Fringe Box



Birdwatcher’s Diary No.171

Published on: 4 Oct, 2018
Updated on: 4 Oct, 2018

By Malcolm Fincham

An unexpected invite from my son and his wife took me away on a venture to Perranporth, Cornwall, during the third week of September.

Squeezing into the back of their car alongside my three-year-old grandson, with all my camera equipment, was quite a challenge, to say the least. Especially with all the cuddly dinosaur toys he was unwilling to part with for the journey. The biggest dinosaur in the car of course was me. Though he seemed content with my company.

Juvenile herring gulls at Perranporth. Click on all pictures to enlarge.

On our arrival to Perranporth, our reception committee consisted of a large group of juvenile herring gulls.

My grandson taking an interest in juvenile herring gulls.

Although my grandson was most intrigued and unintimidated by them, I had to agree distinguishing different forms of immature gulls wasn’t the easiest start to the world of ornithology, so we just called them “birdies” instead.

Fox Moth caterpillar.

On a walk around the sand dunes I discovered several, large, hairy, brown caterpillars. These I recognised to be similar to the ones I had recently seen on my walks around the Surrey heathlands. A caterpillar of the fox moth, I believe.

House sparrows around the campsite at Perranporth.

A gregarious group of house sparrows formed small flocks on the brambles, as they sheltered in the depressions in the dunes, from a stiff breeze coming off the sea.

Rabbit on guard duty at its warren.

A little further on I discovered, several burrow holes and a rabbit actively on guard of one of them, on one of the hillocks.

Kestrel, Perranporth.

At least four or five kestrels hovered over the area, suggesting there were plenty of smaller mammals around to be hunted.

Common buzzard, Perranporth.

At one stage, even a common buzzard joined in, trying to mimic the kestrels as it spent a while alongside them, using the headwind for its attempts to hover by.

Stonechat at Perranporth.

Stonechats were a common sighting along the coastal paths.

Wheatear in flight at Perranporth.

Several wheatears could be picked out, skittishly flitting around on the heathland cliffs. Instantly recognisable by their white rumps.

It is quite understandable when seeing them how the name wheatear has derived from the Old English for ‘white’ (wheat) and ‘arse’ (ear), referring to their white rump of course!

Coastal walk.

Walking the coastal paths I always find to be quite exhilarating, especially on this occasion. The strong breeze was blowing in off the sea making the walk a little less precarious than it could have been. And looking out to sea from the rocky paths that lead out from Perranporth were, indeed, quite spectacular for their beautiful views.

Fulmar at Perranporth.

A few fulmars flew in their stiff-winged fashion along the cliff face.

Breaking waves.

I looked out to sea beyond the waves that crashed against the coastline like white horses. (if you listen closely the faint booming of the waves crashing sounds like hundreds of hooves thundering along).


Gannets could be seen, diving like torpedoes from the sky into the water, catching fish.

Immature gannet at Perranporth.

Among the adults, a few immature ones could be seen with their darker markings.

In spite of the strong winds, a few butterflies could still be found in some of the more sheltered spots when the sun shone.

Speckled wood butterfly.

These included speckled wood butterflies.

Red admiral feeding on ivy.

As well as a few red admirals, feeding on ivy now starting to flower.

Aberrant small copper butterfly on coasal path near Perranporth.

My most prized find was an unusual looking small copper butterfly. Taking a few photos, I realised it to be a rare aberrant, leucistic form of the species.

An aberration is a variation in the wing pattern of a butterfly species which is different in some way to the normal pattern. Aberrations are generally very rare. Some recur on a fairly regular basis. As a result, many have been specifically named. I had last seen one several years ago when visiting the Scillies. This particular one is apparently known as an “alba”.

The beach at Perranporth.

Other highlights were on the wide expanse of sandy beach that spread out beyond the the main “tourist” area.

Rock pipit on the beach at Perranporth.

Along the craggy rocks of granite that parted the sand from the cliff face, rock pipits could be found.

Sanderling on Perranporth beach.

Along this quiescent part of the beach, I was able to find a small group of half a dozen or so sanderlings. They were feeding on small aquatic insects in the sand.

Ringed plover on the beach at Perranporth.

Alongside them were a few ringed plovers.

Golden plover on Perranporth beach.

A lone golden plover could also be seen nearby.

That was until they all suddenly all took flight, scattering in different directions. Curious at first by their their sudden panic I soon realised why!

Peregrine in flight across Perranporth beach.

Flying low past me, at speed, along the beach looking for a snack was a peregrine falcon. Surprised by such an event, I attempted a few passing shots of it.

Raven on the beach at Perranporth.

Further up the beach I set eyes on a raven that had found some scraps of some kind to feed upon.

On our return from Cornwall it was not long before I back out in the local countryside looking for things to photograph. On September 24 I was alerted to reports of two cattle egrets, at Tice’s Meadow, near Tongham.

Cattle egrets at Tice’s Meadow.

A rare sighting for Surrey. And, I believe, a first recording of two together in the county.

Cattle egret previously pictured at Warblington.

Although distant to view, I was content with a few record shots, having previously got some good close-up pictures of the species at Warblington, Hampshire, a short while back.

A call from my enthusiastic good friend Dougal in the early afternoon of Tuesday, September 25, set the wheels in motion for a trip to the Thames estuary at Gravesend, Kent. Reports had come through that a beluga whale had been sighted there earlier in the day. A rare sighting in the UK, and the first to be ever reported in the River Thames.

A few early sightseeing arrivals at the Thames Estuary.

On our arrival there it wasn’t long before we could see the area from which it was surfacing.

A group of enthusiasts could also be seen and both BBC and Sky TV had helicopters flying overhead as the whale was making national news.

BBC helicopter over the Thames Estuary.

As we neared the area, I thought of possible headlines the tabloid press might use. Perhaps: “Beleaguered beluga trapped in the Thames,” and “Will it find its way back to the Arctic, or, sadly, meet its end at Gravesend?”

Beluga whale in the Thames estuary at Gravesend, Kent.

It wasn’t long (fortunately) before we had caught up with the growing group of spectators.

Beluga whale in the Thames Estuary.

I took a few record shots as we watched it surface for a few moments, then once again disappear from sight below the water on numerous occasions.

Clouded yellow butterfly by Thames Estuary.

A bonus for me as we began our long walk back to the car was to spot a clouded yellow butterfly, my first one this year! Although unable to add to my “Surrey sightings” for the year, a welcomed sighting none the less, and even managing a few, slightly, “out of focus” record shots with its wings open in flight.

Farlington Marshes.

The following day, a pre-arranged invite from another friend, Bob Smith, took me in the opposite direction for an early morning trip to Farlington Marshes, near Portsmouth. It was another glorious day with wall-to-wall blue sky and sunshine.

Spotted redshank at Farlington.

Highlights there were mostly of the wader kind. Although only adding spotted redshank to my year list of sightings. On a pleasant day such as it was, the birds were just a bonus addition to it.

Common redshank at Farlington.

They included: common redshanks.

Distant grey plovers on main lagoon at Farlington.

And grey plovers, the latter some still changing from their summer plumage of contrasting black underbellies.

Although many of the migrating birds had already past through on their journey back to Africa, a few species could still be found lingering there.

Hirundines feeding over the pools at Farlington.

A large gathering of groups of hirundines could be seen in the area, known as “the deeps”.

House martin over the pools at Farlington.

Swallows and house martins skimmed over the freshwater pools as they continued to feed up on the insect life there. They could occasionally be seen en mass, sweeping low enough to drink from the ponds, and at times even stopping briefly for a quick wash and brush-up in the water.

Sand martin at Farlington.

Among them were a few sand martins.

Wheatear at Farlington.

Wheatear at Farlington.

Probably my best pictures were of one of the several wheatears we saw that day.

It was long before I was back to making a few visit to my local “patch” at the Riverside Nature Reserve, near Burpham.

Kingfisher on the island at Stoke Lake.

A kingfisher could frequently be observed from the lakeside, though often just as a flash of iridescent blue across the water. Although managing to get a few reasonable photos on one occasion as it perched, briefly, for a few moments on the island at the southern end of the lake.

Cormorant at Stoke Lake.

A few cormorants had, once again, made a return to the lake.

Tufted ducks on Stoke Lake.

Five or so tufted ducks had also made a return to winter there.

Fox watching me from across the River Wey.

Walking the towpath of the River Wey one particular afternoon during the last week of the month, I sensed that I was being watched. Looking across the river to the far bank, I saw some movement at the base of a tree close to the riverbank. Two eyes were looking at me. It was a fox. On taking a few pictures it was soon aware it had been spotted. Slowly, it started to slink away, continuing to stop once in a while before “slipping off” into the undergrowth.

Jay with an acorn in its beak over the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Several jays flew across the river, beaks and gullets appearing to be laden with acorns, that they had now begun to start collecting from the surrounding oaks.

Common buzzard being mobbed by a crow over the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Soon after a common buzzard, mobbed by a crow, was chased over the river.

Grey heron at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

A few days later a grey heron perched in a dead tree across the river a little further down stream, beak open, as if yawning.

Long-tailed tit by Stoke Lake.

The sound of long-tailed tits could be constantly heard as they followed each other in groups around the reserve. Another good year for them perhaps?

Chiffchaff at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Close by their sides, chiffchaffs could often be seen.

Roe deer at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Regular sightings of roe deer continued to be observed there.

Red kite over Stoke Lake.

A red kite drifted over the lake in my direction, circling over my head several times as if checking me out, before continuing on its journey.

Little grebe on Stoke Lake.

A surprise sighting was a little grebe, flushed from the reed beds, near to where I stood.

Along the towpath an abundant growth of ivy was now, starting to flower. In areas where the sun shone, copious amounts of ivy bees could be seen, feeding on the nectar.

Ivy bee feeding on ivy.

Ivy bees feed exclusively on the nectar of ivy flowers. To cash in on this autumnal bounty they emerge in mid- or late-September and are on the wing until early November.

Having mated, a female ivy bee digs her burrow in loose earth or sand. She lays several eggs which she supplies with pollen as food for the grubs when they hatch. She dies after a few weeks, but the grubs pupate and become adults, staying underground until the following autumn.

They are entirely harmless – males do not have stings at all while females have tiny ones, similar to a weak nettle sting and are very reluctant to use them.

The lack of competition for the niche is probably the main reason they’ve spread so fast in Britain – they don’t have much competition for food or nesting sites, and no parasites either, so are free to spread across the country where there’s ivy, and nice sandy soil to tunnel in. Climate change is not thought to be a major cause of its spread.

Possibly a noon fly on flowering ivy.

Unusual fly on an ivy leaf.

The only other species were a few varieties of hover-flies, I have a problem to name.

Hornet feeding on ivy.

I had no problem, however, recognising the hornet that had joined them, feeding on the nectar.

Unlike the fear of an invasion of the, non-native, Asian hornets, mentioned in “Beekeeper’s Notes Extra” recently.

Our native hornet (Vespa crabro), is shy in comparison, eats moths and large bees. It hunts both during the day and at night and is not particularly aggressive even near its nest.

I was also confronted with a moment of Déjà vu as the month came to its end. Having reported on a surprise sighting of a large brown rat feeding on blackberries up a tree, in my previous report.

Brown rat – Rattus norvegicus, by Stoke Lake.

This time I found myself face to face with a much younger one in exactly the same area I saw the last one, but lower down in the brambles, feeding on the remainder of blackberries.

Brown rat – Rattus norvegicus, by Stoke Lake.

“How strange!” I thought as I stood no more than feet away from it as it continued to munch on another blackberry, unperturbed by my presence.

Autumn colours now starting to appear at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

As the month came to a close there was a definite feel of autumn in the air. Out of the warm sunshine one could feel a distinct chill in the air. Evenings were closing in and the leaves on trees were turning.

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Responses to Birdwatcher’s Diary No.171

  1. Belinda Barratt Reply

    October 7, 2018 at 7:35 pm

    Amazing photos as ever Malcolm. So great to see. How fantastic to see the beluga!

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