Saturday, 23 March 2013

Snowy spring day

Liam's down at the moment; today was our local day. We started with the Mickleham Hawfinches, with about 45 birds seen, plus three Marsh Tits. The weather was atrocious so we chose the relative shelter of the hide at Beddington over the open fields of Canons, getting only two Shelducks, the usual Tree Sparrows and a Green Sandpiper of any note. The wind was blowing the snow right into the hide so we cowered away over to McDonald's for a while, before the weather calmed and we finally made it to Canons Farm. Here we beholded the most incongruous sight of the male Wheatear trying to feed in the snow - poor thing... also showing was the Barn Owl was in its usual barn. Little else was on offer (the Red-legged Partridge also showed), but it was good to catch up with Steve, Jamie and Ian.
Wheatear at Canons Farm in the snow!!!
Hawfinch, Juniper Bottom

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Barn to ash

The Barn Owl was spotted roosting in an ash tree at the border or Harrier Field and Broadfield this afternoon by Nigel Sluman shortly after I arrived - usually roosting in the barns this was a unique viewing opportunity not to be missed. The bird showed superbly at 25-ft range in the open at the entrance to a hollow in the tree in the bright sunshine, just before the clouds went in. It left the roost at 5.54pm and hunted the Watchpoint field, then Harrier Field, then around Lunch Wood. The four of us there ran around like headless chickens when it was hunting, trying to best intercept it for photographs. It turned out that when we left a good place to wait for it to come to us, it flew straight there but I managed a couple of record flight shots nonetheless! I'm hoping to get further opportunities for the money shot of it flying at close range in decent light soon. Also finally heard my first patch Tawny Owl of the year in the evening and a couple of Woodcocks flying about.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Three shades of grey and more owl action


A spur of the moment urge triggered a brief visit to the Water Colour Lagoons at Holmethorpe this afternoon, being rewarded with finding an adult Yellow-legged Gull in with the Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls! Back at Canons, the male Stonechat and Wheatear were still kicking around Reads Bottom and the Barn Owl gave another spectacular fly-past in the last of the daylight for six observers.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Wet weekend part two

First Wheatear (male) of the year (same date as the first last year (a female)!) - found by Josh, below

Another productive day's birding at the farm, mainly with Jamie, Ian and Josh plus other visitors including Nick Gardner. It turned out to be another enjoyable day, with Josh finding the first Wheatear of the year - a stonking male in the Reads Bottom area, sharing space with the current male Stonechat. We worked out how to view the Barn Owl roosting, it's in the least viewable part of the building but there is a way of seeing it! Later in the afternoon, in the last hour of daylight, it appeared for five observers, surveying its territory from the rear entrance of the barn again. It took ages for it to fly but it eventually did... re-entering the barn straight after catching one vole! Five minutes later it flew out and towards us, though, and towards Stoney Nob, affording good flight views. A male Brambling in with the Chaffinches was a pleasure to watch, too, and other highlights included the Red-legged Partridge, two Canada Geese, a Siskin, a Grey Heron and a dozen Meadow Pipits. Just as Jamie and I were approaching our cars, two Woodcocks flew over Canons Farmhouse together, finishing off another cracking soaking wet day!

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Wet day ends up shining

This morning was truly depressing, with unbirdable conditions at the farm. I sat in the car with the wind behind me, window down, trying to keep alive a degree of concentration and hope - to not much avail. I decided to break the morning up by having a quick look at the Hawfinches at Juniper Bottom, which I hypothesised would be a slightly more pleasant place to be, situated in a valley. Even though it wasn't quite as windy the conditions were negligably more bearable so I left after only hearing a handful of the birds from deep in the yews, and three Marsh Tits.

I returned to Canons and the latter half of the daylight hours were generally more forgiving so I slopped around the muddy fields, enjoying myself thoroughly in the end despite being wetter than most frogs. For the time of year, there were some decent local birds on offer. The first of which was a very pretty female Brambling. This was with the growing flock of Chaffinches which now numbers over 250 but has been pretty healthy for a few weeks now. I've taken every available opportunity to grill this flighty flock but despite my best efforts hadn't reaped the reward until now, and the Brambling was about within the first twenty birds I scoped through! Sadly it was lost to view and the entire flock moved off about five minutes before Jamie arrived.

Brambling in Broadfield

After Jamie gave up and headed home, I headed down Reads Rest Lane to look for the Stonechat and to complete the circuit of the farm, planning to go around the back, around Ruffett Wood. When I looked back at Reads Rest Cottages, a large white blob sitting in the rear entrance to the main cowshed caught my eye and I knew what it was without lifting my bins - Barn Owl! This is the fourth time I've seen it in the last week, and all but one of these encounters has been in daylight which is freaky for this species at the farm as they've always been extremely nocturnal and elusive before. I found it particularly out of character for it to be sitting in the open air for all to see, overlooking its territory well before sunset. Anyway, this it was doing and I enjoyed the rare opportunity to admire it settled in good light. At 5.50pm, a similar time to when Josh and I saw it hunting on Wednesday, it took to the air and started hunting over Horse Pasture, landing on a fencepost and in a holly bush, flying right past me and hovering and diving - the full show. Great scope views and opportunities for record shots. I was very happy indeed. To add the icing to the cake the male Stonechat and the resident Red-legged Partridge also showed - not forgetting that two Mallards flew over earlier, making it a very worthwhile afternoon's patch birding!

Barn Owl, Reads Rest/Horse Pasture

Friday, 15 March 2013


Nice male Stonechat at Reads Bottom today. Got another glimpse of the Barn Owl yesterday mid-afternoon when workers flushed it out of the barn.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Daylight owl action

Following a report of a female Ring Ouzel at Canons Farm late this morning, I took the first opportunity to get down there after college, the only problem being that the best I could do was get there at about 4.50pm, when I brought Josh along. We didn't really have enough time for a proper search but our focus on this quest was interrupted when Josh spotted a Barn Owl hunting by Reads Rest Cottage in the broad daylight of 5.45pm! Around an hour before the earliest darkness in which any Barn Owl seems to be comfortable coming out at the patch, this was completely unexpected. We ran closer while it was hunting round the corner then it did another circuit allowing for some record shots, though neither of us quite had time to set our cameras up properly. It flew behind the barns and the weather set in, and we didn't see it again. Presumably the same bird that Jamie and I had in the more typical light of 7.00pm on Saturday, it's good to know there's one on site after no sightings since October. It seems there's usually at least one around in the winter time but they are difficult to detect at CFBW as they are typically extremely nocturnal there.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Hawfinch galore!

Hawfinches, Juniper Bottom

I started the day at the patch, with a fly-over Cormorant being a just about due year tick (62). Also 5 Canada Geese over, my third sighting of the year. Jamie arrived and after a little while we headed off, picking up Josh on the way, to Mickleham in the hope that a visit to Juniper Bottom at the same time that Steve had his dozen Hawfinches yesterday might reap a reward. We arrived on site and set up at the area, immediately hearing the tsiks, twiks and tsuks of clearly a number of Hawfinches in the tall conifers on the right hand side of the path. After a short while, birds started diving in their dozens into the yews on the other side of the track while more continued to call to the right. We were gobsmacked and had no idea how many there were but it was well over thirty at that point. Later, a massive flock erupted out of the pines and flew south east along the valley, we independently counted this flock as sixty-odd birds. Calls continued to come from the original location and after a short while another load flew up and circled before landing nearby, Jamie and Josh counting about forty in this group while yet more calls from the yews. So, we all reckoned a conservative count of ONE HUNDRED birds was on. It could well have been a bit more but probably wouldn't have been more than 130. At one point fifty birds were visible in one scope view sitting in a bare tree further down the valley.

The birds themselves were, as always a pleasure to watch as individuals but the sight and sound of such a number of these scarce finches was just mind-blowing and almost unbelievable. As you'll see from my previous post, we had no luck at all yesterday afternoon, and apparently birders had nada this afternoon too so it seems like they are a morning job if you're planning on visiting.

Here's directions:

"Park at the Whitehill car park on Headley Lane at TQ 176 529 and walk SSE for c650 yards till you reach tall conifers on your right with open leaf litter bottom (shortly before pile of ash surrounded by stakes), this is TQ 180 524 - the birds spent a lot of time in these pines and also flew to feed in the yews on the other side of the path and also visited bare deciduous trees further down."

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Woodcocks and owls

Started the day in the excellent company of Ian at Canons where we failed to see anything that might have been there for the fog, the only bird of any note was a Siskin over. When Ian left I had a quick check at a regular Woodcock spot and was amazed to see one just sitting there! This happened in the exact same spot just a few days more than a year ago. The light was crap and and I only had my SLR to hand but managed some record shots nonetheless. I got a text from Steve Gale about a flock of Hawfinches near Box Hill, just falling within my local area circle and the LNHS area so I was very keen to see these - I arranged to go with Phil and he picked me and Jamie up from the farm. We didn't see our quarry but heard a Tawny Owl hooting in the daylight and had a nice view of a singing Siskin. Phil needed to go so he dropped us back at mine and I took Jamie back to the Hawfinch site, again with no luck but up to five Tawnies hooted and a couple of Marsh Tits called away, best of all though was a Raven that flew over, tumbling and calling away!

Woodcock, Banstead Woods

Based on the Tawny Owl activity there, we thought it might be worth a listen at the patch as we needed this for the patch yearlist so we toddled back there (almost running a Woodcock over on the way, near Mickleham). We gave the usual Barn Owl field, Harrier Field a good look just in case but as per usual over the last few months there was no sign of life. Heading towards Banstead Woods, we followed Reads Rest Lane up to Lunch Wood at which point Jamie whispered (in excited shouting style) 'Barn Owl!' and lo and behold an unmistakable ghostly figure drifted past us, turned the corner and wasn't seen again. Magic! So I hadn't been seeing it/any because I'd been looking in the wrong place! Hopefully it will be regular over following evenings. No Tawnies though, despite Jamie putting his mastering of the call to good use - all owls in Banstead Woods must have been able to hear the desperate hoots but they all decided to blank him. Never mind, I'd sooner have seen the Barn Owl than heard a Tawny.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Somerset and Devon

I had an excellent day's birding yesterday with Liam Langley and Josh Burch, starting at Ham Wall RSPB where we connected with the PIED-BILLED GREBE (my second - I saw the Manchester bird in 2010 which wasn't as smart as this one but was a little less distant. We heard this bird call at one point - sounds like a gibbon) and the drake Ferruginous Duck as it skulked with Pochards among the reeds (my second, after the Holmethorpe bird in 2010). Other highlights here included a Great White Egret, a Water Pipit, about thirty Common Snipes, three Little Egrets, a Marsh Harrier, two Kingfishers in pursuit of each other, two booming Bitterns, lots of singing Cetti's Warblers, Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, Shelduck, a couple of Water Rails and a female Pintail. It was great fun being surrounded by lots of marshland species like this that I don't often see on arable Surrey land.

Pied-billed Grebe, Ham Wall
drake Ferruginous Duck, Ham Wall
Great White Egret, Ham Wall
Water Pipit, Ham Wall

We wondered what to do next but the vote was cast and the first-winter Rosy Starling at Exminster won. This was a lot less trouble to locate than I thought, with a quick mooch around the churchyard soon giving the bird up. People slag these things off sometimes but I rather like them. There was still some light left so we decided to drive just a little bit further to Labrador Bay where we enjoyed, at the very least, seven Cirl Buntings - possibly up to fifteen. Thirty-odd had been seen earlier in the morning. These were real stunners to watch especially when feeding on the ground at close quarters - only my second British sighting. A Raven finished the day off nicely and we all felt most gratified for the effort we'd put in. I'd seen three birds I'd only seen once before in Britain and another I'd seen twice before, Liam got three lifers and greedy Josh wallowed in a whopping seven! The plan really came together and the 450+ miles of driving were soon forgotten.

first-winter Rosy Starling, Exminster

Cirl Bunting