Fringe Box



Birdwatcher’s Diary No.140

Published on: 17 Jul, 2017
Updated on: 17 Jul, 2017

By Malcolm Fincham

During the first weeks of July I spent most of my time in Guildford and its surrounding villages.

The furthest I strayed was Chiddingfold, visiting Botany Bay with Bob, for a last throw of the dice, on what turned out to be an unsuccessful search for purple emperor butterflies that might still be tempted to the ground.

An abundance of other species present waved goodbye to any disappointment. To my advantage the majority were easier to photograph than on our previous visits. They settled for longer periods to rest and to feed on nectar.

White admiral. Click on all pictures to enlarge in a new window.

Two of the most notable and tractable to the quest of my camera were white admirals.

Silver-washed fritillaries mating.

Silver-washed fritillaries were posing especially well, with some paired up and mating

Brimstone butterfly.

Several brimstone butterflies were also noted, mostly the paler looking females.

Spotted flycatcher.

In the area where we saw a spotted flycatcher on an earlier visit in May, we were now pleased to see adults feeding their young.

Banded demoisele.

In the damper parts near to the stream a few banded demoiselle were about.

Damselflies mating.

As well as mating damselfly.

Young swallows getting too big for their nest.

By the end of the first week of July, most of our hirundine young had fledged their nests.

Adult swallow returns to the nest to feed its young.

A few late leavers could still be seen, anticipating their departure from the security of their parents.

Both swallows and house martins could now be seen flying in groups with their young, especially in the countryside areas surrounding Guildford. Taking ”time-out”, I sat to watch both newly fledged and adult swallows as they acrobatically hawked flies over a freshly harvested field.

A hobby departs with a swallow in its talons, having plucked it from the sky.

Enjoying their magnificent display was soon interrupted as a hobby flew overhead in the direction of the performing group. With effortless ease it plucked one out of the sky, carrying it away to its fate.

For all my understandings and ”seasoned” life in nature watching, I must confess, empathy took my thoughts as I watched I do hope it wasn’t one of those cute little faces I saw peering out at me a few days earlier!

Swifts gather in the sky over Stoughton.

Swifts, now with young on the wing, could already be seen in the sky over Stoughton as evening light started to fade. Screaming overhead as they joined in a tight group, then dispersed in different directions like they were the Red Arrows display team.

With most young birds having fledged their nests, I now feel a little more relaxed at disclosing some of the areas I have been writing about, but keeping close to my chest. These are where I have seen a few of the rarer and more susceptible species and can reveal some success stories.

An evening on Whitmoor Common.

You may find it hard to believe what goes on at Whitmoor Common, Worplesdon, especially when night falls and most sensible people have gone to bed. Things that go ”churrrr!” in the night!

Female nightjar on Whitmoor Common.

A late evening stroll across the heathland to one of my favoured spots enabled me to take some ”lucky” shots of nightjars there. Walking along a narrow, but well used footpath, (one of my favoured paths) to set myself up for an evening viewing (about 9pm), one flew out of the heather beside the path. Struggling to take flight it dropped into a thicket of heather not far off on the other side of the path.

Female nightjar circles the heath.

At first I thought it might be injured, but soon guessed different when I heard the contact sound of a female. She flew around me several times, giving the opportunity of a few record shots.

I immediately realised how susceptible these young critters must be to a loose dog, especially one of a predatory kind, or even just one that takes delight in the chase. Taking the hint that she was trying to distract from what was probably her fledgling, I left them be and wished it well in their days to come, before its long migration back to Africa.

Male nightjar on a silver birch stump.

I also heard at least three males ”churring” in the area and got a shot of one perched on the branch of a dead silver birch tree.

And at least four nightjars close together, in flight, as I made my way back to the car park.

Green woodpecker.

Also earlier in the evening I saw four young green woodpeckers.

Stonechat on Whitmoor Common.

Several stonechat families.

Although Dartford warblers were too elusive to photo on this occasion, I did catch the sound of their ”contact” calls, from time to time. So things are still looking reasonably healthy there.

Having had such sensational views of what is well renown to be the very elusive nocturnal nightjar, I added another night species to my latest display of photographs. A first sighting this year, for me, of a tawny owl.

Blackbird making alarm call.

This was early in the afternoon on July 6, and was with much thanks to a blackbird ”ticking” frantically, making its alarm call to warn its friends of a predator.

Tawny owl.

Having taken a few photos, the ”tawny” noticed my presence and amusingly sank out of view into the ”basement” of its dwelling, as if descending slowly in a lift.

Roe deer with fawn.

Turning my attention to a wooded glade nearby, I spotted a roe deer feeding with its young.

Other delights photographed on my travels around Guildford and some of its surrounding villages during the first weeks of July, included:

Painted lady butterfly.

Buddleia shrubs are always worth keeping an eye on at this time of the year, flowering in their varied colours of blossom. On July 14, I glimpsed a painted lady butterfly as it settled on one in purple flower. Walking the short distance across a lawn, I got a close-up view of its glorious colours and even a few photos.

The painted lady is a long-distance migrant, which causes the most spectacular butterfly migrations observed in Britain and Ireland.

Each year, it spreads northwards from the desert fringes of North Africa, the Middle East, and central Asia, recolonising mainland Europe and reaching Britain and Ireland.

In some years it is an abundant butterfly, frequenting gardens and other flowery places in late summer This butterfly arrives in the UK every year and breeds here during the warmer months, with the offspring then emigrating southwards.

Hummingbird hawk-moths beat their wings 80 times per second, allowing them to hover over flower heads and feed on nectar.

Hummingbird hawk-moths are summer visitors, migrating here from Southern Europe in variable numbers each year.

Hummingbird hawk-moths are summer visitors, migrating here from Southern Europe.

Often, they can be seen in gardens hovering like hummingbirds feeding on the nectar of honeysuckle, or buddleia flowers.

Comma butterfly.

Other more common, butterflies seen were commas.

Gatekeeper butterfly.


Small tortoiseshell.

Small tortoiseshell butterflies.

Small white butterfly on purple buddleia.

Small white

Red admiral.

And red admiral.

Kingfisher flies past a sleeping swan.

On my local travels I even picked out a family of spotted flycatchers and a brief glimpse and photo-shot of a kingfisher – screeching loudly as it passed a sleeping swan.

Grey heron.

And several common but enigmatic grey herons.

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Responses to Birdwatcher’s Diary No.140

  1. Steve Simnett Reply

    July 18, 2017 at 8:39 am

    Great variety Malcolm. Nice to know these are our local.
    Good pictures too.

  2. Simon Bromfield Reply

    July 22, 2017 at 8:21 pm

    Wonderful images, the hummingbird hawk moth is of particular interest.

    Thank you for your most informative and up-to-date diary seasonal, Malcolm.

  3. Belinda Barratt Reply

    July 24, 2017 at 7:26 am

    Amazing photos and so interesting and informative. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this for the community.

  4. Graham Stacey Reply

    August 19, 2017 at 8:32 pm

    I was pleased to bump into Malcolm Fincham again the other night. But no luck with the nightjars. Will keep trying.

  5. Bernard Parke Reply

    August 20, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    On our lawn this week, in the early morning, I witnessed a hawk which had evidently taken out a blackbird.

    We seldom see song birds these days and even birds of the smaller variety are scarce.

    Are hawks becoming a menace? They are of course still protected.

  6. Malcolm Fincham Reply

    August 24, 2017 at 10:57 pm

    I do understand Bernard’s concerns over his garden birds. A short synopsis in the defence of the sparrowhawk (most likely the bird you saw) is that they have evolved alongside our songbirds but usually outwit the not so smart or weak, thus strengthening the surviving gene pool.

    It is the introduction, by us humans, of non-native mammals, such as our cuddly cats and those pretty American mink that are the biggest concern and something that our songbirds have not yet adapted to in their evolution.

    In response to Graham – I am sorry to hear he was unable to locate the nightjars.

  7. Bernard Parke Reply

    August 25, 2017 at 10:41 am

    We have few predatory domestic pets around here but we do not even see the once common house sparrow let alone song birds such as the thrush anymore.

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