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.

Monday 26 January 2015


Not much has been happening on the birding front recently apart from a circuitous route to Margate via Hythe to see the juvenile Night Heron last Thursday and a fruitless visit to Juniper Bottom near Mickleham to find Hawfinch.

The satnav suggested the journey to Hythe would normally take about an hour and ten minutes and I took a punt the M25 would be traffic-jam free after a massive artic lorry smashed into the central reservation a couple of days earlier causing mayhem, resetting of concrete and a lane closure.

As it turned out, these roadworks were not problem but I made a calamitous error soon after. Well, actually I'd made one before I left the house.

I should have checked the traffic reports, as I was vaguely aware a recent Channel Tunnel closure could have a knock-on effect for traffic on the M20, but I just didn't bother looking.

The second error was to ignore the rows upon rows of lorries lining up on the inside lane of the M20 just before the turn-off for Detling Hill and the M2. What I should have done was peel off there and take a longer route via the M2 and then head down the coast to Hythe. But no, I was feeling optimistic so I carried on, even though the gantry signs were all claiming Junction 8 and 9 were both closed for Operation Stack.

For those who have no idea what that means, it's was quite simple. Because of the mass of lorries heading across the Channel and delays at the tunnel junctions 8 and 9 were closed and being used as a parking lot for hundreds of lorries  – and I mean hundreds. And boy, was the queue just to get to junction 8 one massive pain in the arse.

Operation Stack
It took a couple of hours to get off the motorway which, I guess isn't so bad, but I was supposed to be visiting my mum, and not taking in a juvenile Night Heron at Hythe.

The issue was I'd got this far, so I had to persevere. I'd get to Margate but later than planned.

I eventually got to Hythe and the muddy footpath to Nockey's Quarry, which consisted of a boating lake by the coast in the middle of nowhere. I was also warned not to venture too close to the bushes where the heron was located as there is a bad-tempered bailiff who owns/runs the place and he's quite unpleasant if he thinks you're trespassing.

Another chap from Sevenoaks was already on site and he located the Heron for me, which I found straight away. So there it was, the Night Heron, perched on a branch, asleep with its back to me.

And that was pretty much how it stayed, apart from momentarily shuffling along the branch, revealing its head to preen itself before reverting back to its unsociable pose. To my mind, it didn't look happy.
A sleeping Night Heron. Worth the trip...
So that was it. As a birding experience it features rather low in the 'memorable' category. And also there is the nagging question as to whether this Night Heron is a legit tick or not. The reason for the doubt is because this area has a habit of turning up rare herons (the Chinese Pond Heron last year is the most notable example) in recent years.

So one has to ask a few questions: firstly is it just coincidence or is it possible these herons all come from a collection somewhere nearby? If that is the case, why is no-one coming forward to say as much? Then if they are all legitimate birds, why is this area so popular with herons?

My personal view is this Night Heron is tickable (well, I would say that, wouldn't I). Other regions in Britain are good for other species of bird – for example, The Burgh in West Sussex is great for raptors. When the Pallid Harrier was there a couple of years back, it was possible to see at least nine different species of raptor in one afternoon.

So Hythe is good for herons. It's by the coast, there are plenty of places for them to roost and to feed. Up the road in Kent, Bough Beech reservoir had a Night Heron during the autumn, and Purple Herons have breed along the coast at Dungeness in the past.

The Juniper Common visit yesterday didn't produce any Hawfinch. This is the area where more than 100 appeared a couple of winters ago - one of those remarkable events that only happen once in a lifetime.

Three had been seen for a couple of days but as one chap I met up with said, it's easier finding 100 Hawfinch than three.
Lovely old damp woodland up above Juniper Bottom – good for Marsh Tit
It was still a pleasant walk, and at least I found a few Marsh Tit in the trees, and saw two Raven flying overhead.

What's next on the agenda. Probably another exciting twitch - the Ring-necked Duck at Bray, perhaps? Birding is full of heart-stopping moments!

Thursday 8 January 2015


And so a new year begins. With Surrey listing currently not high on my agenda I'm taking the go-wherever-the-urge-takes-me approach at the moment, and that appears predominantly to be the Sussex coast.

I enjoy winter birding. There's less pressure to find stuff than during the spring and autumn, and if there are any rare or scarce birds on offer, they tend to be long-stayers. If you dip one there's always a chance you can go back for another try. This week was a case in point.

I began 2015 with a late-afternoon stroll around the local patch on January 3, when I caught up with the redhead Smew on Mercers Lake, plus a nice view of a Kingfisher perched on a branch over the lake. It was cold and wet, but it got the birding juices flowing a little bit.

I've managed to conjure a few days off during this first week on January, in the knowledge normal service will resume next week when I'll be staring at a computer for hours on end.

On Sunday morning I headed off in dense Surrey fog which turned into bright sunshine in Sussex for Horse Eye Levels to have another look at the wintering Richard's Pipit. But while Chris Ball, who pens the Pevensey Leveller blog had relocated the Pipit, it had gone missing ten minutes prior to my arrival, and stayed that way.

I found compensation with distance views of a ring-tailed Hen Harrier and a darting Dartford Warbler in the bushes. No Short-eared Owls though.

A bit annoying, but on the way back home I drove the short distance to Jevington for the Rough-legged Buzzard, which didn't let me down. It was perched in distant trees for some time, but when a Magpie disturbed it took flight momentarily, landing on the hillside, before taking to the air once again. This time the Rough-legged Buzzard put in a spectacular areal display, assisted by a group of mobbing Carrion Crows. It flew low overhead before circling higher and higher, and looked for all the world as though it was going to continue cruising off into the distance.

The Rough-legged Buzzard dropped onto the hillside before taking flight
The Rough-legged Buzzard soared high up, accompanied by its crow fan club...
...before returning to its favoured vantage point
But once the crows had got bored and peeled off, it turned round and flew back to its favoured area and landed back in the trees again.

What a striking bird this is. As the weeks progress it is changing colour, with its head much lighter than a few weeks back and a darker patch under its chest.

A vocal Corn Bunting was an added bonus
The visit also included a singing Corn Bunting in the trees, three Chiffchaff unusually feeding off the roof of the farmhouse opposite, plus two Grey Wagtails doing the same thing.

Next day and a late return trip to Horse Eye Level (I'm a glutton for punishment). The Richard's Pipit had been showing well earlier, but eventually it was seen again although deeper into the field it continues to call home.
The Richard's Pipit wasn't exactly showing as well as it could of done
With the light fading fast, at least three Short-eared Owls put on a great show. Such great value, these birds. Certainly more than a Pipit wandering around in the grass not doing an awful lot.

Then yesterday I had time for another Sussex sojourn. A Dusky Warbler had been expertly discovered by Ads Bowley in bushes at Chichester GP on Monday, just behind a bungalow at East Lake, and having never seen one before it was too much of a temptation.

Also, while down in that area I could take in the four Whooper Swans just up the road in a field of kale by the church at Barnham on the way back.

As days out go it was neither good nor bad. It wasn't bad because at least I got to see both the Dusky Warbler and a couple of Whooper Swan. But it wasn't that good either, because the views were glimpses at best.
A group of birders eager to catch sight of the Dusky Warbler

Yes, it was in there somewhere!
The Dusky Warbler was typically frustrating, keeping out of sight much of the time. It could be seen skulking in the undergrowth now and again, and it helped with its location by calling intermittently, but it only emerged for milliseconds and when it flew out into the bushes opposite it was very hard to relocate. It then went quiet for about 45 minutes. It had probably crept off somewhere else. It returned after I'd left.

Anyway, at least I got a view. I then made the classic mistake of assuming I'd get much better results seeing the Whooper Swans. I joined up with Mike and Lynn Hunt, who were at the Dusky Warbler twitch, and I discovered Mike was the elder brother of Tice's Meadow birder John Hunt. Small world.

A Short-eared Owl performed well at Barnham
The swans were in a field of kale with a large group of Mute Swans. It was a trek to the best vantage point along the pathway from the church and it was difficult in the fading light to find them as they fed with there heads down in the kale much of the time. But after much searching Mike found two Whooper Swan. Not exactly earth-shattering views, but a sighting nonetheless. A nice distraction was another Short-eared Owl hunting in the field next to us.

That's the first week of 2015 done – just 51 to go...