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.



Wednesday, 22 June 2011

BIRDING ON THE LONGEST DAY


Yesterday was the longest day and the start, apparently of summer. A higher power (not that one exists) should have been better organised and swapped April - which was glorious - with June. What a crap month! What has also been an irritation has been the constant breeze for about the past two months. When will it get better? Probably October, when the wind will pick up again.

It didn't help my mood by gazing longingly at the weather maps online and noticing that while the temperature here has struggled to get to 18 degrees C, in Malaga, as an example, it was 41. Perhaps a tad too hot, but at some point soon I would like to have the choice to wear shorts for a few days. I'm not asking much, I don't think.

For once, however, the skies were clear yesterday evening, so it didn't matter that I left the house at 6.30pm for a spot of evening birding. The sun wasn't due to set until past 9.30pm and the evening glow would keep it light enough for a while after that.

Not sure why, but I've got a bit of a fixation with Quail at the moment, probably because I've heard a few, but not actually seen one. There had been reports of one singing in a wheat field near Clandon Park since June 11th - the last report was on June 18. I made my way over to the area and after a long walk up the wrong path I found the spot - a spectacular view across the wheat fields to the rest of northern Surrey and London.

Skylark and Yellowhammer were in abundance, and filled the air with song, and walking down the footpath I soon heard the Quail - my third this year. Having made this field its home for 11 days and counting this Quail doesn't appear to be in a hurry to move on. I made a decision to walk a short distance into the field and sit in an area where the tractor tracks from the original drilling had been left and wait to see if it would make a brief appearance. I sat self-consciously for an age with camera poised at the ready – I was glad no-one came past for the next 20 minutes to see this strange behaviour. I heard the bird but, yet again, it kept out of sight.


Having spent more time than I'd hoped on the quest for a glimpse of a Quail - I think I have to accept that the chances of actually seeing one are slight to non-existent - I had to abort my next stop to Frensham Little Pond and headed instead straight to Thursley Common for a spot of Nightjar watching. I was hoping to spot the odd Woodcock and Tawny Owl, but unfortunately, I didn't see either during my visit.



The Common was quiet apart from the breeding pair of Curlews, a pair of Lapwings, some Woodlark, Linnet and Stonechats, and then as the sun set and the light began to fade, the first Nightjar started churring.


I saw at least three during the next couple of hours, one circled within a few feet of me. By the time I had finished for the night and got back in the car it was 10.45pm. You can never get bored with Nightjars.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

TWITCHING QUEST ENDS WITH MIXED RESULTS

I had a handful of opportunities to search for new sightings this past week. I was given info from Devil Birder (David Campbell) about a pair of Firecrests in Effingham Forest, so using his OS co-ordinates I made my way there on Friday afternoon. It was more of a recce than a proper search, as I only had about 45 minutes to spare once I got there.

I parked up at Mountain Wood, near to Sheepleas, and set off up the hill through the pines. As it turned out I didn't quite go to the right part of the woods. I was only about 200 yards away from where I should've been but it was enough not to see the 'crests. What I did see, at long last, were a couple of striking Marsh Tit (147), calling out with their very distinctive pitchoo call (excuse the very moderate record photo below).


On Sunday, I made the mistake of going to bed too late after a long day, getting up the next morning later than planned and then setting off just as it was starting to rain. Not exactly what you would hope for in June - freezing cold, blowing a gale and incessant rain - but I ignored that and went ahead anyway. A Quail had been seen in a barley field at Dockenfield - near Frensham Ponds - by Johnny Allan on Wednesday and then by Mark Spicer the following day, so I couldn't resist going for a look. Johnny had got a glimpse of the bird, and seeing as he reported that the barley wasn't too long, I had a good feeling that I might get a first actual sighting, rather than just hearing it with it's 'wet my lips' call (as a side issue - does it really sound like wet my lips? If I hadn't known that was what it allegedly sounds like, I don't think I would've guess it).

video

I arrived at 8.45am and almost immediately I heard the Quail calling. As I walked up the bridlepath, it was clearly really close by - no more than about five feet away - but could I see it? Could I heck. The call got quieter as it moved further into the field and eventually it stopped, and didn't start up again for another 90 minutes, by which time I was cheesed off and wet enough to give up the quest.

I then popped over to Frensham Little Pond, in the hope of finding a Spotted Flycatcher - apparently one of the best places to look for one. I found three Common Terns feeding on the lake, plus a couple of Redstarts but no Flycatcher. So that was it for Sunday.


Then this morning I got up at the crack of dawn for another go at spotting a Flycatcher. I tried Thundry Meadows on the way to Frensham - nothing doing there, and then as the sun burnt off the early morning mist, I tried the Little Pond, but again, just a couple of sleepy Common Terns and a fledgling Redstart were all I could muster.


So, my final stop was at Effingham Forest for another go at finding the pair of Firecrests. The attempt wasn't helped by the din from the logging that was going on nearby. A Firecrest isn't easy to hear when it's quiet, let alone when there's trees being felled and constant engine noise in the background. I briefly thought I could hear them, but looking up into the trees I just couldn't see any sign. Needless to say, I drew another blank, and as today has been chosen as a day for decorating the spare bedroom (I was so looking forward to it), I ran out of time. Not a good morning.

Surrey (including Spelthorne) 2011 list: 147
This time last year: 139

Thursday, 9 June 2011

SPEED AWARENESS - THEN OFF RODING

Back in February I got caught out by a mobile speed camera in Gwent doing 38 in a 30. It was the first time in 10 years that I've slipped up - bloody annoying, but it happens.

Nowadays, rather than taking the three points, £60 fine and the inevitable rise in your insurance premium, you can take the option of going on a Speed Awareness Course. I chose to go on the course, which cost me £95.

I was expecting the visit to the Holiday Inn in Guildford yesterday to be an endurance where you lose four hours of your life being patronised about the dangers of driving eight miles an hour over the limit.

As it turned out - and I think most of the 27 who attended our group (there were a further 30 attending in another lecture room) would have agreed - that wasn't the case. In actual fact, the course was really informative. There was plenty of good humour amongst the serious stuff and I came away better for having taken part... well, at least until I got back into the car and was heading towards Elstead on the A3, that is.

I planned an evening of birding around the awareness lecture - which was from 5pm to 9pm - so as to have something to look forward to during the day. Earlier, I made a quick visit to Cutt Mill Ponds, in the hope of seeing Spotted Flycatcher and Marsh Tit - but I came away seeing neither. I did see three Common Terns feeding on the main lake, plus a Mandarin Duck, plenty of Nuthatches and Treecreepers, and a Grey Wagtail. What didn't help was timing my visit just as a huge cloud dumped gallons of rain on the area, so I spent most of the 45 minutes at the Ponds standing under a tree.

Not to worry. Later, after the course, I headed for Thundry Meadows as the sun set. I've never been to the site before, but it looked like it had the potential to be a good place to go. I had one bird in mind to see, Woodcock (146), and I ended up seeing at least four.

I say at least four - I may have seen more than that - because these 'roding' males were all performing the same idiosyncratic display flight above the top of the trees where they follow a circuit of the woods calling out with a marked high-pitched ‘tsiwick’ call, so they could have included the same ones on another flying lap. One flew right over my head at one point, while another two flew together, right across my path. A fascinating visit, at any rate.


As it was getting darker, I headed back to the car and made the short trip up the road to Crooksbury Common. I'd read on Bird Forum, that the Common was particularly good good for Nightjar, and so it proved.


video

It's a compact place, so you don't have to walk far before you come across them. What a majestic sight, too. On a perfect, cloudless, still night, I had fantastic views of at least four Nightjars, all calling out as they flew around me - at one point within three feet of my head - gliding through the pines, before settling down on a branch to churr away to their hearts content.

If you haven't been, I really do recommend a visit one evening.

Surrey (including Spelthorne) 2011 list: 146
This time last year: 138

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

BIRDING FRENZIES

I didn't go to Hartlepool to see the White-throated Robin - I wouldn't be been able to even if I had wanted to - and I have to say I'm glad I didn't.

While I'll make a point of going to see unusual birds in the local area if I get half a chance, travelling for at least four hours to get a glimpse at one, no matter how rare a visitor to Britain, just doesn't interest me at all.

I read other blogs this morning on the adventure to the north-east, and I know I wouldn't have enjoyed it - I'd have enjoyed the banter on the way there, I'm sure - but being involved in a birding frenzy where you end up battling through a mass of other birders hell-bent on clambering over a wall just to say they've seen it... no thanks.

It's the same as the Oriental Turtle Dove in Chipping Norton, where hundreds of birders queued up for a view of this, admittedly, smashing bird, but the queueing-up-or-clambering-over-walls-with-hundreds-of-other-people-type birding is a soulless exercise, isn't it?

To me, birding should be, whenever possible, a relaxing pastime. I know there are moments of frustration and irritation when things don't go to plan - dipping is one of birding's necessary evils - but there's a danger that it can take you over, that your hobby takes control of you, that it becomes an addiction and, therefore, socially inappropriate. Then that is the time to take stock and reflect on what the hell you are doing with your life.

No, I'm happy to wait until something good turns up somewhere nearer to home. In the meantime, I've been focusing on my local patch at Holmethorpe Sand Pits recently, and managed to add Redshank (145) to my 2011 Surrey list, after seeing three on my local patch on Sunday afternoon.

Surrey (including Spelthorne) 2011 list: 145
This time last year: 138

Thursday, 2 June 2011

THE DARTFORD WARBLER FIGHTS BACK AT CHOBHAM COMMON

A few weeks ago I found a male Dartford Warbler at Chobham Common, just 300 yards south east of the Longcross car park, using OS co-ordinates given to me by top Tice's Meadow birder, Rich Sergeant. These delicate little birds are difficult to find at the best of times, let alone when two of the severest winters on record in 2009-10 and 2010-11 pretty much wiped out huge swathes of the Dartford Warbler population.

But it was a heartening sight to see this male. It proved that while the bitter cold will have dire consequences, a few can battle through it and survive.

While finding the bird was satisfying, having had a couple of fruitless searches previously at Chobham, the moment was only fleeting - a dog walker appeared just as I was about to take a record photo and it flew off.

I've been to the same spot a couple of times since and seen nothing. I was starting to doubt whether I was looking in the right place. Then yesterday I bought the June issue of Birdwatching magazine, which included an article on Dartford Warblers by Dominic Couzens. One of the topics of the feature was a theory on how to find one in the field. The theory goes that where you find Stonechats on heathland, there's a good chance - if there is one in the area - that you'll also find a Dartford Warbler.

It's not a sure thing, but it's their respective methods for searching for food that brings them together. The Stonechat will perch high and swoop down and pounce on insects, while the Dartford Warbler will rummage around low down in the heather and gorse for food. It's no surprise then that if a Dartford Warbler is present, an opportunistic Stonechat will wait for the Warbler to flush insects out of the undergrowth for it to grab.

So I thought back and remembered seeing a pair of Stonechats in the same area where the Warbler was, so I went back to the same spot again late this morning. The theory would have been a good one, apart from the fact I didn't see a single Stonechat.

I watched a pair of Woodlark with their fledgling young, which was a nice sight - but best of all, and without having to look very hard, I homed in on a male Dartford Warbler.


It was almost certainly the same bird I'd seen on that previous visit, and this morning he was very actively searching for food, returning to his nest nearby with a full beak. I managed to get great views of the fantastic little warbler as he called out with his distinctive nasal thchirr.

One of the Surrey Wildlife Trust wardens was showing a group around the area and he stopped for a brief chat, and having told him of this sighting, he mentioned that at least another three more had been seen in the Albury Bottom area. It's good to know that the Dartford Warbler is fighting back.