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, 26 April 2011

BANK HOLIDAY BIRDING BONANZA

I had the whole day to myself yesterday and went on a bit of a bird shopping spree. I had a list of possibles, probables and hopefuls (that included most of them). The plan was to go to Elmley Marshes on the Isle of Sheppey first thing, then sprint back to a number of Surrey sites for a listing frenzy.

I hadn't been to Elmley Marshes since last summer and had forgotten what a great place it is. A bit of a walk, too, but I was parked up before 6.00am and had plenty of time to see some good birds before heading back over the border. The drive from the main road through the flatlands to the car park is an interesting enough section in its own right. I must have seen at least 100 Mediterranean Gulls along the route, as well as plenty of Yellow Wagtail, Reed Bunting, Skylark and Redshank.

On the walk down to the Reserve hides, I saw a stack of Sedge Warbler, Curlew and Lapwing, while at the floods themselves there were the usual suspects, including Avocet.

I scanned the area and picked up three Marsh Harriers and eventually the bird I was looking for, a juvenile Spoonbill, although this one was some distance away. It preened itself before a quick feed and then it eventually flew off east. Later in the day it would return, as would two others.




I spent a while looking around, but there wasn't much else about, so took the decision to head back. I'll be back in the coming weeks, though. I also needed to go home first, because I had a problem with my camera I needed to fix.

Once sorted I was out for the Surrey tour at about 11.00am. First stop was Chobham Common, in the hope of finding a Dartford Warbler. Top Tice's Meadow birder, Rich Sergeant, had kindly notified me that two had been seen to the north east of the Common. On the journey, a Red Kite drifted south across the carriageways between junctions 9 and 10 of the M25. A good start.

Chobham, however, wasn't so good. I trudged around the area I thought would profitable, but alas no Dartford Warbler - or anything else. The area was very quiet.

Back on the motorway, which was becoming busier as the day progressed, I headed for Staines Reservoir. Only one car was parked up when I arrived, which didn't bode well. The air was clear so viewing was good, although the wind had picked up. The Great Northern Diver was still on the south basin and there were at least 11 Little Gulls bobbing on the water close to the rafts on the north basin. While I couldn't see the Slavonian Grebe that had been present for some days, I picked up an Oystercatcher flying from the north basin to the south.

I was about to leave when I gave the area one last scan. I picked up a couple of striking gulls with black heads next to the raft gathered with a throng of Black-headed Gulls. My first tick of the day. Two very smart Mediterranean Gulls (129) were on the water. Although some distance away their red beaks stood out very clearly. While my shopping list had ten birds on it, Med Gull wasn't one of them, so I was pleased with the discovery.



Time was pressing so I was only intending to give Staines Moor a quick tour. On the walk down from Hurstmere Road, and along the path, I saw and heard the rolling, guttural song of a couple of Lesser Whitethroat (130), along with Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler and Cetti's Warbler.

On to the Moor itself, I spotted a couple of birders to the south looking intently at the trees along the eastern edge of the moor. I had a hunch what it might be, and right on queue I heard the unmistakable call of a Cuckoo (131).

As I joined the two birders, a Wheatear flew up in front of me, and the Cuckoo flew off to the north. As it transpired, there were two along the tree line. Mike and Jan Hunt, from Bracknell, were excellent company for the next hour, as we waited for either Cuckoo to make an appearance. They were quite mobile, repeatedly flying across our line of sight and landing out of view. Mike was convinced one would honour us with its presence, and sure enough, one dropped down and perched on a branch right in front of us. There it stayed for a good 15 minutes, calling as it did so.



While we enjoyed good views of the Cuckoo, I noticed a Hobby (132) scything its way low across the Moor. It was then joined by another, and we were treated to an air display that only a Hobby can perform. Brilliant. Then higher up, circling, a Peregrine kept watch.



I stayed until about 3.30pm, and then had to go. On the walk back to the car I saw a few House Martin (133), feeding with a small group of Swallows. Staines Moor hadn't disappointed, and continues to be one of the best birding sites this spring.

Three more stops to go. First up Cutt Mill Ponds near Puttenham Common. On the way, via the M3 and A331, I saw another Red Kite circling near Ash. At the Ponds, I walked down towards Cutt Mill House and looked out over the pond and saw my next target bird. A male Mandarin (134) was swimming close to the edge of the lake. I didn't stay long, and headed for Hankley Common, for another stab at Dartford Warbler. Again, no joy. A pair of Stonechats were the only interest here.

Finally, Thursley Common. I now didn't need to see a Hobby, which was just as well, because I didn't see one, but the last target bird of the day ended with success with a beautiful male Common Redstart (135) in the pines near Shrike Hill. It was quite flighty, and so I didn't get a photo, but there are plenty of Redstarts at Thursley, so I will be able to catch up with them as the summer progresses. A satisfactory end to a long day.

Friday, 22 April 2011

LET'S HEAR IT FOR THE NIGHTINGALE

After being stuck indoors all day with work, gazing longingly out at the sunshine and another balmy April day, eventually Annie and I managed to find some time to venture out. We didn't have long, but we went to Bookham Common, where Annie sat in the sun reading her book, and I went for a wander.

I was hoping to find a Marsh Tit on my travels, but failed. What I did find, however, was another Nightingale - this one gave me the full repertoire, and after a bit of a search I managed to actually see it in the dense scrub singing its heart out. A memorable sight.

video

A further walk round produced the usual spring fare, and also couple of Bullfinch, always nice to see. At the end of the walk back at the ponds where Annie was sitting I saw my first Wood Duck (128) of the year - a pair.

It's hard to keep up with all the new sightings around the county. Graham James had a Turtle Dove at Holmethorpe, a real rarity in Surrey nowadays, while a Wood Sandpiper appeared at Tice's Meadow. Up at Staines, the Ring Ouzel was still on the Moor, while eight Black Terns arrived at the Reservoir.

No birding for a couple of days now, but I will be back with a vengeance on Monday, when, for the first time in a while I have a whole day's birding to look forward to. It's the Holmethorpe Bird Race on Monday too, but there are so many places I want to take advantage of while I have the chance, that I will only be there at the end of the day.

Elmley Marshes is high on my list, in the hope of seeing Spoonbill - a bird I want to do some drawings of this year. After that I will be back in the county heading for Thursley Common for Redstart and Hobby, Chobham Common to try and find a Dartford Warbler, Staines for whatever might be there, and finally Holmethorpe to meet up with all the lads taking part in the race on my local patch.

I can't wait. Only three sleeps to go!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

STAINES MOOR AND THE RING OUZEL

I left the house early as I headed off down the M25. The sun was peeking above the horizon and promised to be a beautiful day. I had most of the morning to give Staines Moor, my first port of call, a good search, and then the Reservoir if there was anything interesting to see.

The target bird today was Yellow Wagtail and I was also on the lookout for Whinchat. Yesterday a female Ring Ouzel had been seen at Staines in the morning, but had gone missing in the afternoon. It could well have moved on, so I didn't think anymore about it.

The walk down from Hithermoor Road along the footpath is always a good start to a walk at Staines Moor. At this time of year the key bird along the path is the Sedge Warbler. There are at least three vocal Sedges that are currently showing really well.




Also along the path are plenty of Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, Whitethroats and Willow Warblers. Once off the concrete footpath and through the gate towards the Moor, there are plenty of birds to keep you occupied before the wooden walkway to the Moor itself. This morning I saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming, and heard more Sedge Warblers as well as a number of Reed Warblers chattering in the reeds on either side of the path.

The highlight along this footpath is the dramatic song of the Cetti's Warbler. There are two currently in the dense vegetation, but occasionally the one closest to the wooden walkway shows itself, which is always an added bonus. Not today, though

My plan once on the Moor was to head to the northern side of the River Colne, an area I don't normally cover. It was also where the Ring Ouzel had been seen yesterday. Once over the bridge I came across plenty of Wheatear, a couple of first-summer males and at least six females.




I carried on walking west when I briefly saw a black bird with silvery wings fly up into a tree. I didn't see exactly where it went or for long enough to identify it. A few minutes later Ripley birder, Glyn Bridges, joined me for a stake out. Unfortunately for Glyn, the bird didn't reappear and he was on a tight schedule. Half-an-hour later at 7.40am Glyn had to go, by which time we were joined by local birder Pete Naylor.

We both did a tour of the area but couldn't find any sign of the Ring Ouzel. I then went off in search of my target bird, focusing on a group of horses that had gathered by the river. It didn't take long to see a Yellow Wagtail (127) feeding close by. It stayed for a few minutes before flying off north.



Back to the Ring Ouzel hunt, I searched everywhere in the area, including where a disused trailer had been ditched, but nothing. By 8.15am I decided to head back and go over to the Reservoir. I'd seen a Ring Ouzel at Canons Farm recently, so it wasn't the end of the world if I didn't see another. I texted Bob Warden to see if anything new was on the Reservoir - particularly Black Tern - but there was nothing of note. The Terns, Arctic and Black, tend to turn up in the afternoon, so, apart from the Great Northern Divers and Velvet Scoter - both of which I had seen already - there was nothing new on the water.

Just then a black bird flew out of a tree right in front of me making a distinctive 'tuk, tuk' call as it flew. It was the female Ring Ouzel. It flew off into another tree about 100 yards away, long enough for me to get a record photo, and then it decided to fly into the tree where I had originally seen it, which was only 20 yards away from where I was standing. Great stuff. From his viewpoint, Pete had locked on to her, too.




I got fantastic views of this little beauty, but before long the Rouzel was up in the air again and doing a circuit of the area before landing in another nearby tree. She then dropped on to the ground before I eventually lost sight of her.



Warm sunshine, plenty to see and a second Ring Ouzel sighting in a matter of a couple of weeks - more than I could have hoped for.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

HEAVENLY AFTERNOON AT HOLMBURY HILL

The dust has settled as both magazines (Trainer and Thoroughbred Owner & Breeder) are in the process of being printed. There's still plenty of work to do on other fronts, but at least I don't have to get up at five in the morning and finish at two the following morning like I have on some days.

You get used to it, but now I've gone past the half-century mark (still haven't got over it), working long hours takes its toll. The longest stretch I've ever undertaken was for a national karting series programme a couple of years ago. I did 38 hours straight off the bat. Strangely, I didn't feel too bad at the time (the hallucinations were quite pleasant), but I won't be doing that again.

Anyway, work is still constant but at a sensible pace, and we have about 20 bank holidays to look forward to starting on Friday. While that is time to go out to enjoy life (Easter doesn't have the same family duty impact that Christmas has, or at least it doesn't in our house), the fantastic weather at the moment is forcing me to spend more time outdoors before the break.

Late in the afternoon today, Annie and I took a trip out into the country. Having studied the map, we ended up at Holmbury Hill, near Holmbury St Mary. I know the county pretty well, but for some reason I had never been there before today.

In short, it's a stunning setting, and the panoramic view at the top is mesmerising in the sunshine. We felt it was a better view than from neighbouring and loftier Leith Hill.



We sat on a seat dedicated to a couple of young mountain climbers who had lost their lives on the Matterhorn a few years ago, and just gazed off into the distance. As a tribute to these lads, the setting and the atmosphere were perfect.

Not much on the bird front, apart from the usual warblers - Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Blackcap and Whitethroat. We walked to the Hill Fort at the top of the hill and did a loop round the hillside. A Buzzard drifted by.

On the way round I heard a distinctive bird call in the trees, followed by the sight of a flutter of wings up into the sky, and then a descending parachute-like drop back on to the tree branch, alongside a song that descended with it. A Tree Pipit (126).


I wasn't expecting to see a new bird for the year, but it was a welcome addition, as was the second Tree Pipit a few minutes later.

video

It had been a very relaxing walk in the late afternoon sun. After that, we finished off with a quick pint and a small glass of Pinot Grigio at a pub further down the hill. As it was so late, there wasn't time to cook dinner, so we settled for a heat-up curry instead. Perfect.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

VELVET SCOTER HEADS THE LIST

After much consideration and discussions with other experienced birders I have officially given myself a year tick for the Grasshopper Warbler (120) heard on Friday. I saw my first Gropper last April during Holmethorpe's Bird Race, and while it was the topic of much discussion at the time as to whether I did see one because I was the only person to see and hear it and I wasn't a very experienced birder (I've learnt so much since then), I got the nod in the end.

The Grasshopper Warbler by its very nature, like the Cetti's Warbler and Nightingale, is devilishly difficult to see as it prefers to skulk in dense vegetation, but there is no doubting the bird I heard reeling on Friday was a Grasshopper Warbler and was only ten feet away from me.

Hopefully, this spring I will be able to add a visual sighting to give me peace of mind, but in the meantime, this morning I headed for Staines. There were plenty of potential Surrey year ticks to be had, and predictably I had a shopping list at the ready. I was optimistically hoping for nine new sightings, but in the end I had to settle for four - in itself, not a bad total, and certainly more realistic.

The walk along the footpath to the north of Staines Moor was full of fervent bird song, with four extremely vocal and showy Sedge Warblers (121) adding to my list. Next up was the first of five or six Reed Warblers (122) chattering away as I approached the wooden bridge that leads to the Moor, which in turn was interrupted by the loud, liquid song of the first of two Cetti's Warbler.

A nice start. I was hoping to find a few Whinchat, as they had been seen on the Moor the day before, but I didn't find any. Having said that, the Moor covers a vast area, and I didn't cover even a tenth of it (work commitments again). What I did see, however, were three Wheatears, two first-summer males and a female.



That was it for the Moor. I had hoped also to see a few Yellow Wagtails, but couldn't find any (a Blue-headed Wagtail was reported later in the day).

Next up was the Reservoir, where the midges had arrived with a vengeance and I was aiming at a target bird for the day - one I had missed at the end of last year. Fortunately, it was still on the north basin after being seen there yesterday afternoon right through until dusk. The female Velvet Scoter (123) was easy to spot, but the Slavonian Grebes from yesterday had gone.



I saw one sleeping Great Northern Diver on the south basin, which was like a still pond, plus at least 30 Little Gulls and three Common Terns (124) - a first for the spring. Also of note was a sole Wigeon.


A sprint back home to send the last corrected pages of North American Trainer magazine to the printers and it wasn't long before Annie and I were out again - it was simply too nice to work all day.

A walk around Bookham Common was the plan, and two target birds were on the list. While I didn't see a Marsh Tit, I got the other one. Bookham Common is a nailed-on certainty for Nightingale (125) at this time of year - if you know where to look. The local warden hosts evening walks to hear their magnificent song, which must sound incredible in the dead of night.

As with the Grasshopper Warbler, the bird was impossible to see in a very dense wooded area, and it only sang intermittently. I managed to see one last spring, and I'm confident I will do the same during one the many visits I plan to make to the Common this year.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

GROPING FOR A GROPPER

It's been a frustrating week. Too much work and missed opportunities, allied with a couple of local twitches with mixed fortunes.

Around the county all manner of migrants have dropped in at various areas, while others have been gathering ready for the away trip back to their breeding grounds. More than 200 Bramblings have been seen flocking at Thursley Common - I haven't even seen one this year let alone 200, so it would have been an interesting trip to see them, if I had had the chance.

Arctic Terns have been seen at Staines Reservoir, a few Ring Ouzels, Redstarts, and Tree Pipits have also been dotted around the county, and the first Nightingales are back at Bookham Common - I, in the meantime, have been putting a magazine to bed this week, so any sightings had to be local.

Remarkably, the place that continues to be the Surrey hotspot is Canons Farm, near Banstead. David Campbell, the teenager who has been resolutely walking his patch for the past few weeks, has had a number of fantastic birds drop in. After the Ring Ouzels, Black Redstarts and Common Redstarts last week, he had a major find on Wednesday. A Wood Warbler was heard and then seen in the wooded area next to Circle Field (where the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers are regularly seen). These migrants are now a real rarity in Surrey, so it was a bird I really wanted to see. Even Annie came along for the twitch, but despite being steered in the right direction by David, we couldn't locate it. The chances are by the mid-afternoon, when we arrived, it had moved on. A real shame, but more was to follow yesterday.


At 6.45am I got a text from David. A Grasshopper Warbler was reeling in the hedgerow next to the footpath just north of the farm. This I had to see(!), so I was up at the Farm by 8.15am. I met up with Johnny 'Badgeman' Allan and Ian 'Eagle' Jones who had both arrived much earlier. We waited for at 30 minutes and then the Grasshopper Warbler started reeling. As it did so, we all struggled to see the bird in the dense hedgerow. It was only about ten feet away, but we couldn't get on to it. It then went quiet again, and I was becoming aware of the time - I had to get back to work. I hung on for as long as I could, but soon I was driving back down the A217.

I couldn't, in my own mind, really count it as a Surrey tick, but I did for one of the websites I list with, the Surrey Birders. Hearing a bird is one thing, but seeing it it a darn site better, and certainly more satisfying.

As I walked through the front door, I received another text from David - both he and Johnny had seen the bird. All fairly typical for me at the moment. I went back to the Farm at about 6.00pm, but didn't hear it this time, and as it was heard again but in a different location today (I was visiting family) I will be out tomorrow morning for another trip around the county in search of the Gropper and some new Surrey birds.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

TOO MANY CHOICES

As much as I want it to be, bird watching is not like window shopping. No matter how you organise and plan a morning's walk, you can never guarantee you will see half the birds you want to see.

You have to train yourself to have an open mind, and to be thankful you have the spare time to spend on your favourite pastime.

That's what I try to do, but I struggle. A lot of my issues surround the fact I don't have as much spare time to spend on my favourite hobby as I want. I want it all, with a cherry on top. Some people seem to have it in spades. I don't.

It was with this mindset I planned a morning out on Sunday, and while the initial idea looked sound enough, the reality was not quite as I had hoped. The idea was to go and see new birds, not Surrey year list birds, just different ones for 2011 and it didn't matter where they were (within reason).

So I had choices, probably too many. With hindsight I should have planned it better, and not tried, like I've said I wouldn't do on the past, to cram so much into a six-hour period as possible. I always fall head first into it and every time I come up short.

I had three target birds. The first was a Shorelark, of which there have been three at Reculver in Kent all winter. The second was a Spoonbill, of which one has wintered up the Swale Estuary at both Oare Marshes and Elmley Marshes in Kent. The third bird was anything interesting like a Hen Harrier or a Short-eared Owl. The Temminck's Stint would also have been a bonus at Oare.

So, it was looking quite a strong possibility I would end up at two out of three Kent destinations. I ended up going for the Shorelark/Spoonbill/Temminck's Stint combo.

To cut a long story short, I didn't see any of these three. I walked the shoreline at Reculver on a gorgeous spring morning, and saw a stack of waders - plenty of Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Redshank, Ringed Plover, a Little Ringed Plover (seen plenty in Surrey, but strangely very exciting for the local birding community), Dunlin and a Sanderling.


I saw a first summer male Wheatear briefly perched on the wall next to the footpath that continues miles into the distance east of the Roman Fort, before it flew off to the west. I saw more Sedge Warblers than I can remember in one place - probably 12 in all - chattering in the reeds that run parallel to the footpath for about a mile. I saw a pair of Stonechat and probably the highlight of the visit, a striking Yellow Wagtail perched on top of a bush. But no Shorelark. Or Marsh Harrier. Or Hen Harrier. Or Short-eared Owl.


It was disappointing. I can't deny it.

The next stop was Oare Marshes. I heard a Cetti's Warbler and a few Bearded Tits in the reeds, a Reed Warbler also sang in the reeds next to the car park, and as the tide was out, plenty of waders were on the Swale Estuary - loads of Curlews, Redshank, Dunlin and a couple of Avocets. On the East flood were about 200 Black-tailed Godwits that took flight at one point, which was a amazing sight. Over on the west side of the lane I saw a Common Whitethroat and three Little Egrets. Highlight of the visit was just as I was about to leave. A Marsh Harrier cruised low over the West Hide and I got great views of it through the scope. But no Spoonbill (seen earlier on the Estuary) or Temminck's Stint (probably wouldn't have known if I was looking at it anyway).


Again, it was disappointing. I can't deny it.

So off home I went. During the journey back on the Kent side of the border I saw a Kestrel (not seen many this year anywhere so far - where are they?), a Sparrowhawk, three Buzzards and a Red Kite.

Later I discovered, through the wonder of the birding internet sites, that the Spoonbill was at Elmley Marshes, together with a Whiskered Tern that was showing well all day. The Shorelarks at Reculver reappeared the next morning. Also seen at Elmley yesterday was a Short-eared Owl and a Hen Harrier.

Back at base, a Ring Ouzel was still present at Canons Farm - Holmethorpe had had one briefly on Saturday morning. There were plenty of Wheatear to enjoy, and a Hen Harrier flew over in the morning.

I got out briefly yesterday lunchtime, when I got good views of a Wheatear that had flown from the Water Colour Mound to the row of conifers behind it.


Now and for the rest of the week I will be glued to my desk, occasionally peering at the Rare Bird Alert website, just to upset myself.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

HIGH AS A RED KITE

I've seen plenty of Red Kites this year, mainly when driving along the M40 and M4, but have yet to see one in Surrey. I've missed a number in recent weeks that have flown over at the Holmethorpe Sand Pits, one by about five minutes, and therefore the charismatic Kite has become one of my Surrey birding bogey birds.

Then late this afternoon after work, on another warm spring day, Annie and I went for a drive. The plan was just to go for a pleasant, late afternoon, walk. I wasn't sure where we were going to end up, but not surprisingly, I had Surrey year ticks on my subconscious - Red Kite in particular - laced with a mix of pleasant countryside and not too many birding distractions.


I ended up at Puttenham Common. It's a reasonable walk, plenty of good views towards Hindhead, and not that many interesting birds to distract me. I was expecting to hear Woodlark on our travels, but not a sound. I listened out, hopefully, for a cronk from a Raven, but nothing. There were plenty of Great Spotted Woodpeckers but not much else. Then in a space of about 30 seconds, a Wheatear flew up and weaved through the scrub into the open and disappeared out of view.

And then, about 200 metres ahead, a large raptor, with slow flaps of its wings, appeared at eye level and flew up and climbed into the sky. And there it was, a magnificent Red Kite (119).


It climbed and circled above us before drifting off to the north. I tried not to sound too excited (the walk wasn't supposed to include bird watching, remember) so any emotions had to be restrained, but it was a great sight to see at long last.

SURREY IS COMING ALIVE

Plenty of migrants dropped into Surrey yesterday with a Pied Flycatcher at Tice's Meadow late in the afternoon, and at Canons Farm, near Banstead, three Common Redstart and a remarkable (for Surrey) ten Wheatear. The male Ring Ouzel was still showing well in the playing fields next to the Legal & General building, and at 8.20pm David Campbell got sight of a Short-eared Owl flying over the fields heading north - that lad certainly puts in the hours at his patch, and because of that he gets his just rewards.

Just over the border in Hampshire a Hoopoe has been loitering at Crondall, and in East Sussex, at Weir Wood Reservoir, near East Grinstead, an Osprey was seen for a second day.


As for me, I didn't get out until the late afternoon, going for a walk with Annie at Leith Hill - it was a beautiful day, and the views were spectacular. I didn't see a lot, apart from five Buzzards circling to the south of us.

On our return home, I popped over to the Holmethorpe patch to check out the Black Redstart, still present by the sheep paddocks at Mercers Farm, as the sun was setting. I managed to get a better photo from the field behind the paddocks as it happily fed on midges in the early evening sun.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

BLACK REDSTART DROPS IN AT HOLMETHORPE AS OSPREY MAKES THE NEWS

I have been trying, without much success, to get my better half interested in my hobbies. I have had a number of obsessions over the years, and she hasn't even remotely been interested in any of them. My long-term passion has been motorsport - predominantly Brisca (British Stock Car Association) F1 Stock car racing (if you watched Gears and Tears on BBC1 a few months back you will know what I'm on about), a sport I have had a passion for since I was a boy. I even wrote a book about the subject more than ten years ago, and stock car fans still contact me to see whether I have copies left. I'm also keen on NASCAR, the American stock car series, horse racing - I have worked in the racing media, on and off, since I left college back in the early 80s - and of course, bird watching.

Annie enjoyed Gears and Tears on TV, which gave me hope, and she has shown a flicker of awareness when I talk about Kingfishers, or any other colourful bird. Then yesterday, she read something about an Osprey in the Observer newspaper that captured her imagination.

This species has a special bond with the general public because of its history. I remember as a child reading about a breeding pair in Scotland, with a 24-hour watch over their barbed wire-ladened tree to stop egg collectors grabbing the precious eggs. Now, of course, Ospreys are one of our success stories with an estimated 148 breeding pairs in Britain.

But the Osprey in question in the Observer is the subject of a remarkable story. Ospreys are thought to live for about eight years or so, but this female, known as Lady - who has nested at the Loch of the Lowes Nature Reserve in Perthshire for the past 19 years - is 26 years old, has had 48 fledglings and has outlived two mates. She was back again, and was waiting for the return of her current mate, a ten-year-old male.

Being a romantic soul, Annie thought this was amazing, and when I mentioned today that Gordon Hay had seen an Osprey drifting south above Godstone village this lunchtime, she wondered whether it was him. There was also a sighting at Weir Wood Reservoir near East Grinstead some 15 minutes later.

As it turns out, Lady's mate is back, so expect her fledgling number to pass the half-century mark.


Today was grey, windy and cold, and I had plenty of work to do, but late in the afternoon Graham James emailed me to let me know there was a Black Redstart over by the horse paddocks next to the oak trees at Mercers Farm. Having not found the Black Redstart at Canons Farm yesterday, and although I was busy, I had to go and have a look.

I met up with Gordon, who had found the bird, and it wasn't long before I was looking at a flighty female Black Redstart (118) flitting from fence post to fence post. Behind us in the ploughed field by the footpath a first-summer male Wheatear darted around searching for food.



Graham James and Paul Kerry then arrived, and although the Black Redstart was the rarer visitor, it was the striking male Wheatear that we tended to pay most attention to. I'm sure Annie would enjoy watching the Wheatear too, if I could only coax her to come and have a look.

A DIAMOND RING OUZEL

Having looked for Ring Ouzel at Nore Hill, near Woldingham, where three birds had stayed for a number of days last spring (Ring Ouzels are known to often revisit the same stop-off points each year during their migration north) and then Wheatear at Holmethorpe late on Friday without success, it was with typical timing that both should turn up the following day (two Ring Ouzels at Canons Farm and a Wheatear on the Water Colour Mound at Holmethorpe) and stay put throughout the weekend - Mother's Day weekend.

While us birders are a selfish breed, doing our utmost to spend as much time on our hobby rather than being considerate and focusing on our family responsibilities, it is important to make the weekend for our mothers a special one.

Saturday was spent at Annie's parents and Sunday at mine, who were also celebrating a major landmark anniversary the following day - their Diamond Wedding anniversary. As it turned out both days went really well, a job well done all round.

All the while, of course, the Ring Ouzels at David Campbell's excellent Canons Farm patch and the Wheatear at Holmethorpe were being watched by all the usual East Surrey birding community, apart from me. Added to which, David discovered a female Black Redstart on Saturday afternoon. Basically, the spring migration had well and truly begun, and first sightings of a number of migrants flashed up on all the relevant websites.

I had to stay blinkered from all of this. The journey over to my parents house in Cliftonville, near Margate, meant driving passed a number of notable birding hotbeds - notably Oare Marshes and Reculver, where three Shorelarks have wintered, and were still posing for photographs. My parents live not that far from Pegwell Bay, but I had to shut that thought out of my mind as we drove to Broadstairs to have a celebratory lunch.

There was one distraction, however, and that was the sight of about ten Turnstones in the car park on the seafront, eagerly joining in with the local pigeons, taking titbits from visitors.



The following morning couldn't come soon enough (although the 6.00am alarm call came a bit too soon, to be honest). A busy working week lay ahead, so this morning was my one window of opportunity.


I arrived at Canons Farm just before 7.00am and met up with David, who gave me the good news that a male Ring Ouzel was still present in the playing field next to the Legal & General building.

I found the right spot, where Phil Wallace was also positioned. The bird had been seen at 6.45am for a few seconds, and then we had to wait a good half an hour for the Ring Ouzel to reappear, calling behind us up in a tree, before flying back into the bushes by the south side of the playing fields.


It was then a long wait, for more than an hour, before we eventually got tremendous views of the magnificent male Ring Ouzel (115). It first perched in a tree in front of us before flying down on to the playing field, near the centre circle of one of the football pitches. There it stayed for a couple of minutes, during which time it often showed its brilliant white chest.


A real treat. And then it flew into the bushes again.

It seemed a good time to move on. Next stop Holmethorpe, where I met up with Graham James and Paul Kerry at Mercers West, where we saw two Little Ringed Plovers, five Green Sandpiper and a Common Sandpiper (116). Graham mentioned he had seen a Common Whitethroat, the earliest recorded for the patch (the previous record had been seen by me last year on April 7). I joined Graham and Paul on the pathway between Spynes Mere and Mercers West, where the Common Whitethroat (117) was singing in the bushes. There was, unfortunately, no sign of the Wheatear.


I then got a call from David, the Black Redstart had been relocated, so I dashed back up to the farm but after a search for 30 minutes, I couldn't find it. It was a pity, but time had run out. Work beckoned. Despite that, it had been a good morning.