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Birdwatcher’s Diary No.226

Published on: 24 Feb, 2021
Updated on: 24 Feb, 2021

By Malcolm Fincham

Looking back over the past few weeks, I can’t to my recognition recall such a diverse change in weather in such a short period of time as we experienced during the first weeks of February.

Dartford warbler. Click on pictures to enlarge in a new window.

It was a mild start to the month and the resident birds were active. Dartford warblers could already be noted chasing each other around the heathlands.

Woodlark in song.

On rare days of pleasant sunshine, woodlarks could be heard occasionally, even viewed in song, fluttering a little like a skylark with a shorter tail over local heathlands.

Female common crossbill.

Common crossbills could be heard singing in heathland conifers.

Male common crossbill.

Still seen in flocks of a dozen or so, feeding on their staple diet of pine cones.

Thirsty work for crossbills eating fir cone seeds.

Occasionally they could be seen dropping to the ground to drink from puddles, to wash down those dry seeds.

Nuthatch.

In deciduous woodland areas nuthatches had become vocal, calling often high up in the bare tree canopies.

Dunnock.

And dunnocks could be seen perched up and in song.

Treecreeper at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Treecreepers were also in conversation with each other as they ascended their chosen trees, creeping up the tree bark looking for insects. Then flying back down to repeat the operation on their next tree of choice.

Both blue tits and great tits could also be seen prospecting possible future nest sites. Locally, there were notable signs that red kites were pairing up.

Common buzzard over Stoke Lake.

While during times of sunshine, common buzzards could be seen circling overhead.

Coots on Britten’s Pond.

Coots had taken to aggressively be in pursuit of each other, across the water at Britten’s Pond, off Salt Box Road.

Black-headed gull, already developing summer plumage, on Stoke Lake.

While some of the black-headed gulls had already begun to moult into their summer plumage.

Cormorant on the River Wey.

Even some of the local cormorants were now starting to come into breeding plumage, as shown in an amusing recent photo sent to me by one of my readers. Such photos are always welcome.

All this was, however, only giving a false optimism that spring was only just around the corner.

There was a beast in the east and it was threatening to head our way! Even the Met Office classified its as a named storm “Darcy”. And on February 7, with gusts exceeding 50 mph in some areas, the Met Office even gave out “yellow snow” warnings.

They soon changed the colour to “amber” however, although still allowing me to time to chuckle childishly when it was first announced.  I harked back to a Frank Zappa single Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow, released in 1974.

As forecast, the beastly easterlies all the way from the icy Russian Urals arrived. Although not as cold in southern regions of the UK as we had experienced just a few years back, I wondered, as one does, could these negative North Atlantic oscillations be a product of low solar activity as the sun enters a new cycle?

The Baltic blast soon brought both day and night-time temperatures down to sub-zero. February 11 began with the coldest night in the UK since 1955. In Braemar, Scotland, temperatures had fallen to -23c.

At the Riverside Nature Reserve, near Burpham, although the thermometer hadn’t dropped to those kind of levels, with wind chill included, it felt well below zero during my daily exercise walks.

Redwing feeding on ivy berries at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Redwings and fieldfares, now unable to feed on the frozen soil, continued to deplete supplies of ivy berries.

Blackbird at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

While blackbirds competed with the wintering thrushes.

Common snipe at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Common snipe, appeared to be rather restless due to their usual feeding areas being frozen. I even got lucky with a not-too-out-of-focus picture as one flew across the “scrape”.

Common snipe at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

As well as a further six or so could be viewed in flight, overhead.

Shoveller at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

A pair of shoveller ducks were still present on the only remaining unfrozen section of the “scrape”.

Egyptian goose in flight.

An Egyptian goose also flew across the “scrape” taking my attention with the flash of white in its wings.

Egyptian goose on ice near the flooded “scrape”, near Stoke Lock.

Later, it could be viewed perched on one leg on the ice.

Roe deer at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Three roe deer, one showing its velvet antlers, could also be seen, partially camouflaged.

Kestrel at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Across the river in subdued daylight, a kestrel hovered.

Red kite.

The regular sighting of a red kite could be seen circling over the recycling depot.

Fox at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

While a wily old fox, prowled the surrounding brownfield area, earmarked for future development.

Male bullfinch at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Along the track leading towards the recycling depot I picked out the sound of a bullfinch calling. Often seen in pairs, I was surprised to see just one lone male.

Teal at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Under the swampy sallows that bordered the towpath, teal could still be viewed, now struggling to find areas that remained unfrozen.

Robust to saturated soil, the most common trees lining the River Wey are alders. Growing to heights of well over 20 metres, they are of great food source for siskins.

Siskins at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

With a good influx of these birds this winter, flocks of 50 or more could be viewed in recent weeks, feeding on seed cones of one of their favoured trees.

Gulls on the ice at Stoke Lake.

Stoke Lake had partly frozen over by February 12, and a large flock of more than 100 gulls could be viewed standing on the large platform of ice. Mostly observed were black-headed gulls, a few of which had already begun to develop their summer plumage like those on Britten’s Pond.

Lesser black-backed gull, on ice, on Stoke Lake.

A few common gulls as well as herring gulls could also be picked out. Lesser black-backs could also be added to the day-list.

Firecrest in Worplesdon churchyard.

To the north of Guildford in the parish of Worplesdon, a firecrest continued to show well on occasions in St Mary’s Churchyard.

Red Kite, Worplesdon.

While a red kite could occasionally be seen coming into roost there.

A wintery scene at Britten’s Pond.

At Britten’s Pond the water had mostly frozen across the lake.

Greylag goose, on ice, at Britten’s Pond.

A greylag goose gingerly made its way across the ice.

Kingfisher at Britten’s Pond.

The resident kingfisher had taken to a secluded spot adjacent to the  main pond, that was still free of ice.

The light dusting of snow hung around during the cold spell.

Grey herons at Britten’s Pond.

A pair of grey herons came in to roost in a tall pine tree close to lakeside.

Crows mobbing a grey heron at Britten’s Pond.

Although soon evicted by a pair of crows, possibly already starting to claim the area as a nesting site.

Robin at Britten’s Pond.

Robins gave the appearance of being quite at home with this seasonal weather, as they perched up, singing their mournful song.

Cormorant at Britten’s Pond.

Regularly sightings of at least two cormorants continued.

Long-tailed tit.

Long-tailed tits continued to be seen in flocks of half-a-dozen or so working they way through trees surrounding the lake.

Moorhen roosting at Britten’s Pond.

While nearby, a moorhen had found its place to roost for the night.

Mute swans at sunset on Britten’s Pond.

And a pair of mute swans, silhouetted in the diminishing sunlight, stood in resilience to the coldness.

A dusting of snow on Whitmoor Common.

Just down Salt Box Road from Britten’s Pond on the cold, sandy heathland soil of Whitmoor Common a dusting of snow was still present.

Lesser redpoll on Whitmoor Common.

Working their way through some of the taller silver birches there, lesser redpolls could be seen feeding on their seed cones.

Linnets on Whitmoor Common.

As afternoon light began to fade a flock of linnets gathered in one of the taller silver birches. Having checked their surrounding and satisfied it was safe, they glided down in small groups into the thick cover of the gorse below to roost.

My personal concerns were for the welfare of the Dartford warblers I had recently seen chasing each other across the heathlands. The are particularly susceptible to harsh winters, being dependant on insects to feed on.  I hadn’t seen any since winter had gnashed its teeth.

Dartford warbler.

Within just a day the weather had changed as a southerly breeze pushed north. Mild weather had returned. With fingers crossed and with baited breath, I hoped that I will be able to include further Dartford warblers in my next report.

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