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 2 January 2019


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.



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:



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. 


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!


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

(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)

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

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

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

(Great Skua, Hawfinch, Ring Ouzel)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The winner is:


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

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.


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:


A singular Hawfinch at Capel

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.


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)


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.


The nominations are:
STEVE GALE (North Downs and Beyond)
The largest flock of Hawfinch ever seen – probably by anyone.

 GAVIN HAIG (Not Quite Scilly)
Axe Caspian Gulls – A Personal History
A labour of love for all things Caspian Gull.

Why I like hides
The trials and tribulations of sharing time in hides with other people.

MATT PHELPS (Pulborough Birder)
Listening in the darkness
The dark art of Nocmigging. 

The winner is:

(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.


LYN EVANS (Robin in the rain)


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!


  1. Neil. I feel humbled and a bit of a fraud. Your kind words are too kind. Thank you. I'm very pleased that you have used that photo of me as I always go out birding in a suit and tie. As always I am proud and more than happy to accept a Rambler, but two is more than generous. I think I need to thank the Hawfinches. Here's to you getting out among us with more regularity in 2019. Thank you my friend.

    1. The suit and tie may start a new trend! Your ramblers are genuinely deserved Steve. It would be great to get out more this year and hopefully I will. I find it odd how I seem to be busier as I get older – it is either that or it just takes me twice as long to get things done!

    2. Using my work email which doesn't recognise my name!

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Neil - very glad you've enjoyed my output and honoured to even be mentioned in the same breath as blogging legends Steve G and Jonathan L! Hope to run into you somewhere in the field in 2019...

    1. Really enjoy your blog Matt. Hope to catch up soon. I must go to Pulborough sometime in the near future

  3. The TMBG are honoured to win a birding Oscar Neil. Great post as always, and congrats to all the other winners. Hope you find time and motivation for more birding in 2019.

    1. Pleasure guys! I will bring your trophy down when I get an opportunity

  4. Hi Factor!
    Thanks again for another nod, strange to get it when about 80% of the words were sounds! That post really did travel far and wide - in under a month it eclipsed every other post bar one that I have written over ten year, and it was gloriously and deliciously true, albeit hammed up and the best bits of a few hours condensed into a few short paragraphs.

    Intrigued by the real trophies, may possibly require a ceremony? In a pub.....?


    1. Thanks Jono! Yes, a pub ceremony would be great. I just have to find a watering hole convenient enough for all the winners and nominees. I will give it some thought. I have visions of making this thing a bit more of an event - even considering trying to get sponsorship for it. I have a few ideas!