Fringe Box



Birdwatcher’s Diary No.301

Published on: 2 Apr, 2024
Updated on: 1 Apr, 2024

By Malcolm Fincham

The weather settled briefly as we moved into the latter weeks of March.

Blackcap, Riverside Nature Reserve.

On my visit to the Riverside Nature Reserve near Burpham on March 18 I heard my first blackcap of the year in song. Although achieving a photo of it proved troublesome as it flitted about in a thicket of hawthorn close by the sewage works.

A few remnants of winter visiting birds still remained, although most had now vacated the area.

Teal, Riverside Nature Reserve.

Just one drake teal could still be viewed in the wetland area by the boardwalk.

Tufted ducks, Stoke Lake, Riverside Nature Reserve.

And a handful of tufted ducks on Stoke Lake.

Shoveler ducks on the flooded scrape near Stoke Lock.

Although three pairs of shoveler ducks could still be counted on the flooded scrape near Stoke Lock.

Little grebe on the flooded scrape near Stoke Lock.

Now in spring plumage, a little grebe could be heard calling as flapped across the scrape, treading the water.

Spring equinox fell on March 20 this year. And on my return to the reserve, temperatures rose to the ‘dizzy’ heights of 18c in Surrey for the first time this year.

Intermittent spells of sunshine brought a long-awaited warmth to one’s bones. Although the preceding winter hadn’t been, on the whole, a cold one, it was the first day this year I was comfortable in a short-sleeved jacket! And with a spring in my step some optimism fell in my thoughts for the weeks to come.

Lesser celandine flowers, although having seen them in previous days, were beginning to decorate roadside verges as well as along the towpath of the River Wey. Suddenly they seemed to have become more vibrant as they opened their petals to the warm sunlight, adding another yellow theme to the various wild spring flowers already in bloom and attracting bees and insects alike to their nectar.

Brimstone butterfly on lesser celandine flowers, Riverside Nature Reserve.

Having already seen a few brimstone butterflies in flight in recent weeks, for the first time this year I was able to photo one that had settled one one such flower.

Small tortoiseshell on lesser celandine flowers, Riverside Nature Reserve.

As a bonus, and not far from where I had seen the brimstone, a small tortoiseshell butterfly could also be viewed.

My concerns had grown about their future welfare in Surrey, having only seen two throughout 2023 during my daily walks. I was therefore even more pleased to be able to equal last year’s tally by seeing a second later that day!

Peacock butterfly, Riverside Nature Reserve.

A few peacock butterflies could also be seen out out on the wing.

Comma butterfly, Riverside Nature Reserve.

Even adding a comma butterfly to my new sightings for this year, just a few days later.

Greater bee fly, Riverside Nature Reserve.

As well as getting a photo of one of several hoverflies I had seen in recent days. This one I believe to be a greater bee fly.

Lady’s smock (cuckoo flower).

Another observation while walking the reserve were lady’s smock flowers coming into bloom about the wetland areas beside the boardwalk. These being a food plant for the orange tip butterflies, hopefully soon to emerge.

Wren, by the boardwalk, Riverside Nature Reserve.

Wrens have become the most abundant of UK’s birds in recent years, with numerous one now singing about the reserve.

Greenfinch, Riverside Nature Reserve.

While a few greenfinches could be seen and heard making their wheezing sounds.

Once a rarity in the UK, Cetti’s warblers have increased in number throughout the southern counties, with at least five now heard calling during recent visits about the riverside area.

Cetti’s warbler, Riverside Nature Reserve.

Although very skulky in their nature, they certainly make up for it in their vocal calls.

Chiffchaff, Riverside Nature Reserve.

Most regularly heard there during the latter parts of March, as well as most other places I visited locally, were the sounds of chiffchaffs. Also noting some already pairing up.

Common buzzard over Stoke Lake.

At Stoke Lake a pair of common buzzards could be viewed flying over the water.

Great crested grebe on Stoke Lake.

A great crested grebe was now looking resplendent in its full summer plumage.

Great crested grebes on Stoke Lake.

While later in the day it could be observed with its partner in equally delightful plumage, doing their spring mating dance ritual on the far side of the lake.

Stonechat (male) by Stoke Lake.

In the field to the southern end of the lake a pair of stonechats continued to reside.

Kestrel, Riverside Nature Reserve.

While the resident kestrel continued to hunt over the grassland.

Red kite.

Red kites remain a common sight about the riverside, as well as most other local areas I visited. Mostly seen on the side of the river close to the recycling centre at Slyfield.

Jackdaws gathering, pre-roost, near the Slyfield recycling centre.

While also by the recycling centre as many as 500 or more jackdaws gathered while on my visit late one afternoon.

Rooks and crows also among the pre-roost gathering at Slyfield.

A few rooks and crows also could be viewed within the congregation.

Gulls on the roof at recycling centre.

As well as various species of gulls, many of which were also visiting Stoke Lake for a wash and brush-up before heading to roost.

Grey heron by the River Wey.

On the far bank of the River Wey I was able to photo of a grey heron as it took flight.

Cormorant, River Wey.

As well as a cormorant in breeding plumage, fishing along the river.

By the final week of the month the weather had again taken a tumble, with low pressure systems again rolling in across southern counties of the UK. Daytime temperatures barely rising into double figures centigrade and bringing more rainfall to the already saturated ground. This leaving me with limited opportunities in the way of dry spells to get out and about with my camera equipment.

On a wet and overcast start to March 22, however, I was alerted that a ring ouzel had been seen in Jacobs Well.

They spend the winter in Spain and north-west Africa, this one possibly stopping off due to the inclement conditions on its journey to its more northerly breeding grounds.

Ring ouzel, Jacobs Well.

It had first been found by a fellow birdwatcher’s wife who had taken a photo of it on her mobile phone as she saw it feeding in the horse paddock by the village hall.

Later attempts of re-finding it were proving negative, as her husband Martin Kettell, and another fellow birdwatcher ‘Weevie’ (Steve Simnett) extensively searched the surrounding areas. Eventually they found it! It was once again feeding on worms back in the original paddock where it had first been seen.

By the time I arrived the rain and drizzle had cleared through, and although the bird was now more distant to view than earlier that morning, it was still showing well. Also attracting another dozen or more birdwatchers to view it during my time there.

Ring ouzel, Jacobs Well.

Slightly smaller than blackbirds, male ring ouzels are mostly black but have a white gorget-like crescent on their upper chest and silvery-white edging to the wings as well as some white body feathers, giving them a scaly look.

Females are similar, but the black is often more brownish, and the white parts duller.

Visiting Britten’s Pond, a slow build-up of geese had begun to arrive on the pond, as in previous years.

Canada goose.

Canada geese had, as at this time in last year, begun to increase in their numbers with up to a dozen or so now out on the water.

Greylag geese, Britten’s Pond.

While greylag geese had doubled, now with a count of four at the pond.

Egyptian goose, Britten’s Pond.

And a pair of Egyptian geese continued to visit.

Swans chasing the geese around Britten’s Pond.

The resident swans had become quite perturbed and threatened by all these new arrival. They were now spending much of there time and energy attempting to chase away the other birds.

Kingfisher, this one a female, at Britten’s Pond.

A kingfisher continued to occasionally be viewed with reports of two seen in recent days by some of the anglers I spoke with.

Siskin, Britten’s Pond.

A couple of siskins could still be seen feeding on the seed cones of the alders that overhung the pond.

Tufted ducks, Britten’s Pond.

Several tufted ducks spent the latter weeks of the month on the pond, with as many as three pairs seen on March 25.

Long-tailed tit, collecting spider’s webs for nesting material.

Long-tailed tits continued to be observed nest-building, with one individual viewed collecting spider’s webs, using them to strengthen its nest construction.

Nuthatch, Britten’s Pond.

The call of nuthatches attracted my attention for a few photos of these delightful critters, while walking around the pond.

Dartford warbler, Whitmoor Common.

On a visit to Whitmoor Common the ‘scratchy’ sound of a Dartford warbler alerted me to where it was perched up out on the heathland.

Coal tit feeding on pine cones, Whitmoor Common.

A small group of coal tits could also be observed feeding on seeds of opening cones in a pine tree.

Linnet, Whitmoor Common.

While another group of a dozen or so linnets arrived to join them in their banquet.

Redpoll, Whitmoor Common.

A lone redpoll could be viewed in a nearby tree.

Mistle thrush, in horse paddock, Whitmoor Common.

Looking out across the horse paddock that borders the common near Salt Box Road, a mistle thrush could be seen collecting worms.

Great spotted woodpecker.

Great spotted woodpeckers continued to be heard about the heathland. Following the sound of one led me to photograph it pecking on some dead wood high in a tree.

Roe deer, St Mary’s churchyard, Worplesdon.

While taking in the peaceful surround of the churchyard at St Mary’s, Perry Hill, a roe deer ambled by unaware of my presence.


A raven also made its occasional appearance, perching in one of the tall pines on the perimeter of the churchyard.


The sound of a firecrest alerted my attention leading me to one of many holly bushes.


Also in the tall pine tree within the grounds, a goldcrest could be viewed.

Red admiral butterfly.

And a red admiral butterfly also added itself to my day list.

On a return to the Riverside Nature Reserve on March 27 I added a few more photos to this month’s sightings.

Grey wagtail, Stoke Lock.

At Stoke Lock a grey wagtail could now be regularly seen.

Treecreeper, Riverside Nature Reserve.

A treecreeper was also unable to escape the capture of my camera lens. I watched it feeding on insects in the crevices of the bark in the tree-tined area between the towpath and the boardwalk.

Reed bunting beside boardwalk at the Riverside Nature Reserve.

Since my previous visit a reed bunting had returned along the boardwalk.

Mandarin ducks by Stoke Lake.

While by the lakeside, among a small group of Canada geese near the picnic tables, a rare sighting for me there was a pair of mandarin ducks.

Winding up the month, another stormy night of weather passed through, blown in by a large low pressure system anchored in the Atlantic. A temporary pause in its activity countenanced a respite.

Swallow feeding over Unstead Sewage Farm, near Godalming.

This allowing another brief spell of dry weather to visit to Unstead Sewage Farm, near Godalming on March 29, in the company of Bob and Dougal. There we saw our first true African summer visitors of the year. These being 10 swallows feeding over the reserve.

Blackcap, Unstead Sewage Farm, near Godalming.

Also getting some slightly better pictures of one of two blackcaps now singing there.

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Responses to Birdwatcher’s Diary No.301

  1. Michael Duff Reply

    April 2, 2024 at 8:47 am

    This regular diary is wonderful and, if needed, a reminder of how blessed we are to experience such an incredible and beautiful array of birdlife in this part of the country. Our reporter deserves a medal!

  2. Roy Boxall Reply

    April 2, 2024 at 11:35 am

    Great photos. I didn’t know there was so many birds in our area.

  3. Steve Simnett Reply

    April 2, 2024 at 3:25 pm

    Well done to Malcolm Fincham and thank you for the mention…

    “Later attempts of re-finding it were proving negative, as her husband Martin Kettell, and another fellow birdwatcher ‘Weevie’ (Steve Simnett) extensively searched the surrounding areas. Eventually they found it! ”

    (Cheque is in the post. 😅)

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