Tuesday, 29 March 2011

A nice day at Holmey


A call from Gordon Hay informing me of two Avocets at Holmethorpe caused me to abandon my vigil at Canons this morning and wave my arm in front of the 420 bus. I scored, of course, and spent the rest of the day there as I had a sore foot and it was a long way to walk back to wait for a slow bus . . . and it was very nice and there were lots of birds. Two Little Ringed Plovers were gorgious, showing on Mercers West Pit along with the Avocets and a pair of Green Sandpipers. The pair of Shelduck at Spynes Mere were nice to see, too. It was alive with migrants, relative to Canons, with a few Swallows and Sand Martins around. Two Willow Warblers sang but the biggest surprise was hearing a Sedge Warbler at Water Colour!

Red-crested Pochard

The day ended nicely. Just as I was walking to my dad's car the drake Red-crested Pochard which has until now evaded me dashed past.

Monday, 28 March 2011



I concentrated almost all my efforts on Canons Farm today, only giving key areas of Banstead Woods a quick check for Willow Warbler and Blackcap. After several hours of nothing, a Wheatear appeared in front of me. It must have just dropped in, it certainly wasn't there before the few dozen times I'd scanned the area earlier! Then, another materialised and they both showed well. Nice! Next, a dozen Meadow Pipits fell from the sky and started feeding next to them. Wheatear brings me to 68 for my CFBW yearlist and is an encouraging sign of movement. I need to get Sand Martin soon, though, as that can be tricky at the patch.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

No migrants here . . .

Woodcock flying across Loony Field

Still no Red Kite, Wheatear or Sand Martin at Canons for me . . . not even a Blackcap (had two at Epsom Downs, though)! Bloody annoying to be honest. Beddington and Holmethorpe were doing well today and I got naff all. I do never tire of the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers though, the day is always made by these jewels. Today Ian and I had the fortune of observing the pair mating! My first Woodcock seen during the daytime without me having flushed it was the other highlight - and allowed me to get my first ever photographs of this species.

the Circle Field male Lesser Spot from Friday

a Blackcap, but not at Canons . . .

P.S. just totted up my British year list and it's on 149, that's not having chased anything just because I need it for the year as I don't fancy going through all that again!

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Patch neglect

For the first time this month, I didn't pay my beloved Canons a morning visit. I said to Rob 'The Hob', Dan & Michael as we were leaving at 5.45am that today would be the day that a Wheatear would be at Canons. I was right. I'm not too bothered though, I will get plenty this spring, and I the prospect of my 300th British bird as a legitimate excuse for not giving the patch its usual treatment.

Can you see it? If not, you're not missing much

Arriving at 9.00am, a decent crowd of people were staring at the fort at Landguard with its mist nets and Greenfinch song playing. Within a couple of minutes everyone was shouting 'there it is!' and we saw a small brown bird fly clumbsily across a gap in the vegetation. If you say so . . . but I'm not ticking that. The wait was a bit tense but probably not as long as it felt, then the SHORT-TOED TREECREEPER finally gave itself up, showing well in a small tree. The differences between Eurasian and Short-toed are subtly striking and together create an impression of a rather different bird. A female/immature Black Redstart was also nice.

Spotted Redshank

There was little else around Suffolk so we decided to go to Minsmere. It is nearly five years since I first and last set foot on this reserve and it brought back some memories. A couple of Marsh Tits having a sing-off was great to see and other highlights included my first Sand Martins of the year and a Spotted Redshank while a pair of redhead Goosander at Island Mere was a very pleasant surprise.

Barnacle Goose

Time was getting on and we headed in a homeward direction. At Canons Ian and I showed Rob, Dan and Michael one of the Little Owls. Overhead movement of Meadow Pipit, Fieldfare and Redwing was noticeable towards dusk.


Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Furry friends

Roe Deer

Apart from a gorgious female Brambling at Lunch Wood, not much was going on and the highlights today were provided by the mammals. I got two CFBW mammal ticks (both rather tartish): a Wood Mouse nibbling on my abandoned sarnie crusts and a sly nearby Stoat that wanted a nibble on the mouse. Two Roe Deer crossing Reads Rest Lane into Broad Field were also nice. I tried for Badgers with Ian the other night but dipped.

Wood Mouse

My CFBW Mammal List is on . . . 6 . . . as well as Badger I need Hedgehog and positive identification of some rodents would also bump it up. I'm looking forward to many happy evenings with my bat detector, which I've been practising on Pispistrelles in recent nights.

The first Small Tortoiseshell of the year was great to see (had a probable yesterday).

Monday, 21 March 2011

Misty morning

drumming male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

The thick mist this morning (we always get it bad at Canons) gave me a good excuse to adandon the usual early morning skywatch and stake out the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers. I had no trouble as I could hear one drumming as soon as I made my way towards their favoured spot. I then enjoyed excellent views of the drumming and preening male for about ten minutes before it started to wander around and feed. The female then came in and took her turn, drumming for a shorter period of time than the male before going off to feed again.

male of the Circle Field pair

and the female

Mid/late morning I got a text that caused me to grab everything and run to the top of Reads Rest Lane, I dropped my gloves and water bottle on the way up but didn't stop to pick them up for the message from Graham James read 'ringtail Hen Harrier heading your way' (presumably the bird P-Go & Mark had yesterday at Banstead Woods)! I scanned and scanned the horizon which was looking directly towards Holmethorpe but didn't pick anything up. I then called Graham to get a better idea of how high and fast the bird was flying and while talking to him spotted a distant, appropriate-looking raptor flying Harrier-styley. As I zoomed in the blasted thing dropped in front of the horizon and I couldn't pick it up again. Not another near miss!?!?!

I then made my way over to Woodpecker Meadow in case it was hunting over the Chipstead Valley. I picked up a Sparrowhawk, a female Kestrel and at least five Common Buzzards but not the main quarry. I got good views of another male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker behind the bench I was sitting on, I can't get away from them!

Little else happened for the rest of the day and I headed home. Roy said he was going to try for th Barn Owls in the evening so I decided to join him. A few Little Owls called and we used the detector on a couple of Pipistrelles but the Barn Owls did not show.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Night prowl


After a reasonably interesting day at Canons, the highlight being a female Peregrine (they're like buses over there), Ian and I met up again in the evening for a Badger and Tawny Owl hunt. We were watching Harrier Field in case the possible ringtail Hen Harrier that Paul Goodman and Mark Stanley had did what my male did and roost there. We had no luck and when it got very dark we went to go up Canons Lane and into Banstead Woods. We stopped outside the derelict barn where I used my bat detector to listen to a Pisistrelle. While doing so Ian pointed out a screeching noise and I got onto a Barn Owl flying away from the barns! We pegged it up to the edge of Harrier Field and looked towards where the bird flew but couldn't see it. Then, what was almost certainly a second bird burst out of the large, intact barn and flew past us, giving its screeching call as it went. We were absolutely delighted, we thought there may have been a Barn Owl somewhere but we didn't think it was in the traditional spot (which has been checked numerous times recently)!

As we passed Perrotts Farmhouse we set off Mrs Roe's security lights and this set up three or four Tawny Owls in quite a small area. They were nearby and I glimsped one in flight twice but Ian didn't get a view (he didn't miss much, visually, anyway). Several Little Owls were calling at the farm.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

On spec at Wisley

Yellowhammer at Canons Farm

This morning didn't start well. Getting the bus was a bit of an ordeal, I was forced to watch in shock as some low-life threw a Yorkshire Terrier about twenty feet into the window of a (thankfully non-moving) car before I was nearly ignored by the S1 bus driver.

Brambling at Wisley Airfield

Things looked to be getting better when Ian and I located a close drumming Lesser Spotted Woodpecker within a minute of arriving at Aberdour School, and had a Cormorant fly over to boot. Then, Ian pointed at six birds flying fast NNW tightly together. I hardly glanced at them and dismissed them as 'racing pigeons . . . '. Looking up at them again I realised they were no pigeons, they were waders . . . and they weren't any waders I've seen at CFBW before. With the naked eye I saw that they were all mottled rufous underneath, stocky, short-legged and quite short-billed. By the time I got onto them in the bins I got an arse-end view as they were flying ever further away - I got them in the scope but knocked it and lost them just as they were about to bank. I've never uttered so many profanities in the space of one half hour in my life, Ian looked a little concerned about me. Whatever they were (Ian and I think that Knot fits the bill, so to speak, most closely based on the little detail that we saw - but this would be such as odd situation to get them in, but, then, that also goes for just about everything else they may have been . . .) they would have been a mega patch tick and made my month, had I bothered to do anything more than hardly give them a glance initially. Bugger.

Common Buzzards near Wisley Airfield

I then went to 'WALBOC' (Wisley Airfield/Lake Boldermere/Ockham Common) where I met Alex Bowes. The numbers of Yellowhammers and Common Buzzards were amazing, with up to one hundred and up to twenty, respectively. I picked up a distant Red Kite and we enjoyed excellent views of a female Brambling. Twenty Lapwings, a few displaying, were also great to see. A Grey Wagtail and three Chiffchaffs were additions to Alex's patch year list. Just as I was leaving a couple of Red-legged Partridges showed. Thanks for showing me round, Alex!

Then back to Canons where I saw nothing new or particularly exciting but got a couple of shots of a male Yellowhammer.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

last horse finally crosses the finish line

male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Canons Farm seems to get its first migrants significantly later than pretty much all other local sites. I have no idea why, perhaps it is their last resort. I've been eagerly anticipating the first arrival and today it came, with two CFBW Chiffchaffs singing, rather nicely one at Canons Farm and one at Banstead Woods.

It was great to finally achieve prolonged views of the male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (shortly after Johnny Allan left, having seen the pair well on something like his fourth attempt) and I managed some video footage for you to enjoy. A surprise came when I inadvertantly flushed about half a dozen female Pheasants in Banstead Woods.

I now learn that a Red Kite flew over Nork, directly towards the patch, shortly after I left . . . grrrr. I've gotta get one soon!

Monday, 14 March 2011

Canons & Pulborough

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (male can be heard drumming)

Phil asked me yesterday if I fancied a casual trip to Pulborough and I said yes, provided the patch could be given at least a brief check. The highlight was excellent views of the female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. It was calling and flying between Circle Field and Aberdour School, doing the 'butterfly' display at one point. The male was drumming very close by but I couldn't get a view of it. Three Mallards also flew over.


There wasn't anything special at Pulborough but I really enjoyed just taking in the atmosphere of the gatherings of wildfowl on the floods. A female Peregrine perched in a nearby tree provided the highlight of the outing and the best views I've ever had of one of these birds.


Yesterday's Golden Plover in moving image

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Plover's respite

Golden Plover

I spent most of the day with Paul 'P-Go' Goodman at Canons Farm today. As dad was dropping me off we saw a flock of about fourteen Canada Geese fly over, the most I've ever had. A brief search for the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers did not provide any sightings for us but we did hear one drumming and just as we were nearing the tree it was settled on the birder watching it saw it fly off towards the school.

Golden Plover twitch

A walk around the patch didn't yield much other than the usual Little Owls. P-Go headed home and I went back to the Watchpoint to meet Roy. We had a brief look for the woodpeckers without any success before returning to the Watchpoint. As we were watching a pair of Cormorants fly over we heard a Golden Plover which flew past us and dropped like a bullet into Skylark Field. A few seconds later it was up again and dropped into Broad Field. We made our way over. Up again and it finally dropped into Quail Field and didn't get up again so we walked over and were soon enjoying views of the first on-the-deck record of this species for CFBW. It ended up staying until at least 4.05pm, when I left. It was well-twitched with Ian, PGo, Paul and Colin making it and a couple of dog-walkers adding it to their lists.

Golden Plover

As you can see in the flight image, a few primaries are missing in the right wing and this isn't moult - some feathers on the back of the head also looked blemished - we were thinking this bird may have been popped at by a Sparrowhawk or Peregrine.

Friday, 11 March 2011

What the . . . ?

This morning started well with two Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers at Canons Farm at Aberdour School. Ian arrived just in time to see them but Kojak and Badge weren't so lucky. A good few Common Buzzards were around and Ian and I flushed a Woodcock in Banstead Woods.

Kojak, Ian and I ended up staying at Banstead Woods till well after dark in hope of getting Barn Owl (frequent reports recently from Holly Lane) and/or Tawny Owl. As we were approaching Piddly Pond we flushed a startlingly white bird which gently lifted into the air and through the trees on gentle, fairly slow wingbeats. We were frozen to the spot in shock and confusion. Each of us said 'what the F***K was that?' about half a dozen times. As we discussed it more we narrowed it down to either Little Egret or Barn Owl. It was an incredibly unusual situation for either to be in. We'll never know - for now it's being put down as a 'white thing'. A female Tawny Owl called briefly.

Update on the falcon: 2 votes for runt male Peregrine/hybrid, 1 vote for Merlin x Peregrine hybrid (click here for an example - thanks Graham James for sending me this link).

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Falcon punch

Having checked the gull gathering on Legal & General I was walking towards Reads Bottom this morning when the tits started alarm calling and I spotted a small, quick falcon with blue-grey upperparts dash past. It was on view for literally about two seconds and I spent this time concentrating on photographing it so didn't get any detail in the field. My initial impression was Merlin (mainly because of its size) but, glancing at the photos, it didn't look right on several counts. I decided to wait till I got in to have a proper look and sent out a text saying 'I might have just had a Merlin' (just in case it did turn out to be one) but I wasn't at all confident, I have seen several Merlins before and this bird didn't fit, though it was the closest thing I could think of at that point.

black tail tip visible in above image

I showed the pictures to Kojak (after twitching two Stonechats that he located) and he agreed that it didn't look like a Merlin but we both came to the conclusion that it didn't look right for a Peregrine either. If it was one it was one freaky specimen. Reasons why it doesn't fit a typical Peregrine include its size (it appeared about as big as a Collared Dove), the black tip to the tail, the lack of a pale grey rump, the relative weakness of the head pattern (e.g. the moustachial strip looks too long and thin) and the apparently plain belly and underwings. If it were bigger any of this wouldn't matter too much - it was just so small! I have no clue about this bird, perhaps it's some sort of falconer's hybrid or perhaps I'm losing the plot and it's a runt Peregrine.


Kojak and I did have a typical Peregrine, a female, from Woodpecker Meadow at Banstead Woods and Mark Stanley picked the bird up pursuing Rose-ringed Parakeets over his Chipstead Valley garden later that afternoon. We staked out Harrier Field till well after sunset for Barn Owl, but had no luck, only hearing a Little Owl.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

In pursuit of a wild goose

the three Stonechats

Ian and I were doing Canons in the morning where three Stonechats lit the day up even more than the weather (in addition to 3 Canada Geese and 2 Mallards for me, before Ian got there) when I got a text from Johnny Allan and a call from Graham James telling me that there was a White-fronted Goose at Holmethorpe. I needed this for the local area and Surrey (I'm trying to get a bit more enthused about the latter) and Ian needed this as a lifer so we headed over straight away.

White-fronted Goose

After parking up at Mercers CP we found Kojak and the first-winter White-fronted Goose feeding with Greylags and Canada Geese in the field just south of Spynes Mere. It was a neat bird in good condition. It was unringed and its wings were perfect, plus it was a first-winter so this bird is falling onto my lists like a piano coated with setting cement.

White-fronted Goose

Ian had to go but I stayed on and walked about with Kojak. The pair of Shelduck on Spynes Mere moved over to Mercers West Pit and a Green Sandpiper was showing on Middle Pit with a Grey Wagtail not too far away. A Common Buzzard flew over as did a Sparrowhawk. A handful of Great Crested and Little Grebes were around along with a handful of Shovelers, Gadwall, Teal, Tufted Ducks etc. Two Common Snipe were easy to spot at Spynes Mere where an amazing three Little Egrets gave themselves up. My first Chiffchaff of the year was great to see around the edge of Mercers Lake.

Thanks Graham for this great find and to Ian and Kojak for the lifts.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Year list still flying

Reed Bunting

I associate migrant arrivals with poor weather and drizzle but lately at Canons they seem to be turning up on only the most pleasant of days (for those of you who's ears don't burn above ten degrees C, that is). Today I got another year tick; a Reed Bunting stopped off briefly, this is quite a patch rarity (there were three records last year and this is the first of this year) and a gorious male Stonechat showed very well at Reads Bottom (only the second of the year).


I also heard a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in Banstead Woods. It was probably about two hundred metres off and quite deep in, with a big tit flock, so I stood little chance of locating it, but I gave it a go anyway. Three Common Buzzards were floating very low over Fames Rough/Sheep Brow and were probably after a dead sheep/deer/rabbit or something. I was hoping their activity and the warm weather would attract the attention of a Red Kite, but no luck on that front. I've gotta get one of these soon, surely?

Canons Farm & Banstead Woods 2011 Year List: 65 (five ahead of this point last year)

Monday, 7 March 2011

Visit 240 . . .

. . . will be etched in my memory as a notable one, when I saw my 100th CFBW bird and found a nice flock of Waxwings. Interesting fact: on average I get 0.417 ticks per visit - often it doesn't seem like it!


The bird of course was my most needed, Peregrine. A single circled over Banstead Woods briefly early this afternoon, allowing me only to get distant record shots. This is in keeping with last year's timing and precise locality of others' records.


Earlier on, at 7.10am, I spotted a flock of twelve Waxwings in a Canons Lane garden. I quickly sent out a CFBW-alert to locals and got closer. Just as Ian Jones arrived, at least three more birds appeared out of nowhere, making at least fifteen birds (at one point I was sure I had sixteen). At 7.49am we looked up and they had vanished. Thirty nine minutes is a record stay and fifteen is a record number so we were dead pleased. Just as I was leaving, at 4.10pm, I glanced at the bush and they were there again! I dashed back to get Kevin Hazelgrove who I had met minutes earlier and Steve Gale showed up but alas the birds had disappeared again.


A flock of six Cormorants early in the morning was extraordinary, 'flocks' have never climbed above two at CFBW before! Common Buzzards were much in evidence, with about five birds around but not the hoped-for Red Kite. Four of the Little Owls and a Sparrowhawk also showed.

Had my first butterfly of the year too, a Brimstone. The last few days have convinced me that I should be renamed 'Vampire Birder' - I'm so sensitive to sunlight that my ears are extremely burnt and painful already - the summer is going to be awful!

Grey Heron


Sunday, 6 March 2011

Sunday Scandinavians

Stella thought we were all staring at her so generously gave good views right between the Eagle and our lenses

Ian and I started early at Canons this morning, in the hope of Waxwings, but very little was seen. At 9.00am, as roughly planned, we decided to head to Old Basing for a bird that I had dipped three times previously. Almost as soon as we pulled up outside Poors Farm we were onto the juvenile White-tailed Eagle, I thought I was dreaming at first, after missing it so many times, especially when it took off and gave us a flight demo with about four Common Buzzards in tow. Thanks Ian!

White-tailed Eagle with Common Buzzard for size comparison

We watched the bird for nearly an hour (though it seemed like much shorter) before programming Richmond Park into the satnav, having received a text from Johnny Allan about the Coues's Arctic Redpoll's continued presence. We joined the loose crowd at the Pen Ponds plantation shortly after midday and I staked it out till after 5.00pm, getting a lift back with Kojak. We saw up to ten Lesser Redpolls and a slightly larger and paler bird flying with two of these at one point, it wasn't the Arctic, it may have been a Mealy but we couldn't say for sure.

A small finch then flew over our heads, several people saw it but only I and one or two others heard it. I described the call to those who didn't as 'a bit like a Crossbill', a 'chip-chip', as it was the closest thing I could think of at the top of my head. Looking at BWP, it says for Arctic Redpoll 'Flight-call more spaced out than in Redpoll, written 'chut-chut'. Was it . . . ? Probably not but it's possible. Regardless of whether it's seen tomorrow morning or not I think I'll pop up after an early morning check of Canons.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Back to normal

After yesterday's excitement, the patch resumed usual operations today, for Ian and I at least. Steve had two Waxwings go over the farmhouse about ten minutes before we arrived (and I now learn that a flock of twelve were showing yesterday morning at the end of Reads Rest Lane). Bird of the day was a Meadow Pipit that circled, wanting to land, but was reluctant. Surprisingly (or not, given the weather at some points), they haven't wintered at the patch this time round and we've only recently been getting a trickle of migrant birds moving through.

I then called dad and he took me to Connaught Water, to see the drake Green-winged Teal that was reported there. The bird was easy to find but I became concerned with the identification even more quickly. I have limited experience of Green-winged Teal, having only seen one bird before, but, in my humble opinion, this bird is a hybrid. I could well be wrong and would love to be proved so as it would be a nice London tick but I have my reasons. First of all, upon first glance the bird appears good, with the vertical line at the side of the breast and the lack of a horizonal line of the scaps but upon closer inspection it is noticeable how weak the breast line really is. Only about twenty percent of it is solid white, and this is broken up. The rest of the mark is very faint and looks more like paler feathering than a mark. Also, when the bird stretched and flapped its wings, a significant proportion of the edge of its greater coverts were white, it did not have the strong and extensive rusty/orangey colouration of a Green-winged Teal. I did not get a chance to observe the amount of green on the speculum. There were also two drake and one female Mandarin and a couple of Egyptian Geese. Have a look at my record shots and please tell me I'm wrong.

I've been missing a lot of good patch birds at Canons lately, I guess this is good as it means more people are going there and finding stuff. I need to start getting earlier buses.