Fringe Box



Birdwatcher’s Diary No.297

Published on: 3 Feb, 2024
Updated on: 3 Feb, 2024

By Malcolm Fincham

Weather conditions remained rather chilly in and about the Surrey countryside as we moved into the third week of January with daytime temperatures barely rising above freezing.

View towards Stoke Lock with ice on the navigation.

On a visit to the Riverside Nature Reserve, near Burpham, on January 16, ice had begun to form on the surface of the still water of the navigation leading up to Stoke Lock, while the flooded scrape viewed from the lock was totally frozen.

Kingfisher perched on footbridge, by Stoke Lock.

A surprise sighting, for me, was a bird perched on the metal railings of the footbridge that crosses the river near the lock. At first I thought it maybe a robin, but I hastened to focus the lens on my camera when I realised it was, in fact, a kingfisher.

Kestrel perched in tree by the boardwalk at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Along the boardwalk leading to Stoke Lake a kestrel could be viewed as it perched in one of the nearby trees.

Wren by the boardwalk at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

While several wrens flitted within the decaying foliage about me.

Cormorant on pylon.

And a cormorant perched high up on one of the utility pylons that carry electrical cables over the reserve.

Stoke Lake.

Arriving at Stoke Lake its waters were almost completely frozen over and a variety of gulls were lined up on the ice.

Tufted duck, Stoke Lake.

On a small section of water by the island, still free of ice, a small group of tufted ducks could still be viewed.

Little grebe (dabchick), River Wey.

And a few little grebes (dabchicks) continued to fish the waters, but most by now had taken to the river, counting at least five on the far bank of the still free-flowing section of the River Wey Navigation between Stoke Lock and Bower’s Lock.

Teal, along River Wey.

While a few teal could also be seen on river, frozen out of their usual winter residences about the marshy areas near the boardwalk.

Cormorant, along River Wey.

Several cormorants could be viewed fishing the river, while one could be seen perched up on the far bank fanning its wings to dry them out.

Grey heron, along River Wey.

A heron also sat beside a reeded area across the water.

Fox, Riverside Nature Reserve.

At least, before an opportunistic fox spooked it into flight.

Britten’s Pond.

The following day at Britten’s Pond the water there continued to remain frozen also, apart from a small section on the far side that had been thawed slightly by the weak sunlight.

Lesser black-backed gull, on ice, Britten’s Pond.

The lesser black-backed gull remained steadfast on the ice, though most of the black headed gulls usually present had vacated the pond.

Moorhen, on ice, at Britten’s Pond.

One of several moorhens walked gingerly across the ice.

Blackbird, Britten’s Pond.

A blackbird could be seen by the car park, picking off the last few hawthorn berries from the tree by the entrance.

Nuthatch, Britten’s Pond.

While at the base of the tree a nuthatch scurried about looking for seed that had been laid there earlier in the day for the wildfowl.

Dunnock, Britten’s Pond.

Several dunnocks also joined in the hunt for sustenance.

Treecreeper, Britten’s Pond.

While a walk around the pond added a treecreeper.

Goldcrest, Britten’s Pond.

As well as a few goldcrests to my day’s photos.

Elsewhere on my travels, in the company of Bob and Dougal at Papercourt Water meadows, as air temperatures began to rise with the some milder weather on the way, the marshes remained partially frozen below our feet.

Common snipe, in flight, at Papercourt.

A few common snipe could be counted attempting to probe areas where softer soil could still be found, occasionally taking flight across the meadow.

Kingfisher, at Papercourt.

As we approached Papercourt Lock a kingfisher made an appearance just across the water. Thus making it the fifth location so far this year I had seen one.

Chiffchaff at Papercourt.

Along the river that meanders around the water meadows several chiffchaffs could be viewed about the margins and patches of penny-wort on the surface water.

Water rail.

The cold spell also encouraged a visit to Unstead Sewage Farm, a prime time during icy conditions for an opportunity to see a water rail.

Shoveler ducks on flooded scrape.

Mild weather made its return during the last week of the month. And at the Riverside Nature Reserve shoveler ducks had returned to the now ice-free flooded scrape, viewed from Stoke Lock.

Gadwall (above) with drake shoveler on the flooded scrape near Stoke Lock.

Four gadwall ducks could also be picked out on the scrape.

Kingfisher, along River Wey.

A kingfisher continued to patrol the river, allowing me a photo as I walked along the towpath.

Egyptian geese in flight by Stoke Lock.

And a pair of Egyptian geese flew over the lock as I opportunistically took a few hopeful photos as they passed through.

Song thrush.

Close to the sewage works, by the lock keeper’s cottage, for the first time this year I could hear a song thrush singing it melodious, but repetitive song.

Chiffchaff, near the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Also for the first time this year, as I walked the lane by the sewage works, one of several chiffchaffs was briefly attempting to break into its renown song.

Red kite, over the recycling centre.

And while viewing the accumulation of gulls about the recycling centre further down the lane, I mused as I watched one of the two resident red kites in the area as it chased and stole the ‘spoils’ that one of the gulls had retrieved.

Cetti’s warbler, previously photographed.

On my return to the boardwalk a Cetti’s warbler could be heard calling its harsh song briefly, but was not heard again during my visit.

Kingfisher by the boardwalk, Riverside Nature Reserve.

Along the boardwalk, a kingfisher could be viewed once again. This time beside the small pond.

Also adding a redwing perched in the bush where the kingfisher had been seen.

Common buzzard (adult).

As the sun warmed the air, common buzzards took advantage to circle in the thermals.

Sparrowhawk, Riverside Nature Reserve.

While a sparrowhawk also passed through.

Green woodpecker in flight.

Having already heard and glimpsed several green woodpeckers already this year, I was at last able to add a photo.

Stonechat by Stoke Lake.

One of a pair of stonechats that had recently been seen in the meadow at the southern side of the lake also made an appearance by the lakeside.

Reed bunting.

As well as a reed bunting in the south meadow.

Little grebe, Britten’s Pond.

A return to the now ice-free Britten’s Pond a little grebe could once again be viewed out on the water

Robin, Britten’s Pond.

Robins were grateful to see the return of some of the stalwart anglers that had come to fish there.

Blue tit prospecting for a nest site.

With the return of warmer weather, blue tits had begun prospecting for future nesting holes.

Nuthatches, heard calling.

Nuthatches could be heard calling.

Long-tailed tit.

While long-tailed tits, in groups, continued to traverse the leafless trees around the pond.


Sightings elsewhere in Surrey included fieldfares at Lydling Farm, Shackleford.


As well as a photo of one of two ravens overhead.

Drake (left) and female goosander at Cutt Mill Puttenham.

On Cutt Mill Ponds, Puttenham, wintering goosanders of a dozen or more continued to be viewed most days.

Common crossbill, (female). Crooksbury Common.

While just up the road from there at Crooksbury Common I was able to photograph one of two crossbills seen that day.

The continued calm, dry weather conditions prompted me, in the company of Bob and Dougal, on January 27, to visit Farlington Marshes, near Portsmouth on what was to be a second time already this year.

Cattle egret, Warblington.

On this occasion we were able to get a sighting of several cattle egrets in the nearby village of Warblington, along the way.

Brent geese previously photographed at Farlington.

Although re-sighting most of the birds at Farlington seen and shown in my previous report, including the impressive numbers of brent geese in and around the reserve.

Northern pintail ducks, Farlington Marshes.

Always nice to see were plenty of those smart looking Northern pintail ducks.

Rock pipit, Farlington Marshes.

A rock pipit flew up from the seawall and posed for a photo.

Sandwich tern, Farlington Marshes.

Even adding an ‘early in the year’ sighting of a sandwich tern.

Bearded reedlings (male on right) Farlington Marshes.

The highlight of the visit for me had to be that of the bearded reedlings.

Previously officially referred to as bearded tits, it has since been discovered in recent years that they are not actually members of the tit family. And on hindsight not so sure they got the bearded bit right either?

Male bearded reedling, Farlington.

At first they could be heard making their ‘pinging’ sound some distance away. Then picking them out, about a dozen or more, across the large expanse of phragmites reed beds as we watched from the viewing point.

Bearded reedling, (female) Farlington.

To our fortune they made their way closer, eventually showing well below us as they busily fed on the seed heads of the reeds.

Skylark, Farlington Marshes.

Finally, it was also a delight to see and hear a few skylarks now in song.

And with daylight hours slowly growing, perhaps giving me some optimism for the weeks to come?

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Responses to Birdwatcher’s Diary No.297

  1. Irene Strange Reply

    February 4, 2024 at 11:27 am

    I thoroughly enjoyed viewing your Bird photos. Such clever photography,

  2. John Ferns Reply

    February 4, 2024 at 2:24 pm

    Bird life, beautiful compendium divine,
    A symphony of colors, grace, and song,
    Thank you, Malcolm Fincham, for this design,
    A gentle, sensitive text, we belong.

    With each verse, you paint feathers on the breeze,
    Capturing the spirit of flight and flight,
    From soaring eagles to the smallest bees,
    Your words bring nature’s wonders to our sight.

    The robin’s melodic morning refrain,
    The hummingbird’s delicate dance in flight,
    Through your pen, their essence we can attain,
    Their joy and freedom shining ever bright.

    Oh, Malcolm Fincham, your words are a treasure,
    A tribute to bird life, our greatest pleasure.

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