Fringe Box



Birdwatcher’s Diary No.290 Where White-Tailed Eagles Dare

Published on: 18 Oct, 2023
Updated on: 17 Oct, 2023

By Malcolm Fincham

October began with a dry, warm and settled spell of weather in the southern regions of the British Isles.

Pulborough Brooks.

It allowed me just my second opportunity this year to visit Pulborough Brooks, West Sussex, in hope of seeing and maybe getting some better photos of the white-tailed eagle that I saw there earlier in the year.

Since my report back in April much had occurred.

White-tailed eagle, Pulborough Brooks.

The white-tailed eagle has been one of many missing links to the southern coastal regions of the UK since having been driven to extinction by persecution over previous centuries with the last pair breeding on the Isle of Wight in 1780.

With much gratitude, however, in recent years from the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation and a reintroduction scheme.

White-tailed eagle, Pulborough Brooks.

These majestic ‘barn door’-sized beasts, if lucky, can be once again be seen soaring the skies over southern counties of the UK. One known young pair had now reached the age of maturity (four to five years old) and had been reported to have bred earlier this year.

White-tailed eagle, Pulborough Brooks.

Although the location of the nest site on private land has been kept secret, it is believed to have been within the Arun Valley in West Sussex.

A chick has been reported to have been ringed, fitted with a satellite tag and fledged. The first in England for 240 years.

White-tailed eagle, Pulborough Brooks.

Fortune was on my side and on numerous occasions while there, although mostly quite distant, I got some magnificent views, and even managed some better photos than I had expected.

A surprise sighting for me on Whitmoor Common, Worplesdon on October 3 was a critter I had only ever seen once before.

My only previous sighting of a goat moth caterpillar was a year ago at Papercourt Water Meadows. And one I had written about in an earlier report.

The larvae of the goat moth spend up to five year feeding inside the trunk of their food plant of various deciduous trees. They can sometimes be found as tunnelling caterpillars in decaying wood because of the distinctive smell of goat.

Goat moth caterpillar, Whitmoor Common.

The caterpillars leave their host tree about this time of year to pupate underground, emerging the following year (June-July).

They are among UK’s heaviest moths. Although locally widespread in the south of the UK, they can be quite a challenge to find.

They are closely related to the Australian witchetty grub made famous by the TV series I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here. Nevertheless, it didn’t inspire my desire to eat it!

Out on the heathland I continued attempting to capture acceptable photos of birds and other wildlife.

Fly agaric mushroom.

In spite of the recent dry spell, fly agaric mushrooms were now starting to emerge.

Fly agaric mushrooms.

Already in various stages of growth.

With daytime temperatures remaining above 20c for the most part during the first weeks of October, several species of butterfly could still be seen on the wing.

Red admiral butterfly.

These included red admirals

Brimstone butterfly.

A brimstone butterfly.

Small copper butterfly.

And even a few small coppers.

This photo shows Ivy bees digging their nest holes in the sandy soil.

In the warmth of the sun ivy bees could still be observed feeding on the ivy flower.

Hornet, on ivy flower.

While several hornets still fed on the nectar.

Long-tailed tit.

Small groups of long-tailed tits continued to filter through the tree foliage.

Goldcrest, Whitmoor Common.

Among them a few goldcrests could be viewed.


And several chiffchaffs were among the flocks.

Greylag geese, Whitmoor Common.

Not often seen by me there was a small group of greylag geese that flew over in formation.

Raven, Whitmoor Common.

But more regularly seen there, in recent times, flying over the treeline across the heath was a pair of ravens.

Sparrowhawk and carrion crow, Whitmoor Common.

Other regular sightings, in recent weeks included a sparrowhawk. At first being harassed by a crow, though by the time I took the photo their roles had reversed.

Common buzzard.

A common buzzard continued to be regularly sighted overhead. Occasionally as many as three or four circling high in the thermals.

Kestrel, Whitmoor Common.

A kestrel continued to be seen, either perched up or hunting about the heathland.

Meadow pipit, Whitmoor Common.And as many as 30 or more meadow pipits had now made their autumn return, feeding within the heather.

Stonechat, Whitmoor Common.

Stonechats popped up to perch from time to time, some still making the sounds their name derives from.

Dartford warbler, Whitmoor Common.

Dartford warblers skimmed low across the heath now mostly just making their contact calls.

Great spotted woodpecker, Whitmoor Common.

While the ‘kek-kek’ call and occasional drumming sounds of great spotted woodpeckers could also be heard.

Jay in flight.

Jays regularly flew back and forth across the heath making their sharp rasping calls while they collected acorns and taking them to their ‘seasonal’ larders.

Lesser redpoles.

A delight to see on one visit was a small group of lesser redpolls. These were the first I had seen since January 2022.

Teal, Brook Pond, Whitmoor Common.

At Brook Pond, the other side of the heathland, a few teal had arrived back to winter.

Grey wagtail.

While a grey wagtail could often be viewed.

Cormorant, Brook Pond.

A cormorant regularly visited the pond.

Grey heron, Brook Pond,

And a grey heron waded in the shallow waters on the far side of the pond.

On October 8 the first redwings and fieldfares had arrived in Surrey and by the following day more than 2,000 redwings were viewed in flight, from Leith Hill Tower, near Dorking, during a morning vi-dual; with many also reported at other locations throughout Surrey.


My first sighting of this autumn was a small flock of six redwings flying just over the tree line at Worplesdon’s St Mary’s Church, Perry Hill.

Firecrest, Worplesdon Churchyard.

At the entrance to the churchyard I was greeted by the sight and sound of a firecrest singing from the hedgerow.

Red kite, St Mary’s Church, Worplesdon.

A red kite drifted over the church.


While several nuthatches could be heard calling within the graveyard.


The jerky movement and high-pitched trilling sound of what would otherwise be an almost totally camouflaged treecreeper, alerted me to its presence.

Ring-necked parakeets, over Worplesdon Churchyard.

And a local rowdy group of a dozen or so ring-necked parakeets could be seen as they flew over.

Kingfisher, Brittens Pond.

At Britten’s Pond during the first weeks of the month a resident kingfisher continued to be viewed.

For the most part continuing to elude me from being quick enough to capture a photo as it flashed by, bullet-like across the water.

Sparrowhawk at Britten’s Pond.

Fortunately it was also, so far, able to evade, on several notable occasions, a sparrowhawk with desires of its own.

It had taken up residence in the area and it seemed the iridescent colours of the kingfisher were just as appealing to its eyes, as my own, though for different reasons.

Canada geese, Britten’s Pond.

A small group of Canada geese were residing on the lake.

Cormorant, Britten’s Pond.

And a few cormorants had made a return there.

Grey heron, Britten’s Pond.

And, of course, the grey heron remained present.

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