Fringe Box



Birdwatcher’s Diary No.126

Published on: 2 Jan, 2017
Updated on: 2 Jan, 2017

By Malcolm Fincham

As another wonderful year of wildlife watching came to a close I spent a few minutes in thought while watching a common buzzard in a field: “Fifty years ago I knew nothing about nature. Today I know enough to know that I still know very little.”

At least, there is always something “out of the ordinary” I come across, which I haven’t noted before.

Common buzzard stoops for a kill? Click on all pictures to enlarge in a new window.

Deciduous trees now bare of leaves helped me get clear views across the landscape as I gazed in thought. I was enlightened as I watched from a quiet lane bordered by slender elm trees a common buzzard in the field, not far beyond.

I can’t see its prey.

At first I thought it had pounced on some prey. Amused by its antics, I started to watch more intently. I soon realised it had in fact taken a liking to playing with some dried-out dung-balls.

Playing with the dung-balls.

Surprised by what I saw, I took a series of photos. I watched it acting like a kitten with a ball of wool, as sprang back and forth, grabbing with its talons. Then stretching out to grab another one.

Common buzzard gets bored and takes flight.

Eventually, after a few minutes, it started to get bored with the game it had invented and took flight across the field.

Common buzzard in the fog.

Staying with the theme of my last report, I continued to get good sightings and even a few reasonable pictures of common buzzards locally.

Common buzzard has a scratch.

They are often seen on overcast and murky days, lazily perching on posts in the more rural parts of Guildford.

Kingfisher perched, ready to dive.

I also took a series of photos of a kingfisher, diving into a lake.

Taking a dive.

Into the water.

Plunging into the water, with minimal splash.

It then reappears.

Did he catch a fish?

Not sure if he was successful.

Although not always prosperous in its mission.

Kingfisher, probably the most striking bird in the UK.

Returning to its various favoured perches, eventually making a successful strike.

Kingfisher on a favoured perch.

Kingfishers are particularly susceptible to cold winters, and are therefore dependant on fishing on ice-free waters. At present I have four reliable areas of water that I can almost guarantee at least a glimpse of one. But will they survive a possible cold spell?

In spite of the short and seasonal overcast days, it remained reasonably mild on the days leading up to Christmas. Although hampering my attempts to get decent photos, it remained a blessing for the birds that had taken to probing the soft soil, seeking a meal.

One of a small flock of redwings, hunting for worms in the short grass.

These included small flocks of redwings, checking out short, grassy areas for worms.

Blue tit having a wash.

Blue tits took advantage of shallow, ice-free pools to have a wash and brush-up.

Black-headed gulls on flooded field.

An occasional bright, sunny day enabled me to get a few Christmas treats in the way of photos, not just relying on contrast to aid me with my record shots. A visit to my local patch at the Riverside Nature Reserve saw black-headed gulls on the ice-free flooded field.

Chiffchaff by Stoke Lake.

By Stoke Lake two chiffchaffs were in pursuit of each other.

Cormorants on the tern raft at Stoke Lake.

On the lake two cormorants took up a familiar stance out on the tern raft.

Goldcrest near Stoke Lake.

A few goldcrests also showed themselves well enough for some photos.

Kingfisher at Stoke Lake.

And even the local kingfisher made an appearance.

A few days break over the Christmas period allowed the chance to get together with a posse of pals for a day’s outing to one of my favourite haunts, Farlington Marshes, near Portsmouth.

Winter sun shines across the main lagoon at Farlington Marshes.

A frosty start to the day soon gave way to some glorious sunshine.

Distant view of red-breasted megansers at Farlington Marshes.

The tide was in on our arrival. A swift scan across Langstone Harbour gave us a distant view of a pair of red-brested mergansers.

Brent geese at Farlington Marshes.

Brent geese were plentiful in and around the reserve.

Pintails at Farlington Marshes.

Along with an abundant amount of pintails.

Reed bunting at Farlington Marshes.

Although catching fleeting glimpses of a small group of very vocal bearded tits in the reed beds near to the information hut, they remained too elusive for a camera-shot on this occasion. I had to settle with one of several reed buntings that fed on seed heads.

Black-tailed godwits at Farlington Marshes.

A group of black-tailed godwits investigated a soft grassy area, using their beaks like sewing-machine needles as they probed for food.

One of two raven seen at Farlington Marshes, pictured between a heron and a lapwing.

Other photographic highlights included a record shot of a raven.

Rock pipit at Farlington Marshes.

A rock pipit feeding along the sea wall.

Meadow pipit in field at Farlington.

While in the fields a few meadow pipits, photographed to assist with a comparison to the rock pipit.

Dunnock at Farlington Marshes.

A dunnock posing on a post.

Ducks and waders on the main lagoon at Farlington.

While looking out across the lagoon checking out the various ducks and waders, we had distant views of a greenshank, shelduck and an avocet, the latter asleep with its bill tucked in.

Water rail, showing well, at Farlington Marshes.

All too distant to photo, we were, however, alerted to the sight of a water rail as it skulked among the reeds, close by.  To our surprise it put on a rare display coming out of its lair to feed in the open.

Is that a short-eared owl I can see?

Although at least three short-eared owls had been reported there in the past few weeks, they seemed to be remaining incognito. Eventually we managed to pick one out, concealing itself in long grass in the ‘point field’.

Short-eared owl at Farlington Marshes.

Eventually, and although distant, a second one took flight, quartering for a while, before drifting out of sight at the far side of the reserve.

Kestrel at Farlington.

A fine end to our visit were close views of what seems to be the resident kestrel.

Heading home, just a short distance from Farlington in Hampshire is the tiny hamlet of Warblington. Having heard recent reports of a cattle egret there, we decided it to be worthy of a visit.

In winter 2007/-2008, a large influx of cattle egrets occurred in the UK. This influx led to the first ever pair breeding successfully in Somerset.

Cattle egret at Warblington.

Having evolved to feed alongside elephants and buffaloes in Africa, the cattle egret has been quick to transfer its loyalties to breeds of domestic cattle to look for insects. This adaptability means it has been able to expand its global range to reach all seven continents.

Three cattle egret feeding among the cows at Warblington.

These birds really do live up to their name, as they feed among the cow-herds.

With an hour of light still remaining we still had time to visit the Tesco store in Havant. Not for a shopping expedition, but in the hope of once again seeing the water voles we had seen there last year.

These wonderful mammals have been wiped out in my local Surrey area by the accidental introduction of the American mink that were once farmed for their fur.

A rare day-time sighting of an ‘American’ mink I photographed in March 2015.

Although much effort is ongoing to eradicate these mink, water voles remain a rare sight in southern parts of the country.

Far from being infallible to making a mistake or two, I decided to some ‘pioneering’ by investigating further down stream, while the others watched the area we had seen them in last year.

Big mistake! Returning only just in time to take a few shots as one made a return to its burrow.

Water vole enjoying a snack. Picture by Bob Smith.

Leaving me to have to concede that good pal Bob had definitely got the best picture. As it sat, mid-stream, in the shallow water, having a snack.

Long-tailed tit.

In the days leading up to the new year the weather turned colder. With human kindness, many of those thoughtful enough to have set up garden bird feeding stations were rewarded with a plethora, of birds coming to visit.  These included common favourites, such as great tits, long-tailed tits and blue tits.

Two marsh tits on a garden feeder.

In one particular local, rural location I even spotted a marsh tit. And to my surprise it was soon joined by a second one.

A delightful ending to another marvellous year of wildlife watching.

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Responses to Birdwatcher’s Diary No.126

  1. James Sellen Reply

    January 3, 2017 at 9:29 pm

    Excellent set of photos. You may have discovered a new behaviour for Common Buzzard – dung football!

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