Fringe Box



Birdwatcher’s Diary No.152

By Malcolm Fincham

As the days led up to Christmas the weather turned mild throughout the southern regions of the UK. Unfortunate for my liking, in the countryside around Surrey, the days were mostly overcast and damp.


A rare day of sunshine, however, around the middle of the month did allow me a few distant photos of another kingfisher while on my “travels” around Guildford.

On December 17, Dougal and I made a brief visit to Staines reservoir before the morning drizzle turned to an afternoon of heavy rain.

A bufflehead duck had made an appearance there. Although fully aware of earlier reports that morning that a silver ring had been spotted on its right leg and probably less than a one in 60 chance of being a true winter visitor.

It was more likely to have escaped from a private collection.

Bufflehead st Staines Reservoir.

Scanning through the drizzle from the causeway, eventually we managed to pick it out among the rafts of ducks out on the water.

I even surprised myself in getting a few photos under such poor weather conditions.

Bufflehead st Staines Reservoir.

The bufflehead is a small American sea duck of the genus Bucephala, the goldeneyes.

It breeds on ponds and small lakes in Canada and Alaska, then winters in much of the United States.

Bufflehead’s breeding habitat is wooded lakes and ponds in Alaska and Canada.

Later that day it was spotted flying north and last reported seen at Otmoor RSPB reserve.

A moment of sunshine captured in the days leading up to Christmas.

Inspite of the overcast days, a few opportunist pictures of avian friends still came my way and even brief moments of sunshine too.

Mistle thrush.

Although not seeing anything out of the ordinary on my travels around the Surrey countryside, mistle thrushes remained high on my list of observations, often seen in pairs.

Song thrush.

Surprisingly, song thrushes were among a number of birds that seem to have re-found their voices as the mild spell of weather continued.


And the festive season wouldn’t be the same without those robins joining in the chorus.

Redwing eyeing up the ivy berries.

Redwings continued to roam the hedgerows, some now seen feeding on ivy berries.


While fieldfares were seen daily, often in small groups.


Garden lawns, soft underfoot, allowed those mischievous jays to continue burying their acorns.

A previous picture of a little egret.

Although not able to stop to take a photo, on four consecutive days I spotted a little egret on the main football pitch at Shalford Park, playing on the left wing most occasions! However, I did see it in the penalty area on one occasion, playing a more central role and looking as sleek and nimble as I did in my days playing there. [Ed: In the early 1980s Malcolm was the goal-scoring machine of Grange Park FC, who played in the Guildford & District League].

Grey heron.

Grey herons could regularly be seen feeding near ponds and lake-sides.

On one village pond I watched a dabchick (little grebe) catch a fish. Surprised and intrigued by the size of its prey, as I compared it with the size of the dabchicks body I took a few photos as I watched.

Dabchick with fish.

Astonishingly, after a long protracted struggle, the fish was eventually swallowed whole.

A brief visit to Puttenham on Christmas Eve allowed me the chance to check-out whether I could spot any goosanders wintering there.

I recalled having seen as many as 16 on the Tarn pond back in 2013. The Tarn pond is more commonly called Cutt Mill, set amid woodland on the edge of the scenic Puttenham Common.

Goosanders. These ducks are members of the saw bill family due to their long serrated bills used for catching fish.

On this occasion I managed to locate eight of them at Cutt Mill pond, just on the other side of Suffield Lane, that separates the two lakes.

Goosanders are members of the saw bill family, due to their long serrated bills used for catching fish. They breed in more northerly parts of the UK, but can occasionally be seen wintering locally.

Mandarin ducks.

Also on the pond were several mandarin ducks.

Shoveller on Cutt Mill pond.

And even a few wintering shovellers.

Common buzzard.

Common buzzards didn’t fail to escape my attention in the weeks leading up to the festive period. Although mostly perched on posts, one particular bird caught my eye at close quarters as I passed a wooded area.

Common buzzard takes flight.

Unusually, it hadn’t spied me first. It wasn’t until it heard the clicks from my camera that it lazily decided to take flight a little deeper into the woodland.

Suffering a dose of some kind of a flu virus was a rare occurrence for me, especially over the Christmas period. It coincided with a cold spell of weather bringing snow to many parts of the UK, though mostly rain and sleet to the Guildford area, on December 27.

My wife had certainly taken charge of “operations”. While, still desperate to see what wildlife I might be missing as I recovered from my illness, she was keen to say: “See, just as well you didn’t go out today, you would have come back with pneumonia!”. Foolishly I couldn’t resist replying, with tongue in cheek: “Looks like I’m better off at home with the ‘Old Moanier’ then!”

Joking apart, I felt maybe it was nature’s way of telling me to start winding down to what has been another wonderful year of wildlife watching.

And reflect with much gratitude to all, (especially good friends, Dougal and Bob) and also my readers, who have helped me to surpass my aim of seeing over 200 species of birds once again this year. Most of which I managed to photograph.

Swallowtail butterfly takes a liking to the sweet Williams in the ‘doctors’ garden’ in Norfolk.

I also had the fortune to see over 40 species of butterflies, most of which I had seen within Surrey. But also of course not forgetting those beautiful swallowtails I photographed back in June, in Norfolk.

It also allowed me to browse through some of the pictures I took and reminisce over so many of those occasions earlier in the year when I felt most at one with nature.

Nightjar on Whitmoor Common.

Pictures of the nightjar I took on Whitmoor Common reminded me of those warm evenings back in July.

Cuckoo in flight at Thursley..

While ones of the confiding cuckoo on Thursley Common set me in hope and wonder of whether he and the many other summer visitors had made a safe passage back to Africa.

And most importantly, that they will make their pilgrimage back, safe and well to once again enlighten our hearts.

“Remember then, that summer birds with wings of fire flaying. Come to witness spring’s new hope, born of leaves decaying.”

A happy new year to all readers of The Guildford Dragon NEWS.

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