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1999: Woodcock at Crawley, Hants

From December 14:

“The second day of the Winter Farmland Bird Survey and I would cover the eastern half of New Barn Farm. It was considerably colder than the first day with a crisp frost underfoot. It was also considerably quieter on the bird front with a few chaffinches and a couple of skylarks among the inevitable pheasants and partridges.

“However, the highlight of the month occurred as I started down the second field. A large bird whirred off in front of me and I took it to be another partridge. I got the bins on to it in case it was a grey. As it banked round, I caught an impression of a long bill and immediately thought of snipe. The back was too plain and its flight was low and purposeful. I realised then that I could only be looking at a woodcock.

“Now, as far as I am concerned the woodcock does not exist. In the US maybe where I have seen one. But not here. It is allegedly widespread and not uncommon, so how come I had seen 212 other species of bird in the UK before seeing it? No, other birders had clearly made it up as some sort of initiation test for beginners. I could just see them sniggering as some poor sap tentatively misidentifies a woodcock. Tee-hee.

“It is still difficult to believe that I saw it.

“A couple of other fields passed with a few more finches until I got to a set-aside field sandwiched between two copses. A great spotted woodpecker called from each copse and a moment later one flew across the field to join its mate (or rival). The set-aside itself produced a few meadow pipits and then a large flock of goldfinches in one corner.

“Separated from this area by a paddock two farmyards produced a smattering of pied wagtails, starlings, fieldfares and more chaffinches. In addition dozens of collared doves flew out of one shed as i passed and a little colony of house sparrows chirruped away in a nearby hedge. I could tell that I was in a built-up area!

“I had not intended to cover these last patches and I returned to the car to find that I had spent four-and-a-half hours on the survey. I had walked barely half the kilometre square. Someone somewhere had been optimistic in their estimate of the workload.”

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