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Birdwatcher’s Diary No.239

Published on: 7 Sep, 2021
Updated on: 7 Sep, 2021

By Malcolm Fincham

As we entered into the last two weeks of August the weather had become settled. Temperatures stayed just below average for several days, and mostly overcast too.

The breeze was light, and one could almost imagine it to be late September or early October, if it wasn’t for the surrounding greenery.

We had entered a brief spell of what the Met Office regard as a “col” – an area juxtaposed between both high and low pressures bringing little of anything at all in the way of weather.

A retrogression in the high pressure over the UK is a rare event especially at this time of the year and by the last week of the month it had situated itself over the British Isles bringing a light northerly breeze. There was still plenty of warmth, enough for me, in the sun when it did shine with temperature reaching a comfortable 22c.

The tide was progressively turning with respect to our avian summer visitors. For now, their breeding seasons were coming to an end. I was content with my local ‘rambles’ around the west Surrey ‘patches’ that I usually attend, with half an eye out for anything unusual I might spy.

Holly blue butterfly.

At the Riverside Nature Reserve, near Burpham, butterflies were struggling to find enough warmth to fly. A holly blue flew up and down the canal track eventually landing on the towpath for a photo.

Grey herons at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Two grey herons could be viewed, perched up in an oak tree.

Linnets, at Riverside Nature Reserve.

A small group of linnets could be heard, and occasionally seen, among the brambles adjacent to Stoke Lock. The males still in summer plumage, still showing off their bright red chests.

Kingfisher at Stoke Lake.

At Stoke Lake, a kingfisher could still occasionally be seen in the trees on its only island at the southern end of the lake.

Great crested grebes with young on Stoke Lake.

A pair of great crested grebes could be seen on the lake, now parading their two, now reasonably sized young.

Common buzzard at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

A common buzzard flew low over the trees and hedgerows that bordered the eastern side of the field that bordered the busy A3.

Long-tailed tit.

A family of long-tailed tits could be heard making their contact calls as they worked their way through the sallows that bordered the lakeside.

Whinchat at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

On August 25, a whinchat showed up on the meadows to the south of the lake. Perching up proudly on one of the few hawthorn bushes that grow there.

Whinchat (right) and common whitethroat at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Movement from within the bush eventually gave up the sighting of a common whitethroat and a reed bunting.

Goldfinches – these seen on Thursley Common.

A small flock of goldfinches gathered to feed on thistle seeds.

August 28 brought the arrival of two more whinchats in the same area of the meadow. They had also decided to stop off to rest a while as they made their long journey back to Africa.

As most birds tend to prefer clear skies to fly, it was quite possible that the continuing overcast weather had stalled them temporarily from leaving our shores.

Common blue butterfly at Riverside Nature Reserve.

Despite the cloudy sky, weather conditions remained dry, and several common blue butterflies could be found in the long grass to the south of the lake.

Adonis blue butterfly.

On Denbies Hillside, near Dorking, making the most of the dry spell, though most with wings closed, adonis blue butterflies were still out on their second broad of the year.

Belted Galloways among the heather on Whitmoor Common.

On my visit to Whitmoor Common I was pleasantly surprise to see the heather in flower. Belted Galloway cattle roamed one of the three enclosures that had been provided for them.

Can you spot a Dartford warbler in the heather blossom on Whitmoor Common?

Dartford warbler in the heather blossom on Whitmoor Common.

The heather made for good camouflage for the Dartford warblers that reside there.

Stonechat on Whitmoor Common.

Families of stonechats could now be seen.

Stag roe deer on Whitmoor Common.

While immature linnets could be heard pestering their parents. And a stag roe deer moved silently through the long grass.

Chiffchaff, Britten’s Pond.

At Britten’s Pond, a part of Whitmoor Common, just the other side of the railway line off Salt Box Road, a plethora of sounds came from the trees and bushes. Most common were the contact calls from chiffchaffs.

Treecreeper. This one recently seen at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

A treecreeper could be heard and seen close to the woodland area at the back of the pond.

Nuthatch at Britten’s Pond.

While several nuthatches continued to be vocal.

Grey wagtail, Britten’s Pond.

A number of grey wagtails could also be viewed from time to time, as they flew in their undulating mode across the lake.

Black-headed gull at Britten’s Pond.

A few black-headed gulls had made their return, already in absence of their summer plumage brown heads.

Young moorhens, Britten’s Pond.

Moorhens, as well as their almost fully grown young, played ‘dare’ on the branches that overhung the water.

Mute swan with cygnets at Britten’s Pond.

While the four cygnets, still in good health, remained ambient to their parents as they drifted majestically around the pond.

If lucky, as I was on far more occasions than I deserved, the “peeping” sound of a kingfisher would alert me to its location, then flying ‘bullet-like’ low across the water.

Kingfisher at Britten’s Pond.

Sometimes even having the good fortune of seeing it perched-up close by.

Swallow, flycatching over Britten’s Pond.

House martin at Britten’s Pond.

Swallows and house martins continued to be viewed, often seen skimming across the water.

Swift.

On August 28, three swifts briefly joined their party, before continuing their journey south.

Sparrowhawk at Britten’s Pond.

Having seen and photographed a sparrowhawk there just a few weeks ago (shown in above picture), I was intrigued by a similar sighting. On this occasion, however, the bird in question appeared to be larger. “About the size of a buzzard,” I would have said?

Goshawk over trees at the back of Britten’s Pond?

I watched and took a few photos as it flew low over the tree-line at the back of the pond. To me it looked a good candidate for a goshawk. What do you think?

Purple hairstreak, Britten’s Pond.

Returning to the car park a few purple hairstreak butterflies could still be viewed in an oak tree. Following their fickle flight pattern, eventually one settled within view.

Purple heather haze on the hillsides of Thursley Common.

The realisation heather was now in bloom on local heathlands, seduced me to Thursley Common. As most of Surrey’s heathlands had been blessed with wet conditions during the breeding season, I knew, even if I didn’t see a single bird there, just to see that “purple haze all around”…. “’S’cuse me while I kiss the sky”! [Ed: A reference to the song by Jimi Hendrix].

Tawny grisette.

As it happens, it turned out there was plenty of other things to behold. The damp soil had already promoted a few fungi to grow. This one I believe to be a tawny grisette.

Grayling butterfly, Thursley Common.

Grayling butterflies were now more prominent than in my previous first recorded sighting this year, earlier in the month.

Painted lady butterfly, Thursley Common.

A painted lady butterfly made an appearance, briefly settling on some heather.

Speckled wood, Thursley Common.

Speckled wood butterflies could be seen about.

Woodlark.

In the Parish field a group of woodlarks could be seen feeding.

Hornet robber-fly, on Thursley Common.

Families of stonechats perched up flowering stems and having had the pleasure of seeing one on my previous visit, once again, I found a hornet robber-fly.

Hornet hover-fly.

Another critter I found was a hornet-hover-fly (possibly female?) one of the largest and most impressive hover-flies in the UK.

It looks like a dangerous, stinging hornet but is actually harmless. This mimicry helps keep predators away. It first colonised Britain in the early 1940s and was once regarded as rare.

Since then it has become well established in the South East. It can be seen from May to October – so worth keep your eyes peeled.

Bee wolf, a solitary wasp, found on the sandy substrate of Thursley Common.

Recalling a visit there with Harry Eve a few year’s ago, I was able to find a bee wolf wasp. This is a large solitary wasp, most often found on sandy areas of lowland heath and coastal dunes.

They used to be extremely rare, with just a few scattered populations in southern England, but in the last few decades they have expanded their range dramatically.

Downland Villa Bee-fly. Pictured by Harry Eve.

With much credit to Harry, who recently sent me a photo of a downland villa bee-fly, he took at Effingham Golf Club a few days ago (his third this year).

Having also seen one at Horsell Common, the downland villa bee fly is listed as endangered. They can be found in south-facing areas of the commons that have been well grazed by the cattle.

It’s so rare that it’s only been recorded a handful of times in previous decades. It uses its distinctive bee-like appearance to protect itself from predators.

Very little is known about this rare fly, and even less by me until I looked it up! It’s believed to rely on caterpillars of the noctuid moth for food. The largest family of macro-moths in the UK, where more than 400 species occur.

Holly blue butterfly.

On August 25 on Pewley Down, the population of butterflies had by then diminished greatly. With the ones I could find on display now looking rather tatty. That was apart from the holly blue. These could, more often than not, be seen along hedgerows made up of mostly blackthorn, at the top of the downs southern vista.

Brown hairstreak, Pewley Down.

I also had the fortune to find another brown hairstreak there.

As the month of August drew to a close, local farmers had already begun to harvest their grasslands. At Clandon Wood Burial Ground, Matt, the head groundsman was doing just that.

Alerted to a report that no fewer than 14 red kites were circling the area. I headed in the direction of Clandon.

Red Kites over Clandon Wood.

To my delight, although by the time I arrived Matt had finished for the day, at least 10 red kites were still present, scouring low over the fields, looking for any small mammals that might be exposed in the stubble.

Common buzzards also circling over Clandon Wood.

Several buzzards could also be seen circling overhead, in an inquisitive manner.

Brown argus butterfly, Clandon Wood.

Adding to my day-list was a brown argus, one of just a few butterflies seen there that day.

Of all the sights and sounds I’d had the privilege to see and hear in the past few weeks, the most delightful one for me to hear was in my own back yard.

Robin singing in my garden.

My local robins were beginning to find their voices once again as the month came to a close. Having gone through their summer moult, they were now back on show in pristine condition and once again singing to their audience.

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