Bough Beech in Late April


Bough Beech reservoir sits beneath the woodland that cloaks the North Downs. In late April, the long expanse of bright water is hardly stirred by a cold breeze. The south end of the reservoir is given over to sailing and the flotilla of dinghies, lit brilliant white in the sun, runs back and forth.  The northern end is a nature reserve.

Up to 20 common terns Sterna hirundo and two black terns Chlidonias niger circle and stoop in the empty middle reaches where a drying cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo sits on a marker buoy that perhaps demarcates the boundary between sport and nature. One or two common terns visit the small northern lake where they circuit and stoop but never seem to catch a fish.  Pairs have taken up residence on some of the odd assortment of artificial islands that adorn the quietest corner of the nature reserve.

Bough Beech in April 1012
The visitor centre is a converted barn and single oasthouse (and the cafe serves good coffee)

The reservoir at the reserve end is only watchable from the narrow road that winds over the causeway that separates the small north lake from the main reservoir.  The water level in spring is high and waders are absent. The high water drowns the oak woodland that sits adjacent to the north lake and small numbers of male shoveler Anas clypeata, tufted duck Aythya fuligula and coot Fulica atra idle at at the lake edge, many with concealed nests with females on eggs. A great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus occupies the middle ground and occasionally leans into a guttural shout whilst flaring his crest. A little egret Egretta garzetta glides silently into the willow scrub where it too may have a nest.

Up the hill and the road is lined on both sides by brambles, dense willows and other scrub. The trees and bushes are bright yellows and soft greens as they come into leaf.

Blue Parus caeruleus and great tits Parus major, dunnocks Prunella modularis, wrens Troglodytes troglodytes, robins Erithacus rubecula, song thrushes Turdus philomelos and blackbirds Turdus merula sing and scold. Nuthatches Sitta europaea call incessantly and have a nest somewhere high in a tree. Nuthatches close a woodpecker hole by adding mud to the edge to improve the security of the nest site and hence the old english name of mason bird. The dagger like bill looks ill-equipped for the task.

The foraging and displaying birds are busy and easy to watch at this time of year before the rapidly emerging foliage conceals them. The residents have now been joined by an abundance of blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla, one or two garden warblers Sylvia borin and whitethroats Sylvia communis. The last has a short parachuting display flight and sings frenetically throughout. Unsurprisingly, a reed warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus sings its repetitive scratch from a small patch of reeds. A handful of nightingales Luscinia megarhynchos have also arrived; their liquid song and staccato drills pour from the roadside scrub. Deep in the bottom of the tangle of bare branches, the birds are often visible with distinctive short wings and tail cocked high; occasionally the odd bird ventures briefly up into the light.

The plants and insects are scarce but one hoverfly gives a good impression of an Irish dancer with its skipping feet.  This should be renamed the Flatley Fly.

Bough Beech in April 1016
Grey heron asleep, probably with a nest in the small heronry high in the tall oaks

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