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.
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.
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.
There were also a large number of blackbirds, and I soon saw why as there was a heap of rotting apples nearby.
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.
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.
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!