Fringe Box



Birdwatcher’s Diary No.181

Published on: 19 Feb, 2019
Updated on: 19 Feb, 2019

By Malcolm Fincham

A cold start to February throughout the UK brought with it clear skies and a few frosty nights.

Saturn, Venus and the Moon in the chilly night sky just before dawn. Click on pictures to enlarge in a new window.

Saturn and Venus could seen in the south-east quarter of the sky, beside the Moon, just prior to dawn as I looked across Guildford.

A few days later the arrival of the first notable snowfall of the year added some rather picturesque vistas about the Surrey Hills.

A snowy scene in rural Surrey.

Little in quantity, it was enough in rural areas around Guildford to take a few reasonable, rather atmospheric, picture-postcard photos.

Fieldfare at Clandon Park.

I made a visit to Clandon Park with Bob and Dougal on February 2. And as we headed toward the hills of Sheepleas and Effingham Forest, although not greatly productive, it gave me the opportunity of attempting a few shots of both redwings and fieldfares.

Redwings and fieldfares at Clandon Park.

There were plenty of them to see, as they plundered the soft soil looking for grubs and worms.

Red-legged partridge, previously photographed at Pagham.

Red-legged partridges were a bonus and a welcome addition to my ‘year’s’ sightings list.

Sheepleas in the snow.

Sheepleas was a quiet one in the way of bird sightings. But it was atmospheric and scenic as we walked through the fine layer of snow that lay noticeably deeper around such rural parts of the Surrey Hills.

Chaffinch at Sheepleas.

Bramblings continued to be viewed there, though mostly distant. They were perched high in the beech trees, counting at least a dozen or more among the chaffinches.

Brambling at Sheepleas.

Eventually, I did manage to get a few pictures of some closer to view, as a couple perched out on the edge of a blackthorn hedgerow.

Moving onwards and upwards into the hills of Effingham Forest, we were able to add a few new species to our day’s sightings.

Lesser redpoll in Effingham Forest.

A lesser redpoll, not seen much by us this winter, was a delight, hanging in a familiar pose upside-down, feeding on the catkins of the gracefully drooping branches of a silver birch tree.

Male common crossbill in Effingham Forest.

A group of common crossbills could be heard, some now singing, at the tops of the tall pine trees.

Female common crossbill in Effingham Forest.

Occasionally one could be seen, perched at the top of a pine, eventually getting a photo of both the “brick-red” coloured male, as well as the more yellowy coloured female.

Male siskin.

Also at the tops of the trees a flock of 20 or more siskins could be viewed.

Goldcrest at Effingham Forest.

Lower to ground level in the hollies, yews and rhododendrons, the high pitched sounds of goldcrests could be heard. Constantly on the move and always a challenge to photograph, eventually I managed a picture of one.

Firecrest at Effingham Forest.

Also nearby, we picked-up on the sound of a firecrest. After an equally demanding quest, I eventually got a photo for the records.

Common buzzard.

Looking up, in the hope of relocating the siskins and in hope of picking out another crossbill, a pair of common buzzards drifting, slowly, overhead.

Yellowhammers in Bob’s garden.

Elsewhere, the cold spell, though a brief one, continued. An influx of yellowhammers had gatecrashed Bob’s garden in Wood Street Village. The entire population from the surrounding villages I would imagine, as he counted more than 30 birds some days.

Red kite, Wood Street Village.

In the fields beyond his home as many as three red kites could be seen most days during the first weeks of February.

Common buzzard, Wood Street Village.

While common buzzards could be viewed on regular occasions as they flew low across the distant ridge of the field beyond.

A pair of ravens occasionally made a visit during the brief cold spell of weather.

Raven, Wood Street Village.

Photographed by myself on one particular visit, as well as hearing their eerie and hoarse ‘gronking’ sounds they emitted as they flew overhead.

Black-headed gulls, one with ring-tag, on Stoke Lake.

At the Riverside Nature Reserve near Burpham, in spite of the cold spell of weather, a few of the black-headed gulls there were already showing signs of regaining their summer dark chocolate-brown heads.

Gulls on ice, Stoke Lake.

Lined up across the thin layer of ice on the lake must have been more than 150 gulls in total. Most being black-headed, though a few herring gulls as well as a few lesser black-backed ones stood out in the crowd.

Canal towpath near Stoke Lock.

A thin layer of ice had also formed along the stretch of canal by Stoke Lock.

Egyptian goose at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Across the field, by the now frozen-over scrape, the only form of of life seen at first was an Egyptian goose. It perched in an oak tree, eyeing up an old owl box as a potential nest site.

Common snipe at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Closer inspection between the sedgy clumps of wetland grass below them, I was able to pick out a few well camouflaged, common snipe.

Snow scene at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Gingerly walking along the fine layer of snow that lay across the boards, as I continued my venture around the reserve, I also spotted a grey wagtail, darting back and forth and calling as it foraged around the grassy tufts poking out of the icy water.

Grey wagtail at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Long-tailed tit at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

A small group of long-tailed tits flitted through the sallows that lined the boardwalk.

Grey heron at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

While the rather tame grey heron gazed out across the lake, unperturbed by my presence.

Drake pochard on Stoke Lake.

By February 10, the weather had warmed a little. Late in the afternoon, at the reserve, a drake pochard came to visit the lake. A rare sighting there these days. It mingled among the wintering tufted ducks out on the water.

Great crested grebe on Stoke Lake.

A great crested grebe on a part of the lake was already showing signs of colouring-up into its summer plumage.

Little grebes (dabchicks) at Riverside Nature Reserve.

By the island on the lake, three fluffy bottoms could be viewed. They were, of course, rear views of three little grebes (also known as dabchicks).

Little grebe (dabchick) at Riverside Nature Reserve.

Including the two little grebes I had seen on the River Wey nearby, seven or more could be seen in the area. A good count of dabchicks around the reserve!

Canada geese at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

A handful of Canada geese continued to frequent both the lake and the river, often seen flying down on to or out of the water, having long lost their instincts to migrate.

Mute swan at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

From the towpath of the River Wey, a mute swan flew in from the fields of Bower’s Court Farm. For a large bird, looking quite majestic and graceful as came in to land on the river.

Kestrel at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

A kestrel hovered near by, just across the river.

Cormorant on the River Wey.

A little further downstream near the old road bridge at the Burpham end of the reserve, a cormorant surfaced from one of its underwater dives.

Great tit at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Blue tit at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

In the warmth of the day’s sunshine blue tits and great tits eagerly chased each other around, singing and enjoying the sunshine.

Chiffchaff at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

While a chiffchaff could seen just across the river, fly-catching hatching insects.

A surprise sighting that was well picked out among a group of greylag geese on February 9 at Burpham Court Farm by fellow birdwatcher Steve Chastell, was a pink-footed goose.

Pink-footed goose at Burpham Court Farm.

It is one of our smaller geese, with a relatively short neck, rounded head and short bill.

They have the appearance that they have dipped their heads and necks into a pool of chocolate.

About 360,000 spend the winter in the UK, making it a really important destination for this bird. They usually all spend the winter exclusively, in Scotland, north-west England and East Anglia.

Rarely kept in captivity, and not ringed, this individual had all the makings of a true wild bird. They are rarely seen in Surrey, and being only the second one Dougal had seen in the area and a first for me.

Pink-footed goose among greylag geese at Burpham Court Farm.

Although distant, it could be viewed well through a “scope” across the field among a small group of greylags.

Barn owl near Bower’s Lock.

Nearby I also saw “my” barn owl for my first time this year in one of its favourite roosts at Bower’s Lock.

On February 7 I took a few photos of the dozen or so wintering goosanders at Pennymead Lake, East Horsley.

Goosanders at Pennymead Lake, East Horsley.

These diving ducks are members of the sawbill family, so called because of their long, serrated bills, used for catching fish.

Sexually dimorphic in their appearance. Male goosanders are white, with dark green heads.

Females are grey, with a gingery or reddish-brown head and a white throat.

Drake goosanger on Cutt Mill Pond.

Just a few days later on February 11, I also visited Cut Mill Pond, Puttenham where another nine wintering goosanders could be viewed, out on the water most days, with five males showing well.

Mandarin duck (left) on Cutt mill Pond with some mallard ducks.

Tucked away in the one of the corners of the lake were a few mandarin ducks.

At Papercourt Water Meadows, near Send, the overwintering short-eared owl continued to show well most days, just before dark.

Short-eared owl seen at Papercourt in 2016.

Although it too early in the day (and limited to time) to see it for myself when I visited on February 13. I was comforted by the memory of a catalogue of pictures I had taken during previous sightings.

Cormorants at Papercourt water meadows.

Having watched cormorants flying over the marshy meadows, two could be seen as they settled on one of the pylons there. Unfolding their wings, to dry them out.

Rose-ringed parakeet.

I caught an in-flight shot of a rose-ringed parakeet, a common sight there, and constantly heard among the trees that line the river and often seen flying overhead.

Egyptian geese at Papercourt water meadows.

Near to the lock a pair of Egyptian geese roamed the field nearby.

Barn owl at Papercourt water meadows.

My best sighting was seen just as I was about to call it a day and return to my car. Across the meadow, although quite distant, a barn owl had come out to hunt.

Barn owl at Papercourt water meadows.

Hunger must have forced it out to look for food early, as it wasn’t much after 4pm and still in good daylight.

Grateful for the pictures I got, I silently wish it luck, hoping it survived for its own sake, and for me to tell its story another day soon.

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