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, 23 June 2017


While I was knackered from a long day in France the day before, the Elegant Tern was still present at Church Norton and I had enough enthusiasm left to hurtle down the M23, A24 and A27 to go and see this mega rare visitor.

The Elegant Tern in flight
Nowadays, I don't tend to twitch that much. The uncertainty of what you have invested time and money on seeing is less appealing than it once was and this twitch certainly reaffirmed that view.

It was in there somewhere – Tern Island
Had I had time to relax my Elegant Tern twitch would have been OK, but inevitably time was not on my side. Luckily, I went the day after the masses had taken over the area and having managed to park without issue, I had a window of a couple of hours. Once that time had run out it would be some days before I would have the chance again.

I arrived at about 2pm, and with all the sightings that had been posted on Rare Bird Alert, I was hopeful I would at least gain a glimpse of this seabird in the time available.

I discovered the Tern had already flown out to sea to fish and returned to the Tern island sated and had settled in among the Sandwich and Little Terns, Mediterranean and Black-headed Gulls. The island, though small, was full to the brim with birdlife but the Elegant Tern had decided to land at the back of the island out of view.

This is where it stayed for the next hour and 55 minutes.

It was nice to be able to study the Little Terns for a decent amount of time, as well as the stunning pure white plumaged Mediterranean Gulls – the most attractive of the gull family. But the bird at the top of the bill refused to make an appearance.

At last the Elegant Tern breaks cover and lands on the water for a quick wash

The birds on the island did all take to the air momentarily, spooked by something, but only one  birder had managed to spot the long bright orange bill for about two seconds.

It was getting to the point where I had to leave. Well, I had gone well passed that point, and I was on the verge of leaving when suddenly someone spotted the Elegant Tern flying over the island and heading towards the sea. It then dropped down on to the water near an inland breakwater for a quick wash and brush up.

It was then back over the island...
What a bloody relief! Which is exactly why twitches are so tortuous. There is more a sense of relief than excitement – and that isn't how it should be.

Anyhow, the Elegant Tern finished its afternoon wash and headed back to the island where it dropped back down to the same area as before and back out of view.

...heading back to its hideaway spot in among the other terns and Med Gulls
That was it. No time to hang on for another brief view. I grabbed my stuff and promptly left. The end.

Not good is it? In ideal circumstances I would have spent the whole day there, and included a walk around the harbour and come away far happier. But at least I had seen a very rare visitor, one that had come from France, the country I had been to the day before.

I'd recently had a chat with a fellow birder, who concurred a view I had about bird sighting information on the internet. Many sightings posted on Birdguides and Rare Bird Alert often appear more alluring than they actually are.

Birds that sound worth travelling miles to see can often involve long arduous walks, incredibly distant views, be frustratingly elusive, or had only been seen for a couple of seconds. As a result a twitch can be a miserable business.

A distant view but a decent one of the Red-footed Falcon at Frensham Ponds
But not always, obviously. The White-winged Terns at Staines Reservoir were very enjoyable to see.And, of course, the Elegant Tern did move on via Brownsea Island where it gave excellent sightings including some amazing views via Brownsea Lagoon webcam.

A couple of days later I was tempted out again on another twitch. This one, however, was much closer to home at Frensham Ponds for the first-summer Red-footed Falcon. Again I didn't have long, but at least this time I got to watch this smashing bird of prey for a good half an hour, even though all it did was preen itself while perched on a branch before flying off.

Dartford Warbler
What was pleasing about this twitch were the other birds on the Kings Ridge that gave fantastic views. A female Dartford Warbler, in particular, proved amazingly confiding. Singing constantly and as bold as a Robin in your garden, at one point she flew low passed me within a couple of feet.

Also here were Swifts aplenty, Woodlark, Linnet and a couple of Common Tern that flew in between the two Frensham ponds. The sun was shining. It was already warm at eight in the morning and the birds were singing. Happy days.

Sunday, 18 June 2017


I was in the Channel Tunnel heading for France for a day's birding when most other birders were queuing up to get into the car park at the Church Norton chapel near Selsey last Sunday.

My timing has always been impeccable and last Sunday was a case in point. I'd booked a space on the Eurotunnel at Folkestone the morning before, only to discover later in the day that the first Elegant Tern had turned up in Britain. Not only that but a Surrey tick Red-footed Falcon was flying around the heathland at Frensham Ponds.

I had planned the day trip across to Calais in the hope of finding some decent birds while everyone else was hoping June would pass by quickly and into autumn.

I'd heard so much about the quality rare birds you can find along the northern French coast, I had to go for a look myself. The one snag was I had never been birding in this part of the world before and had to rely on what proved to be an excellent and reliable site online, http://www.birdtours.co.uk/tripreports/france/calaise/calais.htm.

Having dissected the info at length I opted for the Somme region and three sites in particular – Sailly Bray, Crecy Forest and Marquentere.

It only took about an hour to drive to Sailly Bray, and while it is in the middle of nowhere, I actually found it quite easily. The target here was for Bluethroat, as this is apparently one of the best places to find them, Savi's Warbler, Marsh Warbler, Golden Oriole and Blue-headed Wagtail.

A marshland area with tall trees along the track leading off a picnic area and the road alongside the site, it was resplendent with bird song.

Marsh Warbler or Reed Warbler - not sure which
The predominant songster was Marsh Warbler, plenty of them popped up for a brief sighting, along with Sedge and Reed Warbler. Try as I might, however, I couldn't find a Bluethroat. A distinctive song that broke Marsh Warbler's mimicry was the lovely plaintive song of a Golden Oriole in the tall tree opposite to where I was standing, but frustratingly I couldn't see it!

High up in the blue sky, eight White Stork circled before heading off north, and a female Pied Flycatcher flew into the trees. Definitely an area to come back to with more time.

Crecy Forest
My next stop was Crecy Forest, a place I read a lot about. While it was a spectacular place to visit, knowledge was obviously essential in such a vast woodland, and I didn't have any. I drove around and parked up and went for the odd walk into the woods, but any hope of finding Honey Buzzard, Goshawk, Black Woodpecker, Golden Oriole, Short-toed Treecreeper, Melodious Warbler, etc was going to be a long-shot (well, for me it was anyway), so after a while I cut my losses and headed for Marquentere, which is where I spent the rest of a hot day.

Marquentere is a well put together reserve, with a visitor's centre, a cafeteria. The reserve itself has plenty of hides and varied habitat.

Spoonbill at Marquentere
Spoonbill, White Stork and Cattle Egret at Marquentere
Cattle Egret coming in to land
White Stork coming in to land
White Stork with young
It wasn't too busy when I arrived at lunchtime and the most obvious bird I sat eyes on as I walked through the pines and on to the reserve itself was White Stork. These fly low above your head as they drift in towards their nests and young. Their nests are strategically placed for visitors to get a closer look. Along with these plentiful White Stork were numerous Spoonbill (I lost count) and Cattle Egret perched restlessly high in the trees. I even saw a Night Heron flying around occasionally.

Black-winged Stilt

Also seen during the day were a few Crossbill, four Black-winged Stilt, a Common Crane, four Mediterranean Gull and a couple of unidentified waders.

Common Crane
The day trip maybe didn't reach the heights I had hoped for (due mainly to me being completely incompetent, I imagine) but it is such an easy place to travel to – from boarding the Eurotunnel train to arriving in Sailly Bray took just over two hours – I hope to visit the surrounding area again soon.