Fringe Box



Birdwatcher’s Diary No.180

Published on: 29 Jan, 2019
Updated on: 31 Jan, 2019

By Malcolm Fincham

As we entered the second half of January the skies attempted to brighten and, at long last, some pleasant colour began to return to some of my photos.

Brambling at Sheepleas.

Another visit to Sheepleas on a bright sunny, although chilly afternoon, on January 17, rewarded me with some more sightings and photos of wintering bramblings.

Common buzzard.

Adding to these, a common buzzard flew up nearby as it made an abrupt change of direction.

The following day, with Bob and Dougal, our interests headed us in the direction of Molesey Heath, Surrey. in the hope to see a yellow-browed warbler, that had been reported by Surrey Bird Club. It had been seen “hanging-out” by the River Mole.

Yellow-browed warblers breed in Siberia. They occur in the UK most years during autumn and winter as they migrate south-westwards. Only on rare occasions do they visit Surrey. This was a good opportunity to see one so close to home.

Yellow-browed warbler by River Mole at Molesey.

They’re not shy, but their arboreal lifestyle can make them difficult to observe. They are almost constantly in motion. Too mobile among the branches on this occasion for me to get a decent shot of it. Fortunately, Bob saved the day with a picture he achieved.

Even closer to home, on my local patch at the Riverside Nature Reserve, near Burpham, another Siberian visitor had been reported there in the last weeks of the month.

A Siberian chiffchaff, a subspecies of our own common chiffchaff, though they have long been problematic to truly identify.

The difficulties of separating true Siberian tristis abietinus from Scandinavia and western Russia west of the Urals continue to plague both observers and records committees.

Siberian chiffchaff at the Riveride Nature Reserve.

After much time searching for it on January 22 where it had last been reported along the blackthorn hedgerow, it eventually it showed.

To my mind, this “critter” had all the criteria to be one: Namely: absence of olive in the crown and mantle, absence of yellow away from the underwing, the presence of a grey-brown or pale brown hue in the upper parts, the presence of warm buff in the supercilium and ear-coverts, the presence of buff at the breast-sides/flanks and very black-looking bill and legs.

However, this one’s exact origin could be in question. It was certainly different in its appearance than “our” common chiffchaff. I will concede, this one was more for the connoisseurs!

Mistle thrush at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Elsewhere around the reserve in the bright sunshine a mistle thrush perched up, high in a tree by the river.

Male stonechat at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Female stonechat at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Across the river, two stonechats could now be seen, a male as well as a female.

Blackbirds at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

A male and female blackbird could be seen together.

Blue tits.

Blue tits were actively chasing each other around.

Male bullfinch feeding on sycamore seeds.

Several bullfinches could be viewed, feeding on sycamore seeds.

Meadow pipit at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

A meadow pipit perched in a lone hawthorn bush in the field to the south of Stoke Lake.

Teal at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

In the flooded areas by the boardwalk, teal could be seen dabbling while sheltered under the branches of surrounding trees.

Grey heron.

Always present and never too far from the lakeside, a grey heron patrolled the water’s edge.

Kestrel at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

And one of the resident kestrels continued to hunt the grassland.

On January 25 I visited Unstead Sewage Farm, near Godalming. It was once a well known birdwatching area, complete with a hide, a bird feeding station, tern rafts and shallow scrapes.

How it once looked at Unstead Sewage Farm. Picture by Ed Stubbs @Godalming_birds.

It attracted a wide variety of bird species, including a few rarities. Some of which I had the pleasure of seeing when I was a regular visitor there.

How Unstead Sewage Farm looks now. Picture by Ed Stubbs @Godalming_birds.

Having not been there in a good while, I was shocked and saddened to realise how it has deteriorated.

Green sandpiper circling over Unstead Sewage Farm.

The only viewing point I could now find was at the far end of the track that runs beside the sewage farm.

Green sandpiper at Unstead Sewage Farm.

From there I was able to view and photograph a green sandpiper, in what was now an almost completely dried-up lagoon, that had once filled with water.

Water rail at Unstead Sewage Farm.

A water rail then appeared, totally unaware of my presence it ambled around on the mud, before me.

Water rails and green sandpipers were a regular sighting at Unstead in the old days there. At least they seem to have adapted to the changes.

Siskins along the Wey & Arun Canal.

Afterwards, a walk along the Wey & Arun Canal path towards Bramley I saw a flock of more than 60 siskins in flight, perching high in the alders that lined the water’s edge, to feed on seed cones.

Redwing in flight along the Wey & Arun Canal.

Fieldfares and redwings were abundant, getting mostly glimpses as I inadvertently disturbed their feeding, though managing to photo a few in flight as they passed overhead.

Common buzzard along the Wey & Arun Canal.

A little way off in an adjacent field, I picked out a common buzzard. Perched up, I noted it had been officially “ring-tagged”. Though as much a I tried, at such distance, I was unable to read its code.

Roe deer along the Wey & Arun Canal.

While just the other side of the canal, hidden among the undergrowth, a stag roe deer, with its velvet antlers forming, stood watching, hoping to avoid being seen.

The most productive venture of the month by far was on Sunday, January 20, on a day trip to Farlington Marshes, near Portsmouth, with some friends.

We first stopped at the small village of Warblington, just along the coast. Regular winter visitors feeding among the cows in the field near the cemetery there over the past few years have been cattle egrets.

Cattle egret (right) among the little egrets at Warblington.

Little egrets can also be seen there, feeding alongside them. By chance on this occasion, although there was only one cattle egret present at the time of our arrival there, it was probing the muddy soil, alongside a little egret, giving the opportunity to take a few photos to show a comparison.

At Farlington, although the breeze was an icy one, the sun was breaking though, allowing me no excuses for poor quality photos.

Avocets at Farlington.

A colony of 40 avocets could be viewed at high tide, resting on the main lake.

Ducks and waders in the main lake at Farlington.

Surveying the lake we soon added various groups of wintering ducks and waders.

Black-tailed godwits at Farlington.

A pantheon of black-tailed godwits huddled together in one section of the lake.

Three greenshanks in the centre of picture.

Wading between the godwits and the teals, were three greenshanks.

Lapwings at Farlington.

Another group consisted of a “deceit” of well over 50 lapwings.

Pintail ducks and lapwings at Farlington.

Along the edge of the water among various ducks and waders were a group of handsome pintails.

Jack snipe (seen on a previous occasion).

Although too distant to photograph, it took Dougal’s keen eye to pick out a jack snipe through his telescope, just in front of the reeds, along with several common snipe on the far edge of the lake.

Brent geese at Farlington.

There were no shortage of brent geese either, arriving to have a wash and “brush-up” in the fresh water.

Fox at Farlington.

With so many waterfowl and waders present, it wasn’t short of predators around the reserve, either. At the back of the lake a fox could be observed, taking a drink from the water’s edge. Occasionally looking out for a possible meal out on the water.

Peregrine at Farlington.

As we walked along the seawall, a peregrine, one we had previously spotted perched on a hillock, now in the field, rose skyward.

Marsh harrier at Farlington.

It had spotted a marsh harrier passing through on a mission of its own, checking out the reedbeds for a possible meal.

Marsh harrier with peregrine in pursuit at Farlington.

The peregrine, although shorter in wingspan, had taken objection and took little time escorting it off the premises.

I also managed to “snatch” a few pictures of a weasel as it briefly broke out of its cover from the surrounding brambles, causing alarm to several moorhens. Standing their ground, they chased it back undercover.


Further around the seawall at the “deeps” more wigeon could be seen, closer to view.

Drake pintail.

A smart looking drake pintail sat on a grassy knoll, next to one of the pools.

Dunlins at Farlington.

Out on the sea the tide was retreating. Dunlins and grey plovers were actively flying in.

Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth Harbour.

Having exceeded in the sightings we had expected to see at Farlington, and with enough daylight remaining, we headed by car through the heart of Portsmouth to Southsea Castle. The landmark Spinnaker Tower was close to view.

Separating from my friends, in desperation of sighting our “target species” there, I walked gingerly down some sloping concrete covered by slime from the now lowering tide.

In the following moments, all I could hear was the laughter of my so-called pals as they watched as I contorted, arm over elbow, ending backside to the ground and fortunate to protect my camera gear.

Purple sandpiper at Southsea Castle.

“Not laughing now!” I exclaimed in a rather “chuffed” call, recovering myself to an upright posture, having spotted a purple sandpiper perched on a nearby rock.

As many as eight or more can be seen most days during winter months there. It was a good chance to get some photos to add to my library. And another “year tick” of course!.

Although the afternoon light was beginning to dwindle, we felt we had just enough time to visit Broadmarsh, just a “stones-throw” to the east of Farlington Marshes.

Sunset at Broadmarsh.

Despite not able to add any more sightings to our lists, it was a perfect end to a day’s adventure.

As we watched the sun sinking low on the horizon beyond Portsmouth Harbour, I ended the day with a few scenic shots.

Wolf Moon rising at Broadmarsh.

While behind us, to the east and over the trees, a full moon rose. In days gone by in Native America it was refereed to as the Wolf Moon. When during the deep snows of midwinter, the wolf packs howled hungrily outside Red Indian villages.

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Responses to Birdwatcher’s Diary No.180

  1. Belinda Barratt Reply

    February 7, 2019 at 10:32 pm

    Fabulous photos as ever from Malcolm Fincham. How does he manage to spot so many?

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