Sunday, 22 February 2015

First Farm Kite of the Year!

The weather forecasts have predicted a heavy storm coming in from the West. The morning was sunny with cloud moving in by the afternoon with the storm taking full effect by the evening. This sounded like good Farm weather and when the storm started performing I could continue birding from the tin hut! It seemed that I was the only one on site which I thought was strange on a day which had potential! (Nick was on site)

(Red Kite)
I have had fantastic views of Red Kite this weekend and I looked at the skies and considered the possibility of one passing over the Farm. I arrived just before eleven and set up on the sand martin bank and began scanning the skies. Within about ten minutes I spied two Corvids mobbing a raptor moving south on the West side of the Farm. It did not take long to establish that the raptor was a Red Kite and the camera was put to work in capturing the moments as it evaded the aggressors attentions.

(Get off our land!)
The afternoon moved on with the skies becoming darker and the wind was certainly picking up! When the rain started I moved into the tin hut which has a more restricted view but at least it was dry.
A Moorhen wanted to join me sheltering from the elements but had a last minute change of mind. That is how grim it was getting outside the hut!

My spirits were lifted when four Dunlin appeared out of the low cloud and negotiated their way over the far side of the lake before disappearing over the mound. There were no gulls on the lake why didn’t they come down. I did manage a couple of shots but they were poor.

I think the Dunlin made the right decision not to stick around because I stayed having been fired up by their fleeting visit and I wondered why at times as the hut shook in the wind and rattled in the driving rain!! I stuck it out until dusk and then legged it for the car and home! 

Note to self: Perhaps I should go on garden watch I don't have Red Kite on my Garden list!

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Big Raptor Day in Surrey VC!!

The one thing I like about birding in Surrey VC is you can usually catch up with most of the rarities in a single day without travelling for hours and sitting it reams of traffic. Today I was meeting Ed who has a new patch along Thorncombe Street near Busbridge. The target species were to have good views of Red Kite, Raven and catch up with Red legged Partridge.

I picked up Ed and before we got to the end of his street news came through of the return of the Red-breasted Merganser to Pennymead lakes East Horsley. There wasn’t a great deal of discussion to be had as this was a Surrey tick for Ed and a year tick for me.  We were off to see it stopping briefly to see a Red Kite that Ed had spied from the car. There was a small delay before we got on the road again as a small hunt was departing with the local law enforcement watching on!
(Red-breasted Merganser)
The Red-breasted Merganser was very obliging on this very small lake. It seemed to have latched onto a female Goosander who barely went out of its sight. There were eighteen Goosander which was quite a sight in itself!
(Red Kite)
We were back on the road for another short drive back to Thorncombe Street. A couple of Siskin was seen by the lay-by opposite the footpath that led to the steep climb to the top of the hill. The views were spectacular from the top of the hill and the birds did not disappoint either. Raven, Red Kite, Peregrine, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, and a good few Buzzard later, I had almost forgotten what county I was in. Burpham West Sussex was the last place I saw this many raptors in one place!
(View from the top)
Thorncombe Park which is a private estate adjacent to the public footpath held numerous deer and the borders were where the Red-legged Partridge scuttled to whenever we appeared in their line of sight. The hedges and bushes were lined with Reed Bunting who would drop onto the cut corn field to feed on the seeds that had been left behind.
(And another view)
In the mean time more Surrey news had filtered through and once again we were on our toes back to the car. A field full of Redwing and two Little Owl were heard calling en route back to the car.

The next stop was Thursley Common where the ringtail Hen Harrier had been seen. The day had been fantastic but to add this bird to the list would be the icing on the cake. Ed was particularly confident we were going to see this bird which added to the buzz factor in the car during the journey.

We met Mark and Steve in Thursley car park before walking a parallel route to the main boardwalk. Another Red Kite (a Thursley tick) a Dartford Warbler and a mixed flock containing Lesser Redpoll were seen prior to arriving at the watch point.

There was a small group of birders at the watch point and the wait was on. The conditions looked good with a mix of cloud and sunny spells. Then the shout went up from Ed “Ringtail”. The bird glided in low over the SE edge of shrike hill and gave good views for around twenty five minutes. The bird was a lifer for Mark and what an obliging bird to see for his first one.
The walk back to the car was eventful with three Goosander passing overhead and then I spied a Curlew on a small island on Pudmore Pond. Could the day get any better! I quick flash of the camera later and I had spooked the bird fortunately it did not move very far but this has caused amusement amongst the group!!

What a fantastic days birding which was enhanced by twitching county rarities! The short distances between sites obviously helped. Thanks Ed for showing me around and I look forward to visiting your part of the county again! 

Friday, 20 February 2015

Smew found at last!!

Holmethorpe Sandpits which includes Mercers farmland and lake is a regular site for wintering Smew. The number of birds present varies each year but this site remains Surrey’s hotspot for this species.

This year a single redhead has been regularly reported on Mercers lake and occasionally on Watercolours one by the housing estate. This species is usually a relatively easy bird to find but the lakes are at an unusual high level and the fishing platforms have been washed away. This has provided ample cover for the bird restricting good vantage points to scan the lake.

I would need to take my shoes and socks off to count the number of times I have searched in vain for this bird this year. I have even been on site when the bird has been reported but have failed to connect on each occasion.Two days ago the story was the same plus I missed a Red Kite over Mercers farm by minutes. This species would have been my 109th species seen at Holmethorpe.

Today I parked up by the housing estate and spoke to Gordon who found it highly amusing that I was still looking for the Smew. He also added that I had just missed another Red Kite. I was feeling a sense of de ja vous but marched on to search the North side of Mercers lake for the Smew.

I walk up and back along this side of the lake produced nothing. I was beginning to think I was not going to see this bird and turned my attention to the gulls that were arriving to roost on the lake. I walked to the South side of the lake and found a spot to scan through the gulls. I had been scanning for around fifteen minutes when I noticed a small sawbill sat on a branch just above water level at the North edge of the lake. Bingo! I had finally seen the Smew!
I noted the Smew’s position returned my scope to my car and squelched my way through the mud swamp of a path to the location of the bird. The path is some way above the water level and there was plenty of foliage to creep up on the bird which was partially obscured by a tree stump.  After about a five minute wait the bird moved from its position and began feeding in between the submerged branches. The light was not great but I took some shots of the bird before making my way back to the car.
That was by far the most difficult Smew I have ever had to catch up with!!

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Vice County Birding!!

I spent Saturday morning at the Farm walking the SE corner with Glen. I had good views of Woodcock which had been inadvertently flushed during the walk. My binoculars seemed to be glued to my face as I heard Glen repeat “Photo photo!” as the bird flew taking a circular flight path. Needless to say there were no photos of this magnificent bird. Water Pipit and six Green Sandpiper were the other notable species seen.

Saturday afternoon was spent at Thursley Common in search of a Hen Harrier which had made a few appearances on the common. A Merlin had also been seen by Ed and Matt but on this day neither graced me with their presence.

I was off on my travels again on Sunday. My first stop was at Tices Meadow, Badshott Lea which is undergoing a transformation which will surely bring more rarities to the area. I saw Richard Horton en route to the vast expanse of water and flooded meadow.
(Black-necked Grebe)
My target bird was a Black-necked Grebe which took a while to show itself but gave good views when it did. I really must carry my digi-scoping equipment with me!!
Prior to locating the Grebe a flock of lapwing were seen in flight but I could not remember seeing Golden Plover amongst them. Good thing I check the flock a second time whilst it was on the flooded meadow. A couple of Golden Plover were stood amongst them. I’m not sure where they appeared from but this is a good site to see this species.

Thursley Common was my next port of call, the overcast weather was clearing and the afternoon was spent stood on the top of Shrike hill looking for raptors. Common Buzzard were the species seen but the Great Grey Shrike made an appearance along the SE edge of the hill.
(Mistle Thrush)
On the way home I popped into Crooksbury Common to see what came into roost. A Mistle Thrush put in an appearance (my 1st of the year) along with Chaffinch, Goldcrest, Coal, Blue, Great and Long tailed Tits.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Great Gulls!!

There was standing room only in the hide this morning. There have been some interesting gulls at the farm recently and this has bought the heavy artillery in the form of Garry Messenbird, Gordon and co up from Sussex. Gulls are always a testing subject and recent Iceland gulls have been at the front of the line as topics of discussion. A big bonus is that the majority of these birds are photographed by the regulars and extra time can be spent scrutinising the pictures.

There are plenty of gulls to choose from even on a Saturday but time is limited as the landfill shuts down at around 12.30hrs. I must confess I go cross eyed sorting through the multitude of gulls but today I started looking on the island directly in front of the hide.

A 1st winter Caspian Gull was first on the menu Garry having spied it at the back of the island. Scanning continued with the gulls taking to flight intermittently which can be an advantage mixing the gulls up tip to mound and North to South lakes. A bag laden gull was responsible for most of the mixing process early on.

I spied a bulky white winger but the bird was facing back on to me. There was patchy grey on the mantle the head was small in comparison to the bulky body. The bill was large with a distinct black tip. I announced the presence of the bird and the next job was to confirm its identity. The gulls had been jumpy during the early part of the morning and true to form a bag laden gull sent the gulls skyward taking the white winger with them.

(Glaucous Gull)
A short while later the same bird returned to the opposite side of the island and gave excellent side on views and its identity was confirmed as a 2nd winter Glaucous Gull. The news was sent out which had pinpoint hot footing it from the obs.

(Glaucous Gull)
A couple of Med Gulls followed in quick succession before the Glaucous Gull was observed flying off towards the tip and was my 100th Surrey VC tick of the year. I added a Grey Wagtail whilst walking the north end of the lake in search of a Yellowhammer (rare at Farm) that had been found earlier on in the day by Tank and Glen.

I did try to end the day with a Beddington tick but it was not to be after an hour stake out for a Coal Tit of all birds!! I thoroughly enjoyed the mornings banter and catching up with El scorcerer!!

Monday, 2 February 2015

Icy Conditions!!

I didn’t make it to the Farm at the weekend and missed out on a Gull fest with an Iceland, Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls all present. The tip at Beddington is not in operation on a Sunday which gives the gulls the opportunity to disperse. An Iceland gull was reported on Staines reservoir Sunday but would it see its way to the farm for Monday?!

It was bitterly cold overnight which usually means the lakes at the Farm will be frozen over. A big plus point is the gulls use the newly created skating rink to loaf on. Frank Prater is also in his element because he gets to see plenty of legs reading off a number of gull rings.

It wasn’t too long before Frank had found the Iceland Gull on the North lake and the news was dispatched onto twitter @bfbginfo which does not generate an automatic text message to my phone anymore...Thanks Vodafone!! A few text messages later and Frank informed me the Iceland was now on the South Lake.

It was time to sit things out at work and hope that the gull would remain on the ice and not disappear amongst the thousands spread all over the farm. When the Chigley hooter went I was off and running!! I have seen a few Iceland Gulls but have promised myself that I will seize as many opportunities to see good birds in the Vice County of Surrey this year.
(Iceland Gull)
I turned up at the Farm and the lock was on the outside of the gate hmm I was the only one on site. I legged it up onto Kojak’s corner which was freezing cold some 60ft above lake level! I checked the South lake and bingo there was the Iceland Gull facing me stood on the ice. A couple of stretches of the wings later and I was happy this biscuit brown bird was not one of the lucistic birds that frequent the site.
(Iceland Gull)
The chill factor was getting a bit too much so I wandered down into the hide to see Bulldog scanning the gulls for the bird I had just seen. A short conversation later Bulldog made his way onto the mound and bagged the bird. That was a relief as I hadn’t realised he was on site and the tweet had not been picked up by him. The bird had now joined the other gulls and faced into the wind. It did look strange being the only bird facing in the opposite direction..Compass failure maybe!!