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 6 December 2016


It's December already! Christmas is less than three weeks away and before you know it the new year will be with us and the time when most birders begin a new list.

Listing is one of those aspects of birding that never ends. If you commit yourself to a target for the year, which will involve a fair bit of twitching, it can only go one of two ways – success or failure. You will chase around the country to go and look at a bird, successfully see it or dip it, and then drive back again. Even if you do see the bird, the experience isn't always that much fun. Part of the problem is the travelling.

Don't get me wrong, I will sometimes go and twitch a bird these days, as I did last Wednesday morning for my second juvenile Rose-coloured Starling just 25 minutes down the road in the environs of Crawley. It was a nice to see, but it didn't take much effort.

The juvenile Rose-coloured Starling in Crawley
Whereas, this week I haven't been inclined to drive for about an hour and 20 minutes to the south coast to twitch the Desert Wheatear (I saw one at Worthing a few years back) or the Ring-necked Duck at Dungeness, which would actually be a lifer for me.

It's the driving. I do enough of it during the week anyway. The idea of getting in the car before first light, after scraping the ice off the windscreen in the cold, and charging down the M25, M23 or M20 to beat the rush-hour traffic does sort of defeat the object of birding. To my mind, at some point I will see a Ring-necked Duck, or another Desert Wheatear, or a Siberian Accentor (well, maybe not). But I intend to see them in my own time.

The only lists I keep these days are a slow-burning life list and, along with a group of local birders, a yearly patch list. I put together the daily sightings for the Holmethorpe Sand Pits local patch blog that lists all the birds seen during the year. It is painstaking work if I'm honest – especially as I recently lost all the data for October and spent quite a few days putting it back together again.

But keeping a record for the local patch is something worth focusing on. And walking the patch means more time actually birding rather than adding miles on the clock. The problem is lately I haven't done much of either. 

But no matter. I will get some time during the winter to go birding. There are often plenty of decent birds to see on any given day during the winter.

If I had been inclined to do a bit of driving today I could have started off at Dungeness to see the Ring-necked Duck, and perhaps a Caspian Gull, followed by a drive west towards Eastbourne for the Desert Wheatear and a Black Redstart, then headed north to Ashdown Forest for a Great Grey Shrike and finished off with the Rose-coloured Starling in Crawley again.

Actually, now I come to think about it, that isn't such a bad day out!

Tuesday 22 November 2016


So, what have I been doing lately?

It's that time of year again, when all the Siberian Accentors, Isabelline Wheatears and Forster's Terns turn up, stay a while and then leave, never to be seen again.

It is just after that sequence of events happens that suddenly, as if waking from a long hibernation I reappear out into the cold, wet, dark days of late autumn/early winter and go birding once again.

But then the days are short, the birds are scant and... well, I go back to my pit and dream more dreams of wondrous birding experiences in Britain (holidays to Majorca don't count in this sulk) in 2017.

Something has to change, but I'm not sure that it will for the time being. My busy work pattern every year coincides with the best time to go birding – usually September and October.

And next year looks like being even more hectic as I take on a new venture. I'm self-employed and while the new project will only take up a few days a month, those days would have been times I'd have gone out for the day. 

Never mind, it will help with the bills, etc. But that is an issue at my time of life. I'm 57. I can't quite believe I've reached that age, as I still feel mentally about 12. And the time is racing by, which is alarming to say the least. I don't want to spend all the rest of my life chasing around worrying about how I'm going to pay the bills every bloody day.

My uncle Michael (my dad's brother) who died this summer, gave his son, my cousin Mark, one simple piece of advice. He said most of the things you worry about in life will never happen, so don't waste your energy on them.

On the flip side of that, the same can be said of waiting for good things to happen. They won't if you don't make an effort. And there's no point waiting for a rainy day either. So many of my parent's generation saved and scrimped all their lives but ended up too old or ill to ever to enjoy the fruits of their hard work. It makes me feel very sad if I think about that too much.

That is why I shall go on more holidays in future – even if I have to work even harder to make up the deficit afterwards. We all need treasured memories – experiences we can recall for years to come. They don't have to be epic adventures, just days and weeks where you can relax and reflect and enjoy moments. Snapshots that last a lifetime.

Tuesday 1 November 2016


The year has flown by, hasn't it?

Unfortunately, the autumn has sprinted past. While it has been an epic couple of months for many birders, with some incredible sightings on the east coast and all the way up to Shetland, I can't personally say it has been as thrilling for me.

If you read this blog you'll know I go through this same old scenario, the same old routine, most years. Nothing much has changed. I haven't contributed to the patch at all in recent weeks and that is likely to continue for at least another fortnight. At some point life will become a little bit less frantic but by then most of the excitement of the latest migration will have dissipated.

Having said all that, I quite enjoy birding during the winter months. There's less urgency, and there are a few nice birds dotted about, plus a few long-staying wintering birds, to go and see.

What I could really do with, however, is for our local Holmethorpe birders to discover more new species on the patch. Those who have been following our local events at Holmethorpe will be aware that we are involved in a friendly(!) competition with fellow Surrey patch Tice's Meadow for the honour of winning the inaugural Horton Hay Cup.

This cup, which now actually exists, goes to which ever site records the most bird species during the year. The incentive for the trophy came about after Tice's claimed their site was the best in Surrey. While that statement is likely not to be too far from the truth – although Beddington will clearly argue their case for that title – it couldn't be ignored so I came forward with the challenge.

It had been close up until this autumn, and I lived in hope that Ray Baker's Yellow-browed Warbler and Great White Egret last month would make the run to December 31st that more exciting.

My hopes have been dashed, however. Just when I thought we were in with a shout, Tices' came up with Spoonbill, their own Yellow-browed Warbler and a Ring Ouzel.

We rallied briefly yesterday when Ray had a fly-over Woodlark, a real rarity for the patch, which means with just two months to go the score is Tice's Meadow 149, Holmethorpe 142.

A seven-point deficit is too much to claw back, although we have an outside chance. The obvious bird still to appear is Smew. Usually a regular winter visitor, we haven't had one yet this year. Short-eared Owl is another possibility, as is Little Gull. I would still hope for maybe a flyover Bewick's or Whooper Swan, or a Hen Harrier or Marsh Harrier. Snow Bunting or Lapland Bunting would be great, and a Waxwing wouldn't go amiss. All these – apart from Smew – are the longest of longshots, but we live in hope.

For us 142 is a decent score, as 143 is the patch record. We may not win the Horton Hay Cup this year, but if we can somehow get to 144, the year would have been a great one for the patch.

Tuesday 25 October 2016


I went on holiday near Benidorm last week and saw lots of tits.

Five species, in fact. And one of them was a first for me. More of that later.

Annie and I would have preferred to have gone to Mallorca to be honest, but we couldn't find a deal that appealed. In the end we settled for the Costa Blanca region, and enjoyed the use of a villa near the village of Finestrat up in the hills just 11 kilometres from Benidorm. It was a last-minute decision to grab a bit of late warm sunshine before the long winter ahead.

The Willows villa near Finestrat - our home for a week
The villa was great, with a fantastic view of the nearby landmark, the Puig Campana mountain. The one slight drawback to the week was the reason for going there – the weather. It didn't turn out as hot and sunny as we would have liked. It was pretty much split down the middle, with three and a half days of sunshine and three and half days of cloud and occasional rain.

Puig Campana
One day in particular was memorable due to a thunderstorm that delivered rain of biblical proportions, with torrents of water pouring down through the village as we were driving back from an excellent fish lunch in the coastal town of Altea. It was all a bit alarming at the time.

Before we left I obviously had a list of birds in my head I quite liked to see and had the impression the area where we were staying would produce a few decent sightings.

When we arrived, however, I soon realised that any bird sightings would have to be dragged out kicking and screaming. The reviews described the villa as peaceful, and it certainly was that. In fact, it was deathly quiet. Hardly a sound. Remarkably so. You could almost hear a pin drop.

A Spanish squirrel
It was such a contrast to our amazing Mallorcan stay, which I will never forget. Maybe it was the time of year, I don't know, but during the first couple of days, I could only conjure up the odd GoldcrestCoal Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Chiffchaff, Blackbird, Robin, and a couple of Sardinian Warbler. The other wildlife of interest were a pair of Spanish Squirrel close by the villa.

A snapshot of a male Sardinian Warbler
The one standout during the first 48 hours was the distinctive call of a Crossbill, and out of the blue, eight flew over the the villa. They would be a regular feature.

Interestingly, as the week progressed, it was clear that raptor sightings were going to be very few and far between. In fact, the only birds of prey I saw for the entire week were two Kestrel (which I hoped would metamorphose into Lesser Kestrel) on the penultimate morning, feeding on insects high up around the villa.

But no matter. It is also amazing how, despite it being relatively quiet, the list of birds gradually built up as the week progressed.

Crested Tit in the pines at Puig Campana
Events began to improve considerably on Monday. Early that morning a Dartford Warbler called and then flew across the road above the villa, and I also heard another, possibly its partner.

The highlight, however, was the sighting of my first ever Crested Tit. Having not been to Scotland since I was 14, finding a Crested Tit was always going to a bit of an achievement for me. I saw this one during brief walk around the base of the Puig Campana rock. I heard the call first and then saw it flitting through the pine trees. Also, nearby I managed to find a couple of Firecrest.

A Firecrest flitted through the pine trees nearby

A good morning then. During the second half of the week we tended to go on trips out of the villa down to the coast for lunch. We met up with a colleague of mine from the Express one lunchtime, who was also on holiday with his wife at the same as us up the coast in Moraira. It was noticeable how the weather along the coast was significantly warmer and drier than the surrounding hills, and seeing as we so enjoyed eating beautifully-prepared freshly caught fish, we made a habit of indulging ourselves for the remainder of the holiday.

Sunshine in Altea, heavy cloud and rain up in the hills...
Altea was a favoured destination, and we ate in the same place – a simple restaurant frequented by the locals (always a good sign) called Hotel San Miguel. Bloody brilliant it was, too. The Paella was amazing on our last day.

Oh yes, bird sightings. Well, on the coast there were plenty of Yellow-legged Gull and the odd Shag.

A juvenile Yellow-legged Gull
An adult Yellow-legged Gull
On one lunchtime, I convinced Annie it would be a good idea to travel a bit further as a detour to visit Calpe and Las Salinas de Calpe.
The Salinas is a lake in the middle of town that is home to a large number of Greater Flamingo. I quite fancied seeing these, and also lived in hope of seeing a decent gull or two.

The Greater Flamingo are a feature of the Salinas in the centre of Calpe
As it turned out, I struck lucky. Having not come across one in Mallorca, I was delighted to find a solitary Audouin's Gull standing on a small platform on the lagoon. A bit of a result and another lifer.
A lone Audouin's Gull at Las Salinas de Calpe
There were at least 40 Greater Flamingo on the lake, as well as a Cattle Egret, three Black-winged Stilt and couple of sleeping waders, which I think were Knot. On the edge of the lake, there were four Stonechat and a couple of Cetti's Warbler called out. As I went to get back into the car, I noticed a male Black Redstart on a wire across the road.

Greater Flamingo feeding with a solitary Cattle Egret on the island
Greater Flamingo, a Yellow-legged Gull (right side of island),
three Black-winged Stilt (far right) and two Knot
It is amazing how, when you least expect it, you end up gathering a decent list. Our last full day helped considerably.

It started out gloomily and brightened up as the morning progressed. The regular pair of Sardinian Warbler called out and darted from bush to bush. The pair of Kestrel got my attention as I wondered whether these two may of the rarer variety. Unfortunately, my photos were inconclusive. Most of them came out as silhouettes no matter how much I tweaked them on Photoshop once I returned home.

Then there was a kerfuffle. A high-pitched trill of bird song broke the silence just up the road from the villa. I was pretty hopeful I knew what the species was, and by the sound of it there were many.

And sure enough as I walked up the road, about 30 Serin, all mainly first winter birds, flew up from a bank on the side of the road and flew off. Also among this throng were a large flock of Greenfinch, that also flew off over the trees.

A few straggler resolutely hung on to feed of whatever was enticing them, and while I managed to snap a few photos, they were all rubbish, as the one below demonstrates.

First-winter Serin on a feeding frenzy among local Spanish detritus
At lunchtime, we set off up the lane from the villa towards Finestrat on our way to our lunch destination when the distinctive plumage of a Hoopoe flew up from a small field of olive trees. Annie spotted a second one perched on a branch. Typically, it was the one time I didn't bring a decent sized lens with me.

We then headed off back down the road to Altea and on the way I noticed a bird fly up from the roadside kerb and perch on a rocky outcrop – a Crested Lark! Unfortunately I couldn't find a place to stop to get a closer look, but another lifer to the list.

So there you have it. While I was not one of the British birding community at Spurn or the Norfolk coast viewing some excellent rare bird species, at least my Spanish bird list ended up being filled with three lifers despite it looking like being a barren week.

Down at the coast a large dish of Paella was consumed, while I contemplated whether next year we return to this lovely coastline, but maybe a month earlier.

Costa Blanca notable bird species list:
Shag (Altea)
Cattle Egret (1 Salinas de Calpe)
Little Egret (1 Salinas de Calpe)
Greater Flamingo (c40 Salinas de Calpe)
Kestrel (2 Finestrat)
Black-winged Stilt (3 Salinas de Calpe)
Knot (2 Salinas de Calpe)
Audouin's Gull (1 Salinas de Calpe)
Yellow-legged Gull (numerous – coastal sites)
Tern sp (3 Altea)
Little Owl (2 Finestrat – heard only)
Tawny Owl (1 Finestrat – heard only)
Hoopoe (2 Finestrat)
Firecrest (2 Puig Campana)
Crested Tit (1 Puig Campana, 1 Finestrat – heard only)
Coal Tit (1 Finestrat)
Crested Lark (1 Finestart)
House Martin (4 Finestrat)
Swallow (2 Finesstrat)
Cetti's Warbler (2 Salinas de Calpe - heard only)
Chiffchaff (4 Finestrat)
Dartford Warbler (2 Finestrat, 1 heard only)
Sardinian Warbler (c6 Finestrat, 2 Salinas de Calpe)
Black Redstart (1 Salinas de Calpe)
Stonechat (4 Salinas de Calpe)
Serin (c30 Finestrat)
Greenfinch (numerous – various sites)
Crossbill (c10 Finestrat)

Thursday 13 October 2016


Jonathan Lethbridge has written a couple of interesting posts recently about blogging in general and how it appears to be less popular, not just on birding, but other topics too.

He asked why some people are falling out of love with it, and even includes himself in that regard.

I must admit I write less as the years trundle by, although this is the first year since I started that has seen an upward curve in blog posts.

I guess it is indicative of how fewer people are contributing towards birding blogs that this year my Randon's Ramblings Award for best blog is almost certain to end up with only two real contenders. I think it is obvious who they are.

A shame, as there have been numerous blogs I used to look forward to reading each week that have now sadly disappeared or are just sitting there gathering dust.
Two spring to mind. One is Not Quite Scilly. Gavin Haig relaunched his blog last October, but has not posted anything since April. A real pity, as he is one of the great birding writers.

The other is Gwent Birding, by Darryl Spittle. Another great writer, Darryl tends to express his views more these days on Twitter. His tweets, unfortunately, are mainly about Brexit, something he is pretty obsessed with and, dare I say, neurotic about.

I have noted through Peter Alfrey's blog, that Darryl is in the Azores at the moment. I'm hoping when he returns he will feel compelled to write some more great blogging prose about his trip – but now the pound has fallen through the floor and, as a consequence, there is a Marmite shortage, I'm not holding my breath.

For me personally, my infrequent posting is due mainly to time constraints and a general lack of creativity when I've not seen many birds. Not much more to it than that.

Talking of birds, I made another trip down to Margate on Monday for another afternoon  follow-up hospital visit with my old mum. I left at first light so as to drop in to one or two places en route to Thanet, and started off at Oare, a current favourite reserve, to see the Long-billed Dowitcher.

I've a number of bogey birds I want to strike off the list, and Long-billed Dowitcher is one of them. I've had a couple of long-distance (for me, at least) dips in recent years and as a result I've had no urge to go driving off somewhere for hours to go to see one since.

So when one of these American waders appeared at Oare the day before my visit, it was a straightforward task to take the detour. The sun was shining low across the East Flood, which meant most of the birds present were in silhouette, but luckily there were a couple of local birders there who were already on the Dowitcher.

The Long-billed Dowitcher showing its long bill against the light at Oare Marshes
So in a matter of minutes I was watching my first Long-billed Dowitcher. And a nice little wader it was too. It preened a bit, feed for a while, and flew about a tad.

Another bogey bird of mine, probably the worst of the lot is Yellow-browed Warbler. I've never seen one. I've seen its cousin, the Hume's Leaf Warbler, but the commoner sprite has always been elusive.

Added to which in recent weeks we've had a massive influx of them, and they have been spreading inland. The plan on Monday was to visit Oare and maybe take in Reculver, Margate Cemetery, where three had been present the day before, and if all else failed, Northdown Park, just 400 yards from my mum's house, where two had been seen.

While I was at Oare, the phone rang. It was Ray Baker. Ray is one of my local patch's top birders, who visits the site regularly. And he doesn't ring unless he has got something good.

He had.

A Yellow-browed Warbler.

At 8.30am he spotted one in the bushes along the railway embankment near The Moors pools. All I could do was shake my head in mock disbelief.

As always, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Dowitcher was nice, don't get me wrong, but a patch tick that would also have been a lifer? Not happy.

Needless to say, my efforts to find a YBW on Monday drew a blank. The best I could come up with were unsatisfactory views of at least eight flighty and distant Ring Ouzel at Margate Cemetery, including one adult male. I never thought I would end up being disappointed just seeing these lovely birds.

On Saturday, Annie and I are heading off to Spain for a week – not to Mallorca, but to a nice villa in the hills about 10 miles inland from Benidorm.

While it is unlikely we will visit any well-known birding spots further down the coast, I have a wish list – as you would expect – and it doesn't include Yellow-browed Warbler...

Tuesday 4 October 2016


An autumn should never go by without seeing a Wryneck, Red-backed Shrike or a Ring Ouzel. I would also say a Yellow-browed Warbler but – a shame admission I know – I've yet to actually see one!

But, as I have said previously, the autumn migration this year hasn't really happened for me. The patch had been very quiet – spring tends to be better for some reason – and the rest of the time I've been too busy to go anywhere.

So when the opportunity arose to actually hopefully see an interesting bird last week, I had to grab it.

And the juvenile Red-backed Shrike at Tide Mills, near Newhaven, was so ridiculously unperturbed by human company I could almost literally have grabbed it.

I'd read that this individual was giving stunning views but I wasn't expecting this. At one point it flew from its perch within a few inches of my right arm to snatch an insect it had spotted on the ground just three feet away. Jaw dropping.

I didn't arrive until after 5pm, and it took me a while to find it among the bushes. But once I did I had the best views I'm ever likely to have of a Red-backed Shrike – what a little stunner!

The Red-backed Shrike gave stunningly close views
Sunset over Newhaven
It was nice to get a rare bird fix before heading back to the usual day-to-day drudgery.

I timed my next brief birding escapade a day late. Last Sunday would have been excellent for a wide range of decent birds, especially in Kent. Seawatching at Shell Ness on Sheppey produced both Pomarine and Long-tailed Skuas, while a juvenile Pallid Harrier entertained the visitors south of Harty church. There were Spoonbills, a Common Crane flyover, an Osprey and a Great White Egret during the day at Oare Marshes.

I had to go on Monday to see what would turn up.

It was a beautiful autumn morning in bright sunshine – but it produced nothing.

The Pallid Harrier had been spooked by clay pigeon shooting on Sunday afternoon and had flown off south. The Spoonbills were nowhere to be seen, there was no sign of an Osprey (one had been hanging around for a week) and the winds were so light, there was no chance of a skua sighting.

A male Bearded Tit at Oare Marshes
Up to 20 Beardies showed well while feeding during the morning
Best views I had during the two hours spent at the Marshes were of the resident Bearded Tit. With the light winds they came out to feed and thankfully gave me something to smile about.
A female Bearded Tit at Oare Marshes

Monday 19 September 2016


I've been looking forward to a bit of autumn migration this month but, in reality, it has personally been a bit disappointing. I've focused more on the local patch in the hope something memorable might appear, but it has been pretty slow going.

Five Little Stints at Oare Marshes
In between walking the patch I've paid another visit to Oare Marshes. An early start on the 5th, this was en route to Margate to visit my mum and take her to a hospital appointment.

Oare will always make up for a barren spell at home, and seven Little Stint and up to 14 Curlew Sandpiper kept the interest going. A brief visit to a gloomy Reculver threw up a couple of rain-sodden Wheatear, before my final stop at Foreness Point produced two more Wheatear and a Whinchat.

Wheatear at Foreness Point
Whinchat at Foreness Point
The highlights at Holmethorpe this past fortnight happened yesterday with a pair of distant Whinchat on the Moors, my first for the autumn on the patch, followed by my first patch Peregrine of 2016. This falcon circled low over Mercers Farm before swooping for a prey. It failed to catch anything and then circled high and headed south.
Local patch Peregrine
That's been about it. Elsewhere, of course, the quality migrants have been dropping in or flying overhead. Locally, the prime site has undoubtedly been Beddington. Roger 'Dodge' Browne picked up a cracking Sabine's Gull on the 13th, and this excellent yank seabird was followed by a Kittiwake two days later.

Inland Kittiwakes are patch gold, especially in Surrey. I've never seen one. I've also never seen a Honey-buzzard in Surrey – or anywhere else for that matter.

But Beddington was the place for one of those, too, with one heading south last Saturday. Canon's Farm has also been a site for a Honey-buzzard, with Steve Gale picking one up on the 6th.

Elsewhere, Tice's Meadow had a brief Pectoral Sandpiper, while Leith Hill has been the place for views of migrating Osprey.

The bird I'm always keen to see during the early autumn is a Wryneck, but I fear I will now have to wait until next year. I simply couldn't spare the time to drive down to Shooter's Bottom for the Wryneck that recently stayed for a week until the morning after it had predictably left.

I went to Leicester for a meeting on the 1st of the month and drove back via the M40, and so made a detour to Otmoor to see if I could connect with the juvenile Purple Heron in the late afternoon.

It was a fair old walk to the best vantage point, the first of the viewing screens, and was I welcomed by a regular local birder and another birder with her young daughter. They both looked sheepish as I looked out over the scrape.

"Anything interesting?" I asked.

"Yes," said the local birder. "A Purple Heron."

"Oh, great. How long ago did you see it?"

"About four minutes ago..."

Bugger. The Heron takes a habitual route across the reserve and tends to finish up at the western end in an area covered in reeds, where it likes to fish before roosting for the evening. This it had done four minutes earlier.

There wasn't much point in sticking around for too long, so after 20 minutes I trudged back to the car. Strangely, I was relatively unmoved by the whole experience. I'm probably simply getting used to twitching dips – I've had enough of them!

What's to follow? Well, I shall persevere with the patch, which overall has been rewarding this year, and will keep a close eye on the skies over Holmethorpe in the vain hope a decent raptor drifts into view. As local birders we all live in hope of the future big find. It does happen sometimes.

Wednesday 31 August 2016


Bit of a catch-up for the past three weeks. Two visits to Kent have been interspersed with brief local patch wanderings.

The Bonaparte's Gull at Oare showing the comparison in size to the Black-headed Gulls
The first Kent trip was to Margate to take my mum to a hospital appointment, but I spent 45 minutes at Oare Marshes on the way down, where I managed to see (with the help of others) the Bonaparte's Gull again. Most notable group sighting was five Little Tern that flew in and landed on the East Flood for about half an hour.

Five Little Tern flew in and landed on the East Flood

A Little Stint, Spotted Redshank and a Yellow Wagtail were the other highlights.

The second trip was a proper birding session on the beach at Dungeness Point on the 22nd to seawatch for Balearic Shearwater during the morning. The weekend had been unseasonably stormy and there was still sufficient wind to give me hope of some decent sightings.

It took some patience but eventually I was rewarded with seven Balearic Shearwater split into three small groups during a three-hour period, plus two Arctic Skua. Not much else of note though.

On the local front, two new birds appeared, with a lone juvenile Dunlin arriving on the Moors one morning, followed by three Greenshank few days later. These I missed, but two more turned up a couple of days later.
A pair of Greenshank and two Green sandpiper feeding on the Moors
One other bird of interest was a lone Wheatear on Farthing Downs one morning seen while waiting to pick up Annie from a physio appointment in Coulsdon.

The waders' arrival at Holmethorpe topped the patch year list up to 137 as we enter the autumn months. Not bad at all, but unfortunately with regard to the Horton Hay Cup challenge* with Tice's Meadow, our rival patch has hit back with a fine haul of sightings this month, including a Honey Buzzard, Black Tern, Pied Flycatcher and a first for the site, a Nightjar. They are on 141 at the end of August.

So, now tomorrow is September and the real heart of the autumn migration begins. Looking forward to it - so long as I can get enough time away from work to enjoy it.

*The Horton Hay Cup is a challenge between Tice's Meadow and Holmethorpe Sand Pits to see which site can deliver the most bird species during the year. Named after the two patch stalwarts, Rich Horton and Gordon Hay, the winner is designated the best birding site in Surrey – ignoring the fact Beddington Farmlands attracts more birds annually and really is the best birding site in the county.

Wednesday 10 August 2016


It had been a while since I gave Oare Marshes a proper visit, so seeing as it was my birthday on Sunday I thought I'd spend most of the day there. I wanted to spend a decent few hours actually looking at birds rather than spending more time in the car travelling somewhere too far away to really enjoy the day.

Plenty of juvenile Starling at Oare
Thankfully, the Minsmere Purple Swamphen disappeared the day before so I didn't have to argue with the devil on my shoulder tempting me to go there instead.

One of two Spotted Redshank
Little Stint is a regular sighting at Oare Marshes
Juvenile Garganey
Oare Marshes is only an hour away and the reserve is nice and compact with many of the birds easy to view next to the road-side parking. There is always plenty to see here. During a breezy day I saw 14 species of waders, including two Little Stint, a Curlew Sandpiper and two Spotted Redshank. The supporting cast included a single Ringed Plover, at least 12 Ruff, a handful of Whimbrel, a couple of Green Sandpiper and at least two Greenshank.

Numerous Yellow Wagtail, mainly juveniles, migrated around the sea wall, while skywards, a Marsh Harrier hawked the west side of the reserve during the morning and later a Peregrine headed off to the neighbouring pylons to feed on a recently caught prey

The Bonaparte's Gull made an appearance in the afternoon
I made a slight faux pas by going early in the morning, when the tide was out, but it didn't really affect my enjoyment too much. There were, predictably, plenty of gulls flocking on the East Flood in the afternoon when eventually the Bonaparte's Gull came into view.

This gull is now a regular summer visitor to the site, this being the fourth year in succession it has appeared at Oare. Where it goes during the winter is anyone's guess, but unlike many American vagrants, all being well this bird will return to Oare next summer.

A Glossy Ibis was a welcome addition to the day's list
Highlight of the day was undoubtedly a Glossy Ibis that dropped on to the East Flood at around 2pm. It stayed until 3.45pm before flying off north west.

A total of 68 species were seen during an excellent day's birding.

Monday 1 August 2016


I would have never imagined a week ago a White Stork arriving on my local patch at Holmethorpe would only merit a patch tick.

Most birders will be aware Beddington Farmlands has been visited by a second White Stork in recent days, a first ringed individual having turned up briefly on July 22nd. The latest White Stork has become a bit of a long-stayer, having been first seen last Tuesday.

It had a habit of flying off in the evening and returning the following morning, so I went along on Thursday to catch it before I headed off for work. It's bad enough twitching birds, but worse when that twitch takes place at Beddington.

I'm now not a key holder, so was unable to enter the inner sanctum of the Farm, which is only accessible now to a small group of birders. With no-one around it meant viewing the main lake through the perimeter fence. Not ideal.

I had given myself an hour at the Farm, before driving to Croydon and taking the hit by paying NCP rates to park the car for the day. However, the bird, although seen during the early morning, chose not to come into view. Instead it waited a further hour to show itself after I had left. Bloody annoying.

Undeterred, I went back the following morning, and after about 20 minutes I had my first view of a White Stork. It had a habit of wandering into area out of sight for a while, sometimes poking its head up above the vegetation, but at least I got decent, if slightly distant views of it.

The White Stork at Beddington
After an hour I returned back to base and caught the train up to London. The Stork remained at Beddington until Saturday afternoon, when it flew off, heading south east mid-afternoon.

So that was that, I thought.

No so.

I was intending to leave for Sheffield yesterday morning for a motorsport event but was woken with a start at 5.40am when the phone rang. It was Gordon Hay. I didn't answer it for risk of waking Annie further, so waited to listen to the voicemail.

In a very calm voice Gordon announced:  "The White Stork from Beddington has just dropped down on Water Colour 1 on the muddy area at the back."

Jesus H! From semi-torpor I was out of the bed and tripping down the stairs trying to put my jeans on. I was out the door in about five minutes, maybe less.

The drive to the Water Colour Lagoons is all of two minutes, but it felt like an eternity.

Thankfully, it was still there when I arrived to meet up with Gordon and Ray Baker, who lives at Water Colour and had similarly just woken up.

Would you believe it? Here was the White Stork on our patch. Amazing!

The White Stork on Water Colour Lagoon 1
But strangely, neither Gordon nor I were as excited about this first for Holmethorpe as we should have been. And it was for the same reason. We had both twitched this bird up the road at Beddington and so we couldn't celebrate this scarce visitor to Britain as a first for either of us in Surrey as well as on the patch. The fact we had seen this bird already nullified the thrill. Nevertheless, it was an fantastic bird to see just quarter of a mile from where I live.

We watched the Stork for about half an hour before it flew behind a tree. A walk round the side of the trees revealed nothing. We had managed to lose sight of a large white bird – we just couldn't find it again and presumed it must have flown off.

The White Stork flew out of view
Sadly, regular patch watcher Ian Kehl, who tours the site each Sunday with Gordon, was later to arrive than usual due to family commitments and didn't see it. He and Gordon continued on their walk around the area. Another local birder, Ian Jones, arrived a couple of hours later to see the Stork circling the Lagoons before flying off.

It went missing most of the day after that but has been relocated again back at its favourite haunt on the main lake at Beddington today.