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.



Tuesday, 31 August 2010

TAKING STOCK ON FAMILIAR TERRITORY

Seeing as it was such a beautiful day, Annie and I took the afternoon off. I thought it would be interesting to go and visit my old stamping ground at Tilburstow Hill, South Park and Wychcroft, near Bletchingley.

We decided to have a spot of lunch at the Fox and Hounds, just down the road from Tilburstow Hill Farm, where I lived for 12 years from the age of eight (c1965). The pub was my regular drinking hole as a long-haired art student, although the beer wasn't great in those days, unlike now.

The food at the Fox was first rate, too, and unlike many good pubs around this area, it is served from 12noon until 9pm. I had duck, while Annie had a fantastic rabbit pie - both were really good meals and not extortionate.

We then drove to South Park and Wychcroft, which is off the beaten track from Rabies Heath Road on the way to Bletchingley, and parked the car.



All this area used to be part of the 1,500-acre farm estate when my father worked there, but years later it was sold off. Tilburstow Hill Farm, for example, which then was used as a calf-rearing facility and for farm equipment maintenance, is now a series of dwellings. The entire area is a beautiful place to be on a late summer afternoon and the walk we went on, from South Park down to Lower South Park and across country back to the car took two-and-a-half hours. It was probably the most enjoyable walk we had been on all year.



As far as birds are concerned it was relatively quiet apart from numerous Wood Pigeons and the odd Stock Dove in the harvested cornfields, plus a mass of Jackdaws, Crows and, a welcome sight, Rooks. The Rook is one corvid I have struggled to see many of in Surrey but there were plenty of them feeding along the way. Earlier I had spotted a Sparrowhawk and then a pair of Buzzards circling and calling overhead. A couple of Kestrels were also on the lookout for food.



Another bird noted was a Grey Heron standing in a paddock, which didn't seem an ideal habitat for it. I could go off on a tangent and discuss Herons, but more of my thoughts on that subject at a later date.

All-in-all and very satisfying and peaceful afternoon.

BANK ON A BUZZARD

Bank Holiday Monday was spent visiting friends in Gwent. The sky was a clear, brilliant blue for once, and to pass the time, similar to a few months back on the way to Oxford, I made a mental note of the number of raptors I saw during the three hours we were travelling in the car.

Kestels are a common sight by motorways, but I only saw two on the journey, plus two Red Kite.

By far the most common bird of prey, however, was the Common Buzzard. Between Reading and Bristol I counted ten, but by the end of the day the count got up to 22.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

HAPPY? KIND OF...

A report flashed up on the Rare Bird Alert News and on the London Bird Club wiki site on Saturday morning that David Campbell (Devil Birder) had discovered a notable Surrey bird on his patch at Canon's Hill Farm near Banstead.

As it was my wedding anniversary weekend (18 years and counting) I couldn't get up there during the morning or afternoon but managed to squeeze in a couple of hours in the evening, arriving at the Farm at 5.45pm. Roy Weller was also on the patch waiting in the field where the bird had been heard and briefly seen during the afternoon. Unfortunately for David, out of the whole group who were present when the bird dashed out from cover, he was the only one not to see it.



He wasn't alone, however, because it was neither seen nor heard while I was there. After about an hour or so, I left and went back at 8.30am this morning, and bumped into Dominic Mitchell, who reported that the bird was still in the field, singing regularly and also had made a brief appearance. David had already set up shop since 6.30am and had deservedly seen the bird.

After about 20 minutes or so, the Quaile (145) began to call again about ten feet from where we were standing. Quaile are notoriously difficult to see, and so it proved this morning. It sang constantly very close by but at no time did I manage to see it. However, while I would have preferred to have had a visual sighting, in this instance, being the secretive bird that it is, it apparently counts as a tick. I'm not altogether happy with this, but I'll take it at the moment! Well done to David, though, on a great find.

video

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

HEAVY WEATHER

Well, I've just looked out of the window and it's suddenly turned into November out there. What happened to the past couple of months? Good to see the last remnants of what is commonly known as 'summer' on these shores is finishing pretty much how we all expected.

Bad news for the tan, but good news for birding. With a storm brewing over the Atlantic now rushing its way across the south of the country today and through the night we can expect a few wet, bedraggled and downright knackered migrants deciding to down tools and stick around for a while until the wind changes direction. That's the hope, at any rate.

That's also the deal when living in landlocked Surrey. You live in hope of a surprise visitor now and again. Waders pop in and out at random, so finding a jewel can feel a bit like squeezing blood out of a stone. You have to be ready in case they don't hang around.

While we wait eagerly for the rain (I can't believe I just said that - in truth I'd prefer it to be 28C and glorious sunshine), I managed to get up reasonably early and travelled to Staines this morning. The Reservoir was uneventful, although there was one juvenile Common Tern on the shoreline that caused some interest.



Bob Warden, who I hadn't bumped into for quite a few months, was also present and he explained how the youngster, who had been reared from a nest on the ramp in the middle of the north basin and couldn't yet fly, had fallen into the water and drifted off until it eventually ended up by the edge of the basin and on terra firma. There it has stayed for the past week. Fortunately, its parents are still feeding it and so the little fella is in good shape.




That was it as far as the Reservoir was concerned. A Dunlin had been the only wader to touch down momentarily earlier in the morning, but it flew off just before I arrived.



Off then to Staines Moor, which proved to be far more productive. There were umpteen very active Whitethroats and Willow Warblers dotted around on the walk down to the Moor itself, where after a long trudge around the perimeter I discovered a Kestrel, two Little Egrets (often found here), two Whinchat, a couple of Wheatears, plus plenty of Meadow Pipit.

We now wait to see what the weather brings.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

A CHANGE OF ATTITUDE

It had been two weeks since I had ventured out for a good day's birding. Normally, I would plan a trip around various spots in Surrey in the hope of adding to my Surrey list, but with a couple of weeks off to think about things, I've come to the conclusion that focussing on lists is a sure-fire way of diluting ones enthusiasm for looking at birds.

After all, the whole point of bird-watching should be to enjoy what you are looking at rather than, as has been increasingly the case for me and undoubtedly numerous other people involved in this hobby, blindly collecting ticks. What happens is you go out expecting, or hoping, to see one specific species, and if after a few hours you don't see it you return home dejected and you can gradually lose heart. There's no fun in that.

Also, if you become embroiled in a chase to get more ticks than someone else, that can lead to optimistic sightings which are, at worst, misleading and inaccurate, and detrimental to any historical record being logged.




That is not to say I won't go and twitch a bird I haven't seen before in the area, it's just that I'm not going to focus on that aim. So, with that in mind, I went to Elmley Marshes on the Isle of Sheppey for the first time yesterday.

My birding mate Graham James suggested it might be worth a trip and he was right. However, for those who have yet to visit this vast RSPB reserve, don't travel without your walking boots. Once you have driven to the car park - in itself a 2km drive across the flatlands of the sight - it is then another 2km walk to the first of five hides. Once there, of course, it is well worth the visit.



On the way to the first hide I spotted one of the birds I really wanted to see here - a Marsh Harrier. A majestic bird that flew low and into a very keen wind before gliding down behind the sea wall and out of view. It was a sight that would occur frequently during my visit. On the pathway I came across a number of Meadow Pipits, Yellow and Pied Wagtails, plus one Wheatear that flew up and landed in some long grass in front of me.




Once at the hides the variety of birds on show was top notch. Avocets breed here and while I haven't seen one in Surrey this year, I had more than 40 feeding in front of me here. Other birds of note were eight Whimbrel that flew in, while there were at least six Snipe on view, four Little Egrets, two Ruff, one Knot, one Redshank, one Dunlin, two Common Sandpiper, two Little Ringed Plovers, a Hobby in the distance pursuing a Swallow and plenty of Ringed Plovers and Black-Tailed Godwits. Unfortunately I arrived too late to see a Spotted Redshank and a couple of Little Stint. Maybe next time.




The Reserve covers a vast area and I was interested in venturing further to Spitend Hide, which was 1.5km further along the route. When I asked another birder whether it was worth the long trek he gave a wry smile and said: "I don't know. I come here regularly and haven't been there for more than two years!" I gave it a miss.

A really good day out ended with the sight of three Whinchats sitting on a fence, clearly preparing for the long journey south, although they didn't hang around long enough for me to get a photo.

Friday, 13 August 2010

HELD HOSTAGE BY WORK

It's been a frustrating week. Since last weekend's excitement I haven't had one opportunity to venture out with the scope. Work, that necessary evil, has cornered me into a room with a computer and I haven't reappeared since Monday morning.

A pity, but in Surrey I can't say there's been much action considering so many birds are looking south and packing their feathery luggage for the long trek to Africa, or wherever their favourite winter homes might be. The summer, for what it has been worth, is now in its death throws and there will be some interesting days ahead - hopefully not this weekend as I'm at a family gathering and watching the beginning of the autumn migration won't be high on the agenda.

Still, looking back over the past seven months, my birding experiences really have exceeded my expectations and in my self-proclaimed Surrey species listing battle, I'm not that far behind the leader - he's on 149 and I'm on 144. Only a week or so ago he was on 145, but since then he's seen, amongst other birds, Curlew Sandpiper (on the same day I did - but I was in Kent so it doesn't count for the list) and Bar-Tailed Godwit.

There are a few I hope to see before the year is out, including Water Rail, Brambling and Ringed Plover (yep, it's some of the not so rare ones that I just seem to be looking the other way when they're around). I'd also like to find a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker - Dodge at Beddington has given me a site to go and have a look at, plus there are sure to be a few interesting birds still to drop in at either Beddington, Staines Reservoir or, hopefully, Holmethorpe.

So long as one of them isn't a Caspian Gull, because I won't recognise it even if it comes up to me holding a big sign saying what it is.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

HEY, IT WAS MY BIRTHDAY!

Seeing as it was my birthday yesterday, it gave me the ready excuse to indulge in my favourite pastime without feeling guilty. I dragged Annie off to Oare Marshes in Kent with my new scope and even she had to admit it was a really enjoyable day.



We didn't get there until late morning, but interspersed with a spot of lunch at the Three Musketeers in Oare village (good food, if a tad pricey) we spent about five hours walking around the site. I had visions of seeing Spoonbill and Marsh Harrier - two birds I really wanted to see - but neither were present. The weather was too windy for Bearded Tits to make any sort of appearance either, but never mind.



We did see plenty of Black-Tailed Godwit. At Holmethorpe we have had one solitary bird all year - here there were more than 1,200 of them. There were also plenty of Golden Plover, Dunlin, Redshank, quite a few Knot, a solitary juvenile Little Ringed Plover, a Whimbrel, a Water Rail diving for cover, four Little Egrets, Common and Green Sandpiper, but best of all at around 5pm, eight Curlew Sandpiper.



The bird Annie enjoyed watching most of all, however, was one of eight Yellow Wagtail we saw flitting around the perimeter on our walk. This one was on the footpath, and we got quite close to it.

So, a good day, which ended with a decent curry at a local restaurant in Redhill.

Sunday meant an earlish start (for me at any rate) to get to Beddington for 9.15am. Peter Alfrey was fronting a tour of the site along with another of the Beddington 'Massive', Dodge. It was a fine tour. More than 40 people turned up for the morning, which included a tour of the inner sanctum. While there we saw Green and Common Sandpiper plus Tree Sparrow, Common and Lesser Whitethroat and a Greenshank on the main scrape.



Best of all, though, was one tick that has irritated me like a patch of exczema this year. Thanks to Dodge and Peter I got to see my first Yellow-Legged Gull (144) for 2010. Am I glad to get that one out of the way. I'll no doubt see them all the time now.