‘Croak, croak croak!’ Hear that sound this month and you will probably be looking down into a pond of breeding frogs. But you may just need to look upwards too.
Now I am unaware of any flying frogs in the Cranleigh area. But I have been recording increased sightings in the last few years of a bird that has defied the odds and come back from county extinction. That bird of mystery and legend – the Raven.
Up until early this century the nearest safe bet for seeing one was to go to the wilds of Exmoor or Dartmoor. In the springtime I was usually rewarded with views of small flocks of these aerial acrobats doing their mid- air tumbling high above the hills and tors.
Then I discovered them on the cliffs of Dorset as their range expanded gradually eastwards. My first county record came at Newlands Corner on 1 May 2006 and I saw another in 2007, over the Surrey Hills just north of Cranleigh. It was one of only three seen in Surrey that year.
However by 2011 there were 87 reports from 46 Surrey sites – although we don’t know how many of these involved the same wandering birds. But the species had truly returned and successful breeding in the locality demonstrated it was determined to stay.
So let us give a welcome back from the dead for a bird that was extinct as a breeding species in Surrey by 1875 and was then seen only on six reported occasions in the county in the last century.
The other day I was privileged to spot one from my desk as it flew over my office in the village. There was no audible croaking this time – or any of its other strange honking or clucking-type calls.
But the Raven was fairly easily distinguished from the much smaller mobbing Carrion Crows by its long and wedge-shaped diamond tail, chunky bill, and long flappy wings.
It was not close enough for me to see the shaggy throat, nor the gorgeous blue hues to its shiny black plumage. Ravens are highly intelligent and wisely shy birds – and if that is not your experience when you have visited the Tower of London then it is because none of those are wild.
Persecution was rife in the distant past but hopefully local game keepers and others will help protect the Ravens that now come our way, and not confuse them with their smaller cousin.
However I think some golfers, particularly, might be after the Carrion Crow. One rather aggressive bird around here must have mistaken golf balls for eggs.
I don’t know which golf course it nicked them from but over a period of two months it flew off with half a dozen balls of various colours – and dropped them onto my back lawn.
Twitter – @Crane_Spotter