After my wanderings along the North Downs on monday and with a couple of hours on my hands on tuesday, I thought i'd drop in at New Hythe to see what was occurring. It was chilly in the cool NW wind but I was confident it would warm up nicely as the morning progressed. It didn't. I didn't like it, and I don't think the birds did either.
I noticed Terry Laws' car in the car park so I gave him a quick ring to see what he'd found. He told me to watch out for a large mixed Hirundine flock around Brooklands lake. He was right, and they were still there, over the SE corner, dozens of them. I stopped a while and managed to pick out some House Martins among the Swallows and Sand Martins, my first of the year which bought my NH year list to 87.
I met up with Terry round the Sunken Marsh where we stood for a while hoping to strike lucky with an over flying Red Kite or Osprey, well, you have to speculate to accumulate don't you? Maybe our aspirations were a tad high though as we only managed Greenfinch, Cetti's Warbler, Chaffinch, Cormorant, Heron and Canada Goose. I blame it on the wind. We moved on after a while and headed towards the railway path, picking up Gt. Spotted Woodpecker, Bullfinch, Reed Bunting, GC Grebe, Jay, and our first Speckled Wood at New Hythe this year which earned it poll position at the top of the post.
Abbey Mead was home to just Coots and Tufties, no sign of the drake Wigeon reported there the day before. But we did see a couple of displaying Sparrowhawks in the distance, our only raptors of the morning. In the east scrub a Nightingale started to sing but immediately gave up. I blame the wind. The only other notable here was a yaffling Green Woodpecker, which sounded suspiciously like it was laughing at us. I suggested a diversion to the Water Vole stream, but there was no sign of them today, too many peope about I think, however a Common Whitethroat was good compensation. From here, we could hear a Willow Warbler singing it's descending notes over in the west scrub, I hadn't seen one this year, and so began a long mission which eventually resulted in a sighting which brought my year list to 88 for NH. I reckon we must have spent an hour or so trying to get a look at Reed and Sedge Warblers which were singing in various reedbeds around the site during the visit. We failed miserably. I blame the wind!
Today (wednesday) Alan Roman and I went to Stodmarsh in search of a Wood Warbler which had been reported there. Yes, I know I moaned about twitching the other day but that was the other day, i've changed since then. Anyway, we soon found the bird's preferred area in the Alder wood near the car park. And after spending about 20 minutes searching, during which time Blackcap, Treecreeper and Wren, were seen, we returned to the car park to pick up our rucksacks before heading off round the three mile circuit. This took us past the Alder wood again and this time we were lucky enough to see the Wood Warbler. It was mostly in the canopy of a large tree, where it flitted restlessly and sang it's soft, trilling song. We both had fairly good views but it was out of reasonable camera range for me. Never mind, it was very nice to see it. I like twitching.
As with most places, Blackcap and Chiffchaff seem to be the dominant singers, but they were ably assisted to day by Wrens, Cetti's and a few Common Whitethroats among others.
The main lake was very quiet, just the usual Swans, Mallards, Coots and GC Grebes, as well as a few left over Shovelers. The ever present Marsh Harriers, the males looking superb in their breeding plumage, patrolled the margins and sometimes treated us to a spectacular display dive over the reed beds. Sparrowhawk and Kestrel were the only other raptors seen, no early Hobby to harass the Hirundines which came and went in flocks during the day. It was mostly too cold for butterflies, but in a welcome burst of milky sun we did find an Orange Tip, pictured above and a couple of Peacocks. But the sun soon lost it's influence and allowed the cold wind to regain it's hold and the butterflies disappeared as quickly as they had arrived.
The water in front of the viewing ramp was very high and there was nothing much to hold our attention. But soon after leaving it a pinging call from the adjacent reedbed resulted in a very welcome sighting of a Bearded Tit. This is a species which is apparently in decline at Stodmarsh with numbers dropping quite considerably over the last few years. The David Feast hide was deserted inside and nearly so outside, with just a single Shelduck, a Swan, a Greylag and a Moorhen to watch while we munched our lunch.
On the way to the Marsh hide we had a single Skylark which sung in true summer fashion, hanging almost motionless in the grey sky above Harrisons Drove. I thought it was a law of nature that when a Skylark sang the sun had to come out. That's what it seemed like when I was a kid, but not today. In fact it started to rain, not much, but enough to hurry our pace towards the hide, pausing only to note a small flock of Linnets and some frogs in the stream along with a single newt.
From the Marsh hide we watched the Konik ponies, listened to Reed Warblers and saw two Stock Doves and surprisingly five Yellow Wagtails which flew up unexpectedly from the wet margins.
If you can 'twitch' a single bird and then have the pleasure of finding another 53 species of your own, as we did today, you can't really knock it can you.