Fringe Box



Birdwatcher’s Diary No.216

Published on: 21 Sep, 2020
Updated on: 21 Sep, 2020

By Malcolm Fincham

Notable signs of summer waning were continuing to display as we approached the first day of meteorological autumn. (Always September 1).

This year’s late summer bank holiday falling on August 31, allowed me one last opportunity of an end-of-season venture to visit Farlington Marshes near Portsmouth in the hope of viewing some of our avian species now returning from their northerly breeding grounds. Some of which resting for just a day or to before continuing their journey to Africa.

Atlantic grey seal, at Farlington. Click on pictures to enlarge in a new window.

The strong winds of the previous days had dropped. A high tide on our arrival had made Langstone Harbour look as still as a millpond. Although sightings of seals was not uncommon there, our view of one not far from the harbour wall was a first there for me. It was an Atlantic grey bobbing its large head above the waterline.

Little egrets at Farlington.

On one of the few small islands that still protruded from the sea, a group of little egrets could be viewed. A larger group of oystercatchers were also present.

Little egrets at Farlington.

While watching, the little egrets took to the air, finally they made their minds up and settled out on the centre of the marsh.

Sandwich tern.

A few distant sandwich terns could also be seen fishing in the harbour.

Osprey on North Binnes Island.

Looking out across the motionless water in the direction of North Binnes Island, once again, as at about this time last year, an osprey could be viewed perched in one of the dead trees.

It was a perfect place for it to rest, surrounded by water where it could spend its leisure time fishing.

Most of our interesting sightings, however, could be seen looking inland across marshes, as we walked along the seawall. With the assistance of Dougal’s “scope”, distance across the marsh seemed no object. I only wished the lens on my camera was as powerful.

Way across the field he had picked out a merlin, though too distant for my camera.

Peregrin at Farlington.

I fared slightly better when, soon after, he picked the larger peregrine that was perched on the fence posts, slightly closer to view.

Sparrowhawk at Farlington.

It was of no surprise, with all the small waders now present, that other, more common birds of prey were present too. A sparrowhawk flew overhead, though just passing through.

Kestrel at Farlington.

And, as always, at least one of the resident kestrels could be viewed.

On the lagoon were a variety of waders that had already made their return to the south coast.

Grey plovers, still in summer plumage, at Farlington.

Some still in their summer plumage, as were a few of the grey plovers, still showing their shiny black bellies.

Black-tailed godwit at Farlington.

A good number of black-tailed godwits had already made a return, varying in their changing to winter plumage.

Whinchat at Farlington.

Still present, though soon to leave our shores, were a few passerines, including five or more whinchats that could be seen at various points within the reserve, perched up on fence posts.

Wheatear at Farlington.

A number of wheatears could also be seen both in the fields as well as along the seawall.

Yellow wagtail among the cattle at Farlington.

While although distant to view, among the cattle a few yellow wagtails could be observed.

Reed warbler at Farlington.

Another bird soon to leave for Africa was a reed warbler.

Resident to the reserve, often heard, though rarely seen, the sound of several Cetti’s warblers could be detected as they sang, often from deep within a bramble bush.

Goldfinches at Farlington.

Goldfinches had already begun to flock together in their “charms” feasting on the seed-heads of thistles.

Linnets at Farlington.

Linnets in similar flocks of 25 or more were feeding on the last of the blackberry crops that hadn’t yet been consumed by the starlings there.

Starlings at Farlington.

Starlings had increased greatly since my previous visit. Flying up in a murmuration, there well in excess of 400 birds.

A congregation of waders at Farlington.

Along the area at Farlington, known as “the stream” a variety of waders were on show.

Common sandpiper at Farlington.

A common sandpiper flew along the stream.

Kingfisher at Farlington.

While two of kingfishers could be seen chasing each other back and forth already, seemingly, challenging each other staking their territory.

Spotted redshank at Farlington.

A welcomed addition to my sighting, this year, was a spotted redshank.

Common redshanks in flight.

While several common redshanks were also present.

Greenshank at Farlington.

An addition of five or so greenshanks could also be added to the day’s tally.

Black-headed gull at Farlington.

The black-headed gulls’ dark heads were now receding to winter plumage.

Gulls are members of a large and widespread family of seabirds. Often known as seagulls. They sometimes get a bad reputation for stealing chips. But gulls are intelligent, adaptable and often beautiful birds.

Little gull at Staines Reservoir.

However, they’re notoriously difficult to identify. Their plumage changes as they age and there’s a great deal of variation within species, with cthe hanging of summer and winter plumages. A good example of this could be seen on September 6 when the opportunity arose to visit Staines Reservoir, near Heathrow Airport.

Little gulls are best seen in the UK when on migration. And several had been reported, passing through on inland waters on their return from breeding grounds in northern Europe.

Big tin bird takes flight from Heathrow airport!

We first observed them as specks on the water, way across the north basin, in the direction of where the big tin birds were taking flight.

Little gull at Staines Reservoir.

The little gull is a small, dainty gull. Adults in summer have black heads, while young birds have a black mark on each wing which forms a ‘W’ pattern. In flight adults show a pale grey upper-wing, with no black wing tips and a very dark grey underwing.

Little gull at Staines Reservoir.

Fortunately, as we watched all four that were present took to the air in turn, affording some lovely views as they acrobatically flew around the basin catching insects, both in the air as well as on the water.

Little gull at Staines Reservoir.

Allowing me to collect a series of photos as they did so.

Black-necked grebe at Staines Reservoir.

Although most of the hundreds of hirundines reported passing through on migration in previous days had by then passed through, close in by the causeway, a black-necked grebe, now in moult from summer plumage, was also worthy of a photo.

In numerous places around Surrey at this time of the year ivy bees could be seen out in force, frantically foraging on the flowering ivy.

Ivy bee feeding on flowering ivy.

They were first recorded in the UK in 2001, and can now be found in much of Southern England. As suggested by their name, ivy is the main plant used by this bee for pollen.

They emerge when ivy is in flower, from early September to early November.

Ivy bees, digging their nest holes in the sandy soil.

Ivy bees are entirely harmless – males do not have a sting at all, while females have tiny ones, similar to a weak nettle sting and are very disinclined to use them. There’s certainly nothing to fear of them, even when present in swarms.

Ivy bees.

Ivy bees nest in loose, light or sandy soil on southern-facing banks and cliffs with ivy nearby for foraging. They are solitary bees, but when conditions are suitable there may be thousands of nests in the same area.

While remaining dry and settled in southern regions of the UK as we approached the middle of the month, it was producing a bit of an Indian summer with temperatures on occasions in the 20s centigrade. It was a good opportunity to make hay while the sun continued to shine.

On September 13, in the company of Dougal and Bob, we headed for Brighton in East Sussex, in hope of sighting a number of long-tailed blue butterflies that had been recently sighted in an area there known as Whitehawk Hill.

The long-tailed blue is a scarce migrant to the UK. Although, like the ivy bees, it is claimed by many to be the product of global warming.

It was first recorded in the area between Brighton and Christchurch in Hampshire in August 1859. Although 30 or more sightings had been been recorded between then and 1939, the first major immigration was in 1945, when there were 38 sightings recorded.

Long-tailed blue butterfly, Whitehawk Hill, near Brighton.

However, the most noticeable influx has occurred in recent times. In 2013, long-tailed blues were seen at nine sites including, Devon, Hampshire, Sussex, Kent and Suffolk.

Mating pairs, with eggs and larvae also found, confirmed that the species had successfully bred. By September 8, 2013, the first of the offsprings emerged in Wiltshire and Kent. Sightings from other counties followed, with sightings continuing into October.

Long-tailed blue butterfly, Whitehawk Hill, near Brighton.

On the Continent this butterfly is considered a pest of pea crops, one of the larval food plants, where it can cause considerable damage. This butterfly is continuously brooded on the Continent but is unable to survive our winters. When visiting the UK it relies on the everlasting sweet pea crops, which are perennials.

Although the species is a rare migrant to the British Isles, it is one of the most widely distributed Lycaenids in the world. The butterfly gets its name from the wispy ‘tails’ on the trailing edge of each of its hindwings, which flutter in the breeze. Adjacent eye spots fool birds into thinking this is the head of the butterfly, allowing it to escape attacks unharmed.

View from Whitehawk Hill towards Brighton.

A wander across the hillside there allowed me a few scenic views across the landscape both looking out to sea as well as a “buena vista” of Brighton itself.

It also gave me the chance of finding several wall browns, a butterfly no longer seen in Surrey.

Wall brown butterfly, Whitehawk Hill, near Brighton.

And all in pristine condition giving me countenance to getting my best pictures of them to date!

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