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Wildlife in Kingston

Thursday 25 October 2012

October was a quite extraordinary month for birds in the village – in fact by far the most remarkable in my 18 years here. It began with sightings of nuthatches being reported in scattered localities – in a garden in Mushroom Field, near the tennis court, on a garden feeder in The Avenue and then another on the Ridge. Since only a single bird was ever seen at a time, this was quite possibly the same individual doing the rounds. Nuthatches are typically birds of woodland. Although they’re often found also in parks and gardens, Kingston is a long way from a decent-sized wood and nuthatches are normally very sedentary birds. It seems, though, that we were not alone in being blessed by a visit from this striking bird, as nuthatches were also turning up last month in unexpected places elsewhere in the county – one even being recorded near Beachy Head.

On the morning of Saturday 27 October, counting myself very lucky indeed even to have heard my first ever nuthatch in Kingston (near the church, two days earlier) I was idly looking out of our kitchen window, passing the time of day with an old friend who was commenting on the large group of goldfinches making – as usual – short work of the sunflower hearts. Then, in a moment, a nuthatch had appeared, scattering the goldfinches in all directions (nuthatches are small but have a fearsome bill) and disappeared. Was I seeing things? No, the bird made a second fleeting visit and a third and was then gone. Perhaps it may be 20 years before I see another in the village.

But this was not all! Two hours later, with me again gazing through the window at the goldfinches (I do occasionally occupy myself with more constructive activities, believe me, but fortunately wasn’t otherwise engaged at this golden moment) the unerring eye of my wife (where would I be without her?) noticed another, even smaller finch feeding with them. I was now almost in shock. This bird was a redpoll – a lesser redpoll to be precise – and was another first, not just for the garden but (as far as I know) for the village. Redpolls (the name is a bit of a clue!) also have red on the breast, and although at this time of the year the colour has often faded to the point almost of invisibility, the front of this bird – at a range of less than 10 feet - was still noticeably and beautifully carmine.
That same day, I received an e-mail from Lionel Ward, with still more amazing news. Yet another new bird had turned up in his garden - in the form of a brambling, an attractive finch a little reminiscent of a chaffinch but with a dark head and a white rump.

For three atypical species to appear in gardens less than half a mile apart within the space of a few hours is quite astonishing but perhaps these sightings were matched or even exceeded by others? Do please let me know if you encountered anything out of the ordinary at the end of last month especially. Peculiar weather patterns might perhaps account for the appearance of the migratory brambling (a winter visitor to the UK from northern Europe) but what about the other two species?
In another month, I would have made much more of the report, also in October, of a green sandpiper near the pond in Kingston Hill Fields but – as unusual as this was – it had to cede precedence to birds which, though all common enough in their normal habitat, you just don’t expect to find in your garden in Kingston.

Who, I wonder, could ever find birding dull?! Keep an eye on those feeders – you never know what to expect.

- Steve Berry