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Thursday, 31 August 2017

Canons Farm, 31st August 2017

I was glad to be back on the patch again this morning and it was another productive session. A familiar rather flat-sounding tacking call near the old Watchpoint had me searching around for a Redstart. On the sunny side the hedgerow there it was, a gorgeous first-winter male and my first of the autumn locally. In the same area an unusually showy Lesser Whitethroat was very active and one of the morning's three Little Owls popped into the open. Other birds of particular interest included a Hobby, four Meadow Pipits, a sprinkling of Swallows and House Martins, a Willow Warbler and a Wheatear, as well as a fairly late Swift.

Redstart

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Staines Reservoirs, 30th August 2017

It was a rainy visit today with Paul S as we marvelled at the delights on offer across the draining South Basin. It was nice to bump into Lee E on the causeway and compare counts! At the beginning of my scanning, a Turnstone appeared on the edge of one of the islands but soon vanished into the ether. Other bits included a juvenile Black Tern, around 20 Common Terns, four Greenshanks, a juvenile Ruff, nine Black-tailed Godwits, two Snipe, a scattering of Ringed Plovers and Dunlin, a Black-necked Grebe (and, more unusually for Staines, two Little Grebes) and two Shelducks. Some 80 Shovelers were feeding, along with 50 Teal.

Beddington Farmlands, 29th August 2017

I had time for an evening stroll around the lakes and to Hundred Acre and back. Highlights included a Greenshank, four Common Sandpipers, 11 Green Sandpipers, two Little Egrets and two Cetti's Warblers... A Painted Lady was a welcome distraction on the way in.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Leith Hill, 28th August 2017

I didn't make it to the first proper autumn Leith Hill Tower vismig session a couple of weeks ago so made sure I attended the session this morning. I joined Matt P, David S and Steve C, all in high hopes that the next Surrey mega would be around the corner... It turned out to be a quiet first few hours, apart from a couple of waves of House Martins. Birds around the tower itself provided a welcome distraction, including two of both Spotted Flycatcher and Marsh Tit, plus a Firecrest. By the time the other birders were getting ready to depart mid-morning, our highlight was a couple of southbound Sand Martins and two Grey Wagtails heading the other way. An immature Grey Heron also flew through.

With David already gone, Matt and Steve were packing up their scopes just as 'raptor time' was due to begin and it was kicked off in style with a juvenile female Goshawk which appeared just in the nick of time. We watched it jostling with a male Sparrowhawk for about ten minutes before it landed out of sight in a stand of pines a couple of kilometres or so away. I was left to my own devices and soon picked up a Yellow Wagtail, two Red Kites and a Hobby. Buzzards were out in force and I put down 40-ish in my notebook, this including a flock of 14. I was glad of Paul S's company for the rest of the watch, during which we watched further waves of House Martins go through, including a rather worried-looking flock bomb their way north, only for the Hobby to appear hot on their tails a couple of seconds later!

juvenile female Goshawk (below) with male Sparrowhawk (photo: Matt Phelps)

Canons Farm and Oare Marshes, 27th August 2017

A quick stroll around Canons in the morning was a little less eventful than the last few visits, but the company of Geoff B, Ian J, Paul G and Martin L made it all the better. Anyway, it wasn't bad, with three Yellow Wagtails, a Lesser Whitethroat and 20 House Martins providing some local-level quality. Ian and I went straight on to Kent - stopping off in the countryside en-route to Oare Marshes we picked up a family of five Spotted Flycatchers, a Whinchat and a Hobby. A slightly rushed but absolutely serene evening at Oare was something to savour - it was warm and pleasant with many birds thanks to the high tide and of course the time of year! Highlights were the adult Long-billed Dowitcher showing rather well, a juvenile Little Stint, eight Ruff (including my first juvenile of the year, a female), six Whimbrel, five Snipe, four Knot, a Bar-tailed Godwit, 25 Common Terns, 10 Sandwich Terns, a Bearded Reedling and at least seven Yellow Wagtails. Hurried and rather rough higher counts included 500 Grey Plovers on the other side of the Swale, 600 Golden Plovers, 2500 Black-tailed Godwits, 600 Redshanks, 60 Ringed Plovers, 70 Dunlin, 150 Lapwings and 90 Avocets. The most unusual sighting was my first Oare Marshes record of Rose-ringed Parakeet as one squawked overhead!

adult Long-billed Dowitcher

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Canons Farm, 26th August 2017

Another brilliant morning on the patch with highlights including Whinchat, Tree Pipit, Peregrine, three Yellow Wagtails, the staying Lesser Whitethroat and a Red Kite. A Tawny Owl proclaimed itself, along with the usual Little Owls.

Whinchat
Peregrine

Friday, 25 August 2017

Canons Farm and Beddington Farmlands, 25th August 2017

A most gratifying morning at the farm saw me build up a decent tally of early autumn migrants, namely eight Yellow Wagtails and singles of Spotted Flycatcher, Whinchat, Lesser Whitethroat, Wheatear, Swift and Meadow Pipit, along with a light scattering of Whitethroats, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs. I do love the autumn! A couple of hours at Beddington in the evening scored yet another Whinchat, along with a Snipe, a Little Egret and a 1cy Yellow-legged Gull (I think the same very white-headed bird from the other day) of note. A Cetti's Warbler was calling and the hordes of Starlings were taking advantage of the aerial plankton feast.

Spotted Flycatcher at Canons
Whinchat at Beddington

Canons Farm and Arundel WWT, 24th August 2017

I only had time for a very quick circuit of the farm in the morning, so I performed a whistle-stop check of the most crucial areas. Not a bad result considering, with a Whinchat, three Yellow Wagtails and a Willow Warbler.

Later on, Ingrid and I spent a couple of hours for lunch at Arundel - wild birds were few and far between but included a few Buzzard, a Shoveler and a Teal.

Whinchat at Canons Farm

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Canons Farm and Beddington Farmlands, 23rd August 2017

A circuit of Canons this morning produced a hat-trick of decent fly-overs, with a Yellow Wagtail followed by two Tree Pipits and then three quite unexpected Snipe! I managed to fit in a couple of hours at Beddington before work in the evening, searching the mound and scanning the lakes. A Mistle Thrush was the best sighting, this being a surprisingly difficult bird at Beddington and actually a patch tick for me! I may have seen one years ago when I first started visiting, but I deleted the species a while ago as I couldn't actually recall any encounters. Two Pochard, four Shoveler and five Teal were on the South Lake. Two juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls were among the hordes of Larids, while a Wheatear, two Little Egrets, 21 Lapwings and singles of Common Sandpiper, Egyptian Goose and Cetti's Warbler were noted.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Portland and Farlington Marshes, 22nd August 2017

Captained by John B, I headed with Magnus A to Portland in the early hours in the hope of connecting with the Yellow Warbler discovered near the bird observatory yesterday afternoon. Abject failure, it was down to a very light overhead trickle of Tree Pipits and Yellow Wagtails to keep us busy. In hindsight, I should have shot down there as soon as news broke but I simply didn't expect to get there in time for the bird to still be showing, or perhaps for there even to be any light. Six Common Scoters and a Dunlin flew past at sea, while at least four Ravens, two Wheatears, a few Willow Warblers and a Peregrine were also seen.

We gave up and started off for home at about 13:00. John fancied dropping in at Farlington Marshes on the way home for Pectoral Sandpiper as a year tick. Incredibly, it transpired that the bird was in the process of buggering off just as we were parking up. It was nice to relax and stretch our legs for a couple of hours though, highlights including a Green Sandpiper, two Greenshanks, a Ruff, two Yellow Wagtails, three Wheatears, three Stonechats, several Grey Plovers, a Common Sandpiper and two Bearded Reedlings.

Canons Farm and Beddington Farmlands, 21st August 2017

I started the birding day at Canons, finding little unexpected but a Meadow Pipit and a Willow Warbler provided some value, along with the nesting pair of Swallows and 13 migrant Swifts. Two Little Owls were calling and my first patch Rook in a while flew over.

Spending the evening at Beddington, highlights there included an adult male Wheatear, a quite showy Yellow Wagtail, two 1cy Yellow-legged Gulls, eight Green Sandpipers, a Common Sandpiper, a Sedge Warbler and an Egyptian Goose. There was an increase in ducks since my last visit, with seven Teal, two Pochard and six Shovelers logged.

♂ Wheatear
1cy Yellow-legged Gull
1cy Yellow-legged Gull
adult ♀ Peregrine

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Oare Marshes etc, 17th August 2017

An awesome day at Oare Marshes! Magnus A and Simon W joined me for a few hours at Oare Marshes. We bagged the adult Long-billed Dowitcher, the adult Bonaparte's Gull, an adult Curlew Sandpiper, two adult Spotted Redshanks, two juvenile Little Stints, four Whimbrels, two juvenile Little Ringed Plovers, two Ruffs, a Greenshank, a Dark-bellied Brent Goose, 180 Golden Plovers, 150 Avocets, 60 or so Grey Plovers and three Turnstones among a typical suite of waders and wildfowl. A handful of Mediterranean Gulls were around, including at least four juveniles, as were six Yellow Wagtails and two Bearded Reedlings. Two Peregrines, an adult female and a juvenile male, repeatedly buzzed the East Flood and a fresh juvenile Common Gull was also nice to see. Trickling through were small numbers of Swift, Sand Martin, House Martin and Swallow.

There was just enough time for having a stab at viewing a known Honey-buzzard area elsewhere in Kent and we were delighted to score a brief view of a singleton which flew over the car as we watched from the road!

My camera seems to be a little broken, which is a real pain in the ass, and adds to my recent run of breakages which includes my mobile, my laptop and one of our dining room chairs... I'm going to take the camera in for repair tomorrow so I may be limited to phonescoped shots for a little while.

adult Long-billed Dowitcher creeping about
the Bonaparte's keeping up appearances on the East Flood - later seen on The Swale
adult Curlew Sandpiper
Golden Plovers - note the juvenile shining bright in the foreground!
juvenile Little Ringed Plover
we hit it lucky with a Honey-buzzard in a known area

Beddington Farmlands, 15th August 2017

I had time for a quick morning walk with Christian C at Beddington. Unfortunately, the Cattle Egret was nowhere to be seen but we did find the juvenile Wood Sandpiper on Jim's Pit, along with around six Green Sandpipers. Other highlights included a surprise first-summer Caspian Gull ringed 'G0UT', seen quite a bit on the Thames recently by Josh J, as well as two Little Egrets, a Common Sandpiper, a couple of House Martins and a few Swifts still moving through...

Jim's Pit doing its thing: Common Sandpiper left, Wood Sandpiper right

2cy Caspian Gull 'G0UT'

Beddington Farmlands, 14th August 2017

While waiting for the plane back to London at Cork Airport, news came through from Beddington about a Cattle Egret on the North Lake, this being a site first and still a London and particularly Surrey mega! I crossed my fingers that it would stick to the evening and that I'd be able to connect. Fortunately, dad did a sterling job in getting Phil and I home and I managed to race up to Beddington in time to see the egret roost. A new London, Surrey, local area and Beddington bird for me, this species has been on the cards for a while. It represents my 200th local area (12.5km radius from home) species. Just as enjoyable was a long natter with Pete A and Koje, putting the world right till long after dark, when we figured it was probably time to head home!

my 200th local area species

Monday, 14 August 2017

Cape Clear, 10-14th August 2017

Phil W and I spent a few days on the magical Co Cork island of Cape Clear, to catch up with my old ringing trainer and friend Sam Bayley, as well as in a quest for seabirds. Seawatching was disappointing, as the conditions never quite came together for land-based observation, but a pelagic trip on the Saturday was a real treat, with 16 Wilson's Storm-petrels (a lifer), two Great Shearwaters, two Pomarine Skuas, seven Sooty Shearwaters, a couple of Bonxies and Arctic Skuas and a spectacular Bluefin Tuna! Hundreds of European Storm-petrels came in to the chum and provided constant entertainment as they danced around the boat with the odd Wilson's thrown in.

Saturday night was utterly magical. Six of us set up three nets on a headland near the Blannan and caught and ringed European Storm-petrels until we ran out of A2 rings, with 317 new birds caught along with four BTO controls. Handling these special birds under a perfect night sky during a meteor shower in such pleasant company goes down as an unforgettable life experience.

my first of many European Storm-petrels ringed! (pic by Phil) 
European Storm-petrels from the Cape Clear pelagic
the formidable and legendary seawatching site that is the Blannan

some of Ireland's finest seabirders
Cape Clear looking fine...
the obs

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Beddington Farmlands, 9th August 2017

With a news shift today, I was both happy with a good excuse to be sitting in, safe from the drizzle, and wondering what the conditions might be depositing at my local patches. Mid-morning, news broke of an adult Sabine's Gull on the North Lake at Beddington and suddenly I knew where I wanted to be! Luckily and thankfully, Josh was able to take over the shift for a little while and I made the mad dash to Beddington. The traffic was frustratingly slow on the normally short journey but I managed about 20-minutes admiring this most elegant pelagic species on the South Lake with a few other local birders. Three Common Sandpipers were also around the South Lake.

actually only my second Sabine's Gull, my only other record being in Avon in 2011; of course, this therefore constitutes a Surrey, London, local area and Beddington tick

Canons Farm, 7th August 2017

A speedy round of the farm was rewarded by a surprise repeat Marsh Harrier sighting. Plausibly, this cream-crown could have been the same as the high-flying bird seen the previous day, having lingered in the wider local area, but it's impossible to tell. Envisaging a Marsh Harrier roosting unseen in some random farm field in this part of Surrey is quite an arresting thought for a local birder! Otherwise, it was down to a Willow Warbler, 11 House Martins and a trickle of Swifts to make up the day's migrant tally. A scattering of calling Chiffchaffs involved dispersing juveniles.

Marsh Harrier

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Canons Farm, 6th August 2017

I was highly tempted to join the autumn's first Leith Hill Tower vismig session this morning but decided to let myself wake up when I happened to rather than setting any ridiculous alarms. This resolved to be around 9.30am and, with a party to attend in the afternoon, I opted for a quick look around the local patch. After all, I hadn't been to Canons for almost a month and I sometimes get a nice 'welcome back' present when I break a spell of patch neglect. While counting a scattering of Swifts moving ahead, my eye was drawn to a dark shape hanging in the air many levels higher. It lazily circled almost directly overhead and its shaped betrayed it as a migrating Marsh Harrier. Fortunately, I managed to secure a few record shots with my trusty PowerShot. This is my fifth individual at the patch, with previous sightings split equally between the Canons Farm and the Banstead Woods sections of the recording area.

My Swift total finished on around 25 birds but other observers boosted this number by 38. I couldn't find any notable grounded migrants but it was nice to see one of the local Little Owls flying along a field margin.

'cream-crown' Marsh Harrier

Saturday, 5 August 2017

North Kent, 4th August 2017

I picked Bob, visiting from the States, up from London in the early hours and we headed to our first site, the Ashdown Forest. None of the heathland specialists I was hoping to show Bob were on offer within easy reach of the car park but he was delighted to be able to spend time watching some characterful common birds such as Bullfinch, Treecreeper, Nuthatch and Goldcrest. The highlight for me was a family group of Lesser Redpolls. Next up was Oare Marshes, the natural choice for introducing a non-Brit to easy birding within reach of the city. We enjoyed fantastic views of the usual common waders, including several Golden Plovers and Ruff, while two Spotted Redshanks were tucked among the hordes of Black-tailed Godwits. A couple of Yellow Wagtails flicked around the margins and Bearded Reedlings called unseen from the island in front of the hide. Keeping an eye on the Black-headed Gulls eventually paid off with the resident adult Bonaparte's Gull loafing on the main spit, not to mention the scattering of Mediterranean Gulls.

We just about had time to whizz around a couple of sites on the Isle of Sheppey before getting Bob back to town. We drove up and down the entrance track at Elmley, using the car as a hide to photograph Yellow Wagtails, Marsh Harriers and Buzzards. Bob was still hoping to tick off Oystercatcher and Red-legged Partridge and a drive to Harty Ferry sorted that out.

we eventually picked out the adult Bonaparte's Gull on the East Flood at Oare
several Yellow Wagtails showed well along the entrance track at Elmley

Musselburgh, 31st July 2017

Having arrived back in Edinburgh from Helsinki the previous evening and with Ingrid occupied with packing to move back south, I took the bus to Musselburgh for one last visit. Nothing especially unusual, but Skylark and Ringed Plover were trip ticks and there was an increase in Velvet Scoter numbers offshore, with 96 counted, along with just six Common Scoters. Other bits included 92 Goosanders, a Red-throated Diver, a Great Crested Grebe, 182 Bar-tailed Godwits, seven Knots, two Common Sandpipers, four Greenshanks, a Puffin and a couple of Razorbills. A juvenile female Peregrine tried its luck with putting the waders up but didn't manage to knock anything out of the sky.

juvenile Greenshank
Knots
Eider
Dunlins and Oystercatchers
Common Sandpiper
Harbour Seals

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Finland, 24-30th July 2017

I spent an absolutely lovely week in Finland with Ingrid and her family. Based on the island of Vessö in the Baltic near Helsinki, we fished, birded, boated and cycled our way around this serene landscape, as well as birding whenever I could fit it in. Apart from one visit to a nature reserve on the edge of Porvoo (where there were many Wood Sandpipers and Ruff) and a trip to the Central Park (a failed quest to see Flying Squirrels, but producing several Wood Warblers), all of the birding was done on our island and 88 species were totted up. Among the birds easily encountered were Red-backed Shrikes, Cranes, Caspian Terns, Woodcocks, Crested Tits, Willow Tits, Pied Flycatchers, Spotted Flycatchers, Fieldfares, Redwings, crossbills, Lesser Whitethroats, Yellowhammers and Tree Sparrows.

More isolated sightings included a White-tailed Eagle, a summer-plumaged Black-throated Diver, a Red-breasted Flycatcher, a Green Sandpiper and a magical evening encounter with a Long-eared Owl. Oh, and I finally saw my first Black Woodpecker! 

♂ Red-backed Shrike
a tranquil Baltic island
♀ Red-breasted Flycatcher
adult and young Crane
Baltic boating
Privet Hawkmoth
Barnacle Geese blocking our boat landing
Mealy Redpoll
adult Caspian Tern
juvenile Wheatear
the Baltic
Arran Brown?
the daily cycle
a bit of fishing
we nearly ran over two Grass Snakes on our bikes in one morning
Dark Green Fritillary?
Wood Warbler