Black-necked Grebe at the local patch ... Wednesday 12th October 2011

An early start at our local patch at Holmethorpe Sand Pits proved a wise decision.
Arriving at 6.45 a.m., it was hardly light enough to see anything, so I waited at the Water Colour lagoons for the sun to lighten the sky but there wasn’t much about, apart from 600+ Starlings that left their roost in the bushes by one of the lagoons, so I headed for Mercers Lake.

I went to the western end and immediately noticed a small grebe close in to the bank.
To my surprise, it was a BLACK-NECKED GREBE, possibly a winter-plumaged adult but there was a tinge of buff on the cheeks that indicate that it was possibly a first-winter bird.
This is only the sixth record for Holmethorpe Sand Pits, the last being in April 2000.

I had arranged to meet Gordon Hay, but he had yet to arrive and so, as the grebe had headed towards the north bank of the lake, I headed round the perimeter path but failed to relocate it.
Shortly afterwards, Gordon rang and asked me where I was and I told him what I had found and, as I headed back to the western end, he joined me.

It must have taken a good 20 minutes to relocate the grebe, which was now quite distant and in the middle of the lake.
Gordon phoned Paul who soon joined us, as he had been birding further to the east at Spynes Mere. By now the grebe was heading back towards us and we had reasonable views of it, although the light was still not particularly good for getting photos.


After a while we headed round the lake and spent some time at Mercers West Pit and Spynes Mere before Gordon and I headed across Mercers Farm to take a look at the huge Linnet flock of over 1000 birds that had appeared. Paul had to head home but, when he reached Mercers Lake, he phoned us to say that the Black-necked Grebe was still showing well in the middle of the lake.


Gordon and I headed back but by now there were dinghies out on the lake and we failed to spot the grebe. We hoped that it had just hidden itself under the overhanging bushes somewhere, but it wasn’t subsequently found so, presumably, it had flown off.

Other birds noted were 3 Kingfishers at Mercers Lake, 71 Redwings over, 10 Siskins over, a Grey Wagtail, one Lesser Redpoll, a Blackcap and a Chiffchaff, a Treecreeper and a Goldcrest, a male Wigeon and 28 Gadwall, around 25 Skylarks heading west, a couple of Yellowhammers at Mercers Farm along with one Little Owl.

Graham, Paul & Gordon

Holmethorpe Sand Pits, Surrey ... 27th & 29th September 2011

Although it has been fairly quiet over the past few days, the 27th Sept produced a couple of notable birds.
The first was a result of a text message from Johnny Allan at Beddington SF, which is a few miles directly to the north of Holmethorpe SPs. I received the message at 11.40 a.m. and it read "f/imm Marsh Harrier just flew south."
At 12.10 p.m. Sue and I were watching from our kitchen window as it flew south-east over Mercers Lake. A distant and misty view, but definitely good enough to identify it as a MARSH HARRIER.

Was there a raptor movement in progress? I continued to watch the sky for a while but nothing else appeared so I gave up. Then, at just before 1.30 p.m. Sue called to me from the kitchen. She had spotted a large raptor heading towards us from the direction of the local patch. We were then treated to the sight of a RED KITE circling over the gardens to the rear of our flat.
We also added a Hobby, two Common Buzzards and Sparrowhawk to the days's raptor list.

On the 29th Sept, Sue and I decided to spend a while up on Nutfield Ridge to make the most of the weather and get a bit more raptor-watching in.

We managed to spot up to eleven Common Buzzards over the North Downs plus a Hobby, two Sparrowhawks and a Kestrel. It was incredibly hot and we decided to head back home after about an hour. On the way, we walked along Cormongers Lane and, as we reached the point where the cycle path between the landfill site and The Moors begins, I thought I heard a Treecreeper calling quite loudly. We stopped and looked for it and the call seemed to be coming from an ivy-clad oak tree at the start of the cycle track. I could see a small bird flitting amongst the ivy and eventually it showed itself - a FIRECREST!

We watched it for about fifteen minutes but I was getting anxious that we hadn't brought our mobile phones with us and I needed to get the news out to the local birders.

This is only the second record for Holmethorpe SPs, the first being found by a visiting birder, Mark Stanley, in March 2008 at Mercers Country Park.

We headed for home after getting a couple of record shots, which were difficult as, not only was the bird constantly on the move, it was often deep in shade amongst the ivy, hence the blurry photos.

As I now need to use a walking stick, hurrying back home to get the news out was probably an amusing sight. Frustratingly, contacting the regular birders proved difficult as either their phones were switched off or the locals were out of the area. By the time they became aware of this bird, it could no longer be found.

I am hoping that it may have joined a roving tit flock and may still be in the area, but that may just be wishful thinking.