Welcome to my birdwatching blog. This blog will contain stories about my bird watching trips, interesting bird news and other tales that may or may not be bird related. I want to make it useful to the avid birder as well as those who may only have a passing interest in bird watching. I enjoy photographing bird life, common and rare through a spotting scope, not that they always sit still long enough for me. Being on the outskirts of North East London, my reports will not only cover my local patch of Redbridge/Waltham Forest, but also dip into deepest Essex, Suffolk, Kent and Norfolk.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Thursley Common. A rare habitat indeed.

Why did I agree to this? It’s 4am and my daughter Tanya, bag packed (quite a small one for a change but that’s EasyJet for you) pushes me out the front door towards the car. Still, the reasonably short drive to Gatwick carrying three excited young ladies isn’t too bad when the roads are clear and the sky is blue.
Now, I’m not one to miss a bird watching opportunity and one certainly presented it to me as I realised I would be within easy reach of Thursley Common and could be there for 6am. I’d been there a couple of times and with my trusty SatNav I just tapped in Thursley and figured the reserve would be easy to find.

Think again Braun.

The Thursley bit was easy enough. I passed some pretty little villages and pubs making a mental not of their names but now as I write, I can’t remember any of them. Thursley is just off the A3 near Godalming. The common is actually a vast area of heath and mixed woodland and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The trouble is, the car park is quite small and on a minor road – of which there are many –and with most of Surrey’s stockbrokers driving up my backside in their Porsches and Audis, it was hard to find. Eventually after threatening my Blackberry and throttling my SatNav, I got there and I was alone or at least, I thought I was.
Thursley Common

Parts of the common are used by the military for sort of grown up paintball fighting. In the near distance I could hear gunfire punching the air and wondered what effect this might have on the nature that is so carefully managed and protected on the common.
Who said birdwatching was dull?
Still, at 6.30am, it felt like just me and the birds. The sun was already heating the place up and I was going to regret not wearing my natty shorts. The only downside of shorts though is the midges can feast off your legs to their hearts content.

I had really come to Thursley for one particular bird. The Dartford Warbler. Once a reasonably common sight in the south, it’s habitat has shrunk and it’s status is serious. This harsh winter will have done it no favours either. I had seen them on my three previous visits so I had my fingers crossed.

First decent bird of the day was a stonechat. Pretty common but always a good bird to see. It is an easy bird to watch too as it usually sits up on top of a branch of gorse. There were a few about along with one or two reed buntings. 

The common is a strange place. Generally speaking it is a dry place with heavy but fine sand underfoot. This makes walking up hill in the midday sun feel like a scene out of Ice Cold in Alex. Then, the area is also a dangerous bog with essential boardwalks that allow you access over some heavily flooded patches of the pathways. If you are lucky, you may see the largest spider that breeds in the UK. The Raft spider walks on water and with its thick legs, can be the size of an average man’s hand.

Raft Spider
Unfortunately the only Raft spider I have encountered was on the web (get it?) where I found the picture above! Adders and Common lizards are also here in good numbers but I didn’t see any even though it was perfect weather for basking on a rock.

When you search for the often secretive Dartford warbler what happens is that everything that moves and by that, I mean flies short distances across the heather or gorse before ducking deep into cover. As per usual, I move too slowly and by the time my brain has engaged with the situation, the moment has gone. The usual culprits are stonechats. There were a few about as well as dunnocks and common whitethroats.

I resisted the temptation to wait for hours in one spot and carried on through a more wooded area of the common. Nice move. A spotted flycatcher immediately presented itself for my viewing pleasure albeit briefly but long enough for me to marvel at its fly catching skills.

Spotted Flycatcher

Also in the woods there appeared to be huge numbers of Great Spotted Woodpeckers. I think there must have been at least 10-12 different birds. coal tits too were plentiful and as with any good wood with a mix of deciduous and coniferous trees, goldcrest flitted high in the canopies.

I began to circle round heading for Shrike Hill, an area that had proved rich in DW’s on my previous trips. Not today though. Instead I found two singing woodlark and a couple of tree pipits doing their customary parachute dives.

Tree Pipit
There was also a couple of common redstarts in the area and a glorious common buzzard that flew low over me as I watched the woodlark. I made my way back towards the entrance and realised that there was a time when if I dipped the bird I really wanted to see, I would have been bitterly disappointed. However, the beauty and uniqueness of Thursely Common didn’t allow that to happen. So I marched back to the car a happy birder while also being reminded of the battle I had been in.

Yeah, you and who’s army?

1 comment:

  1. "Greedy" birds with so many insects in their mouths. I guess their little chicks are waiting to be fed at home!