere, Staines birding mate Dominic Pia was having one of those days at Spurn I've yet to experience.

Dom is currently spending a few days up on the East Yorkshire coast, taking over where I left off the week before. Unfortunately, my visit coincided with one of the quieter periods during the autumn at Spurn. If I'd planned it for a week later I would have been enjoying some incredible birding.

He is camping at the Driftwood campsite where an Arctic Warbler was discovered in bushes next to his tent. The list of rare and scarce birds at Spurn has rising ever since, including a Blyth's Reed Warbler today, along with the numerous Yellow-browed Warblers, Red-breasted Flycatchers and Barred Warblers. Add the the list a Long-tailed Skua, Ring Ouzel, Hen Harrier and Pied Flycatcher and you've got yourself one healthy list.

I guess this is what I should regard as character building in a birding sense. Hopefully, one day in the future, I'll enjoy a birding experience like that. One day...

Sunday 27 September 2015


It had been two years since my last visit to Spurn and I'd been counting down the days to my three days there last weekend. But more of that shortly.

Prior to traveling to this remarkable birding area I spent Saturday night watching the Brisca F1 World Stock Car Final, my annual pilgrimage to this fantastic event, hosted this year at Kings Lynn.

It turned out to be a strange and very late evening. The meeting began OK and was running to plan until the World Final race itself – the fourth of the night on the 11-race programme – which started at 7.45pm. It was a 25-lap race around the quarter-mile shale oval, which would normally take about 10-15 minutes – but it didn't end until nearly 10.30pm...

The race had to be completely restarted after two laps, which took half an hour, but the race had to be stopped with ten laps to go due to a serious injury to one of the drivers. The throttle stuck open in his car and hit other stranded cars that had spun in front of him at full chat. The force of the impact caused a dislocated knee, and his knee-cap split in two. Horrible.

The result of this was a 90-minute delay as ambulances and a fire engine were brought on to the circuit. Later during the meeting another ambulance was needed for an injury to a marshal on the centre green and in the final race of the night, a tractor on the centre green was hit by a car after the driver was knocked unconscious. What could go wrong, went wrong on Saturday night.

The meeting finished just before midnight. A good two hours later than is normal, and I didn't get to the Travelodge I was staying at in Peterborough until 1.30am. In bed just after 2.00am, there was no chance of getting up early that morning to head for Spurn, another two and a half hours up the road. I was completely knackered.

I didn't get going in the morning until about 9.00am, and I lived to regret the late start.

An hour out of Spurn, a message popped up on the Rare Bird Alert website that a Golden Oriole had been seen at the Driftwood Caravan site just after 11.00am. Fantastic!

It relocated to a tree at Westmere Farm, which was next door to the Westmere Farm Bed and Breakfast I was staying at for two nights, but by the time I got there, staring at the tree with a number of other birders, the Oriole had disappeared from view, never to be seen again...

It was not a good start, but it was sure to pick up.

I love this place. Spurn is geared up for birding. Kilnsea is the local village and birds are the main tourist attraction. The Westmere B&B is a great place to stay with excellent breakfasts and the owners cater predominantly for visiting birders. Great value, anyone who plans to stay in the area should make a b-line for Sue and Andrew Wells' excellent hospitality. Visit http://www.westmerefarm.co.uk for more details. A word of advise, though – book well in advance.

Spurn is a compact site (apart from the walk to Spurn Point and back, which is about eight miles) with all manner of habitats for migrating birds to drop into. Only the day before the earliest-recorded Spurn Bewick's Swan flew in to the Kilnsea Wetlands Nature Reserve and stayed for the duration of my visit.

Mediterranean Gull at Kilnsea Wetlands
On my first day, I had a good look round the area but didn't really come up with much, apart from the Bewick's Swan at the Wetlands, and also a few Mediterranean Gull, plus a Wheatear and a Whinchat near the seawatching hide. On a walk towards the Point where the tidal surge in December of 2103 caused the Point to be breached, I bumped into a couple of birders who had seen the Golden Oriole. One of the guys wasn't that experience and he got the best views of it, although at the time he didn't know what it was! He told me another birder they had spoken to had been to 'Sammy's Point' – further east along the Humber Estuary – and had seen a Long-eared Owl close up. It appeared I'd missed quite a lot on this first day...

Later in the afternoon I got talking to a family from Leeds looking out to sea near the Bluebell Cafe and discovered that the grandparent of the group was staying at the same B&B as me for a few days. He had enjoyed great views of a pair of Merlin causing havoc among the waders on the Estuary and also a pair of Bonxies flying upstream. All I'd managed was a Hobby that had flown in off the sea chasing Mipits. John Ward would be my birding companion for the next two days.

The Humber Estaury
At the end of day one the sun dropped down over the Humber Estuary and I headed for the Crown and Anchor pub for a pint or two of Timothy Taylor Landlord and fresh, locally-caught battered haddock and chips.

It was at the pub where I bumped into John, the two birders I saw near the breach and also top local birder Steve Exley, who was on a night out with his wife and friends. Steve remembered me from my trip two years ago and I got chatting about what to expect over the next couple of days. He didn't think we'd see anything rare (he was, unfortunately, proved right), but it would be worth some autumnal vis-migging from 'Numpties', an area next to the seawatch hide close to the Spurn Bird Observatory.

At Spurn anything can happen at any time.

Steve described one year when 120,000 exhausted Goldcrest made landfall at Spurn during one memorable day. "They were strewn like a carpet all over the road," he said. "You could pick them up. One bloke, Chris Newson, he's really tall, was walking up the path and birds were flying in off the sea and trying to get into the pockets of his trenchcoat. It was incredible."

Spurn has many stories like that. Migration doesn't come any better than the best-recorded birding area in the country.

I couldn't wait for the next morning.

The weather forecast wasn't good. Heavy rain from 10.00am onwards. I headed for the seawatch hide at 6.45am where Ian Whitehouse, from Dudley, who I met on my last trip to Spurn and one of the mainstays of the Spurn birding group, and Steve were already counting Meadow Pipits and other migrants coming in off the sea.

Steve Exley in action
John Ward was already looking out to sea for potential birding highlights but treats were few and far between. Apart from Red-throated Diver, Razorbill, Common Scoter, Teal and Wigeon, there was little else to get the pulses racing. A Marsh Harrier flew out to sea, which was a nice distraction but not one Skua or Shearwater appeared during the morning before the rain duly arrived. By then the visibility wasn't great, so after breakfast we headed for the Wetlands.

Here the Bewick's Swan showed well, plus a few Mediterranean Gull, a Black-tailed Godwit, and a couple of Knot. The rain kept tumbling down for the next hour or so, so then we opted to go back to the seawatch hide. It wasn't worth going for a walk in the rain.

Bewick's Swan at Kilnsea Wetlands
Back at the hide we met up with Ian and Leeds-based Rob Hopson, another Spurn regular. Rob is one of those Yorkshiremen who's humour is as dry as dust. He comes across as a miserable sod (because he is, but he's all the more funny because of it!) but I enjoyed his company. The seawatching was dire. John and I saw a group of three Skuas but they were far out and hard to id. John thought they were Poms, but I wasn't so sure. Highlight was a Brent Goose and a couple of Whinchat. As before there were plenty of Red-throated Divers.

One of numerous Red-throated Diver seen from the seawatching hide
A Whinchat near the seawatch hide
Rob and Ian headed off for an early tea at about 4.00pm when suddenly Ian banged on the side of the hide."Ringed-tailed Hen Harrier!" he shouted. I thought he was winding me up but sure enough, gliding low in the rough grass close to the hide was a magnificent ringed-tailed Hen Harrier.

The rich-coloured female effortlessly cruised around the area before heading off north-west. What a bird! Spurn had delivered just in time.

Rob Hopson and John Ward at the seawatch hide on Monday evening
We met up again later as the sun came out creating a brilliant sunset.

Sunset over Spurn
We discussed what may happen the following day. Ian suggested if the winds changed to northerlies, it could create classic seawatching conditions for Sooty Shearwaters and Skuas.

"So we could have classic conditions?' I suggested.

"Well, maybe not classic, but quite good," Ian replied.

"OK, I'll settle for that," I said.

"You'll get what you're given!" Rob said bluntly.

He was right, of course. And we got bugger all.

The following morning was glorious. A beautiful sunrise over the North Sea.

Sunrise over the North Sea
As the day progressed the wind did indeed turned to northerlies, but there was very little happening out at sea.

It was a very quiet and disappointing day. It was great to be out in the sunshine by the sea but there was little movement. Over at the seawatch hide, the Pipits kept on coming as did a few Lesser Redpoll, a couple of Yellow Wagtail. Tree Sparrows chirped happily as they feasted from the nearby feeders.

There was little banter as a couple of Sparrowhawk quietly hawked the area where the birding nets were. One swooped into the bushes. Rob broke the ice. "Something is about to die," he said cheerily.

I opted to go to Sammy's Point to see if the Long-eared Owl was still about. A longshot. It was very quiet, apart from a Peregrine hunting over the fields. I found out later that John had seen a Short-eared Owl flying down the Estuary. I hadn't seen it. Another decent bird missed.

Sammy's Point
It was basically very quiet, but I enjoyed the walk.

Later in the day I put in a stint of seawatching but it was just the usual fare. Ian went for a walk around the Triangle and discovered four Bearded Tit, but as the wind picked up they went to ground and were not seen again. Another dip.

Further south, in Norfolk, a Desert Wheatear showed up, but better still, Britain's first Arcadian Flycatcher made an appearance at Dungeness. We could only imagine the excitement!

After that it was really time to draw stumps on the day and the visit. A last pint of Landlord and a home-made Lasagne with John and then I was then heading home, arriving back in Redhill five and a half hours later.

From what I've just written, you could say it wasn't the most satisfying of trips, but in reality I met some great people and while the birding wasn't as good as it could have been, the banter and comeraderie was first-class.

Spurn is a unique place that will draw me back again next year without a doubt.

Predictably, the rare migrants turned up after I had left. It is now the following Sunday and 19 Yellow-browed Warbler, a Red-breasted Flycatcher, a Barred Warbler and, to top the lot, an Arctic Warbler were all seen during the day.

As I mentioned earlier, anything can happen at anytime at Spurn.

Monday 7 September 2015


Having failed to connect with the Barred Warbler at Staines Moor on Saturday evening I felt certain this eastern European migrant – a first for west London and certainly a first for Staines Moor and a well-deserved discovery by Lee Dingain – would have departed overnight with clear skies and light winds.

But no, it was still doing its thing, feeding among the bushes on the north side of the River Colne this morning. Fortunately, I'd managed to get a job finished by late morning at home and had time to belt up the M25 to Staines to go for a second attempt this lunchtime.

The Barred Warbler showed pretty well on and off for half an hour
I met a couple of birders, including a chap called Jonathan Cook from north London. While we waited a small group of Siskin flew by, a Sparrowhawk drifted overhead, and also a Hobby and pair Kestrel patrolled the area. Nearby a couple of Whinchat darted from perch to perch.

The warbler had been seen three times during the previous couple of hours but it had been 20 minutes since it had last appeared. Jonathan walked around the other side of the large bush so we had two pairs of eyes looking out for it and, luck would have it, he soon relocated it.

This Barred Warbler is only my second ever – the first being seen in hand at Portland Bill four years ago after it had been caught in nets overnight. It was a relief to find it far more co-operative compared to the no-show on Saturday. And it didn't seem to mind the many cows and horses grazing close to its favourite spot. A really nice bird.

The Barred Warbler is a first for west London
It was a good twitch and also an opportunity to catch up with Dominic Pia, who I hadn't seen for a good few months. After a bit of a catch-up I headed back home.

I had opted to park to the south of the Moor and walk along the river, rather than down from the Hithermoor Road end, basically because I thought it would make a change. I'm glad I did.

While walking back I happened to look skywards, just on the off-chance of seeing a decent raptor. Earlier that morning the guys at Beddington had seen a Honey Buzzard drift south, followed by a Marsh Harrier flying west.

I discovered later an Osprey was seen over Homethorpe by Ray Baker at 12.30, just half an hour before I was due to leave for Staines. Just a couple of minutes away by car! Then later another Osprey flew over Chobham Common.

With favourable light winds, a raptor watch was on the cards.

Immediately two large birds caught my eye, circling above. One was definitely a Buzzard, but which sort? The other was more interesting as its silhouette immediately struck me as that a harrier. It was very dark, slightly smaller than the Buzzard (which I was hoping would turn out to be a Honey Buzzard, but I couldn't transform it), which it occasionally mobbed.

As the harrier circled it became apparent it was almost certainly a Marsh Harrier! I watched it for a while, as it eventually circled and drifted off to the north. I tried to take a photo but the camera I have is utterly useless and the image below is the best I could come up with (and is heavily cropped).

A Marsh Harrier was a surprise sighting at Staines Moor
– and a first for me in Surrey
Fantastic! Marsh Harriers are a rarity in Surrey, so to see this one out of the blue was a real thrill. It eventually drifted north.

I was mindful Dom was still in the area but I don't have his phone number. I'd hoped he'd seen it, but after sending him a tweet he confirmed he'd focused more on looking at the bushes for passerines rather than looking upwards.

Before leaving the Moor I finally saw at least 100 Goldfinch flying around the area as a flock – quite a sight. An enjoyable couple of hours!

The next few days look really promising with easterly winds liable to coax some really interesting migrant birds to our shores. If I can force myself out of bed early tomorrow morning I might head off to see what's out there.

Saturday 5 September 2015


Well, that was the summer then. Not much to write home about, was it? What made it even worse was that most of Europe has been basking in glorious sunshine with temperatures in the high 80s (old money). This side of the Channel we've struggled to coax the thermometer into the low 70s, while at the same time being washed away by the constant rain.

As we enter September, however, and the evenings noticeably draw in and it's dark at 5.30 in the morning, there is still plenty to look forward to.

Actually, this is my favourite time of the year as two major events on my calendar take place. On the non-birding side I'm looking forward to the Brisca F1 Stock Car World Final at King's Lynn in less than a fortnight – always a spectacular night's racing.

But on the birding side it is the autumn migration I'm champing at the bit to get stuck into.

It already kicked off a couple of weeks ago, with plenty of migrants heading south. Swallows and Sand Martins gather in large numbers on the coast, feeding up ready for the journey south and the Swifts have all but gone now – I saw one lone bird yesterday afternoon at Seaford.

It is the time of year to see migrating Ospreys, Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Redstarts, Whinchats and, of course, Wheatears.

Locally, the major bird-watching sites have all come into their own. Beddington, Tice's Meadow, Leith Hill, Staines Reservoir and Moor, have all had a busy time with decent amounts of migrant bird sightings. On Wednesday Lee Dingain discovered a Barred Warbler on Staines Moor and was it still present today.

At Beddington, in particular, there have seen some decent waders including a Pectoral Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper and Spotted Redshank, while there have been plenty of passerine movement with Whinchat, Spotted Flycatcher and Redstart. The highlight, however, was a Quail found by Roy 'Bulldog' Dennis on August 25.

Around the coast the rare birds are starting to congregate. It is a great time to catch up with  Wrynecks and Red-backed Shrikes. I saw the stunning male Red-backed Shrike at Cuckmere Haven a couple of weeks ago but until yesterday I hadn't connected with a Wryneck.

Not that I haven't tried. It has been a frustrating time, mainly due to the weather. Whenever I've had a few hours spare to go visit the Sussex coast, the weather has been horrible. Rain, rain, and more rain. A visit to Shooters Bottom, near Beachy Head, last week ended in dismal failure and even worse was a ridiculously optimistic trip to Church Norton on Bank Holiday Monday. A total washout. The highlight during both visits were two Whinchat and a pair of Common Redstart.

No Wryneck in the rain at Church Norton – but a smart female Redstart
Prior to that I spent a couple of hours at Oare Marshes on the way down to Margate (plenty of Wheatear there on the Bethesda Medical Clinic lawn) to visit my mum. The highlight here were two Little Stint, one in summer plumage, the other in winter garb.

One of two Little Stint at Oare Marshes
A juvenile Black Tern entertained at Earlswood Lakes – also in the rain
Then ten days ago a juvenile Black Tern arrived at Earlswood Lakes, just south of Redhill – a really smart bird – that I went over to see feeding in the rain prior to work.

My luck searching for a Wryneck changed on Tuesday. An individual without a tail, found by Matt Eade a couple of days earlier at Hope Gap, was still present, along with plenty of other migrants. The weather looked OK so mid-afternoon, I also headed south.

A huge rainstorm had just passed through the area but the clouds soon dispersed and the sun poked through. Hope Gap on a still, sunny day is a fabulous place to visit. The view is always memorable across to the Seven Sisters.

I met up with another birder and we trolled the area at the bottom of the Gap for an hour, but it transpired we were looking in the wrong area.

Matt's dad Bob arrived soon after and while I was searching around further up the hill, the Wryneck was found up on the hillside in a favoured spot to the right as you walk towards Seaford Head.

The Seaford Wryneck – minus a tail
He showed pretty well for about 45 minutes, while mobile at times. He wasn't exactly the smartest Wryneck you will ever see – he looked a bit strange with a stumpy rear end – and he was a bit worn. This Wryneck had obviously had a hard summer and presumably must have narrowly escaped the clutches of a predator, hence the missing tail.

The Wryneck basked in the rare glimpse of the sun
Keeping the Wryneck company were at least six smart Whinchat and numerous Wheatear.

The tail-less Wryneck was mobile but showed well for decent periods
After probably leaving it too long I dashed up to Staines Moor this evening in an attempt to connect with the Barred Warbler. It has proved frustrating for many, while giving good views to others. I wasn't one of the lucky ones. More Whinchat and Wheatear kept me company though.

More trips out are planned in the coming days but the one I'm most looking forward to is a three-day visit to Spurn in a couple of weeks. If the winds turn easterly while I'm there I will be more than happy.

Monday 17 August 2015


A beautiful, if late-starting morning but, for the first day in I don't know how long, I was on a trip out to do a spot of birding! I set off two hours late but it doesn't matter. The plan initially was to head for the Sussex Downs and Hope Gap. Plenty of migrant birds had dropped in there over the weekend, notably a Wryneck. Added to which were a few Pied Flycatchers and Whinchats in the mix.

So Hope Gap was the target – until, that is, I stopped on the A23 for a coffee and breakfast and spotted on the RBA website that a Red-backed Shrike had appeared at Cuckmere Haven. It was only a short distance from the car park too – I was feeling lazy, and that sounded a better option. I could always head for Hope Gap on the way back home.

I made the right choice. A short walk down the path towards the sea towards a small group of birders and a brief look up into a dead tree tree and hey presto, a stonking male Red-backed Shrike! It was as simple as that.

The very smart Red-backed Shrike showed very well
It was simple and very pleasant. No stress. All very quiet and relaxed, on a rare gorgeous August morning.

It was found by local birder Bod Izzard. Is he a relation to Eddie? Well, Bob reckons he might be. And, looking deep into the Izzard family tree, Eddie apparently discovered the Izzards may be related to the Pygmy tribe. It makes sense, as Bob is not the tallest...

Bob Izzard – Pygmy tribe-related Red-backed Shrike finder
Also present at the twitch was omnipresent Sussex birder Geoff Gowlett, always good value for a dry comment or two, and Matt Eade, a young local birder fortunate to live in an area where he gets some great birds. He writes an excellent blog seafordbirding.blogspot.com/. 

Matt mentioned that he'd been up at Hope Gap that morning and all was quiet – all the good birds had flown during the cloudless night – so Cuckmere was definitely the right choice.

The Red-backed Shrike showed extremely well, despite the presence of a few walkers and holidaymakers walking along the path. Eventually it moved to a quieter area above us but it was always showing well for the entire hour I stayed. A brilliant bird, and unusual to be a male at this time of year.

One fabulous and confiding Red-backed Shrike
There was discussion with the birders who arrived a bit later of driving to Bexhill to see the Black Stork. This bird seemed too good to be true in as much it has stayed in the urban areas of Bexhill, and had been spotted in people's gardens, and even by the side of the road. Is it an escapee or a bone fide wild Black Stork? Amazingly, it is likely to be the latter.

I decided to have a go at finding it , but took in Shooter's Bottom near Beachy Head first, in the search for Pied Flycatcher. No joy, it was very quiet there, but I did find a Nightingale feeding in the undergrowth.

I then headed off for Bexhill, where I managed to bump into Matt Eade again, who had seen the Black Stork an hour before I arrived. I drove round for a bit, driving past the Cooden Beach Golf Club and back to Collington Lane West, where it had been seen by Matt.

It was all a bit hopeless – a needle in a haystack job – but I drove back round to the beach, where I bumped into two birders who I'd seen at Cuckmere, and Matt also turned up in his car. The bird had just flown over the pub where the two had stopped for a drink just ten minutes earlier and had dropped down west of the golf course.

Off we trundled and parked up with a number of other birders. I stayed for an hour, maybe more, but there was no sign. Stressed started to build. Another of those wretched twitching dips. I'll never learn. Eventually I dragged myself away and headed home. Needless to say, if it is still about later in the week, I'll be back...

Friday 7 August 2015


I haven't actually been out for a proper birding session since that elusive Hudsonian Whimbrel – and that was in the middle of June!

I did pop in at Oare Marshes for about 40 minutes on the way home from visiting my mum last month. The Bonaparte's Gull was nowhere to be seen, but the highlights was spotting two Mediterranean Gull flying in off the Swale and landing briefly on the East Flood before heading off north west, and seeing a Water Rail walking boldly into the open with a pair of nervous chicks doing their best to follow before scurrying back to the safety of the reeds.

Oare Marshes on a July evening
Bold Water Rail at Oare
Tentative Water Rail chick
I've missed a fair bit – it's a bit shameful to admit but I haven't been anywhere locally all summer, so I haven't seen one Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher or Nightjar, for example. I can't really put my finger on why but other things have taken priority. And I think I needed a bit of time away from birding if I'm honest.

It can take up so much of you time and if you give in to the urge, it can take over from more important things in life. I haven't travelled far at all, apart for a motorsport event last month.

Much of the absence has been due to work, some of it apathy but in recent weeks, it's been shingles!

I went down with shingles two and a half weeks ago and have felt pretty rough ever since. While the rash has gone, the nerve-jangling pain is still there on and off. But the one symptom that is really getting me down is the fatigue.

I'm fine to go to work (although I've just taken the week off) but even a leisurely walk around the local patch wears me out.

Bloody annoying, frankly.

Mind you, not being able to walk the patch isn't currently much of a hardship, as there is bugger all to see, or to hear, for that matter.

Gordon Hay, Ian Kehl and Ray Baker have kept me posted on recent sightings - the highlights of which have been a Black-tailed Godwit and an Oystercatcher, but very little else has paid a visit.

I managed to go for a brief stroll Wednesday and yesterday lunchtime, but all was very quiet – almost deathly so. Best sightings were a pair of Kingfisher, a Yellowhammer, three Swift heading south and a pair of Roe Deer in a wheat field on Mercer's Farm.

Still, while the disappointing summer still hangs on by its fingernails for about another three weeks, the autumn migration will then start in earnest, and hopefully I'll be back at full fitness by then.

Thursday 23 July 2015


Normally when I write a post I don't expect to get much reaction, but suppressing information as a topic certainly will, especially as I was involved in it.

I'll take you back more than six months, to January 12 to be exact. That was the day when Dodge, the lense-carrying Beddington birding guru tweeted the following message.

This was clearly very odd. Dodge and the Sewage Farm gang had heard what sounded like a Hoopoe from behind the hide, but nothing was found when they went to look for it. Why on Earth would a Hoopoe turn up in the middle of winter? Usually, long-staying wintering birds turn up in the late autumn and decide to stay for the long-haul after that. But then again, it wasn't impossible – just highly unlikely.

Then the following day, the mystery was resolved. Two Long-eared Owls were discovered behind the hide in the mass of scrub and woodland on the other side of the footpath. And Long-eared Owls can on occasion sound like a Hoopoe – apparently.

The news was announced and, understandably, there was much excitement, none more so from the writer of this blog.

The Long-eared Owl is a bird of mystery for me as, I have to admit, I'd never seen one. They are crepular and only tend to be active at night. While they are not rare as such, the fact they merge into the background and stay out of sight during the day make it very difficult to find them.

Beddington has history when it comes to these fabulous birds, having had seven roost there during a four-month period in 2008. They were a popular port of call for local birders, but none have been seen since 2009, until now.

A day after the discovery there was a problem. Over-exuberant birders. As the light faded into night, a small group managed to flush an owl from its roost by shining torches and invading the roosting area. Rumour has it tape was tied around the roosting tree to guide birders to the correct spot. Just plain selfish and a benefit to no-one.

With that, the decision was made by the Beddington birding group to put a lid on information for the time being. The news blackout was so severe only a small minority within the group had knowledge as to whether the bird or birds were still present.

I'm a member of the group but couldn't find out anything apart from one being heard after dark on January 22. There was nothing for it but to go to Beddington one evening and hope for the best. So on Monday, January 26 in the late afternoon I was standing around the hide wondering if anyone would turn up to join me.

It was clear by 4.40pm I was going to be on my own. There was not a soul about, so I decided to wait until it got dark, and hoped to hear one call or see one fly off to hunt.

By 5.30 it was pretty dark, although being an urban site close to Croydon, it is always soaked in a half light. All was quiet. It didn't look worth hanging around, so I decided to leave. As I was within the confines of the hide area I had to unlock then lock the gate before heading back to the car.

As I walked back up the path, I heard someone walking behind me. "Who's that?" the figure said. I turned round and said "Who's that?" back. Using my iPhone torch I realised who it was. Kojak! I hadn't seen him in months!

He had been further along the path and heard someone close the gate. He was inquisitive to know who it was, so he followed me up the path.

He asked if I was in a rush to get back, but I only left because I felt a bit of a oddball wandering around in the dark on my own, so it was a good prompt to go back for another search.

We walked along the path in the gloom close to where the roost apparently was, and then suddenly, at 5.40pm, a large bird flew above us over the path heading in the direction of the hide. It was clearly an owl... a Long-eared Owl!

It was just a brief sighting but nonetheless a very exciting and informative one. There was little point going back to the hide as we had no chance of seeing it in the dark, but it meant at least one Long-eared Owl was still present, with the likelihood of more, as these bird like to roost in groups.

It was also my 200th bird species in Surrey (including Spelthorne), and so was quite an event for me. Unfortunately, I couldn't tell anyone! It was also unfortunate that it appeared to be the last known  sighting of a Long-eared Owl at Beddington so far this year. There have been no sightings since, as far as I know...

I went back a few days later, more to immerse myself in something other than thinking about my dad, who had passed away a few days earlier. But nothing.

It was a great pity the owls didn't stick around and that, even if they had done, no-one was going to know about it – but birders don't always acted responsibly, as we have seen with the Red-footed Falcon at the Chatterley Whitfield Collery, near Stoke-on-Trent, in Staffordshire in recent days, which means a few can spoil it for many.