Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Most obliging Gropper yet, and a mooch about Kent

Grasshopper Warbler

This morning I arrived at the Watchpoint and had a bit of a scan; as usual, nothing was moving overhead. I followed the usual routine of checking the area around the barns behind Canons Farmhouse before arriving at Canons Lane and gradually heading up towards Banstead Woods. It was by these barns that I heard a very unfamiliar song. The only thing I could think it could be was a juvenile Robin trying to sing, I had almost dismissed it as that when the vocalist came into the open, it was another Grasshopper Warbler! A first-winter and it was making a very strange noise, I'd best describe it as a high-pitched abrasive warbling whistle. I hung around for a while and after less than ten minutes the thing popped out again and started feeding in brambles about fifteen feet away from me and I fired away. I then watched it through the scope as it walked stealthily through the brambles, it soon slipped into the dark interior. More photos at cfbwbirds gallery.

I visited the spot again mid afternoon and it was showing again. Roy Weller and Mark Stanley added it to their patch lists while Richard Horton and Richard Sergeant who had come to look for Little Owls also got good views.


Yesterday, after a quick check of the patch, Ian and I spent a long day in north Kent. A missed exit deposited us at an unplanned venue, Oare Marshes. We saw little of any significance here but it was nice to see a Whinchat and good numbers of common waders.

Merlin at Elmley Marshes

Next, our originally intended destination, Elmley Marshes. We were surprised to see that most of the place had been drained, presumably to get rid of that viscious blue-green algae. The ground was cracking in the usually busy area in front of Wellmarsh Hide and it was amusing to see Ringed Plovers and Dunlin filling cattle footprints here, despite it being akin to a desert.

A Whinchat and a Wood Sandpiper showed well from the Counterwall Hide and there were a few Ruff and a Peregrine further on; there were very few small waders to look through, disappointingly. Yellow Wagtails were seemingly everywhere, their liquid calls filling the air and small flocks busying around the feet of bullocks.

Wood Sandpiper at Elmley Marshes

A quick slash before heading home actually got Ian a lifer. Earlier on I could have sworn I had seen a Merlin briefly in flight in the area behind the toilet block but it disappeared behind a tree before I could get enough on it. While we were scanning the area behind the fenceposts before setting off, Ian pointed out an interesting shape on one of the gates on the marsh, I got the scope on it and indeed it was a beautiful female Merlin. I don't see many of these and it was Ian's first so it had made both our days.

Curlew Sandpipers at Cliffe Pools

We decided to have a look at Cliffe Pools on the way home. It was starting to get dark when we got there. I picked up a juvenile Spotted Redshank and fourteen Ruff were on site. I then got onto the pair of juvenile Curlew Sandpipers that had been reported as they frantically probed about. Another lifer for Ian; his list is growing nicely but he's running out of common stuff.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Famous grandstand gazes over lost wader

Ringed Plover

I was amazed yesterday when, at the Wryneck twitch, John Blenham told me of an incredibly out of place bird that he had found at his patch, Epsom Downs. This is only a mile or so west from Canons Farm and is in common with my patch in its lack of water.

This evening, after family dinner I was watching John's juvenile Ringed Plover on a short gravel track just south of the grandstand at the racecourse. It was an obliging individual and was completely unoffended by my presence down to a ten foot range, it fell asleep at such proximity after a while! A Wheatear, equally relucant to move from its chosen feeding area, was close by. This plover probably wins the prize for my most bizarre sighting.

Wheatear at Canons Farm

There were four Wheatears present at Canons Farm this morning, one was particularly obliging and the light was just right so I got some reasonable pics.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Ranmore Wryneck

When the pager bleeped with news of a Wryneck at Ranmore Common today I thought I ought to give it a go but considered it likely to be an unco-operative one. I was right; it was the best part of an hour until I got any sort of view of the bird as it crept through a bush, closely hugging its perch. After it stopped moving I lost it, Wrynecks can practically vanish if they wish; I remember the bird I dipped at Beddington that was in a small area of bushes but after being ringed and released could not be found at all.

An hour or so later the bird was on show, much better this time, at close range in a small and open bush. A very nice bird and a Surrey tick but its just out of my local listing area. Cryptic-plumaged species such as Wryneck, Woodcock and Nightjar are favourites of mine. While Hoopoes are like big butterflies, Wrynecks are akin to a large moth. I must tot up my Surrey list soon, I know its in the pathetic region of 170-180. Well done to Sean Foote on a spiffing discovery.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Gropper headlines mini fall

Whinchat (left) & Wheatear (right)

I predicted that today might be productive for seeking out passerines at the patch, taking into account yesterday's wet north easterlies and today's less harsh weather.

I was very soon onto a Whinchat this morning. It was considerably flighty but eventually appeared to settle down around the hay bales in Bunting Field in the company of a male Wheatear. Another Wheatear, probably yesterday's bird, was in Skylark Field. While I was watching this, four Yellow Wagtails called as they headed south. I didn't see too much else until after Lunch when I was walking through the undergrowth at The Scrub (this I've been doing daily and thoroughly, mainly in hope of a Wryneck) and disturbed an interesting looking warbler. It settled nearby where it showed well for a few seconds, it was a Grasshopper Warbler! I aimed the camera at it and would have achieved a good shot but peering through the viewfinder was like being in a carpet of mist. It seems some moisture has snuck into the lens - bugger!!! It only came back from being fixed no more than a fortnight ago!!! Unbelievably infuriating, I tell you.

Grasshopper Warbler appears to be quite regular at the patch. The first record was last September when I flushed one with a gathering of House Sparrows in the north west corner of Broadfield and there were four singing males this April: three at Canons Farm and one at The Scrub. All this spring's singers were practically impossible to see; I saw one of them for a couple of seconds.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

New sights around the New Forest

Sabine's Gull

As autumn is increasing the liklihood of a good bird at the patch, I am getting ever more reluctant to leave it but I couldn't resist an outing around the New Forest with Phil today. Ever since I bought my first field guides and continually flicked through the pages in awe of all the wonderful birds I was looking forward to seeing, Sabine's Gull is one of the species that caught my attention. That distinctive wing pattern, forked tail and (in the case of adults) wonderful head makes it the most attractive of the gulls for me. The soft-toned plumage of juveniles is very smart too. However, I haven't had much luck with Sabs - I was utterly gutted when I dipped the three birds at Beddington nearly four years ago on my first visit to the site and have failed on other attempts. The bird near Avon appeared to be hanging around so this was first on our iternery. The situation was daunting, probably over one to two thousand Black-headed Gulls (with a few Med Gulls mixed in) to scan through. So it was a relief to lock eyes on the first-summer Sabine's Gull within fifteen minutes. A smart bird indeed; best in flight. And my 21st British tick of the year.


Crossbill at Blackwater Arboretum

This was followed by a visit to Acres Down. A couple of Crossbills and a Firecrest were seen by the car and further on a pair of Common Redstarts showed. I scanned the dead tops of the rows of trees in the middle distance and lay sight on a majestic juvenile female Goshawk! We got distant but prolonged and clear views of this beast for about half an hour before it flew off when the cloud cleared and it warmed up. This is my first non-flying sighting of a Goshawk. After this there was almost always a Goshawk on view, there were probably at least two birds knocking about - at times mobbed by Sparrowhawks. Common Buzzards were everywhere but as usual none of them could be turned into a Honey-buzzard. A Grayling was my first of the year.

Our final venue was Blackwater Arboretum for a mosey around. Crossbills were everywhere, acquiring by far my best views of this bird. Another Firecrest showed.

Britain Life List: 313

Friday, 19 August 2011

Second helpings

Phil said he was going to have a look at the Hoopoe at Farthing Downs this afternoon so I took this opportunity to further enjoy this local mega while it's still around. The bird showed well for about an hour on the path in excellent light. I hope it stays around for those locals who are currently out of the area i.e. Ian and Alex.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Woohoo a local Hoopoe

Today's plans of a calm day of patching were smashed when news came through of a Blue-winged Teal at Thursley (though I did manage a pair of Tree Pipits before this). Johnny, who was with Dodge and Frank, very kindly altered his route to pick me up at Canons. Just before we set off, we heard that the duck had flown west. We pressed on anyway, in the hope of its return or relocation. After a bit of time spent at Thursley we checked Frensham Ponds (the first obvious waterbodies in a westerly direction) to no avail and headed back home.

I hadn't been back on the patch more than two or so hours when David Hayes texted 'Still there now, lft of rd as u approach car pk, half way up' - I knew exactly to what he was referring as, being a Farthing Downs regular, I asked him on Monday if he knew anything further on the report of a Hoopoe on his turf (which he didn't). I called Johnny who let other Surrey birders know and I pelted it over to the Banstead Woods car park to meet him (fatally injuring my 5th trolley in the process).

We arrived and had a bit of trouble finding David but we tracked him down in the end and were soon enjoying the Hoopoe. The site was quite busy with dog walkers and it got flushed a couple of times but this allowed a good excuse for a few flight shots. A splendid bird; only my second in Britain and my first in London/Surrey for which this counts for both.

What's more, this is an uber local area tick - yipee!

Monday, 15 August 2011

Warbler's Haven

Subalpine Warbler

Recently I've been catching up with a handful of reasonably 'common' vagrants/overshoots that I've previously had bad luck with. I didn't think the male Subalpine Warbler at Holland Haven would be on the cards today, on account of it only being seen briefly yesterday, but it came through on the pager again this morning and I convinced Phil to go. My Subalpine Warbler 'horror' story involves what must have totalled the best part of ten hours walking up and down a track on Scilly over two days, only to turn a corner and be greeted by a couple of birders who told me I'd just walked right by it and flushed it! Fortunately, this bird gave itself up. It showed (albeit in short and irregular bursts) by the car park almost as soon as we got there. Ian 'Eagle' was already on site.

Yesterday Phil and I enjoyed splendid views of one Banstead Woods' juvenile Hobbies while a parent watched a bit more distantly. Hoping for a Spot Fly any day now.

juvenile Hobby - Banstead Woods

Britain Life List: 312

Friday, 12 August 2011


I couldn't do the usual morning shift at the patch today due to a conflicting driving lesson - this perhaps worked in my favour, however, as about five minutes after arriving this afternoon I had two Crossbills go fairly low south south east over Pipit Meadow. It would be nice to see some perched up at CFBW.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Hedge pulls another Whinchat

The hedge at the north side of Horse Pasture was decorated by its fifth (of the patch's six/seven) Whinchat of 2011. This individual was very obliging and sat on the same perch for at least ten minutes, allowing me to get reasonably close. It then fed for a few minutes and decided it was time to go so suddenly shot off south.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Sunday delights


After soaking in splendid views of an adult Hobby with a freshly fledged juvenile (still retaining a tuft of down) in Banstead Woods - confirming breeding at the patch - Roy and I heard a few very faint high-pitched calls from high up in an oak. Too weak perhaps even for a typical Goldcrest call but that was what we presumed it would turn out to be.

Hobbies (juv left)

We caught a few glimpses of the bird, then it turned its head . . . 'I think that's a Firecrest!', said I. It was; we couldn't believe what we were seeing. All that extensive and purposeful searching specifically for this species during the winter and early spring, with no joy, and now there's one in front of us in early August! For a fair while Firecrest has been the only remaining 'fully expected' patch ticks for me. But this lunchtime was when I was least expecting it to happen! It was a right bugger to photograph, though, with only one or two record shots acquired. Now all birds I need have mythical patch status, like Moorhen and Mute Swan.

Firecrest marks the 100th overall bird recorded at CFBW this year.

A reasonable number of Swallows today, with a bare minimum of sixty present.

Canons Farm & Banstead Woods Life List: 106
Canons Farm & Banstead Woods Year List 2011: 97 (81 at this point last year)

Saturday, 6 August 2011

A bit of movement


I had my first patch year tick in a while today: Tree Pipit. A calling bird flew west this morning. This is exactly the same date as the first autumn bird last year. I was also pleasantly surprised to see a 1st-winter Wheatear near Canons Farmhouse - the first of the autumn, and just over two months since the last bird of the spring. At least forty Swallows (a conservative estimate - could well have been many more), a couple of House Martins and at least eleven Swifts also flew through.

Canons Farm & Banstead Woods Year List 2011: 96