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 17 October 2017


Irrupting bird species is a bit of a thing. It happens most years when one species or another decides it is going to migrate en masse across the country and birders en masse get very excited.

In recent years we've had irrupting Waxwing during the winter of 2010-11, then last year it was Yellow-browed Warblers. This past week it has been Hawfinch.

One of the most popular species of finch, the stunning Hawfinch is both alluring and elusive. And it can behave in mysterious ways. In March 2013 Steve Gale found an amazing flock of more than 100 Hawfinch in Juniper Bottom near Box Hill – the stuff of legend. They were like a freak of nature, there were so many of them and they arrived completely out of the blue. No-one could have predicted their arrival.

This current irruption began last week and as the days have progressed it has gathered momentum.

I went up to Headley Heath on Sunday morning and saw very little, whereas six were seen just down the road to the west of me at Juniper Bottom. At the same time to the east, on my local patch at Holmethorpe, Gordon Hay and Ian Kehl saw one fly over the Water Colour complex – it was only the second site record.

Steve Gale got his first sighting on Headley Heath last week and followed up with five on his garden list as he vis-migged yesterday morning. 

Local birders were seeing Hawfinch all over the place. The only local birder who had yet to see one was predictably me.

Storm Orphelia sky at Foreness Point
Rock Pipit
The following morning I was in Margate to take my mum to a hospital appointment and managed to have a quick walk early in the morning along Foreness Point under the Sahara dust-laden Storm Ophelia sky, where I saw a Rock Pipit, a Wheatear and a couple of Stonechat. But no Hawfinch flew overhead.
Three of the six Hawfinch on Headley Heath this afternoon
Then this afternoon Annie and I returned to Headley Heath again for a stroll and all was very quiet. We were walking back to the car when I saw three birds land on top of an oak to my right. They looked quite big but I couldn't make out what they were – until I got my bins on them. HAWFINCH!

I called out to Annie and managed to get a decent view of them for about a minute before they flew off west, along with three others that must have been obscured on the other side of the tree. I reckon they may have been the six originally seen at Juniper Bottom on Sunday.

Wherever they came from it was still an unexpected surprise. It certainly made my day.

Wednesday 11 October 2017


One of the prevalent species this autumn has been that delightful little bird, the Phalarope. There have been plenty of sightings of Grey Phalarope around the country during the past couple of months, as well as decent numbers of Red-necked Phalarope.

Add to the list a showy Wilson's Phalarope at Oare Marshes, that is still present as I write this, and you may have easily have had the full set.

The first two were on my radar last month, when a Phalarope sp. turned up at Staines Reservoir on September 11.

The south basin at Staines Reservoir
The south basin at Staines Reservoir had been drained of water in the preceding weeks and had certainly delivered the goods on the wader front once the water levels had dropped. It made you aware of how many birds must fly over the area but decide to continue their journey rather than dropping in to a not-so-enticing habitat.

But now the environment was intoxicating, both for birds and birders.

The Phalarope appeared on the south basin, where it joined a Pectoral Sandpiper, 4 juvenile Curlew Sandpiper, 4 Knot, 3 Black-tailed Godwit, a Sanderling, a Ruff, plus plentiful numbers of Dunlin and Ringed Plover.

But swimming happily at the far end of the basin, at the time of its arrival it was unclear which of the two, Grey or Red-necked, it was. The consensus was perhaps a Red-necked. That was certainly my hope. It was be a lifer if it was.

And that uncertainty was still the case when I arrived along the causeway the next day, for the first time since the three white-winged Black Tern earlier in the year at "The Res".

It was great to see a familiar pair of faces as I arrived, "Captain" Bob Warden and Dave Carlsson were there that morning, and Bob immediately put me on to the Phalarope, happily bobbing away in the distance.

Ruff at Staines Reservoir
The south basin was full of waders. No Pectoral Sandpiper, and the pair of Knot went missing too, but there were numerous Dunlin and Ringed Plover, a couple of Greenshank, at least five Ruff, and the same number of Curlew Sandpiper. A great sight.

Dunlin and Curlew Sandpipers at Staines Reservoir
Bob had a Merlin fly through about half an hour earlier, and as more birders arrived, the debate got more prolonged as to to the id of this Phalarope. It meandered both ways and in the end the consensus was it was a Grey – which, while nice to see, was a tad disappointing from my viewpoint!

To cut a long debate short, however, the bird gradually migrated closer to the causeway over the next couple of days, and its id was confirmed to be a Red-necked Phalarope. Celebrations all round!
 A few days later a Grey Phalarope actually did turn up on the north basin.

Fast-forward more than three weeks to October 3 and the long-staying Long-billed Dowitcher at Oare Marshes was joined by another rare American vagrant – a Wilson's Phalarope. I had only seen one before, and that was at Vange Marshes and was very distant, so last Sunday was a welcome opportunity for a closer view.

Long-billed Dowitcher with Lapwing on the East Flood
I have been to Oare and Dungeness more than any other site this year – I really like both places. Oare is nice and easy to get to, it's compact, viewing is excellent and there is always something to see. Like this Wilson's Phalarope.

The Wilson's Phalarope at Oare Marshes
 It didn't let me down either. It performed very well, including its trademark spinning while feeding. The Long-billed Dowitcher also showed well, as did a couple of Little Stint.

Little Stint on the East Flood
All the birds went up into the air when a Peregrine paid a visit for a hopeful meal, which was an opportune moment to head back home for a decent Sunday roast.

Golden Plover in flight