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Birdwatcher’s Diary No.263

Published on: 23 Sep, 2022
Updated on: 23 Sep, 2022

By Malcolm Fincham

A change in the weather had occurred, coinciding with the turn of the page of my calendar, as we entered the first days of September and the metrological start of autumn.

After a long hot summer with high pressure systems in charge for the most part, low pressure had arrived. Although still mild with some sunny spells, it was bringing an unsettled spell of weather.

By the first weeks of September the migration season was also well under way. A perfect storm, one might say. And not just for the odd spells of thunder and lighting it had brought with it.

In my experience as a birdwatching enthusiast, such weather conditions at this time of the year have always been in good favour when looking out for birds on migration. Overcast skies and low pressure systems make hard work for birds on their return to Africa.

This I concluded for the high number of sightings within the Surrey borders. Even I achieved well in excess of my usual successes within the local “patches” I frequently visit.

Whinchat on whin (gorse), Whitmoor Common.

On Whitmoor Common on September 2, I saw my second whinchat of the autumn, this one conveniently perched on a whin bush (gorse), and a photo I had longed to take for some while.

Pied flycatcher, Whitmoor Common.

Adding to my autumn sightings that day, was a juvenile pied flycatcher that had stopped off to do a bit of fly catching while on its journey southward.

Spotted flycatcher, Whitmoor Common.

To my surprise, on visiting the heathland just a few days later, I discovered a spotted flycatcher feeding in the same group of trees where the pied flycatcher had been seen.

Woodlark.

Two woodlarks continued to take up residence, recognising them by their flight calls and short tails as the flew over my head.

Stonechat, Whitmoor Common.

Across the heathlands, the resident families of stonechats continued to show in varied stages of plumage, perched up on numerous props and bushes. One could even be seen on the same log pile a wheatear had been on in my previous report.

While water levels still remained low despite the return of long awaited of rainfall during the first days of the month, a few waders moving south were taking advantage of margins still bereft of water on some lesser known ponds.

Green sandpiper, Brook Pond, Whitmoor Common.

On Brook Pond on Whitmoor Common a green sandpiper could be seen probing its muddy edges for a few days before water levels began to rise and rain continued to fall.

Skittish in its nature and often taking flight when dog walkers oblivious of its presence threw sticks out into the water for their dogs to retrieve.

Kingfisher, Brook Pond, Whitmoor Common.

While watching the sandpiper as it probed the muddy margins on a quieter part of the pond, a kingfisher flashed by calling as it flew, allowing little time for a decent photo.

Completely escaping my camera lens as I walked back across the heathland was my first ever sighting of a clouded yellow butterfly on the common.

Common lizards, Whitmoor Common.

A little more confiding, however, were several common lizards, and even more pleasing to see were several young ones along the boardwalk.

A common dragonfly or possibly a ruddy darter dragonfly, Whitmoor Common.

Hovering just above the boardwalk was a  dragonfly that kindly posed long enough for me to photo. A common dragonfly or possibly a ruddy darter.

Common whitethroat.

A few common whitethroats continued to be seen among the gorse and birch shrubs.

Dartford Warbler on Whitmoor Common.

Although not heard in song, with just occasional contact calls, a few Dartford warblers could be glimpsed out on the heathland.

Goldfinches, Whitmoor Common.

Regularly sighted their during the first weeks of the month was a flock of 25 or so goldfinches.

Around the heathland a healthy number of the two most common species of woodpeckers continued to be present.

Great spotted woodpecker, Whitmoor Common.

Great spotted woodpecker.

Green woodpecker, Whitmoor Common.

And green woodpecker.

Egyptian geese, Britten’s Pond.

Nearby at Britten’s Pond, just along Salt Box Road, Egyptian geese could be now regularly be seen.

Greylag goose, Britten’s Pond.

While the few greylag geese that regularly spend the winter there continued to be present.

Cormorant with fish, Britten’s Pond.

A cormorant had made its presence known. Once again, fishing without a current permit that anglers pay good money for. I suppose, at least he wouldn’t require a rod licence?

Kingfisher, Britten’s Pond.

The resident kingfisher continued to challenge my patience but I was now beginning to gain an upper hand on it. With daylight hours closing in, the kingfishers had less time to retrieve their daily intake of food, hence making them more active.

Common buzzard, Britten’s Pond.

What appeared to be a juvenile common buzzard flew out from the woodland behind the pond, calling incessantly before returning from whence it came.

Chiffchaff, Britten’s Pond.

Families of chiffchaffs continued to be seen fly catching around the pond as well as in the willows on the islands.

Hobby, Tice’s Meadow.

A visit to Tice’s Meadow near Farnham allowed me a view of what had been only my second hobby that I had seen within Surrey this year, seemingly a poor year for them locally?

Waterside hide at Tice’s Meadow.

Contrary to this, however, it seemed to be a bumper year for whinchats stopping off as they passed through the county, with another six counted that day on the meadows there.

Black swan, Tice’s Meadow.

A black swan had made several appearances during recent weeks and could once again be seen across the water during my visit.

Several butterflies were still making the most of the late summer and early autumn warmth and sunshine.

Common blue butterfly, Tice’s Meadow.

These included a few common blue butterflies.

Several small white butterflies, one of which I managed to capture in flight.

Clouded yellow butterfly, Tice’s Meadow.

At least three clouded yellow butterflies regularly flitted back and forth across the bright yellow common fleabane in the fields, occasionally settling to take in nectar.

Willow emerald damselfly.

Regular sightings of willow emerald damselflies continued to be viewed there too.

Juvenile black tern at Frensham Great Pond.

A trip out to Frensham Great Pond with Dougal on a rainy September 8 gave us both the opportunity to add a juvenile black tern to this year’s list of sightings.

In the company of Bob and Dougal, I made my first trip of autumn to Farlington Marshes, near Portsmouth on September 10. This was in the hope of waving farewell to some of avian species gathered there, who were taking sustenance before their short leap (for them) across the English Channel on their journey back to Africa.

Although unusually not seeing any migrating wheatears that day, and only seeing just the one whinchat, there were plenty of other goodies to delight.

Various waders on the main lake at Farlington Marshes.

On the main lake quite a variety waders could be seen loosely separated into individual groups. It was with the aid of Dougal’s “scope” we were able to pick out individual species.

Black-tailed godwits, Farlington Marshes.

Black-tailed godwits made up most of the numbers in the gathering, having return from their northerly breeding grounds and in varied stages of moult from their summer plumage.

Common redshank at Farlington Marshes.

While common redshanks could be viewed in good numbers too.

Greenshanks, Farlington Marshes.

At the back of the pack, a group of nine or so greenshanks could be viewed.

Curlew sandpipers with a ringed plover, at Farlington Marshes.

While on the muddy scrape a similar number of curlew sandpipers could be seen scurrying about with a group of ringed plovers.

Dunlin, Farlington Marshes.

Also among them a few dunlins had returned.

Grey seal, Langstone Harbour.

We arrived as the sea was on a rising tide, and by the time we had got no more than a third of the way around the seawall the water was deep enough to catch sight of a few grey seals out in the harbour.

With water levels continuing to deepen, waders were now left no option but to take flight from the few remaining islands as they became submerged.

Grey plovers.

A flock of 50 or more grey plovers, most still in summer plumage, were the first to give up their retreat.

Lapwings, Farlington Marshes.

A deceit of lapwings also flew overhead, eventually landing on the reserve.

Oystercatcher.

From another island further out, a large group of more than 150 oystercatchers could be viewed.

Little egret at Farlington Marshes.

Last to leave, possibly due to their longer legs, were the two dozen or so little egrets.

Ringed plovers at Farlington Marshes.

Close to the shoreline where the sea hadn’t quite reached the seawall, several ringed plovers could still be observed.

Temperatures in the low 20c, a light breeze and sunny spells made things good for the pleasant amble.

Cattle egret, Farlington Marshes.

Although not in the abundance as seen in my previous report, at Pagham, West Sussex, at least four cattle egrets could be viewed in fields among the cattle near to the visitor hut.

Yellow wagtails, Farlington Marshes.

With several herds of cattle present at this time of the year it’s always worth checking out the grassy areas around their feet. As on this occasion a brief observation revealed several yellow wagtails now on migration and feeding on the flies attracted by the cows.

Garganey at Farlington Marshes..

On the stream behind the visitor hut a garganey could be viewed, these being the UK’s only migratory duck. Now out of its stunning summer plumage and in eclipse, it would soon be on its journey south.

Along the stream leading back to the main lake on the final leg of our outing, a few small groups of waders could be seen within the gathered flocks of gulls. These consisted of mostly black-tailed godwits and common redshanks.

Teal, Farlington Marshes.

A few teal had now arrived back to winter there.

Little stint, at Farlington Marshes.

A surprise sighting nestled beside the legs of a black-headed gull by the waters edge was a little stint, less than an annual sighting for the likes of me!

Sandwich tern, Langstone Harbour.

Arriving back at the seawall, the harbour was now at high tide. Across Langstone Harbour a group of up-to a dozen sandwich terns could be viewed, fishing in a frenzied group as they had found an available shoal of fish to feed on. A few separate individuals kindly showed closer to view.

Kestrel hunting at Farlington Marshes.

Looking back inland, I watched as one of the resident kestrels hovered, took a dive and successfully caught a vole in its talons.

Yellow wagtails in a tree at Farlington Marshes.

While closer to view, in a small tree and just beyond another group of cattle, I was able to capture a few reasonable shots of another small group of yellow wagtails showing their much varied colouring.

A bumper year for acorns.

Within the Surrey Hills, autumn crops of acorn were abundant this year on every oak tree I viewed.

Large clusters could be seen weighing down their branches. Some believe it to predict a harsh winter ahead. Scientifically, however, such predictions are contentious as these events, known as “mast events” are periodic and occur from year to year within most species of trees.

The last of our ventures, taking us up to the middle of the month, was a visit to Papercourt water meadows, along the River Wey Navigation at Send, near Woking.

Although having seen floating pennywort in small quantities on a previous visit, I was surprised to see it now chocking up the waterways. Introduced to the UK in the 1980s by the aquatic nursery trade, this fleshy-stemmed plant grows into floating mats of lush foliage.

Floating pennywort at Papercourt.

Highly invasive, it has become a real problem in our rivers and ponds. It grows very rapidly. “up to 20cm per day”, they say, swamping waterways, crowding out native plants and taking oxygen from fish and insects.

It’s becoming more and more of a problem across the country, blocking canals, rivers and other waterways.

Wheatear, Papercourt farmlands.

The only birds of significance that afternoon was a single wheatear on Papercourt farmlands.

Raven. One of four over Papercourt water meadows.

And a group of four ravens calling as they flew northward. “Maybe to join their colleagues in the Tower of London, in respect of the Queen’s recent demise?” I surmised.

By September 13 a mild area of rain and drizzle had pushed south bringing a cooler northerly flow to the weather.

Swallows making a splash on Britten’s Pond.

Swallows and house martins heading south were being counted in droves by birdwatchers throughout southern counties.

At Church Norton in West Sussex more than 10,000 hirundines were counted heading out to sea, mid-morning after the rain cleared. The mass exodus of our summer birds had begun!

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test 2 Responses to Birdwatcher’s Diary No.263

  1. John Lomas Reply

    September 23, 2022 at 9:24 am

    Malcolm’s Whinchat on the “Whin” picture has highlighted, for me, an interesting double use of regional names for plants.

    Ulex, commonly known as gorse, furze and whin.

    Then there are blueberries with regional names which include: blaeberry (Scotland), urts or hurts (Cornwall and Devon), hurtleberry, myrtleberry, wimberry, whinberry, winberry, and fraughan.

    I wonder why we have whinberry in there. Does it, perhaps, tend to grow in close proximity to gorse?

    Does the local Hurtwood area derive it’s name from the above?

  2. Gillian Patricia Stokes Reply

    September 23, 2022 at 2:40 pm

    Great report. I must frequent Whitmoor Common now after seeing your variety of birds.

    Thanks for that.

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