Saturday, 19 January 2019

All our yesterdays


You will have to be a person of a certain age to understand where the headline above has its derivation, but then I grew up listening to the dulcet tones of Brian Inglis on the TV.

Today saw one of my rare forays onto Epsom Common, a visit made in dull, drizzly weather and characterised by an almost total absence of birds. The Stew Pond (above) held but four Cormorants, a Grey Heron and two Mallards: the woodland and open areas fared little better with very few tit flocks present and those that did appear were in low numbers. So far, so poor.

But of interest were the 'then and now' comparisons that I make when visiting Epsom Common - you see, back in 1975-76 this was very much one of my cherished birding patches. Looking back is enough to make me weep, as we were privy to breeding Grasshopper Warblers, Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers and Willow Tits, with large areas of open heathy scrub that held Yellowhammers, Tree Pipits and plenty of Willow Warblers. Today? All gone. The scrub is now woodland and even though a lot has been done to restore some of this woodland back to heath, what has been created doesn't have that same feel that my youthful memory demands. It is like walking around a completely different place - strange and new even, although the ghosts of 45 years ago are still there, hidden under the bracken and behind the holly understory. I leave feeling as if I've just visited a long-dead past-life.

The colour had leaked out of the day with the dull and lifeless sky, but look and you shall find! This ring of fallen Crab Apples lit up the floor underneath the tree they had fallen from. Like a fairy ring, or maybe a sign from those carefree days of the mid-1970s, all long hair, flared trousers and reeling locustella warblers.

11 comments:

Robin Smith said...

Was that also the location of a reliable Med Gull on the late 70’s?...or is memory playing tricks? .

Gibster said...

Very sad, I never should have abandoned it. Your four Cormorants is one more than my highest ever count in over 25 years birding the place, so they're obviously on the up. That spot where you're standing was always a good bet for Jack Snipe and the occasional Water Rail at this time of year, though early winter was always better for both.

Robin - the Med Gull was at Stamford Green Pond, also on Epsom Common but right at the other end.

Steve Gale said...

You're spot on Robin and it was still a scarce bird then. In fact two turned up (ad and first-winter together one year).

Steve Gale said...

Did your early days on the common coincide with Willow Tits and Groppers Seth? I do hope so.

Gibster said...

Yep, I well remember commando crawling through the hawthorn scrub and long grass towards a reeling Gropper one evening. Crawled up to the bush and there it was, no more than 5ft in front of me, body trembling with each burst of reeling (and the warbler's body was trembling too!) Nightingale, Turtle Dove, Woodcock, Willow Tit, Lesser Spots, life on the ponds - it used to be so good. Hacked back scrubby regrowth with cattle thrown into enclosures just does not replicate what used to be there. Sadly.

Gavin Haig said...

I once visited Epsom Common in the '90s to see a Little Bittern. As far as I know it's the only time I've been there, so my memories of it are superficial. However, I have occasionally revisited haunts of my youth after a long gap. In those instances the feelings of sadness and loss are almost visceral. What strange, deep creatures we are...

Gibster said...

That'd be the day my beloved common was entrenched with twitchers. First (and only) time I've experienced "patch invasion" and I can't say I was overly thrilled (despite invading many other patches in my time). Indeed what strange creatures we are...

Steve Gale said...

I, too, was a part of that twitching throng, although I felt a certain amount of entitlement in being there. Strange and deep? Couldn't agree more.

Andrew said...

I used to live in Newton Wood Road Astead in the 1980's and would go over Epsom and Ashtead Commons most weeks.Some summer nights I could hear nightingales singing through my open bedroom window. Woodcock would rode the tree tops of Newton Wood as I stood in my back garden watching and Marsh fit were regular on my feeders in the winter's. Memories of Epsom and Ashtead Commons are many, grasshopper warblers, lesser spotted peckers, spotted flycatchers,wood warblers, redstarts and one dusk watching over Stew Pond seeing a pair of gargany landing at the back, confirmed when I returned the next morning.

Approaching the largest of the ponds in winter was a wonder of anticipation, going up the steps until my head cleared ground level revealing a feast of wintering wildfowl.

I still live locally,I visit Epsom and Ashtead Commons occasionally, but now I could just cry at the stillness the silence of it all, it's beyond tragic.

Andrew Pearce aged 61.

Andrew said...

I used to live in Newton Wood Road Astead in the 1980's and would go over Epsom and Ashtead Commons most weeks.Some summer nights I could hear nightingales singing through my open bedroom window. Woodcock would ride the trees tops of Newton Wood as I stood in my back garden watching and Marsh fit were regular on my feeders in the winter's. Memories of Epsom and Ashtead Commons are many, grasshopper warblers, lesser spotted peckers, spotted flycatchers,wood warblers, redstarts and one dusk watching over Stew Pond seeing a pair of gargany landing at the back, confirmed when I returned the next morning.

Approaching the largest of the ponds in winter was a wonder of anticipation, going up the steps until my head cleared ground level revealing a feast of wintering wildfowl.

I still live locally,I visit Epsom and Ashtead Commons occasionally, but now I could just cry at the stillness the pointlessness of it all, it's beyond tragic.

Andrew Pearce aged 61 and wondering if I've seen the best of it.

Steve Gale said...

Andrew, I feel your pain. I really do.