Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Flight-lines

The past three Octobers has seen my birding effort dedicated to finding decent visible migration spots in Surrey. My search has been deliberately confined to within ten miles from home. So far, and largely with good return, I have tried Box Hill, Colley Hill, Denbies Hillside, Epsom Downs, Canons Farm, Priest Hill and last, but not least, my back garden in Banstead. It is the latter that I will expand upon for this post.

I am on (for Surrey) fairly high ground, a northerly spur of the North Downs. The garden is of moderate size and is north-westerly facing, looking up and along a slope. Neighbouring roof tops and a mature Ash tree cuts down visibility somewhat, but I can position myself to be able to see most of the sky, with the southwards views quite good and, looking across to a slightly higher ridge some 600m away, far-reaching in places.

Back-garden vis-migging was born out of convenience, but it soon became apparent that it would repay my efforts. Big hirundine and thrush movements were forthcoming, with the odd unexpected highlight thrown in (such as Woodlark, Hawfinch and several Crossbills). Yesterday found me outside at dawn, and it turned out to be a memorable session, with a west to north-westerly passage of 7,724 Redwings, 419 Chaffinches, 30 Fieldfare and a Brambling. 

Over the past three years I have come to the conclusion that thrushes have a particular liking for ‘my’ area - there does seem to be a clear flight-line that runs east-west, being visible above - and to the south - of my house. Passage to the north is not as heavy, although it must be admitted that my views are a little compromised in this direction. This flight-line can move further to the south, so that the birds are closer to the higher ridge. I have often wondered whether or not I’d be better off on this ridge, where Nork Park is situated, which handily affords far-reaching views.

Today I was, once more, in the back garden and was delighted to find that the thrushes were again on the move. Redwings did not reach the heady-heights of yesterday, with 3,203 being recorded, but Fieldfares came to the fore, a magnificent 1,558 passing overhead. One dramatic flock of 300 birds contained both species. As the morning wore on the thrush flight-line moved further south, but was still in view and countable. But when I started to pick out distant dots by the ridge I made my move - all of 800m - and spent the last hour of the session on the open slopes of Nork Park. I was at once vindicated as several large flocks moved directly over me, facilitating accurate counting of birds, particularly those of mixed species (some including a few Chaffinches).

This got me into some unhealthy thinking. What if I had stood here yesterday? How many more Redwings would I have recorded? Without doubt, the distant birds of yesterday would have been closer here, and surely the stream would also have covered the top of the ridge. If that was the case, they would not have been viewable from home. These additional birds would have, no doubt, been countered by a number of birds that would not have been visible from the park, ie those which had passed directly over (or to the north) of my house. So where best to stand? Stick or twist? Tomorrow may have the answer, although the thrushes may decide not to turn up...

It is incredible to be able to witness such migration at home. It can be seen above any dwelling in the country. It’s free and spectacular. If you haven’t already, give it a go!

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