Monday, January 30, 2012

Newhaven to Pulborough Brooks

Little Egret

Yesterday (Sunday 29th January 2012) my wife and I did a little road trip along the south coast. We took the fast route down the motorway; destination Newhaven. It took about 1 1/2 hours from Woking and we arrived at about 07:50am. After a wonderful McDonald's muffin, we bundled up and headed out onto the east quay near Newhaven harbor. Target bird today was Purple Sandpiper. Alas the tide was not in our favour and we came up empty handed. These small waders regularly roost at high tide along this quay, but we arrived, unfortunately, at low tide. Never the less, we braved the cold and walked out and checked it anyway.

East quay in Newhaven
Hardy birder - Lori Mooney

It was not a total waste of time; Lori got her lifer Oystercatcher, Little Egret and Guillemot! Other species seen included Lesser Black-backed Gull, Greater Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Black-headed Gull, Stonechat, Linnet, Goldfinch and Pied Wagtail. After checking the west quay we began to make our way along the coast; stopping every now and then to scan the beaches and rocks for Purple Sandpiper. Never did connect with this bird but did get some Turnstones for our efforts. After we had passed through Brighton we began heading further north towards the South Downs. 


Just outside the town of Arundal we turned off on a little country road towards Burpham, though pausing long enough to enjoy the beautiful view of Arundal Castle. The fields just outside Burpham have been a wintering area for Bewick's Swans for many years and luckily they were in full view for us today. 31 to be exact. 

Bewick's Swans

A little further up the road we made another quick stop which turned out to be very productive; Rough-legged Buzzard (which Mike Force and I had seen just before new year), Red-legged Partridge and Yellowhammer; all lifers for Lori! Our final stop of the day was at Pulborough Brooks RSPB Reserve. After filling up on pea and bacon soup, cake and tea; we headed around the reserve. There was a good selection of all dabblers seen from the hide but not many waders showing, Lapwing was about it. We did snag one cool bird though. On our way out of the reserve we stopped at some conifers, where we got a few Goldcrest and one FIRECREST! A bird I have not seen since about 1998.


A good day and about 160 miles....

Saturday, January 28, 2012


Today had nothing to do with birds. (ish) Our family trip to Salisbury Plain and Stonehenge today was just brilliant. Good weather, great scenery, fun and yes, some birds...Other than Red Kites en-route along the M3 motorway, the birds that I did take note of today are pretty common.
Couldn't resist - what an awesome sign!!
No one will be too excited when their names are mentioned: Rook, Jackdaw, Starling. Yet I was really happy. All three were abundant around the Stonehenge car park which gave me an opportunity to take some photos with my basic point and shoot camera. To be honest, I was over the moon with the results. AND hopefully, you will look at these birds in a different light too. Each of these 'dirt birds' is spectacular in its own right. At least I think so....

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Hawfinch at Bookham Common

A bird that has been on my mind recently is the Hawfinch. It is a species that I have only seen in Russia whilst on a bird ringing trip in 1999. Having dipped on this bird at West Dean Woods two weeks ago, I was very happy to hear a couple had been reported at Bookham Common in Surrey. Though they are a big chunky finch, they are notoriously difficult to see, spending lots of time on the ground or high in a tree canopy. Add to this there shy demeanor and a recent decline in numbers; and what your left with is possible nemesis bird!

My British Lifer: HAWFINCH!

Luckily I didn't have to sweat on this one. After the morning showers had finished I headed out to Bookham. The earlier sighting reported the birds behind the Bookham Railway Station. I parked away from the station, because of the parking fee, and made my way across the bridge and on to the Common. It didn't take long to get my first look at a British Hawfinch!There were two birds, but I only ever got looks at one at a time. I stood around for about an hour and got four different sightings, from low in a bush to high in the canopy. I was a little pushed for time today, but want to go back for another look and spend some time birding the area as other cool species such a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Woodcock.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Some Patch birding

This weekend I stuck close to home to catch up with some Patch birding. After arriving back in the UK from Canada in August 2012, I joined the Surrey Bird Club and Surrey Birders. One of the fun activities that you can partake in is a local patch challenge. Anyone taking part can choose a 5 kilometre square within Surrey and record species for the year. Its a great idea as it gets people out and concentrating their efforts in a specific area, which, not only produces good data, it also makes birding locally lots of fun. Last year from August-December I came in 12th place with 80 species. This year I hope to break 100 on my local patch. My weekends birding paid off with some good birds including Goosander, Bullfinch, Short-eared Owl, Barn Owl and Stonechat. I have recorded 60 species in the first two weeks...

Monday, January 2, 2012

West Dean Woods & Pagham Harbour

This morning I spent about three hours walking around West Dean Woods in West Sussex. My reason for choosing this location was simple: Hawfinch. I got a tip from an RSPB volunteer at Pulburough Brooks and thought I would give it a shot. Bottom line, I didn't find the bird. I followed the bridal ways around the reserve but there is no public access within the reserve itself unless you have a permit. All was not lost as it was a great morning with great looks at most woodland birds including Marsh Tit and Coal Tit. The bonus bird, however, was my first British Common Crossbill!

Common Crossbill
As I was so close to the coast I couldn't resist going to see Pagham Harbour. It only took about twenty minutes to get there and was well worth the trip. It took about an hour to walk from the visitor centre to the sea.
There was plenty to scan through as I made my way along the channels and mudflats. Waders were represented by Curlew, Grey Plover, Redshank, Dunlin and Oystercatcher. Wildfowl included Brent Goose, Shelduck, Wigeon, Pintail and Teal. Other birds of note were Reed Bunting and Little Egret.

Brent Geese
My sea watch only produced Red-breasted Merganser, Herring Gull and Great Black-backed Gull. However, on the beach there were Oystercatcher and I had great views of Turnstone.


It took 1 hour 20 minutes to get home to Woking; so I shall return...great birding spot.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Force in Woking???

Yes....Mike Force in WOKING!

Happy New Year to you all! Time to catch up with the last few days of 2011 and some good birds. I couldn't have wished for a better end to the year! On the 28th of December our good friend Mike Force from British Columbia came and stayed with us for a few days. Mike had been visiting relatives in Gloucestershire but came down to see us for a visit before continuing with his holiday. We didn't waste much time and got out birding straight away. One of Mike's most wanted bird was Kingfisher, so after picking him up from Woking station we headed straight out with that in mind.

Mike Force scanning the south bowl at Staines Reservoir

Our first stop was Wraysbury Pit near Staines where we got good views of most of the common diving ducks and common woodland birds. We then went over to Staines Reservoir where we added some more divers and grebes and Mike's first lifer: Water Pipit! After scanning both north and south bowl, which produced a distant look at Black-necked Grebe, we headed back to my local patch. Our first stop was at Papercourt Lake. Here Mike finally connected with his most wanted bird: KINGFISHER!


This individual was seen next to the stock pond where I have seen it on a few occasions. It stayed perched for about ten minutes and though we had great views, we didn't manage to get anymore than a record shot. The other bird of note at this location was Bullfinch. We then headed to Papercourt Meadow where we added Short-eared Owl, Stonechat, Meadow Pipit and a calling Tawny Owl....before heading down the pub:)

Mr Force birding Minsmere

Minsmere RSPB - 29th December 2011

Today we headed northeast from Woking to Minsmere; the famous RSPB Reserve on the Suffolk coast. We departed home at 05:00 am and arrived at the reserve at 08:45 am, after a slight unplanned detour. We missed our exit! One of our first birds before leaving the car park was a gorgeous Red Kite! A good bird for Suffolk. Our first views from a Minsmere hide produced a bird that is as historically famous as the reserve itself: Avocet!

Hallowed ground

Following the trails along the the coast we discovered the small group (10) of Bean Geese (tundra) that have been present since November. These individuals were asleep when we arrived, though did wake after a while, giving us great looks. Other geese here included about 60 White-fronted Geese, Greylag Geese, Barnacle Geese (feral population) and finally my first look at a Bittern! The ocean was a little quiet though we did get a flyby Red-throated Diver.

Mike and Rich at Minsmere RSPB Reserve - Suffolk
Bean Geese (tundra)

After having our fill of scoping these amazing geese, we continued around the reserve; checking a few more hides where we got killer views of some very cool birds: Whooper Swan and Marsh Harrier! We had a great days birding and it was so much fun to finally visit this fantastic reserve with Mike.

Whooper Swan

Pulborough Brooks RSPB - 30th December 2011

Our last day birding together was at Pulborough Brooks in West Sussex. A Marsh Tit (lifer for us both) was the start of our day before leaving the parking lot. The reserve was fairly quiet and we enjoyed a leisurely stroll around the blinds and hides. Birds of note included Peregrine Falcon, Sparrowhawk, Bullfinch, Ruff and Snipe. 

Which way to the pub?
Rich scanning at Pulburough Brooks
Pied Wagtail

After chatting with one of the RSPB volunteers we decided to make a side trip to go see a flock of Bewick's Swan that winter in the water meadows near Arundal. On arrival in an area called Burpham we immediately spotted the swans, but only paused for a moment to look, as we also had information of a rarer bird further up the road. 1/2 mile further, at a great vantage point, we bumped into some birders. They were indeed looking at something a little rarer: an immature Rough-legged Buzzard! A British tick for both Mike and I. We chatted for a while and added a few more species including Corn Bunting (50), Grey Partridge (4), Red-legged Partridge (10), Common Buzzard (2), Kestrel (1), Red Kite (1), and Reed Bunting (2). Heading back down the hill me noticed that all the Bewick's Swans were gone! On closer inspection we found out why. Unfortunately there were about ten people with dogs and guns close to where the swans had been feeding. This fact, plus the heavens opening prompted us to call it a day head home...

Mike yacking with the locals

Two weary but happy birders - Mike Force and Rich Mooney The New Inn Pub December 2011

Over these few days we covered a lot of ground and got to see some really cool birds (95) and even snagged a few lifers too! We ended our trip down the New Inn pub, where Mike kindly treated Lori and I to a nice meal and a couple of pints!