I have only seen one Turtle Dove in the UK before, in 2015, so I was keen to see another this year because a) they may be extinct as breeders in the near future, b) they are beautiful, iconic birds so who wouldn’t want to see them, and c) it would make a great addition to my year list in my attempt to reach 220 species. One of the best places in Sussex and possibly the country to see a Turtle Dove is the Knepp Estate rewilding project; so, early on a Sunday morning my friends John, Jeanne and I set off for a wander in this unique place.
I have written about the Knepp Estate before and there is plenty of information about it on their own website and elsewhere, so I’ll just say that this large area of land is one of the wildest places in the south of England and is brimming with wonderful wildlife. As soon as we got out of the car we saw a male Whitethroat singing his heart out on a telegraph line by the side of the road. The conditions at Knepp, with abundant scrub and brambles, is perfect habitat for this warbler and we saw and heard so many that I lost count.
There is a footpath which runs roughly southwards right through the estate, it follows the line of an old farm lane flanked on each side by mature oak trees and scrubby hedgerows. About halfway along this track, by a pond clogged with water plants, we stopped with ears twitching as John thought he had just heard a purr from a dove. After a few uncertain minutes we heard it again distinctly, the soft ‘turrrr-turrrr-turrrr’ which gives the dove its name and also sounds as though the Cheshire cat is purring in a tree somewhere unseen.