Fringe Box



Birdwatcher’s Diary No.168

Published on: 19 Aug, 2018
Updated on: 17 Aug, 2018

By Malcolm Fincham

The “Surrey” sun continued to shine as we advanced into August. Temperatures still hovered around 30c in the midday heat. My enthusiasm was limited mostly to local trips out. Although, like a true Englishman (or perhaps a mad dog), I was off out in the late morning sun.

The furthest I was encouraged to travel with good friends, Dougal and Bob, was to Denbies Hillside and Bookham Common, in the hope of completing my “sightings list” of Surrey butterflies.

View from Denbies Hillside, Ranmore Common. Click on all pictures to enlarge in a new window.

At Denbies Hillside by Ranmore Common, near Dorking, the sun beat down on the parched grassland of its chalky, southern facing slopes.

Adonis blue on Denbies Hillside.

With plenty of butterflies in view, it wasn’t long before we were able to set eyes on one of our “target” species, the adonis blue.

Silver-spotted skipper on Denbies Hillside.

Another species, fresh out on display there, and in good quantity this year too, were silver-spotted skippers. Adding another species to the year.

Chalkhill blues on Denbies Hillside.

Chalkhill blues were also in good numbers there, some even clustered in small groups.

Green-veined white, this one pictured on Bookham Common.

While green-veined whites,

Small heath on Denbies Hillside.

Small heath butterflies,

Small copper on Denbies Hillside.

And small copper butterflies, were all additions to the day’s photos.

Kestrel on Denbies Hillside.

As often seen there, a kestrel patrolled the hillside, looking for small mammals to feed upon.

At Bookham Common our hope was to complete our hairstreak butterfly sightings for the year, by finding a brown hairstreak.

Male brown hairstreak, pictured on a previous occasion.

Unfortunately, on this occasion, apart from seeing a few high up and buzzing around their master tree, I was unable to get an up-to-date photo of one.

Silver-washed fritillaries.

A few silver-washed fritillaries, now coming to the end of their reign, flitted around in the open glades.

Painted lady at Bookham Common.

And a painted lady posed well for a picture.

Most of the species mentioned above could also be seen on my visit to Sheepleas near Shere, just a few days later.

Juvenile common buzzard at Sheepleas.

My interest there was taken by the sound of a juvenile common buzzard constantly “mewing” from a wooded area. Eventually it flew out through the field where I stood. Still calling as it glided overhead.

Marsh tit at Sheepleas.

A family of marsh tits put in an appearance, flying back and forth from hedgerow to field.

Female blackcap.

Mixed in with them were both blue and great tits, and even a female blackcap.

By the second week of August temperatures had cooled a little. We were even rewarded with some long awaited rainfall, a welcome sight for gardeners. Walks around my “local” patch at Riverside Nature Reserve, near Burpham included:

Pochard on Stoke Lake.

A surprise sighting on August 5 was a pochard on Stoke Lake. Barely an annual visitor there these days, though a welcome one, of course.

Kingfisher on Stoke Lake.

Having not seen a kingfisher anywhere around the reserve in the past few months, I started getting occasional fleeting glances of on as it flashed by, low over the waters of Stoke Lake. A few days later I managed to get a record shot of it as it perched up on the far side of the lake.

Great crested grebes at Stoke Lake.

A great crested grebe continued to patrol the lake, with a juvenile constantly in tow, calling to its parent.

Juvenile great crested grebe in flight at Stoke Lake.

The tide of summer was noticeably starting to turn there.

Canada geese take flight from Stoke Lake.

Canada geese gathered on the lake as evening approached. Taking flight as the last hour of light began to fade.

Starlings by Stoke Lock.

By Stoke Lock starlings began to gather, seemingly increasing by the day, as the evening sun began to sink, romantically over the sewage works.

Starlings gather on wires by Stoke Lock.

Gathering on the pylons and overhead wires.

Starlings by Stoke Lock creating a small murmuration.

Occasionally they they would suddenly take flight in unison, creating a small murmuration overhead.

Starlings by Stoke Lock swoop down.

Sometimes a section of the group would swoop down into the brambles on the other side of the canal. Feasting on the riponed blackberries.

Tell-tell tail of a Cetti’s warbler.

On Friday, August 10, transfixed and entertained by their synchronized, aerial display not far from the lock gates, I was interrupted by the sound of young fledglings of some kind. They were on the far bank of the canal among the brambles and could be heard making contact calls, of a kind?

Family of Cett’s warblers at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

After much perseverance, I got enough of a sighting of one of these little brown warblers to realize them to be a family of Cetti’s.

Family of Cett’s warblers at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Family of Cett’s warblers at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Although I had my suspicions earlier in the year, I was elated, counting at least three youngsters as they discreetly moved between the leaves of the brambles.

Elsewhere around the reserve, looking skyward, regular sightings of birds of prey continued to be seen.

Red kite.

These included red kite and a sparrow hawk.

Kestrel hunting across the River Wey.

While across the river, in the direction of Burpham Court Farm, a kestrel could often be seen hunting prey.


A few swifts could still be seen, passing through from their breeding grounds in more northerly parts. Heading south, on migration.


House martin over sewage works by Stoke Lock.

Swallows and house martins, still feeding their young, continued to be seen overhead at most places I visited locally.

Holly blue on Denbies Hillside.

While holly blue butterflies continued to grace the countryside.

Roe deer near Stoke Lock.

Roe deer also remained a common sighting around the Riverside Nature Reserve. Often seen across the still dried-up scrape across from Stoke Lock.

Roe deer feeding in the undergrowth.

Though sometimes seen, partially hidden, close by the boardwalk.

Grey heron preening in an oak tree.

Grey herons also continued to be a common sight there too, often seen along a quiet backwater of the river. Occasionally seen preening high up in a tree.

Green woodpeckerI.

Green woodpeckers can also be regularly heard and occasionally seen in flight there. And if lucky, seen perched up, although often well camouflaged.

Great spotted woodpecker on a telegraph pole along the towpath of the River Wey.

While on one occasion a great spotted woodpecker could be seen tapping on a telegraph pole.

My most anxious moments there was seeing a damselfly in distress, floating along the river, out of reach, and unable to fly!

Damsel in distress.

It was certainly going to be predated by a fish, I thought. I watched it, helpless as it struggled to get itself on to a floating plant.

I could feel its relief as it pulled itself out of the water and began drying its wings.

The chance to meet up with “school days” friends on August 14, was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down.

David Rose, of The Guildford Dragon NEWS, and also a friend from about the age of 11, had arranged a visit from our other pal Simon Vine. It was a chance to catch up and reminice on days gone by.

Also, all of us having a combined interest in nature, it was a chance for me to promote my continued passions for nature on a trip to Thursley Common in the hope of seeing a few delights to add to an enjoyable afternoon’s walk.

Although our conversations took preference to our bird-watching for the most part, I was pleased to be able to point out and name the different species we saw.

Kestrel, Thursley Common.

A kestrel was easily recognised, having seen them in the days of our youth.

Stonechat, Thursley Common.

Stonechats were an interesting sighting for all to see, as they perched up on display.

Dartford warbler on “Shrike Hill”, Thursley Common.

Dartford warblers were, as always, a pleasing sight for all to see. Especially for Simon, unable to recall having ever seen one before.

For me, the “bird of the day”, had to be a whinchat. (Sub-editor David Rose: And for me and Simnon too!).

Whinchat on “Shrike Hill”, Thursley Common.

It was my first sighting of one this year! Now making its way back to its winter home in Africa.

We watched it feeding up, while resting its wings for a day on Thursley Common’s “Shrike Hill”.

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Responses to Birdwatcher’s Diary No.168

  1. Simon Vine Reply

    August 19, 2018 at 2:15 pm

    Great day out and fantastic article Malcolm.

    Thanks for arranging David… love to do it again soon. Thursley Common is fantastic.

  2. James Sellen Reply

    August 20, 2018 at 9:42 pm

    Great report from Malcolm Fincham and excellent photographic record of Cetti’s warbler.

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