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.

Wednesday 14 November 2018


Hot on the heels of the White-billed Diver last week, the latest influx of Pallid Swifts coaxed me back to Kent yesterday morning. I set off for Reculver where a Pallid Swift had been dodging the heavy rain showers most of the previous afternoon.

I wasn't expecting it to be still around for my latest twitch, and sure enough it wasn't. I met Marc Heath for the first time while I was there, where a lone, flighty Black Redstart gave us something to look at.

After an hour at the Roman fort I took to the road again and within 30 minutes I was at Foreness Point where a Pallid Swift had been reported earlier that morning and again around midday.

I parked in my usual spot and walked along the coastline towards Botany Bay and carried on walking towards the Captain Digby pub. Before I got there I came across Lee Evans and a local birder, who were both on the Pallid Swift, as was I moments later. And so within a week Margate had produced the goods yet again.

We watched it feeding around the Kingsgate Bay area. I took my eye off the bird briefly as Lee walked towards the pub and closer to the bay, when I saw it again flying closer towards me.  No-one else was around, which I thought was a bit odd, and I got great views as the Pallid Swift flew immediately overhead, before flying west toward Foreness Point. I followed it along Botany Bay and towards Foreness Point before I lost sight of it.

The second Pallid Swift flew close by
I put the sighting out on Rare Bird Alert, and moments later a Pallid Swift sighting was up on the site back at the Captain Digby.

The first Pallid Swift fed over Kingsgate Bay
I couldn't work out how the bird could be in two different places, but then realised they were two different birds. The bird I followed was a second Pallid Swift, while the original one had flown in the other direction.

I wonder what the next seven days will bring? A Pied Wheatear perhaps?

A Black Redstart on the rocks at Reculver

Monday 12 November 2018


The area between Foreness Point and Botany Bay where some of my dad's ashes are scattered
Some of you will recall that my mum passed away a couple of months ago. She lived in a bungalow in Palm Bay, Cliftonville, which is within walking distance of Foreness Point.

She originally moved there with my dad back in 2006, when they downsized from a house they lived in just down the road. My dad died in February 2015, and my mum kept his ashes in the bungalow.

For all the time my mum lived in the bungalow after my dad passed away she never went through any of his stuff or thrown anything away. In fact, his room was pretty much as it was the day he had been taken to hospital before being transferred to a nursing home four and a half years ago. Time had been frozen.

Annie and I have had go through all her possessions and also those of my dad's during the past month or so. I found it quite difficult, because it brought back so many memories and by going though all of my dad's belongings in particular, many of which I would be forced to throw away, it felt like I was erasing his life.

I discovered so many poignant items he had kept. Magazines and newspaper cuttings, many of which included interviews I had either written or had been quoted in. His room was very ordered, with everything labelled and filed. Boxes of fuses, plugs, tools, his indoor bowls medals, tickets and passes for Grands Prix I had taken him to, photo albums, maps, books,VHS tapes, CDs logging many of his stories he had written about his life.

He enjoyed writing. He focused on his early life, when he worked on a farm during the Second World War, and became a very good writer for someone who had only taken it up in his 70s. He even had his articles published in the local paper, as well as the magazine Best of British.

He also had his writings featured on a BBC website called WW2 People's War - an archive of World War II memories. You can read one of his stories here called Doodlebugspotting in Kent - A Near Miss.

Now his room, and in time, my parent's bungalow, will be just a memory. But I still needed to do one more thing to give closure to my dad's life – and that was to scatter his ashes.

Some of his ashes are now with my mum' in their garden, but it was also important to scatter some along the cliff tops at Foreness Point, where he loved to walk most mornings. He was remarkably fit for his age, and was still walking and playing bowls into his later 80s. And so just over a couple of weeks ago, that is what Annie and I did.

When most people think of Margate they imagine candyfloss and penny arcades, but to me Margate reminds me of walks along the cliffs and along the sandy beaches near Botany Bay, where you may only see a handful of people. It is a much underrated coastline.

Foreness Point is a special place for me, too, as when I used to visit mum and dad at Palm Bay, I would often make a point of going for a walk around the area for an hour just in case a decent bird appeared.

This coastline has a great record for bird sightings. I hadn't see that many, I admit, as I was invariably there at the wrong time and for only a short period, but I have seen Wryneck, Whinchat, Wheatear, Redstart, Rock Pipit and Corn Bunting, as well as Red-breasted Merganer and Eider. Fulmar breed here, and there are plenty of waders and seabirds to see on any given day.

On any given day, when I was back in Surrey, another great bird would invariably appear in the area, whether it was a Bee-eater, Honey-buzzard, Short-eared Owl, Pomarine Skua, Pallid Swift, Ring Ouzel, whatever. I always felt sad I'd never seen a true rarity here.

And then, just a few days after scattering my dad's ashes, news broke of a White-billed Diver, in summer plumage no less, happily swimming around the Margate area and showing well to the gathering throng.

I had to wait a couple of days, but it was still there on November 5. I took the day off and headed to Margate.

The White-billed Diver at Foreness Point - a magnificent bird
It was a beautiful day. I parked in my usual spot along The Ridings, and walked down to the cliff tops, just yards away from my dad's final resting place. And there out on the calm sea was this stunning White-billed Diver. What a striking bird!

Purple Sandpiper sleeping at Foreness Point
Of all the birds I had missed over the years, this Diver had made up for it. Added to which, down on the waters edge among the rock pools was a single Purple Sandpiper, a bird speciality of this coastline, as well as Sanderling, Ringed Plover, Curlew and Oystercatcher. I even caught up with a few birding friends I hadn't seen for a while.

My dad had been watching over me. It had been the perfect day.

Rock Pipit
Flock of Gannet flying east

Saturday 6 October 2018


And so Autumn has set it in. The days are getting shorter and the temperatures are gradually dropping. We've had a few decent days, to be fair, that have been warm enough for Annie and I to prepare barbecued Sea Bream to be eaten outside with a nice cold glass of white wine – a top-notch Gavi being our current tipple of choice.

After my mum's funeral on the 5th a few days later I took myself off to Dungeness for a second visit in a fortnight one morning in search for Cattle Egret and more Wryneck.

I went for the Cattle Egret first, in fields in amongst cattle at Boulderwall Farm, and managed to see two including one perched on a cow that was lying down on the grass. It was fortunate I went to visit early, as later in the day they were more difficult to see.

Cattle Egret at Boulderwall Farm
The shingle delivered once again with two Wryneck in the scrub in the Desert area. The birds were quite flighty – no surprise with the number of birders and photographers around – but I managed to get pretty good views, with the help of local birder James Tomlinson. I'd not met James before, but I got on well with him straight away. A really nice bloke.

Wryneck at Dungeness

A few weeks later I was delivering some of my stock car books to a friend in Stevenage who was passing them on to a seller at the tracks for me. The weather on the day was appalling, with treacherous conditions on the M25, but luckily the rain subsided and sun came out early enough for me to go over to Therfield to try for the juvenile female Pallid Harrier. After a bit of a walk I found the spot it had most recently been seen at.

The only Pallid Harrier I'd previously seen had been at Burpham in West Sussex, for a very obliging juvenile in 2011. Therfield is very similar to Burpham and The Burgh area, with ideal raptor habitat and a local farmer who is in tune with wildlife.

The juvenile female Pallid Harrier at Therfield in Hertfordshire. Note the trailing leg.
Thankfully, the Pallid Harrier made an appearance, hunting over the fields. Magnificent birds, Pallid Harriers. This female has a distinctive trailing leg, probably an injury of some sort.
Raven circling directly over urban Redhill
An added bonus while sitting out eating a meal in our courtyard one afternoon was spotting a pair of Raven. I heard the distinctive "cronking" sound and looked up and there they were circling directly overhead. An unusual garden tick (but not the first, as I saw one fly low over the house a couple of years ago). While more bird species are going into decline year-on-year, Raven sightings are becoming more common in Surrey – and more than welcome they are too.

Another highlight since August has been the regular visits of a hedgehog in our courtyard garden. It was getting to the point where as soon as we put some food down for him as it was getting dark he would appear, while we sat very close by and watched him feed. A real joy and a first for us in more than 20 years living in Redhill.

If he didn't turn up before we went to bed, he had eaten up during the night. He'd also often leave a calling card of hedgehog poo in various places around the patio.

However, for the past two or three nights the food remained on the plate – he has not been. It feels a bit too early for him to be thinking of hibernating – but maybe I'm wrong. Whatever the reason for his sudden disappearance, we hope he (or maybe she) is OK.

Wednesday 5 September 2018


Let's cut to the point. My mum died, and this afternoon I took her on her final journey.

It wasn't a shock exactly when it happened on August 22nd, but when it happened it was a shock, if you see what I mean. My mum passed away approaching her 91st birthday (September 14) and had lived a very long, and for the most part, enjoyable life, but the reality was that for the past six years she had been on borrowed time. It was back then that she was diagnosed with cancer. The date I remember well, August 7th – my birthday.

It turned out to be an unusual form of ovarian cancer that she was not expected to survive soon after it was discovered, but she was a remarkably resilient woman who repeatedly dumbfounded doctors by virtually eradicating the disease not once but four times after four lots of chemotherapy which ended in February this year. At no stage did she ever complain about what she was going through and for most of the time showed little sign she had cancer at all.

She had been through a lot but was still able to live her life despite it all, and that doesn't include losing her husband of 63 years, my dad, in 2014 after an extraordinary short period of dementia where he went from driving a car to being bed-ridden and unable to communicate in the space of ten months. But my dad was a firework in everything he did.

My mum, however, was completely different. She was a slow-burner, and a pragmatic and resilient one. She was still living at home when she became too ill to stay there, after a combination of the intense heat of the summer, a chest infection, COPD and progressive cancer took its toll and she went into hospital. Pneumonia got added to the list and even then she rallied and became more lucid and talkative than she had been for weeks previously. Remarkable, she was.

But, in the end it was her time. Today has been a tough and emotional day, but now I feel a sense of relief and closure. A new period of my life is about to begin.

Writing about birds after what I have just written sounds completely flippant, but as when my dad passed away, birding has been my savour (apart from dipping Wryneck and Melodious Warbler – it wasn't then) and a distraction to take me away from continual visits to mum's house, the hospital and  the funeral arrangements.

And so I will mention what I have done on the birding front this past month. On my birthday I went to Oare Marshes, as I often do, and saw the Red-necked Phalarope, the Bonaparte's Gull, a couple of Wood Sandpiper and Curlew Sandpiper.

Red-necked Phalarope on the East Flood at Oare Marshes
The Bonaparte's Gull at low tide on the Swale Estuary
Black Tern neat the 'Patch' at Dungeness
Then, I went to Dungeness to see the American Black Tern. I also have seen plenty of Whinchat, both at Foreness Point, close to where my mum lived, on the local patch at Homethorpe on the Moors and also at Tide Mills at Newhaven, where I managed at last to connect with a Wryneck. I also saw a Nightingale in the same area of scrub.

The American Black Tern at Dungeness
A Whinchat at Foreness Point
Nightingale at Tide Mills
Wryneck at Tide Mills - one of my all-time favourite birds
And so, that is it for the time being. Life will, hopefully, return to some sort of normality. I hope to take a few days off soon and, with Annie's blessing, spend them away somewhere to enjoy the rest of the autumn migration. I'm not sure where yet, though. I fancy Porthgwarra, as I have never been, or back to Spurn, having not been a for more than three years.

I am open to suggestions though. Speak soon. x

Tuesday 17 July 2018


While many birders have been focusing on butterflies, dragonflies and moths I have been out birding – a little bit at least – during what is generally regarded as the close season for birds.

During this glorious summer we are having, I took in a second visit to Thursley Common last week to catch up with the male Red-backed Shrike. I had made a failed attempt a couple of weeks before when the bird first went missing having been seen consistently viewed near the Pudmore Ponds area.

That day turned out to be a bit of a disastrous attempt to visit the Common as the local village was hosting some event around the car park area, with a loud PA and plenty of excitable children around the place. Not what you expect from a visit to this normally serene site. No wonder the Shrike had gone into hiding that day.

I wasn't expecting it to be seen again but luckily local Homethorpe birder Richard Perry rediscovered it in a fenced-off area where a small herd of Belted Galloway cattle were grazing a few days later. I put the word out on Rare Bird Alert and headed over there myself later that week.

The male Red-backed Shrike
It was a searingly hot day – hardly ideal conditions for walking around the dusty, tinder-dry Common – but there were a few birders around looking for the Shrike. I focused on watching a few Dartford Warbler before making a circuit of the area, and was fortunate to find the Red-backed Shrike perched up on some shrubbery. This was my first for Surrey, which was nice. The views were distant but that didn't matter. A very smart bird.

One of the juvenile Black-winged Stilt at Oare Marshes
I popped in at Oare Marshes on Monday, after a visit to Margate to take my mum to a hospital appointment. I didn't stay long, but the two adult Black-winged Stilt and two juveniles were easy to locate on the East Flood, unlike the Bonaparte's Gull, which was no doubt on the estuary somewhere with the tide out.

I occasionally have taken a short walk around the Water Colour and Moors areas of my local patch at Holmethorpe during the early summer, with a pair of Common Tern successfully breeding on Mercer's Lake on one of the pontoons there – only the second successful attempt on the site.

The first of three chicks currently survives, but there is a long way to go before we can truly celebrate.

Friday 1 June 2018


It has been a weird few months. It is hard to imagine not going birding throughout the spring but that has pretty much been the situation for me.

Since the turn of the year I can sum up my birding experience in a handful of paragraphs.

Male Hawfinch at Capel in February
Hawfinch on Ashurst Rough at Box Hill
Here goes. I spent one February afternoon in Capel looking for Hawfinch, then a couple of weeks later spent a morning on Box Hill looking for the huge flock of Hawfinch so brilliantly captured by Steve Gale on his North Downs and Beyond site. I managed to see about 50-60 of them.

Then after that I had a brief visit to Staines Reservoir to view the Horned Lark on February 24.

The Horned Lark at Staines Reservoir in February

Despite the bare bones of a birding year so far, I have actually had a couple of patch firsts. A few brief walks around the Moors on the local patch in March during the biting Beast from the East cold snap conjured up my first patch Golden Plover. Then recently I saw my first Holmethorpe Ringed Plover on the Water Colour island.

The only other highlight occurred one late morning when I bumped into Gordon Hay at the Water Colour lagoons just as a Hobby flew over and grabbed what was probably a Sand Martin.

Then this morning Annie and I took a quick walk around the Water Colour lagoons before I headed off to London to put together the Daily Star 16-page Derby pull-out for Saturday's paper. It was actually a very pleasant walk, with very close views of a Common Tern perched on a post (I didn't have my camera with me) while its partner fed over one of the lagoons. A number of Reed Warbler were chattering away in the reeds, while numerous House Martin busied themselves on the island collecting mud for the their nests, along with a neurotic d hoping to find a mate. It was a very happy scene. The birds were singing and there was plenty of activity. Nature at work.

But that has been it. A great pity, because the local patch has produced the goods so far this year, although I haven't been able to keep up to date records for the year on the Homethorpe website for everyone to read about them.

I will set about that task soon but it will take time to get back up to speed.

So why the silence? It has been because of this:

I wrote a book.

I took it upon myself to write a sequel to my previous self-published effort, The Sound and the Fury, which was written 18 years ago. I have been a fan of BriSCA F1 stock car racing since I was a kid and have been directly involved with the sport on and off over the years and more so during the past 18 months.

Once I has decided to go for it, everything else fell by the wayside. The book took over. While working at the Daily Star and the Daily Express as part of the day job, any spare time I had was taken up with the design and writing of Shock and Roar.

I had forgotten what a huge task it is producing a book, particularly if you are doing it all yourself. I had originally hoped to get it finished by February, but that imaginary deadline came and went, as did the next one in March.

But there came a point when I had to take the plunge and commit to a deadline when the book would finally go to press. And boy, while I am used to deadlines, this was stressful stuff.

Not only that, but I also took the decision to produce a couple of promo audio visuals to lead up to the book's launch – and they took time. And then there was the website. That had to be put together and set up to take payments for book purchases.

It was bloody hard work. The other stress came from the fact I chose a printing firm who I had never work with before – in Poland. I had heard good reviews of this company in Krakow and the quote they sent me was extremely competitive. The bottom line is, if you want value for money when printing a book head to Europe. Even with delivery on top, it is by far the best way to go.

But printing abroad involves more risk. Unless you can stay out in Poland for a week and oversee the process, you won't know how good a job has been done until you have the book in your hands. And then there is the insurance headache and whether your books will get to you in one piece without any dramas along the way.

But the print quality was excellent. First class. They did their utmost to keep me calm and confident the outcome would be as I hoped. They certainly delivered.

So I have the books, now I had to sell them. That also takes time and effort. Annie and I sold the first batch at a stock car venue for a two-day meeting, and that went well. But after that I have relied on online sales with continuing marketing on social media and press copies to motorsport publications.

When the orders started to come through it meant evenings spent bagging up books and numerous visits to the post office. Or that has always been the hope!

So far it has gone well, and reviews have been very good (my audience is easy to please!).

And so having missed the spring migration, including the Ring Ouzels on the patch, the Pomarine Skua seawatches and countless great birds, including the Golden Orioles at Portland Bill, the American Bittern, the Snowy Owl et al I have, at long last, some time to spend watching birds.

Unfortunately, today is the first day of June...

Friday 5 January 2018


Is it the beginning of 2018 already? The year has flown by, so with that in mind, and ignoring the endless discussion about Brexit, it must be time for the 2017 Randon's Rambling Awards!

As always, I intended to actually get these done before the end of the year but it has ended up going out a week into the following one. Apologies. The 2017 Surrey birding equivalent to the Oscars, Golden Globes, SPOTY, Baftas, Brits and the Turner Prize has got bigger (and hopefully better) over time, and you never know, one day they might actually become a thing, with trophies and a proper ceremony. One can dream...

So what was the year like on a personal level?  Certainly not as good as the previous year – in fact, I sometimes forgot I was a birder.

Less time on the patch and less visits to exciting birding sites. Much of that has to do with cars with V8 engines that hurtle around a track hitting each other as part of a new role I took up in 2017 on top of my other freelance work. Weekends were taken up with media-related activities and, as a result, eroded most of any spare time I had.

Pomarine Skua at Dungeness
Having said that, the year had its moments. Pomarine Skua migration at Dungeness in May is always a joy, as was the recent appearance of 16 Parrot Crossbill at Wishmoor Bottom near Camberley recently. 

White-winged Black Tern at Staines Reservoir
Parrot Crossbills at Wishmoor Common
Staines Reservoir was been very good this year, including three brilliant White-winged Black Tern in late spring. I made visits to a few new places, including Languard for the Great Reed Warbler, and returned to the excellent Frampton Marshes, where I lucked into a female Dotterel.

Great Reed Warbler at Languard
I made plenty of early-morning visits to Oare Marshes prior to seeing my ailing mum in Margate, which included the Long-billed Dowitcher and Wilson's Phalarope, and I had a couple of Holmethorpe firsts, a flyover Hawfinch in October and a couple of Goosander on Mercer's Lake in November.

The weather played its inevitable role, with the autumn producing the usual excitement in Shetland and the eastern side of the country but maybe not as much compared to a year ago. But the Orkney Isles, so often the bridesmaid compared to its more northerly counterpart, smashed the bird rarity stakes out of the ball park with a Siberian Blue Robin probably the bird of the year nationally in my view.

Scilly Isles came up with the goods compared to previous years, with a (admittedly moribund) Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Wilson's Snipe, Cedar Waxwing, Cliff Swallow, Isabelline Wheatear and Grey-cheeked Thrush to name a few.

The worst personal moment? I can't say I really spent enough time to have one, but probably it was not being able to go and see the Rock Thrush at the Blorenge in Gwent even though I was only half an hour down the road at the time...

Elsewhere, the local birding community has been as busy as usual, and Surrey bird sightings have been some of the best in recent years.

Now, before we continue, the Rambler Awards, unlike other official Surrey bird sighting activity, does include both the Surrey vice county boundary and Spelthorne as part of Surrey. The Surrey border does open up lengthy discussion but these are the Rambler Awards – and I decide the rules. Capiche?

As with every 12 months, bloggers, tweeters, twitchers and patch workers come and go, but it is those who have made 2017 memorable who are worthy of a Rambler – the birding Oscar.

Below is the list of awards, nominees and winners. And for the first time, I have included a top three podium.




In alphabetical order, the nominees are:
Ray Baker – Holmethorpe Sand Pits
The Beddington Crew – Beddington Farmlands
Mark Elsoffer – Tice's Meadow
Dave Harris – Walton Reservoirs
 Gordon Hay – Holmethorpe Sand Pits
Rich Horton – Tice's Meadow
Dominic Pia – Staines Moor/Reservoir
Rich Sergeant – Tice's Meadow
Ed Stubbs - Thorncombe Street
Bob Warden – Staines Reservoir

The winner is:



2nd place: DOMINIC PIA
3rd place: RAY BAKER

Congratulations to Bob Warden, who wins Patch Birder of the Year for the first time! 

It was a tough decision, as two other birders deserved to win the accolade this year. Both Dominic Pia and Ray Baker were vying for the award, but in the end with Staines Reservoir having such a remarkable 12 months, it was a coin toss between Dom and Bob, with Bob just edging it.

But Ray Baker deserves mention and not just because he walked my local patch!

Ray is not one for Twitter or Facebook, rarely twitches and has been dedicated to the Holmethorpe patch in recent years. and while Staines Reservoir has had birds drawn to its site as a result of the draining of the south basin, Holmethorpe has needed the patience of a saint to garner any excitement. This year has been pretty hard work on occasions but Ray has shown remarkable diligence – more I would say than any other birder in Surrey this year.

He would visit the patch at least three times a week from first light and walk every inch of it – and that is a long walk. Not only that, but he would record every bird he saw. And I mean every bird, not just species, so he has records that are second-to-none for Holmethorpe – which is fantastic, but there is a caveat to this. Ray has moved out of the area in November and now lives near Pulborough!

And so in 2018 Holmethorpe will suffer a huge void in its records, not just for birds, but also for butterflies and dragonflies, both of which Ray also recorded in detail.

Runner-up Dominic Pia had a remarkable year, and it was made all the more enjoyable with the south basin at The Res being drained for the second half of 2017. A regular at Staines, Dominic, like many of us, has to juggle work and family commitments with his favourite pastime. It used to be an in-joke that he would take detours to The Res when out on a Tesco's shopping run.

But Dom's patch birding highlights didn't just rely on the newly-formed mudflats of the south basin. There were great discoveries to be had when the basin was full of water, notably three self-found White-winged Black Tern – two adults and a first summer juvenile that went on to entertain the growing gathering of birders (including me) during that sunny May 23rd day.

"The best bird of the year was the Horned Lark, but the highlight, without doubt, was the White-winged Black Terns," says Dominic. "The adrenalin rush of a self find can't be beaten."

Dominic missed out on a few corkers, notably an Arctic Skua, a bird Bob missed out on too.

So it's Captain Bob Warden, a legend among Surrey birders, often accompanied by his able sidekick and photographic maestro Corporal Dave Carlsson, who has made Staines Reservoir his second home (his first home is in Woking).

Along with Dominic Pia, Bob has had a great 2017 and only missed out on a handful of birds at his beloved Reservoir. He missed out on Smew, the Arctic Skua, Marsh Harrier, Kittiwake, Yellow-legged Gull and Brambling, but little else. While not as sprightly on his pins these days (rumour has it he is at least 200 years old) you will always see him along the causeway at some point each week and during this past 12 months, even more often than usual.

Bob has been birding longer than most of us can remember and ever since I started on this extraordinary hobby, Bob has always been a feature. Even the local Carrion Crows along the causeway know him, as they wait in the sidelines hoping he will offer them a tasty bit of breakfast first thing in the morning.

Always friendly, approachable, helpful, informative and enthusiastic, Bob is a fine birder, who I personally haven't seen as often in recent years (due to being stuck behind a computer screen most of the time) but he is someone I class as a true pal. A top bloke and a worthy, and long-overdue, winner.



The nominations are:
(Caspian Gull, Glaucous Gull, Great White Egret)

(Cattle Egret, Great White Egret, Marsh Harrier, Goshawk, Spotted Crake, Temminck's Stint, Sabine's Gull, Caspian Gull, Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull, Turtle Dove, Long-eared Owl, Dartford Warbler, Waxwing, Twite, Hawfinch)

(Long-tailed Duck, Marsh Harrier, Osprey, Red-footed Falcon, Great Grey Shrike) 

(Whooper Swan, Smew, Great Northern Diver, Great White Egret, Red-necked Grebe, Slavonian Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Marsh Harrier, Merlin, Little Stint, Pectoral Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Red-necked PhalaropeGrey Phalarope, Arctic Skua, White-winged Black Tern, Roseate Tern, Horned Lark)

(Glaucous Gull, Great White Egret, Honey-buzzard, Goshawk, Osprey, Merlin, Dartford Warbler, Hawfinch)

(Cattle Egret, Waxwing, Hawfinch)

(Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull, Little Stint, Temminck's Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Grey Phalarope, Red-rumped Swallow)

The winner is:



Now, barring the traditionalists who will say that The Res doesn't count because it is not part of the old Vice County, the Ramblers Awards ignores that and legitimises Spelthorne for Awards purposes.
Also it had a bloody amazing year!

Having said that, it was run very, very close by Beddington – very close! Beddington will always be favourite at the beginning of each year to win this award and only just came up short. But it wasn't because it lacked the variety of rare and scarce birds, far from it. It produced a stack in 2017 despite to introduction on the infamous incinerator and some remarkable birds are always lured to this London site.

With a fine group of regular patch watchers the list of 159 Beddington birds in 2017 is perhaps more interesting overall than Staine Reservoir, the variety is extraordinary, but what Staines lacked in variety it made up for in numbers.

In the end Staines Reservoir had to win it for the fun second half of the year for all visiting birders. Anyone who turned up would have had enjoyed some stellar wader action – numerous common waders to go with a handful of scarce delights – as well as the odd rare.

"The autumn passage was amazing," says Dominic Pia. "Phalaropes, Pec Sands and loads of Little Stints, Curlew Sandpipers, a Merlin, a Marsh Harrier and a drake Garganey too."

Once the south basin had been drained it was almost certainly going to feature prominently with all the wetland birds it was sure to entice. But even before the basin's water levels began to drop, the reservoir was the site of a number of remarkable birds during the first half of the year, With the White-winged Black Terns and a Roseate Tern being highlights.

So it couldn't really be anywhere else, could it? Congratulations to Staines Reservoir, winner of the Patch of the Year award for the first time.

Special mention must go to Frensham Ponds, who made the nominations and on to the podium for the first time. The area came up with a few great discoveries, including the Red-footed Falcon, Great Grey Shrike, Long-tailed Duck and the now regular Osprey sighting.

Tice's Meadow successfully defended the Horton Hay Cup – the annual yearly Surrey bird list challenge between the patch and Holmethorpe Sand Pits. Not much of a contest in 2017 to be fair they won handsomely 144-132. Their highlights were probably Honey-buzzard and Glaucous Gull.

I live in hope we can turn that round one day – maybe this year!



The nominations are:
Cattle Egret (Beddington Farmlands)
Red-footed Falcon (Frensham Ponds)
Spotted Crake (Beddington Farmlands)
Temminck's Stint (Beddington Farmlands)
Red-necked Phalarope (Staines Reservoir)
Grey Phalarope (Staines Reservoir)
Arctic Skua (Staines Reservoir)
Sabine's Gull (Beddington Farmlands) 
Glaucous Gull (Beddington Farmlands, Tice's Meadow) 
White-winged Black Tern (Staines Reservoir)
Long-eared Owl (Beddington Farmlands)
Great Grey Shrike (numerous sites)
Horned Lark (Staines Reservoir)
Twite (Beddington Farmlands) 
Parrot Crossbill (Wishmoor Common)
 Hawfinch (numerous sites) 

The winner is:




A year when the red-hot favourite picks up the prize. The mighty Hawfinch takes a well-deserved award. Looking back at previous winners I was sure the big-billed beast had picked up the prize in 2013 when that incredible flock of 100-plus bird arrived at Juniper Bottom, but for some unbeknown-to-me-now reason, it didn't.

The competition was fierce, however. What a year for Surrey birding! A flock of at least 16 Parrot Crossbills late on in the year would normally steal the show as they migrated between Surrey and Berkshire along Wishmoor Bottom, and also the Red-footed Falcon at Frensham was another stonking bird, and a classic Surrey rarity.

Add to those beauties, there was a Sabine's Gull that dropped in at Beddington, the site that also gave us an inland Twite (that is still present apparently). There were plenty of others too, but the Hawfinch was the obvious winner for being such good value during this autumn and winter. They have turned up pretty much anywhere in Surrey, you just had to be in the right place at the right time – a bit like the Waxwing of a few years ago.

And while it took some people a few frustrating attempts to see one ot two, when they did turn up it was such a thrill! I had my brief Hawfinch fix at Headley Heath, when six dropped into a tree while I was walking back to the car park. One of my highlights of the year, to be honest.

And that is the thing about these magnificent finches, they are a bird that make the pulse race that little bit, something some more rare species fail to do.



The nominations are:
PETER ALFREY (Non-Stop Birding)
STEVE GALE (North Downs and Beyond)
GAVIN HAIG (Not Quite Scilly)
PAUL TRODD (Plovers Blog)
STEVE WAITE (Axe Birding)

The winner is:


(Wanstead Birder)


I firmly believed there was no stopping Steve Gale, but it is Jonathan Lethbridge, after four years of following in the shadows of the great man, having been the bridesmaid so often, who takes the Rambler for Birding Blog of the Year for a second time.

Unbeknown to both bloggers, it was a 12-round battle a birding blog Muhammed Ali v Joe Frazier Thriller in Manila – in which both had claims for the title.

In the end Jonathan won it with some great posts that often had great photos attached. One of his photos is seen below – probably the finest bird photo of the year. He came into 2017 fully-armed, and it worked.

I say it year in, year out, but somehow Steve Gale is able to create fascinating and thought-provoking blog posts at will. There is no-one as prolific. He had another great year but it had to happen one day, when someone broke the domination.

I actually didn't believed it would happen this time around, but Mr Wanstead Birder really stepped up to the plate in 2017. Steve's domination has been something we should savour, however, because without North Downs and Beyond, the world of birding would be a poorer place.

I'm delighted to put Peter Alfrey's blog into the top three because here's a man with a passion for birding and for Beddington in particular that is both admirable and inspirational. He is a truly great birder too. One of the best there is.

Gavin Haig once again threatened to become a challenger but latterly steered away from being a birding blog into one on fishing – his other passion. Sometimes Gavin goes off radar, phasing sometimes being the culprit. I have to admit I have more moments suffering this affliction than I care to admit these days. Still, I'm just grateful Gavin still writes now and then, because he is one of my true favourite scribes.

I've included Paul Trodd's blog, based on Dungeness and its environs, for the first time because it is one I always refer to and enjoy reading. It has been an excellent 12 months on the shingle.

Steve Waite's blog is one of the very best pure birding blogs out there and once again a worthy short-list entry.

So Steve Gale's stranglehold on birding blogs has been released – for now... 



The nominations are:
STEVE GALE (North Downs and Beyond)
What is means to be a birder. 

 GAVIN HAIG (Not Quite Scilly)
A day to remember
Memories of a very successful day's birding in 1984.

Waders – a decade of retrospection
A look back at patch birding at Wanstead and patch gold – the elusive wader.

The winner is:

GAVIN HAIG (Not Quite Scilly)


This year's winner of the Randon's Ramblings Blog Post of the Year goes to Gavin Haig for 'A day to remember'.

Always a pleasure to read, Gavin, while not exactly a prolific blogger, does come up with some real gems. This was one example of a few he wrote this year. His writing has a light touch, he adds humour and is able to create a picture in your minds eye. Very difficult to do, but he does so with apparent ease.

I also really enjoyed notquitescilly2.blogspot.com/2017/05/sharing-is-caring.html amongst others. 

And finally, the Twitter users who have made comments this past year that have stuck in the memory.



The nominations are:
SIMON EDWARD (@eddybirder - new entry with 512 followers)
MARK ELSOFFER (@Mark_Elsoffer – 396 followers in 2016 - 493 in 2017)
SHAUN FERGUSON (@sferguk – 295 followers in 2016 - now 469)
IAN JONES (@ianeagle67 – 277 followers - now 355)
KEITH KERR (@akkwildlife – 1,839 followers - now 2,044)
STEVE MINHINNICK (stevie69000 – 324 followers - now 361)
RICH SERGEANT (@TicesBirder – 1,933 followers - now 2,189)

The winner is:




Congratulations go to Shaun Ferguson on winning the Surrey Birding Tweeter of the Year.

The South African birder who has made Surrey his home has entertained all year with his twitching exploits and some fascinating birding trips abroad, notably in his native country. Never a dull moment following Shaun. He's a bit bonkers – worth the ticket and takes his birding seriously.

Never a day goes by without a tweet. Some are gripping even when few words are used. That is a skill in itself. Very creative.

So well done to Shaun and to all the winners and nominees in each of the categories – every one was worthy of recognition as they made 2017 all the more rewarding.


So, that's 2017 out of the way. Let's hope 2018 will make us smile.

Happy New Year one and all and enjoy your birding!