Great Crested Grebe
 
 

These articles are written for the Godstone Parish magazine and reproduced here with the permission of the author, Keith Brandwood (01883 742740). If you would like to reproduce them in your magazine, it would be courteous to ask him - he would be very happy to give permission if he gets a credit. He would also probably be able to adjust the article to suit your own area as these are generally aimed for the Godstone and Bletchingley areas. 


October
October sees most of our summer birds finally departing for warmer climes to spend the winter. The swallows and house martins may still be seen in the early part of the month, and sometimes these birds have been recorded as late as November in Surrey before finally departing. Most of the warblers will have gone by the start of the month, but there are always stragglers that are recorded throughout October.

It is always worth checking the garden after night time, rain or early morning drizzle and mist, as migrating birds get forced down before moving on. If one is really lucky you may pick up a real rarity for our area such as a pied flycatcher, or even a wryneck.  If the weather is clear the birds move through our area before stopping further south on the coast. Numbers of blue and great tits will have increased in the gardens since mid-summer and indications show that both species had a good breeding season this year after two rather poor years. A number of other birds will start to return to the garden, after an absence of a few weeks. The reason for this is that after the breeding season many species moult their feathers, making them more vulnerable to predators and therefore they become more sulking in their nature.

Throughout October the first of the winter thrushes such as fieldfare and redwing start arriving in the country and often these birds turn up in small numbers in our area by the end of the month. Along with these birds, blackbirds, song thrushes and chaffinches will arrive from further east in Europe, swelling the numbers of these birds in our gardens. Some of our common resident birds such as goldfinch, coal tits and long-tailed tits will start to visit the gardens on a more regular basis.

 


August
In June we spent a week in the Yorkshire Dales and it was immediately apparent that there were many more swifts, swallows and house martins over the local villages than we get  here in our local area. We spent two days on Arkengarthdale, a moorland area, where we found good numbers of red grouse, many with young chicks. One afternoon we watched a short-eared owl as it quartered a shallow grass valley below us. Other birds seen on the moor included lapwing in good numbers, oystercatchers, one with young, golden plover, snipe, wheatear, many meadow pipits, and many curlew.

August sees the start in earnest of the autumn migration; most swifts will have gone by the start of the month. Adult cuckoos will have left us, some even moving by the end of June, although some juvenile cuckoos will stay until September. The first sand martins and swallows will start moving during the month, and house martins will start moving by the end of the month. With our long hot summer, some swallows and house martins may pull off a late brood so they could be with us until October. Most of the warblers will start to migrate south by the end of month.
Keep an eye on the skies and you may be lucky to see an osprey as it passes over. These birds will sometimes stay for a day or two at large bodies of water such as reservoirs.

 


July
The book “Glorious Godstone” produced by the 1st Godstone Scouts in 1934-35 had a chapter called  “A Hundred Birds”. Reading through the chapter one can see that some birds that were quoted as common are no longer seen in the local area. Cirl buntings noted in fair numbers about Godstone Corner Wood, the area now covered by the traffic centre and the fire station, are now not present at all in our area. In the Godstone area the last record of cirl buntings appears to be in 1961-62. Red-backed shrike, quoted as fairly common, now no longer breed in Surrey at all, the latest record in our general area being in Caterham in 1973. Lesser spotted woodpecker, once fairly common, is now a rare bird with very few records in our area. This bird has declined dramatically in the country. Nightingales quoted as one of our most common birds, singing every night throughout the district, have now reduced to an odd pair on Blindley Heath Common in recent years.

Turtle doves quoted as quite a number about, have not been recorded in any numbers since the late 70s in our area. Wryneck, a fairly common breeding species across Surrey during the last century, is now a rare passage migrant through Surrey, usually in the autumn. Cuckoo once a common summer visitor almost everywhere is certainly an uncommon bird in our area, with perhaps the best place to see one without too much travelling is Ashdown Forest. Tree sparrow  quoted as quite a feature in some woods, is now virtually absent from our area, although I know it was a regular breeding bird on the Bay Pond until the late 1970s. The Godstone book quoted pochard as common on the local ponds, and this duck was a fairly common winter visitor until the mid- 1970s, but is now virtually unknown on the local ponds, perhaps an odd one may be seen on the ponds at the Leigh Mill area and there are usually a few on the lakes at Water Colours at Merstham. Spotted flycatcher were quoted as fairly common and were a regular breeding bird in our general area, but have declined to almost nil since the late 1970s.

However some birds are present in our area that were unknown in the 1930s. Buzzards are very common, and red kites are regular visitors to our area. Little egrets are regular winter visitors, collared doves, which started to colonise the country in the 1950s, are now common breeding birds, and ofcourse ring-necked parakeets are seen everywhere.

 


June
The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has run a Garden Bird Watch Survey since 1995 and currently there are some eleven thousand people involved in providing weekly reports of birds seen in their garden. The BTO are interested in all garden sizes from large to small, from urban to rural. By recording on a weekly basis one can see patterns of garden use and how it changes throughout the year. The survey charted the decline in the house sparrow, and the increase in the wintering numbers of blackcaps. The survey also shows the clear drop of blackbird sightings in the late summer and early autumn. This is the time when blackbirds are most secretive whilst they are going through their moult, and there is also a lot of available food in the wider countryside. The survey also showed the decline in greenfinches but the increase in goldfinches over the years together with the increase in such birds as siskins, redpolls and long-tailed tits coming in to gardens as different bird foods were introduced into gardens.

The time one spends doing the survey is up to the individual. You may want to record all the birds seen during the week or maybe one might want to dedicate a set period e.g. every Saturday morning. Whatever time one can give is fine. All that is asked is that the period is consistent from week to week. Many people also record other wildlife in their gardens and with the survey there is the option to record butterflies, dragonflies, bumblebees and mammals and these reports are sent onto the relevant societies.

  The administration is supported by the participants through a yearly subscription of £17.00 for which one receives a free “Garden Birds and other Wildlife” book and a quarterly magazine updating one on the progress and results of the survey. Counts can be sent in either by paper forms or via an online system.

 


May
The beginning of May should see the last of our summer migrant birds arriving with small groups of swifts over the village and if you are lucky you could see an odd spotted flycatcher. Our early resident nesting birds may well have young; look out for young blackbirds, song thrushes, robins and dunnocks in and around the gardens. Blue tits and great tits should be nesting in suitable nest boxes, and maybe house martins will have started to nest under the eaves of certain houses. Usually these birds pick traditional nest sites, so if you have had house martins nesting on your house in the past, they may well return this year.

Hopefully with good spring weather it is the time many of us spend hours in the garden. To attract more wildlife think about planting perennial flowers, but choose single flowers rather than double flowers as they are more likely to attract butterflies, bumble bees and insects. Herbs can be useful plants to attract insects. Leaving a section of longer grass can also be beneficial to insects and certain butterflies, although I realise this is not always possible. If one has the space one could consider growing a clump of wild flowers. The local garden centres usually have a variety of wild flower seed packs these days, and the packs normally indicate the types of insects there are likely to attract.

After a cold and wet winter it will be interesting to see how nature recovers. Look out for butterflies such as small tortoiseshell, comma, peacock and orangetip. Bumble bees are more difficult to identify as many look similar and they don’t stay still for long, but some common ones are buff-tailed, white-tailed, red-tailed and tree bumble bees.

Many of our common birds feed their young on insects, so a garden that has a good collection of flowers that attract insects can be a bonus, and many insects also pollinate flowers and certain vegetable flowers, helping to create a good crop

 


April

By the beginning of April the first of the summer migrants will have arrived and one should be able to hear both chiffchaff and blackcap singing in various places. Also sand martins should be seen over both Bletchingley and Godstone. Throughout the month of April we will see a rush of summer migrants pouring into the country, with garden warblers, whitethroats and lesser whitethroats being heard and seen in our area and if you are lucky you may hear a cuckoo - a real sign that spring has truly arrived. Swallows and house martins will be over the local area and by the end of the month the first of the swifts will have arrived.

Some summer migrants will pass through our area as they move further north to their breeding grounds. No doubt the first wheatears could be seen, particularly across the North Downs, by the beginning of the month, and ring ouzels may well be reported on the North Downs. Willow warblers, a bird less common in our area in recent years, will pass through our area as they move north where they are still relatively common. Sometimes if the weather has been poor some migrants may stop off in our area to recover before moving on. If you are really lucky you may see an osprey over our villages as they move north, although sometimes these birds will stay awhile at such places as Weirwood Reservoir and Boughbeech Reservoir.

Sometimes migrants from Africa that breed in Europe overshoot and arrive particularly in Southern England, before moving back to their usual habitats in Europe. These include such species as hoopoe, red-rumped swallow and alpine swift.

 


March
Egyptian geese are native to central and southern Africa, where they are found in wetland habitats across the region, breeding in riverside vegetation and holes in trees. The birds were introduced to the British Isles during the 18th century, and were common in wildfowl collections by the year 1785. By the 19th century there were unpinioned birds found breeding in Bedfordshire, East Lothian and Norfolk, and wintering flocks were reported in various areas, presumably from wildfowl collections. Feral birds were also recorded in small numbers in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. Egyptian geese have expanded considerably in numbers since the 1980s. In recent years the area supporting most Egyptian geese was Norfolk, but the species has slowly expanded into South East England. In Surrey most breeding records have been in the eastern part of the county. Egyptian geese are early breeders, with pairs defending potential areas from January onwards. Holes in trees are favoured, but they also nest on the ground, and as is the case at Godstone, a pair has used the wooden hut on the isle of the village pond. By the time you read this article the first of our summer migrants will be arriving. Look out for chiffchaffs singing, little ringed plovers at the lagoons at Merstham, sand martins above the sandpits at Bletchingley and, if you are lucky, wheatears passing through and maybe stopping along the North Downs.