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.



Thursday, 29 April 2010

THURSDAY PICKINGS

With the weather due to deteriorate with northerly winds over the weekend - which means the migrants will hold station until the wind changes back and it will be flippin' cold again - I took off to Staines Reservoir this morning in the hope of seeing two or three new species.

I got there by 6.30am and Bob Warden was already in position. He had spotted two Little Terns and four Sandwich Terns yesterday, as well as four Whimbrel, so it was too tempting not to go over to see if they reappeared. As it turned out it was a very quiet morning. The Great Northern Diver was on the north basin, until he decided to fly off over to the King George VI Reservoir - it was the first time I'd seen it in flight. There were more than 15 Common Terns feeding, plus a lone Common Sandpiper, but not much else. I stayed for a while and then headed back home via Ockham Common.

video

I had a good walk round and had a splendid view of a Woodlark up in on old dead pine tree. You could hear its plaintive song from quite a distance. There were also plenty of Coal Tits high up in the conifers. The best sight, however, was of a female Stonechat calling its mate in the distance. It came close by and stayed for quite a while.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

QUIET MONDAY STROLL

Work interrupted much of my day yesterday. Actually, it was a relief in a way, as my legs were killing me after the trek around the countryside on Sunday. A nice brief walk around Holmethorpe loosened me up and I managed another tick along the way. A Garden Warbler at Spynes Mere made the walk worthwhile - it was calling before flying up and back down into another small tree before it moved out of sight. The male Wheatear was still present at The Moors, and also a lone House Martin flew by. Unfortunately, no sign of the Grasshopper Warbler - a major disappointment.

Monday, 26 April 2010

BUMPER BIRDING SUNDAY



Had a quiet Saturday, when I only went over to the Watercolour mound for a few minutes and saw a Wheatear. Funny how, after such a long time without seeing this bird, I now see them all the time. I also saw a Sparrowhawk on an afternoon bike-ride with Annie.

Sunday, however, was a different day altogether. It was the annual Holmethorpe Bird Race, where local birders are invited for a day of bird watching from dawn till dusk. The idea is to spot as many bird species as possible in that time, although you need the stamina of Paula Radcliffe to complete the whole day.

It's just for fun, and a great excuse for being out all day taking part in my favourite pastime.

I didn't get started until 7.00am, whereas Gordon Hay, for example, was out and about by 3.30am looking for Tawny Owls. This man takes birding to a different level to me.

The day started with a my first Swift of the year, another female Wheatear on The Moors, and a Grey Wagtail on the footpath adjacent to the Water Colour mound and The Moors. A good start. After that it was spotting the usual fare - Crows, Blue-Tits, Chaffinch, etc - and then it started to rain at about 10.30am.

After a stop for breakfast in my car I went off to Mercer's Lake and Spynes Mere. This is when I made a great discovery, although no-one else saw or heard it, so they only have my word for it. In the bushes next to a stile leading on to Mercer's Farm I heard a sound I'd never come across before. An unmistakable whirring noise that went on for about ten seconds. It stopped, then a warbler hopped on the fence post and raised its head and made the sound again. It was a Grasshopper Warbler, and I was just about to take a photo when it went into the undergrowth. It has not been heard of since, which is frustrating to say the least.

So after much excitement, doubt and debate about it, I moved on. The next bird I heard was the sound of spring in the distance. After meeting up with Graham James at Spynes Mere, I walked around the lake. At that point a bird that looked like a bird of prey in flight landed in a tree in the mid-distance - and there it was, a Cuckoo and it was calling. Again, I missed the chance to take a picture as it flew off. I pursued it, but could never get close enough again. A really exciting spot, and along with a Reed Warbler and a group of House Martins, the last good one for me at Holmethorpe during the day.

At midday I decided to take a break and slope off to a couple of other venues for a few hours. A quick blast around the M25 and I was soon at Staines Reservoir.


Staines usually comes up with something interesting and it didn’t disappoint. I met up with Bob Warden once again – he’s a good chap and very helpful – and he pointed out two Arctic Terns – birds I was keen to see. They are difficult to separate from Common Terns – of which there were dozens of swooping down to feed on the many insects flying around above the water. Arctic Terns are finer in build with longer tail streamers and its flight feather have less black at the edges. Hard to spot, but once you’ve got your eye in it’s OK. There were at least 25 Little Gulls on the water and I also spotted a couple of White Wagtails – another first for the year plus about 50 Swift. The day was becoming very successful.


Thursley Common was next on the agenda, and within 40 minutes I was there. Intriguing place, Thursley. Not the prettiest patch of countryside in the world, but there is a kind of magic about the place. It was quiet apart from the sound of the brisk wind that was picking up and a pair of Curlews - they breed here every year - with their distinctive call when in flight.

Having been given directions from Bob, I came across my first find of the visit, a Tree Pipit. I now know the difference between a Tree Pipit and a Meadow Pipit – the song and the way it flies into a tree are completely different from a Meadow Pipit. It’s a case of once you’ve heard it and seen one, you know what it is from a mile away.


Next up was the second find, one I had missed at Holmethorpe a week ago - a Redstart, a beautiful male singing in the conifers and showing well. Thursley is always good for Redstarts – they are hard to miss once you’ve found the right spot. Next up, three Woodlark flew up into a bush – another bird that turns up frequently here.

But the bird most people come to see at Thursley wasn’t airborne until I decided to head back to the car park. Then, in a flash, two Hobby lit up the sky like a pair of giant Swifts. They didn’t stay in the air for long, but their aerobatics always catch the eye. In an instant they had disappeared. A short-lived spectacle but a nice taster for the coming months.

So, a good afternoon so far, and now it was time to rejoin the Bird Race. Once I got back to Holmethorpe, I met up with Graham and Gordon at 4.30pm and by now we were becoming weary (apart from Marathon Man Gordon). A small flock of Common Tern had flown over earlier, and another regular birder at Holmethorpe had seen Whimbrel and Yellow Wagtail over on The Moors. Good stuff.

Once Graham had called it a day and I’d gone off to look for this blessed Grasshopper Warbler again (not a sniff), Gordon spotted a Marsh Harrier flying through. Needless to say, he won the competition for the most birds seen – more than 80. I got to 66 at Holmethorpe, but 76 in all for the day.

Friday, 23 April 2010

THE NORE HILL THREE

After a few barren days and still no sign of a single Wheatear I decided to bite the bullet and go in search for one where regular sightings had been noted. It was also the same spot where three Ring Ouzels had stationed themselves for the past week.

So this morning with the sun out and brilliant blue skies once again, I set off for Nore Hill near Chelsham. Not an easy place to find I discovered. It wasn't helped by the fact I'd memorised the map and didn't take a copy. I also forgot to take the Ordnance Survey map. After about 40 minutes of wrong turnings, I came across a track that was gated off. No signpost to say if it was Upland Road or not, but it looked like the right place.

So off I walked. After about 20 minutes I came to the south-facing side of a hill. Nothing to be seen, but it looked promising. After another detour without much success, I followed the trial of a walker across a sloping field.

Behold, a Wheatear. At long last, a handsome male was standing in the grass 25 yards ahead of me. I kept walking but wasn't convinced I was in the right place.

So if proved. I stopped a farmer in his Land Rover, who knew what I was looking for and he headed me in the right direction. Another mile later and I was at the foot of Nore Hill. Bloody hell. It looked big and steep. I scanned the area but could see diddley-squat. The area was so vast, it was like trying to find a needle in a haystack, but there was nothing for it but to head up the side of the hill.

I dragged my carcass every-which-way, but no sign of the prize. So, with time getting on (I had work to do this morning) I staggered across the top of the hill towards the hedgerow before starting down the slope and back to the car, which was bloody miles away. At least I'd seen a Wheatear.

Just then I saw another, and then another. Three in all. They're like buses. Nothing for ages, then...

I gave the area one last scan, and then a movement to my left up in the hedge grabbed my attention. And there they were, the Nore Hill Three Ring Ouzels, two in the hedge and one on the ground showing his distinctive white necklace.

A really lucky spot, but perserverance had paid off in the end. They were skittish and would move at the slightest movement. As I got closer they suddenly flew off in convoy across to an adjacent hillside.


So that was it, but for one more enigmatic moment. I spotted a bird a few metres down perched on the top of the hedgerow. Not sure what it was, and the photo isn't great blown up so much, but does anyone have any suggestions?

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

DOWN TO EARTH WITH A BUMP

Having been spoilt for two weeks in a row with new sightings appearing in a flurry of activity, it was all bound to grind to a halt eventually. Today was one such day.

Monday was spent working in London, Tuesday was pretty reasonable at Holmethorpe with good sightings of Lesser and Common Whitethroats, two Common Sandpipers (might have been the same one on two different lakes) and a Sedge Warbler in the bushes near Spynes Mere, but today was a disaster.

For a start, I didn't get out of the house until about 4pm because of work and that was only to go to the laundrette. On the way back I went to the Watercolour Lagoons because Graham, Gordon and a number of other birders had seen a female Redstart sitting on a fence post. It apparently was showing well. It wasn't showing at all when I arrived. I met another birder called Jerry, who stayed on when I left and needless to say it reappeared within minutes of my leaving the scene.

I even went back later but it still wasn't showing. It was a day when Swifts made their first appearance of the year, the Arctic Terns at Staines Reservoir returned in abundance, and the other bird I've been trying to see for a few weeks now, the Wheatear, is popping up all over the place, apart from where I am.

Frustrating, but tomorrow is another day and I'll be up early again.

Monday, 19 April 2010

BRAVE NEW DAWN (TO ME, AT LEAST)

I overdid it a bit this last weekend. I went a bit birding mad and got up at the crack of dawn on both Saturday and Sunday and walked miles. I also fitted in a bike ride with Annie on Saturday afternoon, so now I’m completely done for. I feel so stiff and weary I can hardly stand upright when I walk.

The weather was fantastic and I managed to take a number a half-decent photos on my travels. On both days I visited Staines Moor and Staines Reservoir. Both places have come up with some good birds recently, particularly the reservoir. The water was like glass and there were plenty of sea birds on the water. The main problem at the reservoir when the sun is warm and the air still is the swarm of insects. Thousands of midgies in your face – they are relentless – thankfully, not ones that bite and good food for the birds.

The Great Northern Diver was still on the south basin, but the two Garganey had gone – which was typical, as I’d brought my camera with me this time to record them. Little Gulls were in abundance but no Terns. As is often the case when you go expecting, or at least hoping, to see something in particular, they are nowhere to be seen. Arctic Terns were on my list of potential spots, but alas, they had moved on.

The most interesting sight on Saturday, however, was the Whimbrel that flew right in front of me before circling the reservoir and out of sight. A brilliant bird to see out of the blue.

On the second day the bird that caused a lot of attention was a Water Pipit, which was flitting around the edge of the water and fence posts very close to the west entrance.

So, more good stuff on the water then, and not bad either over at the Moor. A Little Egret was prominent on the river, and the Sedge Warblers were very active in the reeds. The Cetti’s Warbler, predictably, didn’t want to show at all but was singing in the distance. Pipits and Blackcaps were plentiful, but I’m struggling to tell the difference between a Meadow Pipit and Tree Pipit, so everything I’m looking at perched on a bush I’m recording as a Meadow.

I managed to get out in the early evening on Saturday at Holmethorpe with the idea of looking for a Lesser Whitethroat that was recorded by Graham James singing in the bushes. I bumped into Gordon Hay, who was looking for the same thing over at Spynes Mere. Just as well I was with him, as he immediately heard one in a nearby shrub. I wouldn’t have picked out the song, but there it was in the blossom. Half the birds I’ve seen recently have been the result of tip-offs or being with someone who knows what they’re doing.

On the bike ride with Annie we both heard a Cuckoo in the Buckland area, and I also heard one on Staines Moor. I haven’t ticked it off as I don’t count birds I haven’t actually seen as a sighting. Makes sense to me, anyway.

The highlight of the weekend, however, was undoubtedly on early Sunday morning, with a visit to Ockham Common before setting off for Staines. Not for the birds, but for the beauty of the place at that time in the morning. The light at 6.30am (6.30am! Hard to believe I managed it) under a clear sky was utterly breathtaking. A light mist hovered over the ground as the sun came up. As I walked round I heard the distinctive song of rising Woodlark in the sky – three of them. A wonderful moment.

Another sight at Ockham (one I actually anticipated) was a Crossbill high up in the trees, which flew off with about nine others across the Common. Walking back to the car, a female Stonechat perched briefly on some heather before flying off, while high up in the conifers the high-pitched whistle of Goldcrests just about registered on my eardrums. I hope the photos I uploaded do the place justice.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

THE WHITE WAGTAIL DILEMMA

After a grey start, the late afternoon on Wednesday turned out to be glorious with bright sunshine and clear air, so taking a walk around the Holmethorpe patch was too much to resist. I bumped into Graham James and Gordon Hay, who both had the same idea as me. We walked around The Moors and then after I went back for my car, we met up again at Spynes Mere.

These two blokes are really experienced birders and always helpful. I also find it reassuring that they also have the same problems as me.

The previous evening I had been walking around The Moors looking for White Wagtails. Everywhere else seems to have them, but wherever I go, they decide not to make an appearance. Only this time I thought I saw one - only I hadn't. White Wagtails are grey on their back, rump and crowns while Pied Wagtails are black, but then a look at the bird books only made it more confusing. It transpires that female Pied Wagtails can also have grey on their backs and tails too. So, how are you supposed to be able to tell the difference?

As it turned out both Graham and Gordon were looking for 'White Wags' when I met up with them, and they were having the same problems. Apparently, the Whites are almost silver grey and it's a case of when you see one you know it is a White Wagtail. So, for the moment, we haven't seen one.

The other Wagtail that was proving elusive at Holmethorpe was the Yellow Wagtail. We have the perfect habitat for them here but they just don't appear to be that impressed with it as yet. But then just as we had nearly finished our walk as the sun was setting, Gordon shouted out 'Yellow Wag!'

Both Gordon and Graham were on to it like a shot as it flashed past. I got a glimpse of it, but if Gordon hadn't shouted out I wouldn't have seen or even noticed it, to be honest.

So, there we are, my first Yellow Wagtail, apparently...

Sunday, 11 April 2010

I'M SCOPELESS - BUT HAPPY

The sun is now setting on the weekend as I sip on what I believe to be a well-earned glass of Italian red wine (a Dolcetto D'Alba from Monte Aribaldo - currently on offer at Waitrose for £7.99, reduced from £11.99).

Saturday started off relatively quiet, but with the sun out and having finished the drudge around the supermarket and other tedious chores, Annie and I decided to go for a walk. Obviously, I would normally have suggested somewhere that had a good chance of seeing some interesting birds, but she would have seen straight through that idea. So it was only fair to go somewhere that was a pleasant walk without any strings attached, so we went to the Denbies Vineyard at Dorking and climbed up the hill and walked across the Downs and back down through the vineyard.

I took my binoculars just in case, and it was just as well. I spotted a Buzzard circling high up as we looked across to Box Hill, and then out of left field came a black bird that looked like a crow but was obviously bigger - about the same size as the Buzzard - with a fan tail and a large head. It also made a deep noise I hadn't heard before. Circling and soaring to about the same height as the Buzzard the Raven drifted off over Box Hill. It must have been at least 2,000ft up or more.

A great spot, as I'd never seen a Raven before. I've never even been to the Tower of London.

So, on to Sunday. I wanted to go to Staines Reservoir as there are plenty of good birds currently showing. The only snag was it required getting up early in the morning - something that tends to make me come out in a rash. With too many things to do during the day - uprooting the Jasmine plant, taking loads of rubbish to the dump, cooking the roast dinner (my responsibility on Sunday afternoons) - there was nothing else for it.

I wouldn't have staked my life on succeeding, however, as we had drunk quite a lot of wine on Saturday night and didn't hit the sack until about 1.30am. But get up I did at 6.15am. I got to the reservoir an hour later.

It was bloody cold and it was blowing a stiff breeze, as it always tends to do at Staines, but I'm glad I made the effort. It's a difficult place for me as I don't own a scope, so any birds that are on the northern or southern edges of the reservoir I haven't got a hope of seeing. Luckily, other birders are always very helpful and generous with their scopes. I met up with a chap called Bob, who let me have a look at three Oystercatchers, which was a nice start and followed up with a view of the Great Northern Diver, one of the birds I'd come to see even though he continued to dive out of site for an age before surfacing again.

As I made my way to the far end of the complex, spotting a couple of Black-Necked Grebes along the way, I startled a Sanderling that was on the water's edge, close to the big pipes at the far end of the reservoir. Once at the other end I had a great close up view of a male and female Garganey, a bird I'd missed at Holmethorpe, so that was a really good first sighting for me.

Walking back I met up with Bob again and another birder, Don, and we spotted a Common Tern, with a number of Black Headed Gulls. So that was five birds not seen this year (I saw the Black-Necked Grebes a month ago), three of which I'd never ever seen before this morning. I was hoping to see White and Yellow Wagtail, but none made an appearance. Bob mentioned a Cetti's Warbler was showing well on the north pathway leading to Staines Moor, so the Moor was the next stop.

I must admit I love this place. I wouldn't have known to go there if it hadn't been for the Brown Shrike last year, but I've always discovered something new to see ever since. Considering it is near a built-up area and close to Heathrow Terminal 5, it is - as another birder, Ken, put it - 'a little oasis'.

It didn't disappoint. The Cetti's Warbler was singing its heart out, although it didn't want to come out to play - you could just see some movement in the bushes. A bit further down a couple of Blackcap were showing really well and also singing, and further on still, near an old burnt-out car in the reeds, a Sedge Warbler was going ten-to-the-dozen. Fantastic stuff.

On the Moor itself a number of Skylarks were climbing and singing with gusto, plus a number of Reed Bunting, flitting from tree-to-tree. To cap a brilliant morning, high over the Moor a Red Kite circled overhead. I don't think I could have asked for more, although I think I saw a couple of Tree Pipits, but I'm not certain.

Tomorrow work will bring me down to Earth with a bump.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

STRIKING A BALANCE

Thursday and Friday have been the warmest days of the year and I spent most of the 48 hours indoors. Being a self-employed graphic designer and journalist often means that deadlines get in the way of other more enjoyable activities. I did manage to get out in the mornings for a while with Annie up at Spynes Mere, but still, sunny days don't always equate to good birding for some reason.

Having said that, I did see the Whitethroat both days, showing well and still in the same place as before, three Snipe and a couple of Sparrowhawks. One in particular was circling high above us for some time and we got a really good view of him. I say we as Annie took an keen interest (one for the notebook) as while she finds bird watching about as interesting as I find a day out at Ikea, she does like birds of prey. The Sparrowhawk above us was an impressive sight - the sun was shining and the speckled underside of the bird stood out well against the cobalt blue sky (alright, that's enough of that). Annie also commented on how the bird steered as it circled using its tail feathers. It was good to watch.

It also was good for me as I've only seen flashes of Sparrowhawks up to now. They seem to appear out of nowhere and then clear off before I've had chance to get a good look at them. Only about a month ago I was looking across The Moors when this bird flashed across my vision in a failed attempt to catch something - there was quite a commotion - it was so quick I couldn't work out what it was at first and what it had tried to catch, but it was soon apparent as it flew off that it was a Sparrowhawk.

This is always the problem for me. Getting enough of a view of a bird to guarantee I will be able to make an accurate sighting. I don't always go with my hunch, even though I'm occassionally proved right later. A case in point was the sighting of the Black Redstart the other week.

That had been a funny old day. I'd already walked for ages without much to report when I bumped into Graham James just as I arrived back at my car. He was quite excited as he had received a text to say that a Black Redstart was on view below the Watercolour Mound in some small trees. I tagged along, but we saw nothing.

I then went over to the same spot a couple of hours later and after waiting for a good 20 minutes, the bird reappeared. Great stuff. What was interesting though was that another similar bird was close by the little fella. I had a feeling it was a female, but didn't want to chalk it up on the Surrey Birders site I belong to because I wasn't sure. Annoyingly, the next morning a female Black Redstart was spotted in the same place, so I'm now sure I saw a male and female at the same time.

That's the balance you have to strike in this game - having confidence in your hunch against being over-confident and getting it wrong.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

RECORD BREAKER!

After a quiet couple of days, I managed to come up with a notable feat today, completely by accident. I was conscious of the fact that I'd missed a few notables as well as a few obvious ticks in recent weeks.

I was away in Northumberland when the Garganey duo made an appearance, but I have a habit of seeing interesting stuff (I usually bump into things as I'm walking or someone gives me a tip-off) and not seeing something that isn't uncommon. It took me two months to see a Rook this year, although I have to say it is not a bird you see many of around my patch for some reason (no doubt someone will explain to me that it's obvious why that is). I hadn't seen a Nuthatch until a few weeks ago, either. It's bit embarrasing when I talk to people and it is plainly evident that I haven't got a clue what I'm doing half the time.

Blackcaps and Willow Warblers have been making themselves known a recent days, and I had managed not to see either. I was getting a bit of a complex about it, if I'm honest, although I did hear a Willow Warbler in the bushes at Spynes Mere a couple of days ago. I also bumped into a bloke who mentioned he'd seen a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in the Mercers Lake car park, a bird I have never sat eyes on before. Annoyingly, I'd already been over there and saw nothing. I was clearly looking in the wrong places, as per usual.

So, having just arrived at Spynes Mere this morning, I noticed a small, grey looking bird with a white patch under its beak in the small trees on the north west bank of the lake. It was a Common Whitethroat, the first I had seen this year. I was quite pleased with that. Then looking down at the sandbar on the lake, skitting nervously around was a Little Ringed Plover - probably the same one I had seen about a week and a half ago over at the Watercolour Mound.

So, a good start to the day. Then, after a proper look around the Mercers car park, I managed to hear and then see four Blackcaps and a Willow Warbler, so that problem is now thankfully behind me. I like Blackcaps - in fact I like all Warblers. They're a bit eccentric, some are elusive and most have an interesting song repertoire. They do like a chat.

In fact, they sound not too dissimilar to my wife. She likes a chat, too. Usually when I'm trying to watch the live football on telly. She won't give up on it though, even when it's obvious I'm only half listening. But being a bloke, it's the one time I manage to multi-task, by keeping up with the game and vaguely listening to what is being said. The faint chatter in the distance is reminiscent of a Reed Warbler going full blast.

Anyway, back to today. Graham James highlighted on the Birding on Holmethorpe Sand Pit website that my sighting of the Whitethroat is the earliest on record for that species in this region. The previous record was on April 8, 1987. I just got lucky, I guess.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

MUCH BETTER SUNDAY

So, how has Easter been for you? Friday was changeable to say the least, Saturday was filled with duties away from the hobby that shall not speak it's name (in our house, at any rate), and Sunday was going to include a bike ride with Annie, until we decided the weather wasn't that great. In the end, we went up to Spynes Mere, fed the ponies, and then got the Sunday papers, while I got started on the Sunday roast. Leg of lamb was on the menu, roast potatoes - my speciality - plus veg and gravy made from the juices of the meat that included some special ingredients (trade secret).

The meat was about to go in the oven when I realised I was missing something - oil to cook the potatoes in. This meant a quick visit to the BP garage on Brighton Road, Redhill that incorporates an M&S. Guaranteed to find oil there on a Sunday when the shops aren't open.

Just before I went out I decided to have a quick look online at the Holmethorpe Sand Pit site run by Graham James, just in case something interesting had appeared. In the last couple of weeks I've seen two Black Redstarts (more on those on a later blog) and a Little Ringed Plover - both firsts for me. For my purposes, the Holmethorpe website is invaluable as Graham and his sidekick Gordon seem to like getting up mind-numbingly early to walk around the area, and then posting what they've seen for me to go and find later in the day. Makes my life a lot easier.

Especially so now when I discovered that a Ferruginous Duck was swimming around the in the area. I'm only a two-minute drive from the Holmethorpe Lagoons/The Moors section of the Sand Pit complex, so I made a quick detour before going to the garage. I found out later that Graham had actaully left me a message on my answering machine but I hadn't picked it up.

When I arrived I bumped into Graham and his wife Sue, who were just leaving the site. He explained where to look and that a young lad (who turned out to be Devil Birder, although he seemed a nice lad to me) with a scope was still watching the bird. So, within minutes of leaving home I was looking at a very scarce bird, a first for me and the first sighting ever of a Ferruginous Duck in the area.
It's easy, this lark.

Friday, 2 April 2010

GOOD FRIDAY?

An inauspicious start to my blogging career. As soon as I opened the front door the rain started to come down. Then the wind picked up. And it rained even heavier. And it got colder, wetter and windier.

So much for Good Friday, then. Nothing much good about it as far as I can tell.

I began the day up at Spynes Mere, my birding patch, firstly to feed the gypsy ponies in the field to the north of lake (a regular event that began last summer when my wife Annie became attached to them, and then, after much reluctance, I became attached too). I had to go on my own this morning as Annie was busy. I couldn't have picked a worse time of the day. The rain was horizontal and bitterly cold. Where's spring gone?

Anyway, after leaving the ponies with a bale of haylage I decided to try and see a few things, although I didn't expect much. The two Shelducks were still present - they've been at Spynes Mere for quite a few weeks now - but there wasn't anything else to get excited about.

After that, I travelled over to the Holmethorpe Lagoons, where I saw the two Black Redstarts last week and also a Little Ringed Plover on the Mound, which I came across by accident when I was counting a group of Pied Wagtails.

Only yesterday I saw the Little Egret fly over into the Moors but there wasn't much happening here today, just a few Great Crested Grebes.

I nearly decided to call it a day, but walked over to Mercer's Lake, where at least 40 Sand Martins were skipping across the water with a couple of Swallows - there may have been more, but I couldn't tell as my binoculars kept getting wet and steaming up, and I couldn't stop my hands shaking from the cold.

So that was it. I only live a couple of minutes away off Frenches Road, so the Holmethorpe Complex is a perfect spot for me.

Just down the road, as you head towards Redhill, Frenches Pond has a few interesting ducks that appear to be permanent fixtures, including a Mandarin Duck, a Wood Duck, a Pintail and six Red Crested Pochards (five male and one female). Worth going over to have a look if you are in the area.

So that was the start of my Easter break. I've just looked out of the window and the sun has reappeared. Typical.