A bright but rather breezy morning saw twelve members setting off along the rebuilt and only just reopened boardwalk. As a whole the reserve was showing a good recovery from the terrible fire and apart from the considerable reduction in tree numbers seemed well on the road to the restoration of its former glory. There were distant calls from a Curlew and Cuckoo, the former maintaining the common’s reputation as the only breeding site for the species in the south-east; the latter alas a poor substitute for the famous Colin whose appearances in Parish Field seem to be over after a long innings of eight years. A singing Whitethroat perched in view near the boardwalk but Pudmore Pond held only Black-Headed Gulls, Canada Geese, Mallards and a Tufted Duck. Two notable highlights soon followed. Near Spur Wood a Tree Pipit was performing its characteristic ‘parachute’ display flight and the group had good views of Restarts, probably five in total. Willow Warblers were singing as usual at the far end of path alongside South Bog. There too a Hobby was briefly spotted before it disappeared behind trees. Other raptors were a Kestrel and three Red Kites. Although Woodlarks had been singing their beautiful songs at Thursley since early February they were seen but not heard during the walk probably because they were on nests. Late surprises were two Roe Deer speeding away and a Wheatear near Shrike Hill – late in the season for a Wheatear in Surrey. Species enjoyed on a productive walk totalled 31.
Seventeen met in the Moat car park to be greeted by the call of a nearby cuckoo to confirm the arrival of Spring. The morning was though somewhat cool in the northerly breeze and few birds were singing. A brief scan of the pond yielded only a couple of mallards while song on our circuit of the south bog was confined to a whitethroat and a chiffchaff. Finally as we progressed a great spotted wood drummed for us and the liquid notes of a willow warbler, the first of eight that we encountered, could be heard. Stonechats perched for us and a Dartford warbler afforded us a glimpse. Then out of the blue a hobby appeared and proceeded to give a close display of its aerial prowess, the highlight of the walk. Things went quieter as we followed the path around the exterior of Parish Field. A redstart appeared briefly drinking from a muddy pool, our only view during the morning which was disappointing for a species that can usually be sighting in good numbers in the vicinity. We next headed uphill to the song of woodlarks from hidden perches and occasional displays. Another Dartford shot by and more stonechats appeared, some taking food to nests. We made the long walk back, much lengthened by the absence of boardwalks, accompanied by the distant calls of lapwings on Pudmore. Finally not one but three hobbies appeared and provided another aerial display. An increasingly enjoyable morning produced a list of 31 species.
The Thursday walk took place on a chilly day with sunny periods. It was tinged with a little sadness as it was the first one at Thursley since the disastrous fire of late summer. The common had an unfamiliar look but in many places the first signs of regeneration were appearing. The walk to Parish Field produced a few sightings, a woodlark overflying us and a male stonechat giving an acrobatic demonstration of flycatching. As we approached the woods redstarts were in good voice but as elusive as the chiffchaffs we could also hear. In the field was an armchair lounge of two dozen photographers in which Colin the famous cuckoo was posing on his perch; after a while he took off but could be heard calling regularly during the rest of the morning. We then skirted Parish Field in search of tree pipits and caught glimpses of one or two performing their display flights. Willow warblers were also singing around us allowing occasional views. Out on the heath the Dartford warblers were sheltering from the chill and were more heard than seen but we managed a couple of sightings. Some of us were fortunate also to see a female wheatear on the east side of Shrike Hill. As we skirted the hill we repeatedly heard a curlew’s call but failed to see it. We did however see a lapwing apparently defending its nest from a crow. Close to the dragonfly sculpture we saw two female crossbills offering great views as they fed in the pines. The walk produced some good quality birds with a species list totalling 34.
An overspill walk on the following Saturday enjoyed better conditions. As a consequence the six participants had more and better sightings of much the same species as two days previously. The cuckoo was again on its usual perch. A tree pipit parachuted for us several times and allowed us to find its perch. Redstarts were far more visible including a pair on the charred southern side of Shrike Hill. From there we also sighted a pair of woodlarks bringing food to a nest on the hillside. A hobby gave a flypast over the bog and obligingly perched for excellent viewing. The star birds though were a flock of 30-40 crossbills feeding on the south edge of Parish Field. The Saturday species count was 41.