Saturday, 23 May 2020

Goring Gap, Ferring Rife, Highdown and Brooklands Park

The Mole Valley Bird Race has been a tradition for me over the last few years. It is organised each year by David Stubbs but this year was always bound to be different, as since the last race David has moved to the Norfolk coast. What with Sam Bayley, Matt Phelps and myself among the others to have dispersed from the area in recent times, it almost seemed a redesign of the competition was a natural move, regardless of the social distancing measures.

So, with the travel difficulties and so many of us away from the Mole Valley (not that I ever lived there, but when I was in Surrey, the borough was a hop away and I did most of my ringing at Leith Hill, the area's flagship site), this year was, for the first time, a remote event taking place among birders with a connection to the Mole Valley, across Britain and Ireland.

I formed a virtual team with Ian Jones and Phil Wallace and we initially felt optimistic. I had a decent bit of the Sussex coast in my 5km area limit (a key rule of this year's race) and both Ian and Phil had Beddington, as well as some interesting habitat on the edge of the Surrey countryside. However,  it soon became clear that howling WSW wind was going to scupper the chances of an epic score. I shan't relate what Phil and Ian had but between them they added 20 additional species to my 60 (and Ian scored 60 himself).

Goring Gap was quiet at first, with two Pheasants - a scarce site bird - a Skylark, two Blackcaps and a Whitethroat among the first additions to the list. Evidently this was going to be hard work, so I walked up Ferring Rife with my bike - logging a Lesser Whitethroat, a Reed Bunting, five Reed Warblers, two Little Egrets, two Swallows and a Swift - before cycling on to Highdown. At Highdown I mainly concentrated on woodland species, managing two Marsh Tits, a Treecreeper, Nuthatch and Coal Tit, while a Yellowhammer appeared in the open area. A Lesser Whitethroat, seven Skylarks and a flock of 280 mainly juvenile Starlings were also noted, plus a pair of Canada Geese with six young.

Back at Goring Gap, now the tide had risen, delivered eight Oystercatchers, 12 Sanderlings, a Fulmar, six Gannets, 30 Turnstones and a Great Crested Grebe. Moving on to Brooklands Park, I added a 3cy Yellow-legged Gull (a local yeartick no less), the family of Mute Swans, a Cetti's Warbler and two Lesser Black-backed Gulls. The family of five Coot young was still complete and two Reed Warblers were singing. A Black-headed Gull snuck onto the race list.

3cy Yellow-legged Gull at Brooklands Park

3cy Yellow-legged Gull at Brooklands Park

Mute Swans at Brooklands Park