Monday, 2 January 2017

Modest in the mud

The ND&B birding year began a day late, with yesterday being a pleasing mix of family strolls and the fact that my resolution survived 24 hours without the need for alcohol or any 'naughty' food. I don't expect the willpower to last...

The birding kicked-off with a trip to Holmethorpe Sand Pits, a site that I have visited with some intent in the past. It is the nearest 'proper' waterbody to my home, and over the years I have seen Black-throated and Great Northern Diver, Slavonian, Black-necked and Red-necked Grebe, Bewick's Swan, Ferruginous Duck, Common Scoter and Red-breasted Merganser there (plus plenty more that I cannot recall at the moment). It has sizeable water bodies, plenty of scrub, several small reed and bulrush beds, a stream, and is flanked by the North Downs and Nutfield Ridge. It also boasts farmland, which in places looks like this...


... large fields bordered in places by mature tree-lines and small copses. Twenty years ago the wintering Lapwing flock would peak at 3,500, with modest numbers of Golden Plover joining them. Good sized Skylark and finch flocks were a feature, along with up to 50 Yellowhammers. But since my last visit (in February), permission has been granted for the removal of sand, and the work has already started. A bund has been constructed, a tarmac road laid and the top soil removed. And that looks like this...


...which actually appears to have the potential for birds. I'm already imagining spring waders alighting on the wet flashes, but that is assuming that us birders are going to get near enough to be able to see any if they do turn up. My main concern is that a sizeable population of Corn Marigold has been lost (or at the least has been ravaged) - it is a scarce arable species. I will hope to find that some of it has survived outside of the bund.


Above is Mercer's Lake. When I first visited the site in the mid-80s you could walk around the steep bank above the water and have clear views across to the other side. Today a thick woodland stands in the way. There also used to be a fisherman's path that hugged the water's edge. When the trees became too dense to see through, (and if you risked the wrath of the bailiff), you could get down onto this path and clearly see the water. But... the water table has been very problematic of late, and this path is now deeply submerged. If you want to bird Mercer's Lake, you need to do so from the Water Sports Centre, as I was this morning (view above).

I have at times wondered why I abandoned Holmethorpe, but I was reminded this morning. Firstly, the poor access and viewing of practically all of the water bodies. Secondly the gloopy, sopping wet ground that turns walking into a game of keeping upright in the sucking mud. Thirdly the number of cyclists, walkers and dogs that use the area (yes, I know they have every right to do so) and fourthly the noise (M23, railway line). BUT... it has bags of birding potential and I do want to give it a bit of a go this year. I just need to suck up the negativity and get on with turning it all into positives. Today was quiet - mild winters here tend to be, with no sawbills or large wildfowl congregations. My highlights were 4 Egyptian Geese, a Water Rail and a singing Siskin. A modest start.

8 comments:

  1. How our birding locations differ Steve...and I still complaint about the tourists and 'crowds' numbering up to 20 on some beaches!

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    1. We're a funny lot - not anti-social really, but rabidly so when birding!

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  2. As Monty Python once offered - "Always look on the bright side of life!" Steve you could be birding at Tring? Perish the thought! - Dyl

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    1. Tring? A good bird list if memory serves me right Dyl...

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  3. Don't forget to send me your sightings Steve. Every one counts! I was out on the patch too this morning until about 1pm - sorry I didn't catch up with you. Also, the Awards have been announced – thought you would like to know...!

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    1. Sorry I missed you Neil. Counts sent and a comment on your blog - you're too kind!

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  4. Good nature sites near us been destroyed, the poppy fields gone to make way for a relief road, the site at Cotham flashes bought up for god knows what purpose

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    1. All in the name of progress Simon. Or profit.

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