Trip reports

Mid-week Walk art Knepp on 16th June 2021

Mid-week Walk art Knepp on 16th June 2021
The white storks on the nest by the farm buildings at Knepp. (Steve Williams)

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

Weather, hot and sunny.
Knepp is a 3,500 acre estate just south of Horsham, West Sussex. Since 2001, the land has been devoted to a pioneering rewilding project. Using grazing animals as the drivers of habitat creation, and with the restoration of dynamic, natural water courses, the project has seen extraordinary increases in wildlife. Rare species like turtle doves, nightingales, peregrine falcons and purple emperor butterflies are now breeding there; and populations of more common species are rocketing. The site is also well known as the first UK breeding site for white storks for around 600 years.

Fifteen of us met in the Walkers' car park before setting off clockwise round a combination of the yellow and white marked routes. The first section was through scrubland where we could hear lots of whitethroat and we saw some of them at the top of the vegetation. Our path then led through a wooded area where a vociferous wren, tits, blackbirds and a chiffchaff were seen. As we neared the end of an avenue of trees the unmistakeable purring of a turtle dove stopped us in our tracks. We edged forward the sound and the purring continued from high up on the other side of a hedge. Eventually Nigel spotted the dove high up in a large oak tree. Although our view was partially obscured by the hedge we all got a decent view of the bird, even when it moved deeper into the oak. We watched and listened for some time before deciding it was time to move on.

We then walked through a large field of scrub where there were many more whitethroat, some of which were displaying their song flight. Here also, were lots of goldfinches and several song thrushes, a great spotted woodpecker and a distant buzzard. A little later we heard another turtle dove calling from deep within the vegetation and we then entered the field with a stork's nest high up in a large oak tree. The nest contained three large chicks and there was an adult in close attendance. As we watched the second adult returned and both birds displayed, throwing their heads back and clacking their bills. The female is a bird that was released at Knepp and successfully raised chicks last year. The male is not a Knepp released bird, nor is it the female's mate of last year. It is not clear from the Knepp website where this bird originated. So engrossed were we by the storks that we almost missed spotting a mistle thrush lower down in the same tree.

As we made our way along the paths it was noticeable how much birdsong there was including a short burst from a nightingale. As we passed the tree platform someone noted that we had not heard any lesser whitethroat. A couple of minutes later we heard one from deep within the hedge and then spent several minutes not spotting it. A garden warbler called from nearby and most of us tried to spot that instead. Ron, who had stayed behind with the lesser whitethroat, was eventually successful and those that switched their allegiance to the garden warbler saw neither. Is there a morale there? During the last few walks someone saying that we had not heard a bird was the cue for that bird to announce its presence. Perhaps this should be a tactic for spotting birds on future walks.

Just next to the farm buildings was another stork's nest which is much closer to the path. This one had three chicks with an adult. The chicks were clearly feeling the heat as they had their beaks open, as can be seen in the photograph. From there we made our way back to the carpark. Simon recorded 36 species, some of which were only heard, e.g., the nightingale and garden warbler.

The highlight was certainly the turtle dove. It was my first sighting since seeing them in the field at the back of my grandmother's house when I was about ten years old. No wonder I was so excited.

Thanks to everyone for coming on the walk. We shall return next year.

Steve Williams