The ramblings of an all-round naturalist based in north Surrey
The 'boys' of Summer
Red Bartsia - it must be summer
When do you know it's really summer? Are you one of those people who think summer begins with the summer solstice? Or when the schools break up for the six-week holiday? Is it when test cricket starts, or the football season ends? For me it's when I see Red Bartsia in flower. There is always a mixture of pleasure at seeing it again and sadness that the year is yet again careering onwards. I then start to think of summer as becoming long in the tooth when I see the first Harebell - as much as I like what the autumn brings, an air of melancholia briefly visits me when the first pastel blue bell nods my way. From a moth perspective, a Copper Underwing in the MV leaves me in no doubt as to it being summer. Birds are trickier. My problem with 'summer' birds is that I reckon that the first signs of autumn passage appears as early as June, when waders such as Lapwings and Green Sandpipers start to bother the notebook. Therefore I'd plump for the flocking of young Starlings as the undeniable sign of avian summer. The messy, whirring flocks of squabbling birds, a patchwork of pale buff and early adult gloss plumage is as much a summer scene as ice cream vans, lobster pink shoulders and the smell of barbeques. As for autumn... I'll save that for later.
Last week, the Surrey Bird Club sightings section on the website announced that 100+ Bramblings had been seen along Clifton's Lane, just off the A25, between Reigate Heath and the North Downs scarp slope - it is an area that I know well and bird a few times each year. There was no need for me to weigh up the pros and cons of paying a visit - it is a place I love to wander and a species that I particularly enjoy watching. Friday afternoon saw me saunter up the aforementioned lane, looking out for a 'field with crops' that the birds had been frequenting. The first that fitted that description, beyond the railway bridge, was a right old mixture of brassica, peas and arable 'weeds' (below). There were no birds within the field, but the trees that lined the western side were full of them, hundreds of finches perched on the bare tops. I was able to get a decent viewpoint and could count 400+, many of them Brambling! I could not fail to be aware that more birds were in the
The West Sussex South Downs seem a wilder place than 'my' Surrey North Downs - more open than the wooded north, with steep slopes either side of the narrow ridge which suggests higher ground, and thus the views are spectacular, whichever way you look. It is also full of birds. I'd intended to park at the the top of Kithurst Hill, but a road closure sent me on my way to Amberley. After parking the car and making my way up the hill, a Marsh Harrier appeared above my head, heading off towards the Wild Brooks - a good start to the day. The footpath took me up to Amberley Mount, where I followed the South Downs Way eastwards. The open grassy fields here were full of Common Gulls, in their hundreds, feeding on the turf along with Starlings. Any scan southwards would find more gulls, mostly drifting east, often dropping down or wheeling above the hidden valleys that are cut into the undulating farmland, the land resembling the swell of a vast grassy ocean. The path also undulated,
Sometimes you are in the right place, at the right time. And sometimes you are only in the right place at the right time because you have stood there for days on end, waiting for it to happen. Today it happened. It has become a bit of an 'October thing' over my garden, here in Banstead - a day (or two) of concentrated diurnal Redwing passage, so much so that I stand outside the house, at dawn from October 1st, waiting for it to commence. My previous back garden successes have included: 7,724 west at on 12 October 2020 5,334 west on 15 October 2020 4,145 west on 8 October 2018 3,203 west on 13 October 2020 The Surrey record, up until this morning, stood at 15,000 west at Beddington SF on 12 October 1997. I had no expectation of ever reaching that figure, and thought that my 7,724 from last autumn was a bit of a one-off. How wrong was I... It started to look good yesterday afternoon/evening, with the Flysafe/BirdTAM website offering up graphs and charts that predicted the follow