Back in 2002, after a morning botanising in Chipstead Bottom, I looked at my OS map and decided to take a short cut home through farmland. Even though I was no more than two miles from home, I had not visited the area before. I was pleasantly surprised at how picturesque the land was and more than interested in the singing Yellowhammer and displaying Lapwing that I found. I made a mental note to revisit…
I t was another three years before I did so, when a Yellow Wagtail flying through a clear April sky reminded me that I really ought to take a serious look at the place. And so, in the autumn of 2005 I did so. I had trawled through my old London and Surrey Bird Reports but could find no mention of the farm. It appeared to have not been actively birded before and I felt as if I were pioneering a new patch. I met no other birders and gathered ornithological data with keenness. My coverage was not quite weekly and I found species such as Crossbill and an immature female Goshawk that got the pulse racing and also revealed significant wintering flocks of Skylarks and Yellowhammers.
Over the next three years I gave Canons Farm moderate coverage and added Woodlark to the list of unexpected species. The one event that brought the farm to local prominence was ’my’ massive flock of winter finches in early 2008, that peaked at 1200 Brambling and 1650 Chaffinches. At least 50 birders made the trip to watch the spectacle.
At the end of 2009 David Campbell, a local schoolboy, arrived as a regular observer. His enthusiasm and keen eye proved what I had earlier suspected, that Canons Farm was somehow special. Through sheer hard work, during 2010, he has found Raven, Black Redstart, Goshawk, Osprey, Quail and Corn Bunting – and before you jump to conclusions that some of these must be the imaginings of a yound mind, they are all either multi-observer records or have been photographed.
For me, his best find, and the crown jewel of Canons Farm sightings so far, is not the rarest. Yesterday evening, David, typically keen, decided to visit the farm in the last murky hour of daylight on a cold and damp afternnon. He was rewarded with a superb male Hen Harrier. He watched it go to roost and, at 06.58 this morning I was very happy indeed to see this stunning beast take to the air and head purposefully eastwards.
What next for Canons Farm? Well, it is a site that will only reward those who bird it intensely. My occasional forays before this year proved that it can deliver, but not on the scale that David’s efforts have proved. It can be hard work in the spring and summer. Autumn sees it at its best and winter can be interesting as well.
My fear is that if David loses interest or moves away from the area, the current coverage will not be maintained and the records will once again , if not totally dry up, then certainly slow down significantly.