Fringe Box



Birdwatcher’s Diary No.238

Published on: 17 Aug, 2021
Updated on: 17 Aug, 2021

By Malcolm Fincham

Too late to squeeze into my previous report, but worthy of note, the last two days of July held a few new surprises. By and large occurring within my own garden and mostly involving butterflies.

While inclement weather continued, there were still enough breaks of sunshine to while away some moments within my small, secluded backyard.

On one such occasion, while attempting to pay attention to a conversation with my long-suffering wife and midway through a list of chores she was lining up for me, we were rudely interrupted by a butterfly that had entered our garden.

Silver-washed fritillary in my garden.

At first glance I thought it was a painted lady. Pleased at having my camera to hand, I was even more delighted when I realised it was, to my amazement, a silver-washed fritillary.

I watched it land on our buddleia and to it stayed long enough for me to take a photo. A first for my garden!

A passion for bees in my garden.

Amazingly intricate in their shape, passion flowers were now coming into bloom within the garden and attracting a variety of bees.

House sparrows scrapping for food on my garden feeders.

House sparrows had made a recent resurgence to my garden feeding station. They could be seen in a group of a dozen or more eating me out of house and home!

House sparrows eating grit.

Having enjoyed their fill of food, they could then be seen hanging off the walls. Literally! Seed-eating birds such as sparrows are well known to eat mortar for the grit it contains. Birds swallow small pieces of grit to act like teeth in their gizzards, a specialised stomach constructed of thick, muscular walls used for grinding up food.

The grit helps to break down hard foods, such as seeds and the hard exoskeletons of some insects.

They could also have been pecking at the mortar to obtain nutrients from it. This is more common in older houses as our local ones are. Limestone is used in cement and mortar and largely made up of calcium carbonate, a common substance found as rock in all parts of the world.

Red kite feeding in flight over my garden.

Still, I couldn’t help but marvel to see a red kite drift over my garden.

In the company of Bob and Dougal, on July 31 we attempted to find brown hairstreak butterflies.

A walk alongside the blackthorn hedge at the top of Pewley Down, where we had seen some last year, regrettably left us without luck. The only fortune was making it back to the car, before the heavens opened and another deluge of rain began to fall.

Brown hairstreak in my garden cherry tree.

Serendipity seemed to have its part to play that same day. As the sun came out during the evening I was enlightened by my first-ever sighting of a brown hairstreak in my own back yard. It was perched close to the top of my cherry tree!

Brown hairstreak on Pewley Down.

We were all delighted the following day on our return to Pewley Down where we were all able to share the sighting of another one.

Roesel’s Bush-cricket on Pewley Down.

My personal favourite that day was to get a photo of a Roesel’s bush-cricket.

The long antennae and chunky body are characteristic of a bush-cricket. Commonly found throughout southern and central Europe, its native range stretches from west Europe to western Siberia.

Until the early 20th century, Roesel’s bush-crickets were only found on the south-east coast of the UK. Recent years have seen a rapid expansion in their range, particularly helped by roadside rough grassland and scrub providing a ‘corridor’ for them to travel along.

Swifts over my house in Stoughton.

By the end of the first week of August the local swifts had mostly dispersed from the skies around Stoughton and were winging their way back to Africa. Now seeing just a few a few passing through south, overhead.

Clandon Wood Natural Burial Ground.

A visit to Clandon Wood, mentioned in my previous report, gave up what must be my earliest ever sighting in Surrey of a returning wheatear.

Wheatear at Clandon Wood.

It was certainly the only photo I had got of one there before the wild flowers had been harvested.

Peregrine over Clandon Wood.

I also observed what looked to be a juvenile peregrine as it made a brief appearance.

Small blue butterfly at Clandon Wood.

Marbled white butterflies had dwindled greatly while few small blue butterflies had started to emerge on their second brood.

Brown argus butterfly. This one photographed on Denbies Hillside.

Brown arguses could also be found.

Small copper at Clandon Wood.

As well as small copper butterflies.

Common field grasshopper at Clandon Wood.

Grasshoppers were plentiful, including what looked to be a common field?

Female meadow grasshopper.

As well as what appeared to be meadow grasshoppers?

Cinnabar moth caterpillar.

Cinnabar moth caterpillars could be seen feeding on the ragwort leaves.

Seemingly, Britten’s Pond, or at least its surrounding area, was beginning to give-up some long held secrets in respect of butterflies.

Arriving at the car park off Salt Box Road, on the evening of August 3, I noticed in my peripheral vision what looked to be several purple hairstreak butterflies in an oak tree nearby.

Purple emperor at the top of an oak tree at Britten’s Pond.

But then a large butterfly flew out from the top of the tree. I watched it as it settled in a taller oak on the opposite side of the road. “Purple emperor!” were my immediate thoughts. Hastily taking a few a few photos in the hope of getting one in focus to confirm my sighting.

Swallow at Britten’s Pond.

House martin, fly-catching at Britten’s Pond.

I greatly admired the swallows and house martins as they skimmed the water across Britten’s Pond catching insects over the water.

I was looking out for that most delightful bird often seen there by the vigilant eyed. Although brightly coloured, the kingfisher has an amazing ability to remain elusive.

Kingfisher at Britten’s Pond.

Especially at this time of the year while the trees around the pond are so full of leaves.

All the trees apart from the ash trees that line the bank at the back of the pond. It seems ash dieback had found its presence there too.

Kingfisher among some of the wilting leaves of ash trees.

Can you spot the kingfisher, as I did, among some of the wilting trees on its far bank?

Sparrowhawk soars though along far bank of Britten’s Pond.

Soaring through in ‘stealth-mode’ across the far side of the pond shortly after was a sparrowhawk!

Even I, despite accepting the horrors nature can bring, winced momentarily and was most grateful that she hadn’t spotted kingfisher!

Common tern at Britten’s Pond.

An adult common tern continued to make an occasional evening visit there, picking up its pre-ordered fish supper.

Grey wagtail on Britten’s Pond.

Most evenings, a grey heron could be seen coming in to roost, while a pair of grey wagtails remained resident.

Gatekeeper on ragwort at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

At the Riverside Nature Reserve, near Burpham an abundance of gatekeeper butterflies were now present, along with several small copper butterflies.

Banded demoiselles on the River Wey.

On the River Wey a small cluster of male banded demoiselles danced across the water.

Denbies Hillside near Dorking.

On August 4, Bob and I made a visit to Denbies Hillside near Dorking, in hope of completing the set in the way of sightings and taking photos of procurable butterflies that can be seen within the Surrey boundary.

Chalkhill blues mating on Denbies Hillside.

Having waded through a sea of chalkhill blues, looking like snowflakes blowing in the breeze, we guesstimated over 2,000 as they danced around us.


A low, gurgling croak and deep rasping call caught my attention, allowing me the sight of a raven as it flew low along the hillside.

Kestrel, Denbies Hillside.

Other random sightings included a kestrel.

Painted lady butterfly.

A painted lady butterfly.

Shaded broad-bar moth.

As well as a few moths, including, a shaded broad-bar moth.

Silver Y moth.

And a silver Y moth.

After much seeking we came across our “target” species, the silver-spotted skipper butterfly.

Silver-spotted skipper on Denbies Hillside.

The full set had once again been achieved for butterfly species, getting all the ‘gettable’ 42 species available to be found within the Surrey boundary, with all, apart from one, featured in my reports here.

The only one I did see but missed out on photographing was a newly discovered black hairstreak colony on Epsom Common.

Black hairstreak, photo taken by Bob Smith in Epsom.

Back in June they had been seen in good numbers there during the height of their season. And Bob had managed to capture some good photos at the time. By the time I had returned from my vacation in Cornwall, they had ‘pretty much’ come to the end of their flight-time.

Evenings were now noticeably closing in, the light had faded beyond my camera’s abilities to get a favourable photo not much later than 8pm.

While the days of future will soon pass once more, I spared a thought for the summer birds that I had the pleasance to see arrive on nature’s tide, as summer, for them, was now ebbing away.

Returning to Denbies Hillside on a warm and sunny afternoon on August 14, chalkhill blues had noticeably decreased since our previous visit. Most were now looking quite tatty. Silver-spotted skippers, however, had grown in number, making them a little easier to find, discovering at least a dozen.

Adders are another species that can be found on Denbies Hillside.

The warmth of the sun had even tempted a few adders out for those who wished to find them.

Adonis blue butterfly on Denbies Hillside.

While adonis blue butterflies, although having seen them earlier in the year, were now just coming back out on their second brood.

Wheatear on Denbies Hillside.

Keeping to the footpaths as one should, I even managed to photograph a wheatear. The second I have now seen making its return to Africa.

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Responses to Birdwatcher’s Diary No.238

  1. Gerry Robbins Reply

    August 19, 2021 at 8:00 am

    What an uplifting report. It is so encouraging to know that there is so much natural history to enjoy close to Guildford. Great photos too. I look forward to reading your future reports.

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