I'll take you back more than six months, to January 12 to be exact. That was the day when Dodge, the lense-carrying Beddington birding guru tweeted the following message.
This was clearly very odd. Dodge and the Sewage Farm gang had heard what sounded like a Hoopoe from behind the hide, but nothing was found when they went to look for it. Why on Earth would a Hoopoe turn up in the middle of winter? Usually, long-staying wintering birds turn up in the late autumn and decide to stay for the long-haul after that. But then again, it wasn't impossible – just highly unlikely.
Then the following day, the mystery was resolved. Two Long-eared Owls were discovered behind the hide in the mass of scrub and woodland on the other side of the footpath. And Long-eared Owls can on occasion sound like a Hoopoe – apparently.
The news was announced and, understandably, there was much excitement, none more so from the writer of this blog.
The Long-eared Owl is a bird of mystery for me as, I have to admit, I'd never seen one. They are crepular and only tend to be active at night. While they are not rare as such, the fact they merge into the background and stay out of sight during the day make it very difficult to find them.
Beddington has history when it comes to these fabulous birds, having had seven roost there during a four-month period in 2008. They were a popular port of call for local birders, but none have been seen since 2009, until now.
A day after the discovery there was a problem. Over-exuberant birders. As the light faded into night, a small group managed to flush an owl from its roost by shining torches and invading the roosting area. Rumour has it tape was tied around the roosting tree to guide birders to the correct spot. Just plain selfish and a benefit to no-one.
With that, the decision was made by the Beddington birding group to put a lid on information for the time being. The news blackout was so severe only a small minority within the group had knowledge as to whether the bird or birds were still present.
I'm a member of the group but couldn't find out anything apart from one being heard after dark on January 22. There was nothing for it but to go to Beddington one evening and hope for the best. So on Monday, January 26 in the late afternoon I was standing around the hide wondering if anyone would turn up to join me.
It was clear by 4.40pm I was going to be on my own. There was not a soul about, so I decided to wait until it got dark, and hoped to hear one call or see one fly off to hunt.
By 5.30 it was pretty dark, although being an urban site close to Croydon, it is always soaked in a half light. All was quiet. It didn't look worth hanging around, so I decided to leave. As I was within the confines of the hide area I had to unlock then lock the gate before heading back to the car.
As I walked back up the path, I heard someone walking behind me. "Who's that?" the figure said. I turned round and said "Who's that?" back. Using my iPhone torch I realised who it was. Kojak! I hadn't seen him in months!
He had been further along the path and heard someone close the gate. He was inquisitive to know who it was, so he followed me up the path.
He asked if I was in a rush to get back, but I only left because I felt a bit of a oddball wandering around in the dark on my own, so it was a good prompt to go back for another search.
We walked along the path in the gloom close to where the roost apparently was, and then suddenly, at 5.40pm, a large bird flew above us over the path heading in the direction of the hide. It was clearly an owl... a Long-eared Owl!
It was just a brief sighting but nonetheless a very exciting and informative one. There was little point going back to the hide as we had no chance of seeing it in the dark, but it meant at least one Long-eared Owl was still present, with the likelihood of more, as these bird like to roost in groups.
It was also my 200th bird species in Surrey (including Spelthorne), and so was quite an event for me. Unfortunately, I couldn't tell anyone! It was also unfortunate that it appeared to be the last known sighting of a Long-eared Owl at Beddington so far this year. There have been no sightings since, as far as I know...
I went back a few days later, more to immerse myself in something other than thinking about my dad, who had passed away a few days earlier. But nothing.
It was a great pity the owls didn't stick around and that, even if they had done, no-one was going to know about it – but birders don't always acted responsibly, as we have seen with the Red-footed Falcon at the Chatterley Whitfield Collery, near Stoke-on-Trent, in Staffordshire in recent days, which means a few can spoil it for many.