WELCOME

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, 26 May 2017

MAY BIRDING: WHITE-WINGED BLACK TERN DELIGHT AT STAINES RESERVOIR

Having had what can only be described as an indifferent spring this year, the month of May has certainly made up for my lack of birding during the first quarter of 2017.

There have been very few disappointments, if any, these past few weeks. I would normally have focused more on the local patch, but seeing as my patch list for the year doesn't even include Yellowhammer, it was important from a personal point of view to get out and see some good stuff to keep my flagging moral going.

Thankfully, May has been great personally and there's still a few days before it comes to an end. It's hard to pinpoint a highlight, but the three White-winged Black Tern at Staines Reservoir on Tuesday will take some beating.

One of two adult White-winged Black Tern at Staines Reservoir on Tuesday

I've only seen one before, and that was a couple of years ago at Wareham in Dorset, so when these beauties were flagged up on the Rare Bird Alert site, and seeing as I was working from home, I found time to head off to Staines in the late afternoon.

The 1st summer White-winged Black Tern on the south basin
The reservoir used to be one of my regular birding venues, but I hadn't been in more than a year. Why that is I'm not sure, only that perhaps birding local to home has become more of a priority for the past 18 months.


But it was good to be back at the old place, and also to catch up with birding friends I haven't seen for a while including Matt Phelps, who had had the same idea as me and took a detour after work to see these fantastic birds.

Adult (below) and 1st summer White-winged Black Tern
Later I bumped into another mate and the man who had discovered the terns, Dominic Pia. Staines Reservoir is his local patch and, while the spring had been a decent one at the "Res", it had dropped off dramatically in recent weeks. Inevitably, like all who trudge the same old patch day after day, Dom's enthusiasm was beginning to wane.


But, as so often happens when a birder begins to question their sanity, a cracking rarity suddenly makes all the pain go away.

And these three White-winged Black Terns, flying predominantly around the south basin, were an exceptional discovery.

The two adults feeding in among the Common terns and Black-backed Gulls on the north basin
It would have been good to find one, let alone what appeared to be a family group of three, including a very rare spring sighting of a 1st summer juvenile.

They all made for a great sight, as often they would fly low over the causeway towards the north basin and back, calling as they went. Views were great as they dived for fish and occasionally perched on a pipe that was jutting out of the water on the south basin.

Another unusual visitor to the reservoir was an Avocet on the west bank of the south basin, but on this occasion it hardly got much attention.

While many officionados have decried May as not being the month it could have been, I've certainly enjoyed it.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

MAY BIRDING LUCK = A DOTTEREL FLYING IN AT FRAMPTON MARSH

My wife Annie summed up birding perfectly. "It's seems to me you need patience and luck," she said.

I described how I went to Frampton Marsh RSPB reserve a couple of Sunday's ago on the way back from Skegness, where I had been reporting on a stock car event.

On the way to Lincolnshire I had a look to see if there had been much happening at Frampton, which is on the way to Skeggy, just outside Boston, and only a short detour.

I had been to this excellent reserve a couple of years ago and was looking forward to paying it another visit. A Broad-billed Sandpiper had been found in the morning, along with a Temminck's Stint. I had a quick look on the way up, but the the Sandpiper had gone missing for about an hour, and because there was no rush to get home later in the day I went back in the evening.

As I drove along the winding lane towards the reserve, a Barn Owl flew over the car – actually my first of the year! I drove up to the car park at the sea wall end of the reserve and met a chap called Craig Howett, who is from Oakham.

A Little Stint was a first for the year
Followed later by two Little Stint
He was another birder looking out for this Broad-billed Sandpiper, but he hadn't yet seen it. He was waiting for the tide to come in to force the birds back over the sea wall and on to the scrape we were viewing from.


Craig turned out to be a very knowledgeable birder, and he pointed out a couple of Little Stint as the waders began to fly in.

There were plenty of Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Black-tailed Godwit and Avocet, plus a nice Ruff but no Broad-billed Sandpiper. A couple of Bearded Tit pinged in the reeds in front of us, together with chattering Reed and Sedge Warbler. In the near distance there was the distinctive sound of a Grasshopper Warbler, while a Cuckoo called out somewhere in the far reaches of the reserve.

As the sun began to sink lower towards the horizon, we resigned ourselves to the fact we were unlikely to see this rare wader.

But all was not lost. Suddenly Craig became animated as another flock of Dunlin flew in. In among them was a bigger bird that split off from the group and landed on a grassy mound. He called it immediately. "It's got an orange breast, it's a Dotterel!"

The female Dotterel headed towards the sea before turning inland
 I couldn't find it immediately but my birding colleague had it in his scope, which he kindly allowed me to view it in. A fantastic female Dotterel.

What a result! And so unexpected too. But then within a minute or so she took off – looking as if to head back out to sea she turned and flew right over our heads towards the fields inland.

Our luck was well and truly in. Craig and I were the only ones to see this bird. About 15 minutes later the reserve's Visitor Experience Officer arrived to a bit of late-evening birding after work and missed this treat.

But that is birding in a nutshell – being in the right place at the right time.

Patience and luck. Luck was definitely on my side that evening.

Friday, 19 May 2017

MAY BIRDING: DUNGENESS POMARINE SKUA SEAWATCH

Two days after the Great Reed Warbler/Temminck's Stint twitch I set off for Dungeness on May 11 (a week ago today). The winds were favourable for a decent Pomarine Skua seawatch and I arrived shortly after 7.45am, having just missed four heading east, as well as a Cattle Egret.
I wasn't the only one to miss out – top local birder Martin Casemore, who has counted more than 200 Pomarine Skuas during the spring passage, arrived about half an hour after me.

From this point on I watched the sea until the weather closed in and the rain came at around 7.30pm. The list of birds was rewarding during a long day simply staring at the horizon – and I loved every minute of it.

I was met by a bitterly cold wind for the time of year, which thankfully was compensated by warm sunshine later in the day. Down on the broiling 'patch' five Black Tern were feeding and also the long-staying Iceland Gull could easily be picked out among the gulls. A Black Redstart sang from the power station – it sounded close by, but was actually some distance away on a roof.

After a quiet start the first Pomarine Skua flew by, followed soon after by three Black-throated Diver. And then about an hour later things began to pick up as group of six Pomarine Skua headed past the outside of the buoy – a great sight.

A Pomarine Skua flies past the Point at Dungeness
One of the joys of seawatching is the communication between seawatch sites further along the coast. Once a group of Poms flies past Portland Bill in Dorset, the birds will often be picked up by seawatchers at Titchfield Haven, Selsey Bill, Worthing and Splash Point at Seaford as the birds continue their journey eastwards.

By noting the time of the sighting, you can work out when they should pass by where you are – although that sometimes doesn't happen.
This Fox vixen is a regular and remarkably tame companion during a
seawatch at Dungeness
Herring Gull
Dungeness often clocks Pom Skua sightings other sites haven't seen, and vise versa. Last Thursday was a case in point, when a spring migrating Long-tailed Skua had been flagged up flying through the Solent at 9.17am. It was later spotted at Selsey Bill at 10.55am, followed by Splash Point at 1pm (although this wasn't highlighted until a few hours later).

It should have looked good for a 3pm viewing for the gathering throng of birders who had joined our small group, including Mark Collingworth (along with his terrible jokes!). But the bird never showed up.
Five Whimbrel flying east
Why this was will remain a mystery, but it could have flown further out into the Channel, when the visibility was poor due to glare from the strong sunlight, or it could even have taken a short cut across country, rejoining the route north of Kent. Who knows.

But despite that disappointment, and the occasional quiet period around lunchtime, the birding was good. One Pomarine Skua in particular came in quite close the the shore, flying past on the inside of the buoy. The sightings included decent views of a number of Arctic Skua, plus a Long-tailed Duck in amongst a flock of Common Scoter, more Black-throated Diver, plenty of Whimbrel and. late in the day, shortly before I left, three Great Northern Diver.

Three Great Northern Divers late in the day before the rain set in
From 8.00am-7.30pm"
1 Brent Goose
1 Long-tailed Duck
c300 Common Scoter
10 Black-throated Diver
3 Great Northern Diver
3 Fulmar
c20 Gannet
9 Great Crested Grebe
c15 Oystercatcher
1 Ringed Plover
10 Grey Plover
1 Knot
27 Sanderling
c20 Dunlin
8 Bar-tailed Godwit
21 Whimbrel
1 Turnstone
9 Pomarine Skua (1 at 08.52hrs, 6 at 09.50hrs, 1 at 11.17hrs (photo above), 1 at 17.50hrs)
7 Arctic Skua
c20 Kittiwake
1 Iceland Gull (on the Patch)
2 Little Tern
5 Black Tern (on the Patch)
c40 Sandwich Tern
c250 Common Tern (plus a few 'Commic')
5 Guillemot
c10 Auk sp
c20 Swallow
1 Black Redstart (on roof at power station)

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

MAY BIRDING: LANDGUARD, ABBERTON AND RAINHAM MARSHES

It has been an enjoyable week on the birding front – but unfortunately I haven't had time to write about it until now!

Last Tuesday (9th) I had the whole day to myself. I narrowed down the options to either a seawatch at Dungeness or a trip to a reserve I haven't been to before in Suffolk. After having breakfast at Clacket Lane services on the M25, it was either turn left for Essex or go straight on for the Kent shingle. I chose the former.

And for once, I made the right choice. I headed for Landguard Nature Reserve near Felixstowe, and a mighty fine spot it is too.

My decision was influenced by the weather – it didn't seem favourable for a Pomarine Skua watch – and also by the presence of a Great Reed Warbler at Landguard during the previous couple of days, plus the possibility of a male Ring Ouzel and a Wryneck. OK, so it was a twitch, but I did fancy a day out somewhere different.

It was a straightforward journey but I arrived a bit late at just before 10am. I should had got there sooner as I missed a Red-rumped Swallow fly by about 10 minutes earlier (always the way).

Great views were had of the Great Reed Warbler...
...before it flew off into the bushes
But never mind. There were a number of local and not so local birders lined up staying into the bushes along an area called Icky Ridge just down from the Landguard Fort car park, and it wasn't long before the Great Reed Warbler began it's loud throaty and scratchy song.

Standing around waiting for a bird to appear is often a frustrating way to go birding, but thankfully it wasn't long before we got a few fleeting views of the warbling beast. As I was intending to stay for at least a few hours I decided to go off to see what else was around this compact birding site.

A distant and rubbish photo of the male Ring Ouzel

While the Wryneck hadn't been seen for at least 24 hours, there was still plenty to see. The male Ring Ouzel was feeding out in the open, although a few photographers predictably moved too close and as a result, eventually it flew out of view.

Female Wheatear
There were a number of Wheatear flitting around – incredibly, they were my first for the year! Also breeding Little Ringed Plover and Oystercatcher.

I made my way back to the area where the Great Reed Warbler had been seen and it had moved further along the bank. It eventually popped up high in the scrub and showed well for a minute or so before flying off and diving into some hawthorn bushes. That had been as good as i could expect

After Landguard, my plan was to work my way back home via other sites along the route. In the afternoon I headed for Abberton Reservoir, as about an hour before I arrived a Temminck's Stint had been discovered on the south bank of the reservoir viewed from the Layer de la Haye Causeway.

Digiscope shot of the Temminck's Stint with a Greenshank for company
Once on the causeway, I was shown where the bird was by the finder, Stuart Read, and within seconds I was looking at my first Temminck's Stint. It was a smashing little wader, feeding on the edge of the water, along with a number of other waders – a Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Common Sandpiper, Greenshank and a Redshank.

The Temminck's Stint with a Redshank
A size comparison of the Temminck's Stint and a Common Sandpiper
A Marsh Harrier flew over head, while there were also a couple of Whimbrel in the area, plus three Black Tern and a Little Gull on the opposite bank of the reservoir.

As time was getting on, my next target was Rainham Marshes, where a possible Franklin's or Laughing Gull had been seen around midday. I got there shortly after the reserve closed, and was greeted by a swarm of Swift feeding off the reserve. A Cuckoo sang in the distance, and there were numerous Shelduck on the banks of the Thames.

I made my way around to the Serin Mound area where I met Howard Vaughan, the Visitor Experience Officer at Rainham Marsh Nature Reserve, who was scanning the Thames. The gull had only been seen briefly and a tantalising photo was taken, which gave mixed messages as to its species.

The consensus was it was a Franklin's Gull, but later it was concluded that, in fact, it had been a Laughing Gull. Dominic Mitchell joined us, having been with a group searching for the bird on the landfill with no luck. Having scoured the Thames with no sightings of it, a few of us headed for Rainham West, where the river bends round towards Cross Ness.

With no luck there we drove round to the barges nearer to the reserve, but this gull was having the last laugh. Having drawn a blank it was time to head home. Despite the dip I'd enjoyed the banter and the thrill of the search – it had been a good day and as it transpired, there would be further decent birding a couple of days later.

Monday, 1 May 2017

MORE SKUAS AT SPLASH POINT

I headed back to Splash Point at Seaford early this morning after yesterday's memorable couple of hours seawatching.

The weather was not as favourable, but nonetheless in the morning at least, it developed into another decent day staring at the sea, with more Pomarine Skua sightings.

Arctic Skua
It is fascinating how two days are never the same. Yesterday, it was all about skuas, terns and waders. Of the 43 Pomarine Skua seen yesterday I saw 10, with the same number of Arctic Skua and just the one Great Skua.

There were large numbers of Little Tern passing through – I saw at least 25 – as well as Sandwich and 'Commic' – and more than 20 Whimbrel, 40 Bar-tailed Godwit and 15 Knot.

A group of 18 Eider passing by Splash Point
One of the highlights from today was seeing 18 Eider fly by as a group (24 in total), but it was all about Mediterranean Gull, of which 52 were seen between 7.40am-2.00pm. On the Pomarine Skua front, I saw 11 – a group of 10 plus one with an Arctic Skua (made for a good comparison). There were 8 Arctic Skua altogether including two quite close to the shore, and one Bonxie. The only wader species I saw were three Grey Plover. There were noticeably fewer terns, with no Little Tern sightings.

Mediterranean Gull
Species seen over both days:
Brent Goose, (Bar-headed Goose), Shelduck (Monday), Eider (Monday), Common Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser (Monday), Fulmar, Gannet (Monday), Little Egret (Monday), Great Crested Grebe (Monday), Peregrine (Monday), Oystercatcher, Grey Plover, Knot, Sanderling, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Turnstone, Pomarine Skua, Arctic Skua, Great Skua, Kittiwake, Mediterranean Gull, Black-headed Gull, Little Tern, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Arctic Tern.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

UPBEAT END TO APRIL

It had still been pretty quiet this week until, inevitably, I happened to be away all day yesterday. A drake Garganey was seen, asleep, first thing in the morning on the pools at the Moors.

Luckily, it stayed all day and was still about when I dashed over to Holmethorpe just before the light had gone at 8.20pm. I managed to get pretty decent views of the Garganey, it was now quite active, feeding and swimming around, even taking a brief flutter into the air to keep out of the way of some aggressive Coots.

The drake Garganey at Holmethorpe in the half-light
I went out this morning to see if it was still around but it had gone. Garganey are a relatively regular visitor to the site, we have had at least one sighting for the past few years. This drake was a welcome addition to the patch year list, bringing the total up to 113 for the year – well down on 2016, when we had seen 127 species by April 29.

I've been keeping an eye on the weather and it turned to a breezy south-easterly today, which was good for seawatchers and likely Pomarine Skua movement. And so it proved, with decent numbers passing through the English Channel for Sussex and Kent birders to witness.

I'd made a late start to the morning on the patch,but I couldn't resist the urge to belt down to Splash Point at Seaford to see some migrating Skuas for myself.

Predictably, a large throng of birders were already set up at the Point and I managed to position myself close to Simon Linington, a director of Sussex Wildlife Trust and a top-notch birder, who kept many up-to-date with birds as they flew passed.

Pomarine Skua passing Splash Point
It had already been busy morning, but fortunately there was plenty still going on, and it wasn't long before my first Bonxie flew east, followed by my first Pomarine Skua of the spring.

An Arctic Skua in pursuit of a Sandwich Tern
The stream of birds was constant for the two hours I was there (10.15am-12.15am), with a number of Arctic Skua being added to the list.

Bar-tailed Godwit
Knot
Whimbrel
Altogether I saw 10 Pomarine Skua, including five together, plus great views of an Arctic Skua pursuing a Sandwich Tern – of which there were numerous. Added to which were Common and 'Commic' Tern, plus at least 10 Little Tern.

On the wader front there were decent numbers of Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit and Knot, plus the odd Grey Plover, Sanderling, Dunlin and Turnstone.

The weather looks less encouraging tomorrow, more south than south east, but being a day off, I'll be heading to Seaford again early in the morning.

Monday, 24 April 2017

SLOW, SLOW, SPRING, SPRING, SLOW...

Hi everyone. It's been a while. In fact, this is the longest I have ever gone without writing a post. In previous years I would have never imagined going through the whole of March and most of April without writing something.

Strange times, indeed. So, why the gap? Some of it has to do with the predictable workload – I now work some weekends on a motorsport project, which is taking up plenty of hours.

Secondly, the lack of birds. The start of spring never really happened locally as the persistent northerly winds put a block on migrant movements. Ray Baker, one of our local patch watchers, has admirably has been walking many miles to keep up to date with bird numbers – he actually counts every bird he sees over a few hours. And he has noted that numbers have been down by half on some days.

On April 3 for example, he counted 845 birds during his five-hour survey. Sounds quite a lot, until compared with the same day last year, when he counted 1,540...

Yes, it has been worryingly quiet, and having been not that dedicated lately, I really couldn't be arsed to venture to the patch that often.

So what has been seen in my absence?

For one thing, a Dartford Warbler. If first arrived on the Moors on February 28, appeared on and off for a few days and then disappeared. Needless to say, I never saw it – I tried a number of times, but drew a blank.

One of two Little Ringed Plovers seen late today on the Water Colour Lagoon 2
island as the rains came
The best birds seen during the past six weeks or so have been a Merlin, seen by Ray, and a Nightingale, another Ray find. For me, the highlights have been a Sedge Warbler (no-one else has seen one) and a couple of Little Ringed Plover this evening in the rain.

That's it.

Elsewhere, if I had been paying attention during the day, I could have gone down to Beachy Head to see the Blue Rock Thrush, but I didn't find out until too late.

April is nearly over and I've yet to see a Wheatear, Redstart or Ring Ouzel. Or, amazingly, a Yellowhammer! Hopefully, the opportunity hasn't gone as we approach the May bank holiday weekend. May! It is amazing how the winter drags on, seemingly forever, and then spring arrives and is gone in a flash.

There are few days are coming up I can look forward to, plus a couple days I have booked off to go to Dungeness a week on Monday – although I was tempted by Portland Bill. Hopefully, the winds will be kind and the Pomarine Skua passage will be in full swing.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

WATCHING THE ROSIE GROW UP AS THE PATCH HITS A LULL

The Holmethorpe patch list is slowly taking shape, although still well behind last year, as I am. Of the 89 species currently seen so far this year, I have seen 70. Really nothing to write home about.

I will catch up, but overall the birds are slow to drop into the area. It's not that we haven't had plenty of people out watching, but that's the way it is.

I always find it curious how certain species of bird tend to prefer one site more than another. Take owls as an example. We have regular Little Owls on the site, and the occasional Barn Owl. Tawny Owls are rare, but Short-eared Owls are virtually non-existent – only one in about seven years.

I for one find it hard to understand why. On the Moors, a wetland area with longish grass and hedgerows, we have what appears to be decent habitat but for some reason we don't even get any drop in for an evening or morning on migration.

Same with gulls. The Iceland, Glaucous and Caspian Gulls love Beddington, but over the years ignore our landfill. We've had the odd Iceland but no Glaucs since I've been birding here.

A Bittern flew over the area, seen by Gordon Hay, in January. It was the first sighting for 15 years – even though we have plenty of reeds and good roosting areas for them. Yet down the road at Hedgecourt Lake, Bittern is a regular sighting most years.

Obviously, it makes those rare visitors all the more satisfying when they do eventually arrive but it has dawned on me that walking round the patch every day is bound to be a hard slog to see anything different. Ray Baker is one of our most dedicated patch watchers these days, and he never seems to waver in his enthusiasm for the job. I take my hat off to him!


But there you go. It takes all sorts to make up a birding world – one where I occasionally struggle to find the enthusiasm to make the effort to get out of bed early. Luckily, there are still a few decent birds locally to keep me going where the time of day is of little consequence. The Rose-coloured Starling in the Crawley suburbs at Broadfield is certainly one. I went back down to see it last Sunday lunchtime.


It has been fascinating watching this first winter bird mature from a fairly dull brown juvenile, through its teenage years and slowly into adulthood. Its plumage is now verging on the striking black/blue and rose pink contrast colour scheme that makes these birds so attractive.



There are now just a handful of days before we can welcome in March and the first spring migrants of the year. Traditionally, spring is our patch's best season – superior to autumn – and so it will be a time I will definitely be getting out there full of expectation.

Friday, 17 February 2017

SERINDIPITY

A brief outburst of birding occurred in recent days. The first visit to the local patch in more than a month, followed by a brief visit to the coast in search of finches.

The patch walk was welcome. I've missed walking around the Water Colour lagoons, the Moors, Mercers Lake, Mercers Farm and Spynes Mere. Up to last Sunday my year list for Holmethorpe was rather paltry, with a stack of regular winter visitors missing from it.

Sightings in recent weeks had been a bit quiet, although Gordon Hay's Bittern last month was a major coup, and he recently followed up with a Brent Goose last week, and Ray Baker scooped four Crossbill that landed in trees for a few minutes before flying off. Crossbills have been missing for a number of years, so these were a great addition.

So the overall list is now up 89, although mine is a great deal less than that. As a group, we are missing one or two species we would expect during the winters months, notably Scaup and Smew, but as a well-known, but now sadly absent birder, Johnny Allen, used to say – every year is different.

Will we get past 144 this year for the first time? We shall see. The one way to achieve that goal is to get out in the fresh air and find some birds each day, so I tried my best to do that on Sunday.

Having bumped into Gordon and Ian Kehl along the way I knew I would at least pick up a few new species for the year from a personal point of view.

One of these was Siskin. I hadn't seen one yet this year, so when the guys told me there was a flock still feeding on alders near Chilmead Farm I knew I should connect. However, they did say a Sparrowhawk had been in the area that forced the flock to scatter for a while – but they were sure to return.

A lone Siskin at Chilmead Ponds
They were almost right, while not exactly a flock, two Siskin were still present and happily singing away – lovely birds. I'm bit of a finch fan (hard not to be) so they were a welcome sight on a very dull and grey morning.

The other notable birds on the walk were a Shelduck on Mercers West, a Little Egret flying around Water Colour, a female Stonechat on the Moors and finally a skulking Water Rail at Spynes Mere.

It was good to be back. We are still waiting for a Waxwing or two on the patch – I still haven't given up hope– and maybe a decent patch rarity. I'm thinking another Merlin, or a Short-eared Owl – a flyover would do!

Each year brings surprises. Two years ago it was a Red-rumped Swallow (which I predicted), while last year it was the White Stork, as well as a Merlin, Little Tern, a pair of Bearded Tit and a Yellow-browed Warbler.

My predictions for early 2017 is a Glossy Ibis. An Alpine Swift was Steve Gale's prediction for last year, and he was so close to getting it right. One was seen by local birder Des Ball in Redhill last March, following the well-twitched bird in Crawley in March 2015. Maybe this year we will have one hurtling around the lagoons.

What about Penduline Tit? This was David Campbell's patch bird topper last year – we've got the habitat, we just need one to drop by.

What is a certainty each winter is regular long-staying scarce and rare birds around the country. In recent years it has been long-staying waders that have drawn the crowds, whereas this winter it has been the passerines. The Blue Rock Thrush is still present in the Cotswolds – and, nope, I have still yet to bother going. Closer to home the Rose-coloured Starling has stuck around and is getting ever closer to its full adult plumage.

On the coast at Newhaven Tide Mills the wintering Serin is still present, and ten minutes down the road a Twite, the first for Sussex for a long while, was playing hide and seek at Cuckmere Haven.

The weather had been rubbish over the past week or two – grey and bitingly cold – but the sun came out on Tuesday on a first weekday I'd had off in weeks, so I headed south down the M23 after lunch.

The Serin dutifully appeared at Tide Mills

The sun was out, but there was a notably brisk wind the closer to the sea I drove. I got to Newhaven in double-quick time. The Serin had been notable for going missing for ages in the past, as I discovered at the end of last year but, as luck would have it, I connected as soon as I arrived.

The Serin was flitting around overhead before it landed on a wall around the derelict remnants of the village. A nervous bird, it tended to fly around a fair bit, but that was hardly a surprise as it was constantly disturbed by birders, walkers and birding photographers. It was lucky to get any peace.

It must like the surrounding habitat, however, as it has made Newhaven its winter residence for a few months.

Anyway, after watching and studying the Serin for a good 30 minutes, I left it alone and drove over to Cuckmere.

A birder at Newhaven told me he had already been over to the meandering river mouth and gave up searching for the Twite after a couple of hours. Once I arrived, I soon realised I wasn't going to give it as much time as that. While the setting looked peaceful enough from the car park, once out in the open and walking along the track towards the sea the wind was fierce.

Hell's teeth, it was blowing! At some points it was hard to keep on your feet, the gusts were that strong. Hardly a shock then to find out the Twite hadn't been seen all day. And that's how it stayed for my visit.

There were a few small birds flying about, the odd Mipit and Skylark but it was hard to make out what they were with eyes streaming from the cold wind.

White-fronted Geese feeding with Canada Geese at Cuckmere Haven
I knew beforehand there were some White-fronted Geese feeding on the flood plain and they were still grazing when I arrived, as were a few Barnacle Geese along with their Canadian relatives.

Barnacle Geese at Cuckmere

There were also at least 1,000 gulls on the plain, of which one may have been a juvenile Glaucous Gull, but I couldn't keep my scope steady enough for long enough to bother trawling through them all to see if it was there.

I soon headed back to the car park. The Twite was later reported to have been seen during the day but it would have had to have been a very dedicated and lucky birder to have found it.

Never mind, as compensation we are creeping ever closer to spring. The winter has actually past by pretty quickly this time round – the days are noticeably longer and it won't be long before those first migrants appear.

Holmethorpe had a good spring last year, so I'm looking forward to seeing what turns up in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

BIRDING LUCK

A belated happy New Year to one and all. It's nearly February already – and that can only mean spring is around the corner.

January has flown by, with just the odd smatterings of birding along the way. I actually spent two days walking the patch, which was very pleasant if uneventful.

All had been quiet on the Holmethorpe front this month, until Gordon Hay struck gold at the weekend with his first Bittern on the patch, only the second in more than 30 years, which he saw circling Mercers West before it flew towards Mercers Lake.

Gordon managed to get a record photo of it for good measure, but predictably it was not seen again, presumably continuing on its journey south.

But what a great patch tick to start the year! I've not had such good luck on my two visits, but it just goes to show you simply have to be out there to discover great birds. You're not going to find anything staring at a computer screen all day as I often have to do.

Luck plays such a big part in birding. It is dictated by being in the right place at the right time. It doesn't happen that often, but when a good bird appears out of the blue, it makes all the predictable days worthwhile.

Highlight of my birding month came on the 3rd, after taking my mum to a hospital appointment in Whitstable. On our way back to Margate I stopped off at the local Tescos in Cliftonville to pick up a few essentials for her, when I heard a familiar high-pitched flutey call.

Waxwings! Sure, enough feeding on berries in a tree in the car park were five Waxwing. What a result! They flew to another tree, and stayed just long enough for me to get some video footage on my iPhone. As is normal at times like this, I didn't have my camera with me.

video

Still, this was a major bonus. They stayed for a couple of minutes before flying off. If I'd arrived a couple of minutes later I would have missed them. Such is birding. My luck was definitely in and I wasn't even on a planned birding trip.

Apart from that I've not really been anywhere, apart from the NEC in Birmingham for four days for Autosport International, the motorsport show, where it was great to catch up with former colleagues and familiar faces.

Back at home I managed to pop out last Saturday to see the wintering juvenile Rose-coloured Starling again in Crawley. An easy bird to spot when it perches in its favourite tree, this is an interesting bird as it is gradually changing from juvenile into adult plumage. It would be nice if it hung around long enough to complete the metamorphosis.

The Rose-coloured Starling is going through its grunge teenage years
In other news, the Stejneger's Stonechat at Dungeness I went to see transformed back into a common Stonechat, while the Blue Rock Thrush I didn't see is still either a genuine wild bird or a plastic one – it's anyone guess. I still haven't made the effort, and it is likely to disappear come the day I change my mind (which I don't think I will).

What I hope to see at Holmethorpe in the next few weeks is one of those Waxwings. They are being seen regularly now all over the place – I just need that little bit of luck again when I next go for a visit to our local Tescos near the patch.