Fringe Box



Birdwatcher’s Diary No.217

Published on: 5 Oct, 2020
Updated on: 5 Oct, 2020

By Malcolm Fincham

A mostly settled last few weeks of September gave me enough time, despite daylight hours getting increasingly shorter, for a few ventures around the Surrey and Hampshire countryside doing my best to get up-to-date photos of what I might see.

Although I missed out on the brief appearance of a wryneck at Shackleford, as well as a glossy ibis that made a visit to Tice’s Meadow, near Tongham.

On the whole it had already been a pretty good year. However, I was able to add a few more sightings to my year’s listings before September was over.

Short-toed lark in Shackleford.

The first of which was a short-toed lark, a bird I seen for the first time only last year on Tresco, while visiting the Scilly Isles.

September 19 brought with it an early morning sighting by Ed Stubbs.

Amazingly he had picked it out among a group of skylarks as it fed in a recently ploughed field in Shackleford.

It was indeed a great find by the young birdwatcher, and only the second recorded in Surrey. The previous one was on April 24, 1966 at Beddington Farmlands.

Due to other commitments, I was unable to get there until the following day. Although my photos were not that inspiring, I was quite impressed by its markings as I watched it through a scope.

A few days later I had another new sighting, and a bird I had missed out on when they arrived in the spring.

The ring ouzel is a summer migrant to the UK, visiting to breed in upland areas such as Scotland and northern England, where they inhabit open moorland and crags at high altitudes.

Ring ouzel at Coldharbour.

In the autumn, ring ouzels migrates to their wintering grounds in the mountains of Morocco and Tunisia, in north-western Africa.

At least two had been sighted hanging about with several similar looking blackbirds, feeding in a rowan tree near to the cricket pitch at Coldharbour, near Leith Hill.

On September 27, as the reasonable spell of weather continued, I was tempted out on a trip to Farlington Marshes, in the company of good pals, Bob and Dougal.

Although dull and overcast in Guildford, just an hour down the A3, near Portsmouth the sun was shining for the most part along the Hampshire coast. It was another good opportunity to add a few more species to our year’s sightings.

Great white egret at Farlington Marshes.

The first was a great white egret. Although distant to view, it was easily identifiable by its size and its yellow bill.

It made up for missing out on the one that had made several visits to “Tice’s” earlier in the month.

Little egret at Farlington Marshes.

Plenty of little egrets were present, their black bills and smaller size were quite comparable.

Grey phalarope at Farlington marshes.

On an area known as “the deeps”, a grey phalarope could be viewed. Although playing difficult to photograph as it spent much of its time tucked in close to the reed beds. Occasionally it would grant just enough time to allow a picture.

Reports of an American golden plover out on the mudflats on the eastern side of Langstone Harbour set us a challenge.

American golden plover I photographed on the Isles of Scilly.

Fortunately, with the assistance of Dougal and his powerful telescope, we were able to pick it out. Too distant for my camera lens, I had to resort to my archive of photos, recalling the juvenile one I had seen a few years ago on St Mary’s on the Isles of Scilly.

Lapwings at Farlington.

Overhead a large flock of lapwings circled.

Gadwall at Farlington.

And a gadwall was spotted.

Kestrel at Farlington.

Visiting Farlington is never complete without seeing and photographing at least one of the resident kestrels.

Dartford warbler on Whitmoor Common.

Back on Whitmoor Common, Worplesdon on September 28, Dartford warblers were in good number. They will be dependant on not too harsh a winter for their survival.

Stonechat on Whitmoor Common.

Stonechats also continued to be a common sight.

Green woodpecker on Whitmoor Common.

Green woodpeckers, commonly heard “yaffling”, remained shy to view by dog walkers and myself alike. Taking a keen eye to pick one out.

Common crossbill in Effingham Forest.

At Effingham Forest, a large flock of more than 30 common crossbills could be heard and viewed as they flew over the tall pines, while smaller flocks could be also seen feeding on the pine cones.

Common crossbills in Effingham Forest.

One separate small group could also be viewed briefly as they surveyed the panorama while perched on some dead branches of a tree.

Firecrest, Effingham Forest.

Also adding to my wander there was a very obliging firecrest.

Roe deer in Effingham Forest.

While further down the track, one of two fawns allowed me a photo as they scurried across in front of me

The recent irruption of common crossbills to southern regions of the UK continued to set me on the challenge to get some better photos.

With a staple diet mostly consisting of pine cones, this time it was a visit to Thursley Common with Bob. And by chance it didn’t take long to hear their calls.

Common crossbill (male), with pine cone on Thursley Common.

Counting at least 15 feeding on the cones of a clump of pines, even plucking them from some of the trees scorched by this summer’s heathland fire.

Common crossbill (male), on Thursley Common.

Attempting to photograph them in overcast conditions, however, didn’t justify their beauty.

Four red kites on Thursley Common.

Looking across the heathland in the direction of some distant taller pines, four red kites could be viewed, perched in one of the many other parched pines dotted around the landscape.

Meadow pipit on Thursley Common.

Below them, at ground level, the green shoots of recovery were already pushing up through the blackened soil. Meadow pipits were arriving back in good number, and were scurrying around between the green shoots.


Woodlarks were in healthy numbers too, counting at least eight and still hearing at least two in song.

Lesser redpoll on Thursley Common.

Lesser redpolls had also arrived in large number during recent days. Two flocks of more than 50 each were still present in the Parish Field, feeding high up in the surrounding silver birch trees.

Redwing on Thursley Common.

While what was almost certainly my first sighting this autumn of two redwings as they flew past across the tree-line.

Heading back across the common from the Parish Field the sun began to shine through. This turned out to be quite a bonus for our photography.

Less redpolls on Thursley Common.

Close to the fire-damage boardwalk, near to the ornamental metal dragonfly, another group of lesser redpolls could be found.

Lesser redpoll on Thursley Common.

Much lower to to view than the previous one we had seen, and in brighter conditions than the common crossbills we had seen on our arrival at Thursley. Giving a good opportunity for some reasonable photos.

Willow warbler on Thursley Common.

Even catching a few pictures of a willow warbler within the flock.

Dartford warbler on Thursley Common.

Of course the heathlands of Thursley, as at Whitmoor Common, couldn’t be complete without a few posing Dartford warblers.

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Responses to Birdwatcher’s Diary No.217

  1. John Andrews Reply

    October 13, 2020 at 9:20 am

    I just want to say thank you to Malcolm Fincham for another wonderful article. I’ve been involved with the management of Guildford Borough sites for a few years now and your articles really offer an insight into some of the species using them. The quality of the information and photos is top class.

    Thank you.

  2. Sue Fox Reply

    October 13, 2020 at 12:37 pm

    We had 12 magpies sitting on the top of two fir trees at the back of our garden about 250ft from the backdoor, roughly 320 ft from Worplesdon Road this morning. Is this unusual?

    There are generally only two noisy ones, but that’s magpies.

  3. Malcolm Fincham Reply

    October 24, 2020 at 9:30 pm

    Thank you once again for your comments.

    In my response to Lisa and her question about the magpies: In my experience, it is certainly not uncommon especially at this time of the year to see so many magpies together.

    Like other corvids, they do enjoy their own company. I have often seen 20 or more going to roost together in sallows by the boardwalk at the Riverside Nature Reserve, near Burpham.

    Also, thank you to John Andrews for comment on my reports too. It’s pleasing to know I’m attracting such a wide range of audience. Hope I continue to do so.

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