Warm, dry and sunny, light airs - Yesterday we travelled up to Maple Cross in Hertfordshire for a family gathering at the old homestead celebrating my dad`s 92nd birthday, and where I spent the first 16 years of my life. Back then it was still a small village in the Colne Valley on the edge of the Chiltern Hills with a pub, a post office (both long gone) and a visiting fish and chip van on a Friday; infact, the perfect place for a youngster with a love of the countryside to grow up. How things have changed. Today the hum of the adjacent M25 is omni-present, while base camp for HS2 sprawls across the valley bottom towards Denham. In the 1960`s every street in the village had House Martins, hundreds of them, nesting under eaves and arguing with legions of House Sparrows trying to evict the summer visitor and take over their mud homes. Sitting in the back garden yesterday neither were present; although on the plus side at one stage a scan of the skies overhead revealed a trio of Red Kites and a pair of Buzzards soaring into the ether, a sight that would have been inconceivable in my formative years.
This morning (en-route to Folkestone for grand-dad duties) I spent a couple of hours birding the St Mary`s Bay front between the golf links and the derelict building site, as after all it has got form (Red-backed Shrike and Shorelark in recent years). However, nothing quite as exciting as that popped up but there was still plenty of interest from a trickle of Swallows, Yellow Wagtails and Meadow Pipits overhead, a Wheatear on the beach and a thicket of sea buckthorn that attracted a gang of House Sparrows and Starlings, tits, several Chiffchaffs, Chaffinches, Wren, Dunnock, Robin and a Spotted Flycatcher. A few Sandwich Terns flew towards the point and a couple of grey seals followed the tide in. Next stop, once I`d picked up the Apprentice, was The Warren at Folkestone where hundreds of Mediterranean and Black-headed Gulls were on the sea riding out the high tide. The bushes leading down to the beach were alive to sound of calling warblers, mainly from Chiffchaff and Blackcap, plus a few Lesser Whitethroats, tits, finches, a Jay, two Great Spotted and a Green Woodpecker. Goodness only knows what goes undetected in this difficult-to-bird site. The hike back up the cliff nearly finished me off, while the Apprentice barely broke sweat; oh what it is to be 12 years of age! Back at Grove Road whilst recovering in the garden another Spotted Flycatcher flitted amongst the railway embankment cover and two Buzzards sailed over the town.