Thursday 23 April 2020

Green Urban Birding: The North Downs Loop: 22nd April 2020

A fairly late start saw me head south once again with the intent of getting to those woods that I saw above the Hallings on Monday. 

It is roadway all the way to Cuxton and the traffic was the heaviest I have seen in weeks but I still managed to hear the lovely calls of 14 Med Gulls drifting on snow white wings onto the breeze down river.

My access point was actually behind St Michael & All Angels church in Cuxton although no path is signed off the road until you actually find the gate which led me up through a magnificent Buttercup strewn meadow with expansive views down over the Medway towards Woudlham and beyond.



Inland to Ranscombe and Cobham Woods


Cut Leaved Cranesbill

Cow Parsley


Another path tunnel...

First Oak Eggar of the year

Whitethroats accompanied me up towards the wood where it soon joined the main North Downs Way which was the path I was after through Wingate Wood.  I followed this south west along the ridge line through a mix of unmanaged Chestnut coppice with huge standard Oak, Beech and Hornbeam strewn amongst them, with Whitebeam and ancient twisted Yews on the eastern down slope towards the old chalk quarry faces that you can see from the road. 

A little overdue a haircut


The woods were a carpet of Bluebells once again and you could smell them in the warming sunshine that was filtering through and mixed with them I could taste Garlic on the air so I was confident that I was about to discover my first patches of Ramsons.

The Ramsons did not take too long to locate and the fresh green leaves were particularly pungent.  There is a hoverfly that lives on this plant but there was very little flower and I had no joy.  There were patches of Wood Anemone, Celandines and Violets and flowering Woodruff and Sanicle were both new ‘walk species’.



Sanicle, Woodruff, Bugle and Wood Anemones





Two recently emerged Grey Squirrels played in a gnarly Oak and I suspect it is actually the first time I have seen young of this species.  They were incredibly cute.

Grey Squirrellets

Grey Squirrellet

One of the reasons I was keen to get up here was to listen for Firecrests in the Yews but I had no joy at this point but the other potential find up here was Hawfinch and I thought my chances incredibly slim but much to my delight I found a pair in the first Yews I came to.  They were flighty and the singing male seemed to be following the second bird around. 

Nuthatches and Treecreepers were singing and I also heard Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers but like most woodland you hear more than you ever see. 

There is something beautifully sentient about an old woodland. I love to actually touch the biggest trees that have stood there so long and experienced so much. I will pat a trunk or momentarily lay my hand on it and say hello as I pass by. From the smooth flaky surface of a contorted Yew; the shiny smoothness of a Beech or the ridged twisted helix of a venerable Sweet Chestnut; they are all different and special.  I have this strange notion about paying my respects to trees; I do not know where this comes from (probably my Dad) but I find it calming and appropriate.


Sweet Chestnut

I had the place to myself as I crossed under the main pylon line and into Horseholders Wood.  There was another dazzling Bluebell display here and the bonus of two more pair of Hawfinches with both males singing and chasing respective partners around the Hornbeams.

This Acer is clearly not Sycamore - Norwegian Maple?

At this point I was above Upper Halling and turned north west at a major crossroads and struck out towards Luddesdown.  The path quickly took me to a clear felled area of Chestnut, probably about two years old with sentinel Oaks and Hornbeams standing in the open for the first time in a generation looking at some of the girth of felled timber. 

Danger of Death from assault by a giant licorice stick while inside a Snooker Triangle

I stood and listened in the hope of a Tree Pipit and got a mewing Buzzard for my troubles. 

From here the path dropped into another valley, through regenerated Chestnut and Hazel coppice, Birch and Dogwood.  Two pair of Bullfinches were encountered along with more Nuthatches. The landowners here really want you to stay on the path – every ride had a private sign and numerous Pheasant hoppers.

There were plenty of Primroses still in flower and I found Aquilegia and Yellow Pimpernel as well as three Common Lizards that gave themselves away with their leaf litter rustling. 



Yellow Pimpernel

Common Lizard

Male Fern

I was trying to find the bridlepath that would take me back to Bush Road and despite no signage I found the right track and started back up through Red Wood following my nose more than anything else. A stately Beech bore the marks of successive visits and I would not be surprised if this was linked in with the landowner’s family as I suspect very few people get onto these side paths other than those working the forest for timber and game.  The first date is 1930, then 1948, 1957 and 1979 and so on. I went up to the tree and apologised for its defacement. The bark was cold despite the sunshine.

A little way on from this I found another stand of Yew and at last my hoped for Firecrest.  I suspect that the woods have far more than this. The ride became more sunlit and Early Purple Orchids appeared on the edges amongst the Bluebells and Brimstones, Orange Tips and diminutive Grizzled Skippers danced between blooms.

Early Purple Orchid

Grizzled Skipper

Grizzled Skipper

Grizzled Skipper


Orange Tip

I could see the road below me but on coming to an area of new clear fell I found my path blocked by dozens of felled trees.  I found two groups of chainsaw gear but no workers so pushed my way into the wood and fought my way alongside the bridlepath to the woodland edge and across the field to the road where I was greeted by a stunning Red Kite flying straight at me!

The face of mechanical forestry

Red Kite


From here it was straight back onto a footpath and up through the Ranscombe chalk meadows to regain the main path into Cobham Woods and home.  There were lots of butterflies in the margins with Peacock, Red Admiral, Comma and Small Tortoiseshell and I was very pleased to find a single Small Heath and several dinky Dingy Skippers on the wing.

A heavily scented Lilac just into the wood added Small and Large White to the list and Speckled Woods twirled over the ride. 


Small Heath

Dingy Skipper

Tunnel under the railway

male Kestrel

Small White

I took the cobbled path up into the trees wondering if it was an old drovers road south west out of the Medway towns before veering off again to the Darnley Mausoleum and the huge twisted Sweet Chestnuts that I have encountered before.  

The cobbled way

Darnley Mausoleum

This Chestnut looks like it has the skull of some long extinct tusked beast encased within it

male Great Spotted Woodpecker

There was no sign of the Highland Cattle but they were nearby as the local fly population was attracted to some nice fresh wet pats!  Yellow Dung Flies did the dance of love, tripping the shite fantastic in their search for unsuspecting females and lunch and were joined by Musca autumnalis, Mesembrina meridiana and another lover of fresh dung, Eudasyphora cyanella which sort of looks like something between a Green and Bluebottle and I thank Phil C as usual for his prompt id that evening.


Dung Fly orgy - Eudasyphora cyanella pretends not to notice all the gratuitous sex going on while she has her dinner

Eudasyphora cyanella and Musca autumnalis above

Eudasyphora cyanella
Mesembrina meridiana

I sauntered back along the main ride with Peacocks sunning on the path and the first St Mark’s Flies dancing around the Alexanders as I got back to the Eurostar tunnel.

St Mark’s Flies making more...

Even the last stretch back down my road to home added two more butterfly species with Green Veined Whites on the verge Dandelions and Scarlet Pimpernel and a gleaming Holly Blue taking me to a very impressive 15 species for the day and the Firecrest and Hawfinch to 100 bird species from home and my walkabouts since the 23rd March.

Scarlet Pimpernel


  1. I have a mental image of you standing poring over a 1:25000 OS map trying to work out your route. I hope I'm right and you didn't just follow your nose!!

  2. My nose is actually highly trained but you wil be pleased to know that I did indeed have an OS map and Google maps top assist when my nose was running