With a few weekends actually resembling spring-like conditions at the end of May and early June, we took the opportunity to explore a new location not too far from home. A Site of Special Scientific Interest, Thursley Common in Surrey is 326-hectares of marsh, woodland and lowland heath. Recent reports of diverse and interesting wildlife convinced us to brave the M25 and the A3 to get exploring.
Our first visit on the May Bank holiday was an early morning arrival in grey and chilly conditions. The sun rarely broke through all day but the real warmth came in the sightings we had. As it was our first visit, we stuck to the main path where the bubbling call of well-hidden Curlew could be heard but not seen for the whole of our four-hour visit. In contrast to the hidden waders, we couldn’t go anywhere without seeing and hearing Stonechats.
With Thursley being an ideal habitat for Stonechats, it was no surprise to find that these handsome small birds had been breeding in healthy numbers. We had the good fortune to come across a family with two fledglings making their early forays into the world, carefully shepherded by diligent parents.
A main reason for heading to Thursley was the chance to get some good views of one of my favourite birds, Redstarts. As we made our way around, we found ourselves at a spot known as Parish Field. We spotted, albeit briefly, a female Redstart carrying food, and paused to see if she would reappear. Whilst waiting we got our first view of a male Redstart. This view was tinged with a heavy heart though, as it looked as if pilot error had brought about this bird’s early demise. Sadly then, more a case of deadstart than Redstart.
A bit of patience brought us a few live sightings, as busy parents were flitting around with food for broods hidden away in the dense greenery around the field.
Among the other birds seen on this visit were good numbers of busy Goldfinch, a few Tufted Ducks adjacent to the boardwalk and plenty of duo-note calling Chiffchaffs like this one.
Our second visit was on Sunday 5th June. The chilly and overcast conditions of our first visit were replaced by almost cloudless blue skies and a scorching sun. Perfect conditions in fact for the Common Lizards that were all across the boardwalk.
Along with the sunbathing lizards there were also very good numbers of Dragon and Damselflies. Pick of these was this very nice 4-Spotted Chaser.
And this Large Red Damselfly stopped just long enough for a portrait.
Of course, where there are dragonflies, there are Hobbies; and we found at least two hunting across the Common. With one of the regulars telling us that a displaying Woodlark had been seen, we made our way in the general direction suggested. As we made our way off the boardwalk, I heard a call that I was not too familiar with and saw in the distance a smallish bird making repeated sorties from the top of a tall evergreen. Was this our Woodlark? We made our way around, trying to get a clear view of this quite mobile bird. With the sun in our faces it was very hard to make a positive identification but the parachuting flights and style of song were, to me, Skylark-like but clearly not a Skylark. I was hoping we had found our first Woodlark. With a change in the light and both of us trying for a better angle to view we were still uncertain of our sighting. Closer inspection of our pictures once back home would suggest we were watching a Tree Pipit though.
The colouring and markings are certainly far more consistent with a Tree Pipit than a Woodlark. Better luck next time we hope!
There was no disputing our next sighting however. We made our way to Parish Field and as we approached the broken gate entrance, I saw the unmistakable sight of a Cuckoo perched on a grounded branch.
Apart from the odd visit to ground level to forage for some insectivore food, this summer migrant to our shores obligingly posed for us out in the open for some twenty minutes. We were the only two people in Parish Field the whole time it was there.
We even had time to capture a few shots of the currently resident Redstarts whilst the Cuckoo was still about and showing.
The Cuckoo clearly decided it had spent enough time being the centre of attention and took off onto the Common where it began making its distinctive call. I cannot recall having so much time in such close proximity to a Cuckoo before, hopefully our pictures have recorded the moment well enough.
Our return journey brought us more smart Stonechats:
A Willow Warbler:
And another Tree Pipit, no confusion over this one:
Our second visit to Thursley Common brought some truly rich rewards, the Cuckoo being the undisputed highlight. We will certainly be heading back as soon as we can.