My low-scoring run has continued to continue… Since last week’s desperate attempts to add to my 2014 bird sightings lists by appealing for help with pictures of unidentified gulls, I have pretty much drawn a blank. Gone are the days of going for a wander and picking up ten… fifteen… or twenty new bird sightings. I’m lucky if I stumble across one.
As a result, I am increasingly finding the need to use the internet to find reports of more uncommon birds in the local area… As mentioned previously, my current favourite source of information is the Surrey Bird Club website – They appear to have a network of people armed with binoculars and good bird identification skills who scour local hedgerows, trees and water features for noteworthy birds. My thinking is that they do the leg-work and I swoop in and add a load of exciting new birds to my list. Simple!
Well, simple in theory…
According to my sources, over the past few weeks or so, there have been at least five birds I have yet to see residing at Staines Reservoir – Great Northern Diver, Slavonian Grebe, Black-Necked Grebe, Mediterranean Gull and Scaup. Four of these I have never ever seen.
My plan of action was to familiarise myself with the birds on my train journey using my Collins Bird Guide, turn up at the Reservoir and add all five to my list, take a wander to the nearby Staines Moor and also add the Short-Eared Owl that had been reported there on a daily basis lately. I would then get back on the train, go home and then go out for dinner to celebrate adding a whopping SIX new birds to my list. Hooray!
Well, that was the plan…
I hadn’t envisaged the Reservoir being quite so massive. There was water almost as far as the eye could see. It was something akin to standing at Land’s End and squinting really hard in the hope that you might catch a glimpse of New York. Obviously this is an exaggeration, fuelled by a sense of impending disappointment – With my intermediate-strength binoculars, I would really struggle to see anything unless it had decided to hang around the edge near the walkway that bisected the north and south basins. I would be lucky to see anything new. Un-Hooray!
There were plenty of Coots, Black-Headed Gulls and a handful of Gadwalls on the water, a Pied Wagtail and Stonechat on the walkway, but no sign of any of the birds that drew me to the Reservoir in the first place. Someone asked me if I had seen the Great Northern Diver – Almost fighting back the tears, I said ‘No’. (I wasn’t that emotional, but it adds to the scene, doesn’t it?)
A sighting of a Grebe in the distance got me excited… Was it a Slavonian? Or a Black-Necked? Nope, it was a Little Grebe.
To make the trip semi-worthwhile, I did spy a Goldeneye – The duck, not the fictional (perhaps!) Russian satellite weapon. This was exciting and added an unexpected tick on my 2014 list.
I then made the move to Staines Moor in search of the Short-Eared Owl.
The wander was notable for the number of Ring-Necked Parakeets – Britain’s only naturalised parrot – squawking noisily in the treetops. There are some interesting (and unproven) stories about how these exotic birds came to be in the UK, but the best is possibly that Jimi Hendrix bred some and released a pair as a psychedelic alternative to doves of peace when he lived in London. Fly on little wing indeed!
Staines Moor was notable for two things: (i) A large number of Skylarks (another new bird for the year) singing like it was summertime as they parachuted groundwards and (ii) a distinct lack of Short-Eared Owls.
Today, in bird-watching parlance, I had majorly ‘dipped*’ – not just on one bird, but SIX. This might just make me the world’s worst birder. As a positive person, I reason that it is best to do this when travelling the ten miles from Woking to Staines than the eight-hundred miles from Woking to Baltasound on the Shetland Islands in a failed search for Tundra Bean Geese. I can always try again next week.
* To ‘dip’ or ‘dip out’ means missing out on seeing a particular bird that you have travelled to see. On the next slow news week, I will run through some key bird-watching terms – Lucky you!
In spite of much of the day not going to plan, I did manage to stick to the remainder of the itinerary by getting the train home and then going out for a meal. I would never dip out on dinner!