In the Telegraph

An exciting weekend for me. Today (Sunday) I have a feature in the Country Matters section of the Telegraph on learning bird song in January.







And then, delighted to be part of the “Saturday” section of the Telegraph yesterday, a short section on Red Squirrels. Alongside some classy company, including Stephen Moss, John Lister-Kaye, Miriam Darlington et al.


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What’s Been Seen on Trips Recently

This post tells you what birds have been showing on the trips that I run, either day trips or short Wednesday morning excursions. They are either a good memory or you’ll find out what you missed!

Wednesday 17th January – Poole Park
On a chilly morning with keen winds and sunshine, we mingled with Poole residents enjoying Poole Park Lake. There were loads of waterbirds about. On which other urban lake can you enjoy the communal displays of ducks such as Goldeneye (“head-throwing”) and Red-breasted Merganser (“sky-pointing”), as well as getting good views of a wintering Great Northern Diver? Next door on Baiter Park there were 250 Oystercatchers, 20 Black-tailed Godwits and a flock of Brent Geese. The coffee in the Ark café wasn’t bad, either. 36 species in all.

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Wednesday Morning trips in Dorset and Hampshire

Would you like to join me for short birdwatching trips on Wednesday mornings this spring? We meet on site and everybody pays £8 per person per trip. Open to all. Please book by e-mailing me at


17th January – Poole Park
Meet at the main car park (e.g. for Poole Park cafe/ice rink (The Ark). BH15 2SF.

24th January  – Upton Country Park
Meet at the car park, signposted off A35 just west of Poole. BH17 7BJ.

31st January – Chesil Beach and Portland Harbour
Meet at (paying) car park for Chesil Beach Centre,  Portland Beach Road, Portland DT4 9XE (Grid ref: SY 668755)

21st February – Crichel Lake
A lovely spot just north of Wimborne with a range of farmland and water birds. From the B3078 Wimborne-Cranborne Road take the minor road signposted to Witchampton. Follow the road (Witchampton Lane) round to New Town and park between the gate and the end of the road – by the cricket pitch is ideal. ST 993072  BH21 5AL

28th February – Maiden Castle, Dorchester
Park at main car park, at end of Maiden Castle Road, accessible from B3147 (Weymouth Avenue) south of the centre of Dorchester. SY 668889 (approx. DT2 9PP)

7th March – Wilverley Inclosure, New Forest
Just south-east of Burley. Take turning off A35 for Burley, but instead of proceeding towards town, follow opposite direction towards Sway and Brockenhurst. After about a mile, turn left at T-junction and then park in car park on left beyond the plantation and triangle (Wilverley Plain). SU253010 (Burley Rd, Brockenhurst SO42 7UP).

14th March – Ballard Down, Swanage
Meet at Ballard Down Stores, Redcliffe Road, Swanage BH19 1NE (SZ 029803).

28th MarchHengistbury Head
Meet at the main (paying) car park by the Centre and cafe (BH6 4EN) at the end of Broadway, a road off the B3059 just south of Tuckton Bridge. SZ 163911

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Longham Lakes 2017 – a review

THE YEAR 2017 in review at Longham Lakes, Dorset

This year has been fantastic in just about every aspect for this site, for birding and wildlife-watching generally. The total of 134 species of birds is a record, just, but it was the quality that stood out, and a nice touch was that unusual species often came at the same time. Six bird species appeared for the first time: Bonaparte’s Gull (26th April), Red-rumped Swallow (27th April), Serin (29th April), Common Scoter (7th October), Velvet Scoter (16th October) and Lesser Scaup (23rd October) bringing the overall total to 186 species. Several made their second appearance, namely Grasshopper Warbler (27th April), Bar-tailed Godwit (13th May), Grey Phalarope (12th September), Little Stint (15th September) and Black Redstart (31st October), while Hawfinch (21st October) turned up for the 3rd time. Other good birds included Great Egrets, with 3 at the beginning of the year and 1 at the end, Bearded Reedling, Yellow-browed Warbler, Arctic Tern, Water Pipit, Firecrest, Coal Tit, Osprey, Merlin, Black Tern, Garganey, Whinchat and many others. Other eclectic bird highlights included gatherings of 1000+ Starlings, a Chiffchaff ringed here after a trip 770km down from Scotland, a summer when over 200 Tufted Duckings hatched, and superb numbers of ducks and other waterbirds present in the autumn.

Among other wildlife, 2017 will stand out as an exceptional year for dragonflies and damselflies. This included 2 new species for the site, which were Red-veined Darter and Britain’s 8th Scarlet Darter. In early July these two, plus Lesser Emperor and Small Red-eyed Damselfly, were all present, allowing an unprecedented spectacle of 4 rare or scarce species on this single site. On 9th July no less than 16 dragonfly species were present on one square kilometre. This could constitute the highest number recorded at a single location on one day ever in Britain. At the same time there were 16 species of butterflies on site, although no rarities among these.

It was not spectacular for mammals in 2017, but there were at least 5 records of Otters, plus a Mink and a Stoat, and at least 6 species of bat, including Nathusius’s Pipistrelle.

This year, perhaps not surprisingly, saw a sharp increase in the number of birdwatchers visiting Longham, and there are now almost 200 pass-holders that use the car park. As a visitor and regular, I have been really pleased to see how the dog-walking visitors have almost invariably kept their pets under control. Unfortunately, the kayakers in the DUCKS group have regularly been seen violating their exclusion zones, particularly around the island in North Lake.

I will give the last word to Martin Wood who, along with Lorne Bissell, has visited Longham more often than any other birder this year, taking up the Patchwork Challenge, as did Darran Jones (

“It has been a great year patching Longham with a list of 112 species seen with some wonderful lifers and site firsts for me, and it has been a pleasure and good fun sharing these birds with other Longham Birders and others. As I reflect on the past year some of the best moments were seeing my first Bonaparte’s Gull, which led to an exciting hour or so watching the Bonaparte’s with Terry Elborn and a Mike Gibbons, only for a Red-rumped Swallow to arrive, another first for me. Then on another day seeing Bearded Reedlings and the Lesser Scaup on the same day.  And of course I cannot forget that magic moment when my picture of a dragonfly, which I assumed was a Red-veined Darter,  was re-identified as a Scarlet Darter.

“There is something I have learned on this journey, and that is I need to learn more about how to identify bird calls during visible migration, as this is one part of my birding that lets me down . Also get to grips with the Dragonflies, more Butterflies and one new hobby I started this year, Moth-trapping (thanks to Mark Andrews.)”


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January 2018 at Longham Lakes

20th January
Best birds for me this morning were Great White Egret, Water Rail and Peregrine (Robin Trundle.) Additionally, Greylag Goose – 105 on the meadows; Water Rail – 2 by the jetty on south lake and 1 on the main island, with a few others heard; Mediterranean Gull – 5; Kingfisher – 1 flying over the meadows; Hawfinch – again in hedge along the east side of south lake (Kevin Lane.) Lots of Great Tits singing, plus Long-tailed Tit and Goldcrest, a Reed Bunting and 5 Greenfinches (Martin Wood.)

14th January
Spent the morning (06.45-12.00)  and also the last hour of daylight at Longham today, with a total of 70 species. [that equals the day-listing record]. Mainly common/expected stuff, but a few notable bits: Great Egret – 1 early morning on north lake and the second briefly over south lake. 1 flew back in to south lake at dusk; Greylag Goose – 80+ left south lake at dawn and returned after dark; Peregrine – 1 over south lake with prey; Water Rail – 5+ mainly heard. 1 feeding along the causeway; Black-tailed Godwit – c80 circled but didn’t land; Chiffchaff – 1 giving the downslurred juv-type call at the thicket by north lake; Magpie – roost of 70+ south of south lake; Raven – 1 on the pylons in the morning; Starling – small murmuration/roost (c1,000 birds) in the scrub behind the larger of the 2 ponds at the south end (Kevin Lane.)

Meanwhile, Steve Smith had a Lesser Redpoll in the se corner of South Lake, with Goldfinches. He also counted 77 Pochard and 18 Little Grebe. Martin Wood added Stock Dove, Jay and Rook to his yearlist.

13th January
A Hawfinch was seen in the morning perched in Oak tree on east side of South Lake, Longham. 2 Great Egrets the best of the rest (Kevin Lane.)

12th January
The Hawfinch was seen again today still in the general area of the Sheep Field. Also great views of Siberian Chiffchaff which was calling nicely near The Thicket (Matthew Bell.)

11th January
There were 2 Great Egrets , 3 Chiffchaffs and a Water Rail was heard (Dave and Pat Harris and OWLs).

10th January
Lovely morning but seemed a little less birdy than yesterday.  Sadly no sign of yesterday’s Hawfinch.  The 2 Great White Egrets were present mid morning but then both flew off SW towards Poole.  Best of the rest – 2 Chiffchaffs and Raven heard (George Green.)

9th January
Absolutely delighted to find a Hawfinch on patch today. The bird was frequenting the trees surrounding the Sheep field in the east of the patch. Also two Great White Egrets (Matthew Bell). Also 17+ Black-tailed Godwits, a Peregrine, a large flock of Fieldfare and Redwing and a pair of Ravens (George Green.)

8th January
Time limited visit to site this morning between 0930 and 1030, viewed from concrete slipway only, yielded 23 species the highlights of which were a Black-tailed Godwit on the island shore, Water Rail and Grey Wagtail both close to slipway and a Common Gull.  Large numbers of Lapwing, Shoveler and Gadwall amongst other regulars (Ron Poulter.)

7th January
Now 2 Great Egrets on island and a pair of Cetti’s Warblers also seen, large numbers of Shoveler and Pochard. Group of 40+ Cormorant arrived together (David Foster.) Mandarin – drake on/around the same island; Black-tailed Godwit – 17 flew north without stopping; Greylag Goose – 82 on Hampreston Meadows [a record] (Kevin Lane.)

6th January
Great White Egret – still present; Pintail – 3 circled over south lake but didn’t settle; Chiffchaff – 1 at the far end of the causeway; Firecrest – 1 near the Scarlet Darter pond (south of South Lake); Lesser Redpoll – 1 feeding on the small island at the south end of south lake; Siskin – 2 or 3 in the woods (Kevin Lane.) In the afternoon, highlights were c30 Black-tailed Godwits circling the lake and Hampreston Fields, a Fieldfare with 3 Song Thrush in the sheep field and 2 Water Rail again by the slipway jetty in the north east corner. Male Kestrel working the south-east corner (Martin Wood.)

5th January
Much quieter than recently with much smaller numbers of wildfowl.  Apart from the Great White Egret the only sighting of note was a pair of Pintail (George Green.) Martin Wood saw a Bullfinch, 350 days earlier in the year than 2017.

3rd January
The Great Egret is still present (Ian Ballam).

Mute Swan

Mute Swan (immature), Longham Lakes, 2/1/2018 (Trevor Wilkinson).

2nd January
The Great Egret was on the main island on South Lake, and there were also 3 Little Egrets and 2 Grey Herons. Among other waterbirds were 4 Moorhens, 5 Little Grebes and 2 Great Black-backed Gulls. 7 Greylag Geese were on Hampreston Fields (Trevor Wilkinson.)


1st January
The year began in true style with a major Longham rarity, a Hawfinch in the hedge by the Study Centre car park. This is the first one that has not been seen simply flying over, and a nice surprise for arch Longham lister, Martin Wood. The Great Egret was still around, and he also saw 5 Redwings and 2 Water Rails, the latter by the slipway jetty (north bank of South Lake). I started the New Year’s birding off at Emily’s Wood and was rewarded by a delightful flock of 50 Siskins preening in the rain, as well as a Nuthatch. Among 50 species seen were a female Pintail and a Great Black-backed Gull (Dominic Couzens.) Terry Elborn’s 90 minute birding sweep added a Sparrowhawk to the Patch’s year-list.

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Britain’s Mammals is also ‘book of the month’ in the British Birds subscriber e-newsletter – issue 32. Very rare (if unique?) for a non-bird book to achieved that accolade!
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Twin Peaks

Here’s something a little different from your usual bird reports…

I have taken my son Samuel up Snowdon a couple of times so, with the spring half term approaching this year, we decided it was time to launch on assault on the other peaks that make up the well-known Three Peaks Challenge, namely Scafell Pike, in the Lake District, at 978m [3209 feet] the highest “mountain” in England; and Ben Nevis (1245m) [4411 feet], the highest mountain in Scotland and the UK. It would thus be a Twin Peaks Challenge. In contrast to the genuine Three Peaks, we would not be trying to do the whole thing in 24 hours, not with just me driving.

The very worst place to begin such a challenge is Poole, Dorset, where we live. As the old Irish farmer is supposed to have said when asked the way to Dublin: “Well, you wouldn’t want to start from here”. The nearest peak is about six hours drive away. Continue reading

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Champions of the Flyway 2017 – the Media Birders’ race day


CotF Media Birders

The Media Birders 2017 team. Andy Swash (left), Dominic Couzens (middle), Tim Appleton (right).

This year I was fortunate enough to take part in the annual Champions of the Flyway international Bird Race in Israel. 34 teams from around the world assembled to compete in a 24-hour Bird Race on Tuesday 28th March, seeing who could see and hear the most species in a 24 hour period in a defined part of Southern Israel, beginning and ending in Eilat, on the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea.

The following is a detailed account of our race day. It is written to thank our many sponsors and supporters for their help.

The reason behind Champions of the Flyway is to raise money to try to put a stop to the widespread illegal slaughter of migrant birds on the eastern Mediterranean flyway. Incredibly, more than 20 million birds are shot or trapped in various countries along the flyway every year. In 2017 the money raised will go to Birdlife International’s partner in Turkey, Doğa Derneği (Birdlife in Turkey) so that they may focus on halting the illegal killing of birds on migration. For more  information see


04.20 – We meet in the lobby of the Agamim Hotel, the starting point for all teams. Birdrace Organisers Dan and Jonathan are there and tell us that most other people are already out – have we blown this already with a late start? Ten minutes earlier a Common Whitethroat had struck the lobby windows, but had recovered from the blow and was released. That delay has cost us; we missed it and didn’t see another all day.

Downtown Eilat (04.30-04.45)
We go into the night of southern Israel; downtown Eilat is our first destination, where there is a roost of White-eyed Gulls by a shopping mall. A House Crow calls and the House Sparrows are well awake, but we cannot see the gulls. Let’s hope this starts to go better…

Then a Striated Heron calls out of the darkness. That’s a good bird.

1- House Crow 2- House Sparrow 3- Striated Heron Continue reading

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Hot off the Press!

Three years in the making, my new field guide to Britain and Ireland’s mammals is finally out!

Britain's Mammals Cover

Fully comprehensive, there are stunning photographs of every mammal recently recorded in Britain, including all 26 bats and 30 cetaceans (whales/dolphins etc).
There are detailed notes on how to identify every species, together with up to date distribution maps and notes on behaviour. It’s a must for every naturalist!

328 pages, 500 colour photos.

Signed copies are available from me on request (postage payable), and other copies can be bought through Amazon, NHBS and, in a few weeks time, from bookshops.
Only £17.95

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New book – out in April

A narrative book, it combines some of my birding experiences with lots of science about how birds live and survive.SOLAW Jacket

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