Sunday, 30 January 2011

Local's best

Bittern roosting in a tree, well away from the fox that was prowling around!

I was getting ready to go to Canons this morning when my dad said 'Are you ready to go for the Eagle then?', I was confused and explained that I was planning on doing my patch but he kindly offered to take me for another attempt for the White-tailed Eagle in Hampshire as long as we were back by midday, I agreed. To get to it, we didn't see the bird, again.

I met Roy at Canons and I was very pleased with his front cover painting for the bird report that he brought along. He is a very talented artist! Just need to gather and confirm a couple of articles, finish off the species accounts and it will be ready for the print run. We didn't see much, one of the two currently residing Common Buzzards was on show.

I had more luck locally than with twitching. My parents then picked me up and we headed to Godstone. I found Bay Pond and teamed up with Neil Randon and another friendly bloke. After quite a bit of waiting, I walked up to the end of the path to get another angle, looked back to the other end and saw the Bittern perched in vegetation directly opposite Neil and our friend, I ran back and we all enjoyed absolutely epic views of the bird, my best ever. I was just about to snap it when it took off and settled in a slightly more distant tree, still top views though - see record shot (at this point it was getting pretty dark). Also at Godstone were a Kingfisher, a Great Crested Grebe, a pair of Gadwall, a Mistle Thrush and a couple of Egyptian Geese. Satisfied, I went and had dinner with my parents in the Beefeater round the corner, which was very nice. Past midday it wasn't a bad day.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Promise fulfilled


I made a promise to myself a few weeks ago that I would find the time to head down to Holmethorpe Sand Pits to check the place out properly for the first time and get Smew for my London/local lists and Goldeneye for my local list. Last week I found a Smew at a private site that was incongruously in my local listing area but not in the LNHS recording area (by about 150 metres), plus Goldeneye was had not been resolved so a visit to the famed pits was still in order.

Goldeneye (female on left, 1st winter on right)

I did Canons from 8.00am to 1.45pm and was not rewarded with anything special . . . again. I still haven't seen Little Owl or Lesser Spotted Woodpecker there this year (I fear that the local specimens of the former may have been killed off by the harsh conditions late last year); last January was equally birdless. Only forty or so days until the first migrants come!

Dad dropped me off at the Mercers Lake car park shortly after 2.00pm and a very kind dog walker took the trouble to show me directly to the best place to view Mercers West Pit and Spynes Mere (two Alsatians Canons lady should take a leaf out of her book). I was busy counting over a hundred Lesser Black-backed Gulls when Kojak joined me. Shortly afterwards I picked up a female-type Goldeneye and Kojak suggested we walk round and view the north end of Mercers West properly, we did so and I picked up two redhead Smew flying in. Here the Goldeneye was joined by another, the pair consisted of a female and a first winter. We diverted on our way back to Mercers Lake and succeeded in seeing the Little Owl just south of Spynes Mere. Mercers Lake had lots of gulls, particularly Black-headed. We lightly scanned them, not picking out anything exciting before deciding it would be best to head off. It would be so easy to miss a Bonaparte's Gull. My two targets bagged!

Little Owl

I had stayed at Holmethorpe much longer than I intended and by the time dad was driving me to Godstone for the Bittern it was almost dark and I couldn't find any point of access anyway, I'll probably give it another go tomorrow.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Snapshot of the past

While playing around with Google Earth this evening I spotted the '1945' button, not knowing what it did I clicked it and it turned London into its state in 1945. Amazed, I headed straight for Canons Farm & Banstead Woods, expecting unrecognisable fields and entirely different wooded areas. I was very wrong; it is almost identical to the current day. The most noticeable difference is the modern presence of Legal & General and how Broad Field (formerly Big Field) was once two fields. Far more striking is the difference between Beddington in 1945 and current day, it is entirely unrecognisable.

Google states that you can use its material freely for illustrative purposes so I think I'm within my rights to reproduce the images here - just imagine all the Wrynecks, Cirl Buntings, Grey Partridges, Red-backed Shrikes and Willow Tits flying around, they probably in those pixels! The dotted white lines indicate patch boundaries (I think I'm right with Beddington but will happily be corrected).

Canons Farm & Banstead Woods 1945

Canons Farm & Banstead Woods modern day

Beddington Farmlands 1945

Beddington Farmlands modern day

Down about an Eider

record shot of the Smew

The plan for today was to go for the Bewick's Swans at Cobham after college with Phil but seeing as they had moved off we decided to look for the Eider at a private site instead (I was glad, really, as the Eider was comfortably within my local listing area and a mega bird for it too).

The lake at the site looked brilliant for birds but there was no Eider. I had stumbled across the site on Google Maps before and thought it looked promising, looking at the lake infront of me I was even more convinced that several scarce and rare birds must have gone through unrecorded in the past. I found a redhead Smew (a local tick for me, so not a wasted trip - I thought it may be a London tick too but the border buts straight through the middle of the lake and the Smew was unfortunately just out of the circle!) and there were about 27 Wigeon present. 66 Lapwings were scattered over a reasonably sized sand spit and I daydreamed about the other species of wader that must have set foot there before. I did notice, however, the total lack of Grey Herons and any ducks other than Mallard, Tufted Duck, Wigeon and Smew. I'm tempted to, when I'm older and have a car, attempt to gain access rights and make occasional visits.

Yesterday, after spending the morning at the patch, I made a casual visit to Reculver with Phil. My main hope was Hooded Crow but we couldn't even find a Carrion Crow. 3 Shorelarks and several Red-throated Divers were very nice, though.

Saturday, 15 January 2011


The third weekend twitch in a row this year (regrettably, in a way, since I feel guilty for neglecting Canons) and it was bound to happen: my first big dip of the year.

Slaty-backed Gull, first for Britain (and in London!), would have been my first first for Britain and I was very excited about getting this bird. Phil picked me up at about 6.30am and we were on site with hundreds of other birders within an hour.

I saw naff all, I couldn't even get on any of the Caspian Gulls - three Pintail was the highlight of the day. Nothing but a painful and boring waste of time when I could have been on my patch. What made it even worse was knowing that I could have easily gone yesterday but declined a lift offer in my confidence that it would stick for at least one more day.

Thanks to a lift back courtesy of Kojak in company with The Monk and Posh the day was not made even worse by having to travel back home on the sodding train and underground.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Year list so far

Although I am again not actively going for birds I need for the year I am, as always, keeping count of my year list so that I can compare with previous years. Seeing as I've had a good first week and a bit I have just counted up my total and I'm on 112. This is a very conservative count; I'm 99% sure I had Mallard, Greylag and Reed Bunting yesterday but didn't write them down and I also have not added some very convincing probable Mealies at the patch on Saturday (rump was only feature not seen). Despite this I'm still eight ahead of my entire January 2010 list.

Sunday, 9 January 2011


Johnny 'Badgeman' Allan picked me up at 5.10am this morning and we headed to Wallington to jump in Nick 'Pyro' and Russell 'Gripper' Gardner's Northern Harrier-bound car. The first bird of the day was a Woodcock which flew over the motorway in the early hours. We also had two Barn Owls on the way so things were looking quite good.

drake American Wigeon (left) with drake Eurasian Wigeon

No more than twenty minutes after setting up at Thornham Harbour, viewing towards Titchwell, had we got onto the splendid juvenile male Northern Harrier - it was a very striking bird indeed, but I'm not sure what the exact situation is with the identification. Also seen here was a ringtail Hen Harrier and vast skeins of Pink-footed Geese amongst other things.

Spotted Redshank

With the problem of the short winter days, we had to head to Titchwell quite sharpish. A quick check of a small gathering of Mute Swans near the entrance road provided a Whooper. A good variety of birds where seen here. A lovely flock of about forty Twite on the brackish marsh was brilliant to see; I've tried for this species on numerous occasions and never had any luck so this was an overdue lifer. Also on the marshes were about four smart Spotted Redshanks and a Sanderling. The sea provided the most interest, the highlight being a drake Long-tailed Duck, a party of five Snow Buntings and several Velvet Scoters. Other noteworthy birds included Red-necked Grebe, Slavonian Grebe, about five Eider, a Great Northern Diver, a Goldeneye, a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits and hundreds upon hundreds of Common Scoters. On the way out a few Siskins and Lesser Redpolls showed well.


The next stop was to Cley and very brief. The prim drake American Wigeon was picked up relatively easily with a flock of Eurasians.

Then on to Cantley Marshes. The walk was pleasantly shorter than expected and the gatherings of Taiga Bean and Eurasian White-fronted Geese weren't a problem to find. Nor was the Lesser White-fronted Goose particularly. I'm not sure about the origins of this bird so will wait to see what the BBRC make of it before putting a mark in any box. Another Barn Owl put in a brief appearance as did a very smug local. We toyed with the idea of going to look for a Rough-legged Buzzard at Thorpe Marshes but when the satnav instructed us to 'bear left, then, take the ferry' across the river we thought it best to head home. Final noteworthy birds of the day before the journey back really got going included probably the showiest Barn Owl of the day and a group of ten or so Red-legged Partridges.

Lesser White-fronted Goose with Taiga Bean Geese

Many thanks to Nick and Russell for allowing me to fill their free seat and to Johnny for transporting me to and from Wallington. It was a great day!

Saturday, 1 January 2011

New Year's Day in Cornwall

Pacific Diver head (though it may as well be a tea leaf!)

Rob 'The Hob' Stokes picked me up at about 4.20am and we headed down to Cornwall in search of the Pacific Diver that has been seen for a few days. We started to muse as to what the first bird of the year would be and to our surprise it turned out to be a Barn Owl which flew across the M3 at 5.30am. Blackbird and Robin were added an hour before sunrise and a very quick bird dashed low across the road which was most likely a Woodcock but we didn't get enough detail on it. Birds such as Lapwing, Common Buzzard, Pheasant, Sparrowhawk and Rook were also added on the journey.

Glaucous Gull

We arrived at Marazion at around 10.00am and immediately got onto a single Red-throated Diver and a couple of Great Northern Divers offshore along with Guillemots, Shags, Gannets and that sort of thing while waders included Bar-tailed Godwit and Sanderling amongst other things.


Following reports of interesting birds of the Jubilee Pool we headed off that way. Glaucous Gull, Red-necked Grebe, Razorbill, Slavonian Grebe, Eider, Common Scoter, Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Kittiwake and further Great Northern Divers were picked up here. The pager then bleeped informing us that our target had been picked up off Jubilee Pool so we headed straight over there instead of faffing around trying to spot it from where we were.

Black Redstart

On arrival we were greeting by John Swann as he was leaving, he had picked up the bird with a group of gulls coming up to a kilometre out. After a bit of anxious scanning the PACIFIC DIVER was bagged and clear views were had despite the distance. As well as its small, rounded structure the bird clearly lacked the thigh patch of Black-throated Diver and the neat chin strap could be seen at times. Quite a crowd of birders had built up by the time we left for Marazion again (it looked like the bird was drifting that way).

Slavonian Grebe

At Marazion we added Bittern to our lists but couldn't pick up the diver again. I won't give names but I was surprised when quite a well respected birder confidently called a Shag as the Pacific; I dropped a few strong hints but he wasn't getting it. From a slightly different spot he then picked up two relatively close Great Northern Divers and called the smaller individual as the bird, again sticking with the ID and listing all the features; I didn't know what to say. After he left I let another birder who was with us my opinion but he thought I was joking and has no doubt ticked it off. It was an innocent mistake but just shows that even the opinion of respectable birders is not something to always rely on.

very much a record shot of the Red-necked Grebe

A quick stop at the Hayle Estuary before the journey home added a few species to the list including a group of six redhead Goosander.

Purple Sandpiper

Tomorrow I start my Canons Farm & Banstead Woods Year List 2011 - I am determined to get to 100 this time.