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Birdwatcher’s Diary No.129

Published on: 20 Feb, 2017
Updated on: 20 Feb, 2017

By Malcolm Fincham

A mixed bag of weather conditions attempted to spoil my hopes of staying up to date with my photography as we moved into February. Firstly, an Atlantic depression brought mild but wet conditions to the UK.

Taking a bit of a ‘back seat view’, so to speak, I decided to take some time out from the elements and sheltered in a hide – watching the birds come to me for a change. In spite of not being quite so comfortable, I reminded myself of the household chores, I had escaped.

Warnham Nature Reserve is near Horsham. Click on all pictures to enlarge in a new window.

This was during a visit to Warnham Nature Reserve, West Sussex, with its conveniently located hides, several of which look out on to a mill pond. They had good protective covering for me and my my camera on a wet and miserable day.

The mill pond at Warnham Nature Reserve.

Although not often coming up with anything outstanding at Warnham, a variety of ducks and geese can be viewed out on the water. I’ve always found it a pleasant place to visit, especially on a rainy day, with just a short distance to hop from one hide to another. And with the added bonus of a tearoom it is, I feel, well worth the £1.50 entry fee.

For me, the woodpecker hide, where the feeders are regularly kept topped up with seed at this time of year, is always the most productive, for a charming variety of garden species.

Most ‘professional’ wildlife photographers prefer to show pictures of critters in their natural environment, and many a tip can be found on the internet to get such shots. However, I felt justified to take my pictures (mostly) of the birds that had come to the feeding stations, showing some of the delights that can be viewed.

Nuthatch at Warnham Nature Reserve..

These included good close-up views of a nuthatch.

A bird once restricted largely to south-eastern England, the 20th century witnessed a spread to the north, with breeding in Scotland first confirmed in 1989. One of the reasons for the expansion seems to be the nuthatch’s increasing use of bird feeders.

Male great spotted woodpecker at Warnham Nature Reserve.

A great spotted woodpecker. They have also become increasingly regular visitors to bird-feeding stations.

Great tit.

Numerous great tits.

Blue tit.

And blue tits.

Coal tit.

As well as a few coal tits.

Water rail.

The highlight of the day had to be a water rail, appearing from the undergrowth on many occasions, scurrying around, feeding on titbits of seed that it could find.

Reed bunting.

A few reed buntings also joined in, looking for seed.

The brief mild spell turned back to a cold easterly as we entered the first week of February. Unlike the previous cold spell, this time the sky remained ‘leaden grey’, with little sign of sunshine.

Siskins feeding high in an alder tree.

Flocks, in excess of 30 siskins could be heard in the tops of alders, feeding on their cones. Photographing them wasn’t easy in the poor daylight.

Song thrush singing.

Several song thrushes had begun to sing their delightful tunes.

Redwing.

Not cold enough to freeze the ground, redwings took advantage of the soft soil to seek earthworms to feed on.

Green woodpecker.

Also on my ‘travels’ around the Surrey countryside I caught sight of a green woodpecker taking advantage of the soft ground. Having the opportunity of watching it feeding not too far away in a field, I was able to take some photos even though the light was poor.

Green woodpeckers have a freakishly long tongue.

I even got a few pictures of its incredibly long tongue as it probed the ground, looking for food.

These freakishly long tongues are quite a marvel. They are so long, in fact, that it has to coil behind the bird’s skull, over the eyes and connect to its nostril in order to fit inside the its head.

The tongue is three to five times as long as its beak and is sensitive enough to feel the softness of a larval insect, yet stiff and sharp enough to pierce it, yet sticky with reverse barbs to keep the grub on the tongue as it retracts.

Despite the continuing inclement weather, bird life remained active in gardens with feeding stations in the more rural locations of Guildford too. I saw a variety of birds feeding locally, and unlike at Warnham Nature Reserve, in better light too.

Long-tailed tit.

Long-tailed tits arriving in small flocks to the feeders on occasions.

Blue tit with long-tailed tit.

As at Warnham, blue tits.

Nuthatch on a local garden feeder.

And a nuthatch was a regular visitor.

Marsh tit on garden feeder.

A special treat for me was seeing a marsh tit.

These birds especially favour areas of dense established woodland for both feeding and breeding. Although a declining species, they are well known to visit garden feeders in rural areas during winter months.

Firecrest in flight.

On my recent travels around the Surrey countryside I have noted birds are now started to become more vocal. I caught the high-pitched sound of a firecrest. I got a few photos of it in flight, adding it to my ‘year’ list.

Grey wagtail, looking good in its colourful plumage.

A grey wagtail sat on the wooden railing of a bridge.

Kingfisher.

While a kingfisher attempted to hide, unsuccessfully, from my view.

A pair of little egrets.

Two little egrets could be seen, still wintering on edge of a quiet lake.

Male bullfinch comes down for a drink.

Bullfinches could be heard calling, and one male even came down from high in a canopy of trees to refresh its vocal cords with a sip of water.

Magpie, not popular with many – but colourful in sunlight.

The sun even poked through on a few occasions, helping to add some brighter colours to my photos. Magpies could be seen carrying nesting material.

A jay looking for the nuts it buried last autumn.

While jays continued to look for the nuts they had buried last autumn.

Other delights on show during the last few weeks included:

Peregrine perched in tree.

A peregrine perched high in a tree.

Fox.

A fox basking in some warm sunlight.

Common buzzard on a fence post.

And a common buzzard perched on a fence post.

Common buzzard.

As the weather began to warm into ‘double figures’ for the first time this year, by the middle of the month several could be seen displaying overhead.

As well as continued sightings of the occasional red kite.

I was taken by surprise to catch a glimpse of a peacock butterfly as it fluttered past me, without settling, on a rare sunny day on February 7.

My first butterfly photo of 2017 – a red admiral.

And I was delighted to get my first photo this year of a red admiral butterfly on February 13, that had been tempted out of hibernation by some (reasonably) warm sunshine.

An early taste of spring perhaps?

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test 2 Responses to Birdwatcher’s Diary No.129

  1. Lisa Wright Reply

    February 20, 2017 at 9:56 pm

    Lovely pictures.
    I worry about the early butterflies, we saw a peacock the other day and I wondered what it was going to eat!

  2. Tina Fincham Reply

    March 6, 2017 at 9:41 pm

    Lovely pics, as always Mal. But the household chores still await you! X

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