Trip reports

Mid-week Walk at Staines Moor

Mid-week Walk at Staines Moor
Peter Hambrook - a buzzard at Arundel

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Weather: Cool, clear and generally sunny but cloud building later. Wind light. 10C

This was our group's first visit to Staines Moor in many years and for many of the around a dozen of us attending it was also new ground.

Staines Moor is one of England's largest areas of unimproved neutral grassland and has never suffered from gravel extraction. It is crossed by the rivers Colne and Wraysbury, the former being the major feature of this site. The chalky soil brought down the Colne by flooding mixes with the underlying Thames Valley soil which is silty in nature and as a result the moor has a richer and more diverse flora than other areas of Surrey. The moor is bounded to the north by the village of Stanwell Moor and to the south by the outskirts of Staines, while to the west is the M25, with Wraysbury reservoir and flooded gravel workings beyond. To the east are King George VI and Staines reservoirs. As a result, a steady procession of aquatic birds can often be enjoyed overhead as they commute between sites. There is a large resident population of meadow pipits, reed buntings, linnets and skylarks and raptors such as buzzard, kestrel and red kite are often seen, while short-eared owls also frequent the area in winter and can be seen around dawn and dusk. A good selection of passage migrants pass through and can be found when weather conditions are favourable for migration. In winter there is a notable population of water pipits, which was the main reason for our visit, as in late March they are moulting into breeding plumage before departing to their breeding grounds early in April and are a bit easier to pick out amongst the meadow pipits.

While waiting for everyone to arrive we heard a great spotted woodpecker and saw a green woodpecker and as we approached the moor over the railway bridge a chiffchaff was heard faintly by some while Diane saw a fieldfare. Moving on to the moor itself, we were soon seeing the resident reed buntings and meadow pipits and hearing - and then seeing, the singing skylarks overhead. A buzzard was soon spotted as it rose from the trees bordering KGVI reservoir and a kestrel was busy hunting. After several false starts we eventually found our target bird, and it was unusually accommodating, giving all a decent view. Others seen were far less obliging but we probably saw three in all out of the six reported recently.

Moving on, we spotted a sizeable group of lapwings over a hill to the northwest which appeared to offer suitable breeding habitat. As we approached the Stanwell Moor area of the moor the habitat changed from open grassland with thickets of coarse grass to damp scrub and we were soon hearing and seeing numerous chiffchaffs. There were also various thrushes here including mistle and song thrush and the usual blackbirds. A sudden loud burst of song gave away the presence of a Cetti's warbler but, as usual with this species, we didn't manage to see it.

We didn't come across anything new as retraced our steps back to the cars but Diane pointed out a goldcrest as we crossed the railway and some of us saw a blackcap spotted by Martin.

Peter Hambrook