The discovery of a Short-eared Owl hunting over Lawn Field at the end of November brought the number of species observed in the Park in 2007 to 120, making it a record year. This spectacular day-flying owl is present in good numbers nationally this winter, so for one to be seen in the Park was not unexpected. But for one to stay is very unusual. Not since 1991 has a bird stayed any length of time in the Park and the last sighting was of two birds for two days in 2005. This year's bird could be seen leaving its daytime roost in the late afternoon and then hunting for a while over Lawn Field before flying to other open areas of the Park. It even managed to tolerate the weekend crowds. Either this bird, or possibly another migrating bird, was seen flying high eastwards at dawn on the 7th.
Owl watchers on December 2nd had the bonus of a Red Kite appearing to drop into Spankers Hill Wood at dusk. The eigth record in an excellent year for this handsome raptor. What was probably the same bird was seen over Esher the next morning. A few evenings later on the 6th, a Little Egret flew to roost in Pen Pond Plantation, although it was later chased off by a Grey Heron. The increase in the records of this species reflect the national trend. Presumably the same bird was subsequently seen on Beverley Brook on the 8th and 9th.
Birds from the unprecedented autumn influx of Dartford Warblers have stayed to winter with probably five birds present. Often accompanied by Stonechats, they can be seen and heard, with patience, in areas of bracken at Lawn and Middle Fields and Pond Slade. A Jack Snipe, a scarce and elusive winter visitor, was flushed from the edge of Upper Pen Pond on the 7th. One of its close relatives, a Common Snipe, was also flushed from a few damp places in the centre of the Park. A special survey of Water Rails revealed eight birds calling from the reedbed at Upper Pen Pond. A flock of 25 Lapwings flying over on the 3rd may have been forced to move from their usual winter quarters by the cold spell.
Not all winter visitors, however, have been represented in their usual numbers. For yet another year there has been a lack of Gadwall and Wigeon. Twenty Shoveler have been the only dabbling ducks of note to take up residence on the Pen Ponds. Redwings are so far present in rather small numbers. The year ended on the 27th with the discovery of what may be a new species for the Park, the 207th since Park records began. A probable Mealy Redpoll was briefly seen amongst a flock of its commoner cousins. This Scandanavian species is widespread in the country this winter.
Another spell of frosty weather in January could bring in some rarer winter visitors in the form of wildfowl or even a Bittern. The Grey Herons will begin to consider breeding at their colonial nesting area in one of the Park's secluded woods. Up to ten pairs usually breed. One of the Park's non-native colonists, the Egyptian Geese, will have paired up and will be engaging in noisy disputes with their neighbours and investigating possible nest-sites in tree holes, sometimes well away from any water. Wintering Woodcock can be seen leaving their roosting areas, such as Sidmouth Wood, at dusk. Little and Tawny Owls begin to call more frequently and some songbirds, such as Mistle and Song Thrushes, can be heard singing. Flocks of Siskins should still be encountered feeding in Alders and Birches.
Jan Wilczur, December 2008