|male Yellowhammer, Tilsey Farm, 19/11/2017|
With the Wintershall Estate kindly granting me permission to set up a feeding station on their side of the Ridge, my plan was to get up there early doors and sift through the mixed finch and bunting flock, and work out where a good place to install one would be. However, it soon became apparent that the skies were alive with birds on the move. A few drips of rain had fallen pre-dawn, and with the slightest northerly element to the gentle wind that was coming from the west, it seemed a floodgate opened a little.
Woodpigeons were the lead species, with 2,323 an impressive final total, and the second highest count of the autumn. Thrushes, numbers of which have been much lower than normal this year, were piling through. Fieldfares in particular were heading powerfully north, including a remarkable single flock of around 100. The final tally of 184 was in fact a new site record.
Other bits included 3 Hawfinches west, 1 Brambling north-east, a first-winter Great Black-backed Gull south and 183 Redwings north. Not bad at all – and with several Yellowhammers and at least a couple of Bramblings with the more numerous Reed Buntings, Goldfinches and Linnets on the Ridge, it made for the most enjoyable 90 minutes watch.
|Woodpigeons, Ridge, 18/11/2017|
Despite all the above, the best moment came at 08:25, when I heard an out of place “huu-weo” above my head. By now I was in Junction Field, and the call was uttered again, as what turned out to be a Woodlark continued north-east. It's surprising that it’s just the second record here, and even more so that it’s the first autumn one, especially given that Blackheath and Winterfold aren’t far away at all. Perhaps this bird was a local mover.
After the session on patch I met up with Matt in his new home county of West Sussex (a long overdue getting together), and despite the gloomy weather we headed up to the Burgh. This wonderful patchwork of farmland (mainly arable) is a truly fantastic example of nature-friendly estate management, with un-managed margins, big hedgerows and retained winter stubbles.
As a result, species that are devastatingly short on supply elsewhere thrive, in particular Grey Partridges, Corn Buntings and Yellowhammers. The Norfolk Estate, who on the land, must take credit, and it’s a shame so many other landowners don’t take a leaf out of their books. I could draw certain comparisons with my patch, not least the numerous impressive vistas, but also the hilly terrain, and lack of human influence.
|ringtail Hen Harrier, the Burgh, 18/11/2017|
However, the key difference is trees. The Burgh has a couple of small copses dotted around it, whereas my patch is heavily wooded, and this is reflected in some of the species present. What Thorncombe Street has in Bramblings, Hawfinches, Woodcocks and Marsh Tits, the Burgh has in Corn Buntings, Grey Partridges and Skylarks.
Also, the extensive openness/lack of trees and plentiful prey means species like Hen Harriers, Merlins and Short-eared Owls congregate here in the winter, something that’s unheard of on my bit. However, some of the habitat management at the Burgh can definitely be applied to the estates up this way, and I hope to get this message across in our December meeting.
In terms of what we managed to find, the weather made things fairly tough going. However, Matt picked up a quartering Hen Harrier in a crop field he had one a few weeks ago (possibly the same), and we enjoyed pretty close-range views. A few Buzzards and Red Kites were about, a covey of around 5 Grey Partridges were flushed and a female Goshawk flashed along a hedgerow. Not bad – farmland birds and birding is a favourite of mine, and I’ve no doubt where my patch would be if I lived in Sussex.
Afterwards we had a brief look at Waltham Brooks, but the more impressive location was Matt's garden! Here there's an expansive view over the north brooks of Pulborough, and during our short watch we had Snipe, Wigeon and a flock of Fieldfare. He's sure to build a fine garden list and, particularly when the water levels rise, he should be in for some excellent birding here.
|Hawfinch, New Barn, 19/11/2017|
Largely a non-birding day, though I got out briefly in the morning (finally managing to photograph some Hawfinches, part of a group of at least 5 around New Barn) and again during the afternoon. The latter session was done in glorious wintry sunshine, and I spent some quality time with at least 3 Yellowhammers around Tilsey Farm. This species looks set for another good winter here, which is pleasing – I struggle to think of more than 3 or 4 sites in Surrey where they still breed.
16th-17th and 20th-22nd
I managed a brief vis-mig on Allden’s Hill on the 17th, with 2 Hawfinches standing out among an impressive 82 Redwing and 23 Redpoll. There were 2 Red-crested Pochards on Mill Pond on the 16th, and 1 on the 21st. I’ve barely stuck my head in this week, though another Little Egret at the south end of Mill Pond this morning was a bit of a treat.
The week ahead
I keep stressing that things should be done and dusted, but 2017 continues to suprise, so who knows what’s to come? I’m looking forward to monitoring the Finch/Bunting flock on the Ridge as the weeks go on. Another, similarly sized flock has also taken up residence on the crops on Allden’s Hill, and will be a little harder to study.
Excitingly, Wintershall have given permission for ringing to take place in an area of scrub near the crops on the Ridge, and I’m hoping to commence this with Sam in December. Maybe we’ll conjure up some Twite* or Lapland Bunting-like icing for the 2017 cake!
I drafted this blog on Tuesady - ironically, since then, a Twite was found at Beddington, by David C (of course)!