Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The Twites return to Surrey for a new mission

If I had said to Mr Fisher, let's go to Surrey and look at Galloway Cattle, I would have pretty much been talking to myself shortly afterwards. So I sugared it up a bit: Nightjar, Woodlark and Dartford Warbler... Nightjar in the London recording area, how ridiculous.

Good that it was the hottest day of the year for steep hills and long hikes. Lucky then that much of it was in the cool shade of the forest and we were in no particular hurry. To make things interesting we had a little wager on the number of birds we would see.  Stu always the pragmatist went for a low 38, while the naive optimist in me confidently pitched for 65.  What was I thinking?

Pyramidal Orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis)  - still
a fairly common orchid of chalk and limestone grassland

For all the bio-diversity you are meant to get in woodland, you don't get many birds, even the one's you should get. A fly-over Crossbill was good, Marsh Tit called along the way and Bullfinches were fairly well represented. The sky remained stubbornly empty of birds and clouds with just the regular noise of a plane going into Gatwick or Biggin to spoil the tranquillity.

Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuschii) - perhaps
one of our most common orchids
Of course it was beyond our scope to have got a map of any description and we had to rely on Stu's smashed up phone as mine wasn't picking up any signal.  We got lost.  No matter time was on our side and we dawdled, Stu calling the plants and insects we came across - a product of his younger years working for the RSPB.  Wild Thyme and Marjoram and many other plants I'd not noticed or seen before - an education.

A lot of plants often associated with heathy areas like this
Slender St-John's Wort (Hypericum pulchrum) grow
alongside chalk species due to a thin layer of sand over
the chalk at this location
We had lunch under a large oak on a scrubby bit of clearance land, which to my mind didn't look heathy very much, but the closest our witless rambling had brought us to. Life was good and London seemed a million miles away (but still well within the recording area).

Black Mullein (Verbascum nigrum)
Lunch done, we had to ask some passing dog walkers where the heather was.  The answer to the east and two ways to get there; a steep way and a not so so steep way.  The steeper way was via steps up a flower meadow, which is of course the way my companion wished to follow.  Every step we sweated more, I was beginning to think that the 3 litres of water I was carrying wasn't going to be enough, so we took it easy.

At the top of the steps no sign of heather clad heath, but rolling woodland and scrubby pasture. We were soon back to meandering, which finally brought us to a dirt track, habitation, the car park and finally "the heath". Harking back to last year's jaunt to the New Forest, Mr F suggested that we needed refreshment to help bide the time till darkness fell. I took this as him volunteering to go to the local offy and get some booze, while I did a bit of reconnoitring.

Common Rock-rose (Helianthemum nummularium)

Common Rock-rose (Helianthemum nummularium)

Hiding from the Sun
We arranged to meet up by the doggy waste bin in an hour, and when that time duly arrived I went and sat on the verge waiting for his return. While I waited another birder turned up.  I thought to tap him for some local gen. This was only his second visit to the site, and was sceptical that Woodlark, Nightjar or Dartford Warbler would be found as the signs that advertised their presence didn't specifically say they were here, more that the ground was prepared for them just in case they were. Not really the news I wanted to hear, though I had picked up the call of a Woodlark on my solo circling. Stu, turning up, had some more news I didn't want to hear: the shop was shut, but there was a pub. He pointed out that evening was yet young and that refreshments were probably in order.  I agreed.

We did add House Martin, House Sparrow, Collared Dove, Hobby, fish and chips and a couple of pints to the day list. It didn't make us any less sluggish, and certainly more windy!

Bell Heather (Erica cinerea)
Back at the heath the day was drowsily coming to an end, no sign of the singing Garden Warblers I had earlier, or the lark, but as we checked out our routes home, I picked up some shapes through the foliage. Oh yes, the target of my visit.  Galloways!

The fantastic beasts must have been sheltering from the heat of the day deep in the wood, and now as it got cooler for their Scottish temperament they could come out and feed on the grass along the rides, like big fat tapir.

While we watched the sun go down, a lone Swallow (the day's only one), a Starling and Kestrel, gave me hope that I might win the wager (no prizes), and with the birds we didn't see I might have pulled it off.  No Swift, Sprawk, gulls, Lesser Whitehroat, ducks - OK 65 was rash.

Time came for us to hoof it back to the station, a mere 5 miles away, I was confident I knew where I was going, but it was now dark and trees and paths we had noted just recently now unfamiliar.  This could be harder than I thought. Finally we found what we thought must be our route and off we yomped. An hot and sweaty hour later I had brought us back to the station, which impressed Mr Fisher (set against his previous experience of my navigational expertise).  Picked up a family of owls by the road on the way back too which  would have been a great end to the day if the FUCKING TRAIN HADN'T BEEN DELAYED!

Oh yeagh! We got Nightjar: a churring male and it's mate flying just feet away from our heads, fan-bloody-tastic, hence the mystery of the location!

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