Friday, 31 December 2010


It has been a great year. At the end of each year I always say to myself 'next year really cannot be any better this time' and time and time again I prove myself wrong. Without even trying at all I beat my previous year's British year list total by ten or so.

My thanks are due to many people this year. Most pressing expressions of gratitude go to Johnny Allan for keeping me up to speed with what's been going on in Surrey. Also to Phil Wallace, Mark Stanley, Roy Weller, Rob Stokes, Ian Jones, Steve Gale, Paul Manville, Paul Goodman and several others for their much needed lifts and great company without which this year would not have been the same.

Most memorable moments . . .


Trumpeter Finch was a great bird to watch and a nice get back
  • connecting with great rarities such as White-tailed Lapwing, Marmora's Warbler, River Warbler, Bufflehead, American Robin, Pied-billed Grebe, Trumpeter Finch, Green Heron etc
  • spending a week doing nothing but seawatching off Porthgwarra, Cornwall while meeting and learning from some very knowledgeable and welcoming birders
  • spending time in the company of new and old friends and some decent birds for a few days on Scilly in October
  • memorable time in East Anglia spent watching Red-necked and Grey Phalaropes together and Golden Oriole, Montagu's Harrier, Stone-curlew etc
  • seeing nine species of American wader

White-tailed Lapwing, contender for bird of the year for me

  • White-tailed Lapwing
  • Dusky Warbler
  • helpful birders


While frustrating close to the patch boundary, this male Red-backed Shrike was a top local bird (photo by Mark Stanley)

  • Red-backed Shrike
  • Common Crane
  • Lapland Bunting
  • Pectoral Sandpiper
  • Waxwings, lots of them
  • see below


Corn Bunting was a memorable find

  • stumbling across great birds like Quail, Hen Harrier and Corn Bunting (invariably when very least expected)
  • seeing, on a regular basis, birds like Black Redstart, Tree Pipit, Yellow Wagtail, Whinchat, Northern Wheatear, Yellowhammer, Little Owl, Common Buzzard, Lesser Spotted Wodpecker, Red Kite, Hobby etc
  • snoozing off on a lazy summer afternoon with nothing but Swallows keeping me company
  • organising the stall at the Banstead Countryside Day, really feeling people's enthusiam for birds, and seeing an Osprey overhead to boot!
  • having the privelege of keeping track of a family of confiding Hobbies during the summer

Worst moments . . .


  • walking a total of six miles on shingle in the driving wind and rain to see an elusive bird that I can't tick before going off to see another bird which although slightly easier to see also couldn't be ticked
  • going all the way to Cornwall to dip an American Bittern for the second time - b*ll**ks

  • The underground - everything about it
  • Public transport in general
  • People

  • spending lots of time seeing nothing - lots of time (of the ninety hours put into the last thirteen days all the time spent watching anything noteworthy would probably add up to about half an hour - even the usual things like Yellowhammers that help to brighten the mood evacuated during this period due to the hostile conditions)
  • rude dog walkers
  • getting only one away from 100

2011 TARGETS (many are perhaps a bit ambitious but I find this increases productivity)

  • get to 350
  • tick off some more tart ticks
  • spend at least one full day birding in Kent or Norfolk in spring or autumn in ideal conditions and find a BB rarity
  • get to 230
  • tick off some more tart ticks
  • start keeping a Surrey list again and get down to Holmethorpe
  • get to 120
  • get 100 in 2011
  • find a male Montagu's Harrier
  • find a Corncrake
  • find at least one of the following: Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Alpine Swift, Red-rumped Swallow
  • find a Richard's Pipit
  • add at least two wildfowl species to my list
  • find a bird that will draw a constant crowd of at least fifty people
  • find a Moorhen
  • keep taking my SLR out and photograph and much as possible
  • make progress with my Canons Farm campaign

Monday, 27 December 2010

Not annoying

After a quiet day I made my way up to The Scrub at Banstead Woods at 3.00pm in case yesterday's gull did a repeat performance. Eleven minutes later I was snapping away at an adult Great Black-backed Gull as it circled overhead, almost certainly yesterday's bird. The extensive white on the tips of the three outermost primaries and the broad trailing edge to the secondaries were visible and recorded photographically (as well as its overall bulk). It's a species that is not very exciting to anyone with water but it's certainly not easy at a place like my patch!

Canons Farm & Banstead Woods Life List: 99
Canons Farm & Banstead Woods Year List 2010: 99

Sunday, 26 December 2010


A Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was nice at the patch today but it turns out I missed an unseasonal Red Kite. Worse, though, was the fact that Roy and I almost certainly got on an adult Great Black-backed Gull but didn't quite get enough on it, this was then followed by what was almost certainly a Firecrest in the fading light that was calling away but refusing to show properly. Had the force been with me I would have got to 100 for the patch this afternoon. On the bright side if the Firecrest lingers tomorrow I will nail it and I stand a good chance of getting a GBB Gull over the next few days, if not tomorrow, if I do the right thing. Oh, I also almost certainly had a Waxwing this morning over the farmhouse but it was heard only so I couldn't eliminate the possibility of that mental Greenfinch.

I hope you all had a good Christmas and will enjoy a happy New Year. I for one am having fun with my new Canon S95 which is quite warm when it comes to digiscoping.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Freeze thaw action

The ice is slowly melting and today resulted in/coincided with a bit of movement at Canons Farm, providing me with two patch ticks.

As I was approaching the 'watchpoint' I heard a Waxwing call but couldn't see the bird. A couple of weeks ago I claimed (but didn't tick) one on call at Canons but further encounters led me to believe that this was probably down to a very confused Greenfinch. I thought it likely that this would explain the call this morning but a quick scan just in case was rewarded with views of a beautiful Waxwing perched on a dead tree before it flew off north east, veering to the east and out of view. A great bird and nice get back from Mark who had five over recently. Wonderful!

Roy Weller rang just after the bird flew off and advised that I kept an eye out for Curlew and about ten minutes later six appeared from nowhere, flying quite low, and appeared to be slowing down and gliding increasingly as if they were about to land but they disappeared behind a big bush and a search drew a blank. Two patch ticks in fifteen minutes, that's quite a rare occurance now!

Canons Farm & Banstead Woods Life List: 98
Canons Farm & Banstead Woods Year List 2010: 98

Wouldn't it be nice to get to 100 before then end of the year?

Wednesday, 22 December 2010


There has been a large flock of 150 or so Redpolls commuting between Banstead Woods and Canons Farm recently . They can be hard to pin down and when you do manage to, they scatter at the slightest noise and regroup out of view. Plus the light has been awful lately and I've never been very confident with Redpolls so they've been a bit of a nightmare. I have, however, managed to pick out the odd Mealy amongst them. Heres one or two birds from Monday:

Lesser Redpoll on the left with Mealy to the right

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Rewards already

Two days into my mad patching fortnight and I've got myself a tick. I was with Roy Weller and Ian Jones and we found a flock of c.170 Lesser Redpolls at Lunch Wood, Canons Farm. After sifting through the Lessers I picked out a pale bird (only showing its underside) that Roy agreed looked interesting but it took flight before further details could be noted. With dire consequences, he went to answer the call of nature and I picked up the same or another bird again. I got a more prolonged look at its underparts and face which were pale and lacked any brown/buff tones. To my delight it turned around, showing its equally frosty and pale upperparts with white braces running along the mantle. I was sure it was a Mealy but wanted to see its rump before I risked losing the bird by handing the scope to Ian. A little flutter revealed the striking paleness of this feature but the whole flock then took to the air, chattering away and flew north before Ian could get a look. Compared to nearby Lesser Redpolls it stuck out like a sore thumb and was my first 'classic' grey bird.

Canons life list: 96
Canons 2010 list: 96

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Belmont Waxwings in HD . . .

. . . with a bit of Simon & Garkfunkel. Sorry that it's a bit Waxwing overload lately . . . but aren't they just great birds!?! EDIT: well, the HD idea doesn't seem to have worked, it should have come out at 1080p . . . oh well.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

more Waxwings!

I was walking home from college with a friend this afternoon and as we were approaching his house I spotted some starling-shaped birds in a set of small trees, I whipped out the bins and we were both enjoying excellent views of about thirty Waxwings. We moved closer and as I was attempting to digi-bin them a man came out from his house and said he had seen about sixty of the beauties earlier on. Waxwings are truly everywhere this winter, there's three or four big flocks locally at the moment and this is my fourth self found in three days!

Monday, 13 December 2010

Walk to college

My daily walk to and from college does not pass through any remarkable habitat. It involves crossing a main road, walking through a small and basic park, through a council housing estate followed by a couple of residential roads and finally a bit around the edge of a playing field. I've been going there as a school since 2005 and as a sixth form college since September this year. In those five years most journeys to and from the place have not produced anything interesting but it has had its moments. Highlights include a singing male Firecrest in a tiny bit of woodland and a Yellow Wagtail flying over. I occasionally stumble on one or two wintering Blackcaps and the odd Meadow Pipit, Grey Wagtail or Grey Heron has added interest and I once had a very close encounter with a tame Sparrowhawk.

This morning produced the best of the bunch so far. For the third time in two days I heard a Waxwing calling, looked up and saw the bird heading south west. Amazing!

In the last last of the day I briefly popped up to Banstead Downs Golf Course and located a pair of Firecrests. Unfortunately with the current conditions it is now impossible to get up to Canons in the afternoons except on Tuesdays when I get off at 1.00pm. I can't wait for the days to stretch out again.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

weekend so so

Marsh Tit

Another weekend packed full of birding, with mixed results. Yesterday at the patch wasn't too bad with a Golden Plover and a showy Marsh Tit that Roy Weller managed to twitch. Today was very frustrating; this morning I was approaching Lunch Wood (with the sun strongly in my eyes) and I didn't notice a large gathering of Thrushes and Starlings until I flushed them. Amongst all the commotion the unmistakable bell-like call of a Waxwing pierced through the air and sounded very close but with the light and everything flying everywhere I could not get on the damn thing.

Golden Plover

I only life tick for any region or place if I see the bird and this is the first time that a predicament such as this has gone unresolved and it hurt, I've spent a lot of time specifically looking for Waxwings at the patch lately and this one got me unprepared. There's plenty of time to get one though, so fingers crossed.

I then went to Amberley Wild Brooks, West Sussex where I missed the White-tailed Eagle by five minutes, heard that unmistakable ringing again and immediately got onto twenty Waxwings flying north east; it's funny how this game works.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

local Crane

The very quiet past few days ended with a bang today. I was half way up to Lunch Wood, at Canons Farm when I got a text from Johnny Allan informing me of a Common Crane that had actually dropped onto the lake at Beddington! As I always do when I'm in the middle of patching and get such a message I felt a mixture of excitement, panic and disappointment. I rang Steve Gale who was in bed feeling under the weather but he couldn't afford to miss this bird; he picked me up from the Shell garage near Canons Farm within twenty minutes or so.

On arrival we were greeted by a relatively large crowd full of many familiar London/Surrey faces and some new ones. The 1st winter Common Crane showed well with Grey Herons at the opposite side of the lake all the time I was there; this was a bird I wasn't expecting to get back locally any time soon. A great London/Surrey/Beddington/local area tick and I haven't seen many in Britain before anyway! It appeared quite settled and started picking up and playing with those strange bits of meat that the Herons pick up from the bottom of the lake. A top bird; thanks to Frank for finding it, John for letting me know, Steve for getting me there and Phil for taking me back to Canons!

Friday, 3 December 2010

more snow shots

Today and yesterday I made further feeble attempts at finding something good in the cold weather at Canons Farm. Yesterday produced only another Lapwing and today produced absolutely naff all - with no overuse of the term - not even a Parakeet, Yellowhammer, Woodpecker of any kind or anything. It was too foggy and cold. Here are some shots taken at the farm yesterday, when at least the regular cast was on show:

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Snow . . .


. . . it has hit hard . . . it brought Beddington 14 Bean Geese and 3 Grey Plovers as well as Waxwings for various sites around London. Banstead wasn't as great . . .

Common Buzzard

Not surprisingly, it was a snow day at school today so I decided to see if I could get a piece of the action down at Canons Farm. The S1 was not running to Banstead so I had to walk through the middle of Banstead Downs plus a bit more to get there, taking me about 45 minutes. After over-sleeping, putting together my lunch, finding sufficient woolies and undergoing this walk I got there disappointingly late, just before 11.00am. Once I got there I had a relatively brief skywatch before walking the farm and having a more prolonged skywatch afterwards. Birds were quite thin on the ground today so I ended up taking photos of signs and the countryside with my SLR which enjoyed its 5th trip outdoors this year (if that).


All I got for my efforts was my first patch Lapwing of the winter, a couple of suspicious-looking 'Starlings', a Common Buzzard, a Little Owl and a numb pair of feet despite several layers of socks. The highlight was watching a flock of gorious Yellowhammers feeding in the snow - the lighting really complimented their plumage very well. Sunday at the patch was better with my first Marsh Tit there for about three years as well as my first Woodcock of the winter.

There is again no school tomorrow. I have revised the battle plan: get up at 7.30am, leave (hopefully) at around 8.00am - get there by 8.20am. Skywatch until 11.00am then walk the farm, resuming skywatch at 12.30pm before finishing at 3.30pm.