Walks and Outings 2021

9 May 2021, Seaford by Rebecca Dunne

Male Melodious Warbler seen near Belle Tout lighthouse. End of report. That would probably be too brief a report but it was the highlight of the day. The weather was warm with a southerly breeze which had brought in more birds than had been seen in the area recently. One newer member saw five lifers – Kittiwake, Fulmar, Lesser Whitethroat, Corn Bunting and Melodious Warbler and messaged to say “What a wonderful days birding it was. What a friendly bunch Surbiton are.”
Nine of us met at Splash Point, four arriving early for a bit of sea watching. House Sparrows could be heard in the bushes behind the cars. Out at sea a pale morph and a dark morph Arctic Skua were seen along with Common and Sandwich Terns, Common Scoter, Shelduck, Gannet and Great Black-backed Gull. Peter heard Whimbrel and Mediterranean Gull.
Two of our group decided to spend the day on a walk to Cuckmere Haven while six of us headed to the kittiwake colony at the end of the Esplanade. Peter stuck with his sea watch but was able to confirm the sandpiper we saw flying off around the sea wall as a Common Sandpiper. The tide was high and as we stood on the sea wall we discovered why it is called Splash Point. Lots of optics had to be wiped down.
As usual the kittiwake colony was quite a spectacle, numbering over a thousand birds in previous years. It is one of the last remaining in the South East. Male birds tend to return to exactly the same precarious looking spot on the steep chalk cliffs each year. Nest sites had been reclaimed and mating was taking place. Birds flew back and forward carrying fresh seaweed to augment their nest. Behind the next headland Fulmars could be seen gliding in and out on stiff wings. John spotted a Peregrine up against a distant patch of brown chalk. Black Headed and Herring Gulls floated on the sea along with the Kittiwakes and the chalk stack had its usual half a dozen Cormorants. The high tide meant that the resident pair of Rock Pipits came very close on the stony beach, cliff and large concrete blocks at the base of the cliff where they probably nest.
We followed this with a coffee on the beach, along with a bit more sea watching, before driving up to South Hill Barns on Seaford Head. Rooks, Jackdaws and Crows were feeding on the fields and we saw Chaffinch and Whitethroat in the nearby hedge as we waited for Stephen. Once he had arrived, we headed off down Hope Gap, spotting a Painted Lady butterfly on the way. We watched and heard Lesser Whitethroat, Common Whitethroat, Blackbird, Chiffchaff, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Robin, Linnet and Blackcap in the dense sheltered bushes which border the path and cover the cliff top. On the short turf nearer the cliff edge, we saw more Rock Pipits and a Meadow Pipit. Low flying spitfire planes were another feature of the day and the first one flew over us here.
Another high point of the day was watching soaring Fulmars as they appeared over the cliff edge between here and Coastguard Cottages, which was our lunch stop.
This gave us a good vantage point over Cuckmere Haven where we had a Brent Goose, a Barnacle Goose and a Greylag Goose amongst the Canadas. Little egrets, Grey Heron, Mute Swan, Mallard another Rock Pipit, and Oystercatchers completed the picture.
Once back up at the car park we decided that, rather than going to the Tide Mills at Newhaven, we would try for the male Melodious Warbler which had just been spotted east of Belle Tout Wood, according to our bird apps.
And we found it, thanks to a man waving from the bottom of the slippery slope we had just clambered up. Not lengthy views but still pretty good and it briefly flew to the top of a bush so everyone saw it. Bigger than expected was the general view, and a beautiful brown back contrasted with its yellow underside. Some stayed on by the impenetrable bushes it then disappeared into, but it wasn’t seen again in the next hour up till 5pm. Others walked through Belle Tout Woods and tracked down the Corn Buntings which had been heard over the cars, roaring motorbikes and overflying Spitfires. Robert found some Early Purple Orchids and there were carpets of Cowslips everywhere.
Other birds spotted as we waited for the warbler were Blackcap, Buzzard, Linnet, Lesser whitethroat, Goldfinch, Swallows, Stonechat, Green Woodpecker and Meadow Pipits. Looking back onto the cliffs by the car park there was another Peregrine. Total species 56.

 

5 May 2021, Staines Moor (midweek walk) by Thelma Caine

Twelve members joined this trip on a fine morning. Virtually the first bird of the day was a male Blackcap seen from the railway bridge. On the other side of the railway, a Red Kite circled in the sky. Seconds later we spotted another bird of prey overhead, this time a Peregrine. Several Crows started to ‘buzz’ this and were joined by a Kestrel. On entering the Moor, we made our way to a patch of sedges and soon found the first of several male Reed Buntings sitting up on a thistle head. Grey Heron, Moorhen, Coot, a pair of Mute Swan and Mallards with a family of well-grown young were all present on the Rive Colne. After crossing the river bridge, we had close views of a group of Linnets near the riverbank, the males resplendent with rosy breasts. A Little Egret flew across and we found more Reed Buntings in the low scrub. Around us, Skylarks and several Meadow Pipits were rising in song flight. On the short turf and among the grassy tussocks were a number of pairs of breeding Lapwings which were constantly flying up and chasing off Crows. In scattered low trees and bramble patches were several Sedge Warblers, their striking eye-stripe clearly visible and pale cream undersides gleaming in the sun. At least one of these was seen taking nesting material into the reeds. We had further excitement when a superb male Whinchat was located on top of another small tree further on. During the morning, more Red Kites and several Buzzards flew overhead as well as a pair of Kestrels. Also among the aerial birds were Swifts and several Swallows. Crossing the boardwalk at the far end of the Moor we found a male Whitethroat, a Cetti’s Warbler sang briefly and a Green Woodpecker yaffled from the trees.
We then crossed the next river bridge and entered a patch of scrub with scattered low trees. This was full of activity with more Linnets and Reed Buntings, several more Whitethroats, Goldfinches, Blackbirds, Robins, a singing Greenfinch and flitting through the willows, a Chiffchaff. Beyond this area, on the way to ‘the mound’, a grey bird with a longish tail flew by low in front of us, thought likely to be a Cuckoo from the head shape and flight pattern, rather than a bird of prey, and was seen to land in tussocky grasses some distance away. We reached the mound which gave a vantage point over the small reedbed and soon located a Reed Warbler which emerged and clung to an exposed reed stem. On the ground below, a Song Thrush and a Mistle Thrush were feeding. This area of the Moor is often good for passage Wheatears and before long, we located a male, then as we made our way back across the Moor, found a female and another male. The tally by the end of a very enjoyable walk was 50 species.

 

25 April 2021, Otmoor RSPB Reserve & Farmoor by Thelma Caine

Ten members attended this trip forming two groups of five with John Barkham co-leading. We headed for the Closes first, finding breeding Canada Geese and Greylag Geese, Lapwing, Mute Swan, Moorhen, Coot, Mallard and the first of many Marsh Harriers overhead. A Sparrowhawk flew low across the field and a Cetti’s Warbler sang loudly from the hedge. We later had good views of one further along and heard many more during the day. The Glossy Ibis, which had been present for several weeks, was feeding on the marsh here but soon took flight, then three Greenshank flew in giving good views. A Cuckoo called and a Grasshopper Warbler was heard reeling in Moorleys field. Whitethroat, Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff were all singing here too. A Bullfinch called from the hedge but quickly flew, a male and female Pheasant emerged from the bushes and there was plenty of activity on the feeders, with Chaffinches and Reed Bunting joining Great Tits and Dunnock here. Surprisingly two Cranes were present in the marsh at Greenways seen by John’s group. A Great White Egret also showed well in the reeds and several groups of Shovelers were present on the pools. Sand Martins, Swallows, House Martin and several Swifts were feeding overhead. In the scrub beside the bridleway, the babbling song of a Garden Warbler was heard as well as more Blackcaps. Goldfinches were also seen flitting through bushes.
Skylarks rose in song-flight and close to the path, both Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers sang in the marshy vegetation. As we reached Big Otmoor, another small group of finches flew up – this time Greenfinches which landed in a tree. There was plenty of activity on Big Otmoor with numerous breeding Lapwing on the barer ground, together with several Redshanks on the wetter areas and more Canada, Greylag, and several Barnacle Geese feeding here. Searching the pools, a pair of Garganey were located by John’s group but soon flew off. A Spotted Redshank, resplendent in summer plumage, was also feeding on the pools. An odd-looking Ruff was present here also, sporting a black throat and upper breast, white head and variegated black and white plumage on the back. Four or five Black-tailed Godwit flew in and Curlew was seen in flight. There were more Shovelers on the pools here as well as Teal and a Little Egret was spotted in the reeds. The was plenty of gull activity on the further pools, with breeding Black-headed Gulls and several Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-backs present. Overhead Marsh Harriers, numerous Red Kites and several Buzzards circled above the marsh. Oystercatcher was added to the list at Ashgrave and there was much activity on the footpath here with a mixed flock of Reed Buntings, Linnets, Goldfinches, Chaffinch, Dunnock and both male and female Yellowhammer feeding on the ground. From here we made our way to the viewing screens overlooking the larger pools. On the way a Lesser Whitethroat was heard singing and seen briefly as it flew across the path. The pools held good numbers of Gadwall, several Pochards, Tufted Duck, Great Crested and Little Grebe, Moorhen and Coot. Grey Heron and another Great White Egret were lurking in the reeds, but the highlight here was a passage of Hobbies with at least five or six seen together.
After lunch we header for Farmoor and made our way along the causeway, finding several groups of Yellow Wagtails as well as Grey Wagtails and a few Pied Wagtails. A number of terns were feeding over the water, the stiff breeze and bright sunlight making identification tricky, but we eventually had good views of two birds which settled on a buoy and were able to clearly see the red bill with dark tip confirming they were Common Terns. A few with longer tail streamers were also seen, considered to have been Arctic Terns. Several gulls, behaving like terns and dipping down to the water surface were identified as Little Gulls, the key feature being their dark underwings with a white border. There were more Sand Martins, Swallows and Swifts here and a Hobby flew over. When we reached the far end of the reservoir, three Common Sandpipers were feeding by the water’s edge. As we returned to the cars, the sky was full of Red Kites and Buzzards circling together. 83 species were recorded by the end of a productive day.

 

14 April 2021, West End Common by Rebecca Dunne

This midweek walk was attended by 5 people including 2 new members. The weather was beautiful, and we had a pleasant wander through the woods and past the various ponds. Highlights were a photogenic Goldfinch pulling nesting material from the fluffy seed head of a bullrush and 4 swallows which had just returned to their nest sites in Garson’s stables. We also noted that, as usual, there was no bird life on the ploughed fields outside the West End Common fence but plenty within the woods and open glades. We speculated that this is because there are no weed seeds or invertebrates for them to feed on following treatment with herbicides and pesticides. Farmland bird species numbers have crashed in recent years and these fields just demonstrate this. Within the woods however bird song was all around us particularly Blackcaps, Chiffchaff, Wrens and Robins.
We had the following 29 species: Blackbird, Blackcap, Buzzard, Canada Goose, Carrion Crow, Chiffchaff, Coot, Cormorant, Dunnock, Egyptian Goose, Goldfinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Greylag Goose, Herring Gull, Jay, Long-tailed Tit, Mallard, Mistle Thrush, Pied Wagtail, Ring-necked Parakeet, Robin, Rook, Song Thrush, Sparrowhawk, Stock Dove, 4 Swallows and Wren.
As an add on to the walk Mike, Manish and I then walked around the Ledges. We started on the lower path looking along the banks of the Mole, beneath the steep wooded slopes known as The Ledges. Kingfishers can be seen here but not on this walk. Having huffed and puffed our way up the afore mentioned steep slope we looked over into the distant fields of horses to see the geese, before returning through the woods to West End Common car park.

 

11 April 2021, Bookham Common by Stephen Waters

The 10 members who turned out for this walk were split between John Barkham and myself in order to be complicit with government Covid 19 restrictions. From the car park at Bookham railway station, we crossed the footbridge and walked north though the common. We first head and then saw a small group of Redpolls, and then a pair of Bullfinch in the abundant Blackthorn bushes. Blackcaps were very vocal, and we had good views of these at various times.
We reached the series of ponds at the north part of the common and from the hide overlooking one of the ponds we watched a Little Grebe fishing and taking small fish to its mate who was calling from a nest hidden in the reeds. At another pond, Grey Herons were sitting on their nests. At a third pond a pair of Mute Swans were nesting close to a pair of Canada Geese on an island. While the females were nest sitting, the male swan constantly chased the male goose round and round the pond pecking at the tail of the goose which stubbornly failed to fly off. It was all very Tom and Jerry.
At Downside we looked for Yellowhammers and found a suitable spot for a coffee break. On the way back to the station we stopped to see a pair of Treecreepers building a nest in a tree stump.

 

Ockham Common Wednesday 7 April 2021 by John Barkham

14 members met for a mornings walk on Ockham Common and Wisley Airfield. On leaving the car park, we had an unexpected encounter: several noisy Crossbills, who landed above us and started to feed on pine cones. Walking on, we followed the treeline around the heath and spotted Song Thrush, Blackcap, Siskin, Coal Tit and Woodpeckers; Green and Great Spotted. Dartford Warbler was heard singing and one of our groups was treated to close views of a Dartford in the heather. We reached the newly refurbished Semaphore Tower on Chatley Heath, encountering a low-flying Red Kite on route. After returning to the car park, we crossed the road and viewed Bolder Mere Lake. A Coot already had chicks. Moving on to Elm Corner, one of the houses had a concentration of noisy Siskins and also Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Blue and Great Tits. We continued to the disused Wisley Airfield and soon spotted Skylarks, either in song flight or on the ground, plus several flyover Linnets. Rebecca found us a pair of Wheatear: definitely a highlight of the trip!  Mike added 2 Red Kites to our list and Common Buzzard. We walked the abandoned runway and returned via woodland onto Ockham Common and the car park.