South Downs

Five apprehensive members assembled in the Kithurst Hill car park in very windy conditions. Our fears were justified as twice squally showers swept over but happily only when we were in the shelter of one of the sparse woodlands on top of the Downs.

Unsurprisingly sightings were few at first but a raven cronked nearby and a sizeable finch flock, exclusively linnets as far as we could judge, moved restlessly around the hillside. Soon we were seeing skylarks whose song held the promise of spring. The gamebird feeders were attracting great, blue and coal tits. Finally in the shelter of a hedgerow we saw an assemblage that included song thrushes, a mistle thrush and blackbirds. A yellowhammer flew closer and displayed its finery while colourful cock pheasants and red-legged partridges loitered at the field edges.

In view of the conditions we decided against the usual descent into the valley towards the dew ponds and took a byway leading back to the South Downs Way. Our reward was the sight of a ringtail hen harrier sweeping low past us showing its pale rump, an excellent addition to our other raptor sightings of two buzzards and a kestrel. We lunched in shelter with an excellent view of the extensive flooding stretching north as far as Pulborough Brooks where we were soon to repair for further refreshment.

Our species list of 23 reflected the prevalent weather conditions.

Moor Green Lakes

Thirteen members met in the car park on Lower Sandhurst Road.  Fortunately the weather was good following the recent storms and we quickly began spotting Blue and Great Tits, Goldfinch, Nuthatch and Treecreeper.  There were one or two Redwing in the Horse Paddock

Out on Colebrook lake there were large numbers of Gadwall, Mallard and Coot along with Moorhen, Canada Goose, Tufted Duck, Great Crested Grebe and Shelduck.  Tern Island had the usual Cormorants and Black Headed Gulls resting.  A quick check of the East Fen from the footpath and the first hide revealed nothing of additional interest but a bonus on the bird feeders was a very obliging Reed Bunting which gave very good views.

Reaching the River Blackwater, which was flowing very high, we walked all the way round to the second hide on Grove Lake.   The path by the river was very quiet for birds, apart from a few Long Tailed Tits and a couple of Goldcrests.  Out on the lakes there were some Shoveler, Pochard and the hoped for Goosander, by this time looking rather resplendent in the sunshine.  Reaching the hide, we were able to watch a Buzzard and a Kestrel enjoying the wind and air currents.

We then re-traced our steps along the river and walked to view the new workings.  Unfortunately the lakes on this side were not viewable due to the re-shaping of the sand and gravel and the removal of the bridge which used to serve as a vantage point, but we did add Little Grebe to the list for the day.  All in all a very enjoyable walk with 41 species seen in total.

[For more information and how to join the Moor Green Lakes group and access the hides at only £10 per annum visit the website]

Frensham Great Pond

Eleven members braved flooded roads and an indifferent weather forecast to walk around Frensham Great Pond.

A red kite soaring over the car park was a good start while the water held the usual array of tufted ducks, pochards, mallards and great crested grebes. There was a regular smattering of tits and robins accompanying our progress. A drake goosander was a cheering surprise on the outlet pond which was otherwise quiet. The highlight was a firecrest flitting close to us for a couple of minutes and clearly displaying its white supercilium and fiery crest in the gloom.

We should then have quit while we were ahead and headed for the cars. Instead we completed the circuit in increasingly heavy rain adding only a great spotted woodpecker to our sightings. Our spirits though remained buoyed by the firecrest.

Birds identified totalled 29.

Isle of Sheppey

The imminent arrival of Storm Ciara necessitated the late decision to bring forward this walk by a day. As a result only seven members were able to participate despite excellent weather conditions.

We started at the Swale NNR car park and were immediately startled by a small raptor swooping back and forth over the dyke. Despite finding its perch we were unable to decide whether it was a male sparrowhawk or merlin. There was no such doubt about a peregrine perched out on the marsh. We then walked to the point but found a dearth of birds on the shore apart from a roost of some hundreds of oystercatchers. As we walked to the blockhouse small numbers of turnstones and ringed plovers appeared together with a few sanderlings and one grey plover. Beyond we found many shelducks and perhaps a hundred curlews lurking in the reeds. Marsh harriers patrolled and displayed behind them while at greater distance we could see large flocks in the air, some obviously of Brent geese and one very large one of golden plovers. On the sea great crested grebes were numerous with a Slavonian grebe keeping them company. Singles of red-throated diver and shag both landed on the water at a distance that allowed reasonable views.

We next proceeded to the raptor viewpoint, opportunistically scanning as we went. Particularly exciting was the sudden appearance of a female merlin determinedly chasing a small bird and then perching in view. Also enjoyable was the sight of well over thirty corn bunting on roadside brambles, part of a mixed flock which included pipits and starlings. At the viewpoint at least six marsh harriers could be identified as well as the red-legged partridges being disturbed by them. Two brown hares were seen running across the fields and as we left two more merlins flew sedately close by.

We finally headed for Elmley. The road to the farm held many hundreds of lapwings, a sprinkling of curlews and two ruffs. From the packed car park a sleeping long-eared owl could be viewed with relatively little difficulty, its camouflage resplendent in the setting sun. A walk to the ruined schoolhouse was eventually rewarded with views of the eyes and beak of the resident little owl peeking through a gap in the wall. The final course of our birding feast was two short-eared owls hunting in the sunlight.

The list for an excellent day totalled sixty one.

Staines Moor and Reservoir

Bird sounds at the Moor Lane starting point were dominated by noisy parakeets while a red kite flew quietly nearby. 

A hardy group of twelve then walked along the Colne across Staines Moor. There were relatively few birds, perhaps because the river was exceptionally high and the weather was windy and showery. Little grebes (at least three) were beginning to acquire summer plumage. Other birds seen included a green woodpecker, a grey wagtail, a kestrel, moorhens, stonechats, and a single little egret. On three occasions separate small birds took to the air from the water’s edge and flew a long way; they were probably water pipits although they moved too far and too fast for clear identification.

Most birds at the Reservoir were on the south basin with diving birds featuring very strongly. Most numerous were tufted ducks but the group was very pleased to see in the southwest section the long-tailed duck that has lingered there for several weeks. Two black-necked grebes and five goldeneye were also showing. The south basin, its sides and the causeway also held pochards, wigeon, shovelers, great crested grebes, coots, linnets, meadow pipits and several pied wagtails. Most surprising (in every sense) was the red kite which flew up from the reservoir side a few yards away. Initially the only birds of note on the north basin were a common gull, gadwalls and two grey herons.

A few who stayed and kept watch were later delighted by the sight of seven or eight more black-necked grebes diving and popping up in a line.

Papercourt Water Meadows

An impressive attendance as thirty members were fortunate to have a mainly sunny if breezy afternoon for an afternoon walk.

A tit flock by the car park comprised blue, great & long tail tits. The field opposite held mainly rooks & jackdaws and the first of several pairs of Egyptian geese, not the hoped-for winter thrushes. A small flock of redwings was foraging in the next field & on closer inspection included some handsome fieldfares. A few more redwings were seen later on.

Sailing was in full swing on the lake, so bird numbers were limited. There were coots in abundance with a single moorhen, black-headed gulls, and a few great crested grebes, with ducks represented by mallard and one male gadwall. Raptors for the afternoon were two circling common buzzards, a red kite and a perched kestrel. For the finale, viewing from vantage points along the canal path (avoiding the waterlogged meadows) most people had good sightings of two barn owls quartering in the water meadows.

38 species were identified.

Stoke Meadows – Riverside Park

Despite a cold and gloomy morning 28 members marked the New Year with a walk around Riverside Park in Guildford.

The towpath resounded with the song of birds responding to the lengthening of the day. The robins and great tits were in fine voice while a couple of song thrushes were asserting their territories. Blue tits were abundant while the odd wren or dunnock was glimpsed. The water meadows initially appeared empty but eventually a handful of teal and wigeons were spotted through thick vegetation. Cormorants regularly hurried by while a grey heron gave a flypast. A kestrel and buzzard allowed decent views of their perches, the latter causing a jay considerable agitation. Finches were in very short supply being represented only by a few chaffinches and goldfinches.

By Stoke Lock there was a greater variety of birds including chiffchaffs, goldcrests, pied wagtails and a single meadow pipit. At the end of the circuit a small flock of long-tailed tit entertained for a while. The lake was covered in gulls. Conservatively black-headed numbered 150 but among them were a few herring gulls and singles of common and lesser black-backed. A dozen tufted ducks and one pochard were present. A great crested grebe was close while three little grebes were tucked into a distant corner. The final sighting was a great spotted woodpecker.

The species list totalled 44.