Fringe Box



Birdwatcher’s Diary No.136

Published on: 28 May, 2017
Updated on: 31 May, 2017

By Malcolm Fincham

It wasn’t until around May 17 that we had our first substantial spell of rain in the Surrey region of the UK. Although only over a period of a few days, it was enough to bring more than half of this month’s average rainfall.

Although it briefly held me back from my passion for wildlife watching and photography, it gave me the opportunity to reflect and to catch up on gathering the backlog of my recent photos.

Breeding season is now well under way and things have been far from moribund. Most of our summer visitors having now arrived have been looking for nest sites.

Swifts back in the sky over Guildford. Click on all pictures to open in a new window.

By May 9, swifts, renown to be one of the last to arrive (and one of first to go back), could be seen flying freely in the sky over Stoughton, with numbers in excess of 20.

Most of our resident birds had already taken ”first dibs” on the most favourable spots to raise their young.

Blue tit pokes its head out from its nesting hole.

In a tiny crevice in a tree locally, I spotted a tiny face, watching me.

Blue tit brings food back for its young having chosen an unusual nest-site.

Hope no-one puts their cigarette out in this box.

While a pair of blue tits at another location I visited had chosen a less natural home.

Long-tailed tit fledgling.

At the Riverside Nature Reserve near Burpham newly fledged long-tailed tits could be heard and glimpsed as they discreetly worked their passage through the hedgerow, seeking small grubs and caterpillars to feast on.

Treecreeper looking for insects.

A treecreeper made its way up the bark of an oak tree, collecting insects until its little beak could hold no more.

Treecreeper with its mouth full of goodies for its young.

Having flown to its nest site to feed them to its young, it would return to repeat the process.

Mute swan on nest.

Along the quieter backwaters of the River Wey a mute swan was nesting.

Moorhen feeding one of its chicks.

A moorhen could be seen feeding its chicks.

Mandarin ducks.

Two drake mandarin ducks were enjoying the secluded spot, as a female mandarin tucked itself away in the overhanging foliage on the far bank.

Grey wagtail.

A grey wagtail did some hover-flying over the river, catching Mayfly as they hatched.

Canada geese with young.

On Stoke Lake two families of Canada geese had got together, to give added protection to their broods.

Kingfisher flie past at Stoke Lake.

Always alert to the sighting of a kingfisher, one flew low across the lake with a small fish in its beak.

Blackcap at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

A blackcap still in song could be seen and heard by the lake.

Reed warbler in a hawthorn bush by Stoke Lake.

As a reed warbler joined in with its ”scratchy” melody.

Grey heron takes flight.

Accidentally, I also disturbed a grey heron, catching a shot of it as it took flight.

Entrance to Noar Hill.

May 13 in the company of Dougal and Bob we went on our annual pilgrimage to Noar Hill near Selbourne in Hampshire.

Cowslips on Noar Hill.

Despite a cool spring, the season for butterflies was well under way with many of the early species already out on the wing.

Small heath butterfly at Noar Hill.

Noar Hill was once the site of medieval chalk workings but now a carpet of wild flowers. A perfect home for butterflies.

Duke of Burgundy, wings open, on Noar Hill.

Including a few rarities such as the Duke of Burgundy.

Duke of Burgundy side view.

We found our first one just as we entered through the “kissing” gate, counting more than 20 in our short time there.

They find themselves at home in scrubby calcareous grassland clearings where heir larval food-plants grow.

Purple orchid.

Primrose and cowslip develop in reasonable abundance in the sheltered but open sunny conditions and where various orchids can also be found.

Dingy skipper on Noar Hill.

We also added the sightings of dingy skipper to our ”year lists”. Another butterfly that has declined seriously in recent years.

Common blue on Noar Hill.

Several common blues were now out on the wing.

Peacock butterfly at Noar Hill.

Also adding a few peacock butterflies.

Green-veined white butterfly.

As well as the green-veined whites.

Green hairstreak.

And even a few of the easily recognised green hairstreak, small in size, bright green undersides of the wings, with a faint streak of white spots.

Common whitethroat.

Although too elusive to photograph, at least two garden warblers could be heard singing, joined by a variety other birds, including a common whitethroat.

Yellowhammer on Noar Hill.

And that delightful countryside sound of yellowhammers.

Common blue on Pewley Down.

Returning to Guildford with some time to spare, we stopped off at Pewley Down. Here we were greeted by more common blue butterflies.

Small blue on Pewley Down.

Our target species had also started to come out on the wing – the small blue. This is our smallest resident butterfly with a wing span that can be as little as 16mm.

Ladybirds mating.

A surprise sighting was at least two green hairstreak butterflies, the first we had ever seen in this area. On a leaf close by the green hairstreak a pair of ladybirds could be seen mating.

Fairmile Bottom, West Sussex.

Making the most of the continuing pleasant spell of weather, on May 14 we continued with the butterfly theme, heading off in the direction of West Sussex, stopping off at Fairmile bottom, in Slinden near Arundel.

Chalk grassland is one of our richest natural habitats. About 80% has been lost in the last 60 years within the UK, so this is an important site.

It is rich in flowers, including scented wild herbs such as basil, thyme and marjoram. Various orchid species can been found, including bee, pyramidal and fly. Other colourful flora include small scabious and delicate nodding harebells.

Too early in the year to see much of the delightful flora and fauna there, we headed up the slope towards Rewell Wood.

Having photographed small pearl-boarded fritillaries on my many visits to the Highlands of Scotland in previous years, I had never seen the similar looking pearl-boardered. Once very widespread, it has declined rapidly in recent decades, and now highly under threat in England and Wales.

Side view of a small pearl-bordered fritillary.

Pearl-bordered fritillary in West Sussex.

The window of opportunity was in our favour. Having known of the site for several years but not had the chance of a visit, we were able to view these fine specimens, just out on the wing and in good condition.

Anchor Bottom near Beeding Hill, West Sussex.

Having done some research and trusting our luck, we then headed in the direction of Shoreham in West Sussex, to Beeding Hill. This was in the hope of seeing another species of butterfly now rapidly becoming a rarity in the UK, the wall brown.

Once found throughout UK, today, however, is a very different picture. The wall brown has been in serious decline across inland parts of its range during recent years and is now a rare butterfly away from the coast. It relies on sensitive grassland, moor and dune habitats that are disappearing from our countryside.

Wildlife trusts are working closely with farmers, landowners and developers to promote wildlife-friendly practices of habitats and wildlife corridors across town and country. I hadn’t anticipated such a steep walk down from the car park into Anchor Bottom. As exhausting as it was to get back up the hill, it turned out to be a worthy venture.

Wall brown opens its wings and a second one could be seen.

Although only sighting a few wall browns, I got my photos. On closer inspection, we realised what we thought was one, was in fact two mating.

Common blues mating at Anchor Bottom.

Common blues could be found throughout the grassland, some of which had started to mate.

Bedraggled peregrine on a cliff in the Surrey Hills.

Following days saw the weather deteriorate. Watching a peregrine return to its nest site deep in the Surrey Hills, gave me some concern for its welfare, as it returned to a chalk cliff drenched and bedraggled by the rain.

Peregrine with prey.

Adult peregrines are quite resilient, however, and with dry weather returning in the days that followed, I was pleased to see it back in action, returning with a not so well looking pigeon for its lunch.

Swallows nest building.

Sunny days and rising temperatures toward the end of May set me back out on patrol.

Swallows mating.

Swallows seen mating and building their nests, inspired me to continue to my plight and get more opportunist photos before May was out. And plenty of other wildlife critters, ready to enter into my next report.

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Responses to Birdwatcher’s Diary No.136

  1. Gordon Bridger Reply

    May 29, 2017 at 7:00 pm

    What splendid collection of photos – we are lucky to have such talent freely available.

    Any chance of some photos of Dartford warblers, nightjars and woodlarks on Whitmoor Common? Natural England identified only two nests, just outside the boundary, in 2016, only two Dartford warblers’ nests and no woodlarks.

    I am sure there must be some which Malcolm Fincham could find.

    Is a nightjar only visible at night?

    • Harry Eve Reply

      June 3, 2017 at 9:17 am

      If Mr Bridger would like to visit the RSPB Guildford Group website he will find that they have an organised walk to see Nightjars at Blackheath on 7th July. The walk begins at 8.45pm so it should be a wonderful crepuscular experience – weather permitting:

      Other walks are also available and there is one on 17th June organised by the Surrey Bird Club:

      I went on a similar walk many years ago in Kent and, although the Nightjars were the star attraction, they were preceded by a Woodcock on its roding (display) flight followed by glow-worm spotting. I should add that wildlife walks do not come with guarantees.

  2. Malcolm Fincham Reply

    June 1, 2017 at 11:59 pm

    I thank Gordon Bridger kindly for his compliments on my wildlife reporting and photos.
    Although I restrain from information about breeding bird locations at this time of the year, I will be doing some research within the area of Whitmoor Common in the coming weeks, in the hope of some sightings (and pictures).
    He will have to keep reading my reports for my results later in the year.
    There are of course many other birds declining in number that rely on such habitats. Even lesser spotted woodpeckers and woodcocks have been reported there in recent years!
    Nightjars are indeed nocturnal and so quite a challenge to photograph. I have recently managed to get a photo of one at dusk, in silouette, at an undisclosed location. I hope to show one in my next report.

  3. Gordon Bridger Reply

    June 4, 2017 at 10:51 pm

    Many thanks. I am puzzled why nightjars are an endangered species due to humans and dogs if they are only around at night

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