Showing posts from September, 2020

New Surrey Hirundine Kings

On September 18th 2017 I was lucky enough to witness a massive movement of hirundines at Canons Farm , that included 6,710 House Martins (a Surrey county record) and 4,000 Swallows. It was one of the finest local days birding that I have had the pleasure to witness. And, for three years, that record has stood. Until today... My birding chums Wes and Robin have obliterated it, with a remarkable 13,302 House Martins! At the same time I was seeing nothing from my Banstead lookout, but on repositioning to nearby Priest Hill recorded 2,200 moving between SW and W (08.35 - 10.15hrs). Moving hirundines are one of the most arresting and exciting sights that a birder can witness. Without wishing to 'Top Trump' the boys, my all-time House Martin record is an almost unbelievable 90,000 at Dungeness  on 23rd September 1989. Apart from the hirundines, 60 Meadow Pipits, 10 Siskins and two Redpoll headed the same way, with nine Stonechat (four males) and two Whinchats grounded. Congratulation

Birds in a bush

I just love the photograph above. This morning, at Priest Hill, there was a bit of activity along the central path. Apart from a group of chats (5 Stone and 3 Whin) there were quite a few pipits zipping about. Up to 30 Meadows were hiding in the rank vegetation, popping up now and again to perch on the top of bushes. Their calls appeared to entice a few of their brethren down from above, including this bird that dropped like a stone into the middle of a bush, immediately followed by a Chiffchaff. I can only apologise that they were not a Tennessee Warbler and Olive-backed Pipit. At least two Tree Pipits were involved in this mornings movement, which is worth a double-celebration from me as I appear to be hearing this species calling once again - I had feared that they had dropped out of my aural register. Back at home a dribble of pipits, wagtails and finches accompanied a spot of gardening. I'm primed for a big movement - it's overdue. As for the chats, there had been some tur

Stonechat sweep

Over the past couple of days, fellow north-Surrey birders have been returning some tidy counts of Stonechats. Now, I love Stonechats, so today was turned into a 'Stonechat Sweep Day' where all of my most chatty patches were visited - all being within five miles from home. It turned out rather well. Fist up was the grandly named Mogador , open farmland/pasture with ribbons of hedgerow and several scrubby corners -  Stonechat score: 7 (4 males). Next up was Canons Farm , always a favourite with our chat friends, and so it proved again -  Stonechat score:  7   (3 males). Epsom Downs played hard to get, with the most  chat-tastic areas disappointingly devoid of them, but when I gave them all another search they came out to play -  Stonechat score:  5   (2 males). The last stop was Priest Hill , scrubby ex-football pitches and this site stole the show, with guest appearances as well -  Stonechat score:  11   (3 males) + 4  Whinchat. This gives a combined grand Stonechat total of 3

Living in hope

Since my last post it has been a case of having 'one eye on the sky' in the hope of a bit of visible migration passing overhead. This has partially paid off. Yesterday started off in the darkness at Box Hill. The early start was due to a bout of misguided anticipation - the change to a south-westerly airflow (after days of it being between north and easterly) did not prompt the sudden movement I had hoped. In fact, Box Hill was dreadfully quiet. I had digitally linked up with fellow Surrey migration watchers Wes Attridge and Ed Stubbs, who were both able to confirm a similar lack of action at Leith Hill and Thorncombe Street. I cut my losses and took the short journey to the wonderfully named Dick Focks Common (I'm sure he doesn't). My hope for a few Hawfinches was not realised, although the expected Crossbills did put in a performance, with up to 20 being recorded, including an unseen bird which called with a most distinctive deep 'chup'. I'm not claiming i

MAH's top birding moments

It has been my pleasure to have known Mark Hollingworth (MAH) for over 40 years. During that time we have forged a great friendship and birded together on a regular basis, from the shingle of Dungeness all the way to rain-forests of Taman Negara. As much as we love sharing our time in the field we enjoy talking about the experience of doing so almost as much. Such discussions are bound to touch on our favourite birding moments. I have persuaded Mark to come up with a selection of his own. With his permission, here they are... Spurn early September 1965 I was privileged to witness a stupendous arrival of passerines; brought about by a rain front crossing the southern North Sea from east to west! The harder it rained the more birds appeared. By lunch time, bedraggled and exhausted migrants were arriving, littering the bushes and spread out across the roads in their droves. A drive to the Point rewarded us with hundreds of Pied Flycatchers and Redstarts. By nightfall the rain was incessa

Southbound Gos

A return to my first patch, Beddington Sewage Farm, turned out to be a fortuitous move. It was a lazy start to the day, not turning up until 09.00hrs, entering the site via Hackbridge. This meant I was abandoning the 'signing-in' process and sticking to the public footpath and hides. This has its pluses, as wandering across a working site, dodging large machinery and trying to avoid debris and holes in the ground does not make for laid-back birding. The public footpaths are pleasant to work, with a ribbon of easily workable vegetation between the railway line and water bodies, plus three hides that gives pretty good views over the lakes and newly created - or rather, in the making - wet grassland. Highlight was undoubtably a juvenile Goshawk, my attention only being drawn to it by the calls of a couple of Carrion Crows. It was overhead and quite low, the muscle-bound, streaky-breasted raptor making the crows look weak and puny. This is where I made a mistake. I was roughly leve

Looking in the mirror

This isn't a gripe, or a moan, or a 'woe is me' post. It's more of a coming to terms with things, those things being ornithological. By mid-September the autumn migration is well under way. My Twitter feed is full of sightings, mostly rare. The What'sApp groups are also lively, and the one that deals with visible migration is positively purring, full of big numbers of birds making their way from A to B. Even the locally-based ones are reporting good birds - Great White Egret at Beddington, Glossy Ibis at Tice's Meadow. Even birding chums are getting in on the act today, with Mark H smashing the Kent Cattle Egret record and Mike B finding an Arctic Warbler in Norfolk. It is very easy to feel left out of it. However, there are a few things that you need to do to be able to join in with such observations and discoveries. Number one - get out into the field! My excuse today is that there were a number of pressing DIY projects that needed completion, although I did

Compare and contrast

After committing adultery with the Sussex South Downs a couple of times recently, I thought it best to return to my first love, that of the Surrey North Downs. On Monday, as I stood looking northwards from Chantry Hill, I could clearly see the chalk scrape that runs down the side of Colley Hill, and saw it as a beckoning, a reminder to return home and bird. So this morning, instead of heading back down to check out Chanctonbury and Cissbury Rings as I had planned, I stayed close to home, and was on the Colley Hill top at 06.15hrs. An hour later it was clear that nothing was on the move, save for just a couple of Siskins, whose plaintive calls cried out unseen. Apart from a few Chiffchaffs there were few migrants to get excited about. It therefore came as a kick-in-the-teeth to read tweets from Wes and Matt, who had been enjoying a bit of movement at Leith Hill, only nine miles to the south-west. Still, I had several miles of scarp to walk and scrub to bash - there was still time to r

Heathland wanderer

A pulse of hot air over the south of England often results in an unexpected visitor to the garden MV, usually a resident species that has wandered from specialist habitat. In the past these have normally been chalk downland - or wetland - specialists. This morning saw a wanderer from heathland, the aptly named Heath Rustic. The closest sites that host this species are a good 20 miles from Banstead, being the west Surrey heaths. Needless to say, a first for the garden.

South Downs and beyond

The eastern flank of Sullington Hill - full of warblers Compared to the North Downs, the South Downs generally has steep slopes on both flanks (with a narrow summit) and largely lack woodland at their tops. This creates a dramatic, open and wild landscape. This morning I walked from Washington to Amberley (West Sussex) and back. This section runs roughly parallel with the English Channel, that can be clearly seen some six-and-a-half miles to the south. First light was surprisingly muggy. Chiffchaffs were already calling and were joined by Skylarks, Yellowhammers and the rhythmic chugging of Red-legged Partridges. A largely uneventful walk to Sullington Hill was livened up by the scrub on the eastern flank being full of birds, mostly Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs. The latter was going to be a feature of the day, birds observed moving eastwards at vegetation height along the South Downs Way, using the thin strip of hedgerow as a fly-line. At least 60 were recorded. At Chantry Post it

More thoughts on North Downs autumn vis-mig

The photograph above was taken from the eastern end of Colley Hill, from a place where I have conducted several migration watches. As much as this particular spot has proved to be good, it is limited in seeing birds that are incoming from the east (unless they are south of the scarp) and very poor looking northwards. Yesterday I stood on a knoll at the western-end end of the hill (marked above as 'Colley Hill watchpoint') and was pleased to find that all-round visibility is much better, including a much improved northerly view. In the distance you can clearly see Ranmore/Denbies and beyond that the Greensand Ridge. Between Colley Hill and Ranmore/Denbies is the Mole Gap, a place where the modest River Mole breaks through the North Downs. It is here that Box Hill will be found, another site that I have 'vis-migged' from, with some success. Some thoughts on Box Hill: it is tucked in from the leading edge of the downs - will this mean that a number of birds coasting

A Sussex interlude

I arrived at the Washington 'South Downs Way' car park at 06.30hrs, immediately heading up the hill towards Chanctonbury Ring. This section of the Sussex hills are well served with footpaths which criss-cross the open farmland. This is big sky country, blessed of set-aside fields, hedgerows, copses and, most importantly, birds. Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps were already calling and an early Common Redstart and Spotted Flycatcher boded well for the day ahead. Chanctonbury Ring the site of a prehistoric hill-fort (the grove of trees is an 18th-century folly). Both times that I've birded here there has been little on offer within the 'ring', all the action taking place along the fence-line and northern slope between the dew-pond and 400m east of the grove, (this eastern end characterised by a graveyard of ash die-back victims). The morning visit was bright enough, with Whinchat, Wheatear and plenty of commoner warblers, but my return visit (at about 15.30hrs) was

More Whinchats

This morning saw a four-hour session at Priest Hill. The most notable event was that I actually heard a calling Tree Pipit as it flew SW - it must have been low and close. Not much else on the move though, a handful of Meadow Pipits and single Yellow and Grey Wagtail. At least four Whinchats were present, a couple which are not 'hangers-ons', as they exhibited wider and brighter supercillia than those seen over the past couple of weeks.

114 is not the story

One of the 114 - the striking and migratory hoverfly Helophilus trivittatus Last Sunday's field trip to Chipstead Bottom with Graeme Lyons produced a (provisional) total of 200 species. Of these I had not seen 114 of them - these comprising Bees (6), Ants (4), Wasps (3), Spiders (25), Beetles (20), Flies (9), Harvestmen (3), Bugs (24), Hoppers (5), Millipedes (1), Midges (1), Snails (5), Lacewings (2), Grasshoppers (1), Pseudoscorpions (1) and Springtails (2). It came as no surprise to me that there were so many 'lifers' as I rarely look at these groups and certainly do not possess the knowledge or patience of a professional field ecologist. As an aside, I still maintain my Pan-species list, although I rarely chase it. Recently Mark 'Skev' Skevington and I have been enjoying a friendly rivalry as we keep hopping over each other in the league table, but it is a bit of fun with a blunt competitive edge. I did, however, feel a tad guilty at adding such a substan