Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Norfolk etc


I got back late yesterday from a weekend away in Norfolk. I was a little disorientated and distressed; it meant Sunday was the first day without a visit to the patch in over three months. But it was okay as it’s late May, which is basically June, and until early August I will only have one realistic target bird in mind: Crossbill. Red-backed Shrike, Honey-buzzard and Golden Oriole could happen, so I will keep an eye out for them too. Otherwise, it’s pretty safe to leave the place unwatched for a couple of days.

Despite begging to stop at Breydon Water upon arrival in Norfolk on Saturday afternoon, the family didn't want to and it probably wouldn't have worked anyway, especially as we were stuck in more traffic than we anticipated. I knew the Broad-billed Sandpiper wouldn't stick around to the next day meaning that my tick-thirst in this bone dry spring would not be quenced and was therefore became pretty irrate.

On Sunday morning dad took me over to Breydon Water; as feared the Broad-billed Sand didn't appear and hasn't done so since. Squished a crow, nearly squished a family of Mallards. Mood didn't lighten. Stopped at Cleyspy and got an early birthday present in the form of a brilliant new pair of bins (my old pair are completely knackered e.g. both ends of the right element are so scratched that it is constantly like looking through mist; looking through the new pair is like looking through divine crystals). Tested them out at Cley on a couple of Little Gulls and recieved a free biology lesson on Kingfisher's eyes from the guy who found the Great Snipe. Family pub dinner followed, with a Barn Owl as a nice scene-setter.

Monday - slept in, a few minutes. Spent time with the family until about 1.00pm BST then homeward bound via a pair of Stone-curlews, and Lakenheath, which failed.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Nail the Quail

In recent days I've had Quail in the back of my mind, remembering that happy yet stressful day when 'wet my lips' was repeatedly uttered from a linseed field at Canons Farm last August and how great it would be if it happened again.

I had checked most of the farm and, while scanning from Lunch Wood, Dodge rang to inform me of a flock of Crossbills that were heading in my general direction, I folded up my scope and headed for Banstead Woods in the hope that they might take a liking to the number of conifers there - I had barely taken a couple of steps when the Quail sensors on either side of my head stopped me in my tracks. As usual I had to hear it a couple more times to make sure I really was hearing what I thought I was and then I sent out a text. I didn't actually know where the bird was, it didn't sound too far away and I thought it may even be in the very bare Broadfield - I walked down to Reads Bottom to pin it down and it turned out the noise was coming from the adjacent grassy field known as Horse Pasture.


A steady stream of birders gave it a go, including Badgeman and his cousin Clifford, the Manville brothers, Posh, Factor, Pyro & Gripper. Almost everyone (myself included) had to make do with only hearing the bird (despite putting in many hours of searching) but jammy Phantom and a birder from Ripley enjoyed views of the bird's bust as it sang. A late Whinchat was a good supporting act.

I will visit early tomorrow and hope for some kind of view (a photo would be brilliant) but hearing it is good enough for a patch year tick for me so . . .

. . . Canons Farm & Banstead Woods Year List 2011: 94 (80 at this point last year)

Thursday, 19 May 2011

A tern for the worse

Red Kite

I've had my fair share of 'ones that got away' this year (the most painful being a flock of low waders that I could so easily have bagged) and today I added another one to my list of birds that didn't quite get clinched.

I was standing near the derelict barn when I picked up an odd-looking shape fluttering away north, reasonably high up, 'what's that?' I asked myself - bins up 'it's a tern!'. I wasted no time in getting the scope on the bird but it was rapidly heading north and was into the light, and as it got further away the effect of the heat haze only worsened. While watching it I realised that I wasn't going to be able to ID it to species 'bugger, bugger, bugger' I muttered as it grew distant. I desperately tried to make out a wedge in the wing, the length of the streamers and the shape of the head but could not accurately discern any of these features. As I was leaving later in the day it clicked - I could have easily nailed it had I paid attention to the translucency of the wing, seeing as it was into the light. When you're faced with a situation where you have to make a quick identification you panic and these things often slip your mind; you tend to concentrate on one or two features and potential clinchers don't even cross occur to you until it's too late. The overwhelming likelihood is that it was a Common Tern (which certainly would have been good enough for me) but I guess you cannot rule out Arctic with a high-flying northbound tern at this time of year. Either way, I screwed up on a patch first today.

On the bright side I got some of my best views of Red Kite that I've ever had at Canons and had a couple of Greylags go over. I was joined for most of the day by Peter 'Polo' Grady who was great company and we succeeded in locating his target bird . . .

Friday, 13 May 2011

Rosey tern of fortunes

Roseate Tern

I have been getting to dread the breaking rarity or breaking mega tone on the pager more than ever lately. There have been plenty of top birds around and I've been completely free to go and see them, only everybody I know always either working or doesn't need the bird! Had I a car, I would, in theory, have bumped my British list up to around 310 in the last fortnight.

Colin Manville and I were contemplating the possibility of cramming ourselves into a hide at dusk in north Norfolk yesterday evening in the hope of seeing the Great Snipe. While we thought about it, we went and got this utterly splendid Roseate Tern near Eton. It is the same bird that I dipped at QM Res the other day only in a different place, just out of the London area but I wasn't overly bothered about that; it was great to catch up with a bird that I have tried for on multiple occasions in the past without any success and at such close range on a beautiful spring afternoon. We had almost talked ourselves into going for the Snipe when Colin realised he hadn't got his wallet - just as well, we would have dipped miserably.

female Cuckoo

Today at Canons, Roy and I enjoyed the sight of a pair of Cuckoos (see above). Could they be breeding? This now rare patch bird is certainly making itself available to all who look for them at the moment.

Now a plug. After months of work it's finally here (well almost) - the Canons Farm & Banstead Woods Bird Report 2010 will be available for £8 on 5th June. Very limited printun so let me know if you want one; canonsfarmbirds@hotmail.co.uk.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011


By the time I arrived at Canons, later than usual, I was in a foul mood. I had only caught the bus by the skin of my teeth and one of the wheels fell off my now trademark trolley along Garratts Lane. I was removing my valuables and preparing the trolley for its wait in a hedge for a later pick-up when I heard a Cuckoo singing. Panic ensued - it didn't sound too far away but I've never found it at all easy to pin down one after hearing it - in fact I don't think I've ever done it, I've only seen them as they've flown across or just happened to be sitting in a bush. I tried to hurry over to get a better angle on Lambert's Shaw, where I suspected the noise was coming from, and had a quick scan of the tree tops. To my shock, amazement and relief, the beast was sitting there, plain as anything - I needn't have wasted time moving around!

I didn't get too long on the bird before it flew off, but enough to get a look and a couple of record shots. Cuckoo is a rare bird at Canons now, with only one record last year (which I missed). In the mid 20th century there were a dozen singing males at the site annually . . .

In the early afternoon my dad took me to Queen Mother Reservoir where the Roseate Tern was clearly no longer present and not a lot else was kicking about.

Canons Farm & Banstead Woods Life List: 105
Canons Farm & Banstead Woods Year List 2011: 93
(80 at this point last year)

Monday, 2 May 2011


Little Gulls

After consistent reports of productive seawatching from the south coast over the previous few days I asked Eagle last night if he fancied a trip to Dungeness this morning - he was keen on the idea as there were a lot of lifers down there for him. Nothing that I needed had been seen but it had been a while since I had seen some of the stuff that was getting reported regularly.

We arrived at about 6.15am and joined the throngs of birders with similar hopes, packed into the hide and around its exterior. We settled down infront of the hide, below the windows. While still settling down, four Pomarine Skuas flew east (my main target, so I was sorted for the day!) - another passed close-in later on. Six Black-throated Divers, four of them in gorgeous summer plumage flew past, often close-in, were sublime. A couple of Arctic Skuas were good to see, too. Hundreds of Bar-tailed Godwits and scores of Knot, Whimbrel, Sanderlings and Grey Plovers passed by along with a single Greenshank and other birds a bit out of context such as Tufted Duck and Shoveler.

Glaucous Gull

Among the sparkling flock of Common Terns, good views of at least three Little Terns, a couple of Black Terns, at least one Arctic Tern, the odd Sandwich Tern and two beautiful adult Little Gulls were obtained. A couple of Wheatears were kicking about. We checked out the fishing boats area and, after a bit of searching, located the immature Glaucous Gull.

Eagle had a tick fest with eight lifers!!! I expected none and got none but fulfilled my aim of having an enjoyable morning out seeing some good birds with good company and we both left beaming!