2020 / 02
12:30 – 14:00
Mild 11C, with light F2-3W wind.
Bright on arrival but quickly clouding over. Heavy rain later
Cycled here today for the first time in too long. 24 minutes, using the new cycle path that now extends to the Wood’s entrance along the Bournemouth Road from the Chilworth Roundabout. My bike, with my rucksack, are locked to a young silver birch at the bottom of the track at the beginning of my circuit of the South Side.
There really is very little to note here – a few Robins and one small crowd of tits calling and feeding. There is litter at the site of the camp, but no tents at the moment. There is though – and I almost overlooked him – a man asleep in a military green sleeping bag on a roll mat. No covering, tent or canopy.
His presence has rather un-nerved me and for a while I feel uncomfortable and almost unsafe… why is my instinct untrusting? I am skittered, and keep a vigilant eye out for the presence of others. feel as if I am being watched…?
Crossing the stream at Campers Bridge, where a section of the old ‘tree house’ (now almost completely dismantled) has been laid across the water course, I make the decision not to immediately climb the steep slope up to the Oak Plantation. Instead, I head to my right a few metres into a holly thicket behind a large Yew where a small group of Coal Tits are feeding and chattering. There are at least two Goldcrests with them, and one confiding Firecrest. Unfortunately, the light is poor and he stays only in silhouette, though calling back to me persistently and coming virtually right over my head. Being a little nervous, the emergence and hasty exit of a Roe Deer startles me more than it otherwise might.
Up through the Oaks and then to the left, the southern perimeter. I am lost here, and can’t remember my way abouts. There’s a property close to the fence, and vehicles. This is the end of Green Lane, from whence I have left the Wood a few times but never entered? Foremost is a Forestry Commission truck. I call Simon, to see where he is onsite. He’s not, the truck is Luke’s. “Out checking the re-stocks. A lot of the trees still haven’t taken.”
I have walked into a crowd of birds, surrounding me, but i can’t see any of them! There is a nice patch of sunlight here and its quite still and sheltered. A tiny bird scuttles up the face of a pine tree, moving in a stop-motion clockwork fashion. It’s a male Firecrest, not a Treecreeper as I was expecting. Superb views, and suddenly there are two, erratically working their way round and up, then ‘parachuting’ back down – I presume eating tiny spiders? They pop into and out of a cavity a few times, but I think this is feeding too, not prospecting nest sites. I would love to find a nest this year so this might be a pair to watch – they prefer Yew, and sit the nest (an open cup) often quite precariously towards the end of a branch.
Moving west, and all of a sudden the traffic noise is gone and the Wood is quiet as I descend to a stream course that I haven’t yet followed out into the middle. There are Bullfinches here, at least two, and at 13:20 I note a Buzzard calling over head. 35th bird yeartick for 2020. I have only recorded 16 species this afternoon.
But I have eyes and ears really only for Firecrests, so I may not be as observant even as usual. And this side of the Wood is generally the most lacking in birds. It has gone dull too, but I find one more pair (five birds today at three locations) on the descent towards the ‘bole’.
Firecrest accounts in the Hampshire Bird Report 2018 suggest that this site has extraordinary numbers of Firecrest compared to anywhere else in the county. My records of 15 and 20 birds in the last third of the year are significantly higher than the next best record of 4 birds…? Does this mean FCs are overlooked (probably, as several people I know simply can’t here them); or that they are less widespread than I thought; or that I can’t count?
But my numbers are not exaggerated, and I am always careful they should not be so. So far this year I have found four territories on the north perimeter and lower east side, and three here on the south in poor conditions. Add the ones I know of in FC Alley, Velmore and the northern belt and already I can confidently say 12-15 pairs nest here…
What I had not realised, trudging the next 300m through the laurel and rhododendrons among the Chilworth Pines, is that it has started to rain. Emerging at the top of Marshalls there is a steady drizzle. By the time I slip and slide down to the bottom (a thin layer of soil sits on the chalky slope) it is more persistent, and once up to the point Where The Tracks Join it is quite intense. In fact, laugh-makingly so, and I don’t recall ever being ‘caught’ here in quite such a deluge.
For the next half an hour as I pick my way through the ruts, mud and puddles back to my (unsheltered) bike, it rains hard and I am thoroughly soaked. My jacket needs re-waxing, and I forgot to pull my all weather trousers over my wellies, so there is water running down the inside and soaking my socks.
An absolute downpour, which of course was all but over by the time I got home…