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Birdwatcher’s Diary No.37

Published on: 2 Jun, 2013
Updated on: 2 Jun, 2013

By Malcolm Fincham

On Thursday, May 23, I squeezed in a short  afternoon visit to Thursley Common. Most of my time was spent avoiding heavy showers and my visit was cut short by the sight of distant storm clouds heading my way.

Curlew at Thursley Common.

Curlew at Thursley Common.

But I was grateful to find just enough time to get a few better pictures of the hobby and curlew I wrote about in my previous report, before just making it back to my car as the hail stones fell.

Hobby pictured at Thursley.

Hobby pictured at Thursley.

Broard- bodied chaser (female).

Broard- bodied chaser (female).

I was also pleased also to capture a few pictures of a female broad-bodied darter dragonfly, one of many that seemed to have emerged that day – and a fine food source for the hobby.

On Friday, May 24, despite the deterioration of the weather I took up  on a prearranged trip to Pulborough Brooks RSPB reserve in West Sussex, with a long time friend and  birdwatching enthusiast Mark. With the forecast of daytime temperatures not even making double figures, my optimism of seeing any wildlife was at an unusual low. And with rain falling as we drove there, my regrets of getting up at such an early hour where high. My main concern was whether my camera equipment would survive the day if the rain continued to fall. Fortunately on arrival (and for most of our visit) the rain eased up.

Bluebells still in flower in the woodland area at Pulborough Brooks.

Bluebells still in flower in the woodland area at Pulborough Brooks.

Although surprisingly few birds were in song for the time of year, there was still a few pleasing sights. A short walk through the woodland area outside the reserve revealed a late but picturesque display of bluebells. While out in a meadow on the reserve a green woodpecker took advantage of the rain, feeding in the soft soil for grubs and worms.

Two lapwings at Pulborough Brooks. I'll leave you to think of a 'Have I Got News For You-style caption!

Two lapwings at Pulborough Brooks. I’ll leave you to think of a ‘Have I Got News For You-style caption!

Apart from the  usual sight at this time of the year of lapwings displaying over (and on) the lagoons, it was still unusually empty of hirundines.

Nightingale singing its heart out.

Nightingale singing its heart out.

Our best sighting and pictures of the day were most certainly that of a nightingale sitting in a young oak singing its heart out just a few feet away from where we were standing.

Hawthorne, also known as Mayflower, now in blossom.

Hawthorn, also known as Mayflower, now in blossom.

The bank holiday weekend brought along with it some welcomed sunny weather, and with the hawthorn now in blossom (a good two weeks later than I reported last year)  more good sightings and indeed some more rather pleasing pictures were had,

A male reed bunting continues  to call at The Riverside nature reserve.

A male reed bunting continues to call at The Riverside nature reserve.

On Saturday, May 25, one of several male reed buntings on the Riverside Reserve by Stoke Lake continued to constantly call, unperturbed by passers by as it sat in a sallow, just a few feet away from the new boardwalk.

Common tern at Stoke Lake off to catch a fish for his wife.

Common tern at Stoke Lake off to catch a fish for his wife.

At the lake I got a few nice shots of the common terns, a regular fixture to be seen from the lakeside, as well a one of a number of grey herons that are regularly seen in the area. This one flew overhead.

Grey heron at Stoke Lake.

Grey heron at Stoke Lake.

Looking through my binoculars out into the direction of the island  I was convinced I could see movement at the great crested grebe nest – that of several young chicks. This I was to able to confirm to my delight the following day.

A red kite high over Slyfield Industrial Estate.

A red kite high over Slyfield Industrial Estate.

And on my journey back via the towpath, I caught another distant view of a red kite as it was being mobbed by a crow high above the Slyfield Industrial Estate.

Sunday, May 26, was probably one of my best days of collected sightings and pictures that I’ve had for a long while. It started with a late morning trip back to Stoke Lake to recheck the the great crested grebe nest. To my delight I found it was a case of being in the right place at the right time.

Both adult great crested grebes keep a close eye on their humbug coloured chicks.

Both adult great crested grebes keep a close eye on their humbug-coloured chicks.

I could clearly see young chicks and as I watched I could see both parents with their young on their backs making movement away from the nest site towards the far bank.

Great crested grebe takes her chicks on a maiden voyage.

Great crested grebe takes her chicks on a maiden voyage.

Seeing that they didn’t appear too bothered by a dog walker passing by them, I decided to chance my luck of walking round to get some closer pictures. As you can see it was well worth the effort .

A lovely sight on the water.

A lovely sight on the water.

And another charming picture.

And another charming picture.

It was fascinating to get close to them, and amusing to watch as the adult lifted itself up, opened its wings, and for me to then watch the little ‘humbug-like’ chicks slide off into the water. They then had a short swim before taking it in turn to climb back on board.

The parents took them the whole length of the lake before later returning with them back to their nest site.

Back home and while checking the photos I’d taken and reminiscing on some of sightings the phone rang. It was Dougal,  a local top birdwatcher. He told me that a red-backed shrike had just been reported in a hedgerow on Pewley Down.

Female red-backed shrike on Pewley Down.

Female red-backed shrike on Pewley Down.

This bird is rarely seen, especially in the Surrey area. Once a regular breeding bird in the UK, they are now only ‘on passage migrant’ these days.

Unlike some birdwatchers who are willing to travel the length of the UK on a ‘twitch’ like this to see a rarity, I’m just that bit too lazy – and can’t justify the expense.

However, being so close and grateful for the tip-off and feeling it duty to get a picture for this website, I decided  to check it out. I wasn’t left disappointed. Although keeping a good distance, along with a group of enthusiasts, and not wishing to foolishly spook it away and spoil the sighting of it, I was able to get some reasonable pictures.

Cuckoo calling in the late evening sun on Whitmoor Common.

Cuckoo calling in the late evening sun on Whitmoor Common.

To put the icing on the cake, so to speak, of what had already been great day, I decided to do a short visit to Whitmoor Common while the late evening sun continued to shine. Here I finally got some good views and reasonable photos of the cuckoo that had eluded me so far this year.

Although he was very mobile at first ,which involved a lot of patience and cycling on my behalf , he finally settled down long enough for me to get a few shots of what I consider to be a most unusual looking bird.

A hobby feeding on dragonflies while on the wing.

A hobby feeding on dragonflies while on the wing.

On bank holiday Monday, to complete a great weekend of birdwatching, and while walking the towpath between Bowers Lock and Trigg’s Lock bordering Sutton Place, I was pleased to see three hobbies feeding on dragonfly just beyond the River Wey Navigation, to the rear of Send church.

A hobby catches a dragonfly.

A hobby catches a dragonfly.

To me as always it was a spectacular sight to watch such an agile performance as they effortlessly glided like giant swifts  catching dragonflies in their talons and feeding on them while still in flight.

A mayfly – this one in my front room!

A mayfly – this one in my front room!

Also that day Mayfly were at long last starting to emerge from the river. These are a great food supply not only to riverside birds such as grey wagtails, many of whom are still feeding their young, but also to many other critters including dragonfly and damsels, such as the banded demoisel also now starting to appear along the riverbank.

Being totally obsessed with the world of nature and spending as much time out in it as I can, especially when daylight hours at this time of the year are so much longer, it can be quite exhausting. However, when finally getting to writing up these reports, I realise how rewarding it has been!

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