Trip reports

Mid-week walk at Thursley Common on 19th May 2021

Mid-week walk at Thursley Common on 19th May 2021
Male redstart photographed on Thursley common a few years ago. (Peter Hambrook)

Monday, 7 June 2021

Weather, warm and overcast, sunny later.

Thursley Common is a 350 hectare Site of Special Scientific Interest and a National Nature Reserve between Thursley and Elstead. It is largely heathland with some shallow pools and has a good range of wildlife. My target birds for the walk were redstart, cuckoo, hobby, Dartford warbler, woodlark and tree pipit.

Last May there was a major fire which burned much of the heathland close to the car park and destroyed the boardwalks which provided easy access to some of the more interesting parts of the reserve. As last spring was much warmer than this the young of many species had fledged before the fire and so the damage was mainly to habitat and not the loss of a generation of birds. Reptiles and amphibians will not have been so fortunate.

14 of us, including three new members, set off south from the car park alongside the fire damaged heath which is starting to recover. Not surprisingly we did not see or hear many birds in that part of the walk. Things began to improve when we reached the first junction. Here we saw our first Dartford and a woodlark was spotted by some of the party. A pair of stonechats flew between the tops of the scrub and more Dartfords made an appearance.

As we walked towards Parish Field we heard redstarts. Ron eventually spotted a male at the top of a dead tree and then another was seen closer to us which we all managed to see. From the scrub nearby we heard several common whitethroat and then Sue pointed one out to us. A little further on we heard a willow warbler. At this point someone shouted "cuckoo", a cuckoo called "cuckoo" to make sure we all spotted it before landing in the back of a large pine tree quite close to us and we all got good views of it. The willow warbler was still calling and we eventually located it.

We then walked to Parish Field in the hope of spotting woodlark. All I saw there was a group of men with large cameras and a bag of mealworms waiting for the cuckoo. We walked up the bridleway with heather and gorse on both sides to the group of pines at the top of the hill. This is usually a goof area for Dartfords and stonechats but not on this occasion. As we left the pines we did spot a Dartford warbler showing clearly near the top of a bush. As we made our way towards Shrike Hill we saw two hobbies and several swifts in the distance.

We decided to go over Shrike Hill on our way back to the car park instead of going round it. Almost immediately our decision paid off as Alan spotted a pair of woodlark in the bare ground close to the path. We were able to watch them for several minutes as they seemed completely unconcerned by our presence. As we started down the other side of the hill a hobby appeared, much closer to us then the previous two, and we were able to follow it as it chased insects. We saw it catch something quite large in its talons before transferring the catch to its beak. The cold spring has meant that the number of dragonflies and damselflies is much lower than usual, depriving the hobbies of their usual food source. As we reached the path that goes round the bottom of Shrike Hill we heard and then located a garden warbler.

As we returned to the car park we saw several more stonechats and linnets and wondered why there were so few birds on and around Moat Pond. Of the six target birds we saw five. Tree pipit evaded us, but the garden warbler was a bonus.

Thank you to all who came on the walk. It is certainly nice to get out again as a group, and the better weather helps. The next midweek walk is to Knepp on the 16th June.

Steve Williams