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 10 March 2015


Well, it hasn't taken long for spring to arrive as the first Wheatears were reported to have landed in Britain over the weekend.

A handful had been noted on the coast but one Wheatear, a stonking male, turned up at Staines Reservoir on Sunday. Rich Sergeant put the news out on Twitter just as I was setting off for Staines after a visit to Thursley Common.

The first Surrey Wheatear of the year seen yesterday
Added to which a bright and energetic female Black Redstart was keeping the Wheatear company on the east bank of the King George VI Reservoir opposite the parking area for Staines Reservoir.

I turned up just as Sean Foote (the creator of a brilliant video on You Tube you all should watch - see here) and Dominic Pia were about to depart. It was great to catch up with them both as, with so any other birding mates, I hadn't met up with either of them for some months.

Seeing the Wheatear and Black Redstart made up for a fairly pointless trip to Thursley Common during the morning. The idea was to see the Hen Harrier, but I went at totally the wrong time of the day. Mid-afternoon is the best bet but being dim I'd yet to figure that out.

I'd been there earlier in the week and missed the Harrier by about 10 minutes, arriving just as it was flying in to roost. Predictably I had no problems locating the Great Grey Shrike, which I found perched high up in a dead birch tree immediately behind my to the north side of Shrike Hill.

The Great Grey Shrike never lets me down
Back at Staines Reservoir, once I'd enjoyed the added bonus of a Wheatear and a Black Redstart I went for a stroll up to the reservoir itself to have a look at what is a remarkable sight of the north basin drained of water.

A new world - and one to look forward to visiting regularly in the coming weeks
I haven't been to Staines for months and it is now turned into an alien world completely unrecognisable from a year ago. In this new world the north basin is a massive canyon with an estuary at the bottom where the tide has seemingly gone out. It is a huge expanse – quite an amazing spectacle.

There were few interesting birds to see when I was there – a couple of Oystercatcher being the highlight.

In the meantime on the south basin, a Great Northern Diver drifted close by, diving constantly. This annual visitor is always good value to see at this time of year. Having wasted time at Thursley I couldn't stay long at the reservoir and couldn't locate the Slavonian and Black-necked Grebes, or the Water Pipit. Hopefully, I'll catch up with these in the next week or so.

Thursday 5 March 2015


As I've mentioned before, I enjoy winter birding as it means I can catch up with a few scarcities I haven't seen before.

It has so far been quite a successful 2015 in that regard but I came down with a crashing dip a couple of weeks ago in Essex, trying to find the Surf Scoter in the Stour Estuary at Wrabness. This juvenile had been around for a while but can be notoriously difficult to find as it's often quite distant.

Sometimes it's best to view from the Suffolk side of the estuary at Sutton Point and other times the Essex side. I chose the Essex side, and spent a good few hours there only to dip.

The Stour Estuary at Wrabness is good for waders
A pair of Knot
A drake Pintail
Despite that it was a pleasant enough Saturday afternoon, with plenty of wildfowl and waders to keep me interested, including a pair of Pintail, plenty of Oystercatcher, Dunlin and Redshank, a couple of Knot, a pair of Red-breasted Merganser and a Grey Plover. But it was still a long way to go to draw a blank.

And, as is typical with twitching, a few days later another Surf Scoter turned up off the Hampshire coast at Gosport, and this one, a fully-grown drake, was keeping company with a pair of Common Scoter.

Prior to visiting the coast last Sunday, I caught up with the Great Grey Shrike at Thursley Common. I found it easily enough perched high up on a dead birch to the east side of Shrike Hill. I stayed quite late in the hope of catching up with the ringtail Hen Harrier that many had seen recently, but equally typically it was a no-show.

The Grey Grey Shrike at Thursley Common was easy to spot
I've visited Thursley many times over the past few years and yet despite Hen Harrier being a regular winter sighting in recent times, I have never managed to see one there. A few years back when with a group of birders I recorded I'd seen a Hen Harrier fly over – one of the group was adamant it was one – but I wasn't totally convinced at the time (you get carried away by other people's conviction when you're not confident enough to dispute the call) and now I'm almost certain it wasn't and was simply a Common Buzzard lazily drifting overhead.

Hopefully, I'll catch up with the Harrier before long.

So, last Sunday morning I trekked down to Gosport and Stokes Bay. It was a very straight-forward journey, and within about a minute of arriving I was already watching the Surf Scoter. It just happens that way sometimes.

The Scoter was bobbing up and down on a choppy sea with its Common Scoter counterparts, and all three disappeared occasionally as they dived for food.

They gradually drifted off to the east so a short drive to the car park close to the Pebbles Fish and Wine Bar near the local sailing club and the short walk to the beach and even better views were had, albeit with eyes streaming from the brisk, cold wind blowing off the sea.

There were plenty of interested passers-by, many of whom stopped for a chat. While this was fine at first, I was aware I was spending more time explaining what I was looking at, rather than actually looking at it.

The Surf Scoter, right, with its Common Scoter companions
The conversation would begin thus:

"Excuse me, can I ask what you are all looking at?"

"Yes, of course. It's a bird called a Surf Scoter."

"Is it rare?"

"Yes, quite rare. It has come all the way from America."

"Oh really. What is it doing here?"

"We get a small number most years. They occasionally winter here. Would you like to have a look through my scope."

Then after the tenth person has asked the first question the conversation goes like this:

"Excuse me, can I ask what you are all looking at?"

"A duck."

"Is it rare?"

"Yes, quite rare."

"Forgive me for being cheeky, but may I have a look?"

"Actually, I've lost sight of it at the moment. Maybe if you come back later."

The Surf Scoter, showing the unique beak
Eventually the Scoters moved further along the coastline, having been disturbed by windsurfers, so I drove the short hop to Walpole Lake to see the wintering Ring-billed Gull everyone knows as Waldo. Waldo has been a feature of the lake since he first wintered there in 2003. He's a bit of a celebrity.

Walpole Lake minus Waldo
Unfortunately I timed my visit for when the tide was out on Hasler Creek. I scanned the mud but there was no sign and he also wasn't interested in venturing inland during the couple of hours I was there. Another time perhaps.