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Sunday, 21 May 2017

Mole Valley Bird Race, 20th May 2017

Yesterday, Christian C, Phil W and I (the Short-larked Toads a.k.a. The Nightingales of Laughter) emarked on campaign to seize the coveted Mole Valley Bird Race trophy on the event's fourth coming. We were out in the field non-stop between 4am and 8pm, finishing on 86 species, enough to put us in second place out of the four teams, not bad considering our local knowledge was a little patchy. Linnet to Win It came out on top with an incredible 92 species - what a total for one day in a single Surrey district!

We started just before dawn with heathland specialties, quickly rattling off heathland essentials with Nightjars churring, Woodcocks roding, Woodlarks fluting, Redstarts chiming, Tawny Owls hooting and Cuckoo... cuckoo-ing. Later on we ticked off Tree Pipit, Marsh Tit and Firecrest there. A visit to Buckland Sand Pit saw us find a Mole Valley mega as an adult Sandwich Tern patrolled the lake, slightly altering the other teams' schedules! Other highlights over the day included Spotted Flycatcher, Raven, Common Sandpiper, Common Tern, Little Egret, Hobby, Nightingale, Lesser Whitethroat, Yellowhammer, Peregrine and unseasonable Black-headed Gull.

Sandwich Tern at Buckland
Common Sandpiper at Buckland

18-19th May 2017

Thursday started at Canons Farm, producing patch interest in the form of Cormorant, Grey Heron, six Mallards and a Lesser Black-backed Gull... For a change, I then headed to the London Wetland Centre where little was going on but it was nice to see Common Tern, Common Sandpiper and Little Ringed Plover.

Friday's forecast was for a rainy morning but yet again it turned out to be mostly dry. I stuck around at Beddington for much of the day anyway, as Christian C and Magnus A were around, along with Koje. The undoubted highlight was the spanking drake Garganey found by Frank P on the South Lake. The (or possibly another?) 2cy Iceland Gull, a Common Sandpiper and a couple of LRPs were also about.

♂ Garganey at Beddington
Swallows at Beddington

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

16-17th May 2017

Loitering around the Harholt Plantation at Banstead Woods yesterday morning proved fruitful, with a Spotted Flycatcher, two Hobbies, a Red Kite, a flock of four Grey Herons and two Lesser Whitethroats providing ample interest. A quick run around Canons Farm in the afternoon added a couple of House Martins. In the evening, I teamed up with Paul S for a recce ahead of the Mole Valley Bird Race on Saturday, calling in at a few sites and producing highlights of Peregrine, Garden Warbler and Lapwing.

Spotted Flycatcher at Banstead Woods


One of two Hobbies snatching bugs out of the air over Banstead Woods' Harholt Plantation

Any flock of Grey Herons over CFBW is a rare sight and indicative of something more significant than short commutes by local birds

2cy Red Kite over Banstead Woods
With rain pouring first thing this morning seemingly confirming the all-day washout forecast, I opted to head to Beddington and was frustrated that the showers soon petered out entirely, meaning I could have stuck to my routine of visiting CFBW in the morning and making it less likely that something would be forced low over Beddington. Finding nothing of any real novelty at the main lake other than a somewhat random and unsettled Great Crested Grebe, where the 2cy Iceland Gull made an in-flight appearance, I trekked around Hundred Acre but little was on offer there either, save for presumably the same GCG looking rather leery!

Great Crested Grebe lurking on Jim's Pit
Lapwing on Hundred Acre
I was due to be away for the next couple of days but things have suddenly changed so there will be more chances for local birding tomorrow and Friday.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Banstead Woods, Beddington Farmlands and Canons Farm, 15th May 2017

Mapping out breeding birds at Banstead Woods early on, a couple of Canada Geese overhead was the only vaguely unusual sighting for the patch but I was happy to be hearing the local Treecreepers, Goldcrests, etc. It started raining, meaning only one thing: a diversion to Beddington. There was little on offer around the main lake, save for a couple of 2cy Caspian Gulls and two Little Ringed Plovers. A few Swallows, Sand Martins and Swifts were brought down by the showers. Back at Canons in the afternoon, House Martin finally fell onto the patch year list when 14 flew through. A Cormorant was also noteworthy.

2cy Caspian Gulls at Beddington

Cormorant at Canons

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Beddington Farmlands and Leith Hill, 14th May 2017

Rocking up at the Beddington hide this morning (too rainy for Canons), it was the same story of a couple of Common Sandpipers and Little Ringed Plovers on the main island. An Egyptian Goose screaming away and the drake Pochard were about the highlights, along with a Sand Martin lingering. Kojak arrived for his WeBS survey and, after the apparent finale of the rain, I headed towards the far side of the mound. After reading the short paper in this month's British Birds on mixed singing Willow Warblers, I was pleased to stumble upon such a bird in voice along 'Parkside', issuing a mainly Willow refrain with a few 'chiffs' and 'chaffs' thrown in.

Walking back across the mound, a Whimbrel flew across my sight and seemed to pitch down before shortly crossing back towards its origin by the side of the south lake. A scarce bird overall at the farm, particularly in the last couple of years or so, this was a day-maker. 

Whimbrel

confused (or innovative?) Willow Warbler
riotous Egyptian Goose
the Beddington 'Warden'
Christian C and Koje managed to catch up with it later in the morning before CC and I headed to Leith Hill, enjoying a panoply of heathland birds but the biggest surprise was a pair of Stonechats, a species that hasn't bred there for a few years.

♀ Stonechat at Leith Hill

Beddington Farmlands, 12th May 2017

A morning spent on Hundred Acre with Kojak and Magnus A saw the nets open for a little while but we packed up earlier than usual when rain looked as though it was going to set in. A few more Reed Warblers were processed, as was another Rose-ringed Parakeet and a Whitethroat. Birding highlights while doing the rounds include a fly-over Yellow Wagtail, the 2cy Iceland Gull again, a Little Ringed Plover, two Common Sandpipers and a couple of Lesser Whitethroats.

2cy Iceland Gull
♂ Whitethroat

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Middleton Lakes RSPB, 9th May 2017; Canons Farm and Beddington Farmlands, 11th May 2017

Back in the Midlands for work on Tuesday, I took another chance to walk around Middleton Lakes, listening to three Cuckoos, including a female, and a variety of common warblers including five Garden Warblers. On the scrapes were two Ringed Plovers, a Dunlin, a Common Sandpiper, a Little Ringed Plover, two Mediterranean Gulls and a few Avocets. Perhaps 300 Swifts swirled around overhead, along with 10 House Martins (worryingly, my highest count anywhere so far this spring!). Four or so Common Terns were also busying themselves.

Common Terns
Today, I started with a walk around Canons. It was evident that it was still very much off its past form. Birding there has been a challenge this spring. However, a showy Garden Warbler, a personal patch year tick, cheered things up. A quick afternoon trip to Beddington yielded highlights of Yellow Wagtail, Little Ringed Plover and Common Sandpiper.

Garden Warbler

Monday, 8 May 2017

Cliffe Pools RSPB, 8th May 2017

Magnus A and I teamed up for an away trip to Cliffe Pools with a dose of wader action in mind. We did alright, with 18 species of wader among our total of 81 birds. Watching squadrons of Grey Plovers, Bar-tailed Godwits, Ringed Plovers and Dunlin get pushed around the tide was a great spectacle, while other species included a single Spotted Redshank, eight Sanderlings, three Little Ringed Plovers, Whimbrel, a flock of around 70 Black-tailed Godwits, three Greenshanks, three Common Sandpipers, a few Turnstones and the hordes of breeding Avocets.

The highlight came while scanning the River Thames, a Crane entering my field of view as I scoped to the south and being tracked for around ten minutes as it pushed gently north-north-west. I've only seen the species two or three times in Britain before so was rather chuffed! Along the footpaths we were serenaded by six of both Nightingale and Cuckoo, along with a variety of warblers including six Lesser Whitethroats, while a Hobby dashed overhead.

Crane
Cuckoo

Sunday, 7 May 2017

5-7th May 2017

I drove back home on Friday and had a quick walk around Canons Farm, seeing my first 16 Swifts of the year at the patch. An early start on Saturday for ringing at Beddington with Koje and Josh B, which ended up being a reduced session due to the breeze but another successful one, with a few Reed Warblers and Whitethroats caught. The birding highlights of the morning were a quite confiding Wood Sandpiper on the Mitigation Scrape and the 2cy Iceland Gull from last week again. Good numbers of Swifts were moving through and Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover and Lesser Whitethroat were also noted. On the walk to the site in the pre-dawn gloom, I managed a Beddington tick in the form of a Barn Owl.

Wood Sandpiper
2cy Iceland Gull

In the evening, I joined Phil W for a few hours at Bough Beech Reservoir in Kent, taking in the sound of three or four singing Nightingales and at least seven Garden Warblers! Why the latter species is evidently so common at the reservoir (as it is at other sites in the area such as Sevenoaks Wildfowl Reserve) but scarce in my local area, I'd love to know. A singing Cuckoo became the first one I've actually seen this year when it perched atop a dead tree and two shy drake Mandarins provided another highlight, along with a singing Lesser Whitethroat. I was greeted by four locally breeding Swifts screaming overhead when I got home, the first back.

Cuckoo at Bough Beech Reservoir

This morning, Paul G and I led the Banstead Arts Festival bird walk at Canons Farm and Banstead Woods, not finding a lot in the offputting conditions other than a Little Owl, two Red-legged Partridges, two Swifts and the odd Swallow but the participants were quite happy with that haul.


Thursday, 4 May 2017

Bowland, 4th May 2017

 Banished to Middle England for work, I had most of the day free so what else to do after clock-off than tackle the extra couple of hours to Lancashire where a raptorial celebrity was on offer?


Soon after breaking into beautiful Bowland, it was a matter of dropping the gears to complete the last few sloping, winding miles to the sweet little village of Dunsop Bridge. The surprisingly large pay and display car park was also surprisingly full so I was grateful to the thoughtful chap who secured me his space when he left and gave me his parking ticket, as well as giving a detailed run-down of the bird's location and habits.


With a spring in my step, the kind that comes along with a bright and smooth-sailing day and no serious time constraints, I embarked along the bridleway towards the Whitendale Valley. Willow Warbler song trickled off the slopes while the stony stream rang with the calls of Common Sandpipers and Grey Wagtails. Stinted bursts of song a little further along alerted me to a gorgeous male Pied Flycatcher, although he didn't hang around for a picture.


It felt about twice as long as I expected it to be but I eventually reached a huddle of birders who reported that the harrier had gone AWOL for the last hour or so. Bugger. A Red Grouse was showing, which was my first in a while and raised the spirits again. The voracious wind made it challenging to scan the valley to the north properly but perseverance soon paid off, the adult male PALLID HARRIER sliding into my field of view from the west and plonking itself on the opposite side. And there it stayed for at least the next 90 minutes, at which point I felt I ought to make tracks. Unfortunately it didn't perform any of the grand aerial displays or calls that I was hoping for, instead affording fastidious attention to its plumage condition, only allowing itself a few moments at a time to nestle into the heather between bouts of almost obsessive preening. With the wind behind me, the descent back to the car was a breeze and made all the better by calls of Crossbills somewhere overhead.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Leith Hill, Beddington Farmlands and Canons Farm, 1-2nd May 2017

Having not been able to attend any of the recent Leith Hill Towerwatches, I was excited to convene with Matt P, Paul S and Stuart C yesterday morning. After huffing and puffing our way up from the Windy Gap car park, we yet again greeted by a scene swathed in a yucky, cold fog. There was very little moving and we were just about to go when a Hawfinch flew across our view to the north, a new bird for me at Leith Hill and my first in Surrey for a few years! Made up with the finch, I was content to leave when it started to rain quite heavily, having also noted four Crossbills, a Woodcock and a singing Firecrest around the tower, as well as hearing my first Cuckoo and two Garden Warblers of the year.

I took the rain as a signal to head to the hide at Beddington, where I joined Dodge, Koje and Swifty. Ringed Plover and Redshank on the main lake were the first I've seen locally this year and I picked out a 2cy Caspian Gull bearing the yellow German ring X242. There was also a Common Sandpiper and two Little Ringed Plovers knocking around but a Little Egret was more of a surprise.

2cy Caspian Gull 'X242' on Monday
Ringed Plover on Monday
Redshank on Monday
Planning on visiting Canons first this morning before heading to Beddington, I opted to do it the other way round when I saw how foggy it was outside, meaning it was bound to be a pea-souper at Canons. Starting with a walk around the south-east corner, I stopped for a quick look at the landfill site on the way and spotted the 2cy Caspian Gull X242 again. The walk was fairly uneventful in terms of migrants, save for two Yellow Wagtails flying over. There were several rather sweet Canada Goose broods being taken out by their parents and the local Lapwings were making their presence known. Back at the lake, I joined the same team as yesterday; the Redshank was still poking around the islands and a Common Sandpiper whirred to and fro. One or two Red Kites passed overhead, the first time I've seen a complete specimen at Beddington! I had a walk at Canons in the afternoon but saw little of note, failing to find Steve's Ring Ouzel from yesterday.

Sedge Warbler today
Little Egret today
Red Kite today
♂ Lapwing today
one of at least four Canada Goose broods today