21 March 2020

2020 / 10

08:00 – 14:00
(11:00 – 14:00 with Josh Phangurha of HIWARG)

Beautiful sunny day throughout. Chilly East wind at times F3-F4,
but sheltered in the Wood. 10° – 13°C

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Adult male FIRECREST (regulus ignicapilla) by Josh Phangurha

Here, at last, is the chance I have been waiting for.
Time to spend in the Wood, on a sunny spring day.
Everything coming alive, and everything coming together. And that it should follow yesterday’s vernal equinox as the ‘first day  of spring’ is significant. Then set this into the context of the country panicking in to a state of socio-political decay when very few people can see beyond the turmoil to the opportunities that this situation presents, and you have Something Quite Special.

Probably one of the ‘best’ sessions I have ever had here.
Arrived later than I would have liked, but that probably helped too because I was more rested after what could be The Last Night In The Pub for the next 12 weeks…
Woodside as usual now, and two Collared Doves at the top for the first of four year Ticks this morning. The most reliable of Firecrests didn’t want to be disturbed so I left him alone, and instead moved down to check out the ‘new’ one I found two days ago at the bottom end. And there he is, in a holly behind the fence exactly as before. Now singing, now calling, and now directly overhead; even spending some time on the fence around the neighbouring property. Just being curious – showing superbly well. Not ringed.
What a joy.
There’s a Blackcap calling here too, the familiar ‘tack-tack’ from somewhere”over there”. Song Thrush, Dunncok and a Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Crossing the fields along the bridleway, and its clear the wind is actually quite sharp. Here, where one is exposed to the elements and farmland on both sides, it whips across and threatens the hat. One or two Rooks and pigeons overhead, but nothing else much seems to fancy its chances. So, dear feet, why have we come this way?
To take a different course and extend our knowledge of the area.
Look, the wire is cut down here, at the foot of this pylon. We could walk down the fenceline between the fields to the hedge at the bottom…?
Never been here before




Immediately there’s a Brimstone, first of the year, and the first of what turns out to be at least a dozen today. Could easily be more.
And a Skylark, somewhere. Quite closely though? Can’t see its first songflight, but approaching the gate in the hedgerow, still on the descent from The Roughs, there it is, singing agin as it rises form the grass. Makes me wonder if I have actually SEEN this bird before, or whether this could be a first visual encounter…? Just pondering on this when I see TWO more Skylarks chasing each other at low level, and then they land, on a patch of exposed soil. Wonderful! Great to see them still here on what otherwise doesn’t look very promising land.
Until you get a bit closer to this hedgerow. It’s a stream course too, and the 20 feet before the hedge is wet and covered in tussocks of thick grass. There is a small group of Long-tailed Tits moving along, and amid their whiring clicks and trills there is a different call: “tchukk-arr, “tchukk-tchukk-arr”. Throaty and repeated. On the top of the hedge, dropping down and running off as soon as I turn my head towards it. A male Red-legged Partridge. By my own oversight it seems, I have not recorded this species here for two years, and then only on one occasion when a pair of birds ventured into the first field on the other side of the hedge.
I am watching this waddling off up the slope away from me when two Meadow Pipits go up as well. Another bird not recorded for ages – January last year I had one! That’s THREE year ticks in as many minutes…
Definitely somewhere to come to again. This is where my Wheatear will be. Near the Whinchat. Birding gets you like that. It’s always about the next bird, and I try hard to not get distracted by that if I can. But my tail’s up now and I am hastening back up towards the Wood. It’s already past 09:00, so I have an hour before returning to the car to meet HIWARG.

There’s a moment to stop and breathe in the silence and stillness when leaping over the ditch by the footpath into th woodland. Immediately, there is no wind here when it blows form the east. Chiffchaffs, Robins, Wrens. A Dunnock, several Blackbirds. Blue and Great Tits. A Chaffinch. And two more Brimstones.
I am going to “do” Marshalls Row, with time to do it slowly. More or less running north-south, this old Roman road course has been furthered cleared. It has great potential for butterflies this summer, and really should be on the transect. To prove this point, there are two Commas and a Peacock flittering around – newly emerged and looking splendid.


And at the top, a Muntjac skips away like a terrier, tail erect. Six Magpies cross overhead together (for gold…) and then THREE Buzzards arrive together, very vocal. Its a delight to watch them, studying each and finding quite striking differences between them. two Song Thrushes shoot out left to right, and then a male Sparrowhawk. I REALLY need to improve my observation – he must have been sitting in the open with his back to me becuase he is no more than 10 feet away when he takes off.
There’s a Chiffchaff in the grass…

I presume this is a rogue plant, blown in from the adjacent gardens? Its the onlyt hing I can see in flower…?


Josh is punctual, and we meet as planned at The Chilworth Arms at precisely 10:30. Shames its closed for a while, I note for lunchtime. Actually, I am hungry already and have eaten both the apple and the banana I brought along…
20 minutes later and we are back at Marshalls, walking carefully along the stream edge. It doesn’t take him long to find the first Common Lizard, identified as ‘probably’ a sub-adult, born last year. About 3 inches long and quite pale. There are several Red-tailed Bumble Bees (Bombus lapidarius) basking in sunny patches of moss that look good for lizards. An unusual thing, Josh has observed: this species of Bee does rather seem to associate with lizards especially, but we don’t see any more.
Looking closer – with different eyes now – there are a lot of bees around of various kinds, and generally flying insects have taken the wing in the sunshine.

The ‘tins’ on the clearfell are disappointing, and we see nothing under all eight. It could be that the heath is too ‘new’ and hasn’t yet had a chance to establish. Another factor may be the wind today though that’s less likely. Also, it could be that the track around the site is a problem and creates a barrier that reptiles are unlikely to cross. Interesting.
The ground is getting warm under them though, and there are a lot of ‘vole holes’ – encouragng both for adders and raptors. Plus, there is evidence that one or two are being colonised by ants, which is no bad thing as they seem really uite scarce here otherwise.
But the clearfell is alive with Brimstones, and we count what must be at least eight, mostly moving along the stream courses.
And we are both startled when I more or less step on a male Pheasant, who clatters up from between us causing much amusement!
We check and scan several other likely basking sunspots for Adders or lizards, but to no avail. Maybe they are simply not here…?

The voles do show themselves at tin #8 up at Q2, where Josh is immediately more optimistic, and strike lucky at #5 with our first Slow-worm. Its a beauty too, a young male. Very confiding and approachable, letting us handle it gentle without showing any sign of distress:

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Wildlife in the hand is Something Else altogether. A humbling, profound experience.
I can do little but marvel at the reptile between my fingers, lost in the moment, forgetting even the Firecrest nearby at Velmore that Josh glimpsed but I could not lure out.

Up at the east end, four last tins on the clearfell where I can see why they look more promising. This area is older, with more established grasses. More voles too, and up on the brash behind #3, a second Common Lizard. This one is tiny – last years’ young, and quite a bit darker than the previous one we saw at the other end.

Perhaps less than we had hoped on the reptiles, but an enlightening experience, learning what to look for and practising how to see it. Enough to catch a glimpse later when back at Q4 beside the track of a much larger adult male Common Lizard in the tufted long grass. Two more Peacocks here too, and at least two more Commas. The later species seems particualrly aggressive, and we have seen individuals chasing off both Peacocks and Brimstones this morning.
I lead Josh over to the frogspawn, but sadly there is hardly any left now, and what tadpoles have survived are almost impossible to see in the clouded, muddy water.
There are LOTS of mosquito larvae though, and a Raven cronks over the clearfell.

All of which leads us back to where we started, and the ‘new’ Firecrest betweenthe lst two houses at the bottom of Woodside. Within moments of us starting to look, and with Josh’s camera at the ready, this showy little beauty is upon us and singing like no-one was listeing. Utterly fabulous. And such great views, prolonged, clear and in bright sunshine. Even I can hardly believe it, and for a first encounter with the species what could possibly be better?
He has kindly sent me some of the photographs, and I am again convinced there is no more wonderful bird to see in the UK:


It really doesn’t get much better than this.



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