It all happened rather fast after an extremely long process; my parents and I are now living in Midhurst. We moved from our Southwater house exactly a week before Christmas (!) and into the place my mum and step-dad bought together in the beautiful historic town of Midhurst, found smack-bang in the middle of the South Downs National Park.
Given the option, I don't think I would have chosen to move away from where we were before. I was so spoilt by the rural location of our cottage, being fully immersed in nature and not being able to look out of the window without seeing some form of wildlife. I talked about this in my guest post for A Focus On Nature but, in a nutshell, living in Southwater and immersing myself in the natural world were the reasons I decided to pursue conservation as a career. I have had some amazing experiences in that quiet corner of West Sussex.
Our old back garden bordered a huge expanse of woodland and so we had all sorts of creatures visiting the feeders. I discovered the undeniable quirky character of the nuthatch, now my favourite garden bird, and was treated to frequent close sightings of great-spotted woodpeckers, including a male and female pair feeding their two juveniles on the peanuts. We regularly had goldcrests hopping about in the bushes, the occasional visit from goldfinches, long-tailed tits and bullfinches, the odd treecreeper clinging to the oak tree and even a couple of redwing stopped by briefly on their way through. I think the most exciting sighting I had was actually one of the last before we moved, seen from the kitchen window, and that was a firecrest!
In the three years we lived there, we had five different species of bird nesting in the garden, though not all with successful broods. The first year the nestbox went up, the blue tits moved in straight away and their chicks fledged with success, spending the next couple of weeks using our feeding station to learn how to feed. At the same time, a few metres above the box, a pair of nuthatches spent weeks lining a hole in the oak trunk with mud until it was only big enough for the parents to fit through and then flew back and forth with food for their chicks. I didn't see them fledge so can only hope they did so successfully.
The following year the great tits decided it was their turn in the box and the same thing happened; I saw a flock of juvenile great tits on the feeders and made the assumption that they had come from our box. Elsewhere in the garden, a female blackbird had decided the hedge next to our kitchen was the perfect place to build her nest, and I spent many moments at the window watching her return with her beak stuffed with twigs and moss. She laid three eggs which all hatched, but sadly, the day after, they had disappeared from the nest. I put this down to either corvids or woodpeckers. In a separate bush at the same time, long-tailed tits built themselves an impressive ball of feathers, moss, horse hair and lichen. Unfortunately this didn't even see eggs as it was destroyed by a predator of some form before the family returned to lay any.
I explored quite a bit of the woodland surrounding our old house where I had some close encounters with roe deer on several occasions. The first one was with a doe and her very young fawn, so young it still had its spots. I remember holding my breath and not moving a muscle from where I was stood, while my heart beat wildly in excitement. We frequently had deer crossing in front of the house too and so I was often able to watch them from the front garden. I always felt grateful to be so close to such beautiful animals in the wild and still do.
I also built a mini wildlife pond not long after we first moved in. I would have loved to construct a full-sized one with plants but the house (and garden) were rented so that wasn't an option. It didn't seem to bother the local amphibians that my pond was only small; I had both toads and frogs frequent it right up until the last few weeks, when there were two resident frogs living under the pile of rocks surrounding it.
It's actually quite difficult to look back on three years worth of experiences and remember each and every one in perfect detail. The big ones have stuck with me, naturally, but there were others that would have just become blurry in my memory if I hadn't have blogged about them. I'm definitely going to be better with recording what I see, hear etc. if only so that when I move away from this patch eventually, I'll be able to look back as I'm doing now and recall everything over and over.
The feeling of leaving was bittersweet. I was worried that moving to a slightly more suburban area, albeit with a small patch of woodland behind the house, would mean less variety of garden birds. I have absolutely nothing against blue tits and starlings, as many of you will know from this article I wrote back in October , but I knew I would miss seeing the nuthatch and woodpeckers especially!
It turns out I didn't need to worry. The first bird I spotted after moving in was a goldcrest! And not a goldcrest in the distance through bins. Nope, this was in a small tree in our neighbours front garden, about 6ft from our window. I took that to be a good sign. Since then we've had goldfinches and long-tailed tits on the feeders, a song thrush in the front garden and two great-spotted woodpeckers fly over, chuck-chucking as they went. It's looking like this patch won't be letting me down any time soon.