Sunday, 28 February 2016
Return to Holmethorpe and a gull twitch
It's been two years since I've lifted my bins at Holmethorpe Sand Pits. That's far too long - this is a very good place for a north Surrey birder to spend some time, and nobody has spent more time treading the sand than Gordon Hay, who has been finding stuff there for thirty years now. It was good to walk around the patch with him this morning.
I have 'previous' at Holmethorpe. I have adopted it as my main local patch several times, particularly during the early to late 1990s and for a few years in the early 2000s. During these spells it delighted and infuriated me in equal measure, but after spending too much time plodding around the dry farms and heaths of Banstead, going back there is like returning to Minsmere! There is water!! There are wildfowl!!!
Time has never stood still at Holmethorpe, and in the 25+ years that I have been visiting much has changed. Whole copses have been felled, abandoned farm buildings gentrified, fields mined for sand, large holes in the ground appeared and disappeared, miles of fencing erected, fields flooded. And now the charming, open farmland of Mercer's Farm is about to be quarried. An access road has been laid (right through a delightful bit of hillside scrub) and the signs of impending industry are clearly there to be seen. Not all the changes have been negative, neither have they all been positive. A change in farming practice lead the wintering Lapwing flock to largely abandon - I have stood mesmerised by 3,500 of them take to the air above Mercer's Farm, picking out the odd Golden Plover amongst them, but alas such gatherings are history. We thought such things were forever. Tree Sparrows and Grey Partridges were still to be expected, but we would never have expected Common Buzzards or Little Egrets. Some you win, some you lose...
Back to today. A fairly comprehensive route was taken, from Water Colours, through The Moors, Chilmead Farm, Mercer's Lake, Mercer's West, Spynes Mere and lastly Mercer's Farm. It was lovely to be back and a delight to be out in the field again with Gordon (we seem to meet over plates of food and glasses of beer latterly). Our highlights were: Little Grebe (10), Great Crested Grebe (2), Little Egret (1), Egyptian Goose (2), Teal (30), Wigeon (1), Gadwall (18), Shoveler (15), Tufted Duck (80), Scaup (1 female on Mercer's Lake), Pochard (2), Water Rail (1, Spynes Mere), Lapwing (60), Jack Snipe (7), Common Snipe (15), Common Buzzard (4), Sparrowhawk (2), Skylark (30), Meadow Pipit (7), Fieldfare (25), Redwing (15), Starling (1500), Linnet (160), Bullfinch (3), Reed Bunting (2, one of which, a singing male, appears above).
Back home, just as I was about to contemplate lunch, a first-winter Iceland Gull was found by Ian Magness at Canons Farm, just a five minute drive from my home. It would have been rude not to...