Saturday, 31 December 2011


To keep with tradition I'm producing this summary of the year in terms of my birding... I'm currently working hard on the 2011 edition of the Canons Farm & Banstead Woods Bird Report so check that out when it's published for a comprehensive illustrated review of the patch's birds this year.

First of all, did I succeed in my aims for this year? Here is what I set out to do, according to my blog post at this time last year, with comments on my successes in each department: 

  • get to 350 no, 329
  • tick off some more tart ticks yes, I guess: Twite was nice to finally get out of the way as well as some 'lesser tarts' like Common Rosefinch, Leach's Petrel, White-tailed Eagle, Woodchat Shrike, Red-rumped Swallow etc etc
  • spend at least one full day birding in Kent or Norfolk in spring or autumn in ideal conditions and find a BB rarity no, best self found on a national scale was a Pec Sand at Dunge in August.
  • get to 230 nowhere near. Didn't even try
  • tick off some more tart ticks See above
  • start keeping a Surrey list again and get down to Holmethorpe I now know I'm somewhere vaguely around 180 for Surrey and I visited Holmethorpe two or three times
  • get to 120 Hah! Yeah right (108)
  • get 100 in 2011 Yes, very pleased: I managed 103. Would have liked 105 - if I counted Common Tern and Yellow-legged Gull which are 99% bang on then I'd be there
  • find a male Montagu's Harrier Did you hear about one at Canons?
  • find a Corncrake Not that I'm aware of
  • find at least one of the following: Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Alpine Swift, Red-rumped Swallow Not that I recall, doesn't ring a bell, fraid not and no
  • find a Richard's Pipit No
  • add at least two wildfowl species to my list No
  • find a bird that will draw a constant crowd of at least fifty people No
  • find a Moorhen Ehhh.....sadly not...maybe next year
  • keep taking my SLR out and photograph and much as possible Yes!
  • make progress with my Canons Farm campaign If starting a functioning Bird Group with 25 members, regular meetings and a bird report counts, then I'd say yeah
I make that a 29% success rate... shame the ones I did hit on were generally the less exciting ones.


It is amazing that, once again, I had predicted that this would be the year where I saw a bit less than the previous year and it ended up surpassing all previous years by a large margin. Both on a local and national year it has been exceptional and I've been seeing the sort and doing the sort of things I never thought possible when  I was taking my first tentative steps onto the active birding scene as a boy of eleven or twelve, following an interest in birds since seven. I owe Johnny Allan and Franko Maroevic for giving and/or organising long distance twitches and Ian Jones, Phil Wallace, Rob Stokes, Peter Grady and Colin and Paul Manville, to name a few, for the transport and company they have provided to make this year so great. Gratitude to Neil Randon for helping out with the CFBW Bird Report and livening up several outings.

There's too many great times to recount here, and it would be pointless reciting many here because many can be found in the archives of this blog. So here's a basic breakdown:


There's some birds that simply rock your boat and it feels like you could watch them over and over again. The Northern Waterthrush on Scilly wins this prize for 2011. I first saw it on my two-day twitch to the islands in September and it made the expense and hassle worthwhile along with the Baltimore Oriole and Solitary Sandpiper. I was very pleased when it hung around for my October half-term visit and I saw it a few more times, in more relaxed conditions.

Another highly memorable bird is the Farthing Downs Hoopoe - an amazing bird to have within a few miles of home -


When the pager gave a mega alert for a Scarlet Tanager in Cornwall, just before I was due to head to Scilly for my half term break, I was really getting stressed out about how I'd go about seeing the bird without my holiday being disrupted. It was going to be impossible (unless the bird solved the problem by kindly leaving), I would either have to go to Scilly and live with constant pager messages about a national mega or go to Scilly, come back to Cornwall for a day then resume the break. I tried for the tanager before boarding the boat but only got a couple of minutes on site, after getting to St Levan much later than planned. Of course, I did not see the bird and it was never seen again.

 Some of the stars of the most exciting day of the year

I boarded the Scillonian as planned, fearing that the St Levan bird would bleep and I'd be obliged go through the ordeal of getting back myself back to Cornwall. Instead, the pager gave a mega alert half way across. It was a Scarlet Tanager...and it was on Scilly. OH MY GOD! I rushed there straight away and after a very tense half hour a flash of yellow and black graced the hedges in front of me. The jammiest thing that's ever happened to me. That afternoon I also enjoyed great views of Upland Sandpiper, Wilson's Snipe, Olive-backed Pipits and the Northern Waterthrush. Could a day like that ever be beaten?


There were a few miserable days. Dipping the Greater Yellowlegs in Northumberland has got to be the winner, though. It was very expensive and very unsuccessful - hence highly disappointing and frustrating. Then the ruddy thing does a few hundred miles further north. This is all a few months after putting £30 in a ticket machine for a Greenshank. I just don't care any more.


I managed nine patch ticks this year: Peregrine, Ring Ouzel, Wood Warbler, Red-legged Partridge, Marsh Harrier, Cuckoo, Firecrest, Reed Warbler and Brent Goose. I also recorded another Quail, several Waxwings, a Black Redstart, a few Common Redstarts, an Osprey, a couple of Short-eared Owls, a few Golden Plovers and Common Snipe, a Curlew, a trio of Spotted Flycatchers, several Grasshopper Warblers, at least two or three Barn Owls, the odd Mealy Redpoll and a good few Crossbills, Tree Pipits, Whinchats etc.When I was in my earlier stages of birding I would never have dreamed that I'd be seeing birds like this in my local area, let alone finding most of them. I managed 103 species this year, which I'm quite happy with considering it's a dry inland site.


Seeing a Common or Arctic Tern too high in too poor light over the patch was very very very annoying, as was photographing a 99% Yellow-legged Gull there but the images not quite showing enough detail to be certain enough to constitute a first patch record. Arguably surpassing these, for I will never have much of a clue what they were, was the flock of smallish/medium rufous-ish waders that flew low past Ian and I. Had I looked at them properly we would have got perfect views of what would have undoubtedly been an exceptional patch record, but instead I dismissed them as racing pigeons in my split second glance. It was only when I took another look that I realised they were waders...and by the time I got on them properly they were flying away...


Well, what will I aim for in 2012? I'm not going to be as ambitious this year. I'll do as much birding as I can and see what comes out of the other end - I'm sure there will be many exciting moments with a great set of birds and birders. I'd like to find a shrike or Wryneck, Richard's Pipit, or something like that, at Canons and I'd like to get 115 for my patch list and 360 for Britain

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Owl regurgitation interval

I haven't had much to post about in a while, and am planning to do a 2011 review in keeping with tradition but I'm trying to juggle quite a lot at the moment, so, in the meantime, enjoy this Barn Owl pellet that I found today...

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Barn Owl shows up again

I could only have a relatively short trip to the patch today so decided to concentrate my efforts on Canons Farm rather than trying to buzz around Banstead Woods as well. There were a couple of Meadow Pipits around Tart's Field - it seems they're wintering this year (they don't always). As I passed Reads Rest Cottages I did the usual check of the barns and bingo there it was again sat there - that equisite and very healthy-looking Barn Owl. It was in about as good light as it could be in considering it was in a secure barn on a winter's day and was posing beautifully. I walked off to check Broadfield quickly and when I returned it wasn't there! I looked all over and could only see a load of noisy pigeons. Cliff Allan and Ian Magness turned up a bit later and rang to say they thought they could see it still tucked up in the far corner but they needed a scope to confirm - I returned and it was indeed still there, it had only moved a foot but was a lot harder to see. Richard Garrett and Kojak turned up later and enjoyed the bird. It's nice to have one that people can come to see.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

CFBW 2011 - the very best...

A short video I've just knocked together of the best birds at the patch this year that have been good enough to let themselves get photographed...

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Barn Owl in the barn at last!

I've always had the odd peak in the large asbestos barn near Reads Rest Cottages since I heard from the local residents that Barn Owls used to be regular in there up until about five years ago.  These peaks have turned into almost daily checks since Ian and I saw two emerge from this barn in April. The best these checks have produced so far have been the odd Little Owl and plenty of feral Rock Doves. Today I looked in and saw a white bird in the far apex, I expected it to just be the usual white feral Rock Dove that has been teasing me for weeks now but it was a Barn Owl!!! I couldn't believe it. I never really thought that I actually would see a Barn Owl in there. I looked at it a couple more times and yes it was true - beautiful!!! I let locals know and it was quite a popular bird throughout the day with at least fifteen birders coming to admire it through the barn door.

Roy, CFBW #2 lister, came a bit later in the day and was very pleased to finally catch up with this tricky species. He has tried hard several evenings this year in the hope of seeing one but was never successful. We returned to stake out Harrier Field as darkness grew and, just as we were giving up, it appeared and showed well as it hunted over the field and perched at a hole in the wall of another barn, creating a charismatic silhouette. It flew again and I started making kissing noises to tempt it towards us, it turned as soon as it heard me and fluttered feet over our heads for a few seconds before realising it had been foxed. What an amazing experience!

Barn Owl is a tricky species at Canons Farm. There's only been two or three sightings this year prior to today, but Geoff Barter's discovery of a pellet (recently confirmed as having been coughed up by a Barn Owl) in the late summer/early autumn indicates that our failed efforts to find them throughout the year did not mean that they weren't around.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Heading east for a Western

Western Sandpiper
Ian picked me up this morning at 7.00am and we began our journey to Norfolk for a peep that has been the subject of one big headache until a couple of days ago when the identification seemed to have been clinched at the rarer of the two possiblities.

Western Sandpiper (left) with Dunlin

The journey was relatively smooth and we arrived at the Cley visitor centre shortly after 10.30am, got our permits and headed for the hides. Dauke's Hide was crammed and there were few small waders around. After an anxious wait, a flock of about twenty Dunlin flew in and the first-winter WESTERN SANDPIPER was soon picked out. It was a little way off at first but later moved closer and decent views were had. The long, relatively slender bill was of course obvious and at times it seemed a little leggy. I struggled to make out rufous tones on the scaps, to be honest, but it seems this feature is only readily visible on the closest views. I did note that the breast-side markings appeared rather fine and the white breast patches that people were citing as a feature. The head profile seemed quite Dunlin like. I'll trust the ID of those of who had better views and are more experienced in peep ID than me. I gather this ID is sound so it goes on my list unless the BBRC later decide not to have it.
Western Sandpiper

Water Pipit
We looked for the Green-winged Teal that Ian needed but didn't succeed. A flock of somewhere around a hundred and fifty White-fronted Geese and a Water Pipit were the best of the rest. I had a quick seawatch off Salthouse hoping for Little Auk, a bird I've been waiting friggin years for (while Ian looked for Twite) and a couple that I bumped into on the way back to the car tried to put me on to a couple on the sea but Ian wouldn't wait - I managed an inconclusive glimpse of one pop up in this time. This apart, the sea produced an adult Little Gull, a Red-throated Diver, a Common Scoter, a drake Goldeneye, two Kittiwakes, and a few Gannets.

Saturday, 3 December 2011


I've just got back from a gutting trip to Northumberland with Ian and Manchester-based Liam Langley whom I got to know on Scilly this year. I got no sleep last night (went out to see The Big Year then Ian picked me up early for the twitch) and the rest of the day was pretty demanding, we checked five likely sites for the Greater Yellowlegs each with no success, obviously. As we neared the first site we pulled up when we saw some birders eying a group of geese. They were mainly Greylags but there was a Tundra Bean Goose in with them and a couple of nice adult Eurasian White-fronted Geese. We saw several large skeins of Pink-footed Geese and Ian was desperate to nail some Whoopers before heading south so we were shining the headlights on a lake after sunset! We found a group of five in the end do he was happy with that. We were all extremely frustrated about dipping the Yellowlegs. It had been around for two or three weeks, had been flushed by a friggin dog an hour before we got to the first site and is bound to be reported again tomorrow. We did see a few nice birds but it is hard to appreciate these things when you're in pursuit of something much rarer that you may not be able to get another shot at for a while. When heading for York (Liam and I were catching trains home; Ian's stayimg the weekend in Yorkshire) it was difficult to face the long, expensive return journey without the desired tick in the bag. Following putting thirty pounds ino a ticket machine to find moments later the bird was a Greenshank (Northamptonshire earlier in the year), Greater Yellowlegs becomes a bird with one of the biggest scores to settle with me. Ian & Liam's company was enjoyed, nonetheless, and I thank Ian for his efforts in transporting us. Such a shame we didn't get the return this time... Now, that Western Sand...