After a weekend spent festering indoors hoping for no existent snow to arrive, I decided to head out at a reasonably early hour. It was a surprisingly blue start again with a sharp breeze that got up occasionally as I yomped up the road.
Rather than sloshing up to the Eurostar bridge, I stayed this side where the path was still hard and frozen despite the attention of the off road bikes. There were no birds but the icy puddles were fun.
I cut over the next bridge down (concrete, shiny metal, mosses and lichens...) and into a new piece of Ranscombe although I had an idea where I was and where it would come out and being greeted by two Llamas confirmed that!
|Grey-cushioned Grimmia - Grimmia pulvinata|
|Tortula muralis- with the capsules|
The path took my through the edge of the riding school farm and Redwings moved off in front of me and I could hear but not see Redpolls and Siskin. I emerged at the lower north east gate into the Highland Cattle enclosure of Cobham Woods and had still not seen a soul. I stayed on the lower path and the open woodland was actually full of life. Several Nuthatches and Treecreepers called and a pair of Marsh Tits sneezed next to me before bounding off. These were my first in this section of the park and my best views for ages.
A Great Spotted Woodpecker drummed and a Green yaffled while Stock Doves were doing display flights but without any singing which was a little odd.
|female Green Woodpecker|
The last section of the old wood before the golf course was alive with Redwings (much like in October) and if you unfocused on the floor you could see random hops and skips and short flights and a few tossed leaves. As I moved along they did likewise and it felt like several hundred were present. The other four thrushes were also present amongst them in ones and twos.
I cut across the golf course which was freezing and the slight breeze was cutting. I looked for the White Hart stag that had been seen by another couple but there were too many dog walkers in the distance in areas of the course that I did not think had public access.
I reached the farm and turned south down the lane from which I normally re-enter the woods but I stayed on the chalk path and followed it all the way down to Coldharbour Road. The views out over the hills were superb but I began to get an idea of the scale of the development of this valley to viniculture. The vibrant plastic grape guards went as far as I could see.
The water was flowing down the chalk track but had frozen over in places creating some great bubble traps as the water tried its best to work a way down the slope.
I cut under the railway (bridge VIR124) before reaching the road and was pleased to find a selection of ferns growing out of the brickwork. I recognised Wall-Rue and Hart’s Tongue and a new one – Black Spleenwort. The Hart’s Tongue was far more mature than those I have seen elsewhere and I checked underneath for moth mine signs but I do not think that I found any!
|Wall-Rue and Hart's Tongue Fern|
|Hart's Tongue Fern|
|Hart's Tongue Fern|
I could hear a couple of Skylarks but there were no other small birds at all. At the bottom I turned onto Luddesdon Road and was immediately slapped in the nose by a wall of Cannabis! The smell is part of any daily walk from my front door but where was this coming from? Ah... the four dumped black sacks and piles of wilted cut plants just in the edge of the wood!
|A non-native Weed...|
I carried on up the narrow lane and then onto the even tinier Buckland Lane that took me through some of the Vine fields. They were devoid of life and I only saw a pair of Buzzard mewing overhead and four Linnets on his whole section. The hedge had been cut down to chest height on one side and removed on the other and the thousands of supporting wires across the fields shimmered like gossamer threads on an October morning which may sound quite poetic but I do wonder if it puts birds off from foraging between the rows were weeds abounded or perhaps there are just no small farmland birds anymore.
As the road climbed I turned off onto a Bridleway that rose quite steeply and tracked south.
There was meant to be a footpath off at the top but there was no sign of it so I continued out of my way alongside a huge grassy birdless meadow at the crown of the rise before taking what I thought was the footpath across the valley through the woods but after following a well worn path for a few hundred yards it disappeared beneath the forestry working and I had to get the map out and gps where I was so that I could re-orientate. I remembered from my walks here before that the official paths are tiny and almost unmarked but that the forestry and Pheasant trails are wide and out of bounds but I was out of choices and stuck to my newly found main path and quietly headed back north east.
|The mega meadow|
The woods were silent until another pair of Marsh Tits drew my attention and a Nuthatch called a little further in. A tiny trail on my right looked vaguely familiar and actually crossed the main one I was one so I took it down the slope and quickly realised that I had chosen wisely as I recognised the two posts across the path a little way down. A coffee and biscuit stop was required after a strenuous walk so far but I knew that once at the bottom of this path I would have to climb up even further and steeper the other side.
|The path back down...|
I was slightly relieved to get up to the top and back onto the North Downs Way. I may be fitter for all this walking but my lung capacity has never been great and everything was definitely getting a work out!
The path was a mess having endured an excessive amount of recent ‘traffic’ of all sorts but there was no one else up there and I could escape the worse of it be going off piste a little.
A Peregrine was on one of the pylons dropping down into the Medway Valley but I could not see the Raven nest pylon which is on a different run although I suspect that they will already be tinkering with the structure.
|Medway Valley to the east beyond|
|Distant female Peregrine|
I was in Horseholders Wood where I had the Hawfinches in the spring but other than the odd Coal Tit it was silent but I scored better in Wingate Wood where I picked a male up calling quietly in an Ash above the Yews. He even flew a little more into the open and posed nicely for me while a second bird was calling when if flew off with white wing bars flashing.
|Hawfinch through the canopy|
This was at the point where the footpath drops back down into the valley to the west and I took this path down and back up into the next block of wood before appearing once again in the fledgling vineyards that I encountered in October. Again it was ornithologically quiet and a small flock of Fieldfares just before I reached the old cottages of Upper Bush were the only birds seen.
|Another down and up|
The lichens on an old Chestnut fence briefly distracted me before reaching the Lower Bush Road and some Redwings briefly posed by the Alpaca centre before the accent back up the ridge and through the tunnel into Ranscombe and the slope of Brockles Field. The bench at the top was most welcoming and more coffee was required while I caught my breath.
|Part of 130 Jackdaws out grubbing|
|Alpaca and Llama in the same walk!|
|Looking down from Brockles - Vines galore!|
|I presume this is Pyramidal Orchid as these are the only ones I have seen at this spot. Lots of rosettes.|
Onwards and down into the chalky-clay stickiness of Kitchen Field and then along the main flat ride east where I then took a new path by the Clary bench, back up through the trees to get to the long ride home.
|Growth on Beech|
|Off east towards Bluebell Hill|
I was tired and muddy but it had been a glorious day to be out walking with just me and my head for company for most of the way and a few rewards thrown in along the way to keep me motivated.