What a day. Saturday started off well enough – discussing the RSPB Big Garden Watch on local radio first thing – but it went downhill soon after that.
A pair of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker had turned up at Beddington during the morning. They were in oak trees to the north of Bikers Field. Bikers Field is named thus because it is used by local lads to ride their trials bikes.
Bikers Field is also right at the far end of the site, so after parking the car in a residential area the walk up the path takes about half an hour. It's probably less, but it feels longer. It's a bit of a drag, to be honest.
Once I got to the woods, I sort of knew it was going to be a waste of time. The bikes had started up and were haring around the field. To make matters worse, a couple of them decided to tear around the woods while I was there. Any hopes of seeing a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker ended right there.
So, after a quick walk around mud-laden 100 acre, where I saw very little, I trudged back. All the gulls were round the back of the landfill with virtually none on the main lake. I left.
I then made the mistake of going to Banstead Golf Course again to try and find the pesky pair of Firecrests. I failed, obviously. So I set off home, where I picked up Annie and turned round and headed for Thursley Common, in the vain hope of finding the Great Grey Shrike and maybe a Dartford Warbler or two.
The weather at this point was pleasant enough. The sun was out, hardly any wind, and it was very mild.
I knew the weather was supposed to turn later in the day, but when we arrived at Thursley, at about 3pm, it was as though someone had flicked a switch to a different day. The wind had picked up, it was colder, and the clouds were closing in.
As we trudged along the boardwalks, the weather did slightly brighten, so instead of giving it up as a bad job we set off toward the tumulus, which I thought was the best place to look for the Shrike. On the way four Crossbill flew over. These, as it turned out, would be the highlight of the day.
At the tumulus I spotted a bird high up on a dead tree. It looked like a bird of prey, but I couldn't make it out. A Merlin perhaps? I chose to walk nearer to get a better view, but by then it had flown off. The Shrike was nowhere to be seen, if it had been there at all.
So, we turned round and headed back to the car...
It was when we had got to Pine Island that the weather took a turn for the worse. It suddenly went very dark, the wind turned gale force and in seconds we were in a ferocious hailstorm – and I mean ferocious, to the point of being alarming.
I didn't think it was a good idea to stay where we were, as the wind was so strong bits of branch could possibly fly off and end up hitting you.
So we walked on, like lambs to the slaughter.
As we gingerly made our way down the wet and slippery boardwalk to the car park, the wind got even stronger. We were so exposed. I felt as though I might even get swept off into the bog. Annie was quite scared by now, virtually hugging one of the pine trees along the walk to stop herself from being blown over. It was like being in a horror movie where a hapless couple are swallowed up by a storm and disappear forever into a swamp.
I was now more angry than anything else. There was no chance of seeing a Dartford Warbler in this!
Fortunately, the trees along this part of the reserve are pretty sturdy, although I didn't want to hang around for too long to find out otherwise. By the time we got back on to terra firma the wind had dropped.
Back in the car, we were soaked but relieved. And then the skies cleared and all was quiet again.
It was almost as if someone had done it deliberately.