Fringe Box



Birdwatcher’s Diary No.220

Published on: 21 Nov, 2020
Updated on: 21 Nov, 2020

By Malcolm Fincham

An overcast day with light drizzle was the welcoming start to November 1 as Dougal and I drove to West Sussex.

Not an ideal day to rejoice, though one of hope of seeing a dusky warbler. It had been reported as being seen in an unusual location, on the edge of a housing estate near Crawley, with properties under construction nearby.

Some previous homework had been to recognise its call. And having not seen this eastern visitor before, I checked it out on YouTube.

The dusky warbler breeds over much of Siberia and as far south as the eastern Himalayas. It is prone to vagrancy with a few occasionally making it as far as the UK during autumn months. This despite a 3,000km distance from its breeding grounds.

Eventually we found the exact spot where it had last been reported, finding ourselves with just a few other birdwatchers with the same interest.

Dusky warbler, Bewbush, Crawley, West Sussex.

Recognising its contact call, our eyes followed its sound eventually picking it out, skulking about, low in a clump of willow, just beyond a metal fence from the path. Eventually it gave itself up for long enough for a few photo-shots.

Wood pigeons, Thursley Common.

November 4 brought the first notable sightings of wood pigeon winter movement in and around the Surrey Hills.

Wood pigeons pictured near Sutton Place.

As a rule, wood pigeons are not migratory, but they do tend to gather in large numbers during winter months. Sometimes observed in flocks on the Surrey-Hants borders in excess of thousands, in a constant stream across the sky and often joined by groups from more northerly parts of the country.

An autumn sunset in the Surrey Hills.

A few brighter days during the first weeks of November revelled some pleasant sunsets, though these were few and far between.

The following Sunday I visited Thursley Common with my friend Dougal. We had decided to follow up on reports of a little bunting that had been seen feeding alongside a small group of reed buntings.

Unfortunately, on this occasion it wasn’t to be my day.

By the afternoon the weather had turned more overcast. Poor light that day was hampering my views. My camera was to my surprise slightly more successful at bringing out any colours there were in the dank, still, but mild air.

Marsh harrier.

I was also enlightened by the sighting of a marsh harrier flying just above the tree line in the direction of Hankley Common. This was special, having not to my memory seen one before in Surrey.

The recent irruptions of crossbills, redpolls and siskins for the first time in several years also added to my “birds to look out for” list.

Male common crossbill on Thursley Common.

A group of a dozen or more common crossbills allowed me a few photos. One male stood out particularly well, showing off its brick-red outfit as it perched up in a nearby pine tree.

Hampered by fading light, lesser redpolls, although abundant there, proved to be more of a challenge, in spite of their prominent sound.

Various other birds such as siskins and woodlarks could only be picked out by their song. But I did manage a few record shots of meadow pipits.

Although overcast, a hue of pastel shades of colour closed in the landscape engrossing one’s perspectives, like a dream within a dream. At least two red kites were present. Seeing the world around them with far keener eyes than mine.

Red kite on Thursley Common amid the pastel colours of autumn.

One of these spent most of the afternoon perched on a dead tree, preening, some way off across the heathland.

Red kite, Thursley Common.

While a second bird glided low across the heathland looking for a meal.

I still recall my thoughts and comments made in one of my early diary reports (No. 27).

I wrote: “Red kites, normally sighted between spring and autumn drifting through the county, have continued to be reported locally in the west Surrey area in the last few weeks. This was a bird once regularly seen over the streets of London in pre-Victorian times – before they became persecuted to the verge of extinction in the UK in the last century. Now maybe just a ‘pipe dream’, but wouldn’t they be a wondrous sight to once again take up residence in the Surrey Hills alongside our now resident common buzzards?”

This I wrote back in January 2013, so for me, a ‘pipe dream’ come true. Still rejoicing in my thoughts, as much now as the red kites I saw back then.

Another colourful autumn sunset.

The first weeks of November did bring a few bright spells of weather. And even a few more pleasant sunsets. Although on brighter of days, with the sun now setting not much after 4pm, I became very limited, due work commitments, for birdwatching opportunities.

A brief visit between continued heavy showers to Lydling Farm in Shackleford on Sunday, November 15, allowed one of just a few possibilities to venture out.

Red kites at Lydling Farm, Shackleford.

A break in the clouds made way for a brief spell of bright sunshine. At least four red kites had come out to play. All in good plumage, as their feathers glistened in the sunlight.

Skylark at Lydling Farm, Shackleford,

Rising from the surrounding fields of alfalfa, were small flocks of skylarks and meadow pipits.

Fieldfare at Lydling Farm, Shckleford.

A few wintering fieldfares perched up in leafless, distant trees.


While some redwings could be viewed in flight.

Rainbow at Lydling Farm, Shackleford.

I managed to avoid another shower of rain that pushed though just to the south on strengthening winds. It left in its wake a rainbow in the eastern sky. I could see by the distant blackening western sky, however, that it was time to call it a day.

Linnets at Lydling Farm, Shackleford.

A brief visit to Lydling Farm again the following day, in the hope of taking some better photos than the previous day, brought with it a dryer spell of weather. Although overcast, I managed to get some better pictures of the healthy looking group of 20 or so linnets, this time feeding by a puddle.

Red kite at Lydling Farm, Shackleford.

Although just two red kites could be seen on this occasion, my visit was a worthwhile one.

Having heard reports of grey partridges recently seen there, I kept “half an ear open” for their call.

To my surprise I heard it. Although distant at first, my eyes followed the sounds. A covey of eight dark shapes could be instantly recognised as partridges.

Grey partridges in flight. Part of a covey of eight at Lydling Farm, Shackleford.

Renown for my “gun-slinger” style of actions with my camera. (though not sure complimentary?) I even managed a few in-focus shots as they flew low over the alfalfa crop.

Although unlikely to be “true wild birds”, they were indeed a rare sighting these days in Surrey.

As a rule, this species is pretty much sedentary, rarely roaming far from their birthplace. However, in contrast it’s said these hand-reared birds, released for shooting, seldom stay in the release area for long.

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Responses to Birdwatcher’s Diary No.220

  1. Gillian Stokes Reply

    November 23, 2020 at 9:28 pm

    When were the grey Partridges seen please?

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