Some call it Surrey....but others, geographically challenged, call it North-West Kent....okay, I went over the border heading West.....not my usual rout for birding but....with over 400 Hawfinches reported regularly leaving the roost area it had to be done....when will we ever see this many again....
I managed to gain some valuable information on how to get to site and found it first time, which was just as well....there were already birds out on the trees on the North side of the valley.
I eventually managed to get down to the edge of the wood for a better view.
But it certainly was a cold and frosty start. A few sheep further up the valley looked glad of their woollen coat!
The views were, for the most part, distant, it has to be said. However, the numbers did make up for this. A total of between 100 and 150 birds seen. Most of them came to settle on the tops of the trees on the north side of the valley.
Eventually the sun decided to play a bigger part in the day, the light improved a little and some birds were sitting slightly more West up the valley and in the sunshine. Though still distant.
On the return to the car I was face with this view, by this time the sun was much more up for it....the Surrey...er...far NW Kent....hills.....are a beautiful place.....
The other bird noteworthy here was Nuthatch. Lots of calling.
And so. To my...almost...twitch. Not being 'twitcher' this is the nearest I have been.
So....to Leatherhead......with directions supplied....drive to Leatherhead Leisure Centre..? Hmmm. Okay.....walk away from the Leisure Centre....getting better....and eventually you will find yourself by the River Mole....and its small but fabulous Country Park. A narrow park on the southern side of the town with a couple of islands in the river, overgrown and ideal for nature. I found it to be another one of those unexpected almost middle of town 'oasis' similar to Sevenoaks Reserve. Lots going on and so convenient for the people of the town.
I was directed to 'the wooden bench' where it was last seen by two birders just leaving site but both of whom had been on Hawfinch watch at the same place as me. Great minds....perhaps!
This is one of two feudal manor houses in the town from the Norman times. Thorncroft was rebuilt during the 1770's in, apparently, the Adamesque style and set in 15 acres and is Grade II listed....today it houses 24 offices. It reminded me immediately of a smaller version of Holkham Hall in Norfolk, the last place I saw this 'twitching' bird.
Redwings on the lawn of Thorncroft Manor
The River Mole Country Park. Heres the view from Thorncraft Drive end. It was in this location, in front of the camera, that 'the bird' was supposedly located.
So I approached the 'sacred' spot (clue) where the bird had been reported ad photographed numerous times of late. And so it came to pass, ye, verily, I was approached by two birders who said in to me...'You shoulda bin ere five minutes ago'...as is the way of the bird.
Okay, enough....they had seen it five minutes previous to my arrival before flying away with its bigger cousin. Local birders. Having been to the Hawfinch watch at the same place this morning. Again I was instructed to go forth and find the wooden bench.
So I spent the next 45 minutes parading this spot, or standing in the sunshine on the bridge. Though it was 45 minutes well spent I have to say.
First up was a peep-peep along the river as a Kingfisher went racing past. This was looking like a good spot to stand for a while. I passed on the 'you should have been here five minutes ago' curse to a lady who told me she hadn't seen a Kingfisher yet along the river.
No sooner was this excitement over than the screech of a Ring-necked Parakeet was heard and one flew across in front of the house. I managed to find three sitting in a tree along Thorncroft Drive.
Alll this time I could hear a Sparrowhawk calling slightly further east but couldn't find it scanning the area. As I waited for the bird it flew across in front of me chasing hard a small bird but I couldn't identify it. The Sparrowhawk, on the other hand, had identified it. Lunch! It sat in a tree in the parkland for a while hunched over and keeping a wary eye out at the same time.
So...time has passed. A scan across the park with its open trees. And there, the first inkling, chip-chip....chip...the clue...its bigger cousin had appeared and it was bound to follow...
Great Spotted Woodpecker
More...Great Spotted Woodpecker
Where the Great went...the Lesser was bound to follow. Well, in this case anyway. It seems to be associating a lot with this Great Spot. And.....there it was....chasing it....or was it keeping it company. Hard to tell....
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
It was pretty fidgety most of the time. It took a few minutes to re-find it after it left the trees in the park and came over to the riverside. But found it was....and well worth the wait.
A lady appeared with binoculars at this stage....Charlotte (Surrey FB page)...I happily put her on to the bird as it gave some pretty good views and flew close enough for even my dodgy camera to get half decent pictures.....decent enough that you can actually tell what it is...
Better view....Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
Whilst wandering this area I had noticed this bridge...
Though it was Charlotte that pointed out the large clam on the side.
An interesting bit of local history. Its an ornamental bridge and other than this serves no real purpose, sometimes referred to as the Shell Bridge. Whence it was part of the estate the then owner, Henry Crabb Boulton (a Director of the East India Company and an MP), had a chap in to do some landscaping and canalising....turned out to be Lancelot 'Capability' Brown and it is possible he designed the bridge as well. The bridge is mentioned in Gilts Leatherhead Survey of 1782-83. Though I cant find out why the clam is on the bridge. Perhaps just decoration.