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, 27 May 2010

A WELCOME SIGHT

I forced myself to get up and out of the house by 5am this morning, so as to allow for as much birding time as possible before work was due to kick in back home. My first target was Chobham Common - initially I was thinking of getting there to try and see Nightjar at break of dawn - but that was ambitious and it was raining, which also put me off.

It was a good place to start the morning tour as it turned out. It's strange, I go searching for one, not particularly uncommon, bird (Marsh Tit) and draw a blank, and yet when I look for another, of which there are just a handful, I find one within minutes.

So it was this morning. Just ten minutes from stepping foot on the Common I heard the distinctive light song of a Dartford Warbler (135). I had been told by Bob Warden that a bird had been heard here a few weeks ago, and after a brief search I saw the male bird singing on top of a gorse bush. What a relief. These birds have been a concern for the wildlife community because their numbers had been culled by the brutal winter. I walked around a bit further and saw another sighting - although it could have been the same one.

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A Cuckoo was also singing continuously in the distance and eventually I had a good view of it - my third sighting of a Cuckoo this year - perched on top of a tree before it flew off again.

Other birds on view were four Stonechats and three Coal Tits, plus the usual suspects - Meadow Pipit, Skylark and Greater Spotted and Green Woodpecker.

Having decided I'd hassled the Dartford Warbler enough, I headed off to Staines Reservoir - which turned out to be a waste of time. Just two Common Terns on view. After that it was down to Oxshott Common, where I had made a first visit on Saturday. Another couple of Spotted Flycatchers and two Goldcrests were the highlights as the rain came down.

My final destination was Ashtead Common - another first visit. This is a fantastic woodland area, which I managed to get lost in, and here I saw a Hobby fly by. So, all in all, it was a good morning.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

A NIGHTINGALE ENCORE

I had another attempt at finding a Marsh Tit today but again drew a blank. It helped that I was looking in the right place this time. On the last occasion I went on a Marsh Tit hunt I thought I was wandering around Ranmore Common when, in fact, I wasn't.

This time round Annie and I were in the right location but I couldn't find one. I did find two more Spotted Flycatchers in the pine trees, though - which was good - plus a Nuthatch and a few Coal Tits. After about an hour we gave up.

Next stop was Bookham Common, which is becoming one of my favourite haunts. It's just a nice place to go for a walk. I wanted to take Annie to hear the Nightingales in Little Bookham Common, and they didn't let me down. I heard three birds and got a pretty good sighting (for a Nightingale) of one of them actually singing in the dense scrub.

What was wonderful about the late afternoon at Little Bookham was the amount of birdsong on offer - it was bedlam out there! A few blogs back I put up a brief recording of a Nightingale singing and, seeing as I like the song so much, I thought I'd upload another one from today.

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PAYING AN OLD PATCH A VISIT

The Spring migration has pretty much ground to a halt if the lack of any new species being recorded on the local birding websites is anything to go by. Having had a busy working week, I was lucky to see the Spotted Flycatchers on Saturday, particularly as I went to Ockham Common on Monday afternoon in the hope of seeing a few more, but under a scorching sun, all was pretty quiet apart from a Woodlark singing in the mid-distance.



Tuesday evening I decided to pay Staines a visit. I wasn't really expecting much - the Reservoir was particularly barren apart from a few Common Terns - but I was happy to spend a bit of time on the Moor, a place I enjoy walking around. Right on queue the resident Cetti's Warbler burst into song, and the Blackcaps were also bellowing out a few notes. A Cuckoo was in the vicinity but I didn't see it, although I caught sight of a Snipe, three Common Terns, three Lapwings, some Meadow Pipits, a couple of Skylarks and Reed Warblers, a Sedge Warbler, a Kestrel and four Reed Buntings.

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I'm still missing a few resident birds, most notably the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Marsh Tit, which I know are out there somewhere in the Surrey area for me to find, but they are proving elusive, as are Ringed Plover - although I've had sightings of its smaller cousin the Little Ringed Plover on more than one occasion. Of the migrants I haven't seen a Turtle Dove or a Wood Warbler this year - both are going to be very difficult to spot.

The other bird I'm keen to see is a Peregrine Falcon - I feel it's just a question of time. There are plenty of others but I'll have to be patient - it isn't even halfway through the year yet.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

A FLYCATCHER SPOTTED



It's been more than a week since I've been out birding - due mainly to work commitments getting in the way. As it turned out, despite it being a glorious weekend I only managed a brief visit to Oxshott Common on Saturday morning.

I'd passed the Common on the way to work many times in the past but never walked around it before. It was well worth it as I saw the bird I was looking for within 30 minutes.




The Spotted Flycatcher (134) is one of the late Summer arrivals to these shores and I fancied I'd see one here. Actually I saw two, flying from tree to tree calling out to each other. The other good sighting was a small group of Crossbills in the pine trees - I seem to come across Crossbills quite often on my trips out.

Later in the day Annie and I saw a pair of Greater Spotted Woodpecker by the River Mole near Betchworth, one giving us a good showing pecking at the tree trunk, as well as a Grey Wagtail.

I'm hoping I'll get out more this week so I can catch up with a few more birds I've yet to see so far this year.

Friday, 14 May 2010

A BOLT OUT OF THE BLUE

After a fruitless visit to Ranmore Common in search for Marsh Tit - the only birds of interest were a Buzzard, Kestrel and a solitary Goldcrest - I paid a visit to Norbury Park, which is just a few miles further north.



My visit paid off, as within minutes of arriving on a walk along the River Mole a flash of flourescent blue shot by, flying low downstream. My first Kingfisher of the year (133) - I only saw it for a few seconds, but it's good to know they are present here.

Later I went to Headley Heath, which appears to be a stronghold for Willow Warbler. I heard at least ten on a brief visit.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

KITE'S FLYING HIGH

I've been lucky to see two Red Kite in Surrey so far this year - one over the M25 near Leatherhead and the other soaring over Staines Moor.

They make for a spectacular sight, and it is encouraging to see they are making inroads further east from their stronghold in the Chiltern area. As it transpired, I had to go to Oxford today, and anyone who drives up the M40 will know it is a great motorway to see Red Kite. I thought I would pass the time en route by counting how many I saw.

At first I didn't think I would see too many as the count started off slowly, but once I got going the count go higher. At one point I saw ten in the sky at one time - it was just a pity I was travelling in the fast lane and having to pay more attention to where I was going.

In the end I got to Oxford where the Red Kite population is more sparce and my count stopped at a remarkable 32 birds. The resurrection of this wonderful bird of prey is one of the great success stories for species in this country.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

LITTLE BOOKHAM'S PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA


I took a visit to Bookham and Little Bookham Commons this morning. It was a beautiful start to the day - the sun was up, although it was a bit too cold for the time of year.

The Bookham Commons made for a really satisfying walk. Warblers were plentiful, with a Garden Warbler being my first sight, followed by Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler, and numerous Blackcap and Whitethroat. A Kestrel flew by, the only bird of prey I saw all morning, while I also saw a Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer.

The woods were a symphony of birdsong, with the song of one bird standing out above all others - a Nightingale. I heard two during the morning, and while I failed to see the first one, I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the second, but it took an age - more than an hour - to spot it. The song was fantastically pure and dramatic, and the bird was clearly only feet away in the undergrowth, and although I scrambled through the low scrub and dense thicket to get a decent vantage point, this bird was mightily difficult to see.

But it was worth it to get my 132nd different bird of the year, and it being a Nightingale - the Pavarotti of the bird world - a really satisfying one at that.

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Sunday, 9 May 2010

HANKLEY COMMON

With the wind still stubbornly blowing from the north-east, any hope of finding some waders came to nothing at Staines Reservoir this morning. It was another case of the right place at the wrong time, as the day before had brought a host of interesting birds through, including more than 50 Whimbrel and the first Grey Plovers seen this year.

The visit was brief, so the next stop was Hankley Common, near Thursley Common. It is a site I had not visited before, but after reading Johnny Allan's blog recently, when he had heard a Dartford Warbler there, it was too tempting not to go.



Hankley covers a large area, but it had a number of interesting birds on offer - Crossbill and Tree Pipit being highlights, with great views of a Tree Pipit flying up and then parachuting down onto a branch. There were also a number of Woodlark and Skylark present, as well as Stonechat. Dartford Warblers, however, were nowhere to be seen. As said previously, it's going to be a lengthy task that requires patience if I'm going to see one this year after the harsh winter we had.

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After returning home, I went for a quick walk around Spynes Mere, and after bumping into eminent Earlswood birder Des Ball, I saw my first Hobby on my patch, plus the Little Egret was back. Des gave me some suggestions of good places to see birds still on my list, and I plan to visit one of them tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

THE LURE OF THE CETTI'S

Another trip to Staines this morning and I seem to have missed the point. It was a lovely morning, the air was still and I thought it would mean a few waders might pay the reservoir a visit. But no. Not one. Only a few Common Terns feeding, some Black-Headed Gulls, Great Crested Grebes and Tufted Ducks.

The other notable absentees were other birders. Apart from another young lad called Nigel, there was no-one else about. The experienced birders know when to turn up and when to go somewhere else.

Never mind, it meant I could pay another visit to Staines Moor and perhaps see a few Warblers. As per usual it didn't disappoint. There were plenty of Sedge Warblers about - I counted at least six - plus Reed Warblers, Blackcaps and Whitethroats.

The best sight was a Cuckoo, my second of the year. Nigel and I both heard it, and he spotted high it up in an old dead tree. Cuckoos are interesting in as much as their call sounds a lot further away than they really are.



So, a good spot. There were plenty of Meadow Pipit dotted about, plus Skylarks, Reed Bunting, one White Wagtail and a Snipe on the river bank. There were also Common Terns flying overhead, one of which was being bullied by a Black-Headed Gull, Linnet, Swifts and Swallows. Whinchat and Wheatear were to the south (both of which I didn't have a chance to go and have look at because time was short), but for me the best thing was the Cetti's Warbler - one of my favourite birds.

As we walked down the footpath towards the Moor from the north past a tree on our right, an amazing burst of liquid song filled the air. Quite made me jump, it was so loud. So pure, too. A beautiful sound from a small bird that is so hard to see. Again it was only movement in the undergrowth that caught our eye as it moved further down path, but that is the draw. So clear a sound but it's pot-luck if you get a good view of one. It's the lure back to Staines Moor for me - the prospect of a great view of this Cetti's, but not knowing when it will be.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

TO BE OR NOT TO BE A BIRDING SITE

It's funny how some places are on the map for the number of birds that visit and others aren't. It doesn't matter if a place looks like a dump, if birds fancy it they go see in their droves.

My local patch, Holmethorpe Sand Pits, is a mixture of beauty and the beast. The beauty is the Spynes Mere walk and the surrounding countryside and the beast is the landfill site that takes over the horizon as you look across from the Water Colour housing development. There is also the smell from the disinfectant - or whatever it is they use to spray over the area. How can I put it... it's like the smell you get when someone has been on the loo and covered up the pong with air freshener.

No matter, since the turn of the year there have been 121 different species seen at Holmethorpe as of today - not a bad count by anyone's standards - and there have been some belters too, including the Ferruginous Duck that appeared a couple of months ago.

There are other places to that beggar belief at the amount of really top-notch birds that flock there - places I have yet to visit. Beddington Sewage Works is one - not exactly a holiday destination but, boy, do they get some decent visitors.

Another is the London Wetland Centre at Barnes - more a birding theme park - Disneyworld for birders if you will, but they have some really nice rarities, like the Pacific Golden Plover, which also appeared at Beddington last week. It must have read a brochure or something to know where to go.



And yet, there are other destinations that aren't on the birding map. One is Tilburstow Hill. I had a walk round there this evening. It is where I grew up for most of my childhood - I used to live at the farm at the top of the hill. I remember Tawny Owls and Barn Owls were a regular feature in the evenings - it was a great place. I also remember when the storm of 1987 ripped the Common apart and most of the oak and beech trees were uprooted - it was a terrible sight. More than 20 years on and the Hill has been transformed into a fantastic beauty spot - but apart from a Treecreeper and the odd Blackcap and a Greater Spotted Woodpecker, there is bugger all there for birders.



I went back home via Holmethorpe, and saw two Common Terns resting on a raft on Mercer's Lake, a Sedge Warbler was singing heartily, also at Mercer's Lake, and there were Swifts, Swallows and House Martins flitting through the air feeding. For birds, some places just have the right mojo, while others just don't.

RE-TERN TO STAINES

Apologies for the pun headline. Couldn't resist it. I met another birder, Neville, at Staines Reservoir yesterday, who helped me spot the Black Tern. He went off to Staines Moor, where later I discovered online that he had seen plenty of decent birdlife.



I went back to Staines in the afternoon, paid a short visit to the reservoir, where the highlight was a cloud of Swifts swooping over the causeway. An amazing sight. I then paid a visit to Staines Moor, where there was an abundance of activity. I had my first decent view of the Cetti's Warbler along the pathway to the north of the Moor - it came out of its hideaway and stood on a fence briefly, flicking its cocked tail nervously before disappearing into the undergrowth once more. It wasn't long before I had sight of what I had gone there to see. Perched on tufty mounds on the Moor were five Whinchat (131). Further along I counted six Wheatear, one of which was possibly a male Greenland Wheatear (I wouldn't have known that if it wasn't for Neville's input on the London Bird Club website).

I'd driven about 100 miles in total during Sunday, but in the end I got what I wanted, but it's getting harder to add to the Surrey list for the year.

Monday, 3 May 2010

THE WEATHER'S ON THE TERN

I seem to visit Staines Reservoir more than my own patch at the moment, in the hope of seeing plenty of passing Terns and waders. I took a day off yesterday as we were invited to a friend's house for lunch - and it would have been blowing a gale and pouring with rain up at the Reservoir.

As it transpired Bob saw a mass of good birds during the day, and it was with this in mind that led me there again this morning. It always happens, though, that I have a few birds in my mind I would like to see, but more often than not they are nowhere to be seen. Bar-Tailed Godwit came through yesterday, as did Sandwich Tern and Ringed Plover. All gone today.

The wind really picked up during the morning which meant viewing through bins was very difficult. Despite this, there were plenty of Common Terns and Arctic Terns feeding on the south basin, and after an age looking for it, I eventually saw my first Black Tern of the year (130). There must have been more than 300 Swifts present, revelling in the stiff wind.

I was going to go to the Moor but time was not on my side as I had some work to do at home. On the way back a Red Kite flew across the M25 between junctions 10 and 9, which was nice to see. Hopefully, they will become as successful in Surrey as they are in the Chilterns.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

STAINES DELIVERS AGAIN

I made my now regular visit to Staines Reservoir this morning. Bob was there, as he often is, but all was relatively quiet - Common Terns aplenty and the Great Northern Diver was still on duty - until Bob mentioned a male Turnstone in summer plumage was feeding on the edge of the water on the South basin close by. A really good bird to see and number 129 for me in Surrey this year.



I stayed for a short while before heading off to Chobham Common in pursuit of Dartford Warbler. The winter of 2009 had been pretty devasting for this delicate little bird, but the most recent big freeze had just about run a road through its survival. Alarmingly, there have been only a few sightings this year.

My hopes were never realistic, just a pair of Stonechat dancing about the heather and a Buzzard circling overhead. I was also on the lookout for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker - but again no joy. Not much of a surprise really, as they are small and like the tops of trees, and now with the leaves coming out they are even harder to spot.