Holmethorpe SPs, Surrey … Tuesday 21st December – Sunday 26th December 2010

The 21st produced a female or first-winter male GOLDENEYE on Mercers Lake along with two pairs of Wigeon, 2 Kingfishers and an impressive count of five Water Rails.



On the 22nd there were at least two (and possibly three) female SMEW on Mercers Lake, their flightiness and ability to disappear into overhanging bankside branches making it difficult to be certain just how many birds were involved. A Kingfisher and a couple of Siskins were the best of the rest.
No reports came in on the 23rd and 24th (all too busy Christmas shopping!).

SMEW (Graham)

Christmas Day saw Gordon out at the pits where he had a very good morning, noting 12 WAXWINGS by the railway line at the Holmethorpe Industrial Estate, the flock perching for ten minutes before flying off over the railway line towards the Holmethorpe patch. He also saw one female SMEW on Mercers Lake, one female GOLDENEYE on Mercers West Pit, a LITTLE EGRET , 15 Common Snipe, a Common Buzzard, five Siskins and two Lesser Redpolls amongst the commoner species. A large flock of about 180 Goldfinches at The Moors NR was also notable.
Paul had a couple of hours at the pits on Boxing Day and logged two female SMEW and a female GOLDENEYE on Mercers Lake, six Siskins and a Common Buzzard.


SMEW (Paul)

With good numbers of Bitterns and White-fronted Geese in the south-east, the race is on to add these species to the 2010 Holmethorpe year list during the next few days.

Holmethorpe Sand Pits, Surrey … Wednesday 15th to Monday 20th December 2010

Female SMEW

On the 15th, two female SMEW were on Mercers Lake.
The 16th produced a LITTLE EGRET at The Moors and a wintering Chiffchaff.
The 17th was a quiet day but things picked up a bit on the 18th when Gordon Hay found at least 3 female SMEW (possibly 4) at Mercers Lake along with an adult female GOLDENEYE, two Water Rails and another wintering Chiffchaff.
By the 19th, the 3 female SMEW were still around and 3 GOLDENEYE were in the area along with 4 Kingfishers and 4 Wigeon. A decent-sized flock of about 20 Lesser Redpolls were at Mercers Country Park as was the wintering Chiffchaff.
On the 20th, I could only find 2 female SMEW and one first-winter male GOLDENEYE at Mercers Lake but the Wigeon numbers had risen to 17 birds.

Female SMEW

Two Kingfishers, 3 Snipe, a Water Rail and 12 Lesser Redpolls made up the best of the rest.

The pits are icing over and Mercers Lake, at present, is the only water body with any substantial area of water that is free of ice. The majority of the waterfowl are gathered at the eastern end of the lake.



Amberley Wild Brooks, West Sussex ... Sunday 12th December 2010

Paul made the trip to Amberley Wild Brooks in West Sussex on Sunday hoping to connect with the juvenile WHITE-TAILED EAGLE.

Fortunately, this magnificent bird was still present and he managed to add it to his life list.
The bird was later reported to have flown off south-south-west and was seen over Arundel, Southsea, Fareham and Titchfield Haven NR before continuing west.

It is presumed that this was a continental bird, forced to move west by the freezing conditions over parts of Europe.


Waxwings put in another appearance, Holmethorpe, Surrey ... Tuesday 14th December 2010

They’re back…………….

9.43 a.m. 19 WAXWINGS flew to a silver birch by the railway line.

9.52 a.m. 19 WAXWINGS perched briefly in a tree by Euro Car Parts unit on the Holmethorpe Industrial Estate.

10.04. Four WAXWINGS perched briefly in the same tree.

A totally out-of-focus shot!


For visiting birders looking for the Waxwings: It is best to approach from the Water Colours housing estate, off Nutfield Road, South Merstham, and take the path between the lagoons and head for the railway line. (It is not advisable to park at the industrial estate.)
If the birds are not visible from the Water Colour side of the railway embankment (they have been seen perched in the tall trees on a few occasions), walk through the tunnel under the railway line and along the path to the road. View from the end of the path. Euro Car Parts unit is opposite. The birds have been seen feeding in hawthorns or perched in the tall tree by the railway line near this unit. They are very mobile and it may require patience to see them. Please be aware that this is a busy industrial estate and that many cars pull into and turn round at Euro Car Parts throughout working hours.

No sign of the Waxwings today, Holmethorpe, Surrey ... Monday 13th December 2010

After the pleasure of watching the Waxwings at Holmethorpe over the past few days, this morning I set off in thick mist in search of them. Visiblity was down to about 50 yards at times and I could only see grey silhouettes of wildfowl and gulls at the pits.

By the railway line, where the Waxwings had most often been seen, visbility was slightly better but, apart from plenty of Fieldfares, Redwings and Woodpigeons, there was little else present - certainly no Waxwings showing.

I walked the perimerter of Mercers Lake and noted a Kingfisher and a Chiffchaff along the north bank but by now the mist had thickened and there was little point in heading for the other pits.

I headed back to the railway line for a last look for the Waxwings - no luck - I'll try again tomorrow.

On the way back, I bumped into local birder Richard Bartlett who was out for a bike ride. He had just seen a flock of about 30 Siskins. I spotted a flash of blue and there was another Kingfisher, a male, perched by one of the Water Colour lagoons but that was about it. Time to head home for breakfast.

Whether the Waxwings are still in the area or have moved on remains to be seen but there were a lot of birds reported around the London area today so there may be more moving into our area.


Waxwings more elusive today at Holmethorpe, Surrey ... Sunday 12th December 2010

Today, the WAXWINGS at the Holmethorpe Industrial Estate were far more elusive. I arrived on site at about 8 a.m. and within 5 minutes of arriving I saw 10 birds flying over near the Euro Car Parts unit.
Thirty minutes later, a further 3 birds circled but headed back across the industrial estate.
I wandered back and forth under the railway bridge checking both sides of the railway embankment but it was not until 9.15 a.m. that 9 birds decided to perch high in a tree by the railway line a few yards from Euro Car Parts for a few minutes. Long enough to snatch a few shots of the birds before they flew off low across the industrial estate.

The uninspiring site that the Waxwings have been favouring.

At least 30 Redwings were feeding on the hawthorn berries by the railway line with similar numbers of Fieldfares. A male Sparrowhawk flew along the line of hawthorns but left the area without catching a meal. A Reed Bunting was perched in the hawthorns and a lone Skylark flew overhead whilst 67 Coots were on the Water Colours Lagoons along with a pair of Shoveler.

At about 2.20 p.m. local birder Gordon Hay managed to find 15 of the WAXWINGS , again by the Euro Car Parts unit, and there was also a report of 30 birds present at 11.30 a.m. but I don't know who reported them, perhaps the observer could let me know for the local records.
Local birder Ian Kehl reported that the female/1st-winter male GOLDENEYE was still on Mercers West Pit but he failed to locate the female Smew seen yesterday but it may still be in the area.


Waxwings still here - Holmethorpe SPs, Surrey ... Friday 10th & Saturday 11th December 2010

The WAXWINGS remain on site with up to 33 birds being seen regularly along the railway embankment, favouring the Holmethorpe Industrial Estate side of the railway. They are easily disturbed by passing trains but usually return to the same area (or have done up 'til now).

It is best to approach this area from the Water Colour housing development as parking is not advisable on the industrial estate. From Water Colours, take the path between the lagoons and turn right just past the kissing gate and over the small bridge, turn left along the path until you reach the railway. If the birds are not showing on this side, walk through the tunnel under the railway line and follow the path right to the road. Opposite is Eurocar Parts unit and the Waxwings are often feeding or perching in the trees by the railway embankment nearby.

This morning (Saturday) I joined Kevin 'Kojak' Guest and Neil 'Factor' Randon and we had good close views of the birds, which often perched and fed in the hawthorns almost over our heads.

Kevin, with Neil in the distance, staking out the Waxwings.

The Waxwings offering close views.

Kevin got this superb shot.

Every train that passes sends them into a panic.

Another of my dodgy videos.

On Friday, Paul found a CETTI'S WARBLER near Spynes Mere and, as well as getting a good view of it, also heard it calling, but it has not been relocated since. I found a male BRAMBLING perched high in a tree whilst looking for the Waxwings and another CURLEW flew west over The Moors NR. Derek Washington found a Green Sandpiper by the stream behind Water Colours and Kingfishers are being seen almost daily, with Kevin Guest noting two birds on Saturday.
A LITTLE EGRET has been seen in the area, both on Friday and Saturday.
The female GOLDENEYE remains on Mercers West Pit and Gordon found that it had been joined by a female SMEW on Saturday, but both can prove elusive.


Even more Waxwings at Holmethorpe Sand Pits, Surrey - Thursday 9th December 2010

I got over to the local patch about 8.30am and within a few minutes had a brief view of seven WAXWINGS by the railway line before a train disturbed them and they flew off.

Shortly afterwards local birder Jerry arrived and it wasn't long before I noticed some largish dark birds flying in from the north. As they passed over we realised that we were looking at the first five CURLEWS to be seen at Holmethorpe this year (and the 141st species to noted here in 2010). They carried on south towards the landfill site and out of view. As is always the way, I didn't have the camera ready and as a consequence the shot below shows five small smudges that were actually the Curlews as they disappeared into the distance (you'll have to take my word for it!).

(Neil has voted this as the worst of my bad photos - we'll see whose laughing when this graces the front cover of Birding World - where's my award?)

A few minutes later some Fieldfares and Redwings landed on a hawthorn not far from us and amongst them was a single WAXWING
. That was two local year ticks for Jerry in the space of a few minutes - if only it was always like that.

Jerry headed off to work and shortly after that I was joined by Neil Randon of 'Randon's Ramblings' fame. We stood chatting for a while and admiring the many Redwings and Fieldfares present along the railway embankment but a Grey Wagtail passing over calling was the best we could do. No more Waxwings showed so Neil headed home.

I had a wander around the path that runs alongside The Moors nature reserve and found two Chiffchaffs in the reeds by a frozen pool and four Egyptian Geese, a pair of which were mating. I know this species often has young very early in the year. Plenty of Teal, Gadwall and a few Shovelers were on the pools.

As I headed home, a male Kestrel was in the brook by the bridge along the road. It was actually in the water and obviously devouring prey. It flew a little way along the brook carrying its meal and hid amongst some dead vegetation and continued ripping its prey apart. Whatever its prey was, it was surprisingly large for a Kestrel to be carrying and I wondered if it was the Water Rail that I have seen at this particular spot on a couple of occasions recently - I hope not.

Later in the day, I had a call from Paul who had connected with the WAXWINGS after failing to see them yesterday. The flock had now increased to around 30 birds but were distant in a tree along the railway embankment.


As is usual, they were soon disturbed by a train and took flight, heading towards Mercers Country Park. A very short while later Paul was joined by Kevin 'Kojak' Guest, one of the regulars at Beddington SF who keeps a Holmethorpe list as well as his Beddington and numerous other ones. Unfortunately, Kevin had just missed the Waxwings but he got a superb photo of a Kingfisher carrying a fish and also noted two Green Sandpipers, 13 Common Snipe, 7 Egyptian Geese, a LITTLE EGRET, around 20 Fieldfare and 30 Redwing.


Later Paul sent me some photos and a video clip of a male Brambling and a male Siskin he had visiting his garden feeders a few miles away from Holmethorpe.


All in all, not a bad day's birding but I'll have to return tomorrow morning as I want to get a closer photo of the Waxwings - some flippin' hope!.


Waxwings at Holmethorpe SPs, Surrey ... Wednesday 8th December 2010

After a report of 19 WAXWINGS at Holmethorpe Sand Pits, near Redhill in Surrey late yesterday (our local patch), I joined local birders Eric and Neil at first light and spent two hours in the extreme cold without success.
We didn't know who had reported these birds at that time and our hopes of seeing them soon diminished and we headed for our respective homes.

Early in the afternoon, I received a call from Neil to say that they had returned and, after a few frantic calls to alert others, I headed back to the local patch.
I joined Neil, Des and a couple of other birders and soon locals Richard and Gordon arrived.
Ten birds had seen by Des earlier but only five were showing when I arrived. I stayed until 3 p.m. and the birds were still in the area when I left.

Paul was just arriving as I headed for home but, incredibly, the birds didn't show again.
As it turned out, the original finder of the 19 birds yesterday was Brian Perry and Des had seen them yesterday too.
Only the third record of this species for Holmethorpe and a new local patch tick for me. It is especially pleasing that Neil connected with them as he had been chasing Waxwings all over Surrey without success and, as is often the way, the local patch came up trumps.

Paul had visited Holmethorpe duriong the morning and noted a Kingfisher, 2 Common Snipe, over 40 Teal, a Treecreeper and 20 Lesser Redpolls (his video below).


Holmethorpe Sand Pits, Surrey ... 2nd-5th December 2010

On Thursday 2nd December, local birder Gordon found 4 PINK-FOOTED GEESE on one of the pits. They stayed for an hour and a half before flying off high to the south-west. This was frustrating for me as I was on my way to assist my wife to walk home from work in the snow and this involved an eleven mile walk in the snow. I was on my way when I received the news of the geese via Paul. As I passed the pits I scanned the area where Gordon had seen them but, as I only had my bins with me, all I could make out was a large group of geese with four smaller geese nearby. In fact, I wasn’t that sure that they were actually geese from that distance. I didn’t have time to approach the pit closer, so headed on. A missed local and Surrey tick for me but, as I am not much of a lister, I have not lost any sleep over it.
Gordon also logged three female SMEW, a female GOLDENEYE, a SHELDUCK, a couple of Water Rails and two overwintering Chiffchaffs amongst others in the area.

I met up with Gordon on Friday 3rd and Gordon saw one female SMEW on Mercers Lake (in fact he saw it twice but I was suffering from Smew-blindness). We refound the female GOLDENEYE and SHELDUCK and a pair of MANDARINS were on Mercers Lake. We logged a new record count of 116 Gadwall around the pits and other birds noted included 3 Water Rails, 3 Siskins, a Green Sandpiper, a LITTLE EGRET , a Kingfisher and an exceptional count of six overwintering Chiffchaffs.

Saturday 4th saw Gordon out again and he found 2 female SMEW on Mercers Lake, but a boat disturbed them and they took flight, two female GOLDENEYE were on Mercers West Pit and a Green Sandpiper was also noted there. A new local record count was made of at least 300 Tufted Ducks around the pits.

Sunday 5th saw local birder Ian logging the female GOLDENEYE and the Green Sandpiper and another Holmethorpe stalwart, Jerry, adding a Kingfisher (Jerry's photos below) and five Redpolls to the day’s tally.

Mid-morning, news came through from Johnny Allan at Beddington that a juvenile Common Crane had landed at Beddington SF.
Frank Prater had seen it flying in and it had dropped in on one of the lakes. Even more amazing is that this is the second record of this species for the Beddington birders this year! They had a fly-by bird on the 1st of May.
Beddington birder Roger 'Dodge' Browne has a brilliant video of this bird -click HERE to watch it.

Over 100 birders managed to see this bird and add it to their Surrey lists. Unfortunately, I was having a painful joints day and decided that, despite Gordon’s kind offer to take me to see the bird, I would be better off staying at home.

It is time for Holmethorpe Sand Pits to produce a mega-tick for Surrey – watch this space!


Holmethorpe Sand Pits, near Redhill, Surrey ... Wednesday 1st December 2010

Local birder Gordon braved the considerable amount of snow and the biting wind to wander the pits at Holmethorpe today.
He was rewarded for his efforts with 3 redhead SMEW on Mercers Lake, viewable from the Aqua Sports centre. They were keeping close to the overhanging trees along the northern bank near the fishing jetty.
At Mercers West Pit, he found a female GOLDENEYE and 14 PINTAILS flew over heading west.
A WOODCOCK pitched down by trees near the M23 to the east of Spynes Mere and a LITTLE EGRET was in a ditch behind the Water Colour housing complex.
Other notable birds were a Kingfisher, 40+ Shoveler, 40+ Gadwall, 30 Teal, around 200 Lapwings, 15 Common Snipe, 160 Fieldfares, 5 Redwings, 90 Goldfinches, 45 Common Gulls, 25 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, 4 Great Black-backed Gulls, 124 Greylag Geese, 85 Canada Geese and a Grey Wagtail.

With a message this morning from Johnny Allan at Beddington to say that they had seen 14 Bean Geese heading east and 3 Grey Plovers heading west, it is obvious there there is a bit of a hard weather movement occurring.

An unusual visitor to local birder Jerry's feeders at his home in Redhill, Surrey

Dungeness, Kent ... Friday 26th November 2010

We started an extremely cold day at the East Sussex end of Scotney Gravel Pit and soon picked out 53 feral Barnacle Geese grazing on the bank. Amongst them were at least four other geese, which looked similar to either Blue Snow Geese or Emperor Geese, or maybe they are hybrids. Whatever they were, they were certainly not wild. On the far bank was a Little Egret.

Feral BARNACLE GEESE at Scotney GP (Graham)

We then headed to the Kent end of the pit where a female GOLDENEYE and another Little Egret was present, but that was it - time to move on.
We parked up at the ARC Pit at Dungeness reserve and headed for the Hanson-ARC hide. On the way we saw a BITTERN fly towards the vegetation near the viewing screen but we decided to carry on to the hide. A Chiffchaff was calling and flitting amongst the bushes by the path and, after installing ourselves in the relative warmth of the hide, the Bittern flew a few yards and dropped again into reeds near the viewing screen. We could see its head peering out above the vegetation. It showed again briefly a while later but was too distant for a photo. A female GOLDENEYE was on the ARC Pit but, apart from plenty of Wigeon and a few Shoveler, there was not much else of note.


Parking at the southern end of the ARC Pit, we viewed the New Diggings pit across the road. One male and 3 female GOLDENEYE were present but little else of note.
Back at the main reserve, we noted 5 Common Snipe, a Dunlin, 9 Pintail and 2 female GOOSANDERS on Burrowes Pit and a Water Rail was heard squealing by the Firth Hide. Another Water Rail was seen right in front of the Scott Hide.

DUNLIN and SNIPE at Burrowes Pit (Paul)

WIGEON and SHOVELER at Burrowes Pit (Graham)

Female GOOSANDER at Burrowes Pit (Graham)

A male and at least two female MARSH HARRIERS were around the reserve and, at the Dengemarsh Hide, we picked out a BLACK-NECKED GREBE. Near the return trail, a female MERLIN was perched on telegraph wires.

from Dengemarsh Hide (Graham)

BLACK-NECKED GREBE from Dengemarsh Hide (Paul)

BLACK-NECKED GREBE from Dengemarsh Hide (Graham)

MERLIN near the start of the Return Trail (Paul)

MERLIN near the start of the Return Trail (Graham)

We then headed to the fishing boats at Dungeness beach as it was about high tide. The wind was not favourable for a seawatch but, as it turned out, it was fairly rewarding with 9 Turnstones, 60+ Kittiwakes, many of which were on the sea, 33 Common Scoters, 2 Guillemots on the sea, a Red-throated Diver on the sea, with two more unidentified divers flying west, and a male and two female Eiders flying east.

Female COMMON SCOTERS passing the fishing boats (Graham)

We headed for home about half an hour before sunset and, on the way at Brenzett, a Common Buzzard flew low over the road.
Not surprisingly, considering the cold conditions, there were few other birders about at Dungeness today but plenty of birds to keep our spirits up.

Paul & Graham

Bough Beech Reservoir, West Kent ... Thursday 25th November 2010

Paul ventured to Bough Beech Reservoir in West Kent this afternoon hoping to connect with the Great Northern Diver that had been reported there yesterday. Unfortunately, it was not be but he did note a male and three female GOOSANDERS, a Marsh Tit on the feeders in the orchard near the oast house, ten MANDARINS and a Common Buzzard, so it was not a wasted journey.



Waxwings ... 23rd November 2010

After an early morning visit to our local patch at Holmethorpe Sand Pits, we headed to Shawley Crescent, Epsom in Surrey where eleven WAXWINGS had been showing intermittently over the past few days.
We parked up and spent about an hour staring at the tree where the birds had been reported previously and, at 10.55 am, all eleven birds flew in, perched up, and began preening. Several other birders were present and we all got good views of the birds for ten minutes or so before they flew off and settled in a high tree behind the houses.



Paul & Graham