I'm spending an unhealthy amount of time in the Box Hill - Mickleham area at the moment. It is a beautiful part of the world and it does have its fair share of natural history gems, so it is time well spent. This morning found me sliding down a steep slope on the south-eastern side of Mickleham Downs (to the east of White Hill). It was off the beaten track and away from any of the footpaths that I usually take. I was stopped in my slippery tracks by a number of Bird's-nest Orchids, or rather the dead husks, of last year's plants (above). They were scattered about beneath the beech trees, well hidden against the leaf layer. Looking around me I realised that they stretched way ahead of me - and either side of me - as far as my naked eye could see. Hundreds of them! As I carried on, so did the orchids. I had to reassess my count - there were low thousands of them. I've never seen so many. They carried on underneath a small conifer plantation and out the other side back into the beech woodland. I pay my respects each year to the few discrete colonies that I know of close-by, and come late May I will do so again, with the addition of visiting this enormous population.
It was a beautiful morning, with a low sun, little wind and a light of pure clarity. I quite happily wandered about, taking photographs of trees, frosty fields, distant hill tops...and Hawfinches. Oh yes, you didn't think that I had forgotten about them had you? A revisit to Bramblehall Wood revealed a minimum of 17 birds (most probably more). I spent a good couple of hours scanning the south-eastern slope of White Hill (part of Mickleham Downs). You can get good views of it from the footpath that runs parallel with Headley Lane and also from a little way up the Juniper Top slope. For the first hour there was scarcely a moment when I did not have a Hawfinch in view, either perched on tree tops or in flight. Small flocks of three-to-eight birds were commonplace, with one of 20 being the largest. My estimate of 40 is on the low side - there are most probably plenty more. They were seen from Juniper Hall all the way along to Cockshot Cottage. It's a large expanse of Beech, Oak, Yew and Box to hide in. Want to see some poor images? Thought so.
I'm really going to miss them when they've gone...