Saturday, 16 January 2021

Getting to know you

Not the hedgerow mentioned in the text, but one of many to check across the site

Seeing that most of us are adhering to lockdown rules, our birding footprint has become a much smaller one, modestly centred around our homes. I have become slightly obsessed with what I can hope to find on Epsom and Walton Downs, especially as I can easily walk there in 20 minutes, and the furthest point is only a further 30 minutes on from there. Canons Farm is a similar distance, and a place where I have had far more birding success, but it is the former site that is interesting me at the moment - and I do tend to think of it  - Epsom and Walton Downs - as one site, even though cartographers may argue otherwise. The farm fields and copses flow across the boundary lines, as do the Skylarks, thrushes and chats.

Historically E&W Downs have thrown up good birds and good counts. During the 1960s and 70s they were actively covered and the Surrey Bird Reports of the time make interesting reading. My own modest, and erratic, efforts have only produced a few surprises - Woodlark, Golden Plover, Barn Owl, Black Redstart - plus a decent passage of chats and thrushes.

On my wander yesterday I came across a section of Walton Downs that I had not had the chance to explore. Most of the farmland here has been purchased by the Woodland Trust, and has been opened up to the public and planted with trees. These new footpaths are many and largely deserted. The old OS footpaths that I used to walk along enabled me to stare longingly at small copses and hedgerows that were tantalisingly out of reach. Now, these same areas are open to explore. This 'new' area was a field edge that runs southwards along a shallow valley, with a narrow hedgerow along its base. It looks ideal as a corridor of movement. I can imagine birds making their way along it during spring and autumn, with the obligatory stop-off of starts and chats in the autumn - and, if I've been a good boy, maybe even a shrike. But to temper any wishful thinking, there are miles of hedgerows like this, running away across open fields and ripe for exploring. The more I look here, the more I am discovering. It took several years for the Canons Farm 'hot-spots' to be identified, so I cannot expect those on E&W Downs to give themselves up immediately.

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