Field Meeting Reports

Thursley Common – Friday 16 June 2023

One of the highlights of the field trip calendar, this year’s visit to one of the most iconic nature reserves in the county did not disappoint. An amazing 35 Surrey Bird Club members met in the Moat Car Park at 18.30 on a beautifully warm and still evening. As we  gathered, a male Sparrowhawk flew low above us and crashed into the pine trees presumably after a small passerine

As with last year, a male Redstart was perched conveniently on a bare branch singing at the start of the new boardwalk. Surprisingly there was little immediate bird song other than Goldfinches, Linnets and Coal Tits singing from within the pine tree belt to the right as we walked along the sandy path.

The characteristic sound of the Stonechat then greeted us as we saw male and a juvenile close by. Throughout the walk we had Stonechats at regular points announcing their presence with their characteristic stone clicking call. One of our very keen-eyed group saw a dark bird flitting in amongst the gorse and low silver birches. With some persistence, we all got a view of a Dartford Warbler foraging for food. We were fortunate to see a good number of this warbler throughout the walk with some far better views at the top of Shrike Hill.

A very smart pipit was seen in a tree, to be identified as a Tree Pipit, with another two to be seen later with one displaying its parachute decent onto a perch on a dead tree. Amazingly as we were walking towards the rear of a Shrike Hill, someone spied a brown streaky breasted bird in a low silver birch, no more than 10 yards from the path. Laden with caterpillars a beautiful Woodlark was perched in full view allowing everyone to get excellent views of this heathland species. We were fortunate to see them regularly within the next hour or so, counting at least 10.

The beautiful sounds of the Willow Warbler were heard as we passed an area of mixed scrub with the bird showing extremely well from a high vantage point, with another showing even better a few yards on.

As we made our way to the top of Shrike Hill, we stopped for a while to take in the amazing unique landscape and of course to scan for birds – in a 20 minute stop we had Barn Swallow, Cuckoo, Mistle Thrush, Dartford Warbler, Tree Pipit and Woodlark. We made our way along the new boardwalk through Pine Island to Pudmore Ponds. Looking ideal for some inland waders, sadly none were found, but we did have Pied Wagtail, a pair of Eurasian Teal (unseasonal), 4 Tufted Duck, Mallard and Canada Goose. Sadly no Hobbies but it was probably too late in the day.

Making our way back to the base of Shrike Hill to be in position at 9pm for the hoped-for Nightjar and Woodcock, we almost immediately thought we had the former overhead, only to realise it was a female Kestrel. However we did not have to wait long before the haunting churring of the Nightjar started. Within a few minutes a male took to the skies and showed exceptionally well for everyone with its characteristic white flashes to it’s wingtips. Further churring and some croaking from within the heath continued and within minutes we had another better fly-by. A relieved trip leader and a happy group made their way back to the car park whilst still in the hope for the Woodcock but none emerged. Still a very special evening with a great group of people who all enjoyed the walk, the birds and the excellent company.

In total, 34 species were seen:             

Canada GooseCommon MoorhenGreat TitEurasian Blackbird
MallardEurasian SparrowhawkWoodlarkCommon Redstart
Eurasian TealGreat Spotted WoodpeckerEurasian SkylarkEuropean Stonechat
Tufted DuckCommon KestrelBarn SwallowPied Wagtail
Stock DoveEurasian JayWillow WarblerTree Pipit
Common WoodpigeonCommon MagpieCommon ChiffchaffCommon Linnet
Common CuckooCarrion CrowCommon WhitethroatEuropean Goldfinch
Eurasian NightjarCoal TitDartford Warbler 
Common SwiftEurasian Blue TitMistle Thrush 

Andy Harding

Staines Moor and Reservoirs – 21st May 2023

A beautiful late spring morning greeted 11 birders as we combined the pathways and open expanse of Staines Moor with the more desolate environment of the two basins at Staines Reservoirs.

After a brief introduction to the Merlin app, it was agreed we would see how accurate it was as we started our walk along the side of the Reservoir, with the enticing scrub to the right renowned for a good range of warblers and other passerines. We were not disappointed with Chiffchaff, Whitethroat, Blackcap, Garden and Cetti’s Warblers all competing for airtime! We all remarked that some of our more common resident birds have equally good voices with Dunnock, Song Thrush, Greenfinch, Wren and Robin all making themselves known (Merlin was 100% accurate here).

As we made our way through the pathway which becomes enclosed on both sides, we heard, but did not see, a Reed Warbler, later to be compared to the similar song of the Sedge Warbler, which was far more showy, displaying from the entrance to the actual moor. With much birdsong in the air from Meadow Pipit, Reed Bunting, and displaying Skylark, it felt quite incongruous that the backdrop to this beautiful spot was the sound of the M25 and planes taking off from nearby Heathrow.

Whilst watching both a Buzzard and two Red Kites interacting, an odd falcon-like bird flew fairly low across the moor towards the bank of trees. A rusty toned bird with a baubling call, it was soon identified as a female Cuckoo. We all remarked that the female was seldom seen unlike the male. As we walked along the River Colne, a Common Tern fished directly next to us giving great views, presumably catching fish for it’s young on the terns rafts on the nearby reservoirs.

Four of the group headed over to the Reservoir, for a brief  scan over the vast expanse of water of the North and South basins. Despite the enjoyable and warm weather earlier in the day, these intrepid birders encountered a brisk cold wind which made for an uncomfortable 30 minutes. However their perseverance was rewarded with some good sightings including Common Tern, Dunlin and a pair of nesting Oystercatchers. Good numbers of wildfowl were about – Tufted Duck, Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler, Coot and Great-crested Grebe, with excellent views of Common Terns overhead. (16 species seen).

Overall we had 57 species (R denoting Reservoir below)

Mute SwanDunlin (R)Eurasian JackdawSong Thrush
Northern Shoveler (R)Black-headed Gull (R)Carrion CrowEurasian Blackbird
Gadwall (R)Herring GullEurasian Blue TitEuropean Robin
Mallard (R)Lesser Black-backed GullGreat TitEuropean Stonechat
Common Pochard (R)Common Tern (R)Eurasian SkylarkDunnock
Tufted Duck (R)Great Cormorant (R)Common Reed WarblerHouse Sparrow
Feral PigeonEurasian SparrowhawkBarn Swallow (R)Pied Wagtail (R)
Stock DoveRed KiteCommon ChiffchaffMeadow Pipit
Common Woodpigeon (R)Common BuzzardCetti’s WarblerEuropean Greenfinch
Collared DoveGreat Spotted WoodpeckerLong-tailed TitCommon Linnet
Common CuckooEurasian Green WoodpeckerEurasian BlackcapEuropean Greenfinch
Common Swift (R)Common KestrelGarden WarblerCommon Reed Bunting
Common MoorhenRing-necked ParakeetCommon Whitethroat 
Eurasian Coot (R)Eurasian JayEurasian Wren 
Eurasian Oystercatcher (R)Common Magpie (R)Common Starling 

Andy Harding

Holmethorpe Nature Reserve, Merstham – 30th April 2023

Having not been to this great Surrey nature reserve in 2022 many people were keen to revisit. As always superbly led by local birders Ian Kehl and Gordon Kay (our thanks to them both), 13 members had a very enjoyable walk around the varied habitats of Holmethorpe Nature Reserve.

Meeting at Mercers Country Park, Tufted Duck, Great Crested Grebe, Mallard and Eurasian Coots were seen on Mercers Lake, with various tits and finches seen flitting around the surrounding woodland. As with 2021, as we headed over to Spynes Mere, Gordon yet again found a very well-camouflaged Little Owl in one of the mature oaks. With the use of the scopes everyone managed to get excellent views of this resident species – ever present, but ridiculously difficult to locate.

Skylarks were high up singing with Greenfinches making their wheezing call from the boundary hedges. With  the extreme amount of rainfall over the previous month, the water levels at Spynes Mere meant there was little mud exposed for potential migrant waders to stop by, but we were fortunate to find a feeding Common Sandpiper on the recently created new shingle island. Plenty of Sand and a few House Martins fed avidly, with four Common Swifts joining in.

An abundance of warbler song made for interesting discussions as to Common Blackcap versus Garden Warbler, but listening carefully to the more structured song of the Blackcap versus the longer song with flutey and scratchy tones of the Garden Warbler, we all managed to distinguish the two songsters. We did manage to see a number of Blackcaps during the morning, but only caught a fleeting view of the Garden Warbler. Chiffchaffs, Cetti’s Warblers, Common and Lesser Whitethroats were all singing and calling in the surrounding scrub.

Overhead we had Red Kite, Common Buzzard, Kestrel and then a superb Eurasian Hobby, with a further two hunting hirundines as we made our way back close to Mercers Lake. Of note was a distressed young Roe Deer getting caught out between us and a cyclists which caused it to panic, hitting the hedge on its way – thankfully seemingly unhurt.

As we walked back towards Mercers Farm and across the road passed the cricket club we heard the melancholy notes of a Bullfinch. Sadly no Yellowhammers in their regular field. Heading towards The Moors, we picked up a host of more regular birds with Goldcrest, Eurasian Wren, Common Starling, Song Thrush, House Sparrow and Common Chiffchaff, together with a good number of corvids across the fields of Chilmead Farm.

Unfortunately, the path around the Moors was flooded; so having checked for any birds on the flooded fields, we headed back to the Watercolour Lakes 1&2. A Great Crested Grebe was on a nest, two male Reed Buntings were calling from prominent perches in the reeds as were at least four Common Reed Warblers. This rounded off a really enjoyable morning’s walk, with an excellent tally of 54 species seen or heard (h).

Greylag GooseCommon SandpiperCarrion CrowGoldcrest
Canada GooseHerring GullEurasian Blue TitEurasian Wren
Mute SwanGreat CormorantGreat TitCommon Starling
Egyptian GooseGrey HeronEurasian SkylarkSong Thrush
MallardRed KiteCommon Reed WarblerEurasian Blackbird
Tufted DuckCommon BuzzardSand MartinEuropean Robin
Common PheasantLittle OwlCommon House MartinHouse Sparrow
Great Crested GrebeEurasian Green WoodpeckerCommon ChiffchaffCommon Chaffinch
Feral PigeonCommon KestrelCetti’s Warbler (h)Eurasian Bullfinch (h)
Stock DoveEurasian HobbyLong-tailed TitEuropean Greenfinch
Common WoodpigeonRing-necked ParakeetEurasian BlackcapEuropean Goldfinch
Common SwiftEurasian JayGarden WarblerCommon Reed Bunting
Common MoorhenCommon MagpieLesser Whitethroat (h) 
Eurasian CootEurasian JackdawCommon Whitethroat 

Andy Harding

RSPB Pagham Harbour – 18 March 2023

Ignoring the challenging weather forecast, 15 SBC members travelled south to the famous RSPB Pagham Harbour Nature Reserve with expectations for a great morning’s / day’s birding. We were not disappointed! The day was split into three venues :an early morning sea watch at Selsey Bill, a full walk along the West side of the Harbour from the Visitor Centre and an afternoon sortie along the main path at RSPB Medmerry.

Selsey Bill sea watch (07.00 – 08.45) – drizzling on arrival the rain soon stopped and in a light south easterly, 4 birders experienced the delights and frustrations of sea watching with a steady stream of birds at distance (difficult to identify) but with some birds coming closer in, affording good views of a variety of birds. The first sighting of note was a Harbour Seal which showed for only a few minutes before disappearing. A pair of Red-breasted Mergansers flew east close-in giving great views, soon followed by the first small flock of 5 Common Scoters again going east. During the session a total of 26 were seen. A steady flow of adult Gannets, were travelling west, mainly further out to sea, with a total of 11 Red-throated Divers all heading east, but at some distance from the shore. The first 5 Sandwich Terns of the year were seen fishing offshore. Other birds of note were a solitary Great Crested Grebe on the sea, 15 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, the local Ruddy Turnstones moving up and down the shoreline whilst Oystercatchers speedily moving west low just above the sea.

Pagham Harbour Nature Reserve – we met at The Ferry Pool hide and set up scopes to look over Sidlesham Ferry – always a good place to start with both wildfowl and a selection of waders to enjoy. Of note were 5 Avocets feeding with a group of Black-tailed Godwits, a single Green Sandpiper, along with a variety of ducks – Shoveler, Shelduck, Gadwall, Eurasian Teal, Mallard and Eurasian Wigeon. The feeders behind the hide and at the Centre had Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, House Sparrow, Blue and Great Tit, Robin and Blackbird.

Heading up the west path towards Church Norton, we could hear the continual explosive calls of the Cetti’s Warbler (with some of the group getting a couple of glimpses). Reed Buntings were very active with males starting to call whilst Skylarks filled the air with their beautiful song at altitude. Stopping to get a closer view of the main channel, we managed some excellent views of Grey Plover, Redshank, Curlew (of which there were many on the Reserve), a decent number of ducks including a smart male Pintail. Of note was a feeding Common Sandpiper on the far bank. As we moved away someone shouted “raptor” as we all turned to watch a large female Sparrowhawk hunt low down the channel (a very smart male was also later seen).

With so many birds to stop and see we did well to get to the shingle viewpoint in the Harbour in good time allowing us all plenty of time to scour the Harbour at low tide. Of note was the large mixed flock of both Black-headed and Mediterranean Gulls (most in summer plumage – see photo) and were able to contrast the dark brown head of the Black-headed to the very smart black hood of the Mediterranean. In amongst these gulls were up to 20 Sandwich Terns. Plenty of the regular waders were also easily seen and identified.

Spending limited time at the sea we headed back via Church Norton to see up to 8 Chiffchaffs feeding avidly around the Moat. More of the same was on show on the way back but we were very fortunate to see a superb flock of c.100 Golden Plovers gathering height from an adjoining field. Finally we were relieved to find the long-staying Spotted Redshank in the channel behind the hide. Feeding next to a Common Redshank, the differences in greater size, longer leg length, greyer plumage and the distinct white supercilium were all very self-evident in the Spotted Redshank.

RSPB Medmerry – 6 of the group decided to stay on to visit the relatively new reserve on the west of the peninsula. A decent walk to the sea via farmland, gorse hedges, wetlands and sea, this Reserve is not to be underestimated for birding, especially in winter for raptors. Of special note was the sight of two Barn Owls out in full sunshine hunting at 15.30, affording fantastic views as they seemed undisturbed by our presence. Fantastic birds! In addition, we had excellent views of 3 male Yellowhammers in full yellow breeding finery – incredible colours against the sunshine.

The walk to the sea and the Stilt Ponds is fairly long but we were rewarded by picking out a Common Ringed Plover together with a pair of Little Ringed Plovers – the latter’s yellow longer legs, slighter build and yellow orbital eye ring were diagnostic.

In total we had 66 species at Pagham Harbour, 18 at Selsey Bill and 44 at RSPB Medmerry, listed below. In addition, birds only seen at Selsey Bill were Common Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Gull, Red-throated Diver and Northern Gannet. Seen only at RSPB Medmerrywere Common Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover (2), Barn Owl (2), Stonechat and Yellowhammer (2).

Brent GooseCollared DoveMediterranean GullCommon Chiffchaff
Canada GooseCommon MoorhenHerring GullCetti’s Warbler
Mute SwanEurasian CootGreat Black-backed GullLong-tailed Tit
Common ShelduckPied AvocetSandwich TernEurasian Wren
Northern ShovelerEurasian OystercatcherGreat CormorantCommon Starling
GadwallGrey PloverGrey HeronEurasian Blackbird
Eurasian WigeonEuropean Golden PloverLittle EgretEuropean Robin
MallardNorthern LapwingEurasian SparrowhawkDunnock
Northern PintailEurasian CurlewCommon BuzzardHouse Sparrow
Eurasian TealBlack-tailed GodwitGreat Spotted Woodpecker(h)Meadow Pipit
Tufted DuckRuddy TurnstoneGreen Woodpecker(h)Common Chaffinch
Common PheasantDunlinCommon MagpieEuropean Greenfinch
Little GrebeCommon SandpiperEurasian JackdawCommon Linnet
Great Crested GrebeGreen SandpiperCarrion CrowEuropean Goldfinch
Feral PigeonSpotted RedshankEurasian Blue TitCommon Reed Bunting
Stock DoveCommon RedshankGreat Tit 
Common WoodpigeonBlack-headed GullEurasian Skylark 

Andy Harding

The London Wetlands Centre Saturday 18 February 2023

The SBC’s annual pilgrimage to the London Wetlands Centre did not disappoint 13 members with the weather cold but dry, seemingly keeping most of the usual visitors away and leaving the South Route almost free for us to roam.

Starting off at the Dulverton and then WWF Hides, in search of the elusive Bittern (failed again!), we all remarked how great it was to be up and close to the wildfowl and gulls. We were able to analyse and differentiate between Black-headed, Lesser Black-backed, Herring and Common Gulls in a variety of plumages and age. Equally with the wildfowl moving into breeding plumage we were able to identify Mallard, Eurasian Teal, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Common Pochard and Northern Shoveler. Heading round the Sheltered Lagoon, via the bird feeders, we again had great close views of feeding Chaffinch, female Reed Bunting, Goldfinch, Greenfinch and Robin, with a few lucky to see an elusive female Siskin. Someone called “Peregrine!” and directly above us ,the impressive falcon lazily flew over, clearly in no immediate hurry to move off, allowing everyone to get great views. Cetti’s Warblers were calling from the lake fringe with a single bird giving the group a tantalizing, but brief view as it worked its way through the scrub.

Finally reaching The Peacock Tower, with 13 pairs of eyes, we were able to seek out a number of challenging birds to both find and identify. On the Grazing Marsh, miraculously a Common Snipe was found tucked down in the reeds, but which afforded great views via our shared scopes. Despite not finding any Water Pipits, we did locate a pair of Stonechats on the fence line.

On the Main Lake, a very odd looking small duck was seen – shaped like a Tufted Duck but with a full grey back. For a moment, we all thought ‘male Scaup’ but on closer inspection, it wasn’t the size or the shape. Having checked some ID apps, it was identified as a male Common Pochard x Tufted Duck hybrid – apparently the commonest duck hybrid, with a majority being males. In the distance, a small diving duck was identified – constantly diving close to the reeds, identified as a female Goldeneye.

Heading back to the Visitor Centre, we heard the pig-squeals of a skulking Water Rail. We then headed along the West Route, but on reaching the Wildside Hide, via the extensive reed beds, very little was showing other than a Grey Heron, some very noisy Egyptian Geese and more wildfowl and gulls, but nothing new. In total 47 species were seen or heard (h):

Canada GooseGreat Crested GrebeGreat CormorantCetti’s warbler
Mute SwanFeral PigeonGrey HeronCommon Starling
Egyptian GooseCommon WoodpigeonGreat Spotted WoodpeckerSong Thrush
Northern ShovelerWater Rail (h)Common KestrelEurasian Blackbird
GadwallCommon MoorhenPeregrine FalconEuropean Robin
Eurasian WigeonEurasian CootRing-necked ParakeetEuropean Stonechat
MallardNorthern LapwingEurasian JayCommon Chaffinch
Eurasian TealCommon SnipeCommon MagpieEuropean Greenfinch
Common PochardBlack-headed GullEurasian JackdawEuropean Goldfinch
Tufted DuckCommon GullCarrion CrowEurasian Siskin
Common Pochard x  Tufted Duck (hybrid)Herring GullEurasian Blue TitCommon Reed Bunting
Common GoldeneyeLesser Black-backed GullGreat Tit

Andy Harding

Beddington Farmlands -Sunday 22 January 2023

12 intrepid birders braved the freezing fog conditions to walk the perimeter path at Beddington Farmlands, a tough morning’s birding given the lack of visibility. However, everyone had an enjoyable time and did get to see a range of birds, albeit many kept low or were too distant in the fog to be identified or even seen. The target birds at this time of the year are Water Pipit, Green Sandpiper, Jack Snipe, Shelduck and Caspian Gull and all had been seen on the reserve this month.
Making our way firstly to South Lake we heard and then saw Ring-necked Parakeets, Redwing and Great Tit. The lake was almost completely frozen but there were small groups of birds directly in front of the hide including a number of gulls – all Black-headed, but on closer inspection a Common and Herring Gull were found. Close by, a group of waterfowl were gathered – a combination of Eurasian Teal, Shoveler, Coot and Mallard.
Directly in front of the hide someone saw a flash of movement and two very small waders took flight and headed low to the other side of the lake – identified as Jack Snipe, this was a great start to the walk.
Taking a leisurely route to the North Lake, it was clear that, with an area of the lake unfrozen, nearly all the birds had congregated there. A large group of gulls were standing on the ice – which included some well-spotted Lesser Black-backed Gulls. In the near distance (but at our maximum range of visibility) we could just make out 5 Shelducks sleeping on the ice alongside a family group of Mute Swans. Waterfowl included Mallard, Teal, Gadwall and Shoveler.
A further walk down towards the 100 Acre area yielded very little on the Wet Grasslands and along the path; so a quick revisit to North Lake hide provided better views of the Shelduck and from the island we could hear the pig-squealing calls of a Water Rail which unfortunately remained elusive. Despite the poor visibility and freezing temperatures, 33 species were seen or heard (h):

Canada GooseCommon MoorhenGrey HeronLong-tailed Tit
Mute SwanEurasian CootGreat Spotted Woodpecker (h)Song Thrush
Common ShelduckJack SnipeEurasian Green Woodpecker (h)Redwing
Northern ShovelerBlack-headed GullRing-necked ParakeetEurasian Blackbird
GadwallCommon GullCommon MagpieEuropean Robin
MallardHerring GullCarrion CrowDunnock
Eurasian TealLesser Black-backed GullEurasian Blue TitCommon Chaffinch
CommonWoodpigeonGreat CormorantGreat TitEuropean Goldfinch
Water Rail (h)   

Andy Harding