Friday, 19 January 2018

Headley in the winter sun


Yesterday saw one of those afternoons when the sky just wouldn't settle down. One moment it was dark, then there were sharp showers, soon followed by the sun peeking through a thin veil of cloud, finally a full sun that was so bright that it lit up the winter panorama in a burning amber light. The photograph above (taken at Headley Heath) sums it up pretty well. And yes, I did see a H**finch, but just the one. They seem to have largely moved on from here.


What hadn't moved on, mainly because they possesses neither wings nor legs, are the clumps of Spurge-laurel (above and below), to be found on the westerly border of the site. Headley is a strange place, with acid heathland rubbing shoulders with chalk downland. It leads to a right old mix of flowering plants which makes any botanical walk there interesting to say the least.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Part 2: Winners and Losers - passerines


And now for the passerines - as per yesterday's post, all my own data...

House Martin LOSER
Declining summer visitor, passage migrant
This species is greatly reduced as a breeding bird. In the 1970s it was easy to find nests on houses in Sutton and flocks above suburbia in the height of the summer were to be expected. This is not the case now. Extreme dates: 3 April 2010 (Holmethorpe) - 22 October 1978 (Beddington SF). Spring passage can be small and brief (peak count of 350 at Holmethorpe on 3 May 2010), while that of autumn heavier and more protracted, as evidenced by 6,710 south on 21 September 2017 at Canons Farm, Banstead; 2,185 south-west on 9 October 1999 at Holmethorpe; 1,900 south-west on 25 September 2014 at Canons Farm, Banstead; 600 on 12 September 1976 at Beddington SF; 500 on 31 August 1976 at Beddington SF and 20 September 2017 at Holmethorpe.

Tree Pipit LOSER
Summer visitor, passage migrant and former breeder.
Up until the early 1980s it was easy to find this species singing and holding territory on the southern heaths and commons of the study area, first recorded at Headley Heath and Epsom Common (1977), Box Hill (1978) and Banstead Downs (1985). During this time up to six birds could be found holding territory at Headley Heath (3 May 1977 and 27 April 1980). A general fall in numbers, plus the scrubbing over of some sites has lead to its local demise. Since then it is found as a scarce passage migrant, with records from Beddington SF, Holmethorpe, Nork, Banstead , Canons Farm and Priest Hill. Extreme dates: 12 April 1993 (Holmethorpe) - 3 October 1993 (Beddington SF)

Yellow Wagtail LOSER
Former summer breeder; scarce passage migrant
First recorded at Beddington SF (1975), Searrs Park, Cheam (1983), Holmethorpe (1991), Canons Farm, Banstead; Nork, Banstead (2001), Colley Hill, Reigate (2013) and Epsom Downs (2014). Breeding birds were present at Beddington SF until the early 1980s (but at only one-two pairs per year). Extreme dates: 4 April 1985 (Beddington SF)  - 24 October 1976 (Beddington SF). A single also attempted to winter at Beddington SF, last being seen on 4 December 1984. This site has always held the highest numbers in the area, with counts of 10 - 15 regularly made, peaking at 22 on 6 September 1986 and 20 on 12 September 1976. Away from there, peak counts of seven were made at Holmethorpe on 27 April 1997 and Canons Farm, Banstead on a murky 20 April 2008.  When conducting the 1983 Searrs Park, Cheam project, a small but regular passage of overhead migrants was recorded between 18 July -21 September which included three birds on 19 September. Birds of the blue-headed race have been recorded at both Beddington SF and Holmethorpe.

Grasshopper Warbler LOSER
Former breeding summer visitor
Before it scrubbed over, it was fairly straight-forward to find this species ‘reeling’ on Epsom Common. Between 1975 and 1980, I recorded up to three territories, extreme dates for this site being 21 April 1978 – 10 July 1975. My only four records away from there are singles on 25 April 1982 at Beddington SF, 19 April 1998 at Holmethorpe, 15 April 2011 at Canons Farm, Banstead and 17 April 2017 at Priest Hill, Ewell.

Common Whitethroat WINNER
Breeding summer visitor
Extreme dates: 10 April 2011 (Headley Heath) - 26 September 2017 (Canons Farm, Banstead). Peak counts: 40 singing birds during the summer of 1994 at Beddington SF; 32 on 1 May 2017 at Priest Hill, Ewell. A steady climb in the breeding population has been witnessed, climaxing in the mid-1990s. Since then numbers across the area have either stabilised or fallen slightly, with the Beddington SF population much reduced due to landfill activity. However, a number of semi-urban scrubby habitats have been colonised over the past five years, suggesting that a healthy population is now over-spilling.

Blackcap WINNER
Summer and winter visitor, passage migrant
Wintering birds have been recorded at Nork, Banstead in most winters since 1989, sometimes up to seven birds being present. Breeding birds are found commonly in woodland predominantly away from the north of the study area. Peak count: 14 on 30 April 2005 at Holmethorpe. As each year passes by there seems to be more of these smart birds throughout the year 

Willow Warbler LOSER
Declining summer visitor, passage migrant
There has been a recent dip in the fortunes of this warbler, although a small recovery is now underway. The heaths hold the highest breeding populations. Extreme dates: 25 March 2000 and 2005 (Holmethorpe) - 30 September 1979 (Beddington SF) and 30 September 1995 (Holmethorpe). Peak counts: 43 on 28 April 1984 at Ashtead and Epsom Common; 25 on 21 April 1978 at Epsom Common; 25 on 27 April 1980 at Headley Heath; 25 on 23 May 1982 at Headley Heath; 25 on 9 May 1987 at Ashtead Common. Note how old the peak counts are.

Firecrest WINNER
Rare breeding resident, passage migrant and winter visitor
First recorded at Nork, Banstead (2005); Banstead Downs (2008); Beddington SF (2011); Juniper Bottom and Nonsuch Park (2014); Chipstead Bottom (2015); Box Hill and Ranmore Common (2016). An expected component of a North Downs birding experience if you keep your ears open, where as once it would have been the day's (or month's) highlight. 

Spotted Flycatcher LOSER
Declining summer visitor and passage migrantAs the years have progressed, this species has gone from being a bird that you expect to see each summer at a variety of sites to a scarce passage migrant. First recorded: Headley Heath, Beddington SF and Nork Park, Banstead (1977), Epsom Common and Cheam Village (1979), Nonsuch Park (1982), Seears Park, Cheam (1983), Banstead Woods (1984), Holmethorpe (2005), Epsom Downs (2006), Canons Farm, Banstead (2014), Mogador (2016). Peak counts: four on 6 September 1986 at Beddington SF; three on 23 Aug 1983 at Seears Park, Cheam. Extreme dates: 14 May 2011 (Beddington SF) - 25 September 2017 (Canons Farm, Banstead).

Marsh Tit LOSER
Declining breeding resident
This species is still found with relative ease on the slopes and top of the North Downs within the area. However, it seems to be becoming scarcer away from here, such as at Banstead Woods. It is most probably worth noting all sites that I have seen this tit and the years in which it has been present: Banstead Woods (1977 – 2006); Walton Heath (1977 – 2015); Westhumble (1982); Epsom Common (1984 – 1989); Betchworth (1997); Box Hill (1998-2018); Mickleham Downs (1999 – 2018); Gatton Park (1999 - 2008); Juniper Bottom (2000-2017); Margery Wood (2002); Reigate Hill (2004 - 2009); Norbury Park (2008 - 2018); Ranmore Common (2008 - 2017); Colley Hill (2008 - 2009); Headley Heath (2009 -2018); Polesden Lacey (2009 - 2012); Little Hurst Wood, Walton Downs (2015-16); Great Hurst Wood, Walton Downs (2015). Peak counts: 11 at Juniper Top/Bottom on 10 January 2014 and 14 December 2016; eight at Ranmore Common on 28 January 2012; seven at Juniper Top/Bottom on 9 March 2013 and 16 November 2013; six on 16 January 1982 at Westhumble; five on 10 January 2017 at Headley Heath; four on 12 February 1977 at Banstead Woods and 17 August 2008 at Ranmore.

Willow Tit LOSER
Extinct breeding resident
Sadly, this species now seems to be lost. Epsom Common was always the place that would guarantee this tit without too much effort, with a peak count of four on 24 February 1978, the last record being in 1989. In most years one or two pairs were present between the stew ponds and Stamford Green. Other records were of a casual nature; Walton Heath, two on 20 February 1977; Headley Heath, singles on 12 July 1978 and 27 April 1980;  Beddington SF, singles on 12 September 1978 and 17 June 1979 (the latter trapped); Nonsuch Park, Cheam, one on 25 September 1983; Ashtead Common, one on 25 July 1987. 

Jackdaw WINNER
Increasing breeding resident
Over the study period, in line with most corvid species, a growth in numbers has been experienced. This species was once a scarce visitor to Beddington SF, but since the advent of landfill it has become very common there indeed. A roost fly-line used to be observed in the winter months during the early 1990s over Nork, Banstead that comprised 100-200 birds. At the time these counts were considered to be high. Since then the largest gatherings are of 2,000 on 1 January 2011 at Beddington SF; 1,500 on 12 January 2013  at Holmethorpe; 1,400 on 14 November 2010 at Beddington SF; 1,200 on 6 January 2013 at Beddington SF; 900 on 6 November 2010 at Beddington SF; 850 on 23 January 2005 at Holmethorpe; 600 on 11 October 2009 at Canons Farm, Banstead; 575 on 17 October 2010 at Beddington SF; 500 on both 20 February 1993 and 1 February 2009 at Holmethorpe and 28 January 2012 at Ranmore Common. As a breeding species still rather local and more southerly in distribution.

Raven WINNER
Rare resident
A slow and modest colonising of the North Downs has been an unexpected and welcome event in the early years of the 21st Century. My first record was of a single bird on 9 March 2013 at Juniper Top, nr Box Hill, which was followed by a single on 6 October 2013 at Ranmore Common. Away from the downs I have recorded birds at Canons Farm, Banstead (2014) and Holmethorpe (2017). Peak count: three on 27 September 2014 at Canons Farm, Banstead.

Starling LOSER
Breeding resident, passage migrant and winter visitor
After a period in the doldrums, this species is showing signs of a partial comeback, with wintering flocks, (although not quite the wheeling spectacles of the 1970s and early 1980s), starting to show up in the skies once more. Peak counts: 10,000 leaving a roost on 13 July 1997 at Holmethorpe; 3,000 on 29 January 1983 at Seears Park, Cheam and 20 October 2012 at Canons Farm, Banstead; 2,500 on 19 August 1983 at Seears Park, Cheam and 23 January 2011 at Beddington SF; 2,000 on 9 March 1979 at Cheam Village and 30 July 2011 at Beddington SF.

House Sparrow LOSER
Decreasing breeding resident
This species has shown a decrease over the years, although the area in which I live (Nork, Banstead) has continued to support a healthy population. Peak counts: 400 on 11 July 1980 at Beddington SF; 200 on 7 September 1975 at Beddington SF; 200 on 6 November 1983 at Seears Park, Cheam; 150 on 2 August and 27 September 1980 at Beddington SF. It is perhaps worth noting that these peak counts are all over 30 years old. In recent years the largest count has been one of 80 at Canons Farm, Banstead on 23 August 2014 and 8 September 2016.

Tree Sparrow LOSER
Decreasing breeding resident and rare winter visitor
First recorded at Beddington SF and River Mole, Leatherhead (1975), Seears Park, Cheam (1983), Holmethorpe (1991). The breeding colony at Beddington SF is (or was) well-known, and counts could be high throughout the year, with a peak of 200 recorded on 25 February, 22 March and 26 November 1978. However, by the end of 2012, counts were much lower, sometimes only 20+ being made and by 2014 reports were that numbers had plummeted. At Holmethorpe, between 1991 – 1997, this species was not unexpected, but not quite annual, with a peak count of 25 on 25 January 1997. Since the latter date there has been only one further record, a single on 9 April 2005.

Greenfinch LOSER
Breeding resident, passage migrant and winter visitor. Maybe in decline
During the late 1970s, conditions at Beddington SF were to the liking of this species. Peak counts were: 1,000 on 2 October 1977; 380 on 30 September 1979; 300 on 23 September 1978, 24 August and 5 October 1980. All peak counts elsewhere refer to roosts, with 100 on 27 January 1983 at Seears Park, Cheam and 100 on 31 January 1999 at Nork Park, Banstead. At the start of the 21st century, numbers of this finch were in decline, with flocks very hard to come by and appearances in my garden became worryingly erratic. From 2015 it appeared as if some recovery was underway.

Goldfinch WINNER
Breeding resident, passage migrant and winter visitor
In suburban areas numbers appear to be on the increase. Peak counts: 200 on 24 August 1980 at Beddington SF; 110 on 25 November 2004 at Holmethorpe; 100 on 28 July 1976 at Beddington SF; 100 on 23 January 2005 at Holmethorpe; 100 on 12 August 2017 at Priest Hill, Ewell: 90 on 27 July 2017 at Priest Hill, Ewell: 80 on 10 Dec 2010 at Canons Farm, Banstead and 80 coming to roost at High Beeches, Banstead during February and March 2010. When the local Greenfinches suffered a population crash in the early 2000s, it seemed as if this species benefited, and filled the resultant gap. This was reflected elsewhere in the country.

Bullfinch LOSER
Decreasing breeding resident, especially in the north of the area
My back garden in Nork, Banstead illustrates quite clearly the precarious nature of this species residency in suburbia. From 1987 until 2000 I could expect to see Bullfinches in the garden on a daily basis. In the latter year building started on neighbouring ‘wild’ land and overnight they ceased to be seen. It was not until 26 June 2009 that I saw another, and this proved to be the first of very few sightings. Epsom Downs continues to hold good numbers, as can be seen from counts of 20 on 20 January 2001 and 16 on 7 January 2001. Since then such counts have not been attained, although they are still present. Most sites away from built up areas do still support them, although parks that formerly held them in the northern part of the area seem to do so no longer. Peak counts:  21 on 1 January 2016 at Banstead Woods; 15 on 10 January 2017 at Headley Heath. During the autumn of 2017 a small influx was recorded across the south-east of England and was mirrored locally.

Yellowhammer LOSER
Scarce and decreasing breeding resident and passage migrant
This species has slowly, but surely, decreased in range, particularly in the north of the area. It can still be found with certainty at Holmethorpe and, surprisingly given its northerly locality, Canons Farm, Banstead.  First recorded at Bury Hill Lake, Beddington SF, Canadian Bridge, Leatherhead and Epsom Common (1975), Nonsuch Park (1976), Headley Heath and Chipstead Bottom (1977), Seears Park, Cheam (1983), Banstead Downs (1984), Buckland SP (1985), Epsom Downs (1988), Holmethorpe and Nork, Banstead (1991), Canons Farm, Banstead (2002), Denbies Hillside (2009). Breeding is recorded at Holmethorpe (one-three pairs, with a peak of eight pairs in 1998) and Canons Farm, Banstead (one-three pairs). Peak counts:  55 on 25 November 2015 at Canons Farm, Banstead; 50 on 1 January 1993 at Holmethorpe; 50 on 28 January 2006 at Canons Farm, Banstead; 45 on 5 February 2006 at Canons Farm, Banstead.

Corn Bunting LOSER
Rare passage migrant and winter visitor
This species has become extinct as a breeding bird in Surrey during the period of study. Until 1987 it was encountered on a relatively frequent basis at Beddington SF, the earliest autumn record being 24 October 1976 and the latest in spring on 25 April 1976. There is a single summer record on 19 June 1994. Peak counts: 22 on 27 and 28 February 1982 (when many in the flock were in song); 12 on 14 December 1975; 11 on 7 March 1987. Elsewhere, two birds were at Holmethorpe on 4 and 25 January 1997. (Pictured, above, not locally)