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Birdwatcher’s Diary No.255

Published on: 18 May, 2022
Updated on: 28 May, 2022

By Malcolm Fincham

The days were starting to liven up within nature’s realm as we entered the month of May.

Bluebells at St Mary’s churchyard, Perry Hill, Worplesdon.

The yellow floral colours of spring had already been joined and be replaced by a blue sheen of bluebells, forget-me-nots, to name a few plants.

We even had our first few splashes of rain for what seemed to be over a month? Well, enough to dampen the ground and hold the dust down for a while, at least.

With so much occurring on the wildlife scene, and adding new species to the year’s sightings by the day, it was more than a challenge to attempt to keep up with the influx of birds arriving.

However with much help from trusted friends Bob and Dougal my attempts to keep up were eased somewhat.

Black-necked grebes.

First on our agenda was a trip to Staines Reservoir. Although having seen black-necked grebes several times already this year, it was a pleasure, to see them so close to the causeway, on the south basin side of the reservoir.

Little gulls, Staines Reservoir.

Also out on the south basin among the gulls and common terns a few little gulls could be picked out.

Dunlin at Staines Reservoir.

On the north basin side of the causeway a lone dunlin could be viewed at close quarters feeding along the water’s edge.

Yellow wagtail.

While along the causeway itself a yellow wagtail was an incoming summer visitor to add to this year’s sighting.

Lesser whitethroat, Staines Moor.

A brief visit to Staines Moor added a very showy lesser whitethroat to my day’s sightings.

Along the shallow and narrow waters of the River Colne, that runs through the centre of the moor, a kingfisher ‘zipped’ past calling.

Kingfisher, Staines Moor.

Taking a few random photos I surprised myself to get a reasonably recognisable record shot of it as it passed by.

Small copper butterfly, Staines Moor.

One new addition to this year’s sightings was a small copper butterfly.

Our next venture was to Otmoor RSPB in Oxfordshire on May 3. And once again, as on previous years, the cacophony of continuous birdsong was a welcomed one.

Walking from the car park the distinctive sound of a lesser whitethroat could instantly be picked out. While the delightful sound of a willow warbler could also be heard above the many birds in its tuneful opus of song.

The distant sound of a cuckoo was also adding to the feel of the day.

Reed warbler at Otmoor.

From the ditches between the footpath and the marshlands, the sound of reed warblers were in abundance, and if patient, eventually one would pop-up briefly into view.

Sedge warbler at Otmoor.

Sedge warblers tended to be more showy, perching up at eye level from both reeds and brambles.

Reed bunting at Otmoor.

Reed buntings as often would be the most photogenic as they sang their simplistic tunes.

Common snipe.

Overhead, the mating sounds of common snipes could be heard. The sounds are made by the air through their tail-feathers, as the birds drop in altitude.

Lapwings at Otmoor.

Lapwings also breed there with several pairs seen, although their young were mostly tucked away from view.

Common redshank.

Common redshanks also breed there.

Garganey, Otmoor.

A garganey, the UK’s only migratory duck from Africa, was, as in recent previous years, one of salutation to me, especially being a male in breeding plumage.

Common crane at Otmoor.

A pair of common cranes were a pleasant addition too.

A bittern could be heard booming on several occasions while we were there, although remaining elusive,

Bittern, previously photographed at the London Wetland Centre.

Fortunately, I had already had the pleasure of seeing one at the London Wetland Centre, featured in a previous report earlier in the year.

Hobby at Otmoor.

Another first for my year was a hobby, many still only just being reported as arriving.

Possibly one of my best sightings of the day, especially after all these years, was my first opportunity to photograph a muntjac deer, a female by the looks of it.

Muntjac deer, Otmoor.

It was quite a surprise to me and my reactions had to be fast snatch a few photos.

As expected, it was even more surprised to see me. Having nonchalantly strolled out onto the path that lay before me. It soon scampered back out of sight as our eyes met.

Our final trip out during the first weeks of the month was to the downland of Wiltshire, not too many miles from the world renown Stonehenge.

This was on May 9, a dry although still quite a cool day with sunny spells.

It was just about warm enough to see a few butterflies on the wing.

Green hairstreak butterfly.

Along with several species I had already had the pleasure of seeing this year, we were able to add a green hairstreak to our year lists.

Small blue butterfly.

Also adding a small blue butterfly.

Marsh Fritillary, previously photographed on Martin Down, Hampshire.

A marsh fritillary had to be the highlight to the butterfly species that day, especially as there are no known site to see them in Surrey.

Great bustard, Wiltshire Downs.

The main point of our mission was the hope of seeing a great bustard, and once again we didn’t leave disappointed.

For more than a decade there has been an ongoing project to reintroduce them into the UK.

Great bustard, Wiltshire Downs.

Great bustards having been shot out of existence by our forefathers. Thanks to the success of the reintroduction project, they are now free flying and self sustaining within our countryside.

I wrote about them in a report way back in 2013.

And revisited a couple of years ago in 2020.

Stone curlew, Wiltshire Downs.

Far less easy to spot and photograph, due to their smaller size and ability to camouflage and blend with the surrounding soil, were the stone curlews.

Yellowhammer.

Other delights I was able to photo for the first time this year were several yellowhammers that had gathered on a dung heap to feed on insects.

Corn bunting, in song.

As well as a few corn buntings perched up nearby.

Skylark.

Although having seen and heard them at numerous locations already this year, skylarks continued to be a delight to behold.

Holly blue butterfly, Riverside Nature Reserve.

Within my local surroundings, mostly traversing the countryside on the northern side of Guildford, holly blue butterflies were still out in good numbers.

Common blue butterfly, Riverside Nature Reserve.

At the Riverside Nature Reserve, near Burpham, on May 5, on the southern side of the lake I photographed my first common blue butterfly.

Canada geese with goslings, Riverside Nature Reserve.

I also saw my first clutch of Canada geese goslings on the lake.

Great crested grebes feeding young, at Riverside Nature Reserve.

The pair of great crested grebes had also produced young.

Grey herons nesting along the River Wey at Riverside Nature Reserve.

A pair of grey herons had set up a site to nest.

Stonechat at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Into the second week of the month, a pair of stonechats could be viewed there.

Garden warbler singing, Riverside Nature Reserve.

And a garden warbler could seen and heard in song.

Female blackcap, Riverside Nature Reserve.

I also added to my pictures of a female blackcap.

Although hearing the occasional call of the ever-elusive Cetti’s warblers, on this visit they remained incognito to my camera lens.

Wren singing, Riverside Nature Reserve.

A wren made up for it by perching in the open, tail erect and having much to say.

Sedge warbler singing, at Riverside Nature Reserve .

While the sedge warblers were equally expressive.

Reed warbler at Stoke Lake.

And reed warblers also eventually gave themselves up for a photo opportunity.

Mayflies were now beginning to emerge from the river by Stoke Lock attracting several species of birds to skim over the water to fly-fish. These included:

Pied wagtail, fly catching along the River Wey, at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Pied wagtails

Pied wagtail and house sparrow, fly catching along the River Wey at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

House sparrows.

Grey wagtail, fly catching along the River Wey, Riverside Nature Reserve.

Grey wagtail.

May 10 saw the arrival of the first few of Stoughton’s swift population.

Swift over Stoughton.

While in my garden, I heard the sounds of them as four glided effortlessly not far above the rooftops.

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test 2 Responses to Birdwatcher’s Diary No.255

  1. George Swirski Reply

    May 30, 2022 at 8:40 am

    The number of geese at the Riverside Nature Reserves seems to be very low compared to previous years. Is this correct? If so has something happened?

  2. Malcolm Fincham Reply

    May 31, 2022 at 2:37 pm

    In response to George’s question, it is normal for there to be fewer Canada geese at the nature reserve this time of the year, as many have paired up and are brooding young elsewhere.

    Although I haven’t had the opportunity to visit the lake to do a count recently, I’m sure they will be gathering in their usual number of one hundred or more by September, when the breeding season is over.

    Malcolm Fincham is The Dragon’s birdwatching columnist.

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