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Birdwatcher’s Diary No.266

Published on: 4 Nov, 2022
Updated on: 4 Nov, 2022

By Malcolm Fincham

Warm westerly winds whipped in to the UK throughout the latter part of October as a ‘beefed-up’ Atlantic Jet Stream continued to command control, bringing low pressure systems from the south and the west. It brought plenty of rain in its wake to replenish the Surrey Hills of its summer drought.

Between showers and occasional heavy stormy weather enough time was awarded my way to continue my ventures and even capture a few photos when opportunities arose.

Sticking mostly to my regular ‘patches’ allowed me to stay up to date with the shifting tides of autumn.

Untold secrets continued to reveal themselves with every day that passed. Yet like a rainbow that materialises, then disappears in an instance, I was only able to capture a snapshot in time.

Autumn colours on Whitmoor Common.

On my visit to Whitmoor Common the sun was shining brightly revealing the vibrant autumnal colours on display.

Dartford warbler, Whitmoor Common.

Dartford warblers were in good number, though for the most part pretty elusive on their favoured heathland habitat. Taking advantage of the present warm weather and hoping, being solely insectivores, the coming winter won’t be too harsh for their survival.

Coal tit, Whitmoor Common.

Coal tits there, on the other hand, were among the many birds able to adapt their diet from insects to seeds (and even the occasional berry). And could already be viewed feeding on pine cone seeds.

Robin feeding on rowan berries.

A greedy robin plucked a berry from one of the rowan trees still full of ripened red fruit.

Goldfinch, Whitmoor Common.

Continuing to be common sightings around the heathland was a flock of 20 or more goldfinches

Goldfinch, with meadow pipit (right).

As well as groups of meadow pipits.

Stonechat, (male) Whitmoor Common.

Both male and female stonechats popped up on various perches around the heathland.

Jay, Whitmoor Common.

Jays could now be regularly heard and sighted there.

Green woodpecker, Whitmoor Common.

The ‘yaffle’ of a green woodpecker could occasionally be heard.

long-tailed tit, Whitmoor Common.

Long-tailed tits continued to traverse the common in a loosely strung pack.

Kestrel, Whitmoor Common.

While a kestrel continued to regularly visit the heathland.

Greylag goose on Britten’s Pond.

Just a little further down the Salt Box Road at Britten’s Pond two greylag geese continued to be resident.

Cormorant at Britten’s Pond.

A cormorant circled around the pond, apprehensive about settling as it observed too much activity in respect of anglers fishing there that day. On this occasion deciding not to settle.

Kingfisher, Britten’s Pond.

While a kingfisher could often be seen perched up with fewer places now to hide as the trees around the water’s edge began to shed their leaves.

On October 18 and 19, after seemingly incessant low pressure with west-south-west winds, high pressure built briefly into Scandinavia. This allowed the floodgates to open for birds migrating downwind into the UK and other southern European countries.

Within the days that followed individual counts in excess of a thousand redwings could be seen in the skies over the Surrey Hills.

Redwing, Worplesdon churchyard.

This including 2,000 viewed from Leith Hill Tower on October 22. Although late in the afternoon that same day, I managed to photograph my first redwing of the year at Worplesdon Churchyard, Perry Hill.

Nuthatch.

Several nuthatches could be heard in close proximity of each other giving me the impression they were in conversation with themselves in the nearby trees.

Goldcrest, Worplesdon churchyard.

While goldcrests could be seen fly-catching among the conifers that grow within the churchyard.

Firecrest.

Even a firecrest made another appearance.

Sparrowhawk.

A sparrowhawk even turned up to spoil the party. Thus leaving me kicking myself having not spotted it prior to a passing cyclist spooking it up and away with an adult male blackbird in its talons.

Fieldfare showing its grey head and ochre colouring on its chest.

Although also hearing a fieldfare there, it wasn’t until the following day that I saw my first small group of 15 or so of them on some farmland at Shackleford. Capturing one in a photo, showing its distinctive grey head and ochre-coloured chest.

Skylark.

Wintering skylarks could be seen and occasionally still heard briefly in song over the fields there.

The main reason for our visit was that it was one of several sites within Surrey that were reporting black redstart sightings.

Two had been seen near a hay barn by Lydling Farm, near Shackleford. While a third had been reported at an old favoured haunt of mine, Unstead Sewage Farm, near Godalming.

Regrettably, my attempts at both sites drew a blank. This left me uncharacteristically frustrated as the weather turned for the worst and rain swept in to end the day.

Black redstart, Unstead Sewage Farm.

Fortunately, by the following morning, dry sunny intervals had returned. And on checking latest reports the one at Unstead was still present.

Black redstart, Unstead Sewage Farm.

In the company of Dougal we were finally able to ‘nail it!’. And even add a few up-to-date photos to my archives.

Black redstart, Unstead Sewage Farm.

As with all the previous ones reported, and as the photos show, it could be seen to be a female-type.

A visit to Tice’s Meadow near Tongham saw water levels had remained reasonably low, despite recent inclement weather, thus allowing continued access to the waterside hide.

Canada and greylag geese at Tice’s Meadow.

Canada and greylag geese remained an ever-present sight in varying numbers.

Green sandpiper, Tice’s Meadow.

Two green sandpipers could be viewed, capturing one in flight along the far bank.

Lapwings at Tice’s Meadow.

While a contorting ‘deceit’ of lapwings displayed over the water.

A kingfisher, unfortunately, was less obliging as it flashed past close to the waterside hide but too fast for me to capture a shot of its presence.

Wigeon, Tice’s Meadow.

A few wigeon had now arrived to winter there and could be seen dabbling in the shallows.

Tufted ducks, Tice’s Meadow.

As well as small rafts of tufted ducks.

Grey heron, Tice’s Meadow.

While cormorants and grey herons both remained a common sight there.

Great crested grebe, Tice’s Meadow.

And a great crested grebe could be seen out on the water.

Red admiral butterfly.

As mild and unsettled weather continued to surge up through the UK through to the latter days of the month, sunnier spells saw numerous red admiral butterflies still on the wing.

Speckled wood butterfly.

And even a few speckled wood butterflies.

Great white egret, Tice’s Meadow.

On October 30 I made a return to “Tice’s” this time in the company of Bob and Dougal. A great white egret had made an appearance there allowing me my first ‘record shots’ of one this year.

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