Birding in the Surrey hinterland, particularly during the winter months, can be hard work. Frustrating. Soul sapping. Even depressing. Today was one such day, when a combination of drizzle and a lack of birds turned me from an enthusiastic birder to a crumpled heap within an hour.
I was walking across Walton Heath when it occurred to me that not only could I not see a single bird, I also couldn't hear one. I stood still and looked harder. I made my ears work overtime. Nothing. For maybe 20-30 seconds (it seemed like an hour) there was not a single avian tickle to be felt. And then four Wood Pigeons flew into view. Followed a further thirty seconds later by a Carrion Crow. And then a Herring Gull. I could have predicted those three species, the 21st century birders staple diet of pigeon, crow and gull. 95% of the Surrey bird biomass is made of that triumvirate I can confidently claim. It wasn't it always like this - or was it?
When I returned home I picked up my notebook from February 1977, when I knew that I had visited Walton Heath (dipping on a Great Grey Shrike). Did I see more back then - well, sort of... I recorded 2 Stonechats (missing today), 2 Willow Tits (extinct in the county now) and a flock of 50+ Redpolls (none today). My species list was still poor on that day 38 years ago but undoubtably I had seen more. Was that the proof that I needed to laud the past as better for birding? Not quite. My notebook reveals that a return visit a fortnight later was pants - no Stonechat, no Willow Tits (but a single Marsh) and only one Redpoll. Maybe my past is being viewed through rose-tinted glasses.
PS: I hope that the title of this post is not a true prediction of my garden MV haul tonight. The trap is on, the night is cloudy and mild and my expectations are for a handful of moths. Any species will do...