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Birdwatcher’s Diary No.245

Published on: 4 Dec, 2021
Updated on: 5 Dec, 2021

By Malcolm Fincham

November 17 brought with it a long-awaited full day of sunshine to the Surrey Hills. And the opportunity of getting some colour back to my photos.

Autumn colours at Sheepleas.

The chalk hills of the North Downs were now resplendent in autumn colours. The beech trees preferring such alkaline soils to grow, were now robed in their copper coloured leaves, beautifully enhanced by the sunlight.

A scenic views from the North Downs.

Visually inspiring to me, it had also been an attraction to our recent winter visiting birds. Bramblings were one such species.

Walking up the gently rising slopes from the lower car park at Sheepleas, located above East and West Horsley, I took a staggered route that allowed me to walk under some of the beech trees, their thick canopies blocking out the light.

Chaffinch, Sheepleas.

At first all I could pick out to photograph were chaffinches.

It wasn’t to long before I was able to find a few bramblings among the gathering.

Brambling, Sheepleas.

Similar in size and shape to the chaffinch, bramblings are noticeable in their winter plumage by their bright orange / rust-coloured chest, and in winter their beaks are yellow with a dark tip.

To most, being such a timid bird, they are more often than not distinguished by their white rump when they take flight.

By the time I had arrived at the picnic area near the Shere Road, I had counted well over 40 of them, so I decided to take a rest on one of the benches.

Brambling, Sheepleas.

To my elation, while taking in the ambience of my surroundings. I was surprised to notice a ‘lone’ brambling feeding close by on beech-mast discarded by the trees about me.

Having taken numerous photos while ‘amazingly’ it was ignoring my presence, I decided to make a short video clip to what was unfolding into quite a memorable day.

Eventually (as seen at the end of the video clip), it took a border collie dog to walk close by to make the brambling take flight.

Redwing, Sheepleas.

Redwings could be seen in reasonable numbers there, though I still remained sparse in getting sightings of fieldfares.

Winter wood pigeon movement at Sheepleas.

Wood pigeons were in good number that day, sometimes seen in sizeable groups in flight low across the tree line.

Wood pigeon feeding on beech mast ,Sheepleas.

Many had been feeding on the ground below the beech trees as seen in another short video clip I took. And had been ‘put-up’ by the slightest disturbance about them.

Kestrel, Sheepleas.

Having become a little too carried away with my camera’s ability to video, I couldn’t help adding to the day’s sightings a kestrel perched up by the edge of a field.

Peregine over Sheepleas.

The clear blue sky that day had encouraged a few birds of prey to take to the air. A peregrine glided ‘stiff-winged’ overhead.

Common buzzard at Sheepleas.

While some surprisingly quick reflexes on my part allowed me some reasonable photos of one of three common buzzards that had been seen displaying in the thermals earlier that day.

Red kite.

A red kite also added to my day’s sightings.

Ring-necked parakeets.

Ring-necked parakeets could be heard, mostly as background noise during my time there. Eventually capturing a photo of a few of a group of six or more,

Marsh tit. This one seen in Effingham Forest.

The familiar sound of marsh tits also eventually added a photo to the day’s sightings.

By the following day, and for a few days after, the weather had resumed its overcast theme of late. On the plus side, however, it remained dry enough to continue out and attempt a few photos.

On November 20, I was once again in the company of Bob and Dougal. This time on a trip back to Effingham Forest. An extra couple of ears and eyes is often a help for me in tracking wildlife to photo.

Lesser redpolls, Effingham Forest.

Lesser redpolls continued to move about in a flock of 25 or so.

Siskins and lesser redpolls.

Among the flock a few siskins could also be picked out.

Was this a case of pareidolia, which I first thought? No, a brambling, Effingham Forest.

I stared into a bush of golden brown leaves as I thought I had seen some movement. I then gained perception of a recognisable image, or was it just a meaningful pattern where none actually exists?

Pareidolia, is the name of the phenomena, or so I believe? As in the perception of a face on the surface features of the moon. I finally convinced myself by taking a few photos that it was one of the many bramblings we had seen that afternoon!

The largest of our UK finch family, and possibly the shyest and least achievable to see, is the hawfinch. Fortunately, during autumn and winter months a few reside within Effingham Forest.

Hawfinch.

A bit like looking for ‘a needle in a haystack’ unless you can recognise their innocuous call, but we were also blessed with a sighting.

Mistle thrush.

We also saw mistle thrushes and other usual resident thrushes, with others possibly being winter arrivals from Scandinavia.

By the last week of November things had begun to cool down. A cutting breeze was beginning to bring weather from the north. Although precipitation remained minimal, days of sunshine alternated with cloudy ones.

I was beginning to feel ready to hibernate, as many mammals attune to this time of the year. I was more than happy to take up visiting local sites, chilling out and letting wildlife come to me for a change.

One such location I visited on several occasions towards the end of November was St Mary’s Churchyard, Perry Hill, Worplesdon. A “mutation” of thrushes had begun to arrived there.

Blackbird in St Mary’s Churchyard

Blackbirds were numerous, counting at least a dozen or more during my brief observation there.

Blackbird, black beak and no eye rings suggest first winter bird. St Mary’s churchyard.

Some could be seen to have black beaks and no yellow eye-rings, suggested that they were ‘first-winter birds’. The amount seen in such a small area also suggested that some may have arrived with the other winter thrushes present.

Mistle thrush, St Mary’s churchyard.

Mistle thrushes appeared to have grown in number as the last days of the month closed in.

Redwing feeding on yew berries,St Mary’s churchyard.

By November 24 an increase of redwings could be viewed.

Fieldfare, St Mary’s Churchyard.

And even a few few fieldfares had joined the foray, descending on the yew trees within the grounds of the churchyard.

They had been seduced by the sight of their shiny red berries. Despite some myths, it’s only the stones of their fruit that are toxic, and they are able to pass them through their digestive systems without causing harm.

Song thrush, at entrance to St Mary’s Church Worplesdon.

As well as song thrushes, one of which even posed for a photo on the notice board by the entrance.

Other birds regularly noted as well as photographed there included…

Jay in St Mary’s churchyard.

Jays continued to be common sight around churchyard.

Jackdaw, St Mary’s Churchyard.

While a few Jackdaws dropped down from the church tower for a snack.

Nuthatch, St Mary’s churchyard.

On several visits a nuthatch could be heard and picked out on a nearby leafless branch.

Blue tits, St Mary’s churchyard.

And several blue tits could be seen pecking of the yew berries.

Goldcrest looking for insects in a yew tree.

The sound of goldcrests aided me to see and even photograph.

Firecrest, previously photographed.

Although heard and glimpsed on several visits, a firecrest proved too difficult to photo.

Greenfinch, St Mary’s churchyard.

There was a small flock of greenfinches high up in some leafless branches, but none seeming interested in dropping down onto the yew tree.

Common buzzards displaying over St Mary’s churchyard.

Looking up above the church to the clear blue sky beyond, a pair of common buzzards could be viewed circling overhead. “Surely they weren’t the cause of the silence and lack of movement about me?”

It was then I detected something I was very much expecting to ‘clock’ eyes on. It was perched close to the top of one of tallest tall pine trees that bordered the churchyard. It was of course a sparrowhawk. No doubt with its pin-sharp vision it had far less trouble spotting me!

Sparrowhawk, St Mary’s churchyard.

Assisted by the zoom lens of my camera, for a few moments it was a case of me watching him watching me, as I attempted a few record shots.

Mallards.

The dozen or so mallards kept a keen eye on the visiting people. It was pleasant to see that, rather than bread, many of the visiting people in recent times could be seen feeding them with seed. Far more palatable to their digestive systems. It was often a bonus for me too, allowing me to practise a few ‘in-flight’ photos.

Greylag goose in flight at Britten’s Pond.

The greylag geese would soon ‘suss’ out what was occurring flying across the pond to an expected food source.

Mute swans, Britten’s Pond.

Alerted to the calls of the other wildfowl, the mute swans weren’t too far behind either, often flying the full length of the pond to join the feast.

Robin, Britten’s Pond.

Robins continued to be a common sight there, unsurprisingly often ‘hanging-out’ by the ‘swims’ where the anglers were fishing. Even perching up on my camera on occasions.

Great crested grebe, Britten’s Pond.

The single wintering great crested grebe was still present, favouring the centre of the lake. Its only interest were the small fish that swam beneath its feet.

Hybrid red-crested pochard, Britten’s Pond.

The hybrid female re-crested pochard, having spent most of last winter on Stoke Lake just a mile away, seemed to have decided to take up residence here. Enjoying the change of scenery maybe.

Cormorant, Britten’s Pond.

As on most visits there at least one cormorant was present.

Grey heron arrives at Britten’s Pond.

And a grey heron.

Carp jumping, Britten’s Pond.

On more than occasion carp breached the water at the far side of the pond.

Named storms have become the thing in recent years and the first one of the winter storm Arwen was about to arrive to our shores. Unusually, this one was descending from the north, bringing with it a cold blast of Arctic air down through the UK. Yellow and even a few red snow and wind warnings had been forecast throughout Scotland, predicting wind gusts in some parts of up to 100mph.

Although cold and overcast, Surrey had remained fairly sheltered from its full force and even the snowfall people had endured in the north of the UK.

One last round up of some of my local ‘patches’ as November came to a close, and while the colder weather passed through was at the Riverside Nature Reserve at Burpham.

Dabchick at Stoke Lake.

Two dabchicks (little grebes) could be view tucking themselves close to the reed beds on the far side of the lake. Surprisingly, a third one could be found fishing in a small area just the other side of the walkway by the outlet stream. Surprising as I’ve always found them to be quite skittish in their nature.

Great crested grebes on Stoke Lake.

On the lake two great crested grebes continued to be seen.

One of hazards of spending the day feeding at the local recycling centre.

A variety of gulls continued to take to the water for their afternoon “scrub-up”. One of the herring gulls was displaying what was one of the hazards of having spent the day rummaging through the rubbish at the local recycling centre, across the river. A streamer of some kind had got hooked around of its legs!

Distracted by the sighting of a bird of prey flying quite low over lake, by the time I had taken a few photos I realised it was a red kite. I lost sight of the herring gull that had been pretending to be a kite of the other kind.

Previous photo of the Cetti’s warbler at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Although there was no sound of the Cetti’s warbler seen earlier in the month, the water rails continued to be heard and not seen, at least two glimpses of the kingfisher was achieved.

Black-headed gulls on ice, Britten’s Pond.

The following day, November 29, I awoke to a dusting of snow. A short visit to Britten’s Pond on my return home saw that a thin layer of ice had formed on the water overnight. Just enough to take the weight of the black-headed gulls perched on it.

Cygnets, at Britten’s Pond.

There was a bit of a commotion out on the water. Two first winter swans from another brood had arrived on the lake and they weren’t much accepted by the resident adults. Eventually, having been chased around the lake several times, they circled the lake several times and disappeared from sight.

The main reason for my visit was of course to get my latest ‘fix’ of seeing the kingfisher. Having seen two there just a few days before, and unable to get a reasonable photo, the desire was too great.

Kingfisher, Britten’s Pond.

And on this occasion I wasn’t left disappointed. The opportunity had swung in my favour. The leaves were now rapidly falling from the overhanging branches, leaving him fewer places to hide.

I say him, as the photos I took showed it to have a completely black bill, whereas the female shows as having an orange lower mandible.

A light dusting of snow in St Mary’s churchyard, Perry Hill, Worplesdon.

A visit back to St Mary’s Church, Worplesdon, saw fewer berries on the yew trees there. Although the copious amounts seen just a few days earlier had dwindled somewhat, there were still a good number of thrushes feeding on the berries.

Blackbird, St Mary’s churchyard.

One blackbird had decided a few holly berries would assist in his ‘five-a-day’ diet.

Common buzzard, St Mary’s churchyard.

In a quiet corner of the churchyard a common buzzard could picked out. Looking at its features, especially by its eyes, it looked to be a juvenile? Although I’m far from being an expert.

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test One Response to Birdwatcher’s Diary No.245

  1. Geoff Bailey Reply

    December 7, 2021 at 12:55 pm

    A wonderful collection. Thanks.

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