Debbie fed the tadpoles and I did my litter round and still got to the Village Hall Car Park before 7.30 to pick up John and Ian for the HBW trip to Iping Common. Wonders never cease. Debbie guided us marvelously round the back roads as Midhurst remains closed to traffic and it took a little over an hour to reach the Reserve.
The weather was supposed to be ok till about 1 o’clock although it was initially a bit fresh. Dressed accordingly we set off with the sound of Robin, Wren and Chiffchaff in our ears and a Buzzard passing overhead. We had done some revision in the car so felt confident of distinguishing Tree Pipit from Woodlark should we be lucky enough to hear them. We had also listed to recordings of Dartford Warbler so preparation had been undertaken.
It was fairly quiet to start with although we could hear a Blackbird and a Song Thrush and a couple of Stonechats sat up on the gorse as they like to do. After a short while the first “spinning plates” song of a Woodlark could be heard at some distance away. We eventually got a brief glimpse of the bird as it flew from cover in a tree. Not long after this we had the opportunity to compare it with the more intricate Tree Pipit song. We heard more of both birds during the morning and had one brilliant view of each species on the only occasion they sat out in full view for a considerable amount of time. We did one or two fly pasts and a couple of parachute displays from the Pipit; one being more sideways than downwards!
A local Great Spotted Woodpecker clearly got fed up with us getting excited by these more unusual birds and flew over our heads to plump down at the base of a birch tree looking colourful if seeming a bit nonplussed as to what it was doing there. Its Green relative yaffled away in the distance.
We climbed upwards from the lower regions of the reserve into more gorsy areas in the hope of finding a Dartford Warbler but had no luck. A lone Rook sailed over our head and a Jay sallied forth low over the ground, probably up to no good. We left the reserve for a short while before re-entering on a path which led to an ancient, bare tree where a couple of years ago we had found a Redstart nest. No Redstart this time but we noticed a small bird speed from a nearby bush onto the trunk. It was a Treecreeper who climbed upwards and disappeared behind a piece of loose bark. It came out again, flew off and returned with nesting material and disappeared again. We watched it building for some time with Ian desperately trying to get a picture with his magic camera which takes pictures even with the button being pressed. Whatever next?
We moved on and before long found another pair of birds who we are pretty sure were building a nest in a tree trunk as one certainly disappeared into a crack in the bark. A pair of Coal Tits were in courtship mode with a male apparently bringing food to an excited looking female who was all aquiver and wing flapping. However it seemed the thought of the lovely food in his beak was giving the male a dilemma as he kept clearing off and not giving it to her.
Anyway, by now food was beckoning to us and we decided to head back to the car for lunch. As we neared the car park I had a flash of memory as to where Val had once found us a Dartford Warbler so we made a slight detour. About 100 yards up a path the gorse became thicker and less leggy so we felt a little confident which was good as John was very keen to find a Dartford. At last we heard one singing loud and clear. But from where? It actually seemed to be coming from a tree. It probably was but it never did show itself. Another invisible one warned us off with its alarm call! We took notice and went back to the car for lunch.
Not feeling ready to go home we decided on a short visit to Burton Mill Pond Reserve hoping the looming clouds did not spell a downpour. We were lucky. On the pond were a couple of dozing Great Crested Grebes and a couple of chugging Coots otherwise it was quiet, if you don’t count the chacking Jackdaws flying in a large group above the trees. We took a stroll in the woods up to the amazing group of ancient chestnut trees and listened to a few woodland birds including a Goldcrest.
After marvelling at the trees we turned back and suddenly a grey shape came tumbling down through the branches of a pathside tree. I thought at first it was a tangled Grey Squirrel until it righted itself and stared at us in surprise with two big black eyes. It was a Tawny Owlet! We moved on quick in case mum was around but Ian did get this great shot of it.
Back at the pond we did a last reccy. A couple of Tufted Ducks had joined the grebes on the water and two Reed Warblers chased each other around with the male no doubt to engrossed with other thoughts to sing for us. Just before leaving we came across this lovely family of Mallards to make a lovely finish to our day.
Nigel, Debbie, John and Ian