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 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