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Birdwatcher’s Diary No.265

Published on: 22 Oct, 2022
Updated on: 22 Oct, 2022

By Malcolm Fincham

Although a little drier than the norm, October began on its usual autumnal theme as daylight hours rapidly began to close in.

Surprisingly, however, since the first rains of what had been a long dry summer, much of the vegetation locally had made a last gasp attempt of rejuvenating itself. Some plants, such as buddleia, were even showing new clusters of flowers.

Most intriguing to me, having only vaguely recalled witnessing it after the hot, dry summer back in 1976 (yes I’m that old), was to see that a few species of trees, (although only on a few within such species), were showing signs of spring growth.

One very confused rowan tree thinking it must be spring.

On Whitmoor Common, Worplesdon, as I admired a rowan tree, now full of ripe red berries ready for reaping soon by winter visiting thrushes, I was amazed to notice several small sprigs of spring blossom showing. “How wonderfully adaptable nature is?” I mumbled to myself. As the tree and I stood side by side, both confused in our own independent ways.

Blue tit, Whitmoor Common.

Of less concern, and with little apparent empathy for the tree, a blue tit plucked off one of its berries, taking it to a small branch for its consumption.

Elsewhere on the heathland during the last hour of light, mixed flocks of birds assembled on the utility wires that run across the heathland. Among them numerous meadow pipits could be viewed.

Meadow pipit on Whitmoor Common.

As in previous years they had begun to arrive back to winter there, and could be best counted among the mixed congregation of goldfinches and linnets that lined up side by side along the wires.

A rough count, in excess of 30 pipits could be seen, these including several groups still feeding on the surrounding heath, out of sight for the most part.

Kestrel, Whitmoor Common.

By the last hours of daylight a kestrel would often make a visit, regularly perching up on the utility pylons that stretched across the common.

Roe deer, Whitmoor Common.

Also making an appearance, although well camouflaged by its stillness as it blended in with the surrounding foliage, was a roe deer.

Common buzzard, Whitmoor Common.

At least two common buzzards could be viewed, one of which appearing to be a juvenile, mewing harshly while in flight, still adapting to its independence and often challenged by passing crows. While a second could be viewed gliding low along the treeline on the far side of the heathland.

Long-tailed tit.

A group of long-tailed tits allowed me plenty of prior warning of their approach with their constant contact calls as they skipped through the fine branches of a line of silver birch saplings. Occasionally one would hesitate just long enough for a photograph.

Chiffchaff.

Other species of tits would often follow within the groups, and even a few chiffchaffs, as on this occasion.

On October 6 I visited the Riverside Nature Reserve, near Burpham. Parking up at Bower’s Lane, I chose the towpath walk along the River Wey in the direction of what was once known as Stoke Meadows.

Red kite.

I was immediately enlightened by the sight of two red kites commanding the sky, close to view and just above the treeline. Although having encroached into the heart of Surrey over the last decade they continue to remain a sight I hold dear.

The towpath was now heavily carpeted by acorns, while continued light showers of them were still falling in the breeze. “Where have all the jays been been hiding these past few weeks?!” I questioned myself, as I trod a few more hard shells into the soil beneath my feet.

Knowing their love for acorns, and having heard their calls at several locations I had recently visited, I still hadn’t managed to photograph one?

Jay.

With their known love for such nuts, maybe there were just too many acorns for them to be bothered to collect and hide this year?

This I pictured in my thoughts, eventually finding one jay sitting within a pile of acorns, twice its normal size, and just too ‘stuffed’ to fly.

Grey wagtail.

Although encountering little on my walk along the towpath, apart from a grey wagtail by the weir, the dry mild weather with sunny intervals was indeed refreshing.

Ivy bee.

A few ivy bees could still be viewed attempting to find any remaining nectar on the ivy bushes along the way.

Hornet

A lone hornet could also be seen with the same intent of gathering as much available pollen as possible before hibernation.

Common buzzard, this one over Whitmoor Common.

Common buzzards continued to be a regular sighting there.

Sparrowhawk, this one over Whitmoor Common.

While a sparrowhawk showed well overhead.

Cetti’s warbler, seen about this time last year (2021) at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Just off the boardwalk leading to the lake a Cetti’s warbler could briefly be heard singing out its loud and harsh call. As on most occasions remaining too elusive to view.

Great crested grebes, Stoke Lake.

The family of great crested grebes could be viewed on the lake, with the three young, although still in their immature colours, now looking the same size as their parents.

Kingfisher, pictured on a previous visit to Stoke Lake.

As often on my visits there, a kingfisher made an appearance, as always totally ignoring the ‘No Fishing’ signs on display.

Tufted ducks, Stoke Lake.

On the lake tufted ducks continued to grow in number, now counting a raft of 25, mostly drakes that had returned to winter there.

Dragonfly at Stoke Lake.

Continued mild weather allowed regular sightings of late breeding dragonfly species.

Blackbird feeding rowan berries, Whitmoor Common.

Returning to Whitmoor on October 9, blackbirds could now be seen feeding on rowan berries

Coal tit, Whitmoor Common.

In a few of the small pines that are allowed to grow there, coal tits could be seen feeding on the seeds of the pine cones.

Dartford warbler, Whitmoor Common.

Among the once burnt scrub, partially revitalised with new growth of vibrant green gorse, a couple of Dartford warblers made a brief appearance. Perched up and singing in the warmth of the afternoon sun, allowing just a few seconds of opportunity to snatch a photo.

Stonechat, Whitmoor Common.

Stonechats, on the other hand, although quite timid, could be more regularly seen perched more prominently from surrounding taller gorse bushes.

Jays.

A healthy pair of jays also made an appearance, dispelling my earlier theory that I would eventually find some too indulged with acorns, and unable to fly.

On October 10, partly with hope in mind of seeing my first redwings of autumn, I also found time to visit Worplesdon churchyard at Perry Hill.

The yew trees were full of berries and looking very inviting for such winter visiting thrushes (redwings and fieldfares). A few sightings had already been reported in the Surrey.

Redwing feeding on yew berries, in Worplesdon Churchyard, taken last autumn (2021).

However, this proved a little optimistic and certainly too early for me compared to previous years. Despite not yet getting any photos, I was at least able to witness 10 fly over the church and both hear and glimpse one as it flew low over the churchyard.

The warm autumn sunlight was reflecting off the changing pigments of the leaves revealing a symphony of texture in their patterns around the graveyard. While the yew berries in the trees that surrounded the church had now ripened enough already for a variety of birds to start feeding on them.

Song thrush, Worplesdon churchyard.

These included several song thrushes.

Mistle thrushes, Worplesdon churchyard.

And two mistle thrushes who also arrived on the scene for a short feast.

Blackbird among the yew berries.

While blackbirds made regular visits to add to their varied diet.

Greenfinch, Worplesdon churchyard.

Even a greenfinch made a brief appearance.

Several smaller birds made an appearance too.

Blue tit with yew berry.

Blue tits could be seen plucking individual berries.

Coal tit among the yew berries.

While both great tits and coal tits joined the feast.

Goldcrest, the UK’s smallest bird, Worplesdon Churchyard.

At the entrance to the churchyard I was able to pick out a goldcrest, flitting about among the various tits there.

Firecrest.

Even later, adding a firecrest to the day’s sightings.

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