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 5 January 2020


A special Randon's Rambling Awards this year, because on top of the annual award ceremony, there is the small matter of the decade to deal with.

And so this year's awards will be split into two posts. There will be a 2019 winner for each category and there will be a special Randon's Rambling's 2010-19 Decade Awards, which will include all the previous winners.

It has been another strange year on all fronts, culminating with the general election. I'm not going to discuss it because 1) this is a birding blog, and 2) I want people to carry on reading it!

Birds don't have a view, they simply are affected by decisions politicians make.

And one aspect of the environment which has been prevalent for decades, is the gradual decline of species that live, breed and visit on our islands.

Equally in decline over this decade has been my dedication to birding. I've had my moments, but the long periods of phasing still continue.

There is not much anyone can do about it when it happens, because in the end, birding is a pastime of choice. You can either head out into the wilds and go birding, or you involve yourself in a whole range of other activities if you so wish. It's your life.

I enjoy it hugely once I've coax myself out of bed for an early walk, and also when on holiday. That seems to be the time when I go for it almost 24/7 and really immerse myself in birding. 

But I have to accept I've really turned down the commitment button, and it is hard to comprehend why. And I know I'm not alone with these thoughts. Jonathan Lethbridge has recently wrote about it on his blog and Gavin Haig has also gone through similar phases. Even Steve Gale has wavered a little here and there.

I was fully intending of getting the Holmethorpe blog up-to-date this year, but it has fallen by the way side even more. I've neglected my duties badly and I feel immensely guilty about it. But I think that is where the problem sits – it has felt like a duty rather than a joy. 

Hopefully, I can turn this around in 2020.

Part of the problem also lies in the fact at the age of 60 (60!!) I have somehow stumbled, almost accidentally, into full-time employment for the first time in 18 years. It wasn't really planned, but it seems the company who own the Daily Mirror et al, having bought Express Newspapers (who I worked for as a freelance) decided they wanted me as part of the team, so I chose to stay on board, for the moment at least.

But birds are the focus here. Curiously, I got the impression Surrey birders have had a bit of a flat year overall species-wise, but looking at the list of birds seen in the county this year, it hasn't been that bad at all.

At Holmethorpe the beginning of the year proved to be the highlight, when I collected two patch lifers in the first couple of months. 

A Glaucous Gull on the Mercer's Lake roost in January was the first I've seen here, but perhaps even better was to follow with Ian Kehl's discovery of a Black-throated Diver on the lake when he was searching for the Glauc. What a great bird that turned out to be. It stayed for five weeks and plenty of visitors came to see it, which is always satisfying for any patch.

My third patch lifer was a Curlew Sandpiper on Spynes Mere in September. 

Outside of the local area, I've been to Dungeness more than any other site and have enjoyed it as much as previous years. I saw my first Sabine's Gull there in October and I'll be heading to the shingle regularly once again next year.

The local birding community has been as dedicated as always and they all put me to shame! And let's face it, birding in a land-locked county is always a challenge because the types of birds we'll see is limited compared to the coastal areas. But despite that, Surrey birders are arguably the most committed group of any county in Britain.

And as I have said before, I genuinely feel proud to be able to represent them with these awards.

With each year patch watchers, bloggers, tweeters, twitchers and all those in between, come and go, but it is those who have made 2019 memorable who are worthy of a Rambler – the birding Oscar. 

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
Steve Gale –  Surrey Uber patch
Dave Harris – Walton Reservoirs
 Gordon Hay – Holmethorpe Sand Pits
Matt Phelps – Leith Hill/Clandon
Dominic Pia – Staines Moor/Reservoir
Ed Stubbs - Thorncombe Street
Tice's Meadow Birding Group – Tice's Meadow
Bob Warden – Staines Reservoir

The winner is:


2nd place: ED STUBBS
3rd place: STEVE GALE

Congratulations to Matt Phelps, who wins Patch Birder of the Year for the first time. 

This category, possibly the most prestigious of all the Rambler awards, is always a difficult one to pick a winner from – and so it was this year. It was virtually the flick of a coin between the top two, almost a dead-heat, which won't make Ed feel any better!

Matt could be construed as a controversial winner, as it could be argued he is more a Sussex patch birder now he lives at Pulborough these days.

But despite that caveat, Matt also covers Surrey at Clandon and Leith Hill, and has had a decent year, with Lapland Bunting, Dartford Warbler and Black Restart being firsts at Clandon, as well as Golden Plover, Ring Ouzel and Osprey amongst others.

But it wasn't just his patch birding efforts that won him the prize this year. It is also due to some considerable degree to the amount of time and effort he has put into campaigning against the threat of global warming.

Matt embraced Extinction Rebellion with open arms, and while some of its actions this year did not always help the cause, Matt has been a passionate local voice on the need for change, both through talks such as the Heading For Extinction conference at the WWF UK Living Planet Centre in Woking, plus articles on the subject in local papers. 

And even if you are not a fan of Extinction Rebellion, or do not have the same political views as Matt, he also happens to be a thoroughly nice bloke and great company!

Matt doing his stuff for the climate change cause
Ed Stubbs ran his friend Matt very close after a fantastic year on his local patch at Thorncombe Street with a record patch year list. Honey-buzzard, Turtle Dove, Wood Warbler, Pied Flycatcher, numerous Spotted Flycatcher, Black Redstart, Firecrests, Ring Ouzel  – all great birds for Surrey. Two noc-mig Ortolan Bunting and Stone Curlew were worthy additions, but best of all was a Red-throated Pipit in October! Ed is a man who knows his stuff, and regularly writes features for Birdguides. His day will come.

Steve Gale finishes third this year. As I have said before, we are lucky to have Steve as part of Surrey's birding team. He works hard on his birding and other wildlife pursuits and while he couldn't repeat the incredible Hawfinch flock of last year, he still had a worthy 12 months, which included Honey-buzzard and Goshawk.

The nominations are:
(Bearded Tit, Great White Egret, Hen Harrier, Knot, Pied Flycatcher, Wryneck)

(Bar-tailed Godwit, Blue-headed Wagtail, Caspian Gull, Curlew Sandpiper, Glaucous Gull, Great White Egret, Iceland Gull, Sandwich Tern, Spoonbill, Stone-curlew, Wood Sandpiper)

(Black-throated Diver, Curlew Sandpiper, Glaucous Gull)

(Honey-buzzard, Pied Flycatcher, Osprey, Ring Ouzel)

(Golden Oriole, Great White Egret, Honey-buzzard, Sandwich Tern, Slavonian Grebe, Whooper Swan, Wood Warbler)

(Black Tern, Garganey, Great Northern Diver, Little Tern, Red-breasted Merganser, Sandwich Tern, Temminck's Stint)

(Cattle Egret, Great White Egret, Knot, Ring Ouzel, Spotted Redshank)

(Black Redstart, Crossbill, Honey-buzzard, Ortolan Bunting, Pied Flycatcher, Red-throated Pipit, Stone-curlew, Turtle Dove)

(Golden Oriole, Great Grey Shrike, Hen Harrier, Honey-buzzard, Pied Flycatcher, Osprey, Turtle Dove)

(Caspian Gull, Great Northern Diver, Great White Egret, Sandwich Tern, Shag)

The winner is:



For the second year in a row Tice's Meadow wins the prize. There were arguably better birds seen at other sites in Surrey, but once again the west Surrey patch won because of what the team at Tice's has created by an extraordinary group of dedicated volunteers.

A second hide, the Hanson Hide, was designed and built and then unveiled in early December. It was officially opened by Dr Carolyn Jewell of Global Biodiversity, Heidelberg Cement, who flew in from Germany for the ceremony. 

The Tice's Meadow Bird Group were also nominated for a prestigious Queen's Award for Voluntary Services, which is the volunteer group equivalent of an MBE.

Led admirably by 'Patch Commander' Rich Horton and ably assisted by Mark Elsoffer among others, Tice's Meadow is a credit to Surrey birding.

Dr Carolyn Jewell opens the new Hanson Hide at Tice's Meadow
From lowly beginnings, Tice's Meadow has been turned from a sand and gravel quarry into a high-quality nature reserve.

Inside the hide
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. 

People enjoy the social side of birding at Tice's Meadow
The event is widely recognised for its bird-ringing demonstrations, guided birdwatching walks, pond dipping, bat detecting walks, moth trapping and small mammal trapping, as well as social events during the evenings.

It is, however, not all good news. It was announced in June that the owners of the site, Hanson Quarry Products Europe Ltd, have put the land up for sale. And so this excellent reserve is under considerable threat. 

The group have a petition in a bid to save the site – even local MP Jeremy Hunt has thrown his support behind it, and you can sign it here https://www.change.org/p/hanson-quarry-products-europe-limited-save-tice-s-meadow-nature-reserve

The runner-up, Beddington Farmlands, is another site that has had to battle with its owners, Viridor, for over 10 years, and for the first time, the site has been opened up to the public with the erection of three new hides. A major breakthrough.

A new hide at Beddington

None of this would be possible without the determination of Peter Alfrey and another dedicated team of birders, and the site continues to enjoy a remarkable list of bird sightings each year. And once again, Beddington finishes second in the Patch of the Year category.

Thorncombe Street makes the podium due the the sterling work of Ed Stubbs, who is garnering an impressive list of bird species in one of the most productive areas of Surrey. His website is very good too http://godalmingareabirds.blogspot.com/


Cattle Egret (Tice's Meadow)
Red-throated Pipit (Thorncombe Street)
Honey-buzzard (Leith Hill, Richmond Park, Thorncombe Street, Thursley Common)
Hen Harrier (LWC BarnesShackleford, Thursley Common)
Golden Oriole (Richmond Park, Thursley Common)
Black-throated Diver (Holmethorpe)
Wood Warbler (Richmond Park, Thorncombe Street)
Pied Flycatcher (numerous sites)

The winner is:


The Black-throated Diver at Mercer's Lake was a regular crowd-pleaser earlier in the year

There have been rarer birds seen in Surrey this year, but I had to give the award to the Black-throated Diver, discovered on my Holmethorpe patch on February 3 by Ian Kehl, who had been looking for the Glaucous Gull that had been roosting on the lake during the evenings. 

And what a great-value bird it was. It was first seen at Frimley earlier that day, it had dropped in on Mercer's Lake in the afternoon, where it stayed for more than five weeks.

It was the first Black-throated Diver since the bird Steve Gale found at the site in 1983.

The fact it stayed for so long and was enjoyed by so many birders makes it the bird of the year in my book.


The nominations are:
MARTIN CASEMORE (http://ploddingbirder.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/)
ED STUBBS (http://godalmingareabirds.blogspot.com/) 
 PAUL TRODD (http://ploversblog.blogspot.com/)

The winner is:

GAVIN HAIG (Not Quite Scilly)


It gives me great pleasure to award the 2019 Birding Blogger of the Year award to Gavin Haig.

I've have to admit I have been willing him on to come up trumps at some point, and in 2019 he duly did.

Gavin is such a creative writer, as stunning a scribe as you will come across anywhere in the birding world. The only reason he hadn't won the award before was because he just hadn't written that much – or appeared not to have done anyway.

He admits to going through phasing patches and he even had a few quiet moments this year but in the autumn he suddenly rediscovered his old mojo – and he was off! And never did he fail to fascinate.

His Red-throated Pipit post in October was brilliant, but there were others that even matched or surpassed that gem, like The Scilly Log and plenty more, as we will see shortly.

If I could write half as well as Gavin, I'd be a very happy man. I just keep my fingers crossed his sudden surge of enthusiasm continues well into the next decade!

Steve Gale relinquishes his Birding Blogger of the Year title, as he has his Patch Birder of the Year. But it wasn't anything to do with a dip in quality. Steve is one of the most significant writers and birders in Surrey and we are very lucky to have him. How he manages to conjure up more than 200 posts a year is anyone's guess. But I'm sure I speak for everyone when I say how appreciative we are that he does

And his paintings are brilliant, too!

I've added Martin Casemore into the top three for the first time of asking and Paul Trodd joins him on the final podium spot. As a record of birding in the Dungeness area, these two blogs come as pair. They are extremely invaluable blogs of record. 

Both Paul and Martin are stalwarts of Dungeness, and if you ever need to know what is going on at this fantastic coastal gem, just go to these two sites and you'll find all the info there.


(Dodgy Birders - Part 5:
What to Do About Them)

As I have rambled on enough I have cut the Birding Blog Post of the Year down to one choice this year, and it is this. 

Gavin Haig not only wins his first Birding Blogger of the Year award, but he also is a double winner this year with Birding Blog Post of the Year.

This is a remarkable story, one I found quite moving in a way, and to my mind, head and shoulders above all other blog posts in 2019.

It is about a birder who falls out of favour with the birding community, who is described as a dodgy birder, but in Gavin's eyes is someone completely different.

And to add to this extraordinary tale, the man in question sent Gavin a reply, which you can read it here.


So well done to all the winners and nominees in each of the categories – every one was worthy of recognition and made 2019 all the more rewarding.

So, that's 2019 out of the way. Let's hope with each day 2020 can make us smile a bit more than we are currently used to!

Happy New Year one and all and enjoy your birding!