Thursday, 12 July 2018

Thursley Common/NNR - Surrey birding at its best! 27th May 2018

Birding has been pretty dead for me this year with exceptions of the Greece trip and Duke of Edinburgh the weekend before. The only solitary moment of birding joy was hearing a Sedge Warbler singing at my school on the 25th in the morning only. Ridiculous I know.
The last time I went all out birding was Beddington Farmlands in the Beast from the East. So when I somehow convinced my parents that we could do with a walk in the morning and Thursley would be good, and they said yes, I was pretty pleased (though I did go too far with Oare Marshes and even Pagham!) 
I'd only been to Thursley once; that day in 2014 when the Short-toed Eagle made a visit. The most fortunate day of British birding for me. 
We arrived later than we wanted to at 10:30am, and unfortunately it was windy and overcast. We headed out from the Moat Car Park, towards the boardwalk. The very first 2 birds heard were Whitethroat and Woodlark -  a good sign. By 11am, after ambling along, the sun broke through and it became warmer. And the first Stonechats were about finally, along with tons of Lizards basking. An absolutely brilliant Raft Spider sat on the boardwalk as we passed. A decent start, though very few dragonflies were on the wing as of yet. 
We passed the boardwalk, reaching the other side, when I heard the first Dartford Warbler of the day singing momentarily. 
Another 3 pairs of Stonechat appeared, and I finally spotted the first m Redstart perched snoozing on a tree distantly. A pair was then located, just as my mum spotted the Hobby appearing for the hunt, along with a Buzzard. We walked towards the NNR, and I heard the Curlew calling. It was a pleasant sound, that I was thankful to hear as I actually thought they'd left these heath/moorlands. Being Thursley, as soon as the Curlews stopped another pair of Redstart started up and then a Tree Pipit sang for a few minutes distantly. I found the redstarts' nest, before we moved hoping for Colin the Cuckoo. Then I heard and saw the Dartford perched donkeys away, and then again slightly closer. And please enjoy the record shots!
Despite failing with Colin, as we headed back Willow Warblers were among 6 warblers in song at the time, and we watched the Hobby circle Pudmore at 1230ish as it picked up dragonflies. The final species seen were Reed Bunting (my sister found all of them,) some moths and a singing Treecreeper right by the car park. 
Total for the day included 4 Dartford Warbler, 1 Tree Pipit, 2 Curlew, 2 Hobby, 15+ Stonechat, 5-7 Redstart, 2 Willow Warbler min, 2 Treecreeper, 1 Buzzard, 1 Kestrel, 3 Reed Bunting, 6 Whitethroat, 2 Skylark, Woodlark heard only etc. 
A couple of moths seen included the one pictures below, and there were quite a few butterflies on the wing as well.
Speckled Yellow moth
Overall, despite only having 3 hours there rather than a day, it was a very pleasing day in the Surrey heaths - I only wish I could come more like when a bloody Red-backed Shrike is around :)
Here are pictures, mostly poor ones, taken from then.

Raft Spider

Raft Spider


 And the birds.

fail1: ad m Redstart in flight


ad m Redstart

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit

RECORD SHOT; first pic of Dartford Warbler

RECORD SHOT; second picture of Dartford warbler

f Stony and Linnet

stare-off Stony

Hobby - always distant

m Reed Bunting

A mystery bug (for now!)
And Pudmore!


Monday, 25 June 2018

Bronze DofE: Practice Expedition, North Downs - Day 2, 20th May 2018

If you didn't get bored reading about the last post, walking around the north downs for my dofe, then you'll remember me saying that the second day was better.

It all began at stupid o'clock, when I decided to get up early at 04:25am to get an experience of the dawn chorus - something I'd never done before. It was incredible, and I took a short video of it before going back to snooze again. The array of birds singing was great, but the sheer volume and intensity made me feel thrilled.

After packing and eating and getting ready to complete the remaining 15km or so, we were able to get lost within 5 minutes, before we were back on trail by 07:45am. Birds were still performing, and some Mistle Thrush were worm-catching in a field. Firecrests were singing, and jackdaws chacked away. By 8am we entered an area of forest called Hurt Wood, near Peaslake. Warblers dominated the song by now, and Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Garden Warbler, Willow Warbler and Whitethroat were all singing at once. I then heard a song from a field of gorse and pine trees, like you find at Arne, that was very familiar to me as it had been my alarm for waking up for a long time (the only way I'll get up is hearing a bird call/song that excites me.) In order to get a chance to find it, I strategically called a drinks break. Almost immediately it sang again and flew low across the ground, the final thing I wanted to check before calling Dartford Warbler! A very pleasing bird to find, especially as it was unexpected and self-found! Though I hunted for it again it didn't show, singing only once. 

Moving on, our man in charge of the map took a wrong turn meaning we added another 3 kilometres onto the journey. Few things were seen now except the odd chiffy and whitethroat, though an interesting yellow bird flew high among the trees. A poor sighting meant I put it down as a Green Woodpecker. A few thrushes were seen, and a Cuckoo began singing making the diversion more pleasant. A surprise, and a welcome one at that, was a calling Curlew that was heard from an area of heath. It's becoming an all too rare sight and sound in the moors and heaths at the moment, and though it's likely to have been a flyover let's hope they return to these areas in the future. 

Soon after leaving Hurt Wood, we approached an area of dense woodland, with a rocky path, between Holmbury St Mary and a place called High Ashes farm, where I heard numerous Willow Warblers (my favourite song) and a Hobby nest, with 2-3 fledglings in it. Firecrests continued singing, possibly overtaking Goldcrests.

Skipping forward, we reached Wotton Common with time to spare and a Nightingale was a possibility hidden amongst the scrub. Birds for another hour were pretty quiet to be honest, other than a Grey Wagtail on the road. 

After a tiring few hours, we stopped for lunch somewhere where the Tilling Bourne ran through. In the adjacent fields a Kestrel hunted, a Whitethroat sang, 3 Pheasants wandered and Linnets flew along. Further on a Buzzard nest was located, as was a Grey Wagtail nest. With time pushing on, I didn't see anymore birds other than a few Rook before we arrived back at Ranmore 2 hours after lunch. 

Here are a few more pictures, though I took few. It was a pleasant few days wandering in the country - hopefully the final expedition in July will be as successful!

Speckled Wood

m Pheasant 

m Grey Wagtail

another group chilling after completion

Hurt Wood

Hurt Wood

Tilling Bourne

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Bronze DofE: Practice Expedition, North Downs - Day 1, 19th May 2018

When I applied to DofE, I expected nothing short of a lot of hard work which would ultimately be great fun. On the 19th May, I arrived at school at 07:30am sharp ready for our practise expedition for our bronze section, where we had to complete a round trip of around 30km and one night camping in the North Downs. We arrived at Ranmore Common car park at just before 09:30am, where we met our guide in preparation for a long, enjoyable weekend of walking, camping and orienteering around the countryside with nature surrounding us. 
We started our walk, with me leading, at around 10am where Marsh Tits were singing as were Blackcap and much more. It didn't take me too long to get lost - it must come naturally to me - so i handed the map to someone else. This meant I could look for some more birds. Thumbs up.

The first 2 hours went by pretty quickly, as we saw few things and it became very hot. We entered a part of the wood near Effingham Forest where singing Firecrest caught my ear, amongst the tons of Chaffinch. At least 3 singing males were heard in the next 30 minutes, and soon after we stopped for lunch. After eating, with Marsh and Coal Tits singing everywhere, a Firecrest started up just across from where we sat and I could even see it int he tree. So I leaped up, ready for some pictures, to find that the viewfinder had become blurry. I was in utter dismay, and by the time someone in the group, who was great with cameras, had fixed it the bloody Firecrest sang from some dense woodland. The rest of the trip everyone wound me up about it, as they do, but it was pretty annoying. 

Walking on we went through a lot more forest, and many more Firecrest territories, before we reached the town of Shere. We navigated our way around the town, we made a way for a pathway and I heard a 'sip.'  After an incredible, terrible winter with tons of Hawfinch which I didn't see, it was actually a nice, unexpected thing to see with its dashing white wing bars as it flew over the houses. Steve G has suggested it was a local breeder, which is pleasing to know. 
We continued walking, and then stopped for a short break near a field with rabbits in and swifts soaring overhead. A Barn Owl flew over quickly, and a Hobby did a quick circuit. A highlight of the trip was hearing a purring Turtle Dove - my first ever - in what should be its common habitat. It's decline is shocking to be frank, and needs desperate help.  As planned as soon as we saw another group approaching we packed up and walked on. 

The next 2 hours were quiet, with very few birds seen and a singing Cuckoo the only bird to note. Warblers were present for most of the day with nearly c.100 Blackcap(!), 3 Garden Warbler and 30+ Chiffchaff. So I'll save you the reading and post a few pictures of where we went and what we saw on the first day's walking of 15.5 km.

Chaffinch singing

Speckled Wood - pretty low in numbers this year

badger sett

f Orange Tip on bluebell

Rabbit in meadows

I didn't expect that the best was yet to come :)

Friday, 22 June 2018

Herne Bay, Kent - 17th May 2018

As I had an RE GCSE on the 16th May I didn't really go walking other than occasional walks at the mini-patch Little Woodcote, where Black Redstarts had been seen but I only saw things like Garden Warbler, Linnet and a single fly-through Yellow Wagtail. The day after the exam I had a Geography field trip to Herne Bay in Kent. The journey was quiet and upon arrival the seafront yielded nothing except a lot of Herring and LB Gulls. As we started walking along the coastline to learn about the coastal defences etc. a few Black-headed gulls flew along the coast as did other common coastal birds like Cormorants. Nothing to get my bird pressure going! After passing a few Groynes and noting their use I also noted their birding use as a Black Redstart began flying between them (near Hampton.) I was pleased at finding it and was about to pull the camera trigger on it when a student thought pushing the weirdo would be funny. It was frustrating to say the least. Moving on to the spit, where we were to conduct our actual practical work, I only had a few minutes to see what was around. A Whitethroat sang briefly, and there seemed to be breeding Kestrel. Later on, once I'd packed my camera away typically to stop myself getting distracted, a group of 4 Med Gulls flew East along the coast and my first ever Little gulls - both 2nd summers - fished just offshore while I scrambled for the camera then disappeared. 
The afternoon went by quickly, and after completing the practical work we departed the area to go back to school. A single Oystercatcher was the final bird to be seen, on top of many butterflies.
With my exams mostly finished for me it was a time to relax from work and focus on my cricket for the summer. A Cormorant added to the garden list as it flew over one evening, and our Swifts returned as well. My first ever Grizzled Skipper butterfly flew through my school field one afternoon as well. So birding continues on...