Thursday, 22 April 2010

Two more Canons ticks

I found a stunning male Whinchat today at Canons Farm at the spot that is fast becoming the best birding point on the whole site. While I was watching it the tits started alarm calling and the chat tilted its head skywards, I looked up to find my first Canons Farm Hobby. It circled a little then flew NE towards Banstead Woods. 2 ticks in one after-school trip, not bad. At 80, I'm now only 3 behind the top Canon man Steve Gale.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Canon # 78

An after-school trip today was rewarded with excellent views of a Red Kite that drifted low south west over Canons Farmhouse towards Burgh Heath. This is my 78th bird for Canons Farm and Banstead Woods and a long overdue London tick.

The only camera I had on me was my mobile phone so I waited until it got a bit further away to phone-scope it, obtaining the poor record shot above.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

patch joys

Canons Farm works in strange ways: there have been records of all sorts of good London and Surrey birds but not one of Grey Wagtail; I got 5 good patch ticks this weekend but no-one has seen Whitethroat this year.

This weekend has been good for bird movement at the patch with a Lapwing and a Sand Martin yesterday (and a heard-only Yellow Wagtail) and a female Goshawk (found by Kev, 2nd site record), the site's first ever Tree Pipit and a Yellow Wagtail (seen this time) (both found by me). Also 4 Northern Wheatears (3 males), 3 House Martins, a Sand Martin and about 10 Swallows and the site's 2nd ever Egyptian Goose (found by Roy Weller). All in all an excellent weekend, putting me on 78 for the site. Photographed are one of the male Northern Wheatears and the female from today.

Monday, 12 April 2010


I spent Saturday and Sunday nights near Tiverton, Devon, with my parents this weekend, seeing friends and trying to mop up a couple of British ticks.

Arriving Saturday afternoon, I straight away went on a brief walk along the river near the B&B, hoping to get Dipper. Alas, I didn't succeed but I did find a couple of Mallard broods. One brood of 11 appeared abandoned. At our friends' house that evening, a single Swallow flew over.

I was up early Sunday morning for another attempt at Dipper. The apparently abandoned Mallard brood had dropped in number to 8 and I found one dead duckling on the bank. A pair of Ravens flew low over a field higher up the valley. A Kingfisher dashed past while a Grey Wagtail was feeding on rocks at the weir. After a while staking out the weir I got onto a Dipper as it dashed past, not very satisfying, I really wanted better views. A Swallow and a Common Buzzard were also present amongst other things.

I recommended Dawlish Warren as a great outing for all and I immediately sloped off up the spit to scan the sea for the female Surf Scoter. I scanned and scanned from all angles, picking up a few yearticks but not the Scoter in question. I was dragged back by the others after a couple of hours to pretend to enjoy the amusements while I was longing to go back and desperately scan some more. The trip to Dawlish ended tragically when 'positive' news came through on the pager just as we were leaving - and there was no turning back - we had to meet the others at Labrador Bay. Yearticks here were Fulmar, Common Scoter and Shag. Gannet and Red-breasted Merganser were also seen.

Cirl Bunting

I grumpily walked around a couple of steep fields at Labrador Bay. It was pretty dead, not many birds could be seen or heard. I was on the verge of giving up when I heard the unmistakable rattling song of a Cirl Bunting, and another one nearby, phew. After a bit of waiting, I eventually got very, very good views of one of the singing males (which was at an area of cleared woodland). A nice and much-needed British tick, thanks to Joe Ray for the site recommendation.
After having dinner with the friends at a nice carvery, we drove up to the edge of Exmoor and enjoyed excellent views over the stunning area at dusk, dodging Pheasants on the way.

Cirl Bunting

Early Monday morning saw me seeking better views of Dipper. The Mallard brood had disappeared. A Grey Wagtail was feeding on the rocks, a Kingfisher piped away but passed unseen and after a while watching the weir I lifted my binoculars to enjoy good views of a feeding Dipper! I managed a poor digi-binned record shot. I haven't seen this species since I spent two weeks in Wales in 2007. A very pale Common Buzzard flew low overheard in excellent light and set 2 Swallows off on one.


Dad took me to Dawlish again in the morning for another desperate stab at the Surf Scoter and I again failed miserably, seeing only Shag, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Scoter etc. The tide being out again probably didn't help, as well as the sun being directly in front of me and there being a fair bit of heat haze over the unsettled sea. We went to see our friends one last time, seeing a Sparrowhawk on the way. Sitting in their garden another Sparrowhawk unsettled the many House Sparrows and a couple of Swallows flew over.

The journey back saw even more Common Buzzards (a species I saw an awful lot of during the trip) and a Red Kite that dad skillfully picked out over the M4 (yeartick).

Friday, 9 April 2010

It's about time!

Avocet, Elmley

This morning negative news came out on the Rainham Black-winged Stilt, and I was pretty cheesed off. Despite this, Phil and I headed up to that area for general birding in the area.

Our first stop was, naturally, Ingrebourne Valley for what I thought would be another dreadful failure in finding my main tart bird (at least I would be able to add it to the long list I give to people who say 'You still need Gropper!?!?' which is full of places I've tried in desperate attempts to tick off my main tart).

To our surprise, we managed to find the right spot (even though directions were really dodgy) and after a short while I heard the distinctive reeling song of the Grasshopper Warbler and called Phil down.We enjoyed close range views of the bird as it sang, though it was elusive most of the time.

Unfortunately, Phil wasn't quite quick enough to get a shot of it, and it moved before I could digiscope it but I did get a really dodgy shot with Phil's SLR that I'll put up when he sends it to me. I was just elated to finally connect with this embarrassingly tarty species (a very nice one at that, my sort of bird) and relieved to have such a big weight off my chest as a result (also it was convieniently in London).

Other birds in the area included my first Common Whitethroats of the year (a pair and a solitary singing male), a handful of Cetti's Warblers, Willow Warblers, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs.

We made a very brief trip to Dagenham, failing to locate yesterday's Ring Ouzel then Rainham, which ended up just being lunch in the cafe, before heading off to Minster, Sheppey to have a look for another Ring Ouzel (Phil's main tart bird). This also failed and the only birds of note were an adult and a 1st summer Mediterranean Gull.

A drive up and back again along the Elmley RSPB entrance track produced little of note, but it was nice seeing the nesting Redshanks and Lapwings close up and seeing large congregations of Curlew. A showy Brown Hare kept us occupied for a few minutes. Scanning from the toilets, 4 Avocets, a year tick, were noted before heading home.

And a couple of photos of one of the 3 Northern Wheatears that were at Canons Farm yesterday . . .

. . . and one from Wednesday, when 5 were on site together . . .

Monday, 5 April 2010

Gorgeous Swift

Alpine Swift

I was disappointed this morning when news came the reply on the pager to my RFI was negative on the Alpine Swift, and the Rainham Hoopoe had also decided it could find somewhere better to go.

After a bit of thought I decided it was probably wisest to go up to that area regardless, just in case something was found and on the off chance that I would find something for myself. This turned out to be a good decision as my heart jumped when positive news of the Swift came through on the pager, off to Chafford Hundred!Upon arrival at Chafford Gorges EWT reserve no sooner had I looked out of the car window than I got onto the Alpine Swift hawking over the visitor centre! I got out of the car and enjoyed the next 2 hours watching the stunner flying around me as I was munching on a light lunch on the balcony of the centre, birding heaven! The bird was accompanied by a couple of Sand Martins and a Swallow. A male Kestrel caused the bird to disappear for about 5 minutes as it hunted beneath me.Swallow

At 1.40pm I jumped into dad's car again and we made our way to Rainham. While the parents were doubtlessly having an enthralling time sitting in the car for 3 hours I was enjoying a casual afternoon's birding, not seeing anything amazing but a couple of Little Ringed Plovers were nice and provided another year tick. Other than a Peregrine there was very little else of note in the area.
Little Ringed Plover

At 4.55pm I was passing through the visitor centre on the way back to car and was completely unaware that I was missing another (or the same) Alpine Swift that reportedly made a brief visit at that time around the centre. I didn't see anyone else looking and anything in particular and of course didn't notice any Swifts overhead . . . strange.

There are some much better photographs of this bird elsewhere on the internet if you surf around a little bit.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Fudge Duck

I was on a downer at Canons Farm and Banstead Woods today after missing 2 Golden Plovers (a mega patch bird, the second record - found by Roy Weller) until I got a phone call from Steve Gale letting me know that a female Ferruginous Duck was at Holmethorpe Sand Pits.

I rang dad up and jumped in the car, risking missing another good patch bird, and within half an hour I was on site and walking towards the flooded area that the duck had been seen on.
After a bit of scanning I was on the female FERRUGINOUS DUCK, my 262nd British bird and a world lifer too - and it was in London! I walked back to sort out accurate directions for someone and when I came back the bird had disappeared. Graham James arrived on scene and eventually he got onto it and we managed to watch it at the back of the flooded area for a while but it was elusive and very difficult to see when it was hiding in the shade behind foliage. We got onto a couple of Common Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk which were enjoying the brief spouts of nice weather.Graham left and the bird showed a bit better, I waded along a flooded path to see if I could get better views from the other side, and I did, managing to get pretty close. Annoyingly it tucked its head back and it seemed like its mind was set on having a good snooze; the bird only ever lifted its head very briefly when I was close to it.

This is the closest thing to a BB rarity that I've seen within 10 miles of home.

Wheatear for Canons at last

I finally connected with my much overdue first Canons Farm and Banstead Woods Wheatear on Tuesday 30th March. Roy Weller found the bird at around midday with the two Black Redstarts (one turns out to be an immature male, because it is singing - but looks identical to a female) and I twitched it after school. That puts me on 72 for the patch.