Tuesday 5 May 2020

Green Urban Birding: The Shorne – Cobham Loop: 5th May 2020

Last night was incredibly windy and I was pleased to find this morning that the garden was intact and that the apples had finished blossoming and the raspberries barely started!

After a few early jobs I set out for the top of my road where I discovered yesterday that the Post Office was open unlike every other one I have been to and so with parcels over one shoulder and camera over the other I headed up the hill.  It is quite funny that until you start walking around where you live you have no real concept of the gradients involved and it is well over a mile from one end to the other with a steady climb the whole way but it is never without wildlife. House Sparrows are still doing great in this whole area and I could hear the begging of young in nests all the way while a pair of Mistle Thrushes was being tailgated by their fully grown young.

From the PO I went through the M2 underpass and instead of going over the Eurostar I turned right and followed a track alongside the noisy main road.  Unfortunately this is obviously where all the local scrotes who terrorise our road on scramble bikes and mini quads come to play but it was far too early to have any of that sort of trouble. I added a few Blackcap territories but it was the male House Sparrow well away from the houses that caught my attention as he actively foraged high in the Willows for insects.

House Sparrow
The same Willows were now going to seed and a layer of fluff carpeted the ground where it was joined by Dandelion and Coltfoot seeds blowing in the chilly breeze.




Dove's Foot Crane's-bill

Dove's Foot Crane's-bill

The track turned towards the railway and obviously used to be an ideal place to dump old car tyres with hundreds strewn in the ditches and woodland. It was not a new thing though and many were being reclaimed by nature and I suspect that those filled with water were home to a myriad of insect larvae.

I did not cross the railway into the Cobham Estate but turned back toward Knight’s Place Stables passing a huge Daisy covered paddock that I wish I had visited in April when it simply must have had Wheatears and Ring Ouzels!   

This took me back to the A2 slip road and cycle path which I followed until I could cross back over the A2 once again towards Shorne from where I got access into Brewers Wood and the start of the Darnley Trail.  

Such glamorous walking spots

It was very noisy with traffic and I headed further into the wood on a circular path through coppice Chestnut and then into a patch containing wondrously ancient mature specimens along with towering Oaks and Ash. You are definitely off the Chalk at this point with sandy gravels showing where the trees have uprooted and the undulating wood is full of presumably man dug depressions.  

Properly Entish

A 30m tall Holly with open flowers

Yellow Pimpernel, Barren Strawberry and Bugle carpeted the edges of the wide people friendly laid path and a few Brimstones and Peacocks flitted around but it was actually quite cool despite the blue sky.  

Barren Strawberry and Bugle

Yellow Pimpernel

It was very quiet bird wise with a few Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs although a Nightingale did briefly sing as I approached the main road. I crossed over and into Randall Wood part of Shorne CP where I was surprised to find a whole team of volunteers beavering away at tidying the car park which I thought a little odd given current lockdown conditions but they waved as I wandered through on my loop through the southern half of the site. 

There are large areas of Birch that undoubtedly held scores of cascading Willow Warblers in the past but not any more and I remember seeing Hawfinches and Lesser Spots here in the mid-1990s. There were only one or two dog walkers around and no real disturbance but it was eerily quiet although I did find a family of Grey Wagtails around one of the forest ponds and a few Song Thrushes and Blackcaps.

Grey Wagtail

There were some mighty fine trees though with Chestnuts with swirled bark looking like sand ripples left on a wet beach and one very old coppice that had no fewer than 14 trunks of about four foot girth coming from the same stool.  

One coppice stool...

Speckled Wood

A very large Ichneumen wasp

Nomad bee
I added Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Great Spot to the walk list before the Darnley Trail took me out of the woods at Thong Lane and then back over the A2 yet again from where I refound the signs and the back entrance to Ashenbank Woods. I stayed on the main path rather than going into the wood proper as I hoped it would come out at Jeskyns.

What it did provide me with was the best display of Ramsons I have seen in a long while and only the second spread I have seen on my walks.  I could smell it before I found it and the air was heady with that garlic smell.  Some of the bank was in the sunshine and I remembered to look for Portevinia maculata the garlic loving Hoverfly and much to my delight I actually found several males lazily moving between blooms.


Portevinia maculata

The path did indeed lead into the open spaces of Jeskyns where I hoped to find Yellowhammer but I think that I did not push far enough west and just covered the eastern end of the site but it was still productive with three pair of Linnets, two singing Meadow Pipits, four Skylarks and quite a few scratchy Whitethroats.

Cow with Starlings...

A tunnel at last!

From here the path I took cut towards Owletts NT property or back into Ashenbank proper so I stuck with the Cobham route as this would take me onto the main path back to the Darnley Mausoleum and home.

The view south

towards the North Downs Way woods

I crossed the empty cricket pitch where a pair of Swallows skimmed the grass and was almost to the car park opposite when I saw three tiny Fox cubs gambolling in the grass near a covered caravan.

I waited for them to scamper out of view and then approached the gate and attempted to become another post.  They soon came back out and were clearly having a relaxing time lounging in the grass and play fighting.  Mum then appeared and it actually took her a little while to notice me.  I think it was the click of my camera (still not worked out how to turn that off) but I got a quick stare and she then slunk off leaving the kids with me for another two minutes until they took heed and followed.

I continued through the village and then straight on at the War Memorial which took me past several horse paddocks and what I think is Hedgerow Crane’s-Bill growing in the verge along with Bush Vetch. 

Hedgerow Crane’s-Bill

Hedgerow Crane’s-Bill

Bush Vetch

Horseshoe Vetch

Lady's Smock
After a chat with a couple out walking who are Rainham regulars, I cut straight across to the main drag that would take me back into the woods adding my first Small Copper of the year in the process.  

Small Copper

Furtive Woodpigeon

The Highland Cattle were all in the first section as I entered the wood but were very placid and just carried on munching their way through the Brambles and let me pass.  This section of cattle managed wood with all it's old trees with holes and broken limbs would be full of Redstarts in the New Forest and I strained my ears for that lovely song.

Alas it was not to be but I did find three singing Garden Warblers around the Mausoleum which are certainly fairly new arrivals.

One final traverse of the A2 via the tunnel and back on the downhill road to home where the council had mown all the lovely greensward and left it bereft of Dandelions and Daisies but they had not actually removed the drifts of cut grass but this had enticed down all the local Starlings and 66 of them were pack hunting for leatherjackets ahead of me and gleaming like oily water in the sunshine.

Starlings rummaging

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