Last year I did a bird survey in the Wormsley valley near Stokenchurch for the River Thame Conservation Trust. This year I have opted to cover Kingston Stert in Oxfordshire at the foot of the Chiltern escarpment. This is the two-kilometre grid square SP70F.
The requirement is to walk in the square for two to three hours four times a year (twice between 1 November and 28 February, and twice between 1 April and 31 July), recording every bird seen or heard. I chose this square because it has a good network of public paths allowing a circuit which barely goes outside the square. I do not know the area so that added to the interest.
I set off at 8.45 on Saturday 2 December from the village of Sydenham. It was a grey morning with an overcast sky. First I checked out the map board on the green, which is an attractive sketch of the parish.
As I walked through the village I soon saw carrion crow, blue tit, wood pigeon and collared dove. There was a red kite around and starlings overhead. I turned into a field and heard the clattering of fieldfares and then four bullfinches on a hedge, three brightly-coloured males and a female.
I was soon away from the village, out in the open fields, where I met an old lady who had lived in Sydenham all her life. We exchanged a word about red kites: she did not like the way they catch their prey alive.
A local lady
I turned onto a footpath, there were masses of fieldfares chattering in the trees and then flying over the fields with their curiously weak flight. Sometimes there was a starling among them. I saw a few redwings but many more fieldfares.
I joined a wide bridleway, hedged on both sides.
It did a sudden left-hand turn at grid reference 723019 and I wondered if the overgrown continuation of the hedged path ought to be recorded on the defintiive map. It is one to investigate.
A lost way?
The definitive path turned south east over the fields with a view of the Chilterns ahead.
In time I came to the lane where I turned onto a footpath through an extensive garden. Here I heard a goldcrest.
Here I heard a goldcrest
There were also a large number of blackbirds, and I soon saw why as there was a heap of rotting apples nearby.
The reason for the blackbirds
I returned to the village with a slight retracing of my steps (when I stopped the clock and did not record any birds). I then took a purposeful footpath south over large, open fields for about a mile and a half with the Chiltern ridge ahead.
I did not see many birds until the path ran along a beech hedge, where I recorded a song thrush, dunnock and blue tits.
I joined a bridleway which runs into Oakley on the west side of Chinnor, and was popular with dog walkers.
The view east along the bridleway towards Oakley and Chinnor
I soon turned off again, to head back to Sydenham on a bridleway called Sewell’s Lane. I suspect that this should be recorded as a higher status than bridleway.
There were birds in the hedges, including my first chaffinches of the day.
At the boundary of Chinnor and Sydenham parishes there is a stout hedge, stream and footbridge. I hope when I return in the spring that there may be warblers here.
Parish boundary, looking from Sydenham to Chinnor
The bridleway is a direct route back to the village.
When I reached the road I turned left to return to my car by the church. On the way I noticed the Airey houses in Sydenham Grove looking in a sorry state of neglect. Airey houses are prefabricated houses designed by Sir Edwin Airey (1878-1955); they are not beautiful but they fulfilled an important social purpose after the second world war.
That’s the fun of a bird survey, it combines walking, bird watching, public paths and a bit of local history.
When I came to record my results on the British Trust for Ornithology website, I found that fieldfares topped the poll (56, but that was only an estimate), followed by starlings (53, again an estimate), then blackbirds (34), wood pigeon (20) and rook (17). I saw 25 species in total, but surprisingly no jackdaws and not many chaffinches.
I have marked my walk on a photo of the parish map below. I’ll be back three more times!
Map of my walk in pink. I started in Sydenham, went west along a footpath, then north in a loop, south and east back to Sydenham. Then I did the long rectangle in an anti-clockwise direction.