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Birdwatcher’s Diary No.247

Published on: 18 Jan, 2022
Updated on: 18 Jan, 2022

By Malcolm Fincham

Having surpassed my yearly ambition of seeing 200 species of birds on my UK travels in 2021, despite not taking up my annual invite to visit the Isles of Scilly in October, and with no chance now of adding to my 42 butterflies within Surrey, there was little expectation or ambition under present weather conditions to improve on my score.

Overcast skies had become the theme during the last weeks of December. While photography was well below my expected standard.

Water rail at Unstead. Click on images to enlarge in a new window.

At the Unstead Wetland Nature Reserve near Godalming, in spite of overcast weather, it was nice to see water rails, even getting a photo of one of at least two present.

December 29 was no different, as early drizzle gave way to an overcast but mild, dry day.

I picked up on a report earlier in the day of a Russian white-fronted goose had been sighted near Loseley Park but had since been seen flying south. In the company of Bob, we decided to follow up on a ‘hunch’ it may have resettled at Unstead.

White-fronted goose.

Our guess was correct. The white-fronted goose had settled among a group of greylags and Canada geese in the flooded field adjacent to the sewage farm.

As the doors opened to welcome in another new year, a mild breeze of warm air drifted through the house dispelling the year now past.

The unseasonably mild spell of weather continued into the first week of new year, as a brief spell of sunshine to start the day soon turned to cloud on New Year’s Day.

In the company of Bob and Dougal, as well as John, a long-time stalwart birdwatching friend from Kent, we began our ritual of another year’s bird-spotting species to add to another new year’s listings.

Kingfisher in flight.

The day started well. A visit to Cutt Mill Pond at Puttenham saw a kingfisher flying low across the water, calling in flight. Looking in the direction it had flown we eventually managed to pick it out as it perched up obscured by the foliage at the water’s edge.

Goosanders on Cut Mill Pond.

Both drake and female goosanders could be viewed across the water.

Mandarin ducks.

While tucked away in the margins on the far side of the pond were a group of mandarin ducks.

Lesser spotted woodpecker (female) at Cutt Mill, Puttenham.

What turned out to be possibly our best species sighting of the day was a lesser spotted woodpecker, which had been first picked out by several other kind local birdwatchers we had met.

Pochard.

A visit to Frensham Great Pond added a few more waterfowl, included pochard.

Firecrest, Frensham Great Pond.

In the holly bushes near the outlet stream, and as always awkward to the photo, a firecrest flitted in and out of sight.

Goldcrest.

And an equally tiny goldcrest also showed.

Farlington Marshes.

My first visit of the new year to Farlington Marshes near Portsmouth enabled me to add more than 20 species to my 2022 sightings.

Avocets in the main lagoon at Farlington Marshes.

As many as 40 avocets could be viewed out on the main lagoon.

Pintail at Farlington.

Always a delight to see there are wintering pintail ducks. The drakes looked especially smart in their plumage.

Teal.

Other ducks present and in good number were teal.

Shoveler at Farlington.

Shoveler.

Wigeon at Farlington.

Wigeon.

Red-breasted merganser at Farlington.

Across the harbour a group of 30 sawbills in the form of red-breasted mergansers could be seen.

Brent geese in flight.

The species most abundant there at this time of the year of course were the brent geese. Having arrived to winter along the south coast in their thousands from their summer breeding grounds in Siberia.

Barnacle goose at Farlington.

While one lone barnacle goose among a few Canada geese was present.

Dunlins in flight.

Dunlins flew in tight flocks, observed from the sea wall.

Black-tailed godwit at Farlington.

A pantheon of black-tailed godwits gathered on the lagoon, while a few individuals were loosely strewn about the reserve.

Bar-tailed godwit.

A lone bar-tailed godwit made a good year tick for me.

Curlew at Farlington.

While the usual waders seen there included curlew.

Oystercatchers in flight at Farlington.

Oystercatchers.

Common redshank.

Common redshanks.

Grey plovers (previously seen).

And a grey plover, all added to this year’s list of sightings.

Lapwings at Farlington.

A large group of lapwings took to the air at one point. And looking rather anxious!

Peregrine hunting at Farlington.

A peregrine falcon had suddenly appeared out of nowhere and was causing them much grief.

Splitting the flock, I watched as it singled one out. Like a real time “dog fight” they descended at pace. Fortunately for the lapwing on this occasion it outsmarted the peregrine with its agility.

Skylark.

Over the reserve, a skylark could be seen and heard singing.

Kestrel.

The resident kestrel, of course, was displaying, as always.

Common buzzard looking down and watching a fox at Farlington.

Just beyond the lagoon, a fox could be seen hunting, while perched in a nearby bush watching down on it a common buzzard could be viewed.

Dartford warbler.

A surprise sighting for me there was a Dartford warbler. Not the sort of habitat one would expect to see them. A slightly warmer climate away from the heathlands, and a better chance of finding insects to feed on had possibly drawn it there?

Bearded reedlings at Farlington.

Always a delight to hear and see are the bearded reedlings. Often elusive within the large acreage of reed beds there, we were quite fortunate on this occasion to pick up on the ‘pinging’ sound of a small group of them near to the visitor’s hut.

At least six could be counted, both male and female.

Common tern.

An unexpected sighting for this time of year was a common tern that had come up in reports the previous day.

Hawfinch in Effingham Forest.

A visit to Effingham Forest during the first week of the year gave us the opportunity to add hawfinch to our new year’s sightings. Most quite distant in small groups, and picked out with the assistance of a ‘scope’, although some were close enough to just about recognisable by taking photos. At one point, a count of more than 15 could be viewed.

Marsh tit.

A marsh tit calling was also an attraction for both me and my camera lens.

A spell of dry weather became the theme as we entered the second week of January as high pressure centred itself over the UK. It also welcomed a few sunny days. Temperatures were into single figures and even a few night frosts.

Rose-ring parakeet.

At the London Wetland Centre we were welcomed in the car park by the usual constant squawking sounds of the resident rose-ringed parakeets as they perched up looking down on us around the entrance to the reserve.

Green woodpecker.

A green woodpecker could also be spied as it perched on a fence just long enough to photograph.

Ferruginous duck.

On entering the centre a wide range of exotic captive wildfowl could be noted. One of which that took my interest was the ferruginous ducks. One of this species I had recently seen in the wild just a few weeks earlier at Thorpe Park.

Smews.

Also in the collection were some of those gorgeous smews. A duck I only had the pleasure to see from a distance in the wild in the past. Having seen my last one about this time last year at Wraysbury.

Otters.

Most delightful to me was to have a close view of the otters there, having not seen them in the wild for a good few years now.

Looking towards the tall Peacock Hide at the London Wetlands Centre.

A wander around the main part of the reserve brought to view how close we were to London itself. As a few of the monolithic edifices of the city towered beyond the Peacock Hide.

Common snipe.

Looking down from the high vantage point of the Peacock Hide, several common snipes could be picked out feeding in the margins below.

Shelducks.

Out on the water among the ‘common to see’ wildfowl seen there, were a pair of shelducks.

Jack snipe

Moving on to one of the various other named hides, I was also able to add jack snipe to this year’s sightings.

Brambling.

While at the feeder station among the regular birds was a wintering brambling.

Bittern.

Our top sighting of the day had to one of the bitterns that had been recently reported.

It seemed a shame having watched it for 40 minutes or more to have to turn our backs and walk away.

Having enough daylight hours we had just enough time on our return to visit Staines Reservoir.

Great northern diver at Staines Reservoir.

There we had the opportunity of adding to our year’s list a great northern diver.

Black-necked grebe.

Five black-necked grebes.

Slavonian grebe.

And a Slavonian grebe.

The sun continued to stay with us on our annual visit to the Isle of Sheppey just a few days later. Always a prime place to visit during winter months for the sighting of birds of prey, it didn’t disappoint.

Short-eared owl on ‘Sheppy’.

At the Elmley Nature Reserve at least four short-eared owls could be seen together quartering close to the car park.

A line or ponderance of golden plovers with Brent Geese behind.

A variety of ducks and waders these included large flocks of lapwings. As well as a large “ponderance” of golden plovers and a substantial sized flock of curlews could be viewed in flight.

Cattle egret on ‘Sheppey’.

And even a lone cattle egret.

Shore larks on “Sheppey’.

On the coastal shoreline on the other side of the island at Leysdown, a small group of seven shore larks could be found wintering.

Red-legged partridge on ‘Sheppey’.

Our last visit of the day was to Harty Marshes. From the track that leads up to the old ferry crossing we were able to add red-legged partridges.

Corn bunting on ‘Sheppey’.

Corn buntings could be seen on bramble bushes, while a couple even perched up on the wires by the roadside.

Kestrel on “Sheppey’.

Near to them a kestrel could be seen not far away.

Marsh harrier on ‘Sheppey’.

From the ‘raptor’ viewpoint, several marsh harriers flew by.

Hen harriers (ringtail).

While at least two ringtail hen harriers (the name given to females and juveniles) could be viewed.

Greylag geese on ‘Sheppey’.

A large group of greylag geese could be seen feeding out on the grassland.

Skien of white-fronted geese on ‘Sheppey’.

There was also a skien of white-fronted geese present.

Linnets on ‘Sheppey’.

Linnets were collected in groups along the tree line.

Barn owl on ‘Sheppey’.

And even a barn owl to end the day.

With species sightings already exceeding 100 for the year already, I was well aware things were only going to get tougher from now on.

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