Trip reports

WITLEY COMMON, DAWN CHORUS WALK - Sunday 9th May 2021, 4 to 8 am

WITLEY COMMON, DAWN CHORUS WALK - Sunday 9th May 2021, 4 to 8 am
Nightingale photographed at RSPB Pulborough Brooks some years ago. (Peter Hambrook)

Friday, 28 May 2021

The weather, not cold, I didn't need a coat, just a good fleece. Although there was light rain for a short while near the end of the walk, which soon stopped.

This was something I've always wanted to do, so when the opportunity came along, it was with an air of excitement as I got things ready the day before, my only worry was would I get up in time. I didn't need to worry, I got up, packed the car and was on my way. All in good time I thought. I didn't use my sat-nav as I knew where to go. The only thing was I didn't anticipate road works at 3.40 in the morning, just past Guildford, resulting in being diverted along the A31. I saw no diversion signs, so when I saw the A3 signposted I went that way hoping to see Milford signposted. After going wrong a few times down dark country lanes, I finally got back on the A3 going south. Luckily it was before Milford, so I was back on track now and with relief got to the meeting point on time. Our party of eight all had the same problem, but all got there on time. Because I am a new member Alan introduced me to everyone, then we were [applying covid rules] on our way. It was still very dark as we set off from the car park. At first, there wasn't too much bird song, until we got deeper into the common. The birds singing was getting louder and louder until you could now hear the unmistaken song of the Nightingale. They seemed really close now, which they were. We seemed to have reached a part of the common that was a hot spot for them. In fact, Alan and Simon pointed out that 3 birds were singing their hearts out around us. Here I must admit that birds songs/ noises are not my strong point, but when you hear a Nightingale you know it's a Nightingale. In a layman sort of way, I will try to describe its song and appearance. The song is very loud most of the time but softer other times, its a potpourri of bird song, different chords changing from some notes to others in mid tune Its a mixture, if you can imagine of all different bird songs, plus some only the Nightingale knows rolled into one, coming from one bird, resulting in a melodious sound. As we listened in the still dark morning and as a person who likes to know why they do it, I appreciated the other members telling me the facts The main reason they sing all night in the dark, and in the day time is to attract a female. The females may be on migration or passing over, and as most of this is done at night [it's safer for them] they sing all night to attract them down. I don't know how high they are as they fly past., but in the quiet of the night and morning, I would imagine they would hear the song a good way up. Also maybe they [not us] can determine that if one bird has a more powerful song, indicating a stronger fitter more experienced bird to mate with. The singing birds seemed to like perching in thick dense matted hawthorn type shrubbery, which was all around us here, which makes it almost impossible to see them, night or day. Occasionally they would fly up to a taller shrub or tree, which is when you have more chance to see them. And as it started to get lighter one bird did just that, giving us good views and photo opportunities. I would describe it as having dark brown wings, with lighter pale brown underparts.You could see its throat puffed out and its beak quickly opening and shutting as it pushed out its song.

After a good while here we moved on, and as we did we heard other birds more clearly. I heard a chiffchaff and other birds were pointed out to me as being a, thrush, robin, whitethroat, blackcap and goldfinch.Its always a great help to you when the experts point out what birds are making what sounds, it benefits you when your alone trying to id sounds. It was light now as we crossed the road that divides the common, hoping to see the fairly rare woodlark over this side. Sadly we didn't see it, but I did see a nice nuthatch as we returned to the car park.

All in all it was a very enjoyable walk, with pleasant people who were only too willing to impart their knowledge to you.

Michael Gent