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Birdwatcher’s Diary No.213 – Bearded Vulture Special!

Published on: 6 Aug, 2020
Updated on: 5 Aug, 2020

By Malcolm Fincham

Kestrels in their nest box at Clandon Wood Burial Ground. Click on pictures to enlarge in a new window.

At Clandon Burial Ground as the second phase of July arrived, the annual brood of kestrels had fledged from their nest box. However, they hadn’t ventured far.

Kestrels at Clandon Burial Ground.

Often they could be viewed perched on fence posts in the surrounding wild-flower meadows.

Marbled white butterfly at Clandon Wood Burial Ground.

Marbled white butterflies were nearing the end of their reign, though still in reasonable numbers as they danced across the wild-flower meadows.

Small copper butterfly at Clandon Burial Ground.

Without too much effort I managed to view at least three small copper butterflies.

They could be seen among the various skipper butterflies featured in my previous report.

Common green grasshopper.

Various species of grasshoppers could also be found. These included common green grasshoppers.

Field grasshopper.

As well as field grasshoppers.

Rosel’s bush cricket.

Roesel’s bush crickets could also be found there. Now quite a common sighting in many areas of the South East.

Their song consists of continuous penetrating buzzing at a high pitch. The sound is similar to that of the hiss of overhead electricity wires. Unfortunately, a few octaves above my hearing range these days.

Red soldier beetle.

Perched on the abundant flower-heads at this delightful nature reserve were a plethora of common red soldier beetles.

Female common darter.

Several species of dragonfly buzzed past including a female common darter.

Among the highlights at the Riverside Nature Reserve, near Burpham, were:

Greenfinch at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

A family group of resident greenfinches could be heard.

Reed warbler by Stoke Lake.

Within the reed beds, now thick from summer growth around the perimeter of the lake, families of reed warblers including their newly fledged young could be heard.

Wren by Stoke Lake.

A few wrens also flitted around, low down in its margins.

Kingfisher flies across Stoke Lake.

Low across the lake on several of my visits a kingfisher could be viewed.

Grey heron in flight.

While a grey heron continue to be a common sight around the reserve.

Young Egyptian geese by Stoke Lock.

By Stoke Lock, the young Egyptian geese I reported earlier in the year when they were not long fledged, were now almost adult in size.

On Worplesdon’s Whitmoor Common green woodpeckers grabbed my attention as i heard their “yaffling” from the woodland area.

Following their sounds, I attempted to get a photograph. Sitting tight to the canopy of tall trees, they remained too elusive.

Juvenile green woodpecker, Whitmoor Common.

Fortunately, I was able to pick out a less wary juvenile green woodpecker that although was hidden from my view, as I approached the area that overlooks the now disused paddocks.

Adult green woodpecker.

Looking across the fields, partially from view by the surrounding woodland, a couple of adult green woodpeckers could be seen.

Mistle thrush.

A mistle thrush perched on a fencepost some distance across the field.

Fox on Whitmoor Common.

Also in the field, sniffing the air and licking its lips as it skulked through the long grass, was a fox, not aware of my observations.

Roe Deer, Whitmoor Common.

Nearer to me and more observant of my presence was a stag roe deer.

Great spotted woodpecker on Whitmoor Common.

A great spotted woodpecker gave me the opportunity to record a few photos as I headed in the direction of the heathland.

Male stonechat on Whitmoor Common.

There, families of stonechats could still be viewed.

Juvenile Dartford warbler on Whitmoor Common.

Adult dartford warbler on Whitmoor Common.

Both adult and juvenile Dartford warblers skimmed low across the heath, occasionally one would perch up allowing me the opportunity of a photo.

Linnets on Whitmoor Common.

A flock of a dozen or so resident linnets were present as usual.

White admiral butterfly on Whitmoor Common.

A rare venture beyond the heathland in the direction of Goose Rye Road (still classed as Whitmoor) added surprising sightings for me of both a white admiral and a silver washed fritillary butterfly.

Assorted species of solitary bees could be found at the respective sites I visited in various sandy heathlands around the Surrey Hills.

Some not in comprehension to my knowledge. Thanks to regular reader Harry Eve, I did have the opportunity to name a few of the species I have photographed recently.

Green eyed flower bee.

These included green flower bees.

Bee wolf wasp.

As well as a bee wolf wasp. Predatory in their nature.

Although fascinated by the many insect species I come across on my daily rambles, I do get the feeling of “brain-overload” when attempting to put a name to some of them.

Hoverfly seen in my garden.

Even when sitting in my own back garden I find myself intrigued by the various hover-flies seen there.

Every once in a while, as my regular readers well know, I get the yearning for the chance to see something a little more abstract.

As usual and once again, I had been lured away from my “safe place” in my Surrey Hills by my “manic” birdwatching pal, Dougal. This was in the hope to see, once again, an unusual bird that had ventured into the UK.

On this occasion it was a trip to the Peak District, in the hope of seeing a bearded vulture (lammergeier).

It had been reported in birdwatching circles and was now even making it on national news. It was only the second recorded appearance of one in Great Britain.

The East Midlands was an area of the English countryside I hadn’t previously visited before.

The twisted spire of Chesterfield church.

I was much inspired by the spire on St Mary All Saints’ Church in the town of Chesterfield in Derbyshire, as we drove past it. Predominantly dating back to the 14th century, the church is a Grade I listed building known for its twisted and leaning spire.

Peak District moorland.

The first day of our visit in the Peak District didn’t go too well. The regular roosting spot of the vulture involved almost a two-hour walk across moorland terrain with the risk of ending up waste deep in a bog as we neared the site.

To our dismay, it had flown from the site just over 20 minutes before our arrival, and there had been no further reports of any sightings.

With other birdwatchers hoping to see the bearded vulture.

With a handful of other “birders”, also present, we decided to sit it out in hope of its return. Although a reasonably mild day, a fine drizzle in the air became heavier, chilling my fingers to the bone.

In spite of its nine-foot wingspan, the competitively extensive span of the Peak District was going to literally make it like finding a needle in a haystack.

Sunlight on the Peak District moorland.

After enduring an unexpected and extended spell of inclement weather, we were all grateful when the sun shone through that evening.

This, however, was only short lived. The warmth of the sun had released a multitude of midges. Rising from the damp heather they encompassed us and were attempting to infest every orifice. The lammergeier didn’t return that day.

Merlin hunting meadow pipits across the moorland.

Though several merlins could be observed as they flew, often low, over the moorland hunting meadow pipits.

Ravens.

A distant group of ravens were also observed.

Male and female red grouse.

While, although elusive, red grouse could sometimes be seen.

Golden plover in the Peak District.

A few golden plovers occasionally perched up within view of my camera.

Sunshine on the rocks where the bearded vulture often roosts.

The waning sunlight cast picturesque shadows across the landscape.

Sheep on the moorland.

The sheep remained unperturbed by the world that surrounded them.

Rainbow at dusk.

While showers continued creating distant rainbows, as we made our return to the car.

Sunny again on the Peak District moorland.

In contrast, by dawn the following morning the skies were clear and the sun shone brightly.

A change of plan was in order. We opted to parking in a lay-by near Cutthroat Bridge.  The challenge to see this awesome creature had, by now, become a personal one!

As in many areas of Europe, both past (and unfortunately still present), the persecution of birds, especially apex predators of this kind, has caused the demise of many birds of prey in and around the UK. Since the 19th century the bearded vulture population in Europe has come under pressure.

People used to believe the birds killed livestock like lambs (hence the name lammergeier) and even abduct babies. By the early 1980s, people started to realise the importance of vultures for the ecosystem. They are nature’s clean-up crew and stop diseases in livestock and wildlife from spreading.

Like all vultures, bearded vultures are scavengers but are unique in that they are the only bird to live on a diet made up almost exclusively of bones, meaning they pose no threat to farm animals or game birds. In the Peak District, the vulture has been seen feeding on the bones of a dead sheep.

Since the start of a captive-breeding programme, more than 200 of these birds have been released in the Alps. It was of great surprise and delight to hear that one had made an appearance in the Peak District. Although, for many, it was of concern that the area is renown for persecution of some of its wildlife.

Much of our charismatic wildlife remains missing from the Peak District National Park, including pine martens, hen harriers, peregrines and goshawks.

It is common for young bearded vultures to leave the mountains and explore vast areas, but it is unusual for this species to cross over large bodies of water, in this case the English Channel.

All these thoughts instantly receded, however, when reports came through that the vulture was airborne and was drifting over the horizon, in our direction.

At last, the bearded vulture comes into view.

Like a giant prehistoric bird it glided low overhead, showing off its nine-foot wingspan, blotting out the sun and casting a shadow over us.

The bearded vulture shows off its nine-foot wingspan.

The only disappointment to me were my silhouetted pictures. Though on hindsight, a small price to pay!

Bearded vulture high over the Peaks.

It circled over our heads for a good 30 minutes before drifting off to perch on an outcrop of rocks, where we observed it through our “scopes” for at least another hour.

Majestic in flight.

A distant view of the bearded vulture perched up.

“Coming back to earth” so to speak, I returned to the rolling Surrey Hills.

Looking for butterflies on Denbies Hillside.

Chalkhill blue butterflies, on cow dung on Denbies Hillside.

On July 26, in the company of Bob and Dougal, we returned to Denbies Hillside, near Dorking. Although still a little too early for silver-studded skippers, and the second brood of adonis blue butterflies, there were plenty of chalkhill blues to be seen.

Dingy skipper butterfly on Denbies Hillside.

Surprisingly, there were still at least two marbled whites dancing across the grassland. We also found to our surprise two dingy skipper butterflies as we traversed the hillside.

It was news to me that this insect flies in two generations in southern regions, from May to June and July to August, but only in northern regions and at the high altitudes where there is only a single generation.

Clouded yellow butterfly on Denbies Hillside.

I was especially pleased to see at least two clouded yellow butterflies while there. Even managing to get a photo of one of these incredibly mobile critters.

Brimstone butterfly, this one seen a few days earlier at Clandon Wood Burial Ground.

The colour theme continued there in the form of a brimstone butterfly.

Yellowhammer.

While two yellowhammers could be heard singing from separate areas of the hillside.

The tide of summer was already beginning to turn for our avian friends. This in spite of a hot plume of weather briefly pushing up from the south, taking temperatures into the high 30c on the last day of July.

Blackbird on garden fence.

Our local blackbirds had now stopped singing as the month approached its end.

Robin, now going through its moult.

While robins had gone quiet too, reduced to their “ticking” sounds, as they went through their summer moult.

Swift over my garden.

The last two of our local swifts over Stoughton were no longer to be seen, already dispersing to their winter homes in Africa.

Great white egret in flight at Tice’s Meadow.

At Tice’s Meadow near Tongham during the last weeks of July, a great egret (sometimes two) were often seen on a breakfast time visit, feasting on young frogs and other amphibians.

Little egret.

A few little egrets, more common these days, remained regular visitors.

Green sandpiper at Tice’s Meadow.

Green sandpipers were now returning south from their breeding grounds.

Common sandpiper, this one previously seen at Stoke Lake.

While common sandpipers were also starting to return.

Another glorious sunset.

Evenings by now had notably begun to draw in, although some of the sunsets were to be admired.

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test 4 Responses to Birdwatcher’s Diary No.213 – Bearded Vulture Special!

  1. Angela Gray Reply

    August 6, 2020 at 4:27 pm

    Lovely article Malcolm!

    I don’t normally reply but I do always read your articles.

    You take such fantastic photos I’m very envious! Plus reading about your days out is so interesting.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Carol Anderson Reply

    August 6, 2020 at 6:46 pm

    Interesting. I have seen a red kite on three occasions over Tongham.

  3. Vicky Rimmer Reply

    August 7, 2020 at 10:53 am

    Such a great article and pics. Thank you.

  4. Robert Frost-Bridges Reply

    August 9, 2020 at 11:11 pm

    Fantastic Malcolm.

    Probably your best one yet!

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