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Birdwatcher’s Diary No.225

Published on: 6 Feb, 2021
Updated on: 23 Feb, 2021

By Malcolm Fincham

Trying to take advantage of some of the few pleasant days that the second half of January was providing proved to be a challenge. With prevailing Atlantic weather systems being the main theme, brought more rain on already saturated soil.

Covid lockdown measures had really thrown a curveball my way. Restricted in my ventures by what I felt were draconian fixed rules was really starting to affect and suffocate my lifestyle.

Once again, lyrics of songs from days of my youth were playing in my thoughts. This time it was early 1970s progressive rock group, King Crimson. “Confusion will be my epitaph, as I crawl a cracked and path. If we make it we can all sit back and laugh, but I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying”.

Although a bit of a loner, (understandingly) in nature and by nature, enjoying my own company on my ventures. Pioneering solo in my local walks, I had to admit I was reluctantly missing the company of my good pals Bob and Dougal as well as our trips further afield prior to the recent lockdown.

Snowy scenes in Stoughton on January 26.

The highlight of my month was on January 26. It had brought with it our first real taste of winter to Surrey. Waking up to snow falling was quite a surprise and preparing myself to investigate was a must.

An overnight frost had already brought ground temperatures to below zero, allowing the snow to settle immediately. With large flakes falling, it hadn’t taken long to turn my local area of Stoughton into a winter wonderland.

Although to some a burden, for me it evoked in my soul a piece of my childhood. Still reasonably fit physically, despite my ageing bones, I set out on my investigations of Stoughton in the snow.

The former Stoughton Barracks, now Cardwells Keep, on January 26.

As I walked up toward the former Stoughton Barracks (now Cardwells Keep) the snow was still falling. And with little traffic the snow was taking a hold on the roads too.

Dunnock in the snow.

A dunnock was the first bird to photograph, looking for a discarded morsel of food.

Snowy scenes in Stoughton on January 26.

By the time I had walked back down Stoughton Road, I met up briefly with my daughter, taking our loving rescue dog for a walk.

Snowy scenes in Stoughton on Sunday, January 26.

While just across the road in the park, children there had already built a snowman.

View from the railway bridge in Stoughton Road looking towards Guildford.

Standing a while on the railway bridge, looking down the tracks in the direction of Guildford, a fox could be be viewed running across the tracks, though on this occasion too quick to for me to photo.

Stoke Cemetery, Stoughton Road, in the snow on January 26.

Goldfinches in the snow.

A brief walk around Stoke Cemetery saw a “charm” of goldfinches perched up in a silver birch, in the now easing snowfall.

Starlings in the snow.

In another tree a small group of starlings could be viewed.

Feral pigeons in the snow.

Feral pigeons looked bewildered as they sat on a roof in the snow.

By then I had begun to get a feel of the great outdoors. The Riverside Nature Reserve was beckoning me and I was unable to resist. I entered the reserve along the towpath from the Woking Road.

Grey wagtail in the muddy bank of the River Wey Navigation.

The water level had been lowered along the navigation as a safety valve to relieve the next rainfall due to arrive. This allowed a pair of grey wagtails to feed along its muddy banks.

Gulls, skating on thin ice on the flooded scrape near Stoke Lock.

Looking out across the flooded “scrape” near to Stoke Lock, a group of black-headed gulls in their winter plumage could be viewed.

Gadwall on the flooded scrape near Stoke Lock.

On an unfrozen part of the “scrape” a gadwall could be picked out.

Shoveller on the flooded scrape.

As well as a small group of shoveller ducks.

Kestrel at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

A kestrel flew out from the nearby pylon and hovered over the “scrape”.

Canada goose at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

On the marshy, snow covered grassland a Canada goose stood.

Green woodpecker at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

A green woodpecker flew across the field, recognised by its undulating flight it perched up tight to a tree branch to the south of Stoke Lake.

Nuthatch at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

In an oak tree by the footpath aside Stoke Lake a nuthatch acrobatically and erratically scampered along one of its thicker bows, looking for insects in its deep crevices of bark.

Coots and dunnocks by Stoke Lake.

Further down the path two coots could be viewed in the snow, feeding alongside them were a small group of dunnocks.

Little grebe on Stoke Lake.

At least one little grebe could be viewed on the lake along with the usual tufted and mallard ducks.

Hybrid duck on Stoke Lake.

While a long staying visitor on the lake a hybrid duck of some unknown parentage continued to be seen.

Treecreeper at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Along the treeline that met the towpath, a treecreeper had chosen trees with finer bark to probe, using its needle-like beak. Occasionally resting its head on the crevices, as if listening for the sounds of tiny grubs within.

Fox at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Across the River Wey, a dishevelled fox with a scraggy brush for a tail, could be viewed rummaging around in the dead vegetation.

Robin at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

A robin serenaded me with its song.

Snow bear at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

The highlight of my day had to be the rare sighting of a snow bear!

A flock of siskins at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

As I was admiring it I was alerted to the sound of siskins. A large flock of what must have been more than 50 flew overhead and settled in some alder trees that parted the busy A3 from the reserve. Finding the cones still full of seed they helped themselves to a meal. Allowing me a series of photos.

Stole Lock cottage in the snow.

And to round up my visit, a view of Stoke Lock cottage in the snow.

At Britten’s Pond, off Salt Box Road, the following day temperatures were beginning to rise. But the water was still mostly frozen over and the swims were all vacant of anglers.

Kingfisher at Britten’s Pond.

In the adjacent small pond, attached by a stream, the water was flowing fast enough to keep it free of ice. A kingfisher had taken advantage of the situation and could be seen ready to dive for a meal.

Black-headed gulls at Britten’s Pond.

A group of black-headed gulls could be viewed, standing on the melting ice.

Moorhen skating on the ice at Britten’s Pond.

While a moorhen skated past.

One of the robins at Britten’s Pond.

At least five robins inquisitively checked out my presence as I made the circular walk around the pond. No doubt they were missing the absence of the friendly anglers, that they had been accustomed to cadging a few crumbs from.

Grey heron at Britten’s Pond.

On a small island a grey heron sat statue-like, showing off his collection of CDs.

Long-tailed tit at Britten’s Pond.

A mixed flock of tits worked their way along the treeline that bordered the footpath. Most abundant were long-tailed tits.

A few blue and great tits could also be seen.

Goldcrest, this one seen near Stoke Lake.

A goldcrest was also among the flock and even allowed me a few photos.

Firecrest at Worplesdon, churchyard.

This gave me the opportunity of showing its comparison with its cousin the firecrest I had taken photos of a few days before at Worplesdon churchyard, both vying for UK’s smallest bird.

Dartford warbler on Whitmoor Common.

On Whitmoor Common, also to the north of Guildford, and within a healthy walking distance from my home, I was delighted at the sight of a Dartford warbler in an area of recently cut gorse.

Winter maintenance was in progress, and with the waterlogged sandy substrate there was little chance of the workmen’s fire going out of control. My only fear was that they didn’t cut back too much, and that the “Dartfords” would continue to find enough insects to feed on within the gorse.

Reed buntings on Whitmoor Common.

Also out on the heathland a small group of reed buntings could be picked out, seemingly doing quite well in number at our local reserves.

Stonechat.

A few stonechats could still be seen there, although with their winter movement, some had probably vacated the area in search of food.

Meadow pipits seemed to be happy wintering there, flushing several up as I walked some of the narrower paths.

Roe deer on Whitmoor Common.

A pleasing sighting for me were three roe deer attempting to remain hidden in a boggy area of woodland.

Mistle thrush on Whitmoor Common.

A mistle thrush sung its harsh but melodic song from the tops of one of the trees that lined the outer edges of the old horse paddocks.

Green woodpecker on Whitmoor Common.

Green woodpeckers continued to be in good number in and around the field, feeding in the soft soil.

Jay.

While the squawking sound of jays reverberated around the woodland.

Although temperatures remained cold in northern regions of the UK, mild weather had made a return to southern counties. Around the Surrey Hills it was rising into low double figures centigrade.

On my return to the Riverside Nature Reserve during the last days of the month, some of the birds were seemingly sounding optimistic. Hearing them in song, perhaps they were wishfully hoping that spring was not far away.

Mistle thrush at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

A mistle thrush could now be heard in song. While great-spotted woodpeckers could be heard drumming.

Greenfinch at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

The warmer weather had encouraged a greenfinch to perch at the top of one of the tall alder trees by the river.

Male bullfinch at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

The piped “phew” sound of bullfinches could be heard, getting brief views, as well as snatching a few record shots of both male and female.

Gulls at Slyfield.

High up over the Slyfield recycle depot a group of gulls were “kettling”.

Common buzzard at Slyfield.

While on the wasteland beyond, a common buzzard flew low below the treeline.

Goldfinches at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

A flock or “charm” of 25 or more goldfinches could be seen feeding on seed-heads in the area of scrubland.

Pied wagtail.

On the sewage beds a good number of grey and pied wagtails could be seen feeding, and at least two chiffchaffs could be viewed in their usual area, nearby.

Red kite and a crow at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

While the regular sighting of a red kite, this time being harassed by a crow, drifted over the reserve.

Redwing at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Blackbird feeding on Ivy berries by Britten’s Pond.

With many of the holly as well as other red berries now having been consumed, redwings as well as other wintering thrushes were now competing with our resident blackbirds, now feeding on nutritious ivy berries.

On January 29 at dusk I heard my local blackbird for the first time this year in song, since it had fallen silent in late July last year.

Previous photo of the Brent goose, at Tice’s Meadow.

Elsewhere in western regions of Surrey, although too distant to visit under current lockdown restrictions, the lone brent goose at Tice’s Meadow near Badshot Lea continued to be reported.

Previous photo of the rustic bunting, Ockley Common, Thursley.

On Thursley Common the rustic bunting as well as the two little buntings had been seen.

Previously taken picture of a great grey shrike on Thursley Common.

While a great grey shrike continued to be reported there, on occasions.

Previous photo of a barn owl at Papercourt water meadows.

And at Papercourt water meadows, near Send, a barn owl continued to be seen hunting just before nightfall.

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