Fringe Box



Birdwatcher’s Diary No. 214

Published on: 24 Aug, 2020
Updated on: 24 Aug, 2020

By Malcolm Fincham

Things cooled down, though only briefly during the first days of August.

Before the first week was out the heat had returned, bringing with it some breathless times in the oven-ready midday high temperatures.

A plume of Saharan sunshine was pushing up from the continent, taking temperatures back up into the mid 30s in southern regions of the UK. Mad dogs and postman seemed to be the only ones seen out in the midday sun! Occasionally, (on his day off), they were joined by a wildlife photographer.

Some of the birds I came across were looking almost as fatigued as I was from the heat.

Jackdaw – mouth open.

The jackdaws I saw stood mouths open attempting to control their body heat.

Jackdaw, bathing in the hot sun.

One could be seen close by. At first thought, I believed it to be dead. Its wings splayed as it lay on the grass. It was in fact, ‘sunbathing’!

This act is also performed by blackbirds as well as other bird species. It is used as part of their routine feather maintenance. They adopt a posture in which the body feathers are fluffed up and their wings are held out from the body, with feathers spread.

It is thought that using the sun in this way does two things. It both helps the preen oil to spread across the feathers and drives parasites out from within the plumage.

Sometimes they will attempt to attract ants. A chemical given off by ants, called formic acid, helps the birds get rid of the tiny mites and other pests that live in their feathers.

Kestrel, seen at Clandon Burial Ground.

Also noticed was a kestrel laying flat out on a log, seemingly exhausted by the high temperature.

Juvenile peregines.

A pair of juvenile peregrines could be viewed looking spent, as they looked out from a chalk-cliff ledge in the fervent afternoon sun.

As I continued my walks on the wild, wild side of life, it was by now rapidly coming to the end of the year for spotting new species of butterflies within the Surrey boundaries.

Grayling butterfly – Thursley Common.

With recent sightings of a grayling butterfly now added to the year list, seen once again on Thursley Common, it left just two species to be found (realistically) within the Surrey countryside.

A walk with Dougal along the top most path alongside the blackthorn hedgerow that borders south-facing part of Pewley Down, we were hopeful to see a brown hairstreak for the first time this year.

They are one of the last butterflies to emerge in Surrey. We had seen them at this site in previous years. Even getting some decent photos of this elusive butterfly, that can still be seen and read about in my Birdwatcher’s Diary archives.

On this occasion it was undoubtedly a struggle, as proven on many previous attempts in past years. It is mostly a matter of luck and patience. They spend most of their time buzzing around the tops of their “master” tree (an ash) often only coming down to lower lying blackthorn to lay their eggs.

Brown hairstreak butterfly, in flight, high in an ash tree.

Eventually we saw two “dogfighting” high up in an ash tree just beyond the line of blackthorn.

Holly blue.

Holly blues seemed to be abundant in their second brood this year. This was noted during our patient wait and eventual success in seeing the hairstreaks.

Whiling away a few hours, attempting to cool down from a radiant sun, I continued to spend a few evenings watching the wheels of life turning while relaxing on a bench at Britten’s Pond.

Kingfisher at Britten’s Pond.

A kingfisher could be seen there, though mostly distant, flying low across the water. Occasionally it would perch up on one of the islands on the lake.

Grey wagtail at Britten’s Pond.

A family of grey wagtails could now be seen, often flitting back and forth along the water’s edge.


A sparrowhawk flew high over the pond, heading to roost on Whitmoor Common.

Young moorhen at Britten’s Pond.

Two juvenile moorhens played together nearby in the shallows of the pond.

Juvenile robin at Britten’s Pond.

While an already very astute juvenile robin scurried around by me, hoping to cadge a morsel of crumbs.

A dusty haze was hanging from a desert-like sky, when I visited the southern slopes of Denbies Hillside on Ranmore Common near Dorking on August 9.

Silver-spotted skipper. These little critters are renown for being annoyingly camera-shy. It took a while to get one’s “eye-in” on them. Eventually coming across a good dozen or more during my walk to the bottom of the south-facing slope there.

Silver-spotted skipper on Denbies Hillside.

They remained almost impossible to photo. Nearly every time I was about to photo one taking flight became a tad frustrating on such a hot day. Eventually, I did get a few respectable shots, but by then I was exhausted by the heat.

Adding to that I then realised I had gone further down the hill than I had intended, and now had the steep slope to climb to make my return. Choosing to zigzag the hill seemed to make the going a little easier.

To my surprise some luck had come my way, as I wearily walked a narrow path between some shrubs made up of various vegetation including blackthorn.  I stopped dead in my tracks. With perspiration burning my eyes, I attempted to focus on a small butterfly. It was perched directly in my line of vision and was unmistakeably a brown hairstreak.

Brown hairstreak on Denbies Hillside.

Having only got glimpses and record shots the week before on Pewley Down, I felt justly treated to a close encounter of the hairstreak kind.

Silver-washed fritillary at Denbies Hillside.

While close to the summit of the hill, I also managed see and photograph a silver-washed fritillary still in reasonable condition.

Clouded yellow.

While two clouded yellow butterflies continued to be seen there.

Adonis Blue (male) seen earlier this year on Denbies Hillside.

I was surprised at what appeared to be an absence of what should now be a second brood of adonis blue butterflies. Fortunately, I had already seen them before this year as I reported in an previous report report.

Attempts later that day to find crossbills in Effingham Forest, still to see any this year, once again drew a blank.

Firecrest in Effingham Forest.

But it was still a pleasure to see and hear families of marsh tits in several areas of woodland. As well as a few photos of a firecrest. One of several, heard and seen there.

The combustible mix of heat and dry weather during the first weeks of the month produced a couple of heathland fires within Surrey. The worst being on Chobham Common.

August 12 was a personally worrying day. Reports of another fire, this time it was turn of my local heathland, Whitmoor Common, in the parish of Worplesdon.

Recent fire on Whitmoor Common.

Fortunately, with much gratitude to the rapid response of the fire and rescue team, the flames were soon under control, preventing extensive damage.

And saving much of the wildlife that would have, fearfully, been lost on the larger area of Chobham.

On Whitmoor, all seemed to still be in order in the way of wildlife, after the fire.

Stag and doe roe deer.

Roe deer could be seen grazing in the “old” paddock field.

Fox, Whitmoor Common.

While a fox continued to survey the rabbits that grazed there.

Heather in bloom on Whitmoor Common.

The heathland was coloured purple by its flowering heather.

Nightjar on Whitmoor Common.

And the continued sighting of nightjars, gave me hope they were raising young.

By the next few days things had cooled down a little and some much needed rain had arrived… to be continued.

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Responses to Birdwatcher’s Diary No. 214

  1. Victoria Balmforth Reply

    August 25, 2020 at 9:51 pm

    Delightful, absorbing article. Thank you.

  2. Annelize Kidd Reply

    August 26, 2020 at 10:54 pm

    Just love this blog about all our favourite local places for wildlife!

  3. Malcolm Fincham Reply

    August 27, 2020 at 9:37 pm

    Always inspiring to me, to receive such delightful comments. Thank you.

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