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Birdwatcher’s Diary No.150

By Malcolm Fincham

As winter’s shadowy fingers began to caress the Surrey hillsides, brushing more leaves from its ‘broad leaves’, our overwintering birds began to struggle to escape my camera lens.

Our native oak trees still held fast, refusing to let go of foliage, although a few frosts toward the end of November were noticeably making them lose their stubborn grip.

Firecrest. Click on pictures to enlarge.

My first notable sighting and pictures were found among some holly trees on the outskirts of Guildford. And one of my many favourites too! A firecrest.

A goldcrest shown for comparison. With the firecrest, the goldcrest is the UK’s smallest bird.

Often overlooked, or mistaken for the more common and similar sized goldcrest.

Firecrest, showing white supercilium (the region of the eyebrows).

The firecrest was flitting back and forth in constant motion looking for insects, but giving itself away by its call. I eventually got some pictures showing its striking white supercilium.

Redwing in a cherry tree.

Before winter had the opportunity to undress the leaves from the cherry tree I had been watching in my previous report, the redwings had already made short work stripping it of its berries.

Whooper swan.

On November 19, I got a call from my friend Dougal. Having overlooked his “pager” earlier that morning, he realised 10 whooper swans had come to visit Staines Reservoir.

Although seen in Britain from November to March, it was quite a rarity for some to turn up on the Surrey borders. Unfortunately, by the time we had got there, these welcomed and rare visitors had flown.

Mute swan in flight.

Unlike our resident mute swans, most of our whooper swans nest in Iceland and winter in northern Britain and East Anglia.

Whooper swans can be distinguished from Bewick swans by their larger size, and from our resident mute swans by their yellow bill colour.

Whooper swans have a deep honking call. Their name actually comes from the loud whooping sound they make. Despite their size, they are powerful fliers. Whooper swans can migrate thousands of miles to their wintering sites often flying in large ‘V’ formations and can fly at altitudes of 8,000 ft.

We also narrowly missed out on what had been reported as a shore lark that had been seen there earlier that day.

Staines Reservoir as the sun sets.

Although never top of my most scenic locations to visit, the vast expanse of water there is quite an attraction for both, birdwatchers and birds.

A few of the wintering wildfowl a Staines Reservoir.

At this time of year holding plenty of wintering wildfowl.

Black-necked grebe at Staines Reservoir.

Most of which are too distant to get reasonable photographs, although a consolation that day was a black-necked grebe.

Lapwings on a raft at Staines Reservoir.

A group of lapwings on the raft.

Water pipit at Staines Reservoir.

And even a winter visiting water pipit.

Little egret. Or is it a plastic bag?

Something worth looking out for around the Surrey countryside at this time of the year are little egrets, especially in areas near water. From a distance, looking a bit like white plastic bags hanging in trees, now bare of their leaves,

Little egret for sure.

And now that plastic bags are not freely available in supermarkets and not littering the landscape so much, there’s a good chance of one being a little egret.

A rather cold blast of northerly air made a return as November came to a close. Saturday the 25th gave me a chance to make an afternoon dash and a return visit to Staines Reservoir before the sun set. This time with Bob to see the shore lark that I missed out on the previous week.

It had by now been upgraded and re-identified as a horned lark, a North American subspecies. Although too distant to photograph, we successfully picked it out on the western bank of the north basin.

Stoke Lake, part of the Stoke Nature Reserve, near Burpham.

The following day the weak winter sun continued to shine as we took a stroll around Stoke Nature Reserve.

Teal on the flooded scrape.

From near Stoke Lock, looking across the flooded scrape, we watched a raft of teal as they glistened on the water in the afternoon light.

Black-headed gull circling over the River Wey by Stoke Lock.

A black-headed gull flew around over the river by the lock gates.

Stonechat by the boardwalk at Stoke Lake.

A productive afternoon of sightings and photos included two stonechats that had made the area surrounding the boardwalk their winter home.

A previously taken picture of a Cetti’s warbler.

We briefly heard the Cetti’s warbler that had been reported there on several occasions in the previous weeks. Captured and ringed by Steve, who is local and licensed and trained within the Surrey Bird Club for such a fine art.

Red kite over the recycling depot.

Looking above the trees in the direction of the recycling depot a red kite circled.

Common buzzard pursued by a crow flies low over the boardwalk at Stoke Lake.

Soon after and closer to view, were two common buzzards, flying low, just over the sallows at the far end of the boardwalk. One of which was closely pursued by a crow.

Treecreeper.

A treecreeper worked its way way up the tightly knitted, clumps of trees, systematically flying back down to the base of the next, looking for insects in the cracks of bark.

Grey wagtail by the River Wey.

Walking the distance to Bowers Lock, we reconnected with the towpath. By the weir a pair of grey wagtails could be seen feeding.

Long-tailed tit at Stoke Lake.

Good numbers of long-tailed tits could be seen and heard along the way.

Barn owl at Bowers Lock.

While near to Bowers Lock the barn owl could be picked out roosting in a tree across the field.

Fieldfare viewed from the boardwalk at Stoke Lake.

Returning along the boardwalk as the sun began to fade, a fieldfare flew down into the sallows by the pond. Preening itself as I watched, as it appeared to be settling in for the night.

Other birds of note, and seen regularly during the last weeks of the month included jays, still actively collecting and hiding acorns.

“Bad boy” jay raiding a feeding station.

Being members of the intelligent corvid family, I wasn’t too surprised to see one “bad boy” individual that had “bucked” the trend and was feeding on the ground, from someone’s garden feeder that it had cleverly unhooked with its beak.

Siskin, a winter visitor.

Siskins that are seen locally tend to spend much of their time feeding on seeds in tall alder trees. I was fortunate on a few occasions to capture a few sightings of several at eye level.

Mistle thrush.

Mistle thrushes had become a regular sighting for me, especially in more rural locations around Guildford.

A distant view of a kingfisher.

Although quite distant to view, I did also manage to get a few kingfishers as the month came to a close.

Four roe deer together on Chinthurst Hill near Wonersh.

On Chinthurst Hill I also had the fortune to spot four roe deer together.

Common buzzard on Chinthurst Hill.

A common buzzard, perched up and preened itself in an oak tree.

Red kite over Chinthurst Hill.

And shortly after, a red kite flew low just over the tree line.

Adding to the large influx of hawfinches I wrote about in the previous report, was an irruption of another species. A large flock of parrot crossbills had arrived in Norfolk. Closer to home some had also been visiting Wishmoor Bottom on the Surrey/Berkshire borders.

Parrot crossbills at Wishmoor Bottom.

Although disappointed I couldn’t make a trip there, due to work commitments, I was pleased for my friends Bob and Dougal (although a little gripped off myself, and that being a birdwatcher’s term). They visited the area on Monday, November 27, later sending me a few of the pictures they had taken.

Philosophical and optimistic by my own nature, I’m sure my chance will come before this winter is out.

[Editor: your 150th report – a ton and a half not out! Well done, superb regular reporting and photography. We know our readers appreciate your reports. Long may they continue!]

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7 Responses to Birdwatcher’s Diary No.150

  1. Martin Whitley Reply

    December 5, 2017 at 4:56 pm

    Congratulations to Malcolm Fincham on achieving 150 great reports showing us the bird life that is here on our doorstep.

  2. Malcolm Fincham Reply

    December 6, 2017 at 9:02 pm

    I would like to thank Martin Whitley, as well as all the readers that have taken time to make earlier comments, following me along my wildlife ventures.

    Such feedback certainly continues to inspire me for the foreseeable future.

  3. Andrew Wilks Reply

    December 6, 2017 at 10:05 pm

    Congratulations! Well-done to Malcolm for his 150th Diary entry. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading every single one. I certainly hope the Dragon are paying you well for these excellent entries.

  4. Harry Eve Reply

    December 7, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    Congratulations Malcolm. You seem to be able to charm the birds out of the trees. Looking forward to many more great photos.

  5. Belinda Barratt Reply

    December 10, 2017 at 10:10 pm

    Thank you for these fabulous photos and really interesting reports. So inspiring!

  6. Simon Pott Reply

    December 12, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    Great read Malcolm. They are certainly more exciting than your brother’s soccer stadium blogs.

  7. Mike Beer Reply

    December 16, 2017 at 1:30 pm

    Thanks for the great reports.

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