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Birdwatcher’s Diary No.249

Published on: 18 Feb, 2022
Updated on: 18 Feb, 2022

By Malcolm Fincham

High pressure continued its iron-like grip over Europe and the southern regions of the UK, bringing mostly dry and above average temperatures into the first weeks of February.

Large flocks of bramblings, linnets and chaffinches at Reigate Heath.

Although a little late to the party, reports had been coming through since early January of large flocks of passerines feeding in a field, on the eastern side of Surrey.

They could be seen north of Clifton Lane, Reigate Heath at the foot of the North Downs. They had been increasing in their volume as weeks passed, and could still be seen in good number during the first weeks of February.

At their peak, more than 1,000 birds that had been feeding on, what looked to be, turnip seed.

Bramblings, Reigate Heath.

Once again in the company of Bob and Dougal our arrival there immediately saw a good 20 or more bramblings perched up in a tree.

Large flocks of bramblings, linnets and chaffinches at Reigate Heath.

The impressive flocks feeding included linnets and chaffinches where more than 400 wintering bramblings could be viewed in the field beyond.

Sparrowhawk, Reigate Heath.

Unsurprisingly, from time to time a sparrowhawk made its presence known.

This, conveniently for me and my photography, allowed a number of opportunities to attempt a few in-flight shots as the bid of prey flushed them up from their feeding areas. Also giving an opportunity to admire such awesome flocks of wintering birds.

Ring-necked duck, Priory Pond, Reigate.

While in the area of Reigate, it gave us another chance to see the female ring-necked duck that we had previously seen on Priory Pond just a few months previous.

Much closer to home my observations covered the usual familiar local ‘patches’.

Dartford warbler. This one seen on Whitmoor Common.

On Thursley Common Dartford warblers, suspect to cold winters, appeared to be surviving in good numbers.

Stonechat, this one pictured on Whitmoor Common.

While stonechats, both male and female, could occasionally be seen perched up on sentry duty.

Honey bees on gorse flowers, on Thursley Common.

The mild weather saw the emergence of several bees attracted to the opportunistic gorse, some of which was already in blossom.

Red kite, Thursley Common.

Red kites have become a common sight throughout Surrey in recent years, so it was of no surprise to see one gliding over the tree line at Thursley.

Goldfinch.

On the far smaller heathland of Whitmoor Common in Worplesdon goldfinches had become of common sight.

Redwings, Whitmoor Common.

In the old horse paddocks 30 or more redwings could be viewed feeding on worms.

Green woodpecker, Whitmoor Common.

Several green woodpeckers were also present.

Common buzzard, Whitmoor Common.

While across the field a common buzzard could be viewed, perched up.

Nuthatch.

Bird song was increasing during the sunnier of days, nuthatches calling from high up in the trees.

Red kite, Whimoor Common.

Out on the heathland stonechats could be viewed, perched up on gorse and dead branches. A Dartford warbler skimmed over a carpet of heather disappearing from view into its cover. A red kite flew low overhead, inquisitively looking down on me.

Raven.

A raven passed by low overhead.

Song thrush singing, Whitmoor Common.

Near the car park by Salt Box Road a song thrush could be seen singing.

Red admiral butterfly on a snowdrop.

On February 9 at Worplesdon Churchyard I saw my first butterfly of the year. A red admiral fluttered down like a falling leaf briefly settling among a group of snowdrops, barely long enough for me to snap a photo before taking to the air and drifting out of sight.

Kestrel, Worpledon Churchyard.

A kestrel perched in a tree that bordered the graveyard, looking out across the field beyond.

Sparrowhawk over Worplesdon churchyard.

While a sparrowhawk glided high over the church.

Roe deer, Worplesdon Churchyard.

Although a little quiet for birds, a roe deer came to view momentarily. Spotting me, it made a rapid exit from just beyond the gravestones, just allowing me a photo of its rear end.

Views across Merrist Wood, Worplesdon.

Across the road from St Mary’s church lies Merrist Wood College, with a network of public footpaths running through its grounds.

Fieldfare.

A couple of dozen wintering thrushes included both fieldfares and redwings actively working their way though the hedgerows.

Common buzzard, Merrist Wood, Worplesdon.

A common buzzard flew low across the golf course. Eventually perching up in on of the many oak trees lining its border.

Greylag geese, Merrist Wood, Worplesdon.

A small group of greylag geese grazed in the longer grass by the golf course, before taking flight in the direction of a large pond at the far end of the fairway.

Kingfisher, Britten’s Pond.

At Britten’s Pond a male kingfisher continued to show well from time to time on most days during the first weeks of the month.

Great crested grebe, Britten’s Pond.

Adding to this year’s sightings there, a great crested grebe had made a return, now already showing signs of breeding plumage.

Little grebe, Britten’s Pond.

While the previously seen wintering little grebe could still be seen.

A walk across the farmlands of Hambledon, near Godalming, was a first for me in many a year. Having visited the Merry Harriers pub on many occasions in my teens and even played for their village football team for a few seasons back in the day, my latest visit was quite an inspiring one.

Woodland trail, near Hydon’s Ball.

Parking in the car park at Hydon’s Ball, we walked through a woodland area, adjacent to a 179m hill covering Hydon Heath.

Treecreeper, this one pictured at Britten’s Pond.

Within the woodland area we picked out several treecreepers.

Marsh tit.

A marsh tit calling was a pleasant addition to the day’s sightings.

Fieldfares.

In the fields beyond the woodland, both redwings and fieldfares could be seen together feeding on the grasslands.

Female stonechat.

Stonechats perched up along the fence line, counting at least eight, possibly more.

Red Kite over farmland at Hambledon.

A red kite could be viewed there quartering, often low, as if opportunistically looking for a meal.

Linnets in flight over farmland at Hambledon.

Most awe-inspiring to me were the large flock of what looked to be well over 200 linnets. These, like the large flocks we had previously seen at Reigate, were feeding on crop seed.

Checking through them as they flew around the field and eventually as they perched up to rest a while in a tree just behind us, unfortunately, on this occasion, we were unable to pick out any bramblings among them.

Wood pigeons in flight over farmland at Hambledon.

Completing my day’s photos was the impressive sight of large flocks of wintering wood pigeons.

Bewick swans, Burpham, West Sussex.

A trip out further afield with Bob and Dougal took me to Burpham in West Sussex, just south of Arundel. It gave us the opportunity to add a few more sightings to this year’s listings. A count of nine wintering Bewick’s swans, although distant, could be viewed across the valley.

Grey partridge at The Bugh, West Sussex. Photo by Bob.

While nearby at The Bugh, we had the opportunity to add a grey partridge.

Yellowhammer, West Sussex.

And two yellowhammers to our year’s sightings.

Brown hares, The Bugh, West Sussex.

While brown hares could also be viewed across the grassland.

Ringtail hen harrier, The Bugh, West Sussex.

A bonus to the day’s sightings was a ring-tail hen harrier quartering over the distant expanse of fields between where we stood and Arundel Castle to its north.

On February 12, I couldn’t resist another invite across the Surrey border into Sussex. This time our destiny was the town of Eastbourne, East Sussex.

The dry weather we had been blessed with over the past few weeks continued.

Our first stop was for the opportunity to see a hooded crow. Although a common sight in Scotland, and even just across the North Sea in both north and south eastern Europe, for unknown reasons they remain a rare sighting in southern regions of the UK.

Having recalled the last one I had seen was on February 24, 2019, that wintered just along the south coast in West Sussex, I wondered if it could have been the same chap?

Hooded crow, Estbourne, East Sussex.

We caught up with this “scallywag” loitering in the same vicinity where it had first reported. He had been “hanging out” in the trees by a McDonald’s restaurant. And also often sighted on the lamp-posts of a nearby roundabout.

The principal reason for our visit to Eastbourne was to a residential estate on the west side of the town.

Hill Road had been attracting much attention over the past week since a bird arrived. It had been recognised to be an American robin. And with so many people having already been to see it, I was a little apprehensive of the reception we might get. About the size of a blackbird, it was of no surprise to me that it had to be bigger than our famous UK robin!

In words not dissimilar to the famous Simon and Garfunkel song: “all come to look for…. American robin”.

On our arrival a crowd had already gathered, and most had been waiting for well over an hour without seeing it.

It was well into half an hour of our visit before it was noticed flying from a field just beyond the cul-de-sac. To my fortune it had flown into a garden close to where I stood.

American robin, Eastbourne, East Sussex.

It happened to be in the garden with a pyracantha bush in which the owner had first reported seeing it on.

For me, it had to be my best bird of the year so far!

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