Fringe Box



Birdwatcher’s Diary No.127

Published on: 18 Jan, 2017
Updated on: 18 Jan, 2017

By Malcolm Fincham

A contrast in weather conditions to welcome the new year did eventually lead to some sunny days and good photographic opportunities.

A wet New Year’s Day at Stoke Lake. Click on all pictures to enlarge in a new window.

I spent a few hours on New Year’s Day (a wet and overcast afternoon) at Guildford’s Riverside Nature Reserve, trying to justify what has become my annual ritual of starting afresh on which species I can see and add to another year count for 2017.

To my delight, a prearranged trip to the Isle of Sheppey in Kent the following day, with a small group of keen ‘birders’ (and good friends), brought with it, by contrast, a spell of glorious sunshine.

Unusual cloud formation on Sheppey.

Clear blue skies even produced some unusual cloud-like formations.

New and old bridge over the River Swale.

Our first port of call there was Elmley Marshes, not far from the River Swale road crossing, where looking back, a view of both the new and old bridges on to the island can be seen.

Marsh harrier.

More of interest to me however was almost immediate views of at least four distant marsh harriers as we drove into the entrance to the reserve. It wasn’t long before a few flew, nearer to view, close enough for me to ‘snatch’ a few shots with my camera.

Common buzzards on posts.

A pair of common buzzards sat like centurions guarding a gate that seemed to lead to nowhere.

Lapwing at Sheppey.

Although lapwings were willing to remain near enough for decent pictures.


And even a kestrel posed on a mound, in the sunshine.

Distant views of avocets in flight at Sheppey.

Most of my photos that day were mainly distant and ambitious record shots. These included ‘picking out’ a flock of more than 150 golden plovers in front of some brent geese. And a distant shot of a large flock of avocets.

Large flocks of wigeon on Isle of Sheppey.

Wildfowl were abundant, large flocks of wigeon and teal could be viewed in a large murmuration. Often having been spooked into flight by a passing bird of prey.

Harty Marshes.

Still on Sheppey, later we moved on to Harty Marshes.


Mixed flocks of fieldfares and redwings roamed in congregations, with at least a score of them, close to view, seeking berries to feed on.

Red-legged partridges.

While a covey of red-legged partridges stayed close to the cover of the hedgerows.


Although much of the views that day were distant ones, including a ring-tail hen harrier, too distant to photo, three distant ruff and a flyover of 30 or so corn buntings that all remained beyond the focus of my camera.

The Moon and Venus (just below, to the right) appear over ‘raptor view point’ in the evening sky at Harty Marshes.

What was a marvellous day of sightings was enjoyed by all, as we ended the day at the ‘raptor view-point’. Surveying the surrounding landscape, while the temperatures rapidly dropped and the sun disappeared over the horizon, reminded us it was time to go home.

Car breaks down on cold and frosty night.

Joy turned to anguish, however, when my friend’s car decided to break down on the M25 a few miles from the A3. Fortunately, having spent close to four hours standing behind the safety of the barriers in the cold night air, the company that claims to be the ‘fourth rescue service’ finally arrived to tow us home.

A view of the sea wall that helps protect Farlington Marshes at Langstone Harbour.

Undaunted by the sufferings of the event’s trials and tribulations, and taken a day to conquer the nightmare of our journey back to Guildford, and allowing the bones to thaw out from the ordeal, it was back on the road again. This time in a back-up vehicle and in the direction of Farlington Marshes in Hampshire. This was the hope of ‘clocking up’ a few more species to add to my 2017 year list. The majority of birds of which I had seen ‘last year’ – just a week or so ago on my previous visit.

Avocets in the main lagoon at Farlington.

A cloudless sky and little to no breeze on our arrival there allowed some great opportunities to ‘wield’ our cameras. At the far side of the main lagoon, a good 50 or more avocets were showing well. Although seeing a large flock of them on Sheppey, it was a delight to get some closer views.

Pintail at Farlington.

While pintails could be seen, closer to view, and in good number counting at least 200 around the reserve, with a cracking selection in view on the lagoon.

A gadwall showing its white wing patch in flight.

Along with plenty of wigeon. And even a few gadwall to add to the year list.

Brief glimpse of a bearded tit at Farlington.

A few bearded tits were once again playing hard to see in the reed beds. And after many attempts to get one in focus, and although not an adult male, I was eventually reasonably happy with a few of the results.

Is that a kingfisher I can see on that post, in the snow?

Arriving at the area by the information hut, I was alerted to sound of a kingfisher, pointing it out to an elated group of people, as it flew quite high over the track, disappearing into the reeds behind the hut.

Kingfisher, for sure…

To my own delight, I relocated it in the reed bed and even managed to get a few reasonable record shots as it perched in the reeds.

Kingfisher seen hiding in the reeds at Farlington.

Spotted redshank at Farlington.

Along the stream leading toward the hut we also picked out a spotted redshank in its winter plumage, to add to my year list.

Redshank flies past.

As well as the more ‘common’ redshank as it flew by.

Ringed plover at Farlington.

Also adding to the ‘year list’ were: a ringed plover feeding in the harbour while the tide was out.

Common snipe at Farlington.

A common snipe.

Rock pipit at Farlington.

Along the harbour a rock pipit flitted back and forth from the brambles to the seawall.

Raven at Farlington.

While, as on my previous visit, a raven sat out in the field.

Always a favourite for me during recent winters at Farlington, is the chance of a sighting of a short-eared owl. Once again we didn’t leave disappointed.

Crepuscular by nature, it’s always a bonus to see one hunting in daylight.

Short-eared owl at Farlington.

To add to our admiration, on this occasion, two appeared, briefly interacting as they rose over the marshes.

Short-eared owl quartering the fields at Farlington.

Seeing one of them return to quarter the fields, allowed me a few ‘in-flight’ shots.

Short-eared owl perched on a small bush, at Farlington.

Finding a small bush, barely stable enough to take its weight, it perched in the bright sun. And there it remained, still sunbathing, at the time we had to call it a day.

Continuing with my synopsis of sightings during the first two weeks of January, and while on more local venues within the Surrey borders, included a visit to Thursley Common.

Winter at Thursley.

A pleasant walk across the bare but atmospheric winter landscape was brightened by opportunistic gorse bushes attempting to break into bloom, as their yellow flowers glistened in the sunshine.

Meadow pipit on Thursley Common.

A little time and patience allowed me a few chance pictures as I traversed the heathland, while taking in healthy heathland smells and views. A small group of four meadow pipits appeared from the heather to perch in a bare birch tree.

Dartford warbler perched on a gorse bush on Thursley Common.

Fortune came my way with a number of Dartford warbler sighting along the way.

Stonechat on Thursley Common.

Stonechats sat like lookouts on their various perches.

Wren on Thursley Common.

A wren briefly appeared from the undergrowth, scurrying around for a short while, before skulking, back out of sight.

Robin on Thursley Common.

Even a robin made an inquisitive appearance, poking its head over a gorse bush to check me out.

‘Shrike hill’ Thursley Common.

The highlight of the afternoon occurred when arriving at the base of ‘shrike hill’.

I was rather hopeful of spotting the wintering great grey shrike, although since the start of the new year it had so far eluded me.

Looking out towards the boardwalk that runs alongside Pudmore Pond, I caught sight of what I first thought might be a merlin, chasing prey. Closer observations, through my binoculars, as well as a few record shots, soon confirmed, that it was in fact, the great grey shrike.

Looks like a great grey in flight.

The great grey shrike (northern shrike) is also known as the butcher bird. It is renown for catching small rodents and beetles, and so on, and to hang them on spikes of shrubs or trees – like a butcher using meat hooks and hanging meat in a larder for later consumption.

Great grey shrike chasing prey on Thursley Common.

Continuing my walk, I met up with three young lads that had been fortunate enough to get ‘ringside’ views of the chase. Although not avid birdwatchers, they got impressive views, with one of them claiming it was quite possibly a warbler the shrike was chasing.

Great grey shrike perches on wires on Thursley Common.

Heading back to the ‘moat car park’ while reluctantly guessing their sighting was probably a Dartford warbler. I re-sighted the shrike as it perched on some overhead cables at the edge of the heathland.

Ring-necked parakeets.

Staying local in the days leading up to the middle of the month, I managed to add a couple more new year sightings. Two ring-necked parakeets, that appeared to have already paired up.

Yellowhammer in a friend’s garden.

A group of yellowhammers topping up on seeds in a friend’s garden.

Marsh tit.

Several sightings of red kites locally and a marsh tit on a garden feeder.

Coal tit, showing its white wing bars.

Along with several coal tits, distinguishable at a glance, from the marsh tit, by their white wing bars.

Song thrush.

A song thrush.


And even a close-up view of a goldcrest.

Sunset in Surrey.

And even some glorious sunsets.

A light dusting of snow in a village near Guildford.

As we neared the end of the second week of January, temperatures briefly dipped again.

A look up at St Martha-on-the-Hill church, on the North Downs Way, after a light falling of snow.

A short falling of snow followed by a sharp frost on January 12 allowed me a few scenic shots of some of the more rural landscapes surrounding Guildford, the following day.


And even a few sightings and photos of one of ‘my’ local kingfishers. One was taking advantage of some still ice-free waters.


As brightly coloured as they are, often a keen eye is needed to spot them before they take flight. As it flew up and down the lake, picking out some of its favourite perching points to hunt, I managed to catch a few more shots, while it remained unaware of my observations.

Grey wagtail in the snow.

A grey wagtail also arrived on the scene,at the lakeside as the dusting of snow started to thaw in the bright sunshine.

Redwings in the snow.

It allowed a small group of redwings to check out the ground for worms.

Mistle thrush looking for worms in the thawing snow.

And even a mistle thrush joined in.

Alpaca in the snow.

My favourite sighting during the brief snowy spell was a small group of alpacas. Looking snug and warm in their woolly outfits, watching me shiver as I snapped a few shots of them.

Alpacas ‘nuzzling’ in the cold.

While two of them nuzzled each other in content.

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Responses to Birdwatcher’s Diary No.127

  1. Mike Beer Reply

    February 6, 2017 at 12:43 pm

    On Saturday Feb 4, in the Riverside Nature Reserve I heard a singing Chiffchaff. Is that possible?

    I got as close as I could to the tree the bird was in. I didn’t see it, but the song was unmistakeable.

  2. Malcolm Fincham Reply

    February 6, 2017 at 11:31 pm

    Although not having personally heard a chiffchaff, singing its ‘infamous’ call yet this year. It is quite possible, that is what was heard.

    I have heard them singing on sunny days in January at a number of locations, including Riverside Nature Reserve, in previous years. Whether this is an early territorial display or a bold attempt to attract a partner, I’m not sure, but I’ll be especially listening out for one on my next visit.

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