Sunday, 29 August 2010

Quail gives itself up - in the bag! Score!!!

I'm buzzing today after getting the Canons Farm Common Quail that I found yesterday out in the open this morning for about 3 seconds!!! It was crossing the path and froze on the spot as soon as it saw me! After admiring its intricate plumage and neat double chin strap I decided to go for it and try to get up and digiscope it, thinking that it would stay frozen. When I did so the bird took off and flew to the west side of the field where it then dropped down. I really can't complain about not getting a photo as I was very lucky and elated to get the views I got. What a mega bird for the patch and good for London and Surrey too. The bird continued to sing all day (much more frequently than yesterday), sometimes from just yards away. Wooohooooooo!!!

What made the day even better was getting great views of a flock of 5 Golden Plovers as they called and headed WSW (this and the late singing Quail show just how random Canons can be). Last time, when I saw a flock of 3, the birds were too low and fast to get them in the bins for long but this morning I got them in the bins for 2 or 3 minutes. Also 2 Yellow Wagtails flew over.


Saturday, 28 August 2010

When does patching go wrong?

When you should have had a smashing day with finding a first for Canons Farm/good bird for London and Surrey (Common Quail) as well as two other good patch birds (a pair of Whinchats and a Tree Pipit) but it all goes wrong when you don't see the main attraction yourself, even though you found it and you simultaneously get several other people a tick because they glimpsed it/count heard only birds.

Bummer. Back first thing tomorrow morning till dusk if need be.

Friday, 27 August 2010

First Whinchat of the autumn

Another early morning visit to Canons in the rain today yielded excellent views of this splendid Whinchat which was accompanied by a Northern Wheatear.

It's great to see we're getting a strong passage of migrants (for Banstead at least) with Tree Pipit, Spotted Flycatcher, Whinchat, Yellow Wagtail and 2 Northern Wheatears this month (and all but the Tree Pipit in the last four days). Any day now we've got to get a Wood Warbler, Common Redstart or Pied Flycatcher!

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Patch tick

An afternoon check of some of the most likely areas for passerines at Canons Farm and Banstead Woods revealed this obliging Spotted Flycatcher which was persistent on chasing something that looked like an immature Willow Warbler away every time it appeared, before I could properly ID it. My 84th bird for the patch and not a very common bird locally but many probably go through undetected.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

South West Seabirding

Gwennap Head

This year's family holiday, to Cornwall this time, was viciously exploited by me as a chance to mop up on one of the biggest gaps in my British list: tubenoses. Before this trip the only tubenoses I had on my list were, embarrassingly, Manx Shearwater and Northern Fulmar. After a few hours of them doing what they wanted, almost each day between Sunday 15th and Saturday 21st my poor parents kindy drove me to Gwennap Head for a nice long seawatch.

Sunday 15th

Early morning rise and a walk around the coast near our Falmouth hotel produced a 2nd winter Mediterranean Gull, c.22 Manx Shearwaters, a showy Ringed Plover, a Rock Pipit as well as the Fulmars, Gannets and Shags that would turn out (as expected) to be ubiquitous throughout the whole trip so I won't keep mentioning these species. A couple of the Fulmars had chicks on a cliff edge.

Gwennap Head finally gave up a Balearic Shearwater which cruised along with a Manx after two or three hours scanning. My first lifer of the trip and one that I was glad to finally get. A close-in dark phase adult Arctic Skua was my first of that species in a couple of years. In passerine terms a migrant Northern Wheatear was a nice sign that smaller birds were moving and a Raven flew along the cliff top. Grayling was a butterfly lifer for me.

found this dead dragonfly on a nearby road, apparently it's a Golden-ringed?

Monday 16th

Early morning around Falmouth produced a Bonxie, 17+ Manx Shearwaters, a Greenshank, a Bar-tailed Godwit, 2 Stonechats and, best of all, a Tree Pipit calling overhead. A Common Buzzard flew close-by along the cliff top.

Going to Gwennap Head around midday was a mistake. I briefly got onto a couple of dark Shearwaters but because the lighting and briefness of their appearances I couldn't tell you whether they were dark Balearics or Sooties. Manx Shearwaters and Rock Pipits were noted.

Tuesday 17th


My last early morning Falmouth walk simply because it was exhausting me; I was going to bed at about 12.30am and getting up at 4.30am . . . not good. I really struggled to find the strength to walk but clambered up to my usual cliff top watchpoint. A Common Sandpiper called overhead in the pre-dawn darkness. It turned out to be very foggy and, other than 2 Sandwich Terns, no notable seabirds were recorded; not even a single Manx put in an appearance. A family group of Stonechats and an adult Mediterranean Gull were the highlights.

Gwennap Head was more interesting with 4 Balearic Shearwaters, a Bonxie harassing a Fulmar, 10 Common Scoters, 11 Kittiwakes and 27+ Manx Shearwaters.

Wednesday 18th


juvenile Arctic Tern

Manx Shearwater

I awoke at 3.15am after only about 3 hours sleep to leave for the pelagic. Meeting all the birders before setting sail I was pleasantly surprise to bump into James and Simeon Grundy who I've known for a few years and they were good company throughout the rather unsteady expedition. I bagged another one of my target tart ticks with several European Storm Petrels some of which showed quite well. Otherwise it was quite disappointing.

Storm Petrel

Storm Petrel

A Bonxie low over the boat provided next best bird and a juvenile Arctic Tern was nice. Very bad views of at least 2 Balearic Shearwaters were briefly had, several Manx Shearwaters cruised past but also didn't linger. One of the best bits of the trip was getting within touching distance of Kittiwakes and Fulmars.





I bagged my final target tart lifer that afternoon with another visit to Gwennap Head when a Sooty Shearwater flew west about a mile out. The smooth, slow flight; athletic body shape and long pointed wings were obvious and when the bird banked the silvery underwing was visible on a couple of occasions when the light caught it well. 2 Balearic Shearwaters and 3 Basking Sharks ('lifer') brought a nice close to a worthwhile and enjoyable day.

Thursday 19th


I can't remember what the parents and I did for the first half of the day but in the late afternoon/early evening I was joined by James and Simeon again for a seawatch off Porthgwarra. A Sooty Shearwater was nice and 2 Bonxies added a bit of life but otherwise it was pretty dead with just a few Manx Shearwaters being the only other birds of any note. The highlight was a pair of very obliging Choughs on the cliff top that allowed me to get within about ten feet! Unfortunately I didn't even have my compact camera so only got a phone-scoped shot.

Friday 20th

A nice chap called Ian whom James, Simeon and I met on the pelagic had told us about a special discount day trip to Scilly for RSPB members on Friday; we decided to ignore the advice against going that the Scillonian staff gave us and we went anyway, hoping that the strongish south westerlies would give us a good chance of a Great Shearwater.

The crossing to Scilly produced 2 Sooty Shearwaters, one of which gave good views as it slowly overtook the boat, a Bonxie, a Basking Shark and a few Storm Petrels. We had several glimpses of large shearwaters, probably Greats, but they were frustratingly too distant and too brief to identify fully.

James, Simeon and I joined up with Ian and we did St. Mary's for about 3 hours, focussing on the Porth Hellick/Giant's Castle/Old Town area. It was really dead. A few Greenshank, a Common Sandpiper, a couple of Rock Pipits and Sandwich Terns and good numbers of Ringed Plovers and Turnstones were the only species of any note.

We boarded the Scillonian back to Penzance, confident that we would get something good on the way back . . . we spotted a Basking Shark as we were just leaving the islands and kept scanning thoroughly throughout the crossing back, with James and I covering the left and Ian and Sim scanning to the right; despite our efforts we didn't see much. A Sooty Shearwater bobbing in the water by the ferry was a nice surpise and a Balearic Shearwater with a few Manxies was the only one of the day. Quite a few Storm Petrels passed by, many too briefly to be fully scrutinised . . . that's about all we saw . . . disappointing but it was nice to spend a day on Scilly anyway.

Saturday 21st

My final full day and my final Cornish seawatch for what will probably be quite a long time and it ended with a bang! I joined Sim and James (who'd been there since about 6.30am when they could hardly see anything for the dense fog!) in the late morning and soon began seeing birds. At 2.20pm Sim picked up a large shearwater just beyond the Runnel Stone buoy; John Swann, the rest of the Seawatch SW team and James and I all got onto quite quickly and we all agreed that it was a Great Shearwater, nice! My 4th lifer of the holiday, bringing me to 281! Apparently a few other people from Hella Point also got the bird.

My personal totals for this final and rather eventful seawatch are as follows: 1 Great Shearwater, 7 Balearic Shearwaters, 1 Sooty Shearwater, 2 Arctic Skuas (pale and dark adults), 3 Bonxies, 1+ Storm Petrel as well as several Kittiwakes and Manx Shearwaters. The 2 Choughs from Thursday, a Whimbrel and a Rock Pipit or two on/over the cliffs also helped to make the day a memorable one.

Sunday 22nd

Had breakfast and left for home pretty much straight away, happy with a successful trip which bumped my British list up by 4. Mum and dad were quite happy too because before the late afternoons/early evening on most days they didn't have to chaffeur me around and could do what they wanted for a change. On the way back we drove through the picturesque town of Port Isaac, which is where Doc Martin is filmed, so that was quite interesting.

Special thanks to my dad for driving me to Porthgwarra almost every afternoon and getting up very early to get me to the pelagic and to James and Simeon Grundy as well as Ian from Lancs for their company and generousity in terms of crisps and lending money etc. Thanks also to John Swann for being to helpful and welcoming at Gwennap and Paul Freestone and the skipper for the pelagic.

Do take a look at the Seawatch SW website

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Terns and aythyas

hybrid Aythya

After checking the patch again this morning (which provided a nice surprise in the form of 3 Golden Plovers, a patch tick for me and the 3rd record for the site) I made my way to Staines Reservoirs to get Black Tern for my London list which proved successfull. I couldn't stay long to check it out more properly, i.e. waiting to see the bill etc, but I found this Aythya hybrid on the north basin.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Pied Fly bagged and that Hobby again


Got to the local patch at about 6.40am this morning and put in about six hours, which did not reward me with anything new but I never tire of seeing that gorious Hobby! After satisfying myself that I'd checked the patch about as closely as possible, walking about 10 kilometres in the process, I started to make my way to Regent's Park via public transport for the Pied Flycatcher that had been reported.

Pied Flycatcher (see Tony's blog for much better shots)

When on site, I could not find this 'enclosure north east of the lake' and got pretty frustrated but I found it in the end and was greeted by the very welcoming Tony Duckett and a couple of others; it wasn't long before I was enjoying reasonably good views of my first London Pied Flycatcher, bringing me into the single figure countdown to 200 for the area.

The spot looked great for migrants and, as well as the Flycatcher, about three Willow Warblers and a single Common Whitethroat showed themselves for me and Tony said he'd seen a Garden Warbler in there too. Not a bad day.

Thought this was quite a nice scene at the patch, I wish I moved a bit left to get that piece of wheat out of the way of its left eye though . . .

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Flying visit to old patch

Red-crested Pochard

With time to spare and no reason not to I went on a bit of a tick and run today as I twitched the female Red-crested Pochard at Beddington for my London list, viewing it through the fence for about 20 minutes before returning to my current patch for an evening check which yielded no surprises.

Red-crested Pochard

Also present at Beddington during my very brief stay were a Green Sandpiper, a Common Sandpiper, a couple of Greenshanks and one or two juvenile Shelduck.

Green Sandpiper


Monday, 9 August 2010



My first early rise for local patching for a pretty long time now and 10 hours and 24 minutes of hard searching (I know you probably think I'm mad putting that much time into a site without water in a land locked county in August) with nothing even locally scarce to show for it but migration was in evidence with at least 2 Willow Warblers, 8 Common Whitethroats, 8 Chiffchaffs, 4 Blackcaps, c.12 House Martins and a Swallow (many of which would be migrants). A Common Buzzard and a family of Sparrowhawks also brightened up the day. A good variety of woodland birds, some of which have been quite undetectable lately such as Goldcrest, Treecreeper and Nuthatch were on show.

Willow Warbler

The highlight was again the very obliging and very predictable Hobby which I just cannot get enough of, I got a whole new set of photos today in better light and with the bird at a variety of angles. Scope views were simply brilliant.



Saturday, 7 August 2010

Farlington Marshes

A trip to Farlington Marshes today lacked anything remarkably unusual but my first Northern Wheatear of the autumn was a nice surprise and it was interesting watching an immature male Peregrine take a Feral Pigeon while his sister waited nearby.

The undoubted highlight, however, was the splendid juvenile Cuckoo which gave the best views I've ever had of this species and I think it will really take something incredulously special to beat these views; the bird sat obligingly in a bush less than 10 metres away for as long as I was there and jumped down to catch something at one point where it sat with its wings fully open for a couple of minutes.

Autumn patching starts NOW

I was convinced to re-start frantic patch watching yesterday when I found the first locally unusual migrant of the autumn for Canons Farm, a Tree Pipit. That Hobby from the previous post was in the same place again.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Patch perks up a bit

Nothing new or rare but I had a pleasant surprise this evening when I got unusually good views of a Hobby in Banstead Woods, a species that I haven't seen there at all in the last couple of months. A brief Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and a pair of Bullfinches also made the evening worthwhile. Still waiting for a migrant (not even a single Willow Warbler in sight!).

Monday, 2 August 2010


Great White Egret

Today Phil Wallace and I made our way down to Dungeness in search mainly of Herons and Egrets which the site has become a nationally famed location for recently.

Great White Egret

We headed straight for Denge Marsh Road, where most of the action was and watched from the bridge where we instantly got excellent views of the long-staying Great White Egret as it preened. To our delight it then became quite active and flew closer where it began feeding not at all far away, right out in the open! I glimpsed one of the Purple Herons a couple of times but it popped up far too briefly for Phil to get onto it. Eventually it flew out of the reeds, gained a bit of height and flew towards the New Excavations while Phil rattled off some shots. Little Egret and Grey Heron brought our Heron list up to 4. Phil spotted and photographed a superb male Whinchat but I didn't have time to get it on camera. The Whinchat and a nearby juvenile Willow Warbler were both sure signs that passerine migration is well underway while a juvenile Tree Sparrow was a nice surprise.


We popped into the ARC pit where there were lots of Northern Lapwings but the White-tailed had long vanished. We didn't see anything outstanding and made do with a Whimbrel, a Curlew, a Greenshank, 3 Common Sandpipers, 2 Ringed Plovers (adult and juvenile), 2 Little Ringed Plovers (adult and juvenile) etc.

At The Point we got onto an adult and a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull while amongst the many Common Terns were about a dozen Sandwich Terns, a juvenile Mediterranean Gull and a 2nd winter Little Gull. The sea was pretty dead, the wind having a counter-productive easterly bias, with just 4 Common Scoters, a brief Curlew/Whimbrel and 7 Gannets to show for our efforts.

Little Gull (2nd summer)

At the RSPB visitor centre we learned that yesterday's Cattle Egret was still about and set about searching for the bird to no avail, after Phil once again failed to contend with one of the notorious RSPB coffee machines that always completely break down whenever he's around! 4 Dunlin and a Common Sandpiper were the highlights here.

We made one last attempt at locating the elusive Cattle Egret (which would have nicely very nearly completed our list of available Herons for the day, and provided a nice year tick for both of us) at Denge Marsh before giving in and heading home happy with an enjoyable day filled with some good birds.