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.

Friday 19 June 2015


The Hudsonian Whimbrel. Flippin' 'eck! Even the name wears you out. Cutting to the chase, I did actually see this American wader, but only for about 30 seconds, and I spent probably 12 hours of my time and nearly 250 miles of driving to get that fleeting view. That's nearly a whole working day of my life for 30 seconds. Bloody ridiculous.

But it was entirely my own fault. Twitching, you see? No good can come from it. I went down on Thursday morning in the insane belief I could get a filthy tick-and-run before promising to spend the afternoon with Annie on a warm summer's day. And I had to pick her up after work. If I was late she would have to wait, and she doesn't like to do that for too long if I have been twitching...

A Whimbrel – but not the Whimbrel
What happened? I saw two Whimbrel, then within 30 minutes I had to leave. Apparently some bloke turned up only slightly earlier and had a wedding to get to in Guildford which left him with only a handful of minutes to spare to get back to Surrey. That news marginally made me feel better. If he got stuck in a traffic jam on the way back, it was game over, he was sleeping in the car.

As it was, I had lots of stress attempting to drive like Lewis Hamilton on my way back home, and having not achieved my goal prior to the attempt it was a miserable experience. Thankfully, the rest of the day was great. Sun, food, banter, alcohol, sleep. As it should be.

What the hell was I thinking driving all that way for a few minutes?  But that was the issue. I wasn't thinking at all.

And I didn't think much on Sunday. A Black-eared Wheatear sprouted at Acre Down  in the New Forest on Saturday and I thought I'd give it a go on Sunday morning. I got up later than hoped but set off, with a stop for breakfast at Cobham on the M25.

The Wheatear, predictably, had gone but it meant I could divert attention to the Yank Whimbrel. Surely this would be straightfoward. But no.

I got down to Church Norton by 9.30 and soon met up with a pair of birders I hope to meet up with again in the future. Actually, the highlight of the day was meeting some great people. Simon and Neil Payne for Northamptonshire (Rushden, to be precise) were great company as were Simon Hudson (we named the Hudsonian Whimbrel 'Simon' in his honour) and his mate Terry (sorry mate, I may have got you name wrong but you are in the photo below if you could put me right), as well as another guy for Holland Haven who's name may have been Adrian Goring, but my memory is rubbish.

The Hudsonian Whimbrel twitching gang
The banter during the morning/afternoon was the best bit of the day as the birding was dire. Highlights during the first five hours  were a Cuckoo flying low across the harbour, a Little Tern darting around feeding, numerous Curlew and Whimbrel, of which one was definitely the Hudsonian, but it was too far away to really id it.

Arriving at 9.30 was the wrong time of day for sure, as the tide was coming in and high tide arrived at 10.15. The Hudsonian Whimbrel was seen flying towards North Wall, where a number of birders had migrated to and were lucky enough to see it. For the majority of us over at the Church Norton end of the reserve all we could do was watch the birders on the North Wall through our scopes enjoying views we couldn't have.

Eventually the tide began to go out further and the flock of Whimbrel and Curlew (with the Hudsonian Whimbrel amongst them) flew back towards us but on to the grass island that had emerged about 300 yards away. Whatever interest there was in this course of events diminished immediately when it dawned on everyone these birds were feeding in deep vegetation and so only fleeting views of heads and beaks were seen.

An arrow clearly showing where the Hudsonian Whimbrel was
A few Whimbrel stepped out on the mud after that, but not the American vagrant as I was entering the sixth hour of my vigil. And with patience and time running out (I had a Sunday roast to cook and the shops were due to close at four!), it got to the point where I had to lick my wounds and set off back to the car park. Really not fun.

And then there was a sound of an engine buzzing in the distance...

A Micro-Lite was heading our way. I jockingly started waving at it to come over, and it duly did! Still quite high though, but it would be the best chance to flush these birds to get things moving.

Suddenly, birds were taking to the air and eventually the Hudsonian Whimbrel was spotted circling back towards the island and it duly turned to show its rump and the lack of white confirmed it to be the bird in question. I saw all this through my bins.

It then landed back in the undergrowth. I had to leave as it was getting horribly late. At least I got to see the damn thing, but hardly worth the wait.

Predictably, an hour later it marched out on to the mud for everyone present to have great views. It is still showing well each day as I write this but I don't think I'll make the effort to go down again.

Where to next time? Well, unless something unbelievably good appears within an hour's drive away, it would be nice to enjoy local birding and Thursley Common looks a great place to visit at the moment. Obliging Hobbys, Redstarts, Dartford Warblers, Tree Pipits and Woodlarks.

Sounds like a proper day's birding.


  1. Fantastic write-up Neil. Yes it was a great day for 'Tim' and I. Very much enjoyed the company on this particular one. I didn't enjoy the twitch however for purposes evident when I was convinced I saw it with the chap who was on 480 for Britain, but it was early in the mix and I was nervously uncommitted enough to have some doubts. (Tim is a hard taskmaster on the voracity of a sighting!)

    To miss the view everyone had was exceedingly annoying. Tim had to get back and I was in the unenviable position of seeing the bird reported twice after I left. What to do... Well I didn't go Monday. The folks talked me out of it! All that petrol. The thing showed on mudflats all Monday out in the open apparently.

    I went Friday, arrived at 0.800am which is practically unheard of for me, I spotted a VERY likely candidate at around 10.30am. One person seemed very competent with me, I saw it fly and I tell you it was 'all' brown on the top. Had I been the lone spotter of it amongst half a dozen people ? This bird went to sleep and apparently it was missed when said bird disappeared !

    A possible Whimbrel which in fact turned out to be a Whimbrel was 'identified' as the bird and several left claiming the tick I am told. I know this because after a 'Large Cosy Breakfast' at the nearby café I bumped into the same chap round at the North Wall side.

    Having sea-watching as a bit of a Forte of mine, I combed every inch of every bird as the Whimbrel and Curlew came into land in the same long grass over the other side. I can tell you that it was around five minutes walk and twelve minutes drive round to the other side to get to the North wall, however you had to be a local and have some knowledge of how to get round to Church Lane.

    Anyways after digressing, I scanned over the next three-quarters of an hour every individual coming in, between 1.30pm and 2.15pm I watched every bird and despite the teeth of a tidal gale, I spotted white on every bird except one coming in to land, very good scope views convinced me that I had not seen any white on this bird either. I reported it nervously into Birdguides more confident that I had seen the necessary, it was the first official report that day, was the bird still there ? It was reported in flight two hours later and again today as I write.

    I totally agree it is the 'last time' I spend all day looking for one very difficult to see bird just because it is rare and slightly different to a Eurasian version, well that is at least until next week anyway !

    Third time unlucky after hitting the Hudsonian Godwit and Greater Yellowlegs on the first day of trying. The twitching saga continues... or does it ! >;o)

    Hope to meet all in the not too distant future, a days proper birding is sought after, to counteract this run of staring into space for hours on end on a Sunday afternoon.

    1. Interestingly not being a social media junkie not knowing what 'hostname' means I in fact appear to be appearing on your Live Twitter Feed as someone from Pontypridd, if I am reading it rightly. LOL

      I am of course from West / North-West London, I need twitter training and so on if I am to continue with this online conversing lark !

    2. I'm guessing you went back again today!

  2. Hi mate, no I am convinced that I had the similar view to you and Tim on at least three occasions and yes toddling about on the saltmarsh with the supercilium showing would have been very nice, I had a breather weekend though it was tempting and crucially annoying considering the one day wonder Tereks Sand just down the road. An elusive species that normally only stays a day.

    If Tim was up for it I mighta gone to Bonaparte's Gull and Turtle Dove at Oare Marshes. The Bonaparte's I reckon is a third year visitor to that reserve as we have seen it in 2013 and 2014 in the same spot. Went ten years without any and then had 3 in 2013 2014 including the Eastbourne bird. What was that about buses ?

    I have already got to explain Green Sand on the year list for the first time since 2012 to Tim, Tereks or Turtle Dove I might be in big trouble ! LOL

    Tereks I have never seen and are very elusive after day one, I would have been in the neighbourhood. Someone local reckoned the Hudsonian could stay a while, I reckon that could be the case like the Yellowlegs.