A long walk in the Surrey Hills

On May 3rd I put on my walking boots, opened the front door, and ventured out into the (almost) dawn. It was 03.45hrs and the start of a carefully planned circuitous birding walk. The aims were simple really, to see what could be found across a large swathe of the Uberpatch. I wasn't expecting much, as the 'properly' birdy areas of my extended patch (Beddington and Holmethorpe) were not being visited, as these areas are well covered by others, and I have perversely taken it upon myself to travel on 'those roads less birded'. It would be fair for others to question why any sane birder would remove themselves from such proven honeypots, and I'd largely agree, but we all get our ornithological kicks in different ways, and the older I get the more left-field they have become. Call it self-denial, self-harming or just plain stupid, but to me these 'forgotten' patches can - an do - spring surprises. Just not all that regularly. To cut a long story short - a 34

Memories of Bob

I first met Bob Hibbett in 1981. Maybe 10-years older than me, he cut quite a striking figure, being tall and upright, wearing long flowing hair and sporting a clutch of love-beads around his neck. He spoke with a slow, deep voice and in conversation made me realise that he was not like other birders - he used to hang around the pubs and clubs with professional Chelsea footballers, and had lost a digit or two from one hand due to a failed schoolboy firework experiment - it is fair to say that I found him a touch exotic. He became a mainstay of my birding world throughout much of the 1980s. Along with his young son Scotty, Steve Broyd and Stuart Holdsworth, we formed a merry band of birders who travelled across the country in his Citroen in search of the rare and the wonderful. Birds such as Little Whimbrel (Kenfig), American Bittern (Magor), Greater Yellowlegs and Caspian Tern (Minsmere), Squacco Heron (Radipole) and Varied Thrush (Nanquidno) readily spring to mind, but there were many

Comparison is the thief of joy

This post is going to be a right old mixed bag of snippets - a potpourri of bits and pieces if you like. That could suggest that I haven't anything of note to impart to you, or there again it could be that I have got much to share - you'll be the judge of that, although my money would be placed heavily on the former.  On the birding front I have been out locally on a regular basis, but it has not been full of success, with efforts to dig out those avian gems largely unrewarded. Bird numbers have remained poor, migrants even more so, although 'keeping on keeping on' has revealed that not every hedgerow, or sky, has been empty. On 16 March, after having left the Hawfinches at Ashurst Roughs (see last post) I went to Canons Farm where there had been reports of high numbers of Stonechats. This species is a typical early spring migrant through the area, where counts in the 6-8 range would be considered high. After last autumn's record shattering numbers through the area

Qustions, questions

Five years ago, to this very day, I was knee-deep in Hawfinches, scouring the wooded valleys of the Surrey North Downs and enjoying numbers that had never been recorded before in the UK. I doubted that such experiences would be repeated again in my lifetime, and although this has been the case so far, events of the past week has questioned such an assumption. It started on March 5th, when Sussex-birder Mark Mallalieu found at least 70 Hawfinches at Fairmile Bottom near Arundel (in West Sussex). He wondered whether the Surrey sites that had hosted good numbers during the 2017-18 eruption might be worth checking. I took the hint! On March 10th I spent the afternoon on Headley Heath, taking a slight detour to check a small part of Bramblehall Wood. Apart from a single bird at Headley Warren, plus three over the heath,  I had to wait until 15.30hrs when a flock of 33 arrived from the south (Box Hill) and flew along the line of the western valley until veering off westwards towards High Ash

Getting better

The Beatles sang "I've got to admit it's getting better..." and I could say the same about the local birding over the past week. Redwings, after a winter of having gone missing, have suddenly appeared, with 300+ present on rank grassland/woodland within 800m from home last week and up to 360 feeding on Walton Downs horse paddocks this afternoon. My first decent sized group of Stonechats of the spring decided to show themselves on Epsom Downs (this afternoon) with six birds (four males, two females) that only encouraged head-scratching from myself in my trying to age and assign them to a subspecies - as one male was so much paler on the underparts than the others (a cleaner orange, clear white and dark black head, pictured above) and one of the females was brighter and cleaner than the other. I've read up, but am none the wiser. Maybe best to leave alone. A walk across Epsom and Walton Downs earlier today also rustled up three displaying Lapwing (a sound I never ti

Virtually nothing

It isn't news. It should really come as no surprise to any of us. Our wild bird population is in free-fall, cartwheeling downwards to some horrible, unimaginable base figure.  For years we have been talking about the demise of such species as Turtle Doves and Spotted Flycatchers, but these migrant losses have been explained away as not really being of the UK making - it is the expansion of the Sahel desert you see, or the southern-Mediterranean hunters blasting them out of the sky. Our Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers are suffering at the hands (wings?) of nest site competition from Ring-necked Parakeets, not our fault but that of a foreign interloper. Our Willow Tits are being removed from southern England because of the drying out of habitat, a world-wide symptom of climate changing, so not our fault really. And now, any collapse of any bird population in the UK will be down to the bird-flu pandemic, handily attributed to unhygienic poultry-farming in some far-off country. The reasons

Something old, something new

It can be disquieting returning to a place that you have strong ties to after many years of absence. This morning, 64-year-old me retrod ground that I haven't walked since 1976, when, as a 17-year old I birded Ashtead and Epsom Commons. Back then I used to catch a bus from Sutton and get off just before Ashtead village, and, via a railway crossing, emerge out onto a lovely area of open ground, with scrub at knee- and waist-height. This was the haunt of guaranteed Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers and Willow Tits, plus, in the summer, several pairs of reeling Grasshopper Warblers. Since those halcyon days my visits to the common have been by entry from the other side, concentrating around the stew ponds. It was with some nervousness that I found the railway crossing and went through the gates. Would it all be scrubbed up now? This is what I found... In some aspects I was heartened that I could still recognise the area. Admittedly, the trees are taller (and after 47-years it would be surpri