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Birdwatcher’s Diary No.224

Published on: 29 Jan, 2021
Updated on: 29 Jan, 2021

By Malcolm Fincham

Cold weather continued into the new year. Fortunately for me, I had a few days free to get out and about before further lockdown rules where introduced during the first weeks of January.

Little Bunting, Ockley Common, Thursley. Click on images to enlarge in a new window.

On New Year’s Day, keen to get my species sightings list for 2021 off to a good start, I once again visited Thursley Common. A second little bunting had arrived on the Ockley Common section of the heathland and was now feeding alongside the first one. The rustic bunting that was still present there within a group of reed buntings.

Reed bunting on Ockley Common, Thursley..

Woodlark on Ockley Common, Thursley.

Nearby in the blackened patches of stubble, a couple of woodlarks could be viewed.

Dartford warbler on Thursley Common.

Also adding a few of the more common species that can be found there, including a Dartford warbler.

Tundra bean geese at Laleham.

Meanwhile, in another part of Surrey just north of the River Thames at Laleham (part of Middlesex until 1965), three tundra bean geese had been reported.

Tundra bean geese at Laleham.

As many as 300 or more regularly winter in the UK, but are usually seen near the coast. They are most commonly seen in eastern and south-eastern England, though not usually as far inland as these. Although they can sometimes be erratic in their appearances.

While just south of the river in Molesey Heath, a yellow-browed warbler had been discovered. Surprisingly it was along the same stretch of the River Mole I had visited just a few years ago to view an individually different bird, although of the same species, from eastern Europe.

Being familiar with the call of the yellow-browed warbler, having seen and heard several on my visit to the “Scillies” last October, it was fortunate this one was calling.

Yellow-browed warbler.

It wasn’t too long before I was able to locate the section of the river it was on. The hardest part was to take a picture of it. It was continually on the move, flitting through the branches overhanging the river. Eventually, after mumbling countless expletives, I managed what I felt were a few acceptable photos.

Chiffchaff by the river at Molesey Heath.

Also along the same section of the river, I was able to pick out and photograph one of several chiffchaffs there.

Cetti’s warbler by the river at Molesey Heath.

To my surprise I was also able to add a third warbler to my day list while there. Even more extraordinary it was an unusually obliging Cetti’s warbler. Renown to be a “skulking” species, this one surprisingly even allowed me a series of photos.

Goldcrest by the river at Molesey Heath.

Several other small species were also present feeding on available insects along the banks of the river. Adding to my photos – one of several goldcrests there.

Wren by the river at Molesey Heath.

As well as a wren.

Ring-necked parakeets.

In the trees along the river, ring-necked parakeets could be heard. One pair looked rather frisky as they preened each other, while a third spent its time close by, playing gooseberry.

A pair of gooseanders on the Tarn Pond at Cut Mill, Puttenham.

The following day at Cutt Mill in Puttenham, I photographed my first goosanders of the year, just one wintering pair on this occasion.

Kingfisher at Cutt Mill.

A kingfisher flashed by – also my first sighting of one this year.

Cormorant, this one pictured at Stoke Lake.

A cormorant took flight from the central part of the lake, bearing off into the morning sunrise.

Great crested grebes on Tarn Pond, Cutt Mill.

A raft of four great crested grebes could be seen.

Mandarin on the Tarn Pond, Cutt Mill.

Also there, I was able to get my first sighting of a mandarin duck this year.

During the days that followed, renewed Covid lockdown measures were introduced, leaving me restricted to travel the kind of distances I had achieved at the start the year.

On hindsight, at least I had been able to achieve some of my planned ventures before such cognitive state of disarray was officially introduced.

Even having made a brief visit to Papercourt water meadow at Send. Although not the best of days for photography under mostly dry and overcast skies.

Redwing at Papercourt.

Near Papercourt Lock I captured a few shots of the redwings and fieldfares in the short grassy areas near where a group of cattle grazed.

While watching them probing the muddy field looking for food to sustain their hunger, suddenly they all took flight, in unison.

They had spotted an equally empty-bellied sparrowhawk sweeping in stealth-like, low to the ground in their direction.

Sparrowhank hunting at Papercourt.

On this occasion the agile bird of prey was unsuccessful as the wintering birds had been too astute, leaving him to abort his mission and disappear out of sight over the tree-line.

Roe deer at Papercourt.

A walk across the marshy water meadows allowed me photo of one of three roe deer as it poked its head up above the long grass, inquisitively in my direction.

Skein of geese at Papercourt.

By now the afternoon light was beginning to fade, even though the sky began to clear. A skein of 19 geese flew north some distance away. Could they have been the same 19 white fronts recently seen at Burpham?

Unfortunately, my record shots couldn’t justify a claim, so I passed them up as probable greylag geese.

Fieldfare at Papercourt.

Fieldfares were now flying overhead, going to roost. From time to time one would perch in a small tree that had sprouted up in the saturated soil.

Sunset at Papercourt.

The setting sun attempted to add some long-awaited colour to the sky before it too faded from sight over the horizon.

Barn owl at Papercourt.

It wasn’t until after dark that I was able to get my first glance this year of a barn owl.

Cycle rides, as well as dog walks, allowed me to visit my local “patch” at the Riverside Nature Reserve, near Burpham, along the towpath from Woking Road.

Shoveller on the flooded field near Stoke Lock.

Looking across towards the “scrape” from Stoke Lock, a group of shoveller duck could be viewed. They were mostly drakes, counting at least seven on this visit. A total of nine, counting the two female.

Shovellers in flight over the flooded field near Stoke Lock.

They looked a little uneasy at times, taking flight only to resettle on another part of the water. Perhaps able to spot a predator that I couldn’t?

Gadwall on the flooded field near Stoke Lock.

A single gadwall could also be viewed.

A flock of siskins at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Also on the reserve, a group of 20 or so siskins could be seen, feeding on the small cones of an alder tree.

Treecreeper at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

In the line of trees along the towpath, I was also able to pick out my first treecreeper of the year.

Redwings at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

A small group of redwings nervously took flight as I approached the tree they rested in.

Common buzzard.

A common buzzard was also present.

A walk along the path in the direction of the recycle depot allowed me my first sighting of a bullfinch, this year. Nearing the recycling depot at Slyfield, the familiar varied sounds of gulls could be heard. The most abundant were the black-headed, although occasionally they would be drowned out by the herring gulls.

Great black-backed gull at Slyfield.

Perched up on the one of the buildings sat a lone great black-backed gull overlooking its brethren in silence.

Common gull.

A common gull (by name, but not locally by nature), could also be added to my year’s tally.

Red kite.

While a red kite, unperturbed by the kerfuffle, glided overhead, its talons to prove it to be the top scavenger present.

Guildford Cathedral shrouded in cloud.

Looking back over my shoulder, across an area of wasteland towards Guildford, our town’s cathedral could be viewed, bathed and shrouded by low cloud.

Drake pochard on Stoke Lake.

On January 10, two drake pochard could be viewed on Stoke Lake.

A pleasant surprise was the sighting of a wood mouse, although not an easy subject to photograph in focus with a 400mm lens.

Wood mouse at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Kestrel at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

For now, it had been escaping the keen eyes of a kestrel perched up in a tree, just a few wing beats away.

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