10 days in May - Staycation (Part Two)

May 16th   Day 6   13.6k walked   96 species cumulative total

An afternoon session at Holmethorpe SP which had me covering the whole area via the many footpaths, also taking in the open, grassy Nutfield Ridge, which commands fine views across the sand workings, refuse tip and nearby North Downs. It was at this latter site that a group of nine Red Kites were watched, wheeling above the refuse tip as they joined the gathered scavenging corvids. They were not the only raptor highlight, with three Hobby hunting newly emerging odonata above Spynes Mere and the neighbouring Mercer's Farm, where the majority of the 80+ Sand Martins were found, along with a handful of Swifts and House Martins. A Lapwing, two Common Terns, a Sedge Warbler, a Lesser Whitethroat, two Garden Warblers and a Yellowhammer were further highlights.

May 17th   Day 7  33.9k walked   103 species cumulative total

A big day as far as shoe leather was concerned, with a whopping 33.9km walked. Parking at the top of St. Martha's Hill (above a foggy dawn in the valley below) I picked up the North Downs Way and walked westwards as far as Puttenham. From here, farmland to the south around Shackleford was explored, then returning eastwards a drop down onto the farmland in the Loseley area was given a once over, before ending up at watery Shalford. It has to be said that the habitat in many locations looked ideal - water meadows, ponds, mature hedgerows, set-aside fields, scrubby corners - but the birds were largely missing. This area is one where the well-heeled live, all chocolate-box villages, ancient cottages, barn conversions, statement new-builds and an undeniable manicured beauty. Birding highlights: 1 Little Egret, 20 Egyptian Geese, a family party of Mandarin, 2 Red Kites, 1 Cuckoo, 1 Wheatear, 8 Stonechats, 1 Spotted Flycatcher, 4 Firecrests and 2 Ravens. A late afternoon stop-off at Dicks Focks Common (Effingham Forest) was worthwhile as a couple of calling Hawfinches were located, together with a Cuckoo and a single Siskin.

May 18th   Day 8  21.5k walked   106 species cumulative total

Back in the late 1970s I had reason to visit the four water-filled concrete basins at Barn Elms Reservoir (to see the present Great Northern Diver and Red-necked Grebe). At the time I did not know that it would be a further 45+ years before I would return, and that when I did the area would have been transformed into the most amazing urban wetland site, under the control of the Wildfowl Trust. It is fair to say that the London Wetland Centre is impressive. Being a Saturday it was busy, mainly family parties with young children who were not birding as much as enjoying the interactive experiences, play area, cafe etc - they might not be carrying optics, but they were all engaged with the wildlife through another means, which will hopefully lead to a lifetime of nature awareness and support. As for me, I wandered away from the crowds and spent much time in the hides that can be found throughout the site, overlooking the wetlands  - a mixture of small pools, reed-fringed channels and a large open grazing marsh. Star bird was a Great White Egret, on show throughout my stay. A pair of Oystercatcher were loafing on the shingle islands and a modest build up of gulls included an adult Great Black-backed. Also recorded: 3 Egyptian Geese, 1 Hobby, 12 Swifts, 30 Sand Martins, 9 Cetti's warblers and 3 Sedge Warblers.

May 19th   Day 9  0 walked   still 106 species cumulative total

No birding today.

May 20th   Day 10  24.8km walked   109 species cumulative total

The final day of the staycation. A dawn raid on Holmethorpe was made so that I could finally try and locate a Common Sandpiper, a species that had so far eluded me on this 'holiday'. When a single revealed itself, bobbing around the island at Spynes Mere, the job was done! Also recorded were single Little Ringed Plover and Common Tern. A stop off for a mooch around Colley Hill was quiet, save for a pair of Stonechat and a single Marsh Tit. Late afternoon found me at Leith Hill, where I stayed until dusk, spending most of my time at Duke's Warren. The warmth of the day had been absorbed by the heathland, so even as the sun went down the temperature seemed not to. Sharing time with crepuscular birds is really rather special, as our senses are heightened - sound travels further, smell is stronger, even if our eyesight might be compromised - and the birds themselves, normally hidden, reveal themselves. A churring Nightjar started up as early as 20.55hrs; a Woodcock roved alongside me, with my elevation meaning that it was at eye-level in the valley below; and a Tawny Owl, after calling from trees at the edge of Coldharbour cricket ground then revealed itself as it flew low across the pitch. Before all of this dusky action I had been able to get up close and personal with three Woodlarks (above), serenaded to by 6 Garden Warblers, observe much calling and chasing from 6 Cuckoos (whose voices are starting to break) and come across at least 10 Siskins.


Over the 10 days, of which nine found me birding, I managed to record 109 species with very little chasing of that total. I didn't record Kingfisher, Yellow Wagtail, Whinchat, Lesser Redpoll or Crossbill - the latter a surprise as there has been a sizeable flock in the Leith Hill area where I had spent some time. Apart from Great White Egret and Osprey all species recorded were what could be expected from Surrey.   I walked 189 km (or 117.4 miles if you prefer). Bird numbers are undeniably low, especially Swifts, Swallows and House Martins. For such a manicured part of the country there still remains true wildness, particularly the bog at Thursley, and the ancient heathlands to the south-west. Areas of farmland beneath the scarp slope of the North Downs can still look wildlife friendly, but for each ancient hedgerow, scrubby field, small water body and water meadow that I came across, my delight in finding them was tempered by the realisation that the birds (and insects) that should have been accompanying them was largely missing. But positives there were.


Dave Boyle said…
Dicks Focks common??

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