Thursday, 26 September 2013

Bits and pieces...

Not too much going on lately but still some odds and ends to keep the interest up. Yesterday I found a Great White Egret at a private site in Essex and also kicked up a Redwing there, my first of the autumn. On the patch today I picked up three extremely high Common Snipes as they flew north, but only because I was watching two Hobbies in the scope at the time; they were so high that they were only just identifiable at 60x... it just goes to show what must go missing. There was also a Stonechat at the farm today, a Canada Goose flew over and there were singles of Blackcap and Common Whitethroat still on site. On Tuesday I found a (or the?) Grasshopper Warbler in the favourite place for scarce patch warblers, the scrappy area in Canons Farmyard. Monday was impressive for hirundine passage with 700+ House Martins and c135 Swallows. Rooks are starting to appear more now... I had a late Chalkhill Blue at Banstead Woods on Friday.

Great White Egret in Essex yesterday

Stonechat at the farm today

Grasshopper Warbler in the farmyard on Tuesday. Can you see it?

Chalkhill Blue at Banstead Woods last Friday. Pretty late...

Kestrel at the farm on Monday

Thursday, 19 September 2013


Yesterday was a good session at the patch, putting me on 99 for the patch year list with a Grasshopper Warbler that flew from my feet as I walked through the small grassy field just west of Canons Farmyard. It flew into the farmyard where I flushed it again, and once more at which point it finally showed itself quite well for twenty seconds or so before dropping down once more. Happy, I left it in peace. Also a Grey Wagtail and a Cormorant flew over and a Stonechat joined a Wheatear east of the farmhouse.

Today was quieter. A Common Whitethroat was still present at the Watchpoint and there was decent vis-migging with a total of around 60 Meadow Pipits moving through along with a small movement of House Martins and Swallows (the majority still being made up of the former species).

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

The Great and the Lesser

For the first time in a while, a couple of very tempting rarities turned up over the weekend and got me moving. The more urgent of the two was the Great Snipe at Spurn so I headed up on Monday afternoon after a morning at the patch (which was fruitful for a hurried walk round, providing a Spotted Flycatcher, a Wheatear, the first Siskins of the autumn and a Yellow Wagtail) and arrived in the evening at the caravan site the bird had chosen as a feeding ground. I'd heard the bird was tame but what I saw was just insane, the GREAT SNIPE walking within centimetres of people's lenses and phones, and even walking between someone's legs at one point before crossing the road and going into a ditch as darkness fell! A top bird, and it was very disheartening to learn of its sad demise apparently at the paws of a cat this morning.

Great Snipe

As I'd left the trip till late in the day (thanks exclusively to my compulsion to miss as little patching time as possible), I didn't fancy driving back to Surrey that evening and I still had the shrike to see, so I figured it would be most logical to stay somewhere between Spurn and Sizewell overnight, wait on news and go to see the shrike in the morning before heading home. I found a lovely bed and breakfast on the outskirts of Cambridge and lay in till news came through on the pager late morning of the bird's continued presence. A couple of hours later I parked up and was watching the very freshly-plumaged LESSER GREY SHRIKE. While not as brash as a spring male, the more subtle plumage characteristics along with the structure of the bird made for educational viewing before a heavy shower saw the bird into cover and me back into the car, and back home after a roaring success of forty-eight hours' twitching!

Lesser Grey Shrike

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Banstead Countryside Day

It was one of the big days of the year for the Canons Farm and Banstead Woods Bird Group today, with the Banstead Countryside Day coming around once more. I intended to get up early and do at least two hours of birding around the farm before setting up the stall but somehow slept through the alarm for the second day running. Still, I had a very quick whizz round between 8.00am and 9.00am in which time I had a Yellow Wagtail fly over and, much more importantly, successfully twitched a Reed Warbler that P-Go found by the Watchpoint. This is the second record of Reed Warbler for CFBW, following one in autumn 2011 and goes very well on the year list alongside the recent Sedgie.

It took just over an hour to set up the stall at the fair, which is hosted on the patch, in Holly Lane Meadow (on the edge of Banstead Woods). The weather was okay to begin with but set in over the course of the day and the wind and rain saw visitors off and made manning the stand uncomfortable towards the end. The conditions meant fewer people and less success in terms of selling our fundraising merchandise than last year, however it was still very worthwhile in that we spoke to many people, some previously unaware of the birds to be found locally and the group's activities, as well as some familiar faces. There was a noticeable push of House Martins today, with at least sixty heading south over the stall, plus a small number of Swallows, one of which (a juvenile) seemed very tired and landed on nearby stalls.

CFBWBG members/volunteers. Left to right: Me, Phil Wallace, Linda Mount, Ian Pratley, Mark Stanley, Tom Searle and Paul Goodman

This tired juvenile Swallow was dropped in and rested on the gazebos in between feeding sessions. Photo by Phil Wallace

Saturday, 14 September 2013

More drizzle

Another day at the patch... To my frustration I slept through my alarm so didn't get up to the farm until mid-morning but Steve Gale fortunately had it covered from dawn and had unearthed a Common Redstart and a Common Snipe before I'd opened my eyes. Shortly after I turned up, a helicopter circled low overhead, putting up hundreds of Woodpigeons (there's been a sudden arrival of these recently) and the Common Snipe, which soon dropped down again. Steve joined me for a skywatch till approaching lunchtime, after which I got something to eat and returned for a very damp afternoon's birding. Birding in the drizzle is always an uncomfortable challenge and I mainly sky-watched, only checking a few keys areas of the farm for any obvious passerines. The highlight was a good look at the Sedge Warbler, CFBW's second record, which resurfaced today. Again, when I reached for me camera it vanished. Also remaining was the Stonechat from yesterday, though its Whinchat friends were nowhere to be seen. There was not too much moving overhead, but a few Swallows were moving north into the wind and the occasional Meadow Pipit squeeked overhead. There were still a couple of Common Whitethroats in the hedges. It was nice to see quite a few regulars giving it a go in the bad weather today, with Roy Weller, Paul Goodman, Ian Ward and Ian Magness also doing the rounds.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Cloudy September days

This morning's visit started well with a surprise juvenile Sedge Warbler near the farmhouse - a patch mega, this being only the second record. Unfortunately, like the first bird, it stayed long enough for me to watch it through the binoculars for a few seconds but not for me to switch to the SLR and get a record shot. It was quite a vocal bird, and ended up moving into the Canons Farmhouse garden. A Common Snipe, possibly two, flew over calling, unseen and later on I found a Spotted Flycatcher along Slangs. Common Whitethroats and Blackcaps are becoming hard to come by so it was nice to find one of each of these warblers today. A handful of Meadow Pipits were moving through.

Yesterday, I had a noisy first-winter male Common Redstart at The Scrub and a Common Swift flew over the farm, possibly my latest anywhere. There was more Meadow Pipit movement yesterday, too, with around 35 birds.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

One that got away

As I approach four years of watching Canons Farm and Banstead Woods, I still haven't found my very own nationally scarce bird there and I've always thought it's something that's only a matter of time and will probably actually happen sooner rather than later, given the number of hours I put in to the site. Such a find might well have slipped through my fingers this morning when I had a very interesting-looking bunting all too briefly. An interesting soft, kind of wet, ticking call, superficially similar to a Yellowhammer's voice yet obviously different - I hear Yellowhammers on a daily basis. I guess it was so soft as to make it difficult to justify calling it a 'ticking' sound, but anyway... Suddenly a brownish-grey streaky bunting alighted atop a nearby sapling but it saw me and startled, flying towards Canons Farmyard. It stayed just long enough to me to get an absolute split second on it with the binoculars. I didn't have time enough to check any of the features specifically, but the general impression looked good for Ortolan and put my brain into gear in terms of the call I'd been hearing. Although I've no experience of Ortolan, I have listened to tapes before and tapes listened to today seemed a good match. In flight, which made up by far the largest chunk of my viewing time, the bird seemed less rakish and angular than the shape I associate with Yellowhammers, and it called more before dropping down, sadly not to be seen again despite searching. It was no Corn Bunting or Reed Bunting. So, chances are it could well have been an Ortolan but we may never know for sure. I'd have wanted several more seconds and the chance to have a good look at the bird's features before claiming it, it's just such a shame it didn't show better! I have my fingers crossed on the off-chance it will hang around and re-surface.

The bunting frustration aside, it was a good day with a Spotted Flycatcher in Circle Field and overhead passage involving three Yellow Wagtails, 15 Meadow Pipits and two Swallows.

Spotted Flycatcher

Monday, 9 September 2013

Spurn Migration Festival

Yesterday evening I returned from a few days at Spurn, including the weekend of the Spurn Migration Festival. I didn't get too involved in the festival itself as I did most of my birding with friends or by myself but enjoyed Martin Garner's talk on how to be the best birder you can be, and the hog roast that went with it.

Despite the time of year and hints of promising pressure systems and winds, there were relatively few birds to see. There were scarcities, but not many, and most common migrants were decidedly uncommon. Still, there was some top stuff on offer. The best of the bunch included the Wryneck seen in the hand on Thursday morning, the Red-backed Shrike seen on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday and the Common Rosefinch that was trapped and ringed on Friday. In fact, Friday wasn't too bad with Leach's Petrel being another top-biller, perhaps competing for top bird, actually, as well as Roseate Tern, Black Tern and strong numbers of Arctic Skuas that day.


Red-backed Shrike

Common Rosefinch

Whinchats weren't hard to come by, particularly on Thursday when I probably saw in excess of twenty individuals. Interestingly, they far outnumbered Wheatears, which were somewhat at a premium. Additional seabirds included Little Gulls, Balearic Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, Manx Shearwater, Eider and Red-throated Diver. Yellow Wagtails were a common bird, their soft call being heard every few minutes at times, while only common warblers were seen and none were evident in strong numbers. Numbers of common waders on the Humber were impressive but unfortunately Common Sandpiper and Greenshank were not outdone in terms of scarcity. Some duck passage was noticable, with Pintail, Wigeon and Teal moving along the point in small numbers. For me, seeing a Marsh Harrier flying out to sea and low south over the waves was one of the more amazing moments of my time at Spurn. September Cuckoo and Common Swifts served as a reminder of the high summer that has only just departed.

It was great fun birding with Liam and meeting quite a few new people, including fellow under-30s Jack Ashton-Booth, Tim Jones, Zac Hinchecliffe, Matt Bruce, Scott Reid, Samuel Perfect, Tim Jones, Chris Bridge, Alex and Dan. The locals were warm, welcoming and informative, helping make my stay something of an eye-opener in terms of how fantastic the Spurn area is for birds and how bird observatories work. I tried and predictably failed to find something good.......... one day!

IMPORTANT PERSONAL NOTE: If anyone has been trying to contact me by my mobile recently they'll struggle as I smashed it to pieces at Spurn - in the meantime email me at I'll get my mobile sorted before too long.

Monday, 2 September 2013


I hardly had any time at the patch yesterday so was keen to get out there and see what I could find this morning. It was bright and cool and it was soon clear that it wasn't going to be a big 'movement' day for hirundines or pipits or anything like that but at this time of year it's always worth sticking it out for the one or two treats that could well be lurking. A Common Gull was the only bird of any real note I'd had by the time I approached Perrotts Farmhouse, towards mid-day. Here I picked up a Hobby, a Common Buzzard and then another raptor which approached head-on and was strikingly pale, momentarily recalling Osprey, but the shape and lots of other things about the bird were wrong. It circled and looked like it was going to continue to do so but by the time I could rattle of some shots it was gliding away. I was frustrated and resigned myself to probably not seeing the bird again, and only having some crap pictures that I couldn't really get anything from. However, just in case, I lingered in the area for a little while and picked up three Common Buzzards, and, yes, the bird was in with them! ... But it disappeared behind the trees!!! I tried to remain calm and hoped it would reappear, which it thankfully did. The bird put on a good show from then, flying fairly low and quite near me and having the odd minor disagreement with the Common Buzzards before it circled, rapidly gained height and headed west. The time from the initial sighting to losing sight of it was a full twenty minutes, looking at the time stamps on the photographs.

pale morph juvenile Honey-buzzard

Watching the bird through the binoculars and scope it became quite clear to me that it was a pale morph juvenile Honey-buzzard. For one thing, it was very pale on the underparts with fine markings on the breast and quite a long, fan-shaped tail. The tail noticeably had two bars near the base and a terminal band. The underwing pattern was striking, with the carpal patches standing out against the largely plain off-white coverts, and three evenly-spaced bars on the flight feathers along with the dark trailing edge and wingtips. The bird's behaviour was a give-away too as it flew on consistently straight wings, only occasionally giving a gentle downward push with its wings. It sometimes raised its head and peered round, and twisted its tail in kite-like fashion. Still, even though I'd noted all this in the field I was cautious (better than making a tit of yourself by being pre-emptive) and posted a couple of pictures on Twitter for others to confirm I wasn't seeing things, mainly because I've seen very few Honey-buzzards indeed and never a juvenile... I was quickly re-assured that my ID was correct (I should have more faith in myself) and I celebrated my first patch Honey-buzzard, after missing two very closely over the last twelve months or so!