The ramblings of an all-round naturalist based in north Surrey
Wait awhile in early Spring
I've been spending a bit of time in the garden recently, tidying up from the neglect of winter. A bit of cutting back; raking up leaves that dropped after the autumn winds or were blown out of their hiding places by winter gusts; reducing the rampant ivy; giving the lawns their first trim of the year (although neither modest affairs would win any awards, being more moss and tree root than grass); cleaning out bird feeders and topping up the ones in use; clearing the pond of floating debris (this doesn't take long as it is very small indeed). Wherever I looked, there were signs of the season ramping up - buds where there were no buds just a few days ago, leaves unfurling, flower unveiling. A bit of sun and the attendant warmth enticed Brimstones and Small Tortoiseshells out of hibernation. If I actually switched the moth trap on (I haven't so far this year) there would no doubt be the usual suspects to greet me, the Hebrew Characters, the Clouded Drabs and the Common Quakers. The season is getting ready to progress further, and within just a matter of weeks all will be a riot of growth and colour. This time of year sees a speeding up of change, when the muted palette of winter is well and truly condemned to the memory. Treasure it, because as each day passes the changes occur faster than you can take in. Colour swapped for other colour, growth for other growth, one suite of species to make way for another. Life in a humble garden may never stop, but the freshness and newness of Spring is a special time. Sometimes it is tempting to want to fast forward to Swifts, orchids and chalk downland slopes full of buzz and perfume. But be patient. Wait awhile in early Spring. There is plenty of time for all of that.
Not taken today, but during a previous summer. All asleep at the moment, but soon to stir...
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