Bird spotting walk - 29th October 2006
Event organised as part of the Sponsored Parish Birdwatch
Berrydown and Upper Ashe
October's outdoor meeting saw 12 following the paths and tracks and visiting the wood and farmlands about Berrydown and Upper Ashe, yet another part of the Parish perhaps not explored on a regular basis by many of those present.
The weather had improved noticeably for the walk, though the ground remained sodden underfoot, this particularly noticeable in the Berrydown Farm area, both the stock and farm machinery churning up the access to areas south of the farm buildings. The sky was generally blue with the almost non-existent breeze only gradually drifting high white clouding in overhead; a very pleasant mid-teens temperature contributing to a very mild, hardly late autumn feel.
We moved off south after watching the many Water Buffalo in the fields adjacent to Berry Down Lane, a couple of very young calves, umbilical cords still present, adding to the aaah factor! Just as interesting, but a lot smaller, was a Harlequin Ladybird that arrived on one of the group — a first for a group outing and only about the fifth site at which these had been noted in the Parish.
Right: Harlequin Ladybird, Harmonia axyridis. "An unusual scientific name, considering the controversy this species is currently causing"
The stock attracted many Rooks and Jackdaws in to feed on the disturbed fields whilst a flock of 94 Lesser Black-backed Gulls just seemed to be loafing before off towards the London reservoirs where they would spend the night. Another field to the south held a further 320+, the largest flock noted within the Parish this year and one of the largest locally; the lack of immature birds was very obvious with just a handful noted during the afternoon. These birds all move off whilst we nearby, others joining them from the south, and further Woodpigeon, and a Stock Dove, joined in the increased aerial activity.
The pond at the back of the cottages off the lane held at least ten Mallard, these appearing far more worthy of this name than the birds regularly seen about The Test in the village!
The farm attracted three Pied Wagtails and a very confident looking Robin to the roof tops, the stock providing a never-ending supply of food, whether directly from themselves, or disturbed from underfoot.
Skirting the southern side of Berrydown Copse brought us into contact with mixed feeding parties of insectivorous birds — time spent sifting through the almost continuously moving birds added Blue, Great, Coal, Marsh and Long-tailed Tits, Goldcrest, two Nuthatches and two calling Treecreepers, the latter never giving up their whereabouts unlike the Nuthatches which showed, and called, well in overhead oaks; the sun highlighting the peachy-coloured breast and belly areas of one bird as it sat out in the open high above us. A cock Pheasant on the track moved off well in advance of the group and two further birds were then seen heading quietly into the copse, again at distance.
Entering the fields south-east of the copse gave us a much larger vista to look out across, the incline of the hill however keeping many looking at the plants rather than that passing overhead, though there were other things that a watchful eye downwards was needed to ensure footing was maintained! Chicory was prominent and both White and Red Clovers, a Speedwell sp. and dandelions were still flowering. A Marsh Tit showed well as it fed out on Greater Burdock heads, allowing viewing of the glossy cap, soft brown upper and creamier lower parts.
Listening to birds in Burley Wood had Jays and Great Spotted Woodpecker added, both then seen moving west across the valley where the remnants of a football pitch still stood.
Left: Great spotted Woodpecker, Dendrocopus major. "Though not seen like this today, be prepared for them in your garden over the winter"
A Carrion Crow moved east, allowing comparison of its 'chin' with that of the Rooks in an adjacent field, their sagginess contrasting with the 'chiselled' looks of the less common local bird. Three Roe Deer cantering westwards across the valley floor were good, two even closer that little bit better and then a very close Muntjac better still. A Rabbit at the top of the field, though another addition, just could not compete with the latter, though not a great deal smaller. Several Meadow Pipits were seen to move low across the field, as was a Buzzard that disappeared off towards Bramdown Copse. The increased Chicory higher up the field attracted a charm of perhaps 70 Goldfinches to feed on the flowers that had already gone over, the swirling mass of birds, with the sun behind them, looking as if their wings were being lit from inside. Several Greenfinches were in the hedgerows here and just a few Chaffinches moved over on reaching Burley Lane. The mass of berries, haws and other fruiting bodies was again evident here, Sloe, bramble, Hawthorn, Ash, Wild Clematis and dandelions all being overloaded by their 'offspring'
Heading back down the Waltham Road, with several hot-air balloons off in the distance, Robins and Dunnocks were to be found in the road-side hedgerows whereas Woodpigeons, and a flock of four Stock Doves, were only seen on the move overhead. A Great Spotted Woodpecker also was in flight, again being vocal as it moved from one site to the next. Dropping lower into the valley saw the temperature also dipping; the first sign of a coolness hitting us as we moved out of the sun, and into the shadows.
Bramdown Copse, though quiet for birds, produced many more fungi than had been previously seen. All but a few unfortunately went unidentified, albeit many being striking in their autumnal wear of oranges, red, cream, greys, browns and even pale green! A rattling Mistle Thrush did however move out of the tree tops as we headed back towards Berrydown Copse.
The track back to the original path south of the copse added further very vocal Marsh Tits, a Carrion Crow calling in the distance and more fungi, many of which had already suffered at the hands, should that be teeth, of the myriad mini-beasts to be found on the woodland floor.
The track back towards the southern end of the farm saw further tits foraging and watching a Mistle Thrush silhouetted against the clouding, and dulling, sky a soft call was heard in the adjacent hedgerow. A Chiffchaff had briefly announced its presence, all too soon moving off towards the more mature trees and, presumably, to roost; this warbler perhaps making the most of the milder weather, and possibly even readying itself for a winter stay. The, possibly, third Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen to fly close to hand, the 'bouncing' flight opening up another conversation.
Many Jackdaws and, particularly, Rooks were still grubbing about in the fields close to the farm buildings and Water Buffalo and stopping here to view these provided yet another moment of excitement. A healthy-looking Fox sprinting across the track attracted the attention of one walker, and then allowed everybody views as it continued towards the copse, disturbing all of the corvids as it did so; a goodly number of these soon lazily pursuing the Fox as it moved off out of sight.
Watching over the Water Buffalo as we neared the cars saw a group of Starling joining the crows on the telegraph wires, the local recent lack of these being noted by several of the walkers. Flapjacks were soon out, and consumed!
Water Buffalo, Bubalus bubalis. "Without flapjack — with flapjack!"
The walk lasting, surprisingly, about 2½ hours took us through to a dusking sky, there still being no obvious wind and temperature remaining pleasant without a hint of any winter malice about it.
A total of 33 bird species were seen along with four animal species and a good range of both plants and fungi.Return to the list of reports
Peter E. Hutchins