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Birdwatcher’s Diary No.236

Published on: 20 Jul, 2021
Updated on: 20 Jul, 2021

By Malcolm Fincham

“No signs of a heatwave this year!” Or so it seemed. Moving into the first week of July, cool, sometimes inclement weather continued in the southern regions of the UK.

In Surrey, moderate temperatures in the low 20s centigrade were the best we could expect.

On a positive note, the local countryside was more lush and green than I could recall in recent years. Even more importantly it had dampened the prospect of any heathland fires, giving wildlife a greater possibility of survival during their breeding season.

This could be especially noted while on a visit to my local heathland at Whitmoor Common, in Worplesdon. Much of the low-lying land there was, at the least, damp under foot.

Silver-studded blue butterfly, Whitmoor Common. Click on pictures to enlarge in a new window.

To my delight the heather was now coming into bloom and a few silver-studded blue butterflies could be found, perched up on its blossom.

Woodlark.

Two woodlarks flew up from a bare patch of soil between two clumps of heather.

Hobby.

On one occasion among several visits, a hobby put in a brief aerial performance.

Sparrowhawk carrying prey.

And a sparrowhawk could be seen to have prey in its talons as it flew overhead.

Male stonechat, Whitmoor Common.

Stonechats remains a pleasant sight, making their signature sounds of two pebbles being struck together, while perched in the open on a small shrub.

Female stonechat, Whitmoor Common.

Both male as well as female could be viewed.

Young stonechat, Whitmoor Common.

As well as several fledglings.

I always view stonechats as the “lookouts” for the Dartford warblers that were skulking around in the heather and gorse.

Green woodpecker, Whitmoor Common.

A green woodpecker showed well, briefly, as it perched out in the open at the edge of the heath.

Juvenile, green woodpecker, Whitmoor Common.

While at least three juveniles could be located in a more densely wooded area near by.

Firecrest, Worplesdon Churchyard.

Firecrests, in recent years, had become quite a common sight in areas of Surrey, including Worplesdon.

Sunset over Whitmoor Common.

Having now past the height of summer, evenings were slowly clawing back in. Sunsets at Whitmoor are often among my favourite. Adding to the ambiance was watching as the mist arose from the wettest parts of the heath.

Nightjar, Whitmoor Common.

Included in the delights were the gentle churring sounds of the nightjars.

Female nightjar, Whitmoor Common.

Awakening at dusk, readying themselves for their nightly aerial display.

Mute swan with cygnets on Britten’s Pond.

At Britten’s Pond, the four swan cygnets continued to survive. They had now grown to a substantial size. Still guarded and guided by both parents, they were now looking too robust to be predated.

Adult moorhen with chicks, at Britten’s Pond.

An adult moorhen had recently introduced two chicks into the world.

Common tern at Britten’s Pond.

Although not breeding at the pond, as many as three adult common terns made occasional visits there, spending awhile successfully fishing, before departing again.

Brown rat at Britten’s Pond.

A few confiding brown rats occasionally make an appearance, thus making it a prime spot for a nightly visit by a tawny owl.

Kingfisher – this one at Stoke Lake.

A flash of blue is always worth looking out for. although in a blink of an eye it’s gone from sight across the water. The kingfisher there was remaining elusive even to my keen eyes.

On July 5, in the company of Bob, Dougal and the addition of Steve, who was down for a few days from his home in Aviemore, Scotland, we set off to visit Otmoor RSPB Nature Reserve in Oxfordshire.

Notice board at Otmoor RSPB Nature Reserve in Oxfordshire.

It was to be my second visit this year, having previously visited on May 17, although not having the opportunity to make note of it.

Grasshopper warbler.

Unsurprisingly, the grasshopper warblers that were reeling there on my first visit had now fallen silent.

Lesser whitethroat at Otmoor.

Lesser whitethroats had also become more elusive.

Cuckoo at Otmoor.

I was surprised to hear at least two cuckoos still calling. Especially as some of the tracked ones had already begun their migration back to Africa.

Cetti’s warbler at Otmoor.

Cetti’s warblers were also still calling their harsh song

Brown hare at Otmoor.

Unlike Surrey, brown hares could still be found there.

Gargany at Otmoor.

A garganey was still present, although it was now in eclipse. Surprisingly, to me, it was the third one I had seen this year, having seen my previous ones at Farlington and Tice’s Meadow. Generally I feel fortunate if I just see one of what is our only long-distance migratory duck.

Marsh harrier at Otmoor.

Marsh harriers continued to show well there.

Tern raft at Otmoor.

While a clan of common terns were now feeding their young on their tern raft.

Glossy ibis, previously seen at Otmoor.

Although I unable to seek out the glossy ibis we had seen on our previous visit.

Common crane, previously seen at Otmoor.

Nor catch sight of any of the common cranes, that apparently breed there.

Bittern at Otmoor.

We were, however, blessed by the sighting of a bittern in flight across the marshland.

Hobby at Otmoor.

Hobbies are a common sighting there, counting at least eight, wheeling high overhead, catching insects on the wing.

Red kite (above) and marsh harrier at Otmoor.

As red kites hunted at times alongside the marsh harriers.

Scorpion fly at Otmoor.

Pondering over the insect life and ashamed by my lack of ability to put a name to some of the exquisite little critters, eventually I came across one I recognised – a scorpion fly.

On a visit to the Riverside Nature Reserve, near Burpham on a pleasant late afternoon on July 9, I saw plenty of butterflies as well as damselflies on the wing.

Damselfly.

A few banded demoiselles were in the damp areas close to the river.

Comma butterfly, Riverside Nature Reserve.

What must have been a newly emerged batch of four or five freshly adorned comma butterflies had settled in the sunlight on an area of bramble.

Marbled white butterfly, Riverside Nature Reserve.

Near the lakeside, a marbled white butterfly made an appearance. Although a common species around Guildford’s countryside, it was quite a rare sighting for me at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Meadow brown butterfly, Riverside Nature Reserve.

Meadow brown butterflies were now abundant.

Ringlet butterfly.

Ringlet butterflies were plentiful, as they were in most locations recently visited.

Essex skipper.

As were Essex skippers, recognised by their black-tipped antennas.

Small skipper.

Whereas small skippers have golden-coloured ones.

Reed warbler.

In the brambles now starting to flower by the lakeside, a reed warbler could be viewed.

Reed warbler fledglings.

A couple of fledglings could also be seen nearby.

Kingfisher at Stoke Lake.

Displaying far better than the Britten’s Pond kingfisher was the Stoke Lake one. Allowing me several opportunities to photograph it as it made a number of flights past the island. Even perching a while on a branch overhanging the water.

Tice’s Meadow, lower hide.

On July 11, in the company of Bob and Dougal, we paid homage to Tice’s Meadow near Tongham. Water levels remained high and the lower viewing hide was under water.

Recently it had remained quiet, in the resect of unusual sightings.

Green sandpiper previously photographed at Tice’s Meadow.

For us, however, it did add another year tick to our sightings. A few green sandpipers had begun to return from their Arctic breeding grounds. Although too distant to photo, they  could be viewed on the far bank through a “scope”.

Roe deer, mother and fawn at Tice’s Meadow.

A little easier to pick out, at distance, was a roe deer with a fawn.

Fox and magpies at Tice’s Meadow.

Closer to view, a young fox made an appearance. Teased by the magpies that knew just how close they could get when surrounding him. Eventually he realised his attempts to catch them were futile.

On July 14, I revisited Clandon Wood Burial Ground, in West Clandon, in the hope of adding a white-letter hairstreak butterfly to my year’s sightings. Unfortunately, it was not to be, and the species is possibly the most elusive of our UK butterflies. And now perhaps too late in the year to view.

With the unusual weather we have had so far this year, it was hard to predict anything! The latest forecasting was for a settled spell and even a possible mini heatwave.

Gatekeeper at Clandon Wood.

Although unsuccessful with the ‘white-letter’, it was delightful to see my first gatekeepers of the year at Clandon Wood.

Purple hairstreak at Clandon Wood.

Another bonus was to notice several purple hairstreak butterflies buzzing around one of the tall oaks situated at the far side of the eastern field.

Purple emperor at Clandon Wood. The first one recored there!

More excitingly, high up in the canopy of the two oaks was what looked to be a purple emperor butterfly. Although too difficult to identify for sure at the time, a few record shots with my camera confirmed its ID.

Later in the day speaking to Matt, the head gardener, he confirmed my sighting. And I was even more delighted to have it confirmed as being the first one recorded there.

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