What is vismigging and where can you do it in Surrey?

PUBLISHED: 12:15 21 January 2020

Panoramic view of Leith Hill Tower and Countryside, Surrey

Panoramic view of Leith Hill Tower and Countryside, Surrey

©National Trust Images/John MIller

The National Trust’s Hannah Elliott rounds off the year with a spot of vismigging – watching birds on their migration routes south

I thought I knew Leith Hill: its quirky tower and dreamy views of mist in the valleys in winter. The top of Leith Hill Tower is the highest point in the South East and there are panoramic views across several counties.

But there is something I'd missed and that's 'vismigging'. This is birders' slang for watching birds on their visible migration routes and it turns out that Leith Hill is one of the best places in the South East for this form of bird-spotting.

Natural barriers such as ridges and coastlines act to channel birds in certain directions. When you look across from Leith Hill, south west towards the outline of Black Down in West Sussex, you are tracing the Greensand Ridge.

Migrating birds are doing exactly the same from their astonishing vantage point, swooping along on high.

Redwing in the Snow - NT Images John MillerRedwing in the Snow - NT Images John Miller

"It has been a wonderful year for birds with abundant sightings by the tower migration watch team and the resident bird ringer," says Nicky Scott, National Trust lead ranger for Leith Hill.

"Seeing nationally rare birds, such as woodlark, is now a given at the heath and is a fine reward for all the hard work that has been achieved.

"You'll often see birders reporting on Duke's Warren, which is to the north-west of Leith Hill Tower and is the jewel in the crown of the property as far as species diversity is concerned.

"It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest that has been undergoing heathland restoration since initial clearance of plantation woodland in 1987 - and it continues to be a work in progress.

"Stonechat, Dartford warbler and nesting crossbill were confirmed. Cuckoo, wheatear, redpoll, siskin and redstart had been sighted. Perhaps the most anticipated arrival of the year is the nightjar and we were duly rewarded towards the end of May.

"The churring of this bird throughout the summer - and especially when seen flitting across a full moon on a warm evening - reassures me that all the hard work and resources that go into the management of a heathland have paid off.

"By the end of the summer, there had been good sightings of tree pipit, spotted and pied flycatcher, grasshopper warbler, hobby, sparrow hawk, buzzard, goshawk, kestrel, and raven, the latter constituting a striking presence around the tower.

"With the arrival of autumn and winter, this stunning vantage point has already seen the passage of redwing, chaffinch, meadow pipit, osprey and ring ouzel.

"It is thanks to the collaborative efforts of those involved in the management of the site and the dedication and observance of regular birders, that our knowledge of resident and visiting birds continues to grow and thereby our ability to provide for them." 


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