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Birdwatcher’s Diary No.157

By Malcolm Fincham

As February came to a close, an icy blast from the east had well and truly hit the UK, although Surrey seemed to have suffered far less than most counties.

March 1 is the first meteorological day of spring. “Be where the ice of March”, one might say?

Snowy scene along the towpath towards Stoke Lock.

It sure didn’t feel very spring-like to me as I walked along the towpath of the River Wey in the direction of my local patch at the Riverside Nature Reserve near Burpham.

A wind chill factor of minus zero temperature was certainly freezing my fingers to the bone whenever I took them out of my pockets to take a photo.

Ice on the canal.

Parts of the waterway had started to freeze along the canal as I walked gingerly along a snow-covered towpath.

Ice and snow along the boardwalk.

The boardwalk leading to Stoke Lake wasn’t much of an improvement either, as I continued to hear the words of my wife echoing in my head of how mad I must be to go out in such weather.

Beginning to concern myself about my camera equipment and a little disappointed with some the quality of the pictures I was getting in such poor light conditions, I was beginning to think she was correct in questioning my sanity. On top of that it had started to snow again!

Shrugging off such thoughts, I carried on regardless.

Along the boardwalk, on one of its railings, a robin perched precariously in a similar, imbalanced way, I was, at times.

Common snipe flying across Stoke Lake.

Several common snipe flew up like bullets from a gun, almost impossible to photo, glimpsing their mottled brown with straw-yellow stripes on top and pale underneath as they shot out from beside the boardwalk. Flying off in a series of aerial zig-zags to confuse possible predators.

More common snipe flew up as I walked around the lake, an unusual sight to see by the lakeside, counting at least 15 on completing walking the footpath around it. They had all, no doubt, been displaced from the now, frozen scrapes in the area.

Two shoveller ducks on Stoke Lake.

It had also displaced nine shoveller ducks, as well as a few teal, neither often seen on the lake, certainly not in such numbers.

Lapwing near Stoke Lake.

Two lapwings flew around looking rather lost in the falling snow, occasionally settling on the field at the southern end of the lake.

Pair of teal on the ice at Stoke Lake.

The lake itself was also partially frozen over, and a pair of teal could be seen walking on it, on the far bank.

Lesser black-backed gulls on the ice at Stoke Lake.

Two lesser black-back gulls had joined a group of black-headed gulls, some of which were now coming into their summer plumage, out on the ice.

Redwing.

In the hedgerows a few wintering redwings could still be seen.

Long-tailed tit.

As well as long-tailed tits, their feathers puffed up to keep out the cold.

Kestrel out hunting in the snow.

Ending the day there with a picture of a kestrel, perched in a tree, eyes set in hunting mode, as snow continued to fall by the towpath.

On the morning of Saturday, March 3, I took up on the offer to visit my friend Bob’s wildlife garden in Wood Street Village. The snow that had settled in the previous few days was now starting to thaw.

It hadn’t yet let up on the wealth of wildlife that had been visiting his garden during the cold spell.

Great spotted woodpecker.

These include a great spotted woodpecker.

Ring-necked parakeets.

Ring-necked parakeets.

Green woodpecker.

And even the occasional green woodpecker.

Yellowhammers in Bob’s garden.

The main interest of my visit, apart from the ample supply of coffee, was to see the surprising amount of yellowhammers that he helps to keep alive through the winter months.

Yellowhammers, more than 20 counted some days.

They spend their summers in the fields beyond, but when food becomes scarce during the winter, numbers in excess of 20 come to his garden to seek out the ample supply of seed he puts out.

Fieldfare in Bob’s garden.

Even the odd fieldfare will venture in to feed on a slice of apple.

Red Kite chased by a common buzzard.

A bonus sighting that day, while still watching from his garden, was first to see a red kite fly by with a buzzard in close pursuit.

Red kite flies low across he field.

Within a few moments a second red kite was seen flying low across the field.

Red Kites sparring.

Ending my day’s photography session with two red kites sparring together.

Dartford warbler on Thursley Common.

On Thursley Common a few days later, it was good to see that although susceptible to cold harsh weather, it wasn’t prolonged enough to cause too much of a problem for the Dartford warblers. Some even seen perched up and displaying.

Common buzzards displaying.

Also seen displaying high overhead were three common buzzards.

Brimstone butterfly on Witley Common.

I had been taken by surprise on sighting my first red admiral butterfly of the year, as it fluttered past me, in my garden, on March 7. The following day, while walking on Witley Common, I was able to photograph and add a brimstone to my observations.

Chiffchaff.

In contrast, warmer to the previous weekend, weather from the south began to push up through the country. Across Surrey there was a definite feel of spring in the air. At the Riverside Nature Reserve on Saturday, March 10, several chiffchaffs could be heard singing.

Treecreeper.

A treecreeper was a welcome sight as it crept up a tree, looking for insects in the cracks of its bark, by the towpath.

Kingfisher.

A kingfisher had made a welcome return, having been concerned that I hadn’t seen her during the cold spell.

Reed bunting singing by the boardwalk leading to Stoke Lake.

While at least three reed buntings could be seen and heard at various points along the boardwalk.

A sudden blast of song from a Cetti’s warbler took me by surprise as it sang briefly on a couple of occasions while I was there, catching a sighting, momentarily, though too brief to photo, before, in their usual skulking way, disappeared into a thicket.

Common snipe had returned to feeding in the now thawed-out muddy areas, spotting just a few, well hidden between the tufts of long grass by the scrape.

Roe deer.

Two roe deer could be seen from the boardwalk, now parading in their velvet covered antlers.

A few of the 30 or more frogs mating and spawning by the boardwalk near Stoke Lake.

Frogs had also started to come out from hibernation with 30 or more merging together in one small area to breed and spawn.

Toad emerges from hibernation.

A few toads had also started to appear. Spring was on its way at last?

Highlights from an early spring visit to Farlington Marshes near Portsmouth on March 11 produced a few interesting sightings.

Brent geese seemed to have dwindled in number, Some now tempted to start migrating to their summer breeding grounds in Siberia. A few wildfowl, soon to migrate north, could still be seen in and around the main lagoon there.

Wigeon at Farlington.

These included wigeon.

Pintail at Farlington.

And a few of those smart looking drake pintails.

Black-tailed godwits, some now coming into summer plumage.

A few black-tailed godwits were now starting to moult from their winter colours of greyish-brown into their bright orangey-brown summer plumage.

Ringed plovers at Farlington.

A low tide allowed waders to spread themselves far and wide across the harbour to feed. Allowing just a few ringed plovers to be seen.

Dunlin at Farlington.

As well as the odd dunlin to be photographed close by.

Lapwing.

A few lapwings had now started to display over the marshes, while skylarks sang, high over the fields.

Spoonbill.

Also circling high overhead was a spoonbill.

The spoonbill lands.

Watching it intently, it descended, eventually landing in the field some distance away.

Avocet at Farlington.

Along the stream two avocets waded.

Garganey are strictly migratory, with the entire population moving to southern Africa,

The best sighting of the day, however, had to be a drake garganey, swimming alongside a pair of teal, near to the visitor hut.

Garganey are strictly migratory, with the entire population moving to southern Africa. Breeding birds arrive from March and return to Africa between July and October.

Despite the return of some cold weather this weekend (March 17-18) could summer be on its way? Watch this space….

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