Sunday, 27 January 2013

Cut above the rest!

This afternoon was spent walking a couple of Surrey Commons. The weather was windy with some sunny spells. Not an ideal scenario for watching resident birds on heathland, but if its peace and tranquility you seek then these locations are ideal!

First stop was Crooksbury Common which is always a pleasant walk but was almost devoid of birds. Puttenham Common was the next stop. Birds were showing in areas that were sheltered from the wind but still there were not many, Coal, Great and Blue Tits were the most regular species seen.

A walk over to Cut Mill Pond in search of Mandarin Duck was to save the day, not with the presence of this magnificent duck but in the form of two female Goosander. This species is often recorded here in the winter but had not entered my thought process as a possibility. I was pleased to able to get some pictures with the SLR.

The final stop was Thursley Common where the Great Grey Shrike had been seen yesterday. There were no reports of the bird today but conditions were unfavourable, with howling gusts of wind which would keep any self respecting bird low in the scrub. This species had once again eluded me but maybe it will reappear and I will be third time lucky!

Saturday, 26 January 2013

RSPB Garden Watch!

This weekend is the annual RSPB garden watch which encourages everyone to spend an hour watching their garden, local park or nature reserve. A straight forward form is then completed and electronically submitted to the RSPB. Results of species trends are published in March.

My choice of venue was my garden which contains three feeder stands a ground feeder and a bird bath. The feeders contain mixed, niger, sunflower seed, fatballs, suet pellets, peanuts, and chopped apples.

In the past I have seen Goldcrest and Blackcap during the hours watch, the former is very rare in my garden. The hour started slowly with a Coal Tit, Robin, Starlings and Blue Tits visiting the feeders.

A few House Sparrows arrived with a Dunnock which seemed to create some squabbling at the feeders even though there was plenty of space for all present!

Blackbirds were the next arrivals two females and a male followed by a fleeting visit by a Fieldfare. A Magpie and Crow were next neither stayed in the garden for long.

Just beyond the half hour mark activity in the garden reached its peak with a mini invasion of fourteen House Sparrow. These numbers were down on recent counts of c25 during the cold snap.

(House Sparrows)
Collared Doves started to arrive sitting up in the apple tree numbers reached nine which is a new record for my garden. I didn't want to flush them therefore could only get six in the shot!

(Collared Doves)
The hour came to a close with nothing unusual species wise and a few notable absentees in Great Tit, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Chaffinch and Rose Ringed Parakeet. There were gulls that passed overhead but only species that stop off in the garden count towards this survey. 

List of sightings from 1 to 2pm as follows:-
Collared Dove x9, Fieldfare x1, Dunnock x1, House Sparrow x14, Blackbird x3, Magpie x1, Crow x1, Blue Tit x2, Robin x1, Wood Pigeon x1, Starling x4.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Grim Weather...Good Birding!

I arrived at Beddington Farm just before the snow started falling found a place in the hide with the brothers, Tank and Dodge. The landfill does not work on Sunday therefore the gull numbers are low, this gives anything passing overhead more opportunity to drop in for a breather! Well nothing dropped in but a Grey Plover was heard above and quickly located flying south. The snow was relentless and bird movement was limited to a few Lapwing and Fieldfare.

At 11.30am movement had all but dried up and it was time to move on and visit The London Wetlands Centre (LWC) for the afternoon. Bearded Reedlings have been seen and more often heard in recent times and this species was a Surrey VC tick for me. There was a Smew present and of course a good chance of seeing Bittern as well.

I stopped briefly at Beddington Park Pond noting two Egyptian Goose before setting off for the LWC. The journey was good with very little traffic on the road. On arrival I subscribed to a years membership and then walked down towards the Peacock Hide stopping off to view approximately thirty Siskins that were at the feeders.

(Siskin Male)

I walked the Sheltered lagoon which was partially frozen but could not see the Smew here we go again!! Once in the Peacock hide I scanned the lakes and grazing marsh I eventually saw the Smew which was a dot on the Sheltered lagoon. A Bittern was seen briefly but having missed it I decided to walk to the Wildside hide and chance my luck with the "Beardies". As I entered the hide a Bittern was being watched in the reed-bed at the far side of the lagoon. I watched this bird for a short while and then turned my attention to the reed-beds on the other side of the hide. A long wait later and the Bearded Reedlings were heard calling but could I find them sadly not!

I have a few simple rules to my bird listing which incidentally is worked out for me by Wildlife Recorder. A lifer, a county or patch first all have to be seen before they can be counted. Thereafter I count heard species! On that basis the "Beardies" were not going to be a Surrey VC tick today!

Gannets (Tices Meadow & Mitcham Common) and Bewick's Swans (Knaphill and Tices Meadow) were seen in Surrey VC today and with the bad weather continuing more rarities will turn up for sure!

Saturday, 19 January 2013

A day of two halves!

With more snow falling overnight and Sutton Utd v Truro having already been called off it was always going to be another visit to Beddington Farm. An early start was the order of the day but obviously not early enough as Factor and Dodge walked into a Short Eared Owl as it passed over the Farm. But this was clearly just the start of the days action.

The Glaucous Gull made another appearance on the lake and was later re-located on the side of the refuse tip. This time I managed to take a reasonable picture of the bird.

(Glaucous Gull)
There was a cast of thousands arriving at the Farm and more eyes searching always improves the chances of birds being found. At 8.52am the masses were treated to an Exocet missile in the form of a Merlin that flew south in hot pursuit of a Meadow Pipit. This bird disappeared out of site as quickly as it arrived only to re-appear near Mile Road bridge a while later. This was a Surrey VC and Beddington tick for me! A celebration followed with the opening of a lolly in true Kojak style!!

Yellowhammer were heard by Pinpoint at the gates, Tank and Glen confirmed they had had two birds on the mound and then the two birds flew across the front of the hide just in case anyone had missed them. 

Tank who was walking the site re-located the Merlin in a tree by the newly constructed road bridge by Hackbridge Railway Station. This provoked an army style march by the remaining birders in the hide. The yomp was cut short by the news the bird had flown off!

During the morning there was a good movement of Lapwing and Fieldfare and then a high flying "v" of Golden Plover which flew south. 

At around 1pm I parted company with the Farm and drove to Holmethorpe Sandpits thinking I could easily bag the Smew! I arrived and scanned Mercers lake which was plastered with gulls. No Smew to be found so I moved to the Aqua club to take a different view of the lake. I saw two Egyptian Goose on a pontoon but still no Smew! I thought they must be on Mercers West with the Goldeneye. I walked across Mercers Farm speaking to Sean who stated he had not seen the Smew either. Hmm this is not looking good! The Goldeneye was on Mercers West so the walk was not in vein. 

My next stop was the Water Colour lagoons. I stopped and asked a Snowman if he had seen the Smew, he just threw his arms in the air he had obviously failed in his quest to locate them!

I checked the lagoons and noted what was there and returned to Mercers lake to scan the gulls and hopefully see the Smew! But no Smew this afternoon I bet they will be seen tomorrow! I text Dodge before returning home and found out I had missed three Dunlin.

At home there was just about enough daylight to check the garden and I saw a Fieldfare tucking into the rotten apples in front of the feeders. Another good days birding!

I wonder what tomorrow will bring?!

Friday, 18 January 2013

Snow at the Farm!

I looked out the window this morning and the street was clear, I looked twenty minutes later and the ground was covered in snow! The Met office got that one spot on I thought to myself! My next thought was to sort out the feeders in the garden then get myself over to Beddington Farm. This was not a day to be driving too far and besides that the Farm is at its best in adverse weather conditions!

(Garden Feeders)

The wind was SE to E with continuous snow sometimes reaching blizzard conditions when the wind picked up. Dodge was in the hide he said there had been some movement of birds, a Dunlin in a small flock of waders and a Woodcock. Dodge has sharper eyes than me so I scanned the gulls whilst he kept his eyes on the skies. A Wigeon was my first year-tick followed by a Water Rail who entertained with its antics on the ice.

(Water Rail)

Throughout the day there was a steady movement of Lapwings and a four groups of Golden Plovers. Fieldfare and Redwing were also on the move during the afternoon. I periodically scanned the gulls hoping to find the Glaucous Gull. Bulldog and his pals had been in the hide around thirty minutes when I finally located the Glaucous Gull in the centre of the lake. At last! Sadly my pictures were not up to scratch!

I left the Farm completely satisfied with the days events, the Farm can be a tough and unforgiving place particularly in inclement weather but if will produce something spectacular if you persevere. 
Maybe tomorrow!

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Med to the rescue!

I went to Beddington Farm early this morning in search of five species of gulls.. Mediterranean, Yellow legged, Caspian, Glaucous and maybe an Iceland!

The Farm has in the region of fifteen thousand gulls that visit the landfill site daily during the winter months. The birds feed on the scraps we discard then wash up on the lakes and loaf on the hills that have also been created by a mixture of refuse and earth. The sight of a carpet of white can appear quite daunting at first but if the gulls are facing side on then carefull scanning can pay off with a white winged gull.

The Farm became famous for the visit of the UK's first Glaucous-winged gull which was found and ringed in Gloucestershire. A submitted second record two years later has provoked much debate and is still in circulation.

This morning the lakes were partially frozen and the gulls would not settle due to a flying gull which had got tape from the landfill wrapped around its legs creating "streamer bird!". This spooks the gulls sending them all skyward only to settle and have the streamer bird return and the process is repeated.

The gulls eventually settled on the North lake and the scanning began Frank saved my short visit by declaring he had found a Mediterranean gull. At least I wasn't going to leave empty handed!

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Canons Farm tick!

Yesterday evening I had a passing thought "Will the Golden Plovers still be at Canons Farm in the morning?!"  This species I have seen several times locally but connecting with them would not take up much time as this farm is approximately fifteen minutes away. I charged up my phone but left it on to take early morning tweets and low and behold the plovers were still in the Skylark field. I start work at ten if I drive via Sutton Lane I will miss the mad mile bottleneck (The.. too many cars turning right blocking the outside lane... one!). Off to Canons Farm it was and it didn't take too long to get there either.

I walked the public footpath between George's and Skylark field there were a few Wood Pigeons in George's along with a very busy Red-legged Partridge. This bird was a Canons Farm tick for me a silent woo hoo popped into my head! I didn't want to flush the contents of the field!

I saw David "Devilbirder" Campbell (The Canons Farm birding Guru!) walking the track towards Lunch Wood and phoned him to pass on my news! "Well its only taken you a year he chuckled!" True though that might be it was still one more species to add to my feeble Canons Farm total. The Golden Plovers were located but too far away and well camouflaged against the back-drop of the field for the SLR. I took a couple of shots but they were hopeless. I will have to start carrying the digi-scoping gear if i'm to record these moments.

Not a bad start to the day and little did I know the day was going to get better but that's a story for another time!

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Foray for a Firecrest!

I am currently in the midst of a ten day stint at work. This stretch hampers any plans to do any serious birding.

Today I had about an hour to spare so the question was where do I go. White winged gulls have recently featured at Beddington Farm but they are more likely to be seen when the refuse tip is in operation. The tip grinds to a halt at around mid-day on Saturday and resumes Monday morning, therefore a brief visit to the Farm was not a viable option! Holmethorpe and Canons Farm require a few hours to walk round them so I discounted both these sites.

A Firecrest has recently been seen at Banstead Downs Golf Club. I live about five minutes drive away and have seen this species several times before along the public footpath. Locating one should not pose too much of a problem so off I went!

I walked along the path checking the fence line and the patch of trees running adjacent to the golf course. One hundred yards passed nothing! Two hundred yards and still nothing! This was not looking good but I persevered and stood in an area of ivy clad trees and holly bushes and waited quietly. A small tit flock containing Long tailed, Blue and a Great tits passed through and then I heard the Firecrest call from the fence line. Bingo! Now comes the tricky bit a picture!

The bird was busy flitting around in the holly and was not going to linger in one spot for too long. A few shots later and the above was the best I could achieve before the bird disappeared from view.

Over the last few years I have built up a reasonable knowledge of birding in the local area and when time is short it can certainly pay dividends! Keeping one eye on the local blogs and tweets is also beneficial!

Monday, 7 January 2013

Twitching in Surrey!

Today was going to be a twitching day in Surrey with a visit to a site that paid dividends last year for Owls which are a particular favourite of mine!

The first stop North Camp Station Ash Vale and I saw the target species Waxwing as I pulled into the station. But the birds had moved by the time I had parked up. I re-located the flock of between 25-30 birds viewing them from a small industrial estate. A Cormorant made an appearance flying to a nearby lake.
The next stop was a brief one at Cut Mill Pond which is on Puttenham Common. I recorded my first Great Crested Grebes of the year and swiftly moved on to my third venue.
(Great Crested Grebe)
Thursley Common is a large area of Surrey Heathland and can be a bleak place to search for birds during the Winter months. A Great Grey Shrike or two are usually present for part of the Winter but there had not been any recent reports of one on Shrike Hill. Once out of the car-park I bumped into a small flock of Goldcrest and Coal Tits with a Wren that was tagging along in the undergrowth. Sadly there was no Firecrest amongst them but it was worth checking.
On Shrike Hill I met David who was also looking for the Shrike. Sadly no Shrike today! A few Meadow Pipits, Woodpeckers, Corvids and a reunion with the Goldcrest flock and it was time to say goodbye to David and leave for my last port of call before returning home.
I arrived at Papermill Water Meadows approximately an hour before dark. Owls were my target birds here. I have seen four species of owl here on a dusk patrol in the past. The water had created a small swamp along the footpath this took some time to negotiate. But before I had reached the viewing area the unmistakable effortless flight of the Barn Owl came into view. The bird must have been curious as to my presence and flew towards me allowing time for me to take a picture.

(Barn Owl)

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Bits and Bobs!

Saturday is football day Sutton Utd were away to Salisbury in the Blue Square Bet South. Salisbury are top of the league. This was going to be a tough fixture. I had a car full for this trip which would take a couple of hours. A brief look at the feeders produced a Goldfinch which did not stick around. I made a mental note to check the niger seed as the Greenfinch didnt stop the other day. The seed must need changing! My concerns were later confirmed the seed had gone off! The feeder was duely cleaned sterilised and re stocked.

The journey to Salisbury had a slight glitch I missed the A303 turn off and a detour was necessary. I arrived at Salisbury FC in good time for the start of the match having ticked Pheasant on the A36. The match was a thriller which saw Salisbury win 1 - 0 having scored in second half from a shot which deflected off of a Sutton player. The car was fairly happy on the way home even though the U.s had lost!

I looked at the weather forecast having dealt with the feeder situation. Fog on the coast with mist and low cloud inland. Back to Beddington Farm for me!.

The weather on Sunday was calm, slightly misty with a bit of mizzle in the air which would certainly keep anything that was on the move nice and low and within my viewing range. I gathered my kit together and packed the car a Grey Heron flew south above me straight over the driveway. There was no time to grab my camera I could only exclaim "That was low!".

Sunday is a good day to bird at the Farm, the landfill isn't operating, it is ringing day and the day most members are on site kicking every bush in the hope of finding a rarity! I added a few more species to my yearlist the best was a Little Egret seen along the channel adjacent to Beddington Park. This species has become a regular feature at the Farm, birds winter but I do not tire of seeing them!

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Return to Beddington Farm

I took a short jaunt to the Farm today after checking the garden feeders and adding a Greenfinch to my list. I met Dodge at the gate and two Goldcrest were seen on the path to Mile Road bridge. Frank was already in the hide and I looked out over the lake to a carpet of gulls. I had not missed the gull experience but an Iceland Gull had recently been seen and scanning through them using my scope was the only way to have a chance of seeing it. I noticed the view of Croydon east of the hide had disappeared since I last visited, this had been replaced by a landfill mountain which had another carpet of gulls on the west side of it. The gulls were facing into the slight breeze making identification a challenge but sadly no Iceland Gull today.

Beddington is famous for its Tree Sparrow colony which rivals Slimbridge but doesn't get the same publicity as the RSPB site. The Tree Sparrows had a poor breeding year in 2012 but they were still evident around the feeders situated by the hide.
(Tree Sparrow)
Rarities are weather induced at the Farm but there is always an air of expectancy of a rarity being found whatever the conditions. Today was not a rarity day but there were plenty of commoner species to look at from ducks and herons to garden birds and geese. Raptors were scarce today, an odd Kestrel and Sparrowhawk were noted throughout the afternoon. The stealth fighter of raptors a Peregrine Falcon left it late causing havoc amoungst the starlings and gulls.
(Reed Bunting)

As the light was fading Dodge called a Greylag Goose which arrived with Canada Geese. Why mention this you ask but Greylags are not a regular occurance on the lakes. A conversation ensued with Bulldog (who had been walking the site) whether it should be considered as my bird of the day!
(Greylag Goose)
Having made it home before dark I saw a few Rose Ringed Parakeets fly over the garden to roost. Back to work tomorrow therefore the next birding foray will have to be put on hold!

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Feeding Frenzy on New Years Day!

Having spent the latter part of 2012 doing everything apart from birding I thought it was time to start 2013 with a look at my feeders. By the time I had risen the sun was shining the sky was almost cloudless and there was a frenzy of activity in the garden from various common garden species.
My feeders contain high protein, sunflower and niger seed, suet pellets and peanuts. There are two drinking plates incorporated into the feeder stands. I have a ground feeder which I put mixed seed on and on the ground slices of apples and cooked vegetables (left overs from xmas!). There is a birdbath close by and an old fishpond next to the apple tree and bushes that provide the birds with the cover they need.  

The first encouraging sign were the number of House Sparrows that were present. Numbers fluctuate each day but 10 - 15 are regularly seen. Last year I had three days of c30 birds of which a couple had rings. I have not identified their origins to date.

(House Sparrow & Starling)

The next notable visitor were two Coal Tits who took turns to feed whilst the other stood in the bush on guard. Suddenly panic in the garden and flapping of wings and alarm calls. I looked to the sky but soon realised it wasn't a Sparrowhawk but the local cats who had caused the commotion.

(Coal Tit)
Once the two patrolling cats had been shoood away calm was restored to the garden and birds returned including Wood Pigeon, four Collared Doves joined the Blackbirds on the ground. The latter were feeding on the rotting apples and vegetables. Great and Blue Tits were noted on the feeders.

I had seen a male Blackcap on two previous days and wondered if it would return. This is the third garden record for this species. I am glad to say it did not let me down and took its rightful claim as "Bird of the Day!".

There are always gulls passing overhead most commute from Beddington Farm. I noted several Black Headed and various ages of Herring Gull along with a single Common Gull who very obligingly parked itself on a neighbours roof.
(Common Gull)
Having been totally transfixed for over an hour at the activity in the garden, I tore myself away picked my dad up and drove to Bromley FC to watch Sutton Utd triumph with a much needed 2 - 0 victory. There was still time to see a few Rose ringed Parakeets flying off to roost over the ground at dusk.
Not a bad day on two fronts 15 species seen in the garden and Sutton up to 13th in the Blue Square Bet South...!