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.



Tuesday, 11 June 2019

MALLORCAN PATCH BIRDING

Well, it's back to the grindstone after another great holiday in Mallorca three years after our last visit there.

It's amazing how quickly the time goes – somehow the timelords seem to put their foot firmly on the accelerator, and before you know you are hitting old age smack in the face.

That's how it seems to me, at any rate as I alarmingly approach my 60th birthday. 60! Such a big number in my book – and I don't like it.

So Annie and I headed off to the Balearic isle for an end-of-spring break. We prefer to go down the self-catering villa-in-the-countryside-with-a-pool route and we headed for the same area we stayed at last time.

The villa was in the Marc valley, to the west of Pollença,
before the foothills of the Tramuntara mountain range
Three years ago we were in a luxury villa (jumped on an amazing deal at the time) just on the edge of the Serra de Tramuntara mountain range in the Marc valley, just west of Pollença. It was a mega spot and this time we stayed a just a mile down the road.

Evening sun hits the top of the mountains
It was in a lovely setting – the villa wasn't as upmarket as the last one but the pool was great and the surrounding countryside suited my birding our requirements.

For the first couple of days it was sunny with a cool breeze, but it got progressively warmer. We then had a couple of days of rain before the sun returned into the second week.

For any birder Mallorca is one of the must-go-to islands of the Mediterranean, with plenty of great sites around the whole island. The north is the most popular area to visit, with the Albufera Nature reserve one of the highlights, along with the other famous sites like the Boquer Valley.

This time around I tended to focus on the area surrounding the villa rather than racing around ticking off birding spots, as we will return to the island over the coming the years – probably again this autumn. We really enjoy the relaxed atmosphere, the fact nowhere is too far to travel to on any given day and the general lack of pretension. Life is simple and straightforward here.

One of many secretive but tuneful Nightingale along the valley
The birds, of course, are top quality!

Like our previous visit, I found I didn't need to travel far to see the majority of the species I wanted to tick. The area of the Marc valley is exceptionally good birding country, but not an area noted on the guides.

The road outside the villa is on a hiker's route between Pollença and the mountains. Annie and I walked from the villa along the valley most mornings and it was extremely satisfying discovering different species every day.

What was also satisfying was how much Annie enjoyed seeing, listening to and recognising different bird species.

I basically created a birding patch from the villa that stretched along the lane west for a mile. Surrounding us was farmland with different habitats and mountains. So a mix is assured.

Every day was different.

But the song we woke to every morning until the sun went down was that of the Nightingale. They are everywhere, and was a pure joy to hear as a backing track.

The other sound, more often at night was the less tuneful call of the Stone Curlew. One made me jump one evening as it flew over the villa loudly calling as it went. Stone Curlew fly-overs would be a common occurrence during our stay.

By the end of the holiday I had 53 species on the list, with 39 seen on the villa patch.

Audouin's Gull at Puerto Pollenca
We went out for lunch a lot – often in Port de Pollença – where I added Audioun's Gull to my Mallorca list. These gulls are easy to spot, along with Yellow-legged Gull, particularly hanging around the beach hoping for a few titbits.

Spotted Flycatcher at the villa
The fields behind the villa were full of birds. The most common 'uncommon' bird was Spotted Flycatcher. Always fun to watch, they darted around the villa most days and along the fence line on our daily walk.

One of many Spotted Flycatchers along our walk
Serin at the villa
Corn Bunting in the field at the back of the villa
Cirl Bunting
Dark-phase Booted Eagle
Red Kite
Serin were seen often too, as were Corn Bunting and Cirl Bunting. Up in the sky Griffon Vulture regularly circled. For those looking for birds of prey, Booted Eagle were a common sighting, as was a lone Kestrel and Red Kite.

Eleonora's Falcon
Griffon Vulture
Pale-phase Booted Eagle
Black Vulture
But it really stepped up on the third morning on our walk, as we enjoyed watching four Eleonora's Falcon feeding on insects along the path, swooping fast and low really close by. On the following morning, we saw another couple of Eleonora's Falcon, together with a pale-phase Booted Eagle, Griffon Vulture and a Black Vulture, all in the space of ten minutes.

In fact, all four species flew very close by the villa itself on different days.

Stone Curlew
One of the other highlights was seeing a Stone Curlew in one of the adjacent fields – a lucky discovery, having seen something move on the ground some distance away.

Zitting Cisticola
Early one morning I headed further afield and out to a reserve, the S'Albuferta, the smaller of the reserves close to Alcudia. I took me a while to get my bearings to be honest, as signposting wasn't that great, but while travelling around the area I saw my first Woodchat Shrike of the holiday, and a Zitting Cisticola singing hysterically in a field.

Kentish Plover and Black-winged Stilt at S'Albuferta
Yellow Wagtail
At the reserve I saw a Purple Heron, a number of Kentish Plover and Black-winged Stilt, as well as a Marsh Harrier and plenty of Iberian species Yellow Wagtail (flava iberiae).

A flushed Hoopoe in the Boquer Valley - about the best I could come up with of one of these all holiday!
I even had time to walk the Boquer Valley later that morning in hope of a Blue Rock Thrush – but to no avail. I flushed a Hoopoe while walking along the well-trodden Boquer path, while Sardinian Warbler was the most common species spotted along the route.

Balearic Warbler at Boquer Valley
I did luck into a Balearic Warbler at the end of the valley as the path drops down to the sea. The warbler flew low right in front of me and settled down to feed among the gorse close by – my best-ever views of this endemic Mallorcan species.

Apart from that though, the Boquer Valley was quiet, with no raptors of any kind. Curiously, I find this popular site can be a bit of a disappointment at times.

Woodchat Shrike at the villa
Woodchat Shrike targets a meal
Woodchat Shrike along the lane from the villa
Woodchat Shrike sightings were non-existent around my new patch until three days before the end of the holiday when one appeared on a wire behind the villa. We then saw another, probably the same one close up a day later along the lane. The same day I heard and then saw another Zitting Cisticola circling in a field.

A local Hoopoe was a regular, if fleeting sight, on our walk until the penultimate evening when I heard it calling in a field behind the villa. It immediately flew into a tree where the Woodchat Shrike was perched. In a tree closer to the villa I had my first patch sighting of a Yellow Wagtail.

Another surprise on a few evenings was hearing a Nightjar churring not that far away.

I didn't see any firsts for my life list but searching for the real rarities like Bonelli's Eagle and Moltoni's Warbler requires a bit of research and a good map. Despite that you don't always need to go far in Mallorca and make too much effort to find some decent birds. That was more than enough for me.

2019 Mallorca notable bird list (53 in total, incl. 39 villa patch):
Red-legged Partridge (S'Albuferta)
Cattle Egret (over motorway heading to villa)
Purple Heron (S'Albuferta)
Griffon Vulture
Black Vulture
Booted Eagle
Red Kite
Marsh Harrier (S'Albuferta)
Kestrel
Eleonora's Falcon
Black-winged Stilt (S'Albuferta)
Stone Curlew
Little-ringed Plover (S'Albuferta)
Kentish Plover (S'Albuferta)
Audouin's Gull (Port de Pollença)
Yellow-legged Gull
Common Tern (S'Albuferta)
Scops Owl (heard only)
Nightjar (heard only)
Hoopoe
Woodchat Shrike
Raven
Red-rumped Swallow (Palma airport)
Balearic Warbler (Boquer Valley)
Sardinian Warbler
Zitting Cisticola
Spotted Flycatcher
Nightingale
Stonechat (Boquer Valley)
Yellow Wagtail
Serin
Cirl Bunting
Corn Bunting

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

THOUGHTS OF POM SKUAS BREAKS THE PHASING BLUES

Apologies once again for the lack of posts since February. Some of the reason has been due to the usual time constraints but predominantly, I have to admit, it has been more because of a total lack of enthusiasm.

I never thought it would ever happen, but a chronic case of phasing really enveloped me and at the time I couldn't comprehend why.

I have just recently begun to snap out of it, but even now I really struggle to force myself to get out of bed at the crack of dawn – even during spring migration.

But then again, I haven't really missed that much. Spring migration this year has been pretty quiet, alarmingly so I would say. 

But even when some of my favourite birds have arrived relatively locally, like Ring Ouzel, for example, I've just shrugged my shoulders and carried on with whatever it was I had been doing at the time. The pulse never flickered.

Back in February I did enjoy regularly seeing my local patch's long-staying Black-throated Diver. For more than five weeks he stayed on Mercer's Lake – it was a real pleasure to have such a rare visitor on the doorstep.

Holmethorpe's Black-throated Diver
Deep down I think I have been just plain tired. Last year was draining because any spare time was spent writing, producing and publishing my stock car book, then I had to focus on selling it – often at the venues. After that my mum gradually deteriorated and passed away and the aftermath as the end of the year approached was soul-sapping.

Work has been gruelling, with a major reshuffle on the cards, and too much to do with less staff to do it. And so I supposed it should have been no surprise to find myself running on empty this spring. 

But one ember of enthusiasm, of hope, continued to glow – the thought of watching migrating Pomarine Skuas. I find sea-watching, whenever I get the opportunity, a true joy. There are few more satisfying things in life (to my mind, at least) than to empty my head of all the crap going on inside it and sit by the sea and stare at it all day. Wonderful.

A Pomarine Skua (it is there somewhere!)
And so that is what I did on consecutive Tuesdays at Dungeness earlier this month. While it was relatively quiet on the migration front, on the second visit I got to see my first Pom Skua of the season. Just the one, but it was enough.

Bar-tailed Godwit with Whimbrel
Added to the list, in no particular order, the other highlights were a pair of Garganey, Little Gull, Black-throated Diver, Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Kittiwake, Little Tern (loads of them), Arctic Tern, Arctic Skua and Bonxie. Away from the sea Great White Egret, Wheatear and, in particular, a pair of Black Redstart were spirit-lifting.

Kittiwake
Three Arctic Skuas

A handsome Black Redstart 
Great White Egret
Wheatear
I did managed to miss a Kentish Plover (it would have been a British lifer) that dropped in momentarily by the fishing boats while I was at the sea-watching hide, but I got over that pretty quickly.

This resuscitation of enthusiasm has also coincided with our first real holiday for a while beginning this weekend. Annie and I are off to Mallorca – staying in a villa in the Marc valley to the west of Pollensa.

If it is half as memorable as the last time we went three years ago, I will be very happy indeed.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

HOLMETHORPE DELIVERS AGAIN WITH A BLACK-THROATED DIVER

Holmethorpe is currently enjoying its moment in the limelight with a Black-throated Diver on Mercer's Lake, with more than 100 visitors to the patch during the past 10 days.

It was Ian Kehl who discovered it. Ian happened across this first sighting for 36 years over a week ago on a Sunday afternoon while hoping to see the Glaucous Gull roost on the lake, having already dipped the bird a number of times.

Thankfully, he connected with the Gull too, but the Diver is possibly an even better species for the patch.


Steve Gale was the last birder to see a Black-throated Diver here in 1983. Dave Harris, having looked at photos, confirmed this is the same bird as the Diver seen at Frimley earlier the same day.

 
Winter always seems to be a good season for me birding-wise. I often get to see a few personal firsts for Britain, Surrey and the patch between December and February, and the Black-throated Diver was no exception, being a Surrey/London/patch first for me.

Its arrival also allowed Gordon Hay, the stalwart of the patch for the past 30-odd years, to clock his 200th Holmethorpe species, and what a brilliant bird to mark the feat.

The Glaucous Gull headed to the west London reservoirs to roost and has since not been seen. The Diver apparently flew off earlier last week but saw the error of its ways and returned two and a half hours later and has been enjoyed by local birders ever since. It was still happily preening itself in the sunshine this afternoon during its tenth day on the patch.


The Black-throated Diver was still on Mercer's Lake this afternoon – its tenth day on the patch
It will no doubt be on its way sooner rather than later, but it has been a joy to be able and go and see such a great bird just five minutes away from my house whenever I feel in the mood for a bit of fresh air.

Having two good birds on the patch recently certainly gives you a lift, as is the knowledge that there are just over two weeks to go until spring arrives.

Having spoken to Gordon recently, he has a wish list for the patch this year with White-winged Black Tern at the top of the pile. I remember Steve Gale suggesting Alpine Swift a couple of years back, while I would settle for a Red-rumped Swallow to make up for the one I dipped in 2015. Cattle Egret must be another possible at some point, too.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

BEDDINGTON GLAUCOUS GULL ROOSTS AT HOMETHORPE


The sleeping Glaucous Gull stands out in the crowd
Holmethorpe Sand Pits and Beddington Farmlands have history. Both are in Surrey, with Beddington about ten miles due north of Holmethorpe.

Both have water as a feature, and both enjoy plenty of gulls – the landfill at both sites draws them in. Beddington is famous for them. Caspian Gulls are a speciality, as are Iceland Gulls and the occasional Glaucous Gull. They even have had Sabine's Gull fly though or drop in on the scrapes in recent years.

Holmethorpe, on the other hand, tends to encourage all the common species but the rarer gulls are few and far between. We get the occasional Little Gull, always really nice to see, but rarely anything else.

But then, every year or so, the two sites share birds. The occasional rarity will arrive at Beddington during the week and when the weekend arrives that bird will up sticks and head to Holmethorpe.

When Beddington had a glut of Iceland Gulls during the first couple of months of 2012, one turned up at Holmethorpe on Spynes Mere one Saturday afternoon.

Then two and a half years ago (August 2016) a White Stork appeared at Beddington, stayed for a few days and then early one Sunday morning Gordon Hay discovered it on the Water Colour Lagoons. It only stayed for a few hours before heading back to Beddington. Both Gordon and I had independently gone to Beddington to see it, so this outstanding Holmethorpe sighting was just a patch lifer for both of us.

And now, since Saturday evening, a Glaucous Gull that has been resident at Beddington in recent days has decided to roost on Mercer's Lake. Gordon found it, as is the norm – the first Glaucous Gull sighting on the patch since January 19, 2004 – 15 years ago to the very day.

The Glauc has visited the Mercer's Lake roost each night since Saturday
I was lucky enough to see it on Sunday evening and again tonight, when it arrived at about 4.25pm, and pretty soon after touch down it fell fast asleep. It is the first for me on the patch, having seen a couple at Beddington in previous years, and a corker at that.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER OFF BRITISH BOGEY BIRD LIST

Well, it took some time – but I finally managed to see my first Yellow-browed Warbler and a Surrey one at that. Yes, I know – how on earth have I managed not to see one all this time? It's not like they are mega-rare. In fact, some years they are prolific. 

I wrote about this taxing birding issue in 2016 here.

Anyway, it was on my British bogey bird list until Monday. But even then, the little blighter did its best to test my patience.

Dave Harris discovered the little warbler at Molesey Heath on Saturday, alongside the river next to Island Barn reservoir. It was an excellent find and it had been showing well. I hadn't an opportunity to go and twitch it until Monday after lunch, but seeing as it was still present I went out for what was my first 2019 birding sortie.

It only took 35 minutes to get there as the traffic was pretty quiet and after walking along the river bank I came across three fellow birders, including Bill Dyke. Predictably, I had arrived too late, having been told it had been showing well for quite a while but had just flown off down river.

The Yellow-browed Warbler at Molesey Heath
From that point on it was a case of searching for any bird flitting around the trees and scrub alongside the river banks. We heard it calling, which helped but a possible sighting was only fleeting as it disappeared once again. Once my companions headed off, I had to wait a good hour and was five minutes away from aborting the task and sulking all the way home when I got my first proper view of the Yellow-browed Warbler.

Having noticed a small flock of Long-tailed Tit on the opposite river bank, the flock flew over to my side of the river and next to the footpath. And immediately I noticed the Yellow-browed Warbler among them.

It didn't always stick with the flock, often going off on its own, calling occasionally, but it was good to have a bit of time to enjoy a decent Surrey bird.

It never stayed still for very long
So what's next on the bogey list? The first one is Twite. I never got to see the Beddington bird last year but three currently reside at Rye Harbour, and I hope they stay long enough for me to take a trip into Kent.

There are plenty of others that this year I would like to strike off my British bogey list. Some I almost wince to mention  so much so I won't actually mention a couple of them! I've a list of about 40 that should be possible in 2019. They include plenty of seabirds – a trip on a boat off Penzance is in order this year. It is something I really want to do if I have time. Then I would hope to tick off a few Storm Petrels and a couple of Shearwaters.

Of the others, the most glaring omissions are Ring-billed Gull, Roseate Tern, Honey-buzzard, Montagu's Harrier, Little Auk, Woodchat Shrike, Icterine Warbler and Bluethroat – as well as resident birds such as Chough, Willow Tit and Cirl Bunting. Then there's all the Scottish residents too – but they will have to wait another year.

Two birds I would really like to see, just because they are two personal favourites, are Sabine's Gull and Golden Oriole. So, as you can see, there are plenty of gaping holes in my British list.

Should I care? Not really. A bird list is really just a personal thing, that no-one else really gives a toss about. I used to be a bit obsessed with listing but I now only twitch a new bird when the mood takes me, and when it is close enough to home not to be an act of endurance.

I missed a pair of Goosander on the Holmethorpe patch, found by Gordon Hay on Monday afternoon, as it was dark by the time I got back to Redhill. Strange how things change. Holmethorpe was always a dead cert for Smew each winter, while Goosander was as rare as rocket horse shit.

But now the roles have reversed and Goosander has appeared for the third year in a row, with Smew missing for the same amount of time.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

THE 2018 RANDON'S RAMBLING AWARDS

Another year passes and so it is time for the most prestigious birding awards of the year – well, I like to think so anyway!

And for the first time in its history, rather than simply receiving my best wishes, as Danny Baker would say at the conclusion of the sausage sandwich game on his Saturday radio show on Five Live, this year the winners of two categories will get real trophies!

I thought it was time. 

I created another awards recently for F1 stock car Photo of the Year (see here) and added trophies to the winners, who seemed to really appreciate it. So this year, the Patch Birder of the Year and Patch of the Year will both receive an official Rambler.

What a strange year it has been. The Brexit debacle never gets any better and while we normally look to the future on New Year's Eve full of hope and expectation it is hard to feel that way at the moment. Trepidation, anger and downright fear are emotions that spring to mind.

But fortunately birds are blissfully unaware our great country may crumble around our feet due to the ineptitude of our politicians on both sides of the political divide. They will migrate to their breeding grounds in the spring and then leave for their winter vacation in the autumn, as they always do.

And we as birders will spend many hours during the year enjoying this process.

Hopefully, I will be doing the same. As many will know, my birding has steadily been in decline for a number of years, due to family illness and bereavement, work, writing and publishing a book (as I did this year) and I must admit, long periods of phasing in 2018.

When I have been out I've enjoyed it, but coaxing myself to actually go out and bird has often been the issue. Some of it I think is partly a culmination of all the above. Mentally it has been a taxing year and a long holiday is definitely required. A good rest would be great.

But for all of that, there have been one or two moments of birding joy. I've enjoyed my visits to Oare Marshes, including on my birthday, and watching numerous Hawfinch around Surrey and three Wryneck at Dungeness, but the highlight for me was undoubtedly the White-billed Diver at Foreness Point, near Margate.

White-billed Diver at Foreness Point
What made it special was that I scattered my dad's ashes at the very spot I saw the Diver only the week before. He died more than three years ago but my mum kept his ashes at home just up the road in Palm Bay until she past away in August. 

Dad would walk the cliffs and along the beach most days when he was able and so it was fitting that a rare bird should appear there the following week. A Purple Sandpiper was also present on that day, which was warm and awash with a bright blue sky. As it was a week later at Foreness Point when a pair of Pallid Swift turned up. 

Plans for 2019? I'm keeping my options open. I will have another book project possibly on the go, and one of my other objectives is to get the Holmethorpe website back up to date after a year of neglect on my part. I really hope to get the birding bug back too.

As always, I intended to have the awards ready before the end of the year but ended up going out a week into the following one. Apologies once again. 

The local birding community has been as dedicated as always. Surrey birding involves some of the finest birders in the country, and I genuinely feel proud to be able to represent them with these awards.

As I always state each year, 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 – so they don't here!

With each year patch watchers, bloggers, tweeters, twitchers and all those in between, come and go, but it is those who have made 2018 memorable who are worthy of a Rambler – the birding Oscar. 

This year, I believe, has been one of the best in the awards' history.

And so below is the list of awards, the nominees and the winners. I hope you enjoy them.

THE 2018 RAMBLER AWARDS

2018 SURREY PATCH BIRDER
OF THE YEAR

In alphabetical order, the nominees are:
The Beddington Farm Bird Group – Beddington Farmlands
Steve Castell – Stoke Water Meadows
Mark Elsoffer – Tice's Meadow
Steve Gale –  Surrey Uber patch
Dave Harris – Walton Reservoirs
 Gordon Hay – Holmethorpe Sand Pits
Rich Horton – Tice's Meadow
Shaun Peters – Frensham Ponds
Dominic Pia – Staines Moor/Reservoir
Rich Sergeant – Tice's Meadow
Ed Stubbs - Thorncombe Street
Bob Warden – Staines Reservoir

The winner is:

STEVE GALE

 

2nd place: SHAUN PETERS
3rd place: ED STUBBS


Congratulations to Steve Gale, who wins Patch Birder of the Year for the first time! 

This category, possibly the most prestigious of all the Rambler awards, is normally a difficult one to pick a winner from – but not this year. There could only ever be one winner after what had been a memorable year for Steve – particularly during the first three months!

Steve Gale is an outstanding birder. I don't think I have ever known of someone more capable of discovering truly epic birding moments. As he suggests, there is more to birding than rairities, and he has made a name for himself because of his attitiude.

Whether it is a flock of Goldfinch, Redpoll, Brambling or Mediterranean Gull, Steve manages to come across huge flocks of specific species.

But there was one bird that stood out – and not just as a Surrey sighting, but as a British birding phenomenon.

It was Steve who, predictably, discovered a large flock of Hawfinch around Juniper Bottom in March 2013. Other birders migrated to the area over the coming days, and a flock of a dozen or so became more than 100. At the time seeing 100 Hawfinch together was regarded as an exceptional happening.

Well, Steve, knocked that into a top hat last winter/early spring when he returned to the same area in the hope of finding more Hawfinch. And he certainly did. Making regular visits around the area the peak total hit 600 at Bramblehall Wood on March 13. 

600! 

A mere handful of the 600 Hawfinch
This was a birding moment like no other. Not just for Surrey but the entire UK. Quite staggering.

Steve wrote an exceptional paper on the Hawfinch irruption, which can be read here. An important record.

It is well worth looking at. He also wrote a fine blog post on the day in March, which can be read here.

To be honest, there is no other birder in Surrey who deserves this award more than Steve. What is abundantly clear is his skill at understanding habitat, allied to his patience and stamina (it's tough walking terrain around Box Hill) reaped him rewards.

We're lucky to have him as part of Surrey's birding team. He also spends some of his time  at his beloved Dungeness, a place I have grown increasingly fond of, and I look forward to reading about his next big discoveries in 2019.

Shaun Peters is not a name that appears on Randon's Ramblings that often, but that is not to say he is an unknown birding figure. Far from it, Shaun is another highly-skilled at his chosen craft, who monitors the Frensham Ponds region. He had a good year which included a Blyth's Reed Warbler, and the last-staying Great Northern Diver.

Ed Stubbs had what he regards as a tough year on his patch at Thorncombe Street, but he still managed to dig out a few decent birds. Ed makes the top three because of the fact he carried on resolutely throughout the year despite finding it it hard going on occasion. Perseverance pays off sometimes!

2018 SURREY
PATCH OF THE YEAR

The nominations are:
LWC BARNES
(Garganey, Great White Egret, Jack Snipe, Marsh Harrier, Merlin, Pied Flycatcher, Rock Pipit, Ruff, Savi's Warbler, Short-eared Owl, Water Pipit, Whinchat)

BEDDINGTON FARMLANDS
(Avocet, Caspian Gull, Glossy Ibis, Great White Egret, Hoopoe, Jack Snipe, Little Stint, Marsh Harrier, Richard's Pipit, Ring Ouzel, Ruff, Short-eared Owl, Spoonbill, Tree Sparrow, Twite, Water Pipit)

CANONS FARM
(Hawfinch, Marsh Harrier, Red-breasted Merganser, Ring Ouzel, Whimbrel, Whinchat, Wood Warbler, 

FRENSHAM PONDS
(Arctic Tern, Black Tern, Blyth's Reed Warbler, Garganey, Great Northern Diver, Merlin, Osprey)

HOLMETHORPE SAND PITS
(Hawfinch, Great White Egret, Jack Snipe, Rock Pipit, Ruddy Shelduck, Whinchat 

LEITH HILL
(Great Skua, Hawfinch, Ring Ouzel)

RICHMOND PARK
(Grasshopper Warbler, Great White Egret, Ring Ouzel, Short-eared Owl, Whinchat)

STAINES RESERVOIR
(Arctic Tern, Black-necked Grebe, Black Tern, Great Northern Diver, Grey Phalarope, Kittiwake, Red-necked Phalarope, Scaup, Shorelark, Temminck's Stint)

TICE'S MEADOW
(Cattle Egret, Grasshopper Warbler, Great White Egret, Little Stint, Osprey, Ruddy Shelduck, Whimbrel, Whinchat)

THORNCOMBE STREET
(Black Redstart, Grey Partridge, Hawfinch, Ortolan Bunting, Ring Ouzel, Twite)

THURSLEY COMMON
(Great Grey Shrike, Red-backed Shrike, Osprey, Whinchat)

WALTON RESERVOIRS
(Black-necked Grebe, Black Tern, Caspian Gull, Cattle Egret, Gannet, Grasshopper Warbler, Whooper Swan, Wryneck)

The winner is:

TICE'S MEADOW

From left to right: Mark Elsoffer, Richard Horton. Peter Brown, Dave Baker, Jort Brough, Leonard Winchcombe, Kevin Campell, Richard Sergeant, Anthony George and a bloke behind a tree
2nd: BEDDINGTON FARMLANDS
3rd: STAINES RESERVOIR


This is arguably the other prestigious Rambler and one where there could only be winner, Tice's Meadow.

The west Surrey patch won hands down, not because of the quality of birds seen there, although they had some fantastic finds, notably three Cattle Egret, but because of the remarkable work being created there by an extremely dedicated group of volunteers.

Led admirably by 'Patch Commander', Rich Horton, and ably assisted by Rich Sergeant and Mark Elsoffer, to name but three (and apologies to the others), Tice's Meadow has developed into one of the premier birding sites in Surrey.

From lowly beginnings, Tice's Meadow has been turned from a sand and gravel quarry into a high-quality nature reserve.

The site has received status as a site of Nature Conservation Interest and holds events such as the Tice's Meadow BioBlitz, organised by Horton each spring over a bank-holiday weekend. 

The event is widely recognised by many Surrey conservationists and enthusiastic members as their highlight of the year, where bird-ringing demonstrations, guided birdwatching walks, pond dipping, bat detecting walks, moth trapping and small mammal trapping all take place as well as social events during the evenings.

A bird-watching shelter has now been erected, as well as a swift nesting tower, and there is plenty more development in store, including an artificial Sand Martin nesting bank.

But it was last month when Tice's Meadow won a prestigious international conservation award and a cheque for 10,000 euros that highlighted how much work has gone into the site.

The International Quarry Life Awards, run by Heidelberg Cement, showcase the best conservation, research and community projects conducted in Heidelberg quarries around Europe.


Rich Horton receives the award on behalf of Tice's Meadow at the Heidelberg Cement
International Quarry Life Awards in Brussels

Rich Horton and Rich Sergeant were presented with their award in Brussels having faced stiff competition from 100 community groups from 25 countries. A truly incredible achievement.

Tice's Meadow is now the benchmark for all others to follow.

Beddington Farmlands finishes runner-up yet again. If the award for Patch of the Year was solely a reflection of the quality of birds it encourages, Beddington would probably win the award most years. Of all the birding sites in Surrey, Beddington always delivers

This year is was the Richard's Pipit, found by the Farmlands passionate leader Peter Alfrey, (not a fan of CBE awarded Chris Packham –  there's no compromising with Peter on this issue!) who is another amazing birder (we are very lucky to have so many top-notch birders in the county).

The group led by Peter also do some fantastic work to help make Beddington one of the most well-known and respected birding sites in Britain, and as birding broadcaster David Lindo has said, the 400-acre site is "the sleeping giant of London's natural history world".

The basins at Staines Reservoir are now back to their normal levels, but that didn't stop the site from luring some top-class birds throughout the year, including the Horned Lark that stuck around for a number of weeks, as well as Grey and Red-necked Phalarope.

2018 SURREY
BIRD OF THE YEAR

The nominations are:
Cattle Egret (Beddington Farmlands)
Temminck's Stint (Staines Reservoir)
Red-necked Phalarope (Staines Reservoir)
Grey Phalarope (Staines Reservoir)
Red-backed Shrike (Thursley Common)
Horned Lark (Staines Reservoir)
Richard's Pipit (Beddington Farmlands)
Hawfinch (numerous sites)
Twite (Beddington Farmlands, Thorncombe Street)

The winner is:

HAWFINCH

A singular Hawfinch at Capel
2nd: RICHARD'S PIPIT
3rd: HORNED LARK


Another year when only the record-breaking finch could possibly pick up the prize. The mighty Hawfinch grabs the award for the second year in a row. The bulky-billed beaut took the prize last year with unsurpassed numbers flocking to the county.

But we could never in our wildest dreams have imagined the numbers that turned up at the peak of the irruption during the winter and spring months. Quite simply unbelievable. And none of that would have been recorded had it not been for the perseverance, and downright obsessive determination of uber patch watcher Steve Gale.

To be honest, there were few birds that could possibly knock Hawfinch off the top spot. The next best was, in my view, the Richard's Pipit at Beddington Farmlands. It took runner-up spot purely for its rarity value in Surrey – the first for Beddington since 1970! A very rare bird for Surrey.

The Horned Lark was an unusual scarcity for Surrey, as it was the American version of the Shore Lark. It was a popular bird to go and see at the beginning of the year – including by me.

But the Hawfinch was way ahead of any other bird this past 12 months. We even had sightings at Holmethorpe. They were everywhere.


2018 BIRDING
BLOGGER OF THE YEAR

The nominations are:
PETER ALFREY (http://peteralfreybirdingnotebook.blogspot.com/)
MATT EADE (http://seafordbirding.blogspot.com/)
STEVE GALE (http://northdownsandbeyond.blogspot.com/)
GAVIN HAIG (https://notquitescilly2.blogspot.com/)
JONATHAN LETHBRIDGE (http://www.wansteadbirder.com/)
MATT PHELPS (http://pulboroughbirder.blogspot.com/)
 PAUL TRODD (http://ploversblog.blogspot.com/)

The winner is:

STEVE GALE (North Downs and Beyond)


2nd: JONATHAN LETHBRIDGE
3rd: MATT PHELPS

Steve Gale again wins the Birding Blogger of the Year title. It is usually a face-off between Steve and Jonathan Lethbridge, as it was again this past year. And so Steve becomes a double Rambler winner. The first-ever in the history of the awards.

I struggle these days to write 12 blog posts a year but Steve always publishes at least 200 every 12 months. In the past eight years Steve has written 1,593 posts...

If anyone can comprehend how he does this, please send me a message. It takes time, creativity and effort to write anything day in, day out, but Steve manages to do this with the minimum of fuss – and all his posts are beautifully written. His Hawfinch posts have been enthralling. As have been many others.

Annoyingly he is rather good at anything he decides to do. His works of art are also something to behold. This one is one of my personal favourites.


Jonathan Lethbridge continues to enthral birders with his unsurpassed writings. The most entertaining and skilled of all the bloggers – bar none. He writes with a freedom and a seemingly effortless use of language. But Steve just nicks it because the majority of his posts are about wildlife. That is all... 

If it was an award for the most stunningly beautiful photos on a blog, Jono would win hands down every time.

Matt Phelps is a newbie to the blogger top three – but so well-deserved. His description of finding a Sussex rarity only the third this century – is a joy to read. A star blogger who has upped the game with his nocmigging posts.

2018 BIRDING BLOG POST
OF THE YEAR

The nominations are:
STEVE GALE (North Downs and Beyond)
600
https://northdownsandbeyond.blogspot.com/2018/03/600.html
The largest flock of Hawfinch ever seen – probably by anyone.

 GAVIN HAIG (Not Quite Scilly)
Axe Caspian Gulls – A Personal History
https://notquitescilly2.blogspot.com/2018/02/axe-caspian-gulls-personal-history.html
A labour of love for all things Caspian Gull.

JONATHAN LETHBRIDGE (Wanstead Birder)
Why I like hides
http://www.wansteadbirder.com/2018/11/why-i-like-hides.html
The trials and tribulations of sharing time in hides with other people.

MATT PHELPS (Wanstead Birder)
Listening in the darkness
http://pulboroughbirder.blogspot.com/2018/03/listening-in-darkness-new-adventures-in.html
The dark art of Nocmigging. 

The winner is:

JONATHAN LETHBRIDGE
(Why I like hides)

 

2nd: MATT PHELPS (Listening in the darkness)
3rd: STEVE GALE (600)

At last! someone other than Steve Gale wins something! This year's winner of the Randon's Ramblings Blog Post of the Year goes to Jonathan Lethbridge for 'Why I like hides'. 

This award very nearly went to Matt Phelps, but Jono's post about birding in a hide created such a debate – controversy even – was it snobbish, true or simply funny? Whatever it was, it was probably the most discussed blog post of the year and inevitably deserves to be awarded for it!

Matt Phelps post "Listening in the darkness" is not only a great headline but a brilliant post on nocmigging - recording birds in flight during the night. Fascinating stuff.

Steve Gale makes the podium for a third time during these awards with '600'. Such a remarkable record had to be on here!

And finally, I have resurrected Birding Photo of the Year – mainly because there have been so many good ones out there in 2018 – usually taken by Jonathan Lethbridge. But I have selected the photo below as my favourite of the year.

2018 BIRDING
PHOTO OF THE YEAR

LYN EVANS (Robin in the rain)

2nd: JONATHAN LETHBRIDGE
3rd: JONATHAN LETHBRIDGE, etc

Congratulations go to Lyn Evans for her lovely photo of a Robin. The Robin can obviously get overused as a photo at this time of year, but Britain's most popular bird is also the bird with the most personality. And it is expressed perfectly here in the rain – a beautifully crafted image.

So well done to all the winners and nominees in each of the categories – every one was worthy of recognition and made 2018 all the more rewarding.

So, that's 2018 out of the way. Let's hope with each day 2019 can make us smile a bit more than we are currently used to!

Happy New Year one and all and enjoy your birding!