Saturday, 25 May 2019

Mole Valley Bird Race

I met Ian Jones at a suitably ridiculous hour for the sixth annual Mole Valley Bird Race. As always, pre-dawn on Leith Hill was the plan but a stupid navigational error knocked us back up to 20 minutes and to our horror it was fairly light as we arrived on Duke's Warren to a chorus of at least three Cuckoos, including a female. After an anxious few minutes, a Nightjar churred but we were too late for Woodcock and had missed Woodlark too. A circuit of the heath and the wooded valley to the west added singing Redstart, Willow Warbler and Whitethroat, as well as Stonechat and Siskin. At least three Garden Warblers were in song and we heard a small number of Treecreepers in the woods, as well as a Nuthatch, which can be tricky to locate at this time of year. Juvenile Long-tailed Tits and Robin were my first of the year.

Buckland Sand Pits provided three drake Mandarins, a Sparrowhawk mobbed by a Mistle Thrush, three Egyptian Geese, a Reed Warbler, two Lapwings, a Red Kite, a few Buzzards, a Kestrel, a Pied Wagtail, six Tufted Ducks, Grey Heron, Garden Warbler, two Little Grebes and three Great Crested Grebes, a few Swifts, a Lesser Black-backed Gull, and best of all perhaps 60 Sand Martins which had suddenly taken a liking to one of the cliff faces and were busying around their nest holes. Much smaller numbers of House Martins and Swallows were also around.  At this point we were joined by Darragh Culley for a few hours.

Sand Martin at Buckland Park Pit

drake Mandarins at Buckland Sand Pits

At Betchworth Quarry Ian spotted the old female Peregrine loafing on the grass.

Along the River Mole behind the Dorking Wyevale garden centre, we found a Grey Wagtail with food, plus a Kestrel and two Buzzards.

Leatherhead offered a Black-headed Gull - always a valuable species for this race. Also a brood of five Mute Swans, Grey and Pied Wagtails and a Grey Heron.

Mickleham produced Kingfisher and Little Egret (three) for our day's total, as well as Red Kite, two Buzzards and Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers.

Juniper Bottom was extremely quiet, with Sparrowhawk, two Buzzards, a Kestrel and a Green Woodpecker noted.

Denbies Wine Estate was twitched, yes twitched, for Starling! Far more interesting was the apparent House Martin colony.

Darragh left us and Ian and I headed towards Leith Hill again. We stopped at Chadhurst Farm, adding Red-legged Partridge and noting few birds of any note at all beyond Pied Wagtail, Swallow, Canada Goose, Greylag and Buzzard.

At Leith Hill again, this time we tracked down a pair of Dartford Warblers and heard/saw a Woodlark in spectacular song flight. Sadly, Tree Pipits are not present on the hill this year but it is great to see Dartfords and Stonechats breeding on site again.

At Newdigate Lakes early evening, we had a pair of Mute Swans with seven young, 10 Tufted Ducks, Little Grebe, Kestrel, Reed Warbler, Pied Wagtail, Red Kite, Grey Heron, Red-legged Partridge, a few Swifts, Greylags etc, while Reed Bunting was added to the day list.

Mute Swans at Newdigate Lakes

Our failure was protracted last thing at Capel where we didn't hear Nightingale, but did hear a Reed Bunting and young Great Spotted Woodpeckers.

My worst-ever Mole Valley Bird Race, my team finishing last on 76 species.