8 June 2022

2022 / 31

20:30 – 22:30


in this old copse
This thicket-clump of creaking trees
I sit above the ground
in their domain
Watching among the shimmer leaves
another male sings
My ticket gives a front-row view
Symmetric surround-sound
He calls again
And starts his churring song a-new
They swish and glide
In pairs, the wing-ed evening dance
Midsummer dream I found
Wing-clap refrain
Amazed, affirmed, entranced
NIghtjar ‘dancing’

I have arrived in good time. The sky glows gold to the west, shining with the last half hour of a mild, gentle day. There has been drizzle and impulsive swirls of nervous wind, but for the last couple of hours everything has stilled and light reigns.
Always good to enjoy the Thrush’s Hour like this, when all around Blackbirds, Robins and Song Thrushes sing out from every bush and tree. Other voices include Chiffchaffs, Wrens and various tits, and it is a joy to breath in their chorus and the cool air as I walk slowly up over the top to the north, looking for the overgrown path-of-sorts that cuts up past the Big Yew to the clump. It is straight, along a furrow in the re-stock, and I have made notes of the landmarks I will need to come out effectively the same way: a small tear-drop shaped birch; a scattering of brash and chippings; a rhododendron skull. Stonechats flit and chitter. Whitethroat singing. Distant Willow Warbler.

Turn here, back again here. Around, through the gorse, scratching holly. Fresh digging in the sand. Look around carefully, stand a moment. A few quick long steps and in. And up. The bark is smooth, cool. Grip that snapped stump there, pull. And up. Settle. Breathe.

From within, there is little chance to see without, and I count Woodcock overhead by sound alone. The bracken has invaded here too, considerably even since two weeks have passed. My view of the second hole is obscured, the one where i have seen him three times out of three so far. But there has been a lot of activity closer and the landscape of the sett has changed here. Shaped, smoothed, roughed.
It is a long half hour. I am uncomfortable, and fidget. Pins and needles. Unhelpful.
Nightjars churr. two, three – one distant. But they are brief, unsettled. Off key and Warming Up.

Quips, queks, claps and slaps. Chasing fast, outside my circle of trees. Glimpses. Glides.

The closest male is 30feet away, about as high up again as I am – so 12-15ft off the ground. On the outside edge of another large Yew and if I lean out a little, twist my shoulders, I can see him clearly. His song fills the sanctuary of this space, droning, spinning. He drops away again, clap clap. A circuit and then back up again, this time with another bird. They sit on the same branch but facing opposite directions. She has her back to me. They are calling, a conversation in quips and quirks such as I hitherto thought they only made on the wing. And in between, they are bobbing their heads up and down, shrugging shoulders. So like doves. Like Stock Doves, which themselves as I have seen often, are very much like Nightjars at times.
It is fascinating to watch Nightjar courtship and to see perched birds. Such a meek privilege, afforded to so few. Nothing short of wonderful and yet, tonight, a distraction…

Nightjar upright (top) and pigeonesque head-bobbing (below)

20ft ahead of me, this side of the main hole, the bracken shakes and parts at the passing through of a large badger. A rustling, stumbling, sniffing male that feels familiar. He withdraws and turns to present a profile before disappearing, only to emerge again further left. Looking down now, instead of out to the sky beyond this clump I am taken by surprise just how dark it has suddenly become. I can barely see him, just make out the white stripes on his head and determine his movements by shadows and disturbed vegetation. Moving away. Good. I need to climb down and make my exit before it is too dark to do so among the trees and get myself out onto the moonlight track. A bright waxing crescent has risen, low above the West Wood.
Gently does it, mind the holly. Tread quietly and withdraw. Find the rhodie stump, follow left towards the brash. Here is long grass, and absolute silence apart from my own breath and pumping heart. And a sudden, wheezing cough. A hiss and a kind of squealing growl such as I never heard before. A different badger passes right in front of me and simultaneously we both freeze staring at each other. It is magical, a Never Moment. I presume its a female, much smaller than the other animal, and a different colour, bearing almost a pinky-whiteness. Longer fur. I am transfixed, and the animal just sits there for what seems like an age before sinking, silently as if it were sat on a deflating cushion, into a deep hole behind a tree root.
Wait. Did that just happen? Before i have time to process this close encounter, I am woken up by a loud Nightjar call and two birds swish past so close i can hear their wings beating. There are at least two churring, one back where I sat before, and another more distant – appears to be right over by the birch line on the opposite side? Assuming there is a pair there, if not more as last week, then it is no exaggeration to record six birds here now

THE NIGHTJARS by Edward Shanks (1919)

ALL day the cuckoo has sung his double cries,
Far in the woods and hidden, or close hut not seen:
Once he flew overhead and we heard the sound rise
In the song's space and die in a thicket green.

All day the blackbird has sung with the thrush
And the nightingale, though we heard him not clear,
And others chirped and murmured from bush to bush,
Loud, soft, shrill, uncertain, far and near.

Now on the dark hill, after that tumult of song,
Silence settles down, a stride before night,
While on the ground and in the trees and all along
The widespread horizon slowly dies the light,

Like a rainbowed fish held dying in a net,
With last, lovely flushes to the final grey;
And over the black hill a soft wind blows yet,
Carrying on wide wings the last light away.

How immense the silence! So a fountain falls,
When the jet fails, with a last scattered spray,
And the wind goes on, as the settling thrush calls,
Carrying on soft wings the last echoes away.

Step by step, slowly, we climb the silent hill,
Speechless, almost frightened. As the path wheels round,
Into an open glade, where the grass is hushed and still,
Warmth rises sudden and stifling from the ground.

The trees merge and melt in the fading grey sky
And now from tree or bush, we cannot tell where,
A thin sound arises, faintly, haltingly,
Stops to take breath and then fills the quiet air

With a hoarse, sweet music. Thereon, all around,
All the other nightjars join in the whirring song,
And, as we pause to hear, the shadowy trees resound
Till all the vague hillside is filled with the throng,

Singing louder and ever louder. But all at once
The chorus gives way to the sweetest voice,
A single and lonely singer, whose crystal runs
Charm our ears with a magic, monotonous noise.

He pauses. We seek him ; but the song once gone,
Nought remains to show him. We clap hands in vain.
Now over the crest a new faint song is begun.
That we can hardly hear. Is it he again?

And as we halt, doubtful, in the darkness growing
Thicker round us and stranger, full of mysteries,
With the first cool night airs upon our faces blowing,
A dark shape flaps out from the invisible trees,

And slides across our path, a moving clot of night,
His wings knocking loudly as he flies along,
Startling the stillness. And he fades out of our sight
And in his shadowy thicket resumes the song.

Back out on the track, a few minutes after 10pm, there is a different kind of silence. Bigger, more expansive. More powerful. Standing still, looking down across the clearfell, I like to think I can hear Nothing At All. It is a Deep Blue Quiet, One distinct sound behind me – the squeaky bicycle-wheel contact calls of young Tawny Owls. The sound moves around as the birds call to each other individually, separate arpeggiated sounds. Impossible to see.

Bats too. I am not familiar enough to idenify them.

It is a slog climbing back up toward the Copse Lane gardens, and I stop halfway just to listen. The trees are not moving, and the Nightjars have started up again. I can detect three males churring – one seems to be in this Wood, rather than out on the clearfell.

Six is good. I’ll go with that.

2 June 2022

2022 / 30

14:30 – 16:30

Hot and humid. 22*C, become progressively more overcast. Little F1 wind SW

Sunlit shades of green in all its glory, before the summer-dark really kicks in. Unseen birds singing include a Song Thrush and Chaffinch up at the Copse Lane In, otherwise it is quiet save the thin whistle of Robins, the cluck of Blackbird or Wren and the occasional chatter and squeak from Coal or Long-tailed Tits among the Chilworth Pines. Yellow Pimpernel (Lysimachia nemorum) has appeared here and there among the Tormentil and Creping Buttercups.
Along the track, past the birch line Where The Nightjars Are. Wild Cherry, Alder Buckthorn and Pussy Willow. Two Blackcaps, three (four?) Chiffchaffs and a Willow Warbler.
A Buzzard circles low over the restock.

First butterfly of the circuit is a Speckled Wood, fast over the grass heading up The crossing as I walk down in the opposite direction. Male Brimstone at the bottom, and another posse of Long-tailed Tits

Upper Velmore is more Tormentil in the long grass, and Creeping Buttercups now spreading wildly through. Greater Stitchwort still bursting places, but mostly now melancholy drooping stars. A distant Hobby calling. 15:13.
Turning here up the wayleave. Slow-worms under each of mats #8, #7 and #6 – each of which now stands among a rampant crowd of Wood Spurge. Beneath this, and extending along the Broad is the fragrant Wood Sage (Teucrium scorodonia) growing in localised patches . Added to the Systematic List now as an overlooked plant species.

Along with the Yorkshire-fog meadow grass (Holcus lanatus) now flowering with its soft purple-red tinge, and the numerous Common Green Lacewings (Chrysoperla carnea) that seem to like the mix of bramble and honeysuckle here. The Small Skippers won’t be long…

Greenfinch overhead calling, a singing Goldfinch, and a “new” moth that catches my eye. Identified from a photograph circulated later as Common Carpet Moth (Epirrhoe alternata) , this is one of two fluttering around at the top end of the Wayleave where the bracken is cleared and represents another hitherto overlooked species.

In Section One, along the Broad and up to the pond there are countless small flies, two fine looking Flesh Flies around the puddles but no butterflies today, just a single Large White flying past me at low level.
No damselflies at the pond either – but the three resident Broad-bodied Chasers are really active, chasing a single female. Great Spotted Woodpecker kicks in, and more Long-tailed tits.
Two Buzzards up together, both different birds to the one at the West End.

Back down through Sections 5 and into 5 I encounter no more butterflies, and it really is oppressively hot ands muggy now. Picking up a female Broad-bodied Chaser on a dead grass is a surprise – I don’t recall seeing one this far away from any water before.

31 May 2022

2022 / 29

Mild evening becoming cooler 9*C. Showers all day but clear from 18:00

20:45 – 22:00

Eurasian Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus) Picture by Ian Watts

In from the main entrance this evening, and immediately met by a Woodcock overhead. Another birding roding at The Crossing, though potentially the same one?

Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests seem particularly vocal among the countless thrushes. Including a particularly loud and sibilant Mistle Thrush in the SE corner. Willow Warbler and Blackcap int he restock.

First Nightjar churring on and off from 20:45, and we settled to watch from the end of the birch line on the south side. Thanks to feedback from others visiting the site in the last few days, this is the perfect vantage point this year.
Spotted Flycatcher here too, a lovely bonus. Brief views, but active and calling. Unusual to hear them – a soft “ssip” and click. There are at least three birds locally this spring, which is really encouraging.
Also along the birch line, at least two bats patrolling, which I am confidently assured are Long-eared Bats (Plecotus auritus) on account of the flight behaviour, the size and being early on the wing…?

Another special encounter with Nightjars followed, and one of the best I have had from the track. Over the next 40 minutes or so, we saw four birds together at least twice, and I am left with the conclusion that there may now be up to SIX present in the west restock. For most of the time, three birds were constantly churring. Birds showed well in good light, one in particular (see photo) choosing to sing from the single tall cherry tree and a straggly birch, swooping and gliding between the two. They came up to the track often, banking, gliding and generally being magnificent. Lots of chasing, calling and wing-clapping too – some of which could be observed in the reasonably good light. The birds were still churring and active when we left at ten, but were beginning to wind down.
Great to have so many present – there are definitely more here this season than I have had before.

I didn’t managed to hear any owls tonight, and otherwise just a single deer barking

27 May 2022

2022 / 28

13:30 – 16:00
Hot in bright sunlight – max 23*C. Variable W breeze F2 -3

Narrow-leaved Plantain (plantago lanceolate)

The Wood is silent, and I am inclined to be quieter than usual myself as I descend through the Chilworth Pines into West Wood.

My thoughts and I
Adrift, at ease
Among the shadows of the trees
Walking on the Lesser Ways
On summer's sunlit quiet days
The shimmer glimmer of the leaves
Birdsong on the ripple breeze
Flicker-light on butterflies
Micro moths as moments, rise
With every step another cloud
Woodfull silence all around

I came upon three different family groups of Long-tailed Tits this afternoon.

Three or four Speckled Woods in this part of the site too – among the trees. Altogether I recorded more than a dozen – but hardly any on transect.

Section 5
Met a man with two dogs watching a Buzzard, which he had seen fly from the clearfell into a tall larch in the North belt. Stonechats calling.
Several new and spreading patches of Heath Bedstraw (Galium saxatile) but no butterflies

Heath Bedstraw (Galium saxatile)

Section 4

A Chaffinch singing. Several Chiffchaffs.
Increasing breeze and the taller trees sway gently. Great Spotted Woodpecker. Coal Tit.
One Holly Blue

Section 2
More Long-tailed Tits on the corner of Upper Velmore and at least two Blackcaps.
Two Holly Blues together, and a new patch of Heath Speedwell just coming out:

Heath Speedwell (veronica officinalis)

One mid-size coppery Slow-worm under Mat 6 and two small White butterflies ahead of me across the wayleave.
Chiffchaff singing at mat 5, where a Siskin is calling. More of the same small purple spiked flowers of Heath Speedwell here, and a few clumps of Bird’s Eye Speedwell. The violets and bluebells have all gone over now, and the Greater Stitchwort is fading

Section 1
A little flurry of butterflies at ‘the wet bit’ on the track: two Speckled Woods, 2 Holly Blues (male and this female) and a Peacock.

Holly Blue (female) [Celastrina argiolus]

At the pond, as well as four Broad-bodied Chasers I was delighted to find three mating pairs of Common Blue Damselfly and even managed a couple of photographs. I am rathe rpleased especially with this image of a bright male

Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum)

Completing Section 1, right up towards the entrance barrier it is really hot. But no butterflies. I think we are entering a phase between their life stages now, coinciding with a shift in the number and range of flowering plants.

The cool, dappled filtered shade of Larpers Lane is very welcome. More Speckled Wood along here, and more Blackcaps. At least 8 today?
A Firecrest at The Beech, and another up by the Crossing at Section 3, where again there are no butterflies.

Barnyard Grass (Echinochloa crus-galli)

To finish, I continued over Section 3 and down Firecrest Alley where my presence was objected to rather loudly by a Jay and several Blackbirds.
Crossing the stream here, I noticed a good number of healthy frog tadpoles, large numbers of which seemed to be apparently feeding on a (presumably dead) snail. I will have to pick the shell out next time to identify it:

24 May 2022

2022 / 27

20:00 – 21:50 (Sunset 21:02)
Beautiful clear and still evening. Temperature falling to 9*C wind light SSW

Met friends at the Chilworth Arms and walked into the site from Woodside which I haven’t done for ages.
Blackcap in good voice on the way down, and a couple of Chiffchaffs.
Initially, we watched from The Top scanning the clearfell. The Tree Pipit showed a few times, fluttering and circling around from a vantage point in the top of his favoured tall yew. Also two Herring Gulls at distance, but no sign tonight of the Hobby.

Unfortunately tonight, conditions are made uncomfortable by swarms of midges.
Stand still too long, get bitten to death!

So we move, down to the side of the clearfell to the north and round to the tall larches.
A couple of Woodcock come over, up and down this North Drive. One or two others pass across the clearfell. Twelve records in all, probably 3 maybe 4 birds.

The first Nightjar starts up out in the middle at 21:11, very late and after sunset. But it is a very bright evening and there is now a chilly wind coming in.
Do the birds “wake up” later when it is clear, and are they less active because there are less moths when it is windy?
Either way, apart form a brief view of one dropping down from a larch into a yew on the clearfell I managed to see only one bird. The others saw one as well, on the north side, where it came right over their heads and circle briefly.
Lots of activity though, calling, wing-clapping and churring from various places. Just not showing themselves this evening.

We ended with one churring from behind the West Wood down at Marshalls, so I think this maybe a new arrival. Or is one of the males displaced to there…?
Impossibel to say until I get back into the clump and ascertain for sure how many are present in the west restock.

On the way out though, I did pick up the familiar hissing squeak of a baby Tawny Owl. There followed similar contact calls of at least three other birds, unless they were all movign along unseen with us?
My 70th year-tick at the site, and so I reach that figure before the end of May for the third consective year.

Noticed this evening that one or two Foxgloves are now opening into flower

17 May 2022

2022 / 26

0440 – 2210

Warm sunny and dry most of the day, heavy rain from 6pm. Wind light but variable S-SSW

An opportunity too good to miss for spending a whole day at the Wood – something I have aspired to for a long time. Arrive early for the Dawn Chorus and stay throughout until late into the evening, observing and absorbing the shifts and patterns changing in the space. Four different phases, each with a different focus, approach and expectation.

1. Dawn Chorus

By the time I arrived at the Wood, just after 4.30am, the chorus was in full voice. An arena of birdsong all around the west clearfell, mostly Blackbirds and Robins. Dunnocks, Wrens, Song Thrushes and already Chiffchaffs. From my Sitting Spot at the top, looking east, the earliest light is casting an orange glow on the underside of thin scattered cloud. A light mist is drifting right to left, rising like smoke from the young trees along the stream course. The first birds to show themselves are two Mallard that head off quietly grunting to one another in the direction of the Chilworth Pines to my right. Nothing else is flying yet – not even Crows or Pigeons. Stonechats are already active and calling to one another, and I can hear both Willow Warbler and Tree Pipit out in the middle.
Half an hour enjoying this, occasionally enchanted by a churring Nightjar and I am drawn to walk across the farmland. At the Back Of The Wood, another Willow Warbler and a Roe Deer barking. Great Tits and a Chaffinch.

The Wood smells, mint and misty. Damp and clean.
Layers of light, sound and smell. The grass is thick wet and the sandy track in places slippery and puddled after heavy recent rain. I step out of the Wood rather more clumsy than I would like over the ditch-and-bank. A Pheasant coughs loudly and struts away across the first field. Cattle graze at the bottom, many now with associated calves. There are at least a half dozen Blackbirds, two Song Thrushes and a Mistle Thrush along the fence line, and above me an early Skylark whose song trickles down from an invisible height liek water over stones. It is a beautiful, peaceful sight. The sun is rising, painting the light orange and revealing overlaying vistas off into the north and east, gradually subsiding behind the diffusing cloud that gather and close around it

These three shots are each 15 minutes apart

Sunrise looking east over the west restock
Sun-up over the farmland from the Bridleway Corner
Misty dawn on the farmland looking SE over Hut Wood from The Roughs

Hazy for a while, momentarily cooler. 13*C. Greenfinch singing, Linnets and Goldfinches up and down into the grass from the “Redwing” holly. Watching a female Linnet pecking at a dandelion head, presumably feeding on tiny insects? or just eating the seedheads?

Pylons crackle and hum with static in the damp air. Two (more) Skylarks, one close and rising, and here are the corvids – a mixed, ragged host of a hundred or so; pigeons and a different, greyer Pheasant. More Thrushes, a scolding Blue Tit. There are no Whitethroats (yet) along the bridleway or down at the Roughs where there were two territories last year. Vocal Chiffchaffs. A Jay.
The first flowers are opening now on the Common Vetch along here: vica sativia, whose purple flowers open to deep pink and resemble tiny butterflies.

I am scanning the gorse under the pylons north of the bridleway for the elusive Whitethroat and trying to turn both Robin and Dunnock into Stonechats, when a large bird moves low right to left towards the oaks. Cursing that I overlooked it somehow perched up, I know immediately what it is and declare to no-one passing that it’s a CUCKOO. A Cuckoo! I am sure I shouted out loud in fact, that it was that particular sup-species known as an ‘effin’ Cuckoo! It’s been a long time since I saw one locally and my observations are now exclusively of birds in Western Scotland where they are a common (but declining) sight. This one is a male – soft gray, heavily barred and completely wonderful. He banks up on reaching the trees and disappears between them. Just a few seconds later, there’s the call, deep and distinctive, carrying across the still, quiet farmland.

See my thoughts on possible new patch-ticks .
This is the first one for 2022, and takes my list up to 91 species.

I first saw the bird at 05:53 and it was calling loudly for two minutes afterwards but I was unable to relocate it. Somewhere along the stream and hedge beyond the Top Field? Frustrating to have no further sign. He has moved north, and at 6:15 is calling again but maybe over half a mile away by now.

Certainly put a spring in my step, to add to the refreshing feeling that goes with an early walk across spring farmland. Cutting back down into the wood via Marshalls, retracing my steps of an hour earlier and the sky is clearing. Two Willow Warbler territories here among the impenetrable spruce. Mistle Thrush and Greenfinch singing and – for no obvious reason – a flight of Pigeons. Maybe 50 or so birds, in small groups, all rising from the trees along Woodside. Just leaving their roost site and off to feed I guess.
Left Where The Tracks Join (Goldcrest, Great Tit and more Blackbirds) and two Muntjac trot across to the restock form the North Belt. A Buzzard swoops in the same direction above them, scattering Stock Doves and Finches. A hungry, hunting bird. Sitting up now in a tall yew tree, watching, waiting. Dunnocks and Chiffchaffs alarm call.
The sky is constantly shifting and changing today, despite only a gentle wind. Feels promising, as if it may offer some birds today. Hirundines perhaps, or raptors? As if mocking my optimism, a Magpie comes over cackling, followed only by two Jackdaws.
No Blackcaps yet today, and at the Velmore Crossing I come upon the morning’s first Firecrest. they are quiet now, busy nesting, and very secretive by contrast to their usual inquisitive nature.

Another “new” flowering plant for the list along the Bowery and down the Lower East Side:

Solomon’s Seal (polygonatum biflorum)

And this shrub:

Guelder Rose (viburnum opulus)

I am not good with Spiders at all, but these two were tiny enough not to bother me unduly.
New for the Systematic List once I have identified them.

Along the field boundary where the woodland edge meets the pasture there are more Blackbirds, pigeons and Magpies. Also recently fledged, noisy and typically garrulous Starlings – probably about 60 birds. A little surprising is the presence of a few House Sparrows here, hopping and hovering between dandelion heads and ponies.
And out of the wood along the Velmore Farm Drive up to the main road towards the supermarket opposite for breakfast, refreshment and food for laters. Along the roadside where the Wood historically lost some land to Elliotts builders, I can see Cleavers (Galium aparine), Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) in thick flower, and Drooping Sedge (Carex pendula) typical of the stream courses here

It is 8am.

2. Blue Sky Morning

I returned to the site via the same road, along Velmore Farm Drive between Elliotts and Aviva. It is warming up now – 17°C – and the sky has cleared. Despite being a public footpath here, there is little provision at the sides for pedestrians when a large horsebox comes down to the farm and it is quite busy this morning as grooms, stablehands and various contractors arrive for work. It looks as though “something has been done” about the leaking hose or pipe that feeds the water trough in the first paddock because the surrounding pasture is dry now and the drive is passable. Herein are the same Magpies, Blackbirds, Crows and Starlings of an hour earlier. A couple of Pied Wagtails nearer the road and a male Chaffinch up on wire calling.
The opposite paddock (on my right) is being left ungrazed and the grass here is a foot high, tufy and thin, rippling in the gentle breeze as if itself were a body of water. Starlings rise from it as if they were flying fish.
A twittering overhead brings my attention to a small group of Swallows. About 6 birds are swooping and diving outside the row of cottages, coming down to take mud and drink from a small puddle that remains behind the gate. It is good to stand among them and watch them at home, and this would seem to be a fairly good number. I don’t recall seeing more at the farm, until they have young in August perhaps.

Higher above, chirruping as they do, 2 House Martins. These are more unusual here, and I have struggled to connect with any at all some years until a weather front brings them in large number mid-September as they gather to migrate south. But these are new arrivals, and the earliest birds I have recorded here. I could wave, but that would be silly… A second tick of the day for the 2022 list.

It is my intention use the equestrian’s own controversial “back entrance” to the Wood through the North Belt, so before that I follow the footpath through past the buildings up to the cleared area when the fires are set and the pile of old doors stacked. Goldfinches are here, Blackbirds again and a Robin with a large fly in its beak. It is Time for ‘Leaning on a Gate’ – the steel five-bar gate to the first field where the cattle graze. Along this edge, one of the streams that flows through The Bottom in the Wood carries on north across the farmland. In a bramble on one of the steep banks beside the conduit the first Blackcap I have heard today is singing. The bramble is already coming into flower. A couple of Bullfinches drop in, hooting, another first encounter of the day. Otherwise two more Mistle Thrushes including a greyish youngster, at least 3 Song Thrushes, 20 more Starlings and a dozen Blackbirds.

I walk with ease
Among these trees
I asked
And they agreed

Leaning On A Gate watching cattle
Drifting through trees
Idly chatting to Firecrest vendors
Wrens whirr, Robins whistle and tick. Long-tailed fizz-pops.
Nuthatch dripping from a balcony overhead. Great Spotted Woodpecker clucking and kicking at a nest site. Light shifting, shaping. Lost again in shades of green…

Emerging from the North Belt and crossing the track to cut across the restock back up to sit again at the Top. It really is very warm now, up to 21*C and an hour exposed in the full sun might not be a good idea. As I slowly walk, smiling at the Stonechats, both Speckled Yellow and Brown Silverline moths emerge from gorse and grass, amid countless other flies and micromoths. The Willow Warbler is still going, a couple of Chiffchaffs, a Dunnock – and a WHITETHROAT! Another yeartick, and on exactly the same date as I found the bird under the pylons last year. This one is the first I ever saw here on the clearfell – songflighting persistently between young birches, willows and small fir trees. Number 67 for the year, again the same as in 2021.
There are butterflies now too – not only several Brimstones and a Peacock patrolling, but at least three tiny Holly Blues. Best of all is the season’s first Common Blue on the grass beside the birchline where I decide to take my rest and watch the sky, with expansive views north and west. It doesn’t settle long and I am not even nearly ready with the camera. I must check this, but to me they always appear larger than Holly Blues, and fly lower to the ground preferring grass to woodland? Whites too, but nothing coming close enough to identify properly…

Half an hour skywatch begins with a note of the two local Buzzards swooping around the clearfell, and three others passing over in formation. Watching these, and I am able to pick up another two Buzzards really high up when they pass below a patch of cloud. 7 at the same time! I realise too that the the smaller bird coming towards me between the clumps is actually not a Stock Dove and deserves more attention. A male Sparrowhawk. They always look to be too delicate for a predator when they glide and circle, wings fanned out. Perfect light on its translucent orange yellow underwing, blue grey above in the sunshine

Moments later, another two birds appear, coming in from over the Chilworth Pines. I can’t remember seeing so many Buzzards… except that one isn’t? One of the two birds approaching banks and changes direction. It is heavily barred underneath, has thick, long and bulging wings in a deep ‘S’ shape and a thick tail which flashes white as the bird twists and goes into to a dive. It’s a Goshawk, and a large bird too, presumably a female. Back up again briefly but already going back in the opposite direction and quickly out of sight behind the trees. Wow – three raptors species in as many minutes. And where there is one, there will be more. During a scan to my right over the middle of the Wood, I pick up a falcon. A Hobby. Leisurely patrolling. So far otherwise I only heard him this year. Timing and conditions perfect.

This is not a day for clock-watching, but I have arranged to meet a friend for lunch nearby at the Cricketers Arms, and right now that seems a perfect choice. Beer and chips in the sunshine.

3. Butterfly Times

Back on site and at the entrance gate just a few minutes after 2pm. It is now 23*C, the sun is hot and high. Light and occasional scuffs and scratches of cloud, increasing as the wind picks up. Trees are rustling, so it has increased quite a bit in the last hour or so.
Most of the dandelions are over now, some have remnant seed heads, but the dominant flowers now are Meadow Buttercup (Ranunculus acris), Purple Clover (trifolium pratense), some remaining Dog Violets, Common Daisy and Common Vetch. There are less bees, and ironically less butterflies than I was hoping for. Three Brimstones up and down Section 1, and the first Red Admiral of the season grounding up against the same sandy bank where I last found the lizard in a hole. It is not there today of course, but I did inadvertently disturb one as I approached Mat 3 on the east restock. Siskin here, overhead calling; Greenfinches and a couple more Speckled Yellow moths.

Picking my way to the pond, it is something of a surprise to see no butterflies at all in that area. But instead, the first odonata of 2022 here. It is really not a good place compared with other LNRs, and the pond perhaps is still not yet mature enough. But there are Broad-Bodied Chasers, the pioneer colonisers of a site, and at least three males.

The Wood has fallen quiet now, save Robinsong and the occasional Chiffchaff.
Blackbirds and breeze
BLackcaps, Bird’s Eye Speedwell and boring Barnyard Grass (Echinochloa crus-galli) seeded here from the fields no doubt. A Muntjac barks. Greater Stitchwort in sunlight swathes, having an exceptional season.

Upper Velmore has felt shaded and cool, so it is something of a shock to step out into the hot sun at the Crossing and head up into Section 3 of the transect. Enjoying the conditions in particular is a male Holly Blue, feeding for minerals on the damp path at the bottom of this gentle incline. Such delicate things, so beautifully marked

Coal Tits both sides, only the second Nuthatch, Blackbirds and a Chiffchaff. Numbers have settled – somewhere between 10 and 12 territories I think. Either side of the ride here the grass is different to that which grows along the wayleave. Here instead is the countryside “chewing” grass, now flowering in dense cylindrical spikes that identifies Anthoxanthum odoratum, or Sweet Vernal Grass. This is a favourite food plant of Skippers in particular which will emerge soon, but I don’t know enough about the other grasses here (yet) that will separate the colonies of Small and Essex Skippers.

At the top end of The Crossing, the demolished remains of the tree house have been removed. There is one Blackcap here, and two others on the way down South Drive. Two more Great Spotted Woodpeckers, a pair with young to feed, and a second posse of Long-tailed Tits click and buzz around the alders, where a large and bright orange Hornet is whizzing about. Almost no dandelions here either where the Green-veined Whites were two weeks ago – patches of clover, a few Bluebells and some new Bugle spikes besides a nice patch of beautiful Wood Speedwell.
I am tiring, and it feels quite a slog up to the entrance gate back to the start of Section 1. And so the dappled shade and relative cool of Larpers Lane is a relief. Good to see two Speckled Woods down here, a couple more Brown Silverlines and at last to actually see a male Blackcap setting out his stall at The Court. Peaceful, quiet. Singing Goldcrests either side; Coal Tits in the canopy.

Section 4 is disappointing. Increasing cloud cover perhaps, exposure to the variable wind swooshes coming off the clearfell? One singing Chiffchaff and one each male and female Brimstone.

The weather is odd. Now, walking along towards the gorse gap where the bees should be it is baking 24*C. Ahead of me, to the west, cloud is building and the air is getting heavier and is hanging still. The sky is grey-dark and there are no butterflies bothering. The Hobby is still about though, maybe hopeful of a damselfly or darter snack. he comes out low over the Gorse gap and sweeps ahead of me, banking and then circling high. Right over my head and right in the sun. Superb views, and I can’t help but smile. This feels like an epic effort now and I look forward to a rest. The Hobby’s company and presence is immensely uplifting and a reminder of what a blessing this place is.
My newly acquired Plantlife app tells me the striking yellow straw-like tall tufts along Section 5 up to Where The Tracks Join is Purple Moor Grass (Molinia caerulea) so until and unless I learn differently that is another one for the List. Its not new, but I adding names when I come across them.

By 16:30 I have come full circuit and arrived back at the Sitting Spot. I am contemplating cutting from here through West Wood and having a scout around Marshalls and the spruce plantation as it is not a part of the site I visit often, but I am tired now and it is threatening to rain. Though I am resolved to spend all day here and enjoy the evening show, the next couple of hours will be the most difficult. Even here, sitting for long periods can be challenging and I am rarely still for even an hour. Instead of sitting, I find it more comfortable to move slowly, even though of course being still is the best way to see the best wildlife. Once seated and calm, things do come closer and one’s observational awareness increases. But I have always found this difficult.
And the rain doesn’t take long to take over. Within ten minutes the site is under a downpour, which I am watching from the shelter of tall pines. The grey-dark sky has cast itself thick and heavy upon the Wood, and the rain is fizzing and hissing in the warm air. A dozen Jackdaws curse there own tardiness and cackle defiantly as they twist and turn with the breeze through the torrent. 25 minutes pass until a Mistle Thrush (Stormcock) sounds the all clear from a tall oak. Open the weather-window, pull back the curtain and let the sunlight fill the arena again. The Whitethroat soon starts up again, now over to the south where I sat earlier by the birchline. I liked the view from there, and its a good place to move back to, although it is very slippery underfoot now in the Chilworth corner. There will be more rain, this is a temporary reprieve that will last no longer than that first shower. It hasn’t completely stopped to be honest. Spotting. Drizzle. Sparkling raindrops. Glitter. The sky that looked so good earlier and delivered the House Martins this morning and the Goshawk midday, sends another ‘good bird’ over the pines. Two Swifts. Each year, I anticipate a Swift. Just the one – rarely more than a handful of records a year. Last year, just one record ont he first of June. The day the Honey-buzzard went over. These are quiet but low – barley in view for more than a few seconds, pulled down by the cloud. Three year ticks in one day, and a patch tick Cuckoo 12 hours ago that seems as if it were a different time and place altogether.

The next hour passes in much the same way. It rains twice more, and I move in and out of cover. Just watching, leaning on a tree. Watching for gulls. No gulls today. Maybe I drifted off to sleep for a few minutes. Maybe just a short reverie, a disconnect. The “sit down” I was hoping for isn’t going to happen, because I didn’t pack for rain so I have no waterproofs and no coat or otherwise to sit on, and everything everywhere is soaked. Willow Warblers in the clearfell sing throughout the showers, with the Mistle Thrush and the constant click-clack of the Stonechat couple. Linnets come and go, always in pairs. Siskin. crow. Pigeons occasionally. But no gulls. Once, a Roe Deer comes out from the Wood onto the track and stands in the rain, sniffing the air. She is an older female, greying and bedraggled. She can see me too, but is not unduly worried. We stare at each other for a few moments. She snorts and sniffs, blowing out a hiss of steam and retreats back into the trees. I love these moments, it feels affirming.

I am standing in a small clump on the south side of the clearfell, watching drips of rain and a pair of Great Tits. They have a nest in a cleft on the north facing side of a curious tree. It is a large-ish yew but has unusually split. Out here, these trees are weaker and more spindly than the mature specimens in the middle of the Wood. A huge slab of bark has fallen from the truck, tallen than I am, and exposed the inside of the tree. Is there a name for ‘the inside of a tree’? Fascinating textures, like eroded bricks or blocks of rusted iron sponge. It is dry and crumbly in places, more sponge-y in others. Full of cobwebs and tiny insects. Melancholy beauty. Splendour in sadness.
When the rain stops again, I head out onto the clearfell rather than take a route back up to the track. There is a clatter of wings immediately and a Woodcock heads off ahead of me. Bright orange in the fresh light. Amazing bird, but I shouldn’t be here of course and his disturbance reminds me to step back and go around. I am rewarded by the appearance of a stunning rainbow spanning the clearfell from north to south. Beautiful, a real moment of hope and brightness. That’s it for the rain, and the clouds seem to scuttle away north-eastwards in the face of the low but glittering sun.

But still, no gulls?

It is 19:40 already. I have eaten what is left of my food and feel re-energised. If I move to the Badger Clump now, from this upwind direction I am unlikely to disturb anything else.

4. Showtime

It seems I have done it. Into my sixth year, and though i have twice done three sessions in one May day before, and one in June, I have not previously managed to ‘stay’ here from dawn to dusk.
Somehow, up here in this yew tree resting on the ladder, I feel much more able to relax. and wait. I am inspired by what lies ahead. The anticipation, the possibility. It is a rare excitement, and I am lifted by not only the spirit of the Wood and the amazing things I have already seen today but my what I can only describe as something that feels like an achievement. endurance almost, which is not my thing at all. I am, dare I say it, pleased with myself.
It is hard to get comfortable though, and without waterproofs the rain-soaked dampness of this thick smooth branch is being absorbed into my clothing. There are drips too, of course, and whichever way I shift my weight or set my shoulders, one or the other falls on the top of my head or down the back of my neck. But I can live with that, and lean forward onto my folded arms.
Great Tits live here, at similar height 10-12ft above the ground. Blackbirds, Robins and a Chiffchaff. Beneath his sub-song there is a third layer, a rasping cirrk cirrk that I don’t recall hearing before. And what’s that, behind my right shoulder? A small bird comes in, upright and flicking its tail and crown. Frustrating in silhouette against the setting sun that shines in my face looking back this way. But it is the unmistakable profile and behaviour of a Spotted Flycatcher. Yes, for sure. Nothing else would ‘swoop’ up like that or sit so upright. Is that nest material or a spindly insect? Impossible to tell. I had completely forgotten about these, and have since checked my notes to find that – like the Whitethroat – I found a bird out in the middle of the clearfell on exactly the same date last year. It could hardly get better…

There is the first opening salvo of the evening show. A short burst of Nightjar, and two squeaking squealing Woodcock. That Nightjar is early, the sun is still up. 20:35, but he’s keen to make himself heard. Close by but out of sight – I am in a clump surrounded closely by yew trees and holly, so watching out across the clearfell is not an option. It has to be one or the other I think. Badgers, or Nightjars and Woodcock. Hard to think of a place to be where i can properly watch both. But I can hear him well enough, calling and churring. Even a bit of wing-clapping, which is a good sign that there are at least more males about, if not a female too.
Another Woodcock, left to right. A burst of Goldcrest, and a movement down in the cool shadow of the nearest hole to me. Yes, a nose, pushed up like a flag. Sensing, testing. Briefly, but encouraging. It seems like an age until the badger emerges, from the ‘other’ hole! So bang goes my theory that they have designated entrances and exits. He’s slow, and offers good views, standing for a moment stretching, still sniffing, choosing his direction. Done. This way? And off. I can hear my heart thumping in my chest, and all thoughts of aching knees and stiff shoulders are gone. Five minutes later, he’s back. Will he go straight back underground? No, Almost, then he hesitates and turns. I can’t reach my phone or camera. I am just transfixed and if I didn’t know better I can imagine he is looking right at me. Corny and cliched perhaps, but this again is a Never Moment. A ‘David Attenborough’ moment of wonder and awe. A classic pose and a perfect iconic picture. Me and a badger, 20 feet apart, seemingly staring at each other. Can he see me, and is he concerned. I am relieved when he lifts up a paw and starts to scratch his ear, then sits upright just like a small dog turning his head around surveying the territory. He is not upset. Rubs his nose into the sand, a dismissive grunt, and gone.

And breath…

Whoooosh! What the!! Two Nightjars, no three, in a frenzied chase, zooming through the middle of the clearing. This way, that way, clattering as they go. Hard to follow, so fast. Like the Chasers up at the pond. Zipping round, and round. Two males and a female. I can’t turn to see them, but I don’t need to. They are so close! Time again takes on no meaning and I am thoroughly absorbed in this spectacular sequence. Now slow, now dancing. Hovering. One sits up and starts churring, two others further off now quipping, clapping. One swings up to sit beside the first. Both males and the first one drops off the branch. More chasing, and then the loudest “quip” I ever heard. Twice – a beautiful, liquid sound that has a presence of its own. And it is right there, no more than arm’s length in front of me. For the briefest instance, I willed it to land on the branch, but no. A hesitant hover, a balletic freeze-frame and the bird thought better of it.
How many times have I run out of words in this narrative over the years, unable to express the glory of Nightjar encounters? And how many times have I written clumsy and ineffective about this or that being the moments?

I am hoping a worthy, poetic response will come, but I am humbled and somewhat bewildered. They are not done, and all around birds are chasing in circles. I need to leave, to let them have their time, but I don’t wish to disturb anything. It has been half an hour since the badger disappeared, so maybe its OK. Be quick, be effective, and go out the same way you came in, upwind.

Even back out on the track, the Nightjars are ‘everywhere’. I am fairly sure there are only four birds. One in particular, perhaps the same as last year, likes to sing from the larches at the edge of the wood by the gorse gap, and he flies back and forth between two favoured perches on the trackside, completely oblivious of me. Back up where i was, wing-clapping, courtship and amorous chasing. My money is on three males competing for the attentions of a single female.

What about the other end? The east clearfell? Next time.
And what about the owls. Where are the owls? Again tonight, walking back through the still, silent darkness and before that, watching the light fade and listening as each bird song winds down for the evening, I have heard no Owls. And seen no bats.

But that will come.
What a superb day. Forty years birding and it has never been better.
51 species between 5am and 10pm.

The wonder of woodland
The blessing of birds
Impossible splendour
Beyond human words

6 May 2022

2022 / 25

19:30 – 22:00
Overcast but mild after a very warm day. Increasing and variable WNW

The lure of the Wood was strong this evening, and the prospect of seeing badgers convinced me to come over despite otherwise unfavourable conditions for the usual springtime evening ‘performers’.

It is The Thrush’s Hour. The re-stock is surrounded by singing Blackbirds, and on the edge of the North Belt there is a loud MIstle Thrush. His song includes all kinds of mimic phrases: including the quip of Nightjar, squeak of Woodcock cut into a complex rattle and hum that rings out into the evening.
Turning along the track from the junction, I pick my way carefully out towards the clump on an ill-defined and unused way 150m across the clearfell This is not exactly downward of the sett but it is well covered with young birch etc and the breeze is coming in from my right.

Feels both exciting and nervous taking up an awkward sitting spot 10 feet up in a yew tree. This is Not-What-I-Do and historically staking out wildlife has never really sat comfortably with me as a man of remarkably little patience! Feels pioneering in a funny way too.
Watching and waiting, overlooking two of the most used holes. Blackbirds come and go, Stock Doves are roosting. Behind me, on the edge of the clump – a pair of Stonechats! At last, found them – they had to be here somewhere. It is past 8pm and the male is still songflighting.
I can’t see much sky from here, but a couple of Woodcock pass over roding. Conditions are not good for them. Two pass very close thoguh, engaged in one of their typical aerial dog-fights.

At 20:23, the first BADGER emerged. Fantastic. It stood around sniffing the air, and then casually wandered off directly away from me. Seemed quiet a small animal, especially compared with the second one I saw ten minutes later. This one seemed to appear from nowhere and was suddenly just “there”. I was looking too far ahead, and only saw it when it rustled past a small holly on its way running back inot a larger hole. Do they have “in” and “out” entrances?

Only two brief views, but affirming, uplifting and just all round awesome.
I just stared, child-like with excitement.

The Nightjar starting churring a couple of minutes before 9pm, within 15 minutes of sunset.
Waxing cresent moon barely visible in the thin hazy cloud to the west. He was quiet again within quarter of an hour. They are typiclly not especially vocal or active when they first arrive, especially when they have the qhole area to themselves. It will be the arrival of a female or other males that trigger more intense displaying and singing.

I have noted before the striking punctuality at which the Wood falls silent. Almost exactly half an hour after sunset everything stops. It is already quite dark. No voices, and a break in the wind. Another different kind of silence. This is confident and has longevity. A silence that has six hours to rest, develop and restore those in its embrace. Sitting, watching nothing.
Not even an Owl…?
Stopping Time.

4 May 2022

2022 / 24

14:00 – 16:40

Warm and dry, at least 50% cloud cover. Variable WNW up to F4

Firecrest singing at the Copse Lane In as soon as I arrived. Lovely start to my Stopping Time.
Two Goldcrests in the Chilworth Pines.

Section 5
Green-veined White 1 – Where The Tracks Join
Brimstone 1 female – same corner
Holly Blue 2 male and female- same corner. The male HB was acting aggressively towards the Brimstone and chased it off
Comma 1 – maybe the same one as last Tuesday?
Peacock 4 – including two together at the conduit pipe. Seeking water?
Four or five Chiffchaffs in the North Belt and a Willow Warbler out in the middle

Section 4
Peacock 2 – both sitting flattened against the ground
Brimstone 1 male
Two Ashy Mining Bees around, and lots more of the small Andrena species.
Blackcap, Chiffchaff and another Firecrest singing. Two more Goldcrests

Section 3
Becoming more overcast, breeze picking up. Rainified?
Comma 1
Brimstone 1
Two more each Chiffchaff and Goldcrest, and a Siskin flying over that I missed on Monday

Between here and the start of Section 1, passing around by Larpers Wood via the South East corner, I had at least 4 singing male Blackcaps, two of which gave really good views at last. Otherwise just a single Peacock, and another singing Goldcrest. These are very vocal this afternoon and seem to be everywhere?

Section 1 (15:20)
Started under cloud that quickly passed, leaving the rest of the session in bright sunshine
Brimstone 1 male
Speckled Wood 1
Also Great Spotted Woodpecker, Goldcrest, another Firecrest and lots more small Andrena bees.

The highlight of my afternoon was a fabulous Never Moment up at the top of the track overlooking the East clearfell. There is a steep back here on the left that faces the sun all afternoon. A flicker of movement catches my eye, and I watched a Common Lizard dart into a hole. It chose to sit at the entrance watching out, and I was able to get a couple of decent photographs.

I am assured (thanks to HiWARG) that this is a female, showing a pale yellow underside. The males are a much richer yellow to orange

Section 2 (16:00)
Bright sunshine again. Another Common Lizard scuttled off among the bracken as I approached mat 5. Nothing there today, but one male under Mat 7.
Speckled Wood 2
Brimstone 1 female

19 Butterflies of six species. At least a dozen singing Goldcrests.

But this afternoon belongs to the flowering plants. In the fiveyears I have been watching this site and workign in various patches, I have not seen a spring like this one. Seems our efforts are paying off, and different flowers are now blooming all around. Many limited to one or two specific places, but it is amazing to see the variety appearing now. The Wood Sorrel is over, and it was hard work finding Wood Anemones today. But the Speedwells are now coming, Herb Robert is spreading around the south side, there is Bugle in Q1 and Greater Stitchwort everywhere.

Two more insects identified today as well:

This cool-looking scavenger is a Flesh Fly (Sarcophaga bercaea)

This cute little micro-creature about 10mm long (on Hairy Bittercress) with the red tuft on its head and bronze wings is the Marsh Marigold Moth Micropterix calthella

2 May 2022

2022 / 23

04:30 – 11:15
Overcast throughout, and relatively cool at 9-13°C. No breeze.

Making an effort today, and the loan of my daughter’s car over the Bank Holiday weekend makes an early start a little easier.
I have come to enjoy the Dawn Chorus, to spend some good time here – the overcast condtions are a little disappointing given the last week has been bright and sunny, but there is rain forecast for the week ahead. So now is the time to come in early, while it is more or less still dark, and experience nature’s biggest symphony in full on surround-sound.

Typically, the earliest singers are the thrushes, and there are an indefinable number of Robins ad Blackbirds backing two Song Thrushes, either side of the track at the top by the barrier. Wrens too, and Great Tits. I am barely a few paces into the Wood, heading down towards the East Clearfell, when a Woodcock passes over my head, curving away left in the half light as if following the course of the track here between the Aviva Pines and the re-stock.
I am just noting that, when the sound of churring rises from the early mist. The first Nightjar is here, and my pace quickens as I cut down across the cleared area to the log I have chosen this morning. What a joy it is to have them back onsite. As I take my preferred seat, he is directly opposite, in the yew tree clump, and there is enough light to see him rise and circle down over the grasses. He calls as he goes, that familiar “quip quip”, passing back and forth in a figure of eight shape. Once he is settled again up in the tree, I take a chance and reach to switch on my torch, just to leave it alight at the side of my bag on the ground. Its a risk, but it attracts the bird as I had hoped and moments later he is hovvering just a few feet away from me, body held effortlessly vertical. I can hear the flutter and swish of his wings as he banks, circles and returns – checking me out and saying hello. I think it is this personal connections with individual birds that makes the Nightjar and Firecrest stand out for me here as very special moments. There seems to be some kind of consensual understanding, an acknowledgement – and it is a thrilling feeling. This is the earliest I have personally recorded Nightjars in the Wood:

2016 = 15th May [yeartick = 54]
2017 = 14th May [yeartick = 55]
2018 = 13th May [yeartick = 63]
2019 = 15th May [yeartick = 63]
2020 = 9th May [yeartick = 64]
2021 = 10th May [yeartick = 64]
2022 = 2nd May [yeartick = 62]

Goldcrest, Chaffinch and a couple of Chiffchaffs have joined in the chorus now but I am also aware of the distracting noise of traffic hum on the motorway. It is a disturbance I overlooked and exaggerated by the thick cloud. But it is easy enough to find somewhere else to sit, and I have another spot in mind at the top end of Q2.

Bathing in birdsong
While the stitchwort sleeps,
Blackbird, Robin, Soung Thrush chorus
as 'Next May unfolds' before us;
One last Woodcock overhead
Squeaking, sstuttering Off-to-bed.
In morning mist
A hundred hidden voices rise
A Nightjar quips
"Surprise surprise!"
Great Tit, Chaffinch, Stock Dove then
from nowhere,
an exploding Wren.
Behind all this the breathing trees
Cast a magic no-one sees,
Woodland waking
While the stitchwort sleeps.

As if the Nightjar wasn’t enough – I can hear a Hobby! Yapping, someone down towards the Lower East Side. It is a raptor call I have come to know well – mainly because I hear them more often than see them now. Wonderful, and something else that gives me further hope for the Wood. 63 species this year.

It is 6.15am, and I have come to my Sitting Spot, looking back towards the rising light over the clearfell and the trees. So many greens, such rich colours, emerging bright with spring.
The air is damp, and the grass wet with dew and the echoes of yesterday’s overnight drizzle. It is “not warm” at only 9*C. Birdsong all around, changing. Different voices. Dunnocks now, Blue Tits. Crows are awake. Wood pigeons hum and Stock Doves croon. There are a few scattered out in the middle and occasionally they rise and swoop, just like NIghtjars, but otherwise there is little movement of any kind. A Blackcap ticks, and I can determine at least two Willow Warblers out in the young birches along the stream course.
Away to my left comes an unfamiliar sound. Geese, honking. Not cackling as Greylags do… Two huge birds appear from over the North Belt, turn together and come directly over the middle of the re-stock. Comically incongruous, as Canada Geese here should be. Right place, right time though and these will probably be the only ones I connect with here this year. Yeartick = 64 It is almost laughable that I am here, in woodland, enjoying the dawn chorus surrounded by gorse, bramble and trees and getting excited about seeing these. It becomes slightly more ridiculous when the next bird comes over, from the east heading along the edge of the wood – a Greylag Goose! Interesting to be reminded of just how differently they call. And to have got the ID right on that.

A Mistle Thrush rattles from the top of a spindly oak. Long-tailed Tits behind me.
I have sat for an hour, time for a walk.

Led my curiousity, I have taken another of the new cleared tracks between the pines in the West Wood. Just me and the trees. Where the Stock Doves nest. Coal Tits call, and Goldcrests.
The silence is different here. Closer, more present.
And there is a Firecrest singing, loud and not far away. He won’t sit for a picture, but its good to spend a few minutes watching him and having a conversation. Gentle “pishing” calls him out, but crest raised he is unsettled. I step back, move away. Secrets.

The contractor has cleared away much of the rough scrub behind Marshalls too, opening up the grassland, It almost looks unfamiliar. The increased light will be welcome. The picture (below) shows also that much of the deep mud has been compacted where the path cross the stream and heads Round The Back out onto the bridleway and farmland. It is considerably easier to pass here now.

Another Willow Warbler on the way, and countless Blackbirds and Robins. Woodpigeon clatter ahead of me, joining another 50 or so among the corvids in the first field. Mistle Thrushes, 2 Linnets and a singing Greenfinch. Scanning the gathered birds. Rooks, Jackdaws, a few Magpies and two Pheasants. At least 60 Carrion Crows. The cattle have young, and various mothers with associted calf are either lying or standing at rest down the bottom where they have been recently delivered fresh hay.
The rocket flare is silent, and more crows and pigeons are gathered in the Skylark field, above which two of those little astronauts are in fine voice. Watching here too I can see there are three or four others rising and falling from the gound in a loose group beyond the pylons, where I am surprised and pleased to pick out a single Lapwing. I had feared they were gone, disturbed by the farmer and the flare, and I haven’t seen them for several weeks.
But this bird seems comfortable enough, 400m away, strutting around, occasionally bobbing up and down, then bending to feed. I presume a male, hopefully guarding a nearby mate?

At the Roughs, opposite this field on the otherside of the bridleway, was a good place for Whitethroat last year but one hasn’t arrived yet in 2022. There are many Great and Blue Tits though, a singing Treecreeper, Greenfinch, Chaffinch and at least four active and calling Chiffchaffs.

My pace is slow, calm and I am enjoying the time here. There is no end point in mind this morning. I have food and drink rations, and time leaning on gates is well spent.
Coming down the footpath towards the farm among various crows, pigeons and thrushes I step out onto the surfaced track at exactly the same time a Muntjac emerges ahead of me from the wood. He’s more skittish than some, and immediately trots back into cover, his tail flicking. Two Bullfinches cross onto a pile of pallets to feed with Goldfinches and more Linnets. ALso Pied Wagtail, Dunnock and a big greyish male Pheasant. Another Skylark too, unusual along this edge, closest to the buildings.

Passing through the stack yard and between the paddocks, the equestrian staff, grooms and stablehands are always friendly. I am envious of their steaming mugs of tea… To the right, behind the cottages, new fencing has been erected to make a new small paddock. Two goats have been introduced, and the large male is rubbing his horns on the gate, creatinga metalli almost hammering noise. I love goats. Beside them, among Magpies, 30+ Starlings and a few more pigeons, six white doves seem to glide around, looking alien and removed, as if they are apparitions, floating above the sandy ground.
There is a small ditch across a paddock here, which is usually devoid of birds but somewhere I always think should host a Moorhen? Today, a pair of Mallard are sitting beside the channel, roosting. So perhaps I can hope for ‘something else’ one day…?And on the fence, with a Wagtail and a Goldfinch, two more Linnets. They really have colonised this site in the last year or so – never used to see any and now they are everywhere.

SIx hours since I arrived, and the Wood is a differnet place mid-morning. Birds have settled about their business, and people have arrived with their dogs. Butterflies haven’t woken up yet, and won’t be inclined to move around much unless the sun comes out. It is still not especially warm, and won’t get above 13 degrees today.
A gentle breeze has found its way in, and some of the cloud cover is breaking up into a rumble of shapes and shades of grey-white.
I am back at the top, watching only Crows and Stock Doves in the sky, enjoying the song and performance of the Tree Pipit out in the middle. Reflective. It has been quite an extraordinary session really: Woodcock and Nightjar early on; a Hobby I can still hear; Canada Goose yeartick; Lapwing, Firecrest and Tree Pipit; two Slow-worms under mats 5 and 6.

Before leaving, I decide to check out a small bird that has been sitting on an exposed tree top for some time, but remains only a silhouette from here. It is not singing, calling or moving. In the Owl Clump, where I have not been since last summer.
Should have guessed really that it would be a Linnet, but it turns out that is not why I came over…
Here is the badger sett, and gosh its huge! At least four entrances, all with signs of very recent activity and much digging. Piles of sand everywhere, foodprints and various scrapings and small holes. There is even a small metal ladder against a yew tree. Someone watches them. Wow.
I feel both excited, and shocked by my oversight.
Apart from birds, my highest priority now here is to see an Adder. But after that, Badgers for sure. Suddenly, that seems a very real possibility!

Really interesting session today:

  • 43 species recorded*
  • three year-ticks (taking my list to 64 species by the earliest date since I started here)
  • earliest records of Nightjar and Hobby
  • 600 birds recorded
  • located active badger sett

*I recorded only one Hobby today, and no other raptors. It is VERY rare not to see a Buzzard, and there are very active Sparrowhawks locally. Also no gulls, no Green Woodpecker and no Siskin.
It does feel like recording 50 species would be possible during early May, but I would have to get lucky and include – Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine (the latter recorded by Forestry staff on Thursday 28 April); Herring Gull, Black-headed Gull, Tawny Owl (evening visit), Green Woodpecker, Meadow Pipit, Raven…

Which starts me thinking about my wish list again for Birds in Hut Wood.
What, realistically speaking, could provide me with Patch Ticks in the months ahead?
WHEATEAR, REDSTART and WHINCHAT remain the most likely contenders
Wood Warbler or Yellow-browed Warbler perhaps?
Dartford Warbler already recorded by BTO ringers
BEE-EATER recorded May 10th 2020. Grrrrr
I would love to find a twitchable rarity here: Wryneck, Hoopoe, Shrike species. Waxwing?
Little or Great White Egret flying over towards Fishlake Meadows?
White Stork or Common Crane similar?
WHITE-TAILED EAGLE must be a possibility as they disperse across Hampshire and turn up anywhere
Moorhen on the farmland?
Mute Swan flying over?
Osprey, Cuckoo and the elusive Lesser Spotted Woodpecker? Surely Cuckoo??

None of these seem entirely fanciful.
How many years would it take to get ten of these to bring up 100 species?

I would actually like to see again some of my “one-off” species again too.
Pied Flycatcher, Ring Ouzel, Honey-buzzard, Woodlark, Barn Owl, Golden Plover and Curlew
Actually all VERY good birds!

26 April 2022

2022 / 21t

1215 – 1615
Warm, sunny and bright. Scattered cloud passing from NNE 17*C

Quiet, warm and still. Perfect. And to be alone in the Wood is when I appreciate it most.
The contractor, Tony, I met last week has been busy and has cleared several passages through the Chilworth Pines by removed, mulching and generally blitzing the rhododendron here/. ALready this has given Wood Sorrel a chance to grow, so hopefully more pioneering and native plants can re-establish themselves. Just walking down the cleared way in the phograph below I had three Speckled Wood butterflies – the singing Treecreeper sounds equally appreciative.

Working my way today in a westerly direction, to do the butterfly transect from the opposite end, starting at the gates. Between the birchline and the west stream, there are a half-dozen Brimstones patrolling the restock, both males and females. one Orange-tip, three singing Blackcaps and two Willow Warblers.
Violets too, which it is especially good to see this side of the Wood.
Up t the top of the Crossing, contractors have stacked the remains of the treehouse that was pulled down on Forestry orders and dumped in the Wood last summer. Interesting to see if it is left to rot here, but I hope it gets removed completely being treated timber rather than natural wood.

Two Peacocks fluttering around, frequently grounding among several Tiger Beetles and Ashy Mining Bees. A couple more Brimstones, two Blackcaps and the whirr of Stock Dove wings. They have mostly withdrawn now into the trees to get on with the business of breeding – I do enjoy hearing their gentle song and croonings. Just beyond here, at Larpers Wood, a tiny male Holly Blue passes high left to right, and a Small White comes by much lower in the opposite direction. Another first record for the year, bringing me up to nine butterflies. Two more Peacocks together and at least three more Brimstones, though they are very hard to be sure these are different insects. As they all pass in the same direction I assume so for the sake of counting!
Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tits, Chiffchaffs and a dripping Nuthatch.
Tormentil (Potentilla erecta) is flowering down at the west stream among more dandelions now than ever. Over the last two weeks more flowers, bees and butterflies have emerged than I have seen here before. It is a noticeable increase, and one that is very encouraging. Similarly exciting is the discovery of another new butterfly species emergent for another season. Flitting between the dandelion heads in the south-east corner are at least two GREEN-VEINED WHITE butterflies

Standing watching these, and two more Holly Blues pass s well as three more Peacocks. Quite a flurry of insects. I managed to photograph a couple of things among the many that I didn’t recognise, and I am grateful to members of Southampton Wildlife for the identification of the following:

Marsham’s Nomad Bee (Nomada marshamella)

This nomada bee species is described as cleptoparastitic, meaning it feeds on pollen stolen from other species, and will also take advantage of nest holes and nest material especially of the small Andreda mining bees which are proliferating on the sandy track this year

Speckled Bush-cricket (nymph) [Leptophyes punctatissim]

This is another encouraging sign that our management of the woodland edges along the track is successful and inviting invertebrates and plants to re-establish populations.

I arrived at the buddleia to start the butterfly count properly with an already impressive log for this site:
12 Brimstones
6 Holly Blues
6 Peacocks
5 Speckled Woods
3 GV Whites
2 Small Whites
1 Orange-tip

Section 1 returned two more Holly Blues making this a best-ever session for them, including a couple of females that seem to look so much bigger than the males; three Small Whites, 2 Peacocks and a female Brimstone. GReat Spotted Woodpecker calling, as well as Coal Tit and Chaffinch.
I diverted from here along the ditch that cuts into Q1, attracted by an extensive show of violets and Red Dead-nettle (Lamium purpureum) – over 300 flowers, with a good bunch of Wood Anemones mixed in. All very encouraging.
Section 2 is equally rich in flowers this year, and the area i have been working on in particular has over 30 clumps of Wood Anemones now. 1 more Holly Blue, 1 Peacock and another Green-veined White along Upper Velmore heading out to The Crossing.

In Section 3, The Crossing as usual this time of day it is cooler in the shade of the Wood, and just now a gentle breeze has picked up. I saw nothing on the way up, so turned and came back down after finding a nice male Blackcap at the top. Two more Holly Blues here, together, chasing and spiralling high up over the mature holly trees here. All restless today – none coming close or settling. A pair of Brimstone here too.
How long before the Skippers emerge…?

Walking down the S-bend that defines Section 4, towards the west stream, I am struck by a tangible wave of calm stillness. One of those moments in the rhythm of conversations when everyone falls silent at the same time. Bluebells, Blackbirds and a Brimstone.
Tormentil now also flowering. Several Bee-flies, but not so much activity as recently in the bee colonies. A large patch of cloud hangs stubbornly in fornt of the sun. There seems to be a male Linnet singing in the same tree most times I pass this spot now. He is up there today, before flying off onto the restock with three others of his kind.Two Bullfinches follow. Otherwise in the sky there is just a single crow and a random small flock of 8 Stock Doves swirling around.

It is still and quiet in Section 5 too, and back in full afternoon sun now that cloud has ginally drifted off. Others are gathering though, and the best of the day will pass in the next half hour.
At ground level, no air movement perceptible, and no traffic noise.
Good view of a Small White feeding at the Gorse Gap, and somethng hopping along the track ahead catches my eye. Young Mistle Thrushes, blotchy and still carrying fluffy feathers on their bellies. A rattlign parent watches from a high larch close by.
Singing Chaffinch and, something of a surprise, the delicate descending ‘warble’ of a Treecreeper.
I am looking for this bird when a butterfly passes right in front of my face. One of those that immediately is “not a Peacock”. In fact, it is the first Comma I have seen this afternoon and the eighth species of the day. And a very confiding individual, so I take some time with the camera and sit on the sandy track a few feet away. It feels good to sit, to physically touch the Wood with a part of me other than my feet. Apart from taking support from the occasional branch over a ditch, I rarely “touch” the Wood.

Finally today, another flowering plant takes its place on the Systematic List.
Several specimens of Garlic Mustard “Jack-by-the-Hedge” (Alliaria petiolata) have appeared along the ditch by the Chilworth Pines and up behind the gardens where I leave my bicycle.