Field Meeting Reports

Papercourt Meadows -Saturday 23rd November 2019

Despite an unfavourable weather forecast fifteen of us met at the Tannery Lane car park. Eleven were members of SBC and we also welcomed four guests who hope to join. The main focus of the walk was to view some of the owls that reside on the patch. It is sometimes possible to see or hear four species of owl here in a visit with Tawny, Barn and Little Owls being resident and Short-eared a welcomed winter visitor. One has already been recorded several timed this autumn.

Our walk started by heading around the maize-stubble field towards Surrey Wildlife Trust’s (SWT) Papercourt Marshes reserve and a light rain began almost immediately. The intention was to locate one of the Chaffinch flocks feeding on the fields here and find the Brambling that are accompanying them. Pied Wagtails, corvids and Egyptian Geese were amongst the first birds seen.

Approaching the reserve, a flock of small passerines were seen on the edge of the field opposite, with birds dropping down to feed then going back up into the hedge. After getting a bit closer several ‘scopes were set up allowing a closer view of the flock containing mostly Chaffinch with Goldfinch. Two Bramblings were quickly spotted and everyone had a chance to get a view of them through the ‘scopes. Fieldfares and Redwing were in trees on the reserve and around the field. We continued on our walk along the lane with finches being pushed ahead of us. A Lesser Redpoll was briefly seen here before the flock moved onto the reserve.

We followed Tannery Lane down to Papercourt Farm. Although no Little Owl could be seen in the willows there was a small flock of Greylag Geese and singles of Green Woodpecker, Buzzard and Little Egret. We continued across the bridge and onto the meadows. Due to the very wet and muddy conditions here a few people decided to head back to their cars by the drier canal path. The rest of us took up station at the fence-line that borders the SWT Papercourt Meadows reserve to await the owls and as we did so the rain became heavier. Kestrel and Great spotted Woodpecker were observed here. Gulls were flying across the meadows on their way to roost, mostly Black-headed with a couple of Herring Gulls amongst them.

With the chance of seeing any owls fading fast more of our group decided to call it a day. The last hardy four were finally rewarded by a Tawny Owl calling by the canal behind us. The visibility was getting dark and murky by this point and so we retreated back to our cars.

Despite the rather poor conditions thirty-nine species were seen, Brambling being the most notable. My thanks to everyone who attended.

Carey Lodge

Chobham Common – Saturday 13th April 2019

12 people turned up to join me on this morning trip to Chobham common. Four were not members but they will hopefully now decide to join the club.

The forecast was for it to be cloudy and chilly but in fact the morning dawned with some lovely sunshine. Unfortunately that sunshine did disappear pretty quickly and it did turn quite chilly. However it remained dry and some of the spring migrants had arrived.

We parked in Staple Hill car park (unfortunately there are parking charges to pay now but that is due to the decision of Surrey County Council on funding) and started off by walking along parallel to the M3. The M3 (despite the promise of quiet tarmac) is very noisy these days but I had hoped we might see either Skylark (there the previous year) or Lapwings (there two days earlier) but neither showed themselves. After only a couple of hundred metres we then turned left up a short slope and, by the time we dropped down the other side, the noise of the motorway had quietened quite substantially and we were able to hear and see Chiffchaff and Great Tit. Both Buzzard and Red Kite were seen at this point too. I missed the Kestrel which some of the party saw being chased by a Carrion Crow. A short distance further on we heard Dartford Warbler and one appeared in some gorse bushes not too far off. Most of the party at that point managed to see it.

We then crossed Staple Hill Road in order to walk over the main part of the common and, in the car park there, was a male Blackcap singing beautifully and, eventually, giving lovely views. As we walked down the hill we heard Robin, Wren and Longtailed Tit and it was clear a Roe Deer had been walking on the path before us earlier in the day from the tracks that we saw. At this point, in the far distance, a Woodlark could be heard. The song was difficult to pick up as it was so far away and, unfortunately, we never managed to get views of it despite, later on, walking close to where we thought it had been singing.

We then joined a main track and walked down through some woodland but, possibly due to the chill of the morning, there was not a lot of singing nor activity. Robins, Wrens and Tits were present. We then went through an open area where Dartford Warblers and Stonechats are normally seen. A couple of Linnets appeared and gave great views and those at the back did apparently see a Dartford Warbler as we were walking on. After that, there is then a short stretch of woodland with fields either side of it (usually occupied by lots of Jackdaws and occasionally a Green Woodpecker) and, very conveniently, in one of those fields a Mistle Thrush and Song Thrush were standing almost next to each other which gave a really good opportunity for everyone to compare both size and colour. You do not realise, until you actually see them together, how much of a grey brown Mistle Thrushes are and also how much bigger.

Back then into the heather and gorse and, fortunately, both the Dartford Warbler and Stonechat I had spotted a couple of days earlier (when checking out the site) showed themselves. In the distance we also heard a Willow Warbler singing. I had heard a Willow Warbler singing a couple of days earlier but, nearly everyone in the group, that was the first Willow Warbler of the year. By this stage we were starting the walk back to the car park and, after the boardwalks, another Dartford Warbler started sitting on top of a gorse bush and singing. It was not that close but gave good views and then flew across the path so people were able to see just how long a tail a Dartford Warbler has.

By this time some people had to make their way back more quickly to the car park (as their parking tickets were running out) but the rest of us branched off to the right and walked through some woodland where we had Great Spotted Woodpecker but, unfortunately, no Treecreeper nor Nuthatch which I had been hoping for.  At the end of the woodland was another male Blackcap singing and a female Blackcap showed herself too which was good. A gentle walk up the hill towards the ponds led to us hearing Redpoll singing and a few people managed to get a brief view of one in the top of the conifer tree. Most of us walked on after that but the two who stayed back then managed to see a Lesser Whitethroat (first of the season).

The rest of the walk was easy walking on wide, sandy tracks and another Stonechat appeared plus a model aircraft (I had warned the participants that this might appear because, at first sight you think there is an exciting raptor in the sky, and then you realise what it is and are disappointed!).

Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and, even if some of the species did not show themselves, it was an opportunity to hear their song (especially Chiffchaffs which seemed to accompany us throughout the whole walk – Chiffchaff had certainly arrived).

Some feedback was that the walk was a bit too long but the disadvantage to heathland is that you do not have very many bird species living on it but what you do have is very special.  Also you sometimes need to walk a bit in order to find it.

36 species seen in all and here is a list of them.

Blackbird (Turdus merula) Great Tit (Parus major) Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)
Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)
Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) Jackdaw (Coloeus monedula) Pied/White Wagtail (Motacilla alba)
Buzzard (Buteo buteo) Jay (Garrulus glandarius) Red Kite (Milvus milvus)
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) Robin (Erithacus rubecula)
Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) Lesser Redpoll (Acanthis cabaret) Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos)
Coal Tit (Periparus ater) Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca) Stock Dove (Columba oenas)
Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata) Linnet (Linaria cannabina) Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola)
Dunnock (Prunella modularis) Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)
Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) Magpie (Pica pica) Woodlark (Lullula arborea)
Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus)
Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)

Penny Williams

Staines Reservoir Sunday 13th January 2019

Six hardy souls had gathered at the bottom of the west ramp to the causeway shortly before being joined by a party of seven enthusiastic post-graduate students from the Silwood (Ascot) campus of Imperial College.  Their arrival significantly reduced the average age of our group, by more than a few degrees!  

Talking of degrees, we were in some doubt about the weather forecast, the exposed nature of the top of the reservoir and the lack of any shelter in the event of precipitation. The temperature itself was a very reasonable 10deg C but the 19 mph NW’ly wind could well make a difference over the next couple of hours.  The light was good, so armed with ‘scopes’, binoculars and a selection of telephoto lenses we set off, but not before logging a flock of 200 Starling, four Fieldfare and a couple of Redwing feeding on the grassy slopes of the adjacent KGVI Reservoir.

Thankfully the west bank of Staines Reservoir itself provided a good wind-break and most of the waterfowl were sheltering here in calm water and good light.  We had excellent close-up views of a group of 50 Wigeon grazing on the causeway bank near the south tower.  A raft of c.300 Pochard was loafing alongside a group of 30 Tufted Duck, and in both cases the birds were predominantly males.  Other duck species included small numbers of Mallard, Shoveler, Gadwall, Goldeneye and Teal, but given the relatively mild weather so far this winter it is perhaps not surprising that numbers were low.

Gull species and totals were also very low with only a handful of Black-headed, Herring and Common present. A huddle of Cormorants occupied one of the tern rafts and a Grey Heron was hunched up below the bank.  A lone Moorhen decided to swim out into the middle of the south basin, a brave but out-of-character decision for this normally edge-hugging species.

A Red Kite flew the full length of the causeway directly towards our party at about head height and a few million pixels were fired in its direction.  Other raptors included a distant Peregrine and a Sparrowhawk.  We were unable to locate any Black-necked Grebe although we ‘identified’ a distant Small Grebe (new species?) and were pretty confident it was not a Little Grebe, but by this time the increasing wind was having an impact on us and small ‘white horses’ were beginning to appear.  A parcel of eight Linnet rounded off the visit by bringing the total to 28 species.

It was good to see new faces, and to exchange stories, experiences and ID skills amongst the group.  Hopefully the Silwood students will accept our invitation to join the Club on future field trips. Needless to say Penny ensured that they departed with the latest issue of Birding Surrey and a list of forthcoming outings. (I bet there was a membership form tucked in there somewhere!).

 Hugh Evans

The London Wetland Centre Barnes – Saturday, 15 December 2018

I led the field trip here last year (2017) and in 2017 we started off with one of the highlights namely a Sparrowhawk sitting on the fence by the car park. This time (2018) not a bird highlight (and quite a few people would probably not think of it as a mammal highlight either) but a very smart looking Fox trotted past us next to the fence as we were waiting in the car park before entering the Wetland Centre.

At the start of the day it was dry with good visibility but it was pretty chilly. Five hardy souls turned up, which was great, with the forecast being that it would rain later that morning.

After entering the Centre we were told that the Bittern had been seen from the Headley hide so we went off there soon after we had gone into the Observatory, by the entrance, in order to check out what we could see (and warm up!). From this Observatory we had nice views of Lapwing sitting on the island plus Tufted Ducks, Mallard, Cormorants and Grey Heron

Then off to the Headley hide where the usual Saturday morning volunteer was present with a telescope plus views of the Bittern. This was my second-best view ever of Bittern. The Bittern was not in the open but only about a foot back into the reeds so was visible and everyone was extremely pleased with the good views. For one of the participants it was a lifer so that made it even better!

We were also able to see Pochard from that hide and a bird feeder is also just outside the hide where Dunnock and Greenfinch gave us good views.

We then went off to the Wildside hide where we had been told that Goldeneye had been seen in the last couple of days. Despite searching very carefully we could not find it nor could we see any Snipe (on the last field trip we had had good views of Snipe from this hide). However on the way to the hide I got a very brief view of Reed bunting (although not everyone else did so)

We then made our way over to the Peacock Tower. On the way I heard a Green Woodpecker but we did not see it and, surprisingly, there were no views of Grebes on the lakes that you pass where there are normally good views of both common Grebe species. When we got to the Peacock Tower there were some distant views of a Bittern but the highlight, although not everyone saw it, was seeing a Water Pipit which was very mobile on the scrape. Despite searching hard we failed to find either Snipe nor Jack Snipe but we did manage to find the Pintail, a pair of Shelduck plus Great Crested Grebe.

By this stage there was some light rain falling and we agreed we had found everything that was visible and it was time to call it a day. By the time I got back to my car the heavy rain had started so we had timed it well.

In all some 42 species were seen and, in my opinion, it was a very successful field trip especially with the great views of the Bittern from the Headley hide.

Penny Williams