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.

Tuesday 24 February 2015


The day after my dad's funeral I took what I thought was a well-earned day off. It had been a long and emotionally difficult week getting everything arranged, but thankfully the day itself went according to plan and I felt I gave my fantastic dad the send-off he well deserved.

The next day, last Tuesday, felt a bit strange. Life sort of just goes back to normal, when for anyone who is grieving and has a sense of loss, life is anything but.

It was a beautiful day. I needed to get out so birding came to the rescue. It's such a fabulous way to force your mind to focus on other things. I decided to travel to Old Lodge on Ashdown Forest to see if I could find the Little Bunting that had been there for some days.

When I arrived there were, predictably, plenty of birders around and I met up with a group some 400 yards along the fence line from the car park. They were all looking at an area of long grass with a fallen tree across it. The Bunting had, apparently, been seen on telegraph wires earlier in the morning at about 8.30am. It was now 11.30am, and it not been seen since.

While we all stood around an waited, a Woodlark perched up on a wire and a Raven was heard calling. There were plenty of Reed Bunting, a flock of which the Little Bunting liked to keep company with, but it still failed to show.

While conversation passed the time it became clear the bird wasn't going to show for a while. A birder I've met on a few occasions recently called Alan, who was originally from New Zealand (but I can never remember his surname) opted to take a walk down the track a bit further, and I decided to do the same thing but from the other side of the fallen tree.

As I took a circuitous route near where Alan was scanning the trees, a flock of Reed Buntings flew up out of some grass. There were quite a few of them and it looked promising. As they made their way through the trees, heading back to the favoured fallen tree, we all hurried back to our original vantage point.

Geoff Gowlett was on to a promising looking bird but then it dropped out of sight. Then I spotted what looked like a small Bunting perched high up on a branch of the fallen tree. It had a dark brown crest with a lighter brown wide strip through it and the bird appeared to be significantly smaller than a Reed Bunting. Alan checked it out and confirmed it was indeed the Little Bunting.

The Little Bunting showed well
A result. For the next 20 minutes or so we had very good and enjoyable views of this scarcity in the sunlight as it stayed in the vicinity. It dropped down to feed next to an anthill, still in view, before flying back up into a silver birch.

The Little Bunting preparing to take flight
It is always a relief when a twitch goes to plan and particularly on this day.

Sunday 22 February 2015


Four days after the Iceland Gull conundrum I headed off east to Essex. The task was to see a couple of male Serin at Shoeburyness, to the east of Southend, present since January 31.

I like Serin. I saw quite a few in Spain last September – they're attractive little finches – and with little else to go for that day apart from the Surf Scoter further up the coast – but that was a tad too far to travel to make it an enjoyable day out – a nice little trip to the seaside sounded appealing.

It was a pleasant day, too, with plenty of sunshine to add a touch of warmth to the air.

When I arrived at Gunners Park, there were plenty of walkers around, and people generally enjoying the sunny morning.

Brent Geese on Shoeburyness shoreline
Out on the beach, where the tide had gone out, six Brent Geese were feeding, as well as a few Curlew, Redshank and Oystercatcher. There were also birders aplenty milling about, and I was told by one of them the Serin had been seen earlier that morning – I didn't arrive until gone 9.30am – but they had flown a few 100 yards away into some scrub.

Rather than chasing around the place I went to an area which I was also told was one of their favourite spots by a small lake and waited.

While I stood around a very tame Stonechat skipped around the area and then the word went out the Serin were further along the park close to some tennis courts.

A group of us marched up to the spot, but the birds had either dropped down on to the ground and were feeding or had flown somewhere else. After about 20 minutes I meandered back to the original spot I started from.

Then low and behold, the word went out again they had re-emerged in bushes by the tennis courts. Off we trudged again.

This time I wasn't to be disappointed. There were the two Serin, close to one another in the bushes, showing quite well. Lovely birds, and everyone present got to see them.

And then, suddenly, they were off. They flew overhead towards the sea and across Mess Road above some housing and then dropped out of sight.

Everyone seemed to be happy with the views they'd had but walking back with a birder who had come down from Norfolk, I suggested we have look behind the housing to see if we could get a view of them from the seafront. It hadn't looked as if they had gone that far.

So we walked around the back.

Lonesome pines: therein lie a pair of Serin
Over-exposed images of one of the Serin in the pines
It was a bit of an obstacle course with boulders and a few raised platforms but my Norfolk colleague clambered up on a bank towards a pair of lone pine trees and struck gold. The two Serin were in the trees, and were showing nicely. We watched for a few minutes as a couple of other birders joined us before the two birds took flight again, but this time they circled around us and then dropped down on to some grassy vegetation a few feet away.

Not the best photos, I admit, but digiscoping fidgety
small birds isn't that straightforward
The area where the Serin fed by the seafront
Here they stayed for a good 15 minutes and so we were able to enjoy watching these smart finches happily feed without being disturbed. Good stuff.

Once the 15 minutes were up they took off again and they flew back over the housing and towards the tennis court area again.

I liked this site, and it is no surprise it acts as a magnet for migrants during the spring and autumn with the variety of habitat it contains. And seeing as it isn't too difficult to get to, I won't be surprised if I end up going back again some time this year.

Friday 20 February 2015


I went to Beddington a couple of weeks ago, on February 4, to look at gulls. As you probably know, gulls are not my strongest subject by any means, but with an Iceland Gull seen the day before I thought it would be worth a trip out.

And as my dad had passed away a few days earlier Annie thought it would be good for me to get away from it all for a few days and take myself off and think about something else.

It was the right thing to do. Without doubt birding has, contradictory to popular belief, kept me sane these past few months.

It has helped clear the fog and distracted me from the anxieties of life – of which there are many and seem to increase as I get older – even if just for a brief period. It has also helped me recently rediscover what I like most about birding – and that is all of it. Twitching, listing, the banter, the joy of watching nature at work. It's all great, even in the pissing rain.

So, on a damp late afternoon I was standing on my own in the hide staring at hundreds of gulls looking for a white winger. I took a break now and again, walked around the southern edge of the main lake, and discovered a few Snipe, while in front of the hide feeding on the edge of the lake a Water Rail showed well.

It took a bit of time but eventually I found what I was looking for – an Iceland Gull on the landfill. It looked like the second winter bird Kojak had put a photo up of on his blog 'Where the Wind Takes Me!' http://kojak020.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/icy-conditions.html the day before.

A Beddington needle-in-a-haystack
The Iceland Gull in question

What's the opinion from these images? Is this a bona fide
Iceland Gull or the Pitsea hybrid?
I was well pleased with that. But then when I got home, I noticed on the Surrey Bird Club website the description of the Beddington gull as possibly the Pitsea hybrid/Kumlien's. I was a bit confused. What was this all about?

The Pitsea gull is apparently an Iceland Gull with possible Herring Gull descendence. Gulls can travel far distances during the day and can migrate between places such as Pitsea in Essex and Beddington often. So, this one could be the same bird

As I'm not an expert I have no idea if it is or not. Perhaps readers can let me know what they think.

Interesting though, whatever it is.

Wednesday 18 February 2015


It is two days after my father's funeral at Thanet Crematorium, two weeks after the day I was dreading was going to happen but knew it would eventually. Sadly, in the early hours of Monday, February 2, 2015, my dad, Peter Randon, passed away in his sleep. He was 88.

While it was inevitable at some point, it was still a shock when I received the phone call. Having suffered from dementia, accelerated perhaps by a fall that caused a subdural haematoma in April last year, allied to continuing bladder infections that caused him so much confusion, my dad went from driving his car and going about his business in April 2014, to becoming bed-ridden and barely able to communicate by December.

While I was relieved he didn't suffer for as long as some do with this terrible illness, a day or so afterwards the reality kicked in, and because I then naturally thought of him when he was well, I missed him terribly.

He was such a fabulous bloke and as I spoke of him during my eulogy at his funeral on Monday, I explained that not only was he my dad, he was my mate too.

I spoke of childhood memories living on a number of farms, including at Tilburstow Hill Farm, near Godstone in Surrey between 1968 and 1981. I designed a spread of photos in the Order of Service so people could visualise his story as I was speaking and better imagine his life.

One of them is featured below. It is of dad in the farmyard about to repair a Ford tractor in 1978. The farm workshop, an old barn he converted into a fully-operational workshop, with winches, pulleys, a mechanic's pit, plus all manner of jigs and frames for arc and gas-welding gear, is in the background. My dad was a remarkable engineer.

I spoke of how someone once visited the farm and met my dad. He recalled in disbelief how dad had dismantled an entire tractor for maintenance, all two tons of it, and had put all the parts of the engine, gearbox, hydraulics, ignition system – you name it – into assorted boxes and then put it all back together again without so much as a manual.  

Dad at Tilburstow Hill Farm with a Ford Tractor by the
farm workshop in 1978
I spoke of how great he was at driving tractors – the best I have ever seen. He could reverse a four-wheel trailor – the ultimate test in reversing any vehicle – without so much as a hesitation into any gap.

He was fantastically practical. He built numerous trailors for carrying silage, hay and straw from scratch. He built a massive shed for storing stock when my parents started up a greeting cards business, and built, with the help of my uncle Harry and extension to their house – it was a beautiful piece of work.

They were happy days. Dad maintained all the farm equipment on the 1,500-acre Tilburstow Hill Farm estate, as well as driving some of the larger vehicles, including a Hesston Forage Harvester – a American Diesel V8-powered machine pictured below, which he rebuilt and maintained.

Dad driving the Hesston Forage Harvester with me alongside
in the tractor and loader - Coldhardbour, Tilburstow Hill, 1978

In 1981 he stopped working on the farm, rented a house on the estate and set up a greeting card business. This he did virtually with nothing, and from a modest set-up – just one stall in a market – eventually, ably assisted by my mum, my parents progressed to owning their own shop.

They retired in 1994 and moved to Cliftonville, near Margate. And that is where my mum continues to live.

One of the other remarkable things about my dad was how he developed into a voracious writer in his 70s. He wrote all manner of stories, including about growing up during the Second World War. Considering he had no writing experience whatsoever, he became very good at it.

He managed to have some stories published in local papers, and then progressed to magazines, including the main centre-spread feature on life on a farm in the Best of British magazine.

While I was researching his story, I went on to Google to look up some information on the Kent Farm Institute, where he studied in 1948. There he received the Silver Cup for being the best at the practical side of the course. He was not interested in the academic side at all, but excelled at demonstrating his skills at driving tractors, thatching roofs and ploughing fields.

I tapped in Kent Farm Institute, and the second item on Google that came up was titled, An Agricultural Apprenticeship: dung spreading in Kent, 1940.

This sounded OK, so I clicked on the link and it took me to the BBC website and a section called World War Two: People's War. An archive of World War Two memories – written by the public, gathered by the BBC.

And this story An Agricultural Apprenticeship was written by D Peter Randon. My dad. The D stands for Donald, his first name which no-one ever used.

There was also another story on the site called Doodlebugspotting in Kent – a near miss. Both are fantastic stories and excellent reads worth reading for an insight into life on a farm in 1940.

It has been a surreal couple of weeks. Then yesterday I went to Ashdown Forest to see the Little Bunting and on the way back went passed the house we lived in at Tilburstow Hill.

Tilburstow Hill Farm yesterday afternoon
We lived on the right side and on the other side of a partition wall, the herdsman and his family on the left. It was a thriving farm then and has now been converted back into one amazing house, with the barns into a number of beautifully designed dwellings.

A very good friend and Annie and I is a partner for a local architects and it was he who managed the rebuild of the house and barns. He knows the owners well and has invited me to go back there some time soon to meet them and to bring photos of the farm as it was back in the 70s. One of the photos will be of my dad in the yard.

Thank you Tilburstow Hill Farm. You bring back very happy memories.