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 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...

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