Fringe Box



Birdwatcher’s Diary No.270

Published on: 2 Jan, 2023
Updated on: 2 Jan, 2023

By Malcolm Fincham

Icy weather still remained beyond our doorsteps around the Surrey Hills for a few days as we entered the second half of December, as I continued my adventures around the local countryside.

Water rail at Unstead Sewage Farm.

A visit to Unstead Sewage Farm, near Godalming, on a still frosty December 17 allowed an opportunity to view at least three water rails, all in close proximity of each other, in a small patch of unfrozen water by an outlet sluice near the treatment works.

Moorhens at Unstead Sewage Farm.

Out on the frozen water in front of the hide several less shy moorhens could be viewed.

Grey wagtail at Unstead Sewage Farm.

While a grey wagtail gave good close-up views.

Having not visited the Riverside Nature Reserve, near Burpham, in recent weeks I decided it was long overdue that I did so.

Stoke Lake at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

With continued heavy frosts and daytime temperatures remaining below zero, most local still waters had frozen over, thus forcing much of the wildlife from their natural habitats.

Along the River Wey, just downstream from Stoke Lock where water still flowed, I glimpsed a kingfisher as it flashed by.

Kingfisher along the River Wey.

To my fortune it perched up briefly allowing me to photograph it on the far bank.

Goldcrest at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

A little nearer to me a goldcrest flitted about in the frosted hedgerow.

Little grebes along the River Wey beside the Riverside Nature Reserve.

A little further down stream, again along the far bank, three little grebes could be seen nestling in close proximity of each other.

Teal by the boardwalk at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Several teal could also be seen along the river, evicted by the ice on the marsh area on the other side of the towpath where they usually reside.

Grey wagtail.

A couple of grey wagtails flitted about on the far bank of the river, conversing with each other.

Water rail along the River Wey.

And even a water rail, who skulked along the bank making a rare appearance.

Grey heron.

Perched high in a tree by the river, a grey heron posed for a photo.

Treecreeper at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

And a treecreeper also added to the day’s list.

Wren along the boardwalk at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

A walk along the still partially frosted boardwalk towards Stoke Lake, where the sun hadn’t melted the ice, several wrens could be viewed as they scrambled about like little flying mice.

Common snipe over Stoke Lake at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Looking up, one of several common snipe seen in flight that afternoon could be viewed with the addition of a photo.

Stonechat by the boardwalk at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

A stonechat perched up on one of many stems out on the surrounding marsh.

Common buzzard and magpie at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Looking across an area of the boardwalk, still under repair and currently not accessible, a common buzzard perched on the open hide structure while a magpie perched close by pestering it.

Lapwing at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Out on the partially frosted grassland to the southern end on Stoke Lake a couple of lapwings could be viewed.

Moorhen on Stoke Lake.

Looking out across Stoke Lake from the picnic benches, it could be seen to be totally frozen over with just a lone moorhen walking across the ice.

Red kite over Stoke Lake.

A surprise sighting was a large bird drifting low across the lake. I soon established it to be a red kite. It had recognised what looked to be a dead Canada goose out on the centre of the lake.

A crow attempting to guard its ‘spoils’ as a red kite drifts by.

During my time watching, it remained apprehensive as to landing on it. It did, however, allow me plenty of opportunity to take a series of photos as it swooped down picking up small morsels that had been strewn across the ice, while a crow attempted to guard the carcass.

On my return to the Riverside Nature Reserve just a few days later, mild weather had made a return and Atlantic weather systems had taken control, at least for the time being. Stoke Lake, by then, was once again totally ice free.

The change of weather did allow me a few more photos of wildlife I had missed on my previous visit.

Kingfisher at Stoke Lake.

A kingfisher had returned to fish once again by the lakeside. It was also busy attempting to regain its winter territory, aggressively chasing a fellow kingfisher away when sighted.

Tufted ducks on Stoke Lake.

A few tufted ducks had also returned to the water.

Great crested grebe on Stoke Lake.

As well as a great crested grebe.

Gadwall on Stoke Lake.

While a pair of gadwall could also be viewed.

Cormorant with a fish.

Several cormorants perched up by the island, while one could be seen catching a fish.

Bullfinch at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

A bullfinch showed briefly in a line of hawthorn hedgerow.

Kestrel near the boardwalk at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

And a kestrel perched up by the lakeside.

Redwing at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

In the field to the south of the lake several dozen redwings could be seen taking flight from the water-sodden grasslands where they had been feeding.

Redwing in flight at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Flying overhead they reassembled within the shelter of the line of blackthorn bushes.

Sparrowhawk in flight at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

The reason was soon evident. A sparrowhawk could be seen to be present. Firstly viewed perched in a hawthorn near to where the redwings had been feeding. Eventually it took flight realising it had been observed, possibly by me, but most importantly by a redwing. Taking flight unsuccessful in its mission, it flew overhead and out of view.

Green woodpecker.

A green woodpecker also took to the air, yaffling as it flew.

Great spotted woodpecker.

A great spotted woodpecker could be seen perched up in a tree.

At least two water rails had returned and could be heard calling their ‘squeaky pig’ sounds from their hidden retreats in the marsh beyond the boardwalk.

Jay at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

By one of the entrance gates to the reserve, a jay rummaged about by the fence posts beneath a large oak tree.

Goosanders, Tarn Pond, Cutt Mill, Puttenham.

Meanwhile elsewhere, at Cutt Mill Ponds in Puttenham, a few of the wintering goosanders had returned to its now ice-free waters.

Moving into the latter weeks of December, a strengthening Jet Stream brought a regained vigour to dominant Atlantic westerlies. They pushed a conveyor belt of wet and mild low pressure systems across southern counties of the UK as we entered the week leading up to Christmas, and indeed, through to the new year.

A brief respite on Boxing Day allowed me a good opportunity to walk off some of the sweet treats consumed the previous day. A good excuse too to take in some fresh air and sunshine on a stroll around the farmlands at Shackleford, near Godalming, to see what wildlife may show.

Seed-laden crops made for rich feeding areas for winter feeding flocks of birds.

Goldfinches and linnets at Shackleford.

These included mixed flocks of finches including linnets and goldfinches.

Skylark, Shackleford.

Wintering skylarks could be seen in good number, counting one flock in excess of 50 individuals.

Meadow pipit.

Adding to my photos for the day were meadow pipits.

Starlings, Shackleford.

A flock of starlings gathered on the overhead utility wires.

Stonechat, Shackleford.

And at least two pairs of stonechats could be viewed.

Fieldfare at Shackleford.

Several small flocks of wintering thrushes were also present. Allowing me some reasonably close-up photos of fieldfares.

Redwing, Shackleford.

As well as redwings.

Kestrel, Shackleford.

A few birds of prey were making the most of the sunshine too. A kestrel hovered overhead looking for prey.

Red kite, Shackleford.

A pair of red kites searched low over the fields looking for any titbits they might find.

Common buzzards, Shackleford.

While a lazy pair of common buzzards perched motionless in an oak just taking in the warmth of the sunshine.

Rooks and jackdaws, Shackleford.

In a distant field a large flock of corvids gathered, and pictured taking flight.

Winding down on another productive year of adventures, having once again exceeded my aim of seeing and photographing more than 40 species of butterflies and around 200 species of birds, I ended 2022 with a few walks at East Horsley and Effingham, around the Lovelace Estate.

Marsh tit.

Successfully getting views of marsh tits.


A firecrest was also among the birds I had previously sighted there.

Distant hawfinch, Dick Fock’s Common.

On December 27, also adding seven hawfinches, pre-roost, perched up high in some pine trees just across a valley.

Brambling, photo previously taken in Effingham Forest.

As well as adding a brambling to my sightings.

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