Fringe Box



Birdwatcher’s Diary No.145

Published on: 24 Sep, 2017
Updated on: 24 Sep, 2017

By Malcolm Fincham

Autumn had come early to Surrey, at least, that’s how it was feeling to me. A steady flow of birds were now passing through on migration.

Wheatear perches on Bob’s roof.

From Wood Street Village, my friend Bob posted me a photo he had taken of a wheatear that had perched on his roof. Persevering persistent rainfall, ”it sat there for over two hours before the skies eventually cleared and it departed,” he said.

Elsewhere hirundines could be seen on a steady flow south too. Low pressure, for the most of the first week of September, pushed migrating house martins, sand martins and swallows low, to feed on flying insects.

Hirundines gathering at Staines Reservoir.

A visit to Staines Reservoir on September 3 saw all three species, with some even settling on the concrete embankment as we watched from the gantry.

House martin at Staines Reservoir.

This made them easier to photograph as they flew by, sometimes at eye level.

Wheatears at Staines Reservoir.

Perched on the gantry-fencing, two wheatears sat.

Yellow wagtail at Staines Reservoir.

We also picked out a few yellow wagtails among, the usual, numerous pied wagtails that were feeding along the grassier parts of the reservoir banks.

Linnet feeding on seed heads at Staines Reservoir.

A linnet fed on the seed-heads of the weeds growing through the cracks in the concrete.

Linnet bathing on the edge of the north basin.

While another sat at the water’s edge washing.

Black-necked grebe at Staines Reservoir.

On a stretch of water that still remained on the south basin a raft of ducks gathered. Among them we picked out a black-necked grebe.

On this occasion we were unable to ”clock” the little stint that had been present there and only had views of a curlew sandpiper that were too distant for my camera.

Ringed plovers at Staines Reservoir.

Two separate distant flocks of ringed plovers winged around the south basin.

Dunlins in flight at Staines Reservoir.

We also picked out a few small flocks of dunlins.

Sparrowhawk over Staines Reservoir.

They were probably agitated by a peregrine or even a merlin just a few days before, both of which had been reported there. Or possibly on this occasion by the sparrow hawk that circled above our heads.

Dunlin at Staines Reservoir. Looking at its right leg, this one appears to have been ringed.

A little later and seeming unperturbed, two dunlins walked close by along the water’s edge of the north basin.

Great crested grebe looking confused and ungainly on the drained south basin at Staines Reservoir.

The most unusual sighting for me was a great crested grebe. It had ”plonked” itself down on the muddy basin floor, as if in protest over the lack of water there, where it would usually have been swimming.

Not being so well adapted on land as they are swimming and diving, they have a most peculiar gait when attempting to walk.

On my travels in the days that followed, I managed to photograph the following:

Confiding nuthatch.

A rather confiding nuthatch that perched dead still on a post as if frozen in time. It was only that I could see its eyes moving that I first realised it was alive!

Robin poses for a picture.

Always a favourite to most people with a warm heart was a robin. It certainly warmed mine as I stopped and listened to a few choruses of its song.

Grey squirrel.

A grey squirrel collecting nuts.

During the morning of September 11, Dougal an I headed out to Frimley Gravel Pits. A grey phalarope had been reported stopping off there on its migration south.

I use the term ”migration south” quite loosely as they are now known to have a unique migration route. This was only fairly recently found out when one was satellite tagged.

It had flown from Shetland across the Atlantic via Iceland and Greenland, south down the eastern seaboard of the US, across the Caribbean and Mexico, ending up off the coast of Ecuador and Peru.

These birds tend to be confiding, sometimes hanging about for several days before moving on.

Not too sure even a phalarope would want to stick around with these activities being performed at Frimley Gravel Pits.

This one unfortunately had other ideas, and had gone by the time we had arrived. With the lake being used regularly for water-skiing activities, I imagine even it would have had enough.

Just missed out on seeing one of these little beauties.!

So I have added a photo I took a while ago and had to just imagine the rest.

Osprey circles overhead.

There was some conciliation. Just as we were about to leave we spied an osprey. It circled briefly at the far side of the lake, just long enough to capture a few photos, before it disappeared from sight beyond the trees.

Later the same day I visited Guildford’s Stoke Nature Reserve.

Sand martin over Stoke Lock.

Watching over the sewage works by Stoke Lock a host of hirundines could be seen feeding on flies. Among the swallows and house martins a few sand martins could also be picked out.

Pied wagtails blending in with the gravel on the sewage beds.

On filter beds at the sewage works a dozen or more pied wagtails were feeding.

Grey wagtail.

Among them several grey wagtails could be seen.

Female pheasant takes flight, in fright.

Walking across the field by the lake, I inadvertently, spooked up several pheasants, returning their favour by momentarily spooking me too.

Meadow pipit.

I also spotted my first meadow pipit there, a sign of the onset of autumn.

Whinchat in the late evening sun by Stoke Lake.

I also managed to catch up with one of several sighting of a whinchat that had been reported there during the past week.

As the sun retreated over the horizon and darkness started to fall once again across the landscape, the barn owl I had seen on several previous visits, appeared.

Barn owl by Stoke Lock.

Silent in flight, it’s ghostly white silhouette figure emerged.

Barn owl at dusk.

Attempting a few photos, I was quite pleased with some of the results as night descended.

A view along the boardwalk on Thursley Common.

On September 12 I visited Thursley Common.

Stonechat on Thursley Common.

Stonechats continued to be seen in good numbers.

Common lizard at Thursley Common.

Some warm sunshine tempted a few lizards on to the boardwalk to bask.

Southern Hawker (female).

A variety of dragonflies skimmed over the pools. I watched intently as a female southern hawker darted back and forth along the boardwalk, occasionally hovering for a few moments.

Choosing my moment, I fired a few shots with my camera with some successful results.

Having been given such an interesting insight to the world of insects there during a previous visit with Harry Eve, (shown in my previous report). I continued to keep an eye out for anything unusual I might find.

Heath potter wasp.

One I did discover and photograph was what I believe to be a species of potter wasp.

Spotted flycatcher at Thursley Common.

At the “parish field” there was a spotted flycatcher, flitting back and forth catching flies.

Spotted flycatcher (right) with a stonechat to the left at Thursley Common.

For a while it could be seen perched alongside a stonechat.

Grayling butterfly.

To my surprise several grayling butterfly could still be seen, out and about enjoying the warmth of the sun.

Speckled wood butterfly.

In shadier spots speckled wood butterflies could also be seen.

Woodlark in “parish field”, Thursley Common.

And finally perched on a log in the field a woodlark posed, proud in its presentation of its subtle colours of browns in its plumage.

[Editor: Malcolm Fincham is now tweeting his wildlife pictures on Twitter. To follow him click here, or go to @malcomsdiary.]

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Responses to Birdwatcher’s Diary No.145

  1. Harry Eve Reply

    October 4, 2017 at 8:04 am

    The photograph of the southern hawker is excellent in my opinion – as anyone who has tried to do something similar may testify.

    Not only has it been captured in flight but you can see the features that distinguish this species very clearly.

    Notice the angle of the head. The dragonfly seems to be banking while maintaining a level view. Perhaps something to do with its mastery of flight or maybe it is keeping a watchful eye on Malcolm.

    In my experience, southern hawkers often approach people, doubtless causing some trepidation among some. I have even met anglers who claim to have been stung by them but I would not believe their stories about fish they have caught as dragonflies do not a possess a sting.

  2. Malcolm Fincham Reply

    October 5, 2017 at 11:32 pm

    Thank you Harry for appreciating the time it took me to get a decent photo of a dragonfly that can be so unpredictable in its movements.

    As with the fisherman’s tales, you will, no doubt, be too wise to believe that I deliberatly chose the moment, so as to distinguish this species so very clearly.

    I do find, one has to carry a little luck at times when it comes to photography.

  3. Harry Eve Reply

    October 13, 2017 at 8:43 pm

    Coincidentally, I noticed a Southern Hawker patrolling over Peak’s Pond in the Castle Gardens – on Thursday at lunchtime. More importantly, others had noticed it too and were clearly fascinated. The warm weather expected over the next few days should provide further opportunities to watch dragonflies at this pond.

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