The group met up at Thursley common on Sunday, which was the best day of the week weather wise. Thursley common National Nature Reserve is the largest and most important heathland area in Surrey. It has a mosaic of open dry heathland, peat bogs, ponds, and pine and deciduous woodlands.
As such it holds a variety of wildlife many of which are specialists. In terms of birds our ‘most wanted’ list included Dartford warbler, redstart and woodlark.
From the Moat car park we headed to the lake and found Red-eyed Damselfly and Club-tailed Dragonfly. Overhead goldcrest could be heard but not seen. We walked out onto the bridleway and made off along the side of the peat bog. We soon spotted a magnificent male stonechat moving from one bush-top to another. These birds are often accompanied by Dartford warblers and sure enough in a matter of minutes a family group of Dartford warblers appeared with three juveniles and an adult. It was a real treat to get close up views of this normally elusive bird. They were great to see given that 60% of the heathland was burnt during the devastating fire in 2006 which left Dartford warblers, which are residential birds there, very scarce.
We continued along the bridleway finding reed bunting and kestrel and amongst the ditches we found small red damselfly and large red damselfly.
Lizards on the boardwalk
The boardwalk is a great vantage point to watch dragonflies and from here we managed to identify four-spotted chaser and emperor dragonfly. The former I managed to watch quite closely and was surprised to find that it actually has eight spots (two on each of its four wings)!
At a small bridge we looked out for raft spider, a specialist at Thursley and which we had found previously at this location. This year instead we found palmate newt drifting just below the surface of the clear water. A few of the group caught up with a Keeled Skimmer, another specialist for acidic peat bogs.
In the centre of the peat bog there is small ‘island’ of trees, from where wren and goldfinches were calling. On the floral front, purple spikes of marsh orchids were in abundance.
We pushed on turning left on exiting the boardwalk to an area with a sparse standing of Calendonian pines. This area has been good for woodlark in the past. Instead it yielded different but equally exciting birds. First we had coal tits high in the pines but there was something else which was, at first, hard to see. A flash of black, white and red and we had a redstart – a truly stunning bird which was to really show well. Another family of Dartford warblers were also seen here later on the return leg and, a displaying from nearby isolated tree, a tree pipit. This was another bird which we added to our ‘most wanted’ list and, for good measure, we added curlew as well. Overhead a hobby put in an appearance, trying again and again (but failing that time) to grab a large dragonfly.
We took lunch in a glade surrounded by deciduous trees and carpeted in sorrel which gave a lovely vista of red and green. Behind us a redstart was singing (in my opinion they sound like ‘posh’ chaffinches) and a pair of treecreepers visiting a crack in the bark of a lichen covered tree, most likely their nest site. The glade is well known to photographers for a particular cuckoo who has a favourite perch there. The photographers were present, but the cuckoo was not at the time, although he did put in an appearance later. Nuthatch, chiffchaff, robin, great tit and blue tit were all seen around here and a couple of the group heard possible short snatches of turtle dove. As we made our way back we heard the descending trill of willow warbler (another bird in dramatic decline), found yet another Dartford warbler family and added whitethroat to our list.
Despite our best efforts we did not find woodlark on this visit, nor curlew (although both I understand do still nest there). We did hear skylark and see red kite and buzzard, which were all unexpected. We had been blessed not only with the weather but also with some great views of many of the species that call Thursley NNR home!
If you have not been, it is well worth a visit.
Photos courtesy of Maria with Dartford Warbler by Sue Healey.