Fringe Box



Birdwatcher’s Diary No.230

Published on: 18 Apr, 2021
Updated on: 18 Apr, 2021

By Malcolm Fincham

As March came to its close, a warm sunny spell of weather was at last upon us in the home counties. Spring had at last arrived in Surrey? Or so I thought!

All was brimming with optimism as temperatures even briefly reached the dizzy heights of 24c. Matching the previous highest for the time of year back in 1968. Ironically, what came after also matched 1968. As the warm plume of warm weather pushed up to the north-west of the UK.

Common buzzards over Britten’s Pond.

Common buzzards could be seen circling overhead in the blue sky at Britten’s Pond, off Salt Box Road.

Carp jumping at Britten’s Pond.

I even managed to “snatch” a photo of a carp as it briefly launched itself from the lake.

Mallard with chicks on Britten’s Pond.

And my first sighting this year of an unusual looking mallard could be seen with her brood of chicks.

Bats out hunting insects over Britten’s Pond.

A few pleasant evenings were even warm enough to tempt a few bats out of hibernation.

On April 3, at the Riverside Nature Reserve, near Burpham, I heard my first blackcaps in song.

Sedge warbler, showy and singing at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

A sedge warbler had also arrived and could be heard singing from a large bush of brambles on the other side of the River Wey.

Sand martin at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Over the sewage works by Stoke Lock, a mixed group of a dozen or so swallows and sand martins could now be viewed.

Orange-tip butterfly at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

While in a corner of the reserve, where the sun was feeling at its warmest, my first orange-tip butterfly of the year fluttered by and settled on a cuckoo flower.

Adding to my personal delights, Covid lockdown laws had been relaxed, at least for the time being.

I must admit, I had begun to think I would begin this report with, “It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen,” as George Orwell wrote in his famous book Nineteen Eighty-Four!

I had begun to realise how a caged animal must feel when released back into some of the habitats it had missed for so long.

Rustic bunting, Ockley Common, Thursley.

A visit to Thursley Common gave me what turned out to be the last chance to see the rare, long staying, rustic bunting, before it finally departed the day after my visit.

The two little buntings, however, remained present for the time being, at least.

Common crossbills, although mobile around the heathland could, if lucky, occasionally be caught up with and viewed once they had found their latest food source of pine cones.

During the first days of the month, an early influx of summer migrants had begun to arrive. Many generally earlier than their expected arrival dates and a few dropping in on Thursley. On April 4, I made my return there in the hope to photograph a few of its recent arrivals.

Willow warbler on Thursley Common.

I got my first sighting of a willow warbler this year, while there, having newly arrived on its long-haul flight from its winter home in Africa.

Tree pipit in the Parish Field, on Thursley Common.

Tree pipits, several of which could be heard already singing in the trees that bordered the Parish Field.

Wheatear looking dapper in its Sunday best, in the Parish Field, Thursley Common.

And a very smart looking male wheatear was also on show in the field.

Most significantly, the confiding cuckoo, locally coined “Colin” in recent years, had, once again made its return.

Cuckoo, Parish Field, Thursley Common.

I recalled having first photograph him for one of my reports back in 2015. And can remember having seen him taking his stance in the Parish Field at least a year prior to that.

Colin the confiding cuckoo makes his return to the Parish Field on Thursley Common.

Once again, he had made his return from Africa and could be seen once again strutting his stuff in the Parish Field. On this occasion, looking curious as to why one of his observers wasn’t paying him attention!

During the days that followed the weather was taking a turn. As in 1968, the high pressure system moving up into Greenland was driving down all the way from the Arctic bringing, in its wake, occasional snow flurries and a wind-chill below zero by April 6. Although still mostly dry, a brisk northerly breeze was culture shock for myself, let alone the birds just arriving.

Black-necked grebes at Staines Reservoir..

Being now able to travel further afield also allowed me a visit to Staines Reservoir where I was able to see black-necked grebes, now in summer plumage. Two could even be seen doing their mating ritual.

Yellow wagtails at Staines Reservoir.

Along the causeway, I was also able to photograph my first two yellow wagtails of the year.

Little gull.

Three little gulls could be viewed out on the south basin, though all too distant to photograph well.

Short-eared owl.

While in the area I also visited Staines Moor. A short-eared owl that had wintered there was still present.


Several lapwings could be viewed displaying over the grassland.

Water pipit on Staines Moor.

In a marshy area alongside the River Colne that runs through the reserve, a water pipit was still present.

Ring ouzel on Staines Moor.

While my personal “bird of the day” had to be a ring ouzel that had stopped off for a meal on its journey to more northerly parts of the UK.

Crooksbury Common, near Farnham, came up with some good sightings during the several opportunities I had to visited during the first weeks of the month.

Common crossbills on Crooksbury Common.

By chance, on one particular visit I had the fortune of spotting a group of 30 or so common crossbills fly low overhead, landing in a nearby pine close to one of the water-filled scrapes near where I was standing.

Common crossbill on Crooksbury Common.

To my delight they flew down to the water’s edge in small groups, while the rest remained on lookout, awaiting their turn.

Woodlark, Crooksbury Common.

On a more recent visit I added a woodlark.

Tree pipit, Crooksbury Common.

While a tree pipit could be heard and seen.

Dartford warbler, Crooksbury Common.

A trusting Dartford warbler perched up to sing, just a short distance from me.

Wheatear at Lydling Farm, Shackleford.

My visit to Lydling Far, in Shackleford on April 9 was also a productive one in respect of wheatear sightings. Counting at least seven on my walk.

Wheatear at Lydling Farm, Shackleford.

One of them even displayed the reason why it was once upon a time generally known as a “white-arse”, prior to Victorian times.

Common tern at Tice’s Meadow.

Gorging on my freedom to roam further afield, at least while having the opportunity, I also visited Tice’s Meadow near Tongham, adding two common terns to this year’s sightings.

Also out on the water, two Mediterranean gulls could be viewed.

Common whitethroat at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

A return to the Riverside Nature Reserve, on April 11 added several more new arrivals of summer visiting species, adding a common whitethroat to my photos.

The count of blackcaps, now singing around the reserve, had increased in their number, now counting close to double figures.

Female blackcap at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

I was even fortunate enough to pick out a female blackcap. The non-singing females are always more elusive to photo, although they can be recognised by their copper/brown coloured cap.

Rose-ringed parakeet at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

While watching across the River Wey from the towpath, in the direction of Burpham Court Farm, a group of seven or more rose-ringed parakeets could be seen, squawking as they flew.

They are now becoming a common sight locally, with numbers increasing.

Common buzzard (left) and a crow at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Another regular sighting around the reserve, as well as most parts of Surrey, are common buzzards.

Green woodpeckers.

Also common to most local areas are green woodpeckers. Although masterful in their disguise when in their arboreal domains, they give themselves up when making their loud yaffling sounds.

My most coveted sighting during the first weeks of the month was finding a pied flycatcher while on one of my recent regular walks around Britten’s Pond. This was on April 13.

Male pied flycatcher at Britten’s Pond.

These birds are quite a rare sighting in Surrey, so finding it myself added to my delight.

Male pied flycatcher at Britten’s Pond.

They breed in more northerly and westerly areas of the UK.

Male pied flycatcher at Britten’s Pond.

A large fall of migrant birds that had been reported that day, due to cloud cover and rain showers in parts of South-East England was possibly why this bird had decided to take a rest?

My reporting it to the Surrey Bird Club certainly attracted the attention to a good number of locally based bird watchers. Many attempted to photograph the pied flycatcher, and one even uploaded up a short video clip to YouTube.

Share This Post

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy. All comments are moderated and may take time to appear.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *