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, 19 January 2016

TOP-NOTCH WINTER BIRDING ON THE ISLE OF SHEPPEY

Spring and autumn migration are the highlights of the year but I find that winter birding can be first-rate. None more so than last weekend.

I woke up to a smattering of snow early on Sunday morning – the first of the winter in the south-east. The first few months of the year tend to be a good time for me to get out in the field and Kent is currently the county that has been delivering the goods.

I reckoned the further east I went the less likelihood there would be snow, and seeing as the Isle of Sheppey has been teeming with cracking birds in recent days it was the ideal destination. It turned out to be one of the best mornings birding I've had in a while.

The first stop was Minster to see a Shorelark that had been present for some days. When I arrived at the Barton's Point parking area, the bird had gone missing, having been flying up and down the beach.

The Shorelark at Minster
Eventually it was found on the shoreline close to the water's edge, before it flew back to the shingle.  It was here I met the 'Albatross Hunters' – Peter Hobbs and Pete Webster from Essex. These are the guys who happened to be at Minsmere, sitting in a hide waiting for the rain to subside, hoping to see a few Nightjar later in the day, but saw a Black-browed Albatross instead when it flew in and landed at the reserve last July. Read about it here

Both top lads, I spent much of the time talking to Pete Webster – who had travelled to all manner of countries, including Ethiopia, but had never seen a Richard's Pipit – rather than watching the Shorelark. I have to admit I enjoy a bit of banter when I'm out – it makes the day all the more enjoyable.

While we talked about birds seen and missed during the past year, another birder, from Surrey, was getting decent views of the Shorelark to within a few metres. I discovered the following day, via Twitter, that it was Shaun Ferguson, another Tice's Meadow visitor.

Once decent views were had I headed off for the Swale Nature Reserve. A Richard's Pipit and a Hooded Crow were on the wish list here. After a bumpy drive along the track to the car park I set off into the reserve. I opted to go for the crow first as it was situated furthest away. On the way towards the far end of the reserve a Marsh Harrier cruised low overhead and then a flock of 37 White-fronted Goose arrived and circled the reserve above the 1,000 or so Brent Goose, calling as they did so. Eventually they came into land to join the one solitary White-fronted already there.

I've decided I like geese, particularly large flocks of them – always a spectacular sight and sound in the air.

A few of the 1,000 Brent Goose feeding on the reserve
White-fronted Geese making their approach to the Swale Nature Reserve
I carried on walking, along with a retired couple who were interested in seeing the bird, stopping now and again to look out at the flock of corvids in the distance, but couldn't spot the Hooded Crow. Walking in the opposite direction was Shaun, who reckoned he'd seen the bird along the fenceline, but we'd need to walk on a bit further to get a view.

I had to make a phone call around then and while I was on the phone Shaun was on the crow. A quick trot to catch up and I was looking at my first Hooded Crow in Britain, perched on a fence post. You couldn't miss it.

It was good timing, as a couple of minutes later it flew from the post into a dip in the field where it was out of sight.

The Hooded Crow
If I had had a bit more time I would have spent it in the lone hide looking out on to the scrapes to see what was about but with a good couple of miles to walk back it was best to head for the spot where the Richard's Pipit has been regularly seen and set up shop there.

Once on the bend before the car park, I met up again with the Albatross Hunters, who had been watching the Pipit – Pete had got his lifer – before it flew into some deep grass where it had stayed for about 30 minutes. As time went by, nothing much happened.

I'd just announced I would give it another five minutes before heading off when it suddenly flew up from the long grass and dropped into the field opposite the pathway.

It doesn't happen often but, for once, everything had slotted into place and the Richard's Pipit showed well for a good few minutes. Pete Webster then shouted "Short-eared Owl" and behind us a Shortie was flying low across the reserve, heading west, being mobbed by a solitary Carrion Crow.

The Richard's Pipit duly obliged minutes before I was about to leave
A perfect end to an excellent few hours. The Isle of Sheppey had delivered the goods.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

TAKING THE PLUNGE TO DUNGE - PARTS 1 AND 2

Curiously, while I spend quite a bit of time visiting the coast when birding, Dungeness has pretty much stayed off my radar.

Like I've mentioned numerous times, I don't have 30 years of birding experience behind me despite my age – in fact I only really got going in 2008, even though it feels longer than that.

During that time I have only been to Dungeness once, and that was about seven years ago. Why? I haven't the foggiest, to be honest. The only reason I can come up with is that, at the time, it felt like a long way to go from Redhill and that I'd have to make a concerted effort to get there (even though I've gone to places much further away for a day trip).

Having read Steve Gale's blog and his love affair with the shingled region, and also considering Dungeness has some very interesting birds to see at the moment, notably a Long-eared Owl and Penduline Tit, I thought I'd give it a go.

What surprised me first of all was the SatNav revealed the time to get down there was very reasonable – an hour and 20 minutes. I  took a day off Thursday of last week and took the plunge.

As it transpired, taking the plunge was almost literally what I did. Setting off at 6.30am, the weather on the drive down in the dark to Dungeness was bloody awful. Driving rain and strong winds, with standing water on the M20 – driving conditions were dangerous.

I felt a bit duped – where did this weather come from? I'd followed the forecast for a few days and it never predicted it would be like this?

If it was a bit blowy on the drive down, once at Dungeness the wind was unbelievably strong. I had a quick look around the entrance to the reserve and saw a Great White Egret straight away.

A Great White Egret braved the elements
The rain came down stronger and the wind picked up even more.

Perfect birding conditions
There was nothing for it – I headed to the beach, using Steve Gale's very helpful directions. Down by the fishing huts I parked up. My car quivered and rocked in the buffeting wind. The rain was horizontal, and yet in the distance I could pick out two figures down by the seafront, protecting themselves from this apocalyptic weather using a large fishing boat as a wind break.

They must have been nuts.

Wind, rain, fishing boats, breaking waves, birders
Eventually, the rain ceased and I made a bid for this boat. Once there I introduced myself. I met Martin Casemore and Mark Hollingworth. Hard-core Dungeness birdwatchers and top chaps both, they'd already been there an hour.

Martin and Mark in action
As it turned out, this part of the day was the highlight of the trip. The theme for the next two hours was Little Gull. More than 100 of them. On and on they came, streaming passed us heading west, seemingly against the odds against this relentless wind. And I mean relentless, with no land to slow it down this gale kept on blowing all day, attempting all the while to rip your face off.

The sight of these Little Gull was spellbinding though. As Mark said: "It's quite something to see Little Gulls out-number Black-headed Gulls during a morning."

The waves were big, the Little Gulls small – as this photo illustrates
Accompanying these lovely birds, which included one solitary juvenile, were decent numbers of auks, mainly Guillemot, a flock of 12 Brent Goose, plenty of Teal and Cormorant, the odd Gannet, two Kittiwake, a Mediterranean Gull and a Bonxie (that I didn't see).

By 11 o'clock the numbers petered out, so I headed for the reserve, completely forgetting about looking for the first-winter Caspian Gull regularly seen by visitors.

I spotted a couple of Marsh Harrier on the drive back to the reserve where I had a couple of targets, one of which was more likely than the other. The first and most probable was the long-staying Long-eared Owl, and secondly a Penduline Tit.

In the reserve I bumped into Rich Sergeant and Dave Baker from Tice's Meadow – I always seem to coincide my trips with the Tice's Meadow gang. They'd already been around the reserve and had views of the owl and also one of the two Penduline Tit in the reedbed at Hooker's Pit seen from the viewing ramp.

They steered me towards the Long-eared Owl, now one of the most viewed birds in Britain, down by the dipping pond just 100 yards or so from the reserve.

In theory I did see it, but it was so far in the undergrowth it was impossible to get a decent view. With the wind picking up, understandably this popular bird simply buried itself away from the weather. Later it would disappear even deeper and out of sight.

From there I headed out into the reserve taking in the hides as I went. Best sightings we a couple of redhead Smew, a number of Goldeneye and eight Pintail, including a couple of drakes.

Three Pintail
Redhead Smew
By the time I got to Hooker's Pit I wasn't overly optimistic I would see a Penduline Tit.

Mainly because of this...

video

Rich Sergeant texted me to say he and Dave had located the Caspian Gull and asked if I had had any luck with the Penduline Tit.

Any luck? I could barely stand upright! The wind was impossible, the reedbed bullrushes were almost horizontal. Needless to say, I gave it up. Another Great White Egret was a distraction on the walk back to the reserve centre.

A distracting Great White Egret
Another vain attempt to see the Long-eared Owl came to nothing as the light disappeared, so there was nothing for it after that but to head back home.

My first visit to Dungeness for some years was over. It was one of those days that started out really well but the wind, welcomed for seawatching earlier during the morning, curtailed any decent birding inland.

I had another day skiving off on Thursday as the sun was due to come out. There was nothing for it but to head back to the shingle!

It proved to be an altogether more successful day, despite being bitterly cold! A quick trip to the beach nailed the first-winter Caspian Gull – it wasn't doing much, just standing in a puddle.


The puddle-obsessed first-winter Caspian Gull
After that I focused on the reserve. What a contrast to the week before.

Sunshine!
To my relief the Long-eared Owl was showing really well.


Perfect camouflauge
Long-eared Owl
I stayed to watch this magnificent bird for a good 40 minutes, although the digiscope photos didn't come out too well.

I met up with a local birder from Deal (I've forgotten his name unfortunately, although his surname I think is Weigh), and we went round together for the rest of the day. We dropped in at many of the hides on the way to Hooker's Pit, seeing Pintail once more, but no Smew. At Hooker's we tried our darndest to find a Penduline Tit, but failed. The wind was picking up again... Another Great White Egret was the best on offer there.

On our way back to the reserve centre I bumped into another of the Tice's Meadow gang, Mark Elsoffer along with Staines birder Stevie Minhinnick – the Twitter Smutty Birders! They were heading for Hooker's (seemed appropriate considering their name) where I discovered later they connected with the Penduline.

Back at the car park we heard a Glaucous Gull had been seen near the reserve entrance, so we headed there before setting off for Penn Levels. The Glauc had flown off – I suspected to join the other gulls on the beach. I could have made a detour but it was so cold I opted to give it a miss. Predictably, that is where it did end up – and the Smutty Birder duo caught up with it on the beach a short while later.

Another bird I missed was Tree Sparrow. There were a few by the feeders at Boulderwell Farm but they'd flown off just as we arrived!

The drive to Penn Levels took us via Rye and Winchelsea. Having thawed out in the warmth of the car for about 40 minutes, I was reluctant to get out into the icy cold again once I parked up to find the juvenile Glossy Ibis, but I braced myself, and luckily found it feeding in a trench, out of view for long periods.


The Glossy Ibis did its best to remain hidden
White-fronted Goose was a nice find
Once my birding partner had seen the Ibis, he set off back towards Dungeness, while I stayed to see what else was around. The were plenty of geese, mainly Greylags but I was fortunate to find a group of 23 White-fronted Goose, plus four Brent Goose.  

By now ice began to form inside the marrow of my bones, so this proved a good time to sign off for the day.

So, what did I think of Dungeness? I loved it, of course, but I need to get to grips with the terrain, spend more time there to fully understand the best way to make the most of daily visits. I can fully understand how Steve Gale spends so much time on the shingle, it has a certain magic about it and everything you need from a birding or botanical site. Also it's not a yomp to get around. No hills either, which is a bonus.

Spring will be a major temptation...!

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

THE BIRDING RAINBOW

And so begins another year and the quest to witness more memorable birding moments.

I have a plan, which is to focus on more Holmethorpe patch walks this year, plus a few trips to the coast to enjoy some rarer finds – basically a pursuit of treasure at the end of the birding rainbow.

Holmethorpe had a decent 2015 and began where it left off into the new year when Gordon Hay spotted a pair of Black-tailed Godwit landing in the flooded area behind Water Colour Lagoon 1 yesterday afternoon – the first winter record of this species on the patch.

A good start then. I gave myself the morning off and took my first visit of the year to the patch. A gloomy start, but there was plenty of activity around the Lagoons, with stacks of gulls and Canada Geese, but unfortunately no Godwits.

The Moors always floods at this time of year, particularly now we
tend to get wetter winters
With the amount of rain we've had in recent weeks it was no surprise to find an area along the Moors cycle path flooded, with the water coming up to within an inch of the top of my wellies. Plenty of dabbling ducks here, including 50-plus Teal and our regular male Wigeon who thinks he's a Mallard (must be the same bird as last year – can't imagine there is another one with a personality disorder who visits the exact same spot).

The walk around the area took four hours, with not much to get the pulses racing – least of all at my sedantry pace. Apart from the absent Godwits probably the main disappointment currently is the lack of Smew at Holmethorpe. We generally get at least a couple most winters but there's been no sign so far.  This is possibly weather-related – maybe we'll get a late arrival when the cold snap inevitably arrives.

Never mind, a Water Rail, a flock of Siskin feeding on alders and a smaller group of Lesser Redpoll kept my interest from flagging.

Siskin feeding in alder tree

Lesser Redpoll
Another interesting bird was a Tufted Duck/Scaup hybrid on Mercers Lake. I began imagining this female might metamorphose into a Lesser Scaup but that was only me dreaming.

The Tufted Duck/Scaup hybrid on Mercers Lake
But then dreaming of the big find is what keeps many of us motivated. Unfortunately for me, my self-found skills are sadly lacking. At Holmethorpe the only two self-found birds I have ever discovered were a Black-tailed Godwit and a Black Tern. Nice birds for the area but I need to find more stuff!

It would help, of course, if I went out birding more often, which hopefully I will this year compared to last. Anyway, it's got me thinking about motivation and what it is that makes birding so enjoyable.

Much of it is anticipation. For me that is key to it. Walking out the front door knowing I'm going somewhere where I may see something extraordinary, or even something ordinary that proves to be extraordinary.

Even today, walking across the Lagoons in the half light there was plenty of activity – a bird rush hour – with birds calling, landing and in flight, the sight and sound of birds on the move. It was captivating.

Ideally, I would prefer predominantly to keep to my local patch. It's five minutes from my house – with my work commitments that is ideal – the habitat is varied and we get half decent birds drop in at any time of year.

But the only thing that stops me from committing wholeheartedly to this preferred option is the craving to see birds I haven't seen before. I started out on this pastime later than most, and being 56 years old with a life list that isn't impressive means I've a bit of work to do before I can feel contented with my lot.

Take Little Auks for instance. I saw a fantastic photo earlier today of a flock of these mini auks flying up the Scottish coastline with huge waves crashing around them. An amazing sight. I want to witness that treasure at the end of the birding rainbow.

Friday, 1 January 2016

2015 RANDON'S RAMBLING AWARDS

Welcome to the 2015 Randon's Rambling Awards. While the world of film rejoices in an evening of high glamour and glitz for the Oscars, the birding world has to settle with me tapping away behind a keyboard for the Ramblers!

Before I start, a brief resumé of my birding year in 2015.

It was not a particularly memorable one for me, if I'm honest. The passing of my dad in February was a massive blow, despite the fact there was a sense of relief he didn't suffer for too long with the ravages of dementia.

I then had a bout of shingles during the summer, while unpleasant and kept me from any walks around the local countryside for a time, it really wasn't too much of a big deal compared to what a lot of other people have had to put up with.

On the birding front, it was a year that promised much and started off pretty well but faded quite dramatically from the autumn onwards and was filled with plenty of frustration. Basically, mainly due of work and a few other commitments I haven't really been birding for the last three months. I really do need a break!

Whenever I thought there was a window of opportunity, something invariably cropped up to put the kibosh on the idea. It's difficult to see how this pattern is going to change, but then I seem to say the same thing every year!

What I have done, however, is keep a close look at what has been happening around the local area and across the country these past 12 months, which means the Ramblers are particularly competitive this year and some of the awards have hung in the balance right up to their announcement.

There have been a ridiculous amount of birds I didn't see in 2015 – but in among the barren patches there have been some gems.

A male Ring Ouzel on the patch in May. Always a thrill to see these
fabulous birds and particularly this one – my first at Holmethorpe
The highs and lows were pretty clear cut. Locally, the high was my first Ring Ouzel sighting on the local patch at Holmethorpe, and the downright low was dipping Holmethorpe's first ever Red-rumped Swallow. That dip still smarts as I write this, particularly as I was the one who predicted we would get one about a week or so before it appeared!

The culprit for this agonising dip was a Peregrine that flew through the large flock of Swallow and this lone Red-rumped, scattering them about an hour before I arrived back from London around dusk. It was never seen again, despite searching before it got completely dark that evening and also the following morning.

The one that got away – Holmethorpe's first Red-rumped Swallow.
Photo courtesy of Gordon Hay (the lucky sod)
Holmethorpe had one of its best year's in 2015, particularly during the spring. Along with the Red-rumped and Ring Ouzel, we had Garganey (a pair at the beginning of April and a male at the end of the month), Wood Sandpiper, Osprey, Whinchat, as well as the first Nightingale for many years. Later in the year the first Short-eared Owl (also predicted by yours truly) for some time popped up out of the long grass and finally our second Brent Goose of the year less than a week ago.

Our records have been helped by a patient and diligent crew of patch watchers, notably Ray Baker, Gordon Hay and Ian Kehl.

A Brent Goose on the Holmethorpe patch this week was a
welcome bonus last in the year
In Britain, there were some memorable moments. The female Red-footed Falcon at Barcombe Mills was a fantastic and beautiful bird, as was the White-winged Black Tern near Wareham in Dorset. I enjoyed the pursuit of a pair of Serin at Shoeburyness and a Little Bunting on Ashdown Forest at the end of February, and the added bonus one August morning of a handsome male Red-backed Shrike at Cuckmere Haven.

The stunning female Red-footed Falcon at Barcombe
The male Red-backed Shrike at Cuckmere Haven in August
Predictably, there have been a few frustrating moments – dipping the Pallid Harrier at The Burgh, near Burpham was particularly annoying as I'd tried more than once to see it. The Hudsonian Whimbrel at Church Norton, while not a dip, was just plain tedious as twitches go – waiting hours for the tide to go out and seeing the bird for just a few fleeting moments before having to leave. An typical twitch, I guess!

Elsewhere across Britain, there has been plenty of excitement and while I haven't been birding that much this year in comparison to previous years I've enjoyed reading about the exploits of others.

As with every 12 months, bloggers, twitchers and patch workers come and go, but it is those who have made 2015 memorable who are worthy of a Rambler – the birding Oscar for those who mostly bird in Surrey, the Surrey that includes Spelthorne that is, or maybe just the Vice County of Surrey, or... whatever.

Below is the list of nominees and winners.

THE 2015 RAMBLER AWARDS
2015 RANDON'S RAMBLINGS
SURREY PATCH BIRDER OF THE YEAR
In alphabetical order, the nominees are:
Ray Baker – Holmethorpe Sand Pits
The Beddington Crew – Beddington Sewage Farm
Lee Dingain – Staines Moor
Mark Elsoffer – Tice's Meadow
Dave Harris – Island Barn Reservoir
 Gordon Hay – Holmethorpe Sand Pits
Rich Horton – Tice's Meadow
Ian Kehl – Holmethorpe Sand Pits
Keith Kerr – Staines Moor
Stevie Minhinnick – Staines Moor/ReservoirMatt Phelps – Winkworth Arboretum
Dominic Pia – Staines Moor/Reservoir

The winner is:
Lee Dingain

Congratulations to Lee Dingain, who becomes the first repeat winner of the Patch Birder of the Year. It was another close-run contest, but Lee had a great 2015, particularly in the second half of the year.

Like all great patch watchers Lee deserves this award for traipsing around the same old area day after day in the often vain attempt to find something interesting to see. In 2015 it paid off – a Great White Egret was a great aperitif for what was to come. The Barred Warbler he discovered at the beginning of September, a Staines Moor first that got into the local papers, was a great find, as was the Wryneck soon after and the Black Stork that flew over the patch. There were plenty of other great birds at Staines, including the regular sightings of Short-eared Owl.

Lee is one of those selfless birders who are deeply involved in their patch including in its management. Also his work abroad in the Atlantic Rainforest of Brazil and at the REGUA (Reserva Ecológica de Guapi Assu) lodge in Brazil is testament to the amount of effort he puts in for the benefit of future generations

2015 RANDON'S RAMBLINGS 
SURREY PATCH OF THE YEAR
The nominations are:
LWC BARNES
(Whooper Swan, Brent Goose, Garganey, Ring-necked Duck, Stone-curlew, Little Stint, Short-eared Owl)

BEDDINGTON SEWAGE FARM
(Garganey, Great White Egret, Quail, Honey-Buzzard, Hen Harrier, Osprey, Stone-Curlew, Pectoral Sandpiper, Caspian Gull, Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull, Long-eared Owl, Short-eared Owl, Bearded Tit, Dartford Warbler, Blue-headed Wagtail, Serin)

 HOLMETHORPE SAND PITS
(Garganey, Brent Goose, Short-eared Owl, Red-rumped Swallow) 

ISLAND BARN RESERVOIR
(Barnacle Goose, Temminck's Stint, Red-necked Phalarope, Gannet, Great Skua, Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull)

STAINES MOOR
(Great White Egret, Black Stork, Hen Harrier, Marsh Harrier, Short-eared Owl, Wryneck, Great Grey Shrike, Barred Warbler, Dartford Warbler)

STAINES RESERVOIR
(Whooper Swan, Garganey, Great White Egret, Red-necked Phalarope, Little Stint, Temminck's Stint, Gannet, Great Skua, Caspian Gull, Iceland Gull, Short-eared Owl)

TICE'S MEADOW
(Garganey, Wood Sandpiper, Short-eared Owl, Wryneck, Bearded Tit)

The winner is:
Staines Moor

 

Yet again, a close-run award because so many of the nominees had great sightings. Two sites really stood out this year – Beddington and Staines Moor. Last year Beddington took the prize, and they had more uncommon and scarce bird sightings than any of the other Surrey sites in 2015, but for the first time Staines Moor gets the vote.

Staines Moor is limited to an area of scrub and common land with a river running through the middle of it. There are reedbeds and woodland too, but it doesn't have the diversity of Beddington. In its favour, however, is it is more accessible to the general public.

During the second half of the year the Moor went through a real purple patch – and that sealed the award.   

 A long-staying Barred Warbler was probably the most popular bird of the year, and at the same time, just a few metres away a Wryneck also stayed for a few days. Add a fly-over Black Stork, a Great Grey Shrike and a Great White Egret and Staines Moor was back in the limelight for the first time since the Brown Shrike of 2009. 

2015 RANDON'S RAMBLINGS 
SURREY BIRD OF THE YEAR
The nominations are:
Barred Warbler (Staines Moor)
Black Stork (Staines Moor)
Great Grey Shrike (numerous sites)
Great White Egret (Beddington Sewage Farm, Staines Moor, Staines Reservoir) 
Iceland Gull (Beddington Sewage Farm, Island Barn Reservoir, Staines Reservoir
Long-eared Owl (Beddington Sewage Farm)
Red-necked Phalarope (Island Barn reservoir)
Red-rumped Swallow (Holmethorpe Sand Pits)
Serin (Beddington Sewage Farm)
Short-eared Owl (numerous sites)
Wryneck (Staines Moor, Tice's Meadow)

The winner is:
Barred Warbler

 

The easiest award of the year. The Staines Moor Barred Warbler was probably the most popular Surrey bird of the year. A true rarity for the area it was easily accessible and stayed for more than two weeks, showing regularly at a time of the year when the weather happened to be fine and dry. It also had a Wryneck for company for some of its stay. Perfect.

2015 RANDON'S RAMBLINGS
BIRDING BLOGGER OF THE YEAR
The nominations are:
LEE DINGAIN (Almost Birding)
STEVE GALE (North Downs and Beyond)
JONATHAN LETHBRIDGE (Wanstead Birder)
GAVIN HAIG (Not Quite Scilly)
DARRYL SPITTLE (Gwent Birding)

The winner is:
 Steve Gale (North Downs and Beyond)


A remarkable achievement. For the third consecutive year, Steve Gale takes the Rambler for Birding Blog of the Year. He had some tough opposition this year but despite the quality of the writers breathing down his neck, he hung on!

Lee Dingain's blog has been a fascinating insight into the world of the patch birder and also much of his other work involving the management of the Staines Moor site.

 Jono Lethbridge, as most birders know, is probably the most naturally witty and creative writer in the birding world. He will always be on the list of nominees as long as he keeps writing and taking photos. It is a surprise, therefore, he has not won the award more than once. Discover maybe why in the award section coming up when you read his featured post.

Gavin Haig would have run Steve closer this year had he restarted his Not Quite Scilly blog sooner. Gavin reintroduced Not Quite Scilly at the end of October. He has been sorely missed. Always an interesting and fascinating read, his 2016 will be interesting.

Darryl Spittle's Gwent Birding is a new entry. I've followed his blog for some time but he has now started to write lengthier posts, some of which are truly stunning in their quality of writing. 

Despite the competition the award, once again, has to go to Steve. He is the most prolific of writers, and yet he never seems to dry up – he always finds an angle or a new theme to write about. His blog is always the first place I go to when I fancy catching up on the world outside my birding bubble. And I know for a fact how difficult it is to keep up that standard of writing week in, week out. A fantastic effort.

As a result of some fine writing during the past 12 months I have added another Rambler to the Awards. I have a feeling the following award could become quite popular. I which I had thought of it before. There is a need, in my view, to promote great writing and these four bloggers are the best out there.

2015 RANDON'S RAMBLINGS
BIRDING BLOG POST OF THE YEAR
The nominations are:
STEVE GALE (North Downs and Beyond)
An audience with a Blackcap
http://northdownsandbeyond.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/an-audience-with-blackcap.html#comment-form
Steve on one of his many visits to the place that has a special place in his heart. Alone with a late-migrating passerine. One of my favourite blog posts. I found it intensely moving and – I'm not sure why – it brought a tear to my eye. 

 GAVIN HAIG (Not Quite Scilly)
Irresistible. Why?
 http://notquitescilly2.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/irresistible-why.html
He's back at long last. One of many fascinating posts, this one another first-class education into the murky world of gulls.

JONATHAN LETHBRIDGE (Wanstead Birder)
Where is the joy?
http://www.wansteadbirder.com/2015/11/where-is-joy.html
One of Jonathan's best posts of the year – a time for reflection. 

DARRYL SPITTLE (Gwent Birding)
The perfect wave of improbability
http://gwentbirding.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/the-perfect-wave-of-improbability.html

What it is to be a birder out on the patch, in this case a seawatch, on one of those rare occasions patch gold flies passed your line of sight.

The winner is:
 Darryl Spittle (Gwent Birding)
 

The inaugural winner of the Randon's Ramblings Blog Post of the Year goes to Darryl Spittle for 'The perfect wave of probability'.

 This was the most difficult award to decide a winner. Torn between Steve Gale's post, for me poignant and touching – the simple story of a vulnerable migrant – and Darryl's magnificent prose and mixture of styles. In the end it had to be the latter.

You can read it from the link above. What a fantastic passage – jaw-droppingly good. Beautifully crafted, as well as being funny and captivating. As someone who posted a comment about this post said – such erudition. It encapsulates the emotions of a birder out on the patch.

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So, that's 2015 out of the way. Let's hope 2016 is a cracker.

All that's left is to wish everyone a happy New Year and enjoy your birding!