We are slowly but surely creeping towards March and the spring. Finger's crossed the latest El Niño doesn't have a sting in the tail next month – we don't want an unexpected cold snap to break our resolve.
March is the time we all look to for the first signs of migration. The first Wheatears, Sand Martins, and in Holmethorpe's case, Little Ringed Plovers.
It got me thinking about the birds I'd love to see on the local patch and make a few predictions for the months ahead.
Last year I made a couple of predictions and amazingly they came true, with a Red-rumped Swallow and a Short-eared Owl appearing less than a week after I suggested one would turn up. A great result – apart from the fact I didn't see either.
While walking round the patch with David Campbell the other week we talked about what might appear at Holmethorpe this year. After all it is a site with an array of habitat – it has plenty of potential despite being inland.
David's prediction was Penduline Tit. We've plenty of reedbeds and bullrushes, so who knows? We maybe a bit too inland for one of these, but what a result if it happened!
The first rarity I saw at Holmethorpe was a few years back when a Ferruginous Duck drew birders to the pools next to the railway line down on the Moors in April 2010. It was my very first rarity, and only five minutes from my house.
We'd not had anything like that since until the Red-rumped Swallow turned up on an overcast afternoon last May, but there are reasons to believe we might strike lucky again this year.
On the plus side, Holmethorpe is going through a resurgence of late, mainly because of an enthusiastic group of birders who regularly cover the territory every week, notably Gordon Hay and Ray Baker. Both are great birders and both keen as mustard about the patch, as is Ian Kehl, who is a regular Holmethorpe birder at weekends. I post the patch sightings up on the Holmethorpe Sand Pits blog, and it is taking longer every week to compile them with so many sent in day after day.
On the down side, Holmethorpe is a large area to cover. Where sites such as Tice's Meadow, for example, are relatively easy to monitor because they are compact and birds are less likely to be overlooked, Holmethorpe is so much bigger and all manner of birds are bound to get missed.
But that is all part of the fun. I remember when I first started out I took part in a bird race on the patch and a Grasshopper Warbler just hopped out of the bushes onto a post just a few metres away. It tipped its head back and began to bellow out its unique song.
Within about 20 seconds it disappeared into the bushes again, never to be see again. I was the only person to see it. Being a newbie I wasn't 100 per cent certain what it was at the time – there was much discussion about the authenticity of the sighting – but I now am totally certain it was a Gropper. It helped that there was an influx Gropper sightings elsewhere in Surrey on that particular April day.
So that is the challenge – finding birds that may only be visible for a matter of minutes or seconds before they dissolve back into the countryside once again, or have flown by and into the distance.
So, here we go. The list that follows basically reflects some of the work I do during the year. I am, much to my own surprise, one of the Daily Star's tipsters for the Saturday pull-out I help put together. I focus on the Irish meetings, where Willie Mullins rules the roost during the winter months, and Aidan O'Brien usually cleans up during the summer.
I don't expect many of these birds to be realistic hopes, but anything can happen. If just one or two of these appear I will be more than happy. I've put a mark out of five alongside those birds I really fancy could turn up this year – 5 being the hottest tip, with 1 more of a long-shot.
Rare Bird Holmethorpe Patch Predictions 2016
5 Red-rumped Swallow (lightning can strike twice – and would make up for last year)
4 Bee-eater (a pair flew over Betchworth Quarry last year)
3 Black Kite (flyover – more sightings each year)
1 Blyth's Reed Warbler (had to pick a warbler, and this one took my fancy)
1 Penduline Tit (David Campbell's prediction)
5 Great White Egret
5 Stone-curlew (plenty of Surrey sightings each year)
5 Iceland Gull (as above)
5 Caspian Gull (as above)
5 Glaucous Gull
5 Wryneck (a personal favourite)
5 Yellow-browed Warbler
4 Glossy Ibis
4 Honey-buzzard (flyover)
4 Red-backed Shrike
3 Spoonbill (flyover)
3 Spotted Crake
3 Marsh Warbler
2 Green-winged Teal
2 Montagu's Harrier (flyover)
2 White-winged Black Tern
1 Dotterel (so long as I don't miss out like the Canons Farm birds!)
1 Golden Oriole (but only because I had a dream about seeing one!)
5 Hen Harrier (flyover)
5 Osprey (flyover – a few previous sightings including last year)
4 Wood Warbler
3 Bittern (surely one day we will get one?)
2 Slavonian Grebe (we get plenty of grebes but very few rare ones)
2 Turtle Dove (previous sightings – but becoming less likely each year)
1 Corn Bunting
1 Long-eared Owl (there could be one out there now, just too well camouflaged to see)
It will be interesting to see if any of these make the Holmethorpe headlines... don't hold your breath!
In other news, I made a couple of visits to Thursley Common during the past couple of weeks, but these weren't too fruitful. The Great Grey Shrike has been hard to find – I failed on both visits.
|Thursley is very quiet at the moment and an elusive Great Grey Shrike didn''t help!
|A Dartford Warbler at Thursley Common – the mild winter has been bonus to them