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.

Sunday 10 November 2019


And I say, why not?

OK, so it was a couple of months since Annie and I were in Mallorca for the second time this year, but with the weather now here so wet and miserable, with at least four months of short, cold days to look forward to, never mind the endless general election campaigning (and as I write this it is only officially day two) to contend with, a brief revisit of a warm, sunny island in the Med certainly cheers me up.

We were there just for the week, the first of September, in a great villa set back in the hillside not that far inland from the S'Albufereta reserve in between Puerto Pollensa and Alcúdia. It was a great spot, with a great view of Alcúdia Bay. 

And, of course, there were plenty of birds to enjoy. Our position wasn't so great for raptors and vultures, unlike our previous stays near the Tramuntana range, but all the decent spots for bird watching were very close by.

And from the villa, I managed to see some good stuff.

Sunrise over Alcudia Bay in Mallorca
Our home for a week
Our view for the week
On day one, Saturday, we stopped off for lunch at our favourite restaurant in Puerto Pollensa, Celler La Parra, run by Alex Gual. Such a lovely man, and his mum originates from Croydon!

We normally do a few barbecues wherever we stay, but this time, frankly, we couldn't be bothered, and we decided to go for a late lunch every day at Celler La Parra, and will probably do the same the next time we visit the island.

There's nothing like that familiarity to help you relax and enjoy your stay. It's quite comforting!

Back at the villa, a trend began which continued all week. Regular bird visitors. The first was a Hoopoe. I saw three in one day here, but there was always one that flew over the villa, and on the very last afternoon, actually dropped down on the grass in front of me, just 10 yards away, to feed.

Hoopoe in flight from the villa

The second regular was a juvenile Woodchat Shrike. His parents also paid a visit on and off, but this little chap was always around.

The juvenile Woodchat Shrike spent more time in the villa garden than the adults
The third was a Spotted, sorry, Mediterranean Flycatcher and its persistent offspring, that hadn't yet quite got the hint it was time to literally flee the nest.

A Mediterranean Flycatcher at La Gola in Puerto Pollensa
The fourth was a Booted Eagle. Pretty sure it was the same one that would arrive most afternoons, circled around towards the bay before cruising out of view.

A regular Booted Eagle circled above the villa - note the trademark 'landing light' markings on the wings
The fifth and the best was Bee-eater. Virtually every day from the Sunday onwards, at least 20 would fly over the villa, either in the morning or afternoon. I'm not sure if they were the same group or not, but as soon as I heard the unmistakable call, like someone trying to play a flute under water, it would cause me to leap out of my reclining sun bed to grab the bins.

Very much a record shot, but the Bee-eaters never hung around for very long!
And, of course, in the evenings, the shrill cacophony of Stone Curlew in the surrounding fields.

Stone Curlews were a major contributor to the holiday. I checked the Mallorca Bird Forum for any news on bird sightings, and one post stood out. it was from a guy called Kendalbirder, who had seen more than 40 Stone Curlew in a ploughed field on the outskirts of Puerto Pollensa, on the road to the Hotel Llenaire.

This I had to see! And low and behold early one morning I managed to see at least 25 Stone Curlew in this field. There were undoubtedly more in the there, but the undulating terrain hid many from view. An amazing sight.

Stone Curlew in ploughed field just outside Puerto Pollensa
Puerto Pollenca is a great spot for seeing Audouin's Gull, as well as Yellow-legged Gull and Shag. The La Gola reserve in the town can also bring up a few decent birds. A Pied Flycatcher was the highlight, with plenty of Mediterranean Flycatcher as a supporting cast.

Audouin's Gull on the rocks
Audouin's Gull on the beach
Shag on the rocks
What else... Well, I went to my usual haunts – the Boquer valley, S'Albufereta and Albufera reserves, plus Annie and I went to our spring patch walk along the valley close to the Tramuntana mountain range, where a Stone Curlew and three Firecrest were the highlight.

Purple Swamphen
A sleeping Marbled Duck
Red-knobbed Coot
Plenty of Coot life on the Albufera reserve
The S'Albufereta reserve revealed the usual suspects – Black-winged Stilt and Kentish Plover mainly, while the Albufera reserve gave me my first Marbled Duck, along with Red-knobbed Coot and Purple Swamphen.

Pied Flycatcher at the entrance to the Boquer valley
Elusive Blue Rock Thrush in the Boquer Valley
I am always drawn to the dramatic, rugged and sheer rock vista of the Boquer Valley. No Balearic Warbler this time, but two Pied Flycatcher, one close to the car park and the other down in the valley, plus two Blue Rock Thrush close to the two big boulders on the path.

All in all, as is always the case in Mallorca, a wonderful week.

Main sightings:
56 species, including:
Marbled Duck (Albufera)
Red-legged Partridge (villa)
Cattle Egret 
Booted Eagle (over the villa)
Red Kite (over the villa)
Marsh Harrier (over the villa)
Kestrel (over the villa)
Eleonora's Falcon (one over the villa)
Purple Swamphen (Albufera)
Red-knobbed Coot (Albufera)
Black-winged Stilt (S'Albufereta)
Stone Curlew
Little-ringed Plover (S'Albufereta)
Kentish Plover (S'Albufereta)
Audouin's Gull (Puerta Pollensa)
Yellow-legged Gull
Bee-eater (over the villa)
Hoopoe (villa)
Wryneck (heard only)
Woodchat Shrike (villa)
Raven (over the villa)
Firecrest (Tramuntana)
Sardinian Warbler (villa)
Zitting Cisticola
Mediterranean Flycatcher
Nightingale (heard only - brief sub-song)
Pied Flycatcher
Blue Rock Thrush (Boquer Valley)
Stonechat (Boquer Valley)
Cirl Bunting 
Corn Bunting (heard only)

Tuesday 22 October 2019


Female Merlin after being caught in one of the fishing boats and ringed at the Observatory
I was going to write a post on a late summer/early autumn visit to Mallorca, but felt that could wait.

I've predictably not been birding much since early September, only heading to Spynes Mere on the local patch to see my first Curlew Sandpiper at Homethorpe, found by Richard Perry.

But I was compelled to make a belated autumn visit to Dungeness yesterday, and glad I did. The weather was damp and breezy, with north-easterly winds which had originally tempted me to head to north Kent. But with the temptation of a juvenile Sabine's Gull to see at Dunge, I went south instead. I was also hoping for Ring Ouzel.

When I arrived, the first bird I saw was a Ring Ouzel that flew into a bush next to the lighthouse, and was followed by a second one later in the morning. I looked around the desert area for the 11 or so that had been in the morning in the desert area near the observatory, but to no avail.

While twitching is not something I tend to do much these days, I still needed Sabine's Gull for my UK list. There was no guarantee it would still be there, but luckily it remained, flying between the Patch offshore from the power station, and the fishing boats further up the shingle beach.

I was lucky to get down the Dungeness when I did as there have been no sightings of it today (Tuesday) so far.

It eventually flew towards the fishing boats, before flying towards the Patch in the afternoon. The sea watch looked promising, but maybe not surprisingly didn't produce the Pomarine or Long-tailed Skuas seen further up the coast at Sheppey and Foreness Point.

The juvenile Sabine's Gull on the Patch at Dungeness
The best I could come up with were plenty of Brent Geese and three Eider. Walking back to the car a pair a Black Redstart were feeding along the power station perimeter fence to the power station, and I was met by a birder who had been by the fishing boats.

A pair of Black Redstart along the perimeter fence to the power station
He mentioned that a group including assistant Dungeness Observatory warden Jacques Turner-Moss and Martin Casemore had a Merlin they were about to ring at the Obs. The female had caught a Meadow Pipit near the fishing boats and had flown into the wheelhouse of one of the boats to eat it. A fisherman closed the door and alerted the group who were seawatching there at the time.

And so I dashed over to the Obs, where Jacques and warden David Walker were weighing and id-ing the Merlin. It was concluded the falcon was a female from the larger Icelandic race Falco columbarius subaesalon.

Studying the finer details (as seen through the shed window)

Jacques Turner-Moss at work
After ringing, Jacques brought the magnificent bird outside where she was posed for photos, accompanied by loud alarm calls and the odd nip when fingers got too close.

She was soon let free to fly off to hunt for more Meadow Pipits, ending a memorable day on the shingle.

Friday 4 October 2019


The summer went by in a flash – as it invariably does – and we're now already deep into the autumn and rare migrants/vagrants are dropping in all over Britain.

Writing blogs hasn't been high on my agenda, as I hadn't been birding much, or at all, now that I'm fully-employed once again (for the first time in 20 years – and it feels a bit odd). I hadn't even walked the local patch at anytime during the summer, which was a first, let alone ventured further afield.

But from a personal level August, in particular, had been a memorable month.

A three-day trip to northern France to celebrate(!) my 60th birthday, was followed by four days in Cornwall, including a day trip to the Scilly Isles, and concluded at the end of the month with a week in Mallorca.

Much of this time off was spent birding, and while the sightings never hit the heights of recent weeks across the country – I seemed to arrive at most places a week too early – I enjoyed it all very much.

As so, from the top, northern France. To cut a long story short, Annie and I went back to the La Grenouillere, where we stayed for our 25th wedding anniversary two years ago (see here). The two-star Michelin restaurant run by the brilliant Alexander Gautier, produced food even more memorable than our previous visit. A very relaxing way to reflect on 60 years on this currently locally perplexing planet of ours.

Alexander Gautier in the his kitchen at La Grenouillere
Gin drunk, food and wine to come
Coincidentally, we stayed in the same cabin as we did then, and even sat at the same table for our 11-course tasting menu. All good stuff – and the gin and wine were top notch.

Short-toed Treecreeper
In between our extraordinary culinary experience, I managed to go for a walk around the area below the town of Montreuil-sure-Mer, along the River Canche each morning. And while I was looking for (and failing to find) Golden Oriole, I did manage to discover Short-toed Treecreeper, a Turtle Dove and a few Willow Tit, the later showing really well but not long enough for a photo.

Black-winged Stilt at Parc du Marquenterre
On my actual birthday, we went to e Parc du Marquenterre, where the usual suspects were present, numerous Spoonbill, Black-winged Stilt, Cattle Egret and a Great White Egret, but the highlight of the day was a Hen Harrier that flew through one of the scrapes.

Little Egret and Great White Egret
Ring-tail Hen Harrier
A week and half later and I was heading down the A303 to Penzance, where I stayed for three nights.

I hadn't been to this part Cornwall since I was a five-year-old, so both Pendeen and Porthgwarra were sites I was keen to visit. Seawatching was high on the agenda, as was the hope of seeing a few large shearwaters.

But while 12 months earlier, Cory's and Great Shearwaters were seen in abundance, it was notable how few sightings of either there had been leading up to that week. And during my four days, none at all.


Gannet with Manx Shearwater at Pendeen

Pendeen (two mornings and an afternoon) offered only an handful of Sooty Shearwaters. But the highlight here was actually the huge numbers of Manx Shearwater seen one morning – in their thousands – more than I have ever seen in my life. Streams of them scythed passed this spectacular coastal birding point, probably in the region of 10,000 during the day. A couple of Balearic Shearwater went through, but sadly I couldn't pick them up in the scope.

Other than that, along with the ubiquitous Gannet, the odd Fulmar, I saw a couple of Arctic Skua and two Bonxies. Closer up a pair of Chough were entertaining, as was a solitary Wheatear.

I went to Porthgwarra on my second afternoon but all was very quiet with hardly a breeze, but it was still enjoyable to visit this site. I think Pendeen is my favourite out of the two, if only because there's ample protection from the wind around the lighthouse there.

For the final two days I spent most of my time on boats. I booked a day trip to the Scilly Isles via the Scillonian III on a glorious day, which was a great experience. I'd never been on the Scillonian or to the Scilly Isles before, so it was a must-do trip.

Risso's Dolphin
The highlight here was the sighting of a Risso's Dolphin, just as the boat entered the Atlantic waters away from Land's End and the Channel.

Traffic chaos in Hugh Town
The Scillonian II 
View of Hugh Town
Male Wheatear
Bonxie on the return journey
Again not much on the bird front – yet more Manx Shearwaters, and a couple more Bonxies on the journey to St Mary's and back, and on the Isles, I had a walk around the main island locally from Hugh Town, and managed a couple of Wheatear. Again, I wasn't that disappointed, as the weather wasn't really favourable for anything memorable to appear. But I intend to return for a longer visit next year during September, including a boat trip out to see hopefully some Wilson's Petrels and large shearwaters.

Shearwater II in Penzance harbour
Out at sea with Duncan Jones at the helm
My final morning was spent on the Francis Joyon-designed sailing catamaran, Shearwater II, skippered and owned by Duncan Jones of Marine Discovery. It was another throughly enjoyable morning, sailing 10 miles out from Penzance.

Common Dolphin
Manx Shearwater on the water
Plenty of Common Dolphin swan alongside and under the boat, including a mother and calf together. Plus plenty of Harbour Porpoise were seen and later Grey Seal on the rocks close to the harbour. Bird-wise, it was relatively quiet, with more Manx Shearwater, along with plenty of Gannet, the odd Fulmar, a couple of Guillemot close-up, Shag and a lone Kittiwake. 

I've discovered I love heading out to sea, so will plan more trips doing the same next year.