Great Crested Grebe

These articles are written for the CR6 magazine and reproduced here with the permission of the author, Brian Hobley (01883 625404). If you would like to reproduce them in your magazine, it would be courteous to ask him. 

The world has finally gone mad! ENGLISH NATURE has issued a licence to stop 500 mallard eggs hatching because mallards are breeding in such huge numbers they terrorise those lycra-clad snowflakes on bicycles by walking across paths in front of them. Just one more spurious licence to add to the other 65 ranging from ravens to blue tits.
A good trip to Dungeness produced large numbers of gannets, feeding close inshore. The largest number of cormorants have ever seen there numbering in the 100's.The RSPB reserve was good - 3 cattle egrets a relative new comer in small numbers. If you watch nature programs about Africa these are the white birds around the feet of the Zebras and Antelopes etc.
Locally the winter thrushes are starting to appear redwings and fieldfares.
Get your feeders ready for the BIG GARDEN BIRD WATCH 25TH -27TH January 2020.

Brian Hobley

It's a funny Autumn - there are not many birds about due to the weather patterns...
The odd species is turning up - Brian Thomas saw a grey phalarope in Weymouth. I saw a few gannets and a great skua from Eastbourne pier. On the same day the group field trip saw about 2000 chaffinch coming in from the continent from Reculver. There were sooty shearwaters past Dungeness - a bird that circles the Atlantic Ocean before returning to the Southern Ocean to breed!
A Baleric shearwater which breed in the Mediterranean also flew by.
Closer to home I achieved a lifetime ambition to photograph a perched kingfisher - in fact both male and female. I have just read a report that large numbers of ring ouzels were seen at Beachy Head yesterday (15th Oct) so perhaps things are starting  to arrive.
And small numbers of redwings have been reported.

Brian Hobley

On the 15th a trip to Birling Gap and Beachy Head produced a number of migrants going south. Large numbers of swallows, house martins and some sand martins. In the bushes half a dozen whinchats and a number of stonechats. Almost the first bird we saw was a peregrine falcon at the base of the cliff feeding. I walked the lower path where I saw chiff chaff, willow warbler, linnets and a pied flycatcher.
In the fields opposite, amongst the cattl,e were 15 yellow wagtails. Butterflies were very evident with small copper, small blue, comma, small heath and clouded yellow.
Disturbing news: Kent Wild Life Trust are giving up their lease on Bough Beech Nature Reserve - we can only hope that SES Water keep this important nature reserve going. Over the last few weeks there have been curlew, wood, green and common sandpipers plus a Temmink's stint- a very good  record - as well as a selection of breeding warblers.This is a very important local site which needs to be kept!

Brian Hobley

I can’t believe how quickly the Summer has gone. The few swifts that were with us have largely departed our shores, and other migrants returning south from their breeding grounds, including wheatears and whinchats, have already been seen locally. Another, the smart ring ouzel, also known as the mountain blackbird, was seen at Chelsham on the exceptionally early date of 12th August. This species with its beautiful and distinctive white collar, nests further north on the uplands of northern England and Scotland, sometimes up to a height of 1200 metres.  Most years one or two can be seen locally both on their way north in the Spring and returning in the Autumn; I believe they are particularly attracted to our chalk Downlands since, though at lower altitude, are similar to their favoured upland breeding haunts. Also of note was the successful breeding of a pair of hobbies in our area. This elegant falcon, not dissimilar to a giant swift in shape is a Summer visitor to the UK and is by no means common.
In the garden I’ve been thrilled to have bullfinch, both adults and juveniles on my sunflower hearts bird feeders recently and more surprising the return of a few greenfinches so decimated by disease in recent times. I haven’t yet seen a humming-bird hawk in the garden, usually an annual visitor, but I was delighted to have for the very first time, two stunning Jersey tiger moths, and I’m sure many will have noticed a good number of the migrant painted lady butterflies this year. Turning to our recent Group outing to North Kent, the highlight was undoubtedly an amazingly close encounter with a water rail at Oare, and seeing a flock of no less than 500 avocets at Cliffe Pools near Gravesend.
Finally, a little tip to attract birds to the garden. Instead of cutting back your lavender this Autumn, leave it till the Spring and enjoy watching goldfinches, linnets and even redpolls feeding on the dried flower heads.

Brian Thomas

I wonder if readers have noticed how few swallows, house martins and swifts have been around this Summer? Sadly, I  know of only a single site in Caterham Valley and one in Oxted where house martins are still nesting. If anyone knows of any others I would be very interested to know. What swifts that did eventually arrive locally were two or more weeks late.  Their epic 6000 mile journey is often fraught with hazards but weather conditions may have made migration especially difficult this year.  There have been distressing reports from Spain and Italy that many swifts, some no doubt destined for our shores, have been killed by storms and cold wet weather. Doomed to die of starvation and hypothermia, they have been trying to survive overnight by clinging to each other on walls to avoid the inclement conditions.
Turning to the Groups monthly field trip on Sunday 14th July we went to Dungeness. Interesting sightings included several ruff, one of which was still in much of its breeding finery - quite a sight. We also saw a great white egret, a little gull and lots of cute  juvenile birds of several species. Our highlight however was finding a stunning and rare male serin at nearby Littlestone. The smallest of the European finch family and closely related to the canary, its bright yellow plumage was something to behold.

Brian Thomas

Despite a very poor weather forecast for heavy intermittent showers and strongish winds, 9 people still turned up for the Group's field meeting on Sunday 16th June to Thursday Common in west Surrey, a heathland site of Special Scientific Interest and a national nature reserve.
It is one of the largest, (326 hectares), and most important areas of heath in the county; a fact recognised in 1994 when it was designated as a world heritage site. We were greeted on arrival at the Moat car park with a succession of heavy showers, but sheltering under several stands of elegant Scot's pine we heard firecrest and observed goldcrest, nuthatch and several coal tits. With the marshy nature of parts of the site it is no surprise to see the ground punctuated by several ponds, ditches and larger lakes, what is wonderful is how this area is crisscrossed by numerous trails many of which are conveniently elevated on boarded walkways which not only keep your feet dry but facilitate close observation of the myriad of plant and animal species attracted to the specialist habitat.

Some 26 species of of dragonfly are found among the cotton grass , sphagnum mosses, sundew, bog asphodel and marsh orchids, and we saw numerous common lizards on the boardwalks. When the sun broke through there was an almost immediate transformation - a kaleidoscope of colour and activity. Hobbies were seen hawking insects, we witnessed the beautiful ariel song flight and display of a woodlarkdirectly overhead and had close views of that specialist and stunning heathland species the Dartford warbler. The sudden warmth even encouraged a curlew to give its unmistakable bubbling song and snipe and oystercatcher were also heard.
All in all a memorable outing at a truly magical location.
Brian Thomas

A mixed group of the East Surrey and the East Grinstead RSPB groups went on the annual coach trip to the famous East Coast wetland reserve at Minsmer,e Suffolk on Sunday 12th May.
It was a glorious sunny day with fair weather cumulous and a breeze from the NW. Highlights included our best ever views of bitterns both flying close by or feeding directly below us as we looked on only feet away from the reedbed hides - a truly magical experience for all. The reserve has a host of other iconic species which were all seen very well including the magnificent and beautifully plumaged marsh harriers, hobby , avocets, water rail and bearded tit.
Another unforgettable experience was watching the superbly plumaged adult dartford warblers feeding their young at the bottom of a gorse bush on the beach - a first for many of the group. One member reported a sighting of the rare little bunting and it will be interesting if the site staff manage to relocate the bird to confirm its identity. For some senior members however, they reflected on the huge drop in numbers of birds, both woodland (no nightingales were seen or heard) and swallows and martins were only a fraction of their former numbers, indicative of this was having only a single sighting of a swift and that at Godstone on departure!
Nevertheless a great day, and good to finish off with a lovely cream tea in the Reserve's excellent cafe..
. (Photos are on our Gallery page)

The weather has not been very helpful to the incoming summer migrants - swallows and sand martins are just trickling - on 15th of April I saw my 1st local Swallow on the 13th. Two ring ouzels locally were the local highlight and about three weeks late!
A field trip to Rye Harbour on the 14th produced a few more swallows, a few sand martins, the first wheatear of the year, a white wagtail (the continental race of pied wagtail), sandwich terns, Med gulls, avocets, ringed and grey plovers - very quiet.
Going round to the back of Dungeness RSPB reserve we found a common crane and 2 cattle egrets - both birds which have come back to breed recently with the help of climate change. Going back through Camber we found a glossy ibis at the end of the golf driving range.

This month has been extremely quiet most certainly because March roared in like a lion - hopefully it will go out like a lamb. We have been busy doing other things: on  Wednesday 20th Feb we went to Knights Nursery to promote National Bird Box Week, and on Saturday 9th March we were at Warlingham Hobbies Event where it was good to meet you!
Brian Thomas braved the inclement weather on 20th March to walk round our local patch where he saw a flock of approximately 800 pigeons 70/20/10%  of wood pigeons, stock doves and feral pigeons, plus 120-strong flock of passerines (perching birds) mainly linnets and chaffinches.
On 17th our local group had a trip to Rainham Marshes RSPB reserve in Essex where they saw a barn owl, lots of winter ducks and waders including spotted redshank and ruff. Summer migrants should be arriving about now but are few and far between due to the strong northerly winds.
Some of you may have read the news that Natural England, the department supposed to protect our wildlife, has issued licences to kill 17,0000 protected species of birds, from cormorants to robins!
“The government’s conservation watchdog has issued licences to destroy 170,000 wild birds, eggs and nests, including rare and declining species such as curlews and swifts, in the past five years.
Natural England has given permission to kill birds of more than 70 species, or have their nests and eggs destroyed. These include peregrine falcons, barn owls, buzzards and red kites, alongside garden favourites such as robins, blackbirds and blue tits. A licence was even issued to destroy a wrens’ nest to “preserve public safety” in South Yorkshire.”
The Guardian, February 2019

There have been some good birds locally. A glaucous gull an Arctic breeding bird) and another northern speciality, a black throated diver - both at Mercer's Park Lake, Redhill. The diver was the first record at the site since 1983 and they are a particularly rare visitor to inland waters.
At Bough Beech Reservoir, Kent,Ifound goosanders and two barn owls. A field trip to a National Nature Reserve on Sheppey produced high numbers of knot, grey plover, lapwing and a good variety of wildfowl. Returning back to Functon Creek, which I wrote about last month, gave good views of an assortment of waders, marsh harrier, buzzards, a male sparrow hawk, 2 rough-legged buzzards and a raven. Keep looking and feeding!

Don't forget the BIG GARDEN BIRD WATCH: 26th 28th of January!
January 2019 is the 35th year since East Surrey RSPB local group was formed, with myself as the last remaining member of the original committee still involved. To celebrate, three of us decided to go to Functon Creek in North Kent to start off the New year and look for the ROUGH LEGGED BUZZARD that had been reported - an Arctic species that has not been in the area for about 5 years.
As well as a distant view of the R.L.buzzard we saw good numbers of common buzzard, marsh harriers, a single hen harrier and a very confiding kestrel on the way home a male merlin flew over the car. Other highlights were a flock of a 1000+ Golden Plover wheeling round in a tight ball to escape a bird of prey with the sun on them golden backs contrasting with white undersides a magical sight.
300+avocets, 100+ knot, lapwing, redshanks, curlew. Good numbers of ducks: pintail in the 100's, wigeon, teal, shelduck and Brent geese.
A very good day despite the strong wind which seemed to have a chill factor of about -5! Back for the evening talk with cake and a glass of wine to celebrate!