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, 23 August 2012

A MORNING'S BIRDING AT STAINES

For the first time in about a month I ventured out today for a morning's birding. Apart from watching the Olympics I've just been flat-out busy working harder for less money or travelling down to Margate to visit my mum, who hasn't been well.

I really needed a few hours to take my mind off things so I took myself off to Staines Reservoir firstly and then later Staines Moor. The weather was warm and I was hopeful of a few decent birds –  the odd Black Tern, or an occasional Osprey or Honey Buzzard flying overhead perhaps?

I'd been up to the reservoir last Friday just before the sun went down and caught up with five Black Terns and 12 Common Sandpipers and this morning also proved to be a decent session. I met up with Staines uberbirder Bob Warden and initially all was quiet. Then a Hobby flew low over the western edge of the north basin, pursued by a very brave Swallow, who dive-bombed the predator for about a mile. Needless to say, the Hobby totally ignored it. Then a second Hobby appeared.

I started to walk up to the eastern end of the causeway when Bob called me back. Two Turnstone were flying low and calling across the north basin, looking to land on one of the ramps but they chose not to.

Up at the eastern end four juvenile Little Gulls were feeding on the south basin – Staines Reservoir is always a great place to see these smart gulls, but there was little sign of anything else. A Greenshank had been seen the day before but not today.

I haven't seen a Greenshank anywhere all year, which pretty much sums up my birding these past few months. Every year is different. Some years one particular species turns up almost at will, then the following year they are scarce. The Greenshank appears to fill the latter category in 2012. Where are they all?

Bob rang to say another Little Gull was now on the north basin, and when I got back down the western end this young chap was swimming very close to the causeway.



The juvenile Little Gull on the north basin at Staines Reservoir

With time getting on I headed off to Staines Moor, where the target bird was Whinchat. On the walk down the footpath, I saw a Hobby perched on a fencepost by the KGVI Reservoir. As soon as I arrived on the Moor itself I spotted a Whinchat on one of the fenceposts that have been erected by the River Colne at the northern end of the Moor.



A pair of Whinchat at Staines Moor
A walk round the site produced a Kingfisher, a Sedge Warbler and a juvenile Kestrel. No Black Kites or Honey Buzzards – they were the exclusive right of east London, with both seen at Rainham Marshes at about the same time I was again looking at a couple Whinchat.

There's a bank holiday coming up and I'm desperate to catch up with a few lifers around the south-east. I can't decide whether to go to Grove Ferry in the hope of catching up with the Great White Egret (the Purple Heron would be good too), or take a punt and take a walk across the cliffs at Beachy Head, where anything could turn up. Where ever I go there is always the strong chance the other sites on my short-list will deliver the goods and I will draw a blank. But that is the nature of the beast.

Friday, 17 August 2012

MORE LONDON 2012 OLYMPIC MEMORIES

I know this blog has deviated away from birds and more towards other activities of late, but I'm unabashed in my enthusiasm for anything Olympic at the moment.

After my trip to Hyde Park on my birthday, I went to visit my parents in Margate the following day. My mum is very ill at the moment and so it was important to go down for a bit of moral support. On the way I did pop over the Oare Marshes for an hour, I needed the distraction to be honest, and while there I saw a Wood Sandpiper and a Turtle Dove, both the target birds for the brief visit.

Wood Sandpiper (off right) at Oare Marshes
Turtle Dove at Oare Marshes
A Ruff feeding at Oare
This hour visit has been the only birding I have done for the past three weeks. Too much work on top of too much juggling of time to fit in family issues and the once-in-a-lifetime London 2012 Olympics, which I have been totally immersed in, and thoroughly moved by, for two weeks.

I was working at Racing Post on Sunday, but decided to travel up to London early so as to fit in the Men's Marathon. The crowds on the Embankment near Waterloo Bridge were huge. The atmosphere was truly uplifting as every single runner – from the winner from Uganda, Stephen Kriprotich, to Tsepo Ramonene from Lesotho who finished 85th – was cheered and encouraged. The route where I watched meant they went by four times, so I was able to stay long enough to see them go through each time before going off to work at Canary Wharf. It was a great way to start a working day.

Stephen Kriprotich leads the field on his way to victory in the Men's Marathon
Thousands turned out to watch the final athletics event along the Embankment
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There have been plenty of interesting birds that have dropped in locally recently, notably 16 Black Terns at Staines Reservoir, but I haven't had a chance to go and see them. Next week will be different, hopefully, and I can get back on track with the autumn migration.

The London 2012 Olympic Games have now ended, and what a show it turned out to be. Truly epic. I had a lump in my throat most days. Whether it was Mo Farah, Usian Bolt, Jessica Ennis, the Team GB cycling team, boxing, rowing, taekwondo – I was even gripped by the dressage, for pete's sake – it has been a time to forget all the woes of life and just sit back and enjoy the ride.

The stunningly beautiful Olympic flame was slowly extinguished during the closing ceremony and you could hear the crowd at the Olympic Stadium audibly groan. It was a poignant moment filled with sadness that such a wonderful 16 days had to end.

At least I have another pastime that can fill the void and reward me with some wonderful moments that I will remember hopefully for years to come.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

BIRTHDAY CELEBRATIONS WITH THE BROTHERS BROWNLEE

It was my birthday yesterday. For the past couple of years I have gone birding, but this time round, with London 2012 capturing my imagination, I opted to go to Hyde Park to watch the men's Triathlon in the hope of witnessing the event favourites, Alistair and Jonny Brownlee, take gold and silver for Team GB.

I got to the park at about 7.30am and found a spot where I could watch all three of the sport's disciplines – a 1,500-metre swim, 43-kilometre cycle ride and a 10-kilometre run to finish off – at the north-east corner of Serpentine Lake.

It turned out to be a day of coincidences and tremendous fun. Despite the fact more than 200,000 people turned up to watch the event, I stood by the railings next to a British Petroleum IT consultant, Oliver from Whyteleafe, who rides out at Redhill Bike Club. A large gathering of Slovakians then arrived, supporting Richard Varga, a friend and training partner to the Brownlees. They were vocal and made the four-hour wait before the 11.30am start pass by quickly with their chants and songs.

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Then a young girl and her friend squeezed their way to the railings. Oliver and I gave them room to get to the front as most of the adults behind us were much taller and could see the route pretty well. We got chatting, as you do, and to my amazement I discovered one of the teenagers was a cousin of the Brownlee brothers.



Apparently tickets to the start/finish line were hard to come by, but both Brownlee parents and grandparents had tickets and preferential treatment, so the youngsters had to fend for themselves – which seemed a bit harsh. Kate didn't seem to mind. Apparently, Jonny is the more outgoing of the pair. You had the feeling she wanted him to win but it was Alistair who was the strong favourite to win gold.

Richard Varga leads the swimming section of the men's Triathlon

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Stuart  Hayes leads the Brownlee brothers on the bike section of the men's Triathlon
Richard Varga – Slovakian hero
Alistair Brownlee leads his brother Jonny and Javier Sanchez during the 10K run

As it transpired Alistair did win gold. Jonny, despite a 15-second penalty for a cycling infringement, finished third. Richard Varga, who led the swimming section, finished 22nd.

An amazing morning.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

LONDON 2012 OLYMPICS MEN'S ROAD RACE AT HEADLEY HEATH


Only 20 minutes up the road, I would normally go to Headley Heath for a spot of birdwatching now and again, but last Saturday morning I travelled up the road for the London 2012 Olympic Men's road race to support Mark Cavendish, Bradley Wiggins and the Team GB cycle team.

I really enjoy the Tour de France, immersing myself in it for the three weeks each year, and it being the Olympic Games and it happening on my doorstep, and also being a huge Cav and Wiggo fan I had to go and watch so I could say I was there when the Olympic Games came by my doorstep.

Although an estimated one million people lined the route, it only took me 20 minutes to get to the end of Dorking Road close to the route. There were signs up saying cars would be towed away if they parked on the verge, but with so many others doing the same thing, I followed suit.

I took the mountain bike off the back of the car and after another 15-minute cycle through the woods I was in amongst the crowds and right next to the road.

Team GB including Bradley Wiggins (centre) at Headley Heath
The atmosphere was fantastic – really quite moving really – the support for the British team was huge. Even though Cav wouldn't end up with a medal, it was still a thrill to see this parade of British all-time sporting greats.