Sunday, 27 November 2011

Long-tailed Duck

In between two bouts of patching, Ian and I nipped over to Bromley for this female Long-tailed Duck. A London tick. A cute bird, it spent most of its time at the back of the small trout fishing lake but came closer to rest and preen. At one point it was spooked by a Little Grebe and did a circuit of the lake, almost crashing into us as it reached our side! Too quick to get the camera out for that bit, though.

We found a Firecrest along the track back to the car, too. This was followed by a good search for one in Banstead Woods (Ian still needs it for the patch) but we found little. Patch pickings are lean of late but blimey it is nearly December - didn't the autumn go quick?

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Dip a dendroica, see a sharpie

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper and Dunlin
Ian and I set off for Royal Tunbridge Wells at some offensive hour this morning. We arrived well before sunrise but there were some equally stupid birders kicking about. When it started to lighten we got out and joined the others. Nothing, nothing...nothing...nothing. Now it's 9.00am. Decision time. A Sharp-tailed Sand and other bits have come through at Chew Valley. A long way away and we didn't like the place...but if we were gonna go it would have to be then so off we went.

Long-billed Dowitchers
There were lots of cars parked up at Herriott's Bridge. We instantly got onto the pair of LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS - a little distant but very nice. My first and last was five years ago at Oare Marshes. They were then flushed and it turned out they didn't come back while we were there. The sharpie wasn't on view so I crossed the road and saw my fourth SPOTTED SANDPIPER - a plumage tick, being a winter adult.

Spotted Sandpiper

I crossed back and it was pointed out to me that the SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER was with a flock of Dunlin and Lapwings about two hundred feet in the air. I could see that it was bigger but that was about it - not tickable. After a torturous wait it dropped down and its identity was confirmed. This has been one of my most-wanted waders for a while now - the diffusely marked but very warm-toned breast was the most striking feature but some streaking along the flanks, a prominent supercillium and a warm rufous-brown crown were also striking. It seemed dumpier and shorter billed than a Pec to me. Also in the flock was what we believed at the time to be a Little Stint, but has been retrospectively identified as a SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER. Nice. Other birds on offer included seven Bewick's Swans. A second-winter Common Gull was shouted by a surprising number of people as a Ring-billed... Ian enjoyed my bowl of chips at the very nice canteen around the corner before the day was up and we were on the return journey.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Runaway bunting

I have the first part of Friday mornings off college and this time I use to go to the patch. This morning I had a flock of twelve Crossbills fly low and loud south west over the Watchpoint. The number of Crossbills I have had there this year is getting ridiculous. I've had three sets in the last week or so; you simply do not get this number of Crossbills passing through this part of Surrey at this time of year so I can only conclude that there must be a flock somewhere in the vicinity that is the source of these sightings. Perhaps they involve the same birds as those at Wallington, where they have also been recorded on multiple occasions in the last week - Wallington is not far at all from Canons, especially for a Crossbill.

Towards the end of my visit I was on the lane, adjacent to the derelict barn, and there were a couple of  knocking about. I heard another bunting call, a very loud and 'heavy' metallic one coming from nearby. A bird popped up briefly and flew behind the barns. There was silence for a while then it started off again and flew over me; a large bunting indeed, bigger and heftier than a Yellowhammer. I watched it fly slowly west, praying that it would decide to drop on top of a tree or hedge, but it did not. Instead, it appeared to shoot down into the nightmare that is currently Quail Field - a large weedy stubble field popular with Skylarks and Meadow Pipits. I had only fifteen minutes or so before I had to make tracks for college so headed over there and waited in vain for it to do the right thing and confirm itself as a Corn Bunting. I decided to let people know that there may well be a Corn Bunt around and Johnny Allan came over to take over the search. He didn't have any luck with the bunting but he noted a Grey Plover heading NE - shite. A first for CFBW...

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Gull getback

My biology teacher was absent today so I got a surprise early finish - I headed straight for Canons Farm where I met John 'Blessed' Blenham and Neil 'Factor' Randon. They were both hoping for the Short-eared Owl and I wanted another view of it - we staked it out until after dusk but there was no sign of the owl. I went home happy, however, for I got a patch year tick: Great Black-backed Gull (an adult flying north with a group of Herring Gulls). Also, two Common Snipe (presumably the same pair as on Saturday night) and a flock of nine Canada Geese were site notables.

Canons Farm & Banstead Woods Year List 2011: 103 (94 at this point last year)

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Good goose

Ian and I hit the patch again early morning. After half an hour or so we got onto a small, dark, compact 'goose' with large white forewing patches flying towards Burgh Heath pond - it quickly got far away and I was struggling to see over a tall hedge. Clearly an Egyptian-type thing but before I could study its head it was flying away from us, calling appropriately, however. Because I couldn't rule out the only other possibility, Ruddy Shelduck, and didn't know how similar a one's vocalisations are to an Egyptian's, I was overly cautious and didn't log it. Ian and I talked about it and he said how he got the dark-on-pale markings on the head; we looked up Ruddy Shelduck's calls which were very much different. Egyptian Goose it was then - RS would be very unlikely anyway. Patch year tick! Also at Canons today: Brambling, 2 Stonechats, fly-over Cormorant etc. What was very frustrating was when I was with Roy later in the day and he pointed out two large gulls flying north west. They were high and flying away but were adult black-backeds; they appeared big, bulky and solid dark on top but with no views of the wingtip pattern or Herring Gulls for size comparison so we wouldn't be filling in a CFBW Rarity Form if there were such a thing.

Canons Farm & Banstead Woods Year List 2011: 102 (94 at this point last year)

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Harrier Field produces again

Short-eared Owl
Ian picked me up early this morning and we got on the patch pre-dawn. Like yesterday, it was very foggy and it was a struggle to see further than one hundred metres. Once it started to lift slightly, we began to wander. An hour or so after arriving a Short-eared Owl was flushed from the dank ditch in Harrier Field - giving further evidence for my theory that this is a regular roost site at the farm. I have seen two at the patch before and they have both been over Harrier Field, the latest of those (this April) appeared to fly from this ditch and it looks ideal for them.

The owl flew into a nearby ivy bush but soon flew and was hounded by Magpies and Carrion Crows and disappeared into the mist. A few minutes later it re-appeared and seemed to be dropping down on the other side of the lane - reassuring us that the bird hadn't been forced off-site. The mist thickened again but we pressed on and the sun gradually came out and burned the worst of it off. We were pleased to see a large flock of Lesser Redpolls (no Mealies with them as far as we could see) and the newly-born 'Not Quite So Piddly Pond', the reincarnation of Piddly Pond. I might just keep calling it Piddly Pond... The council's notice told us that we were in for wader action (see attached snap).


I heard a Crossbill fly over but couldn't get on it, seeing as this follows five yesterday (which were high - probably why I couldn't get on this one) I'm wondering if there's a flock hanging around somewhere within five or so miles. It was a good day for Lapwings, with a total of 46 throughout the day. Although (Woodcock aside) it is the commonest wader at the patch, they are usually pretty tricky to come by (there were 22 records last year). The second-best birds of the day came in the form of two Common Snipe which called and flew over Roy and me shortly after dusk - unfortunately Ian had chosen to walk back to his car another way and missed a potential patch tick.

Piddly Pond mid make-over; will I get Moorhen before the year's end?

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting
The reporting rate of Snow Buntings in London in the last few days has been above average and I've been hoping to find one at Canons Farm but of course I'm not nearly as free as I have been for much of the year and am stuck in a stuffy classroom for most of the day now so this makes finding one at my patch a bit tricky.

Yesterday was one of my early finished, with my last lesson ending at 12.30pm, so I was waiting for the 80 bus to get me back home to collect my gear and head for the farm when I received news of one at Beddington. I was glad for the opportunity of seeing one locally but cursed at how it meant a visit to Canons would be difficult with the limited light, I crossed the road to get the same bus in the opposite direction. I arrived and used my new lovely shiny key to get through the gate, made my way over the mound and found Johnny Allan and Ian Ellis watching the tailless but lovely male Snow Bunting feeding on a track - a top local bird. This bird marks Johnny's 196th species of 2011, thereby creating not just a personal but an overall Surrey Year List record!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Goose spectacular

I was very glad to get back onto the patch this morning and, seeing as many of Canons Farm's best records are from the first week or so of November, I was in great anticipation as to what I might find.

I checked the barns near Canons Farmhouse for Black Redstarts, and Broadfield for just about anything (it is perfect at the moment; plenty of exposed soil with lines of very short winter wheat, and, as always, it's very big). I was making my way for Lunch Wood when I bumped into Jim Hall. Jim is not a serious birder but he walks his two jack russels at Canons Farm most days, knows what he's looking at, carries binoculars and takes an active interest in the birds of the area. I'd just said goodbye after a quick chat when I glanced up at the sky and clapped eyes on a v-formation of large birds heading towards me. It took a few moments for it to sink in what they were, at first I thought they'd be just another flock of gulls then I thought possibly Cormorants for a few seconds, then I realised they were small geese!!!

Brent Geese - MORE HERE
I knew they would most likely be Brents, they were still quite a way off and heading directly towards me so I used this time window to call Jim back and prepare my camera. They were soon nearing and I started to rattle off some shots, I could tell through the viewfinder they were indeed Brent Geese and, as they passed almost directly over us, they started calling - magic!!! I switched from camera to scope as they flew away to the south west. Yes, yes, yes! Patch tick, London tick, Surrey tick and local area tick! Jim and I reckoned about forty birds and inspection of my images later confirmed the true number as thirty-nine.

Jim told me he'd already had a Lapwing, quite a scarce patch bird. I made my way towards the derelict barn area where I picked up a flock of a dozen Lapwings, they dropped down on Broadfield but when a dog walker passed they got up and flew to the south west.

Roy arrived and was pretty gripped off by the geese, he had planned to spend the morning at Canons but his son had wanted to go to a vintage car event so couldn't get there early enough for the geese. We spent twenty minutes skywatching before heading to Newdigate to look for the Yellow-browed Warbler. We spent at least two hours searching for the bird but there was no sight or sound in its favoured area or with the roaming tit flocks. We returned for another stake out at Canons but there wasn't too much else on offer, unfortunately.

Canons Farm & Banstead Woods Life List: 108
Canons Farm & Banstead Woods Year List 2011: 101 (91 at this point last year)

Biting off more than we can Chew

On Friday night, I was in two minds as to what to do on Saturday. Ian had invited me on a trip to see the Steppe Grey Shrike, early November is prime time for Canons Farm birding and I really wanted to spend a day there but I simply could not turn down a more or less guaranteed lifer.

So, on Saturday morning Ian picked me up then we collected Peter 'Polo' from Burgh Heath and headed for Telford. I fell asleep for much of it so it didn't seem as long as it really was. We arrived at about 8.30am, parked up and put our change in for the Royal British Legion. I don't normally take much notice when the pager says 'tho distant' because for many people seem to define a distant bird as one a few feet out of range for a frame-filling shot. In this instance, the bird wasn't described as distant but when I saw everyone's scopes pointed at the other end of a 800 metre wide field I realised we weren't in for a experience like this.

Steppe Grey Shrike

The STEPPE GREY SHRIKE was indeed a long way off and you could just about tell it was a grey shrike and at times you could get the idea it didn't have a dark bill or lores. Just when we were thinking of leaving, it came closer - still very distant but a significant improvement - and most of the identification features could be noted. It certainly appeared very pale, having large amounts of white in the wing and having light lores and bill. Being a race of Southern Grey Shrike, this represents my sixth shrike species.

We then set off for Chew Valley Lake. I needed Lesser Scaup and Ian and Peter needed some of the other things that had been around, so there was lots to mop up in a short period of time. I was expecting a site about the size of Abberton Reservoir but it wasn't as vast as I anticipated. There were ruddy lots of ducks though, all very distant. The pager hadn't given precise areas for the various birds and there was little daylight left so we felt utterly overwhelmed. I set to work scanning a 'raft' of aythyas and was surprised when I picked up a drake scaup quite quickly. When I took my eye off it or tried to get the others onto it I lost it into the flock and it was hard to pick up again. It soon became active, diving and swimming about a lot and I couldn't keep up with it. It appeared to be the same size as the neighbouring Tufted Ducks but a solid ID was impossible at that range. I began to hate Chew Valley Lake, and ducks.

We moved round to a hide that was closer to the birds but the sun was in front of us and, even though we were working with nearer birds, they were silhouettes. We gave up as gulls gathered to roost, a Raven flew past and the sun descended.