Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Waterside Wander.

A mid morning stroll at Riverside Country Park on another very breezy day started with a scan across the water meadows but apart from Grey Herons, Canada and Egyptian Geese feeding in the distance there appeared to be very little other avian activity apart from a Grey Wagtail calling on the other side of the weir.

   A male Mallard emerged from the waterside vegetation and decided to swim away! 

A little further along the towpath a Cormorant rested high above the water. I then took the pathway towards the main lake and noted that a pair of Common Terns had recently returned to the raft and will hopefully breed unmolested by the Canada Geese. A Reed Warbler was perched deep within a willow, constantly emitting its rhythmic song with nearby Blackcap, Wren and Chiffchaff also calling from their hiding places.

Two families of Canada Geese had obviously been out of the water, feeding alongside the path, but the bank-side low retaining fence was a barrier to their route back onto the lake. Fortunately one of the adults realised that there was a gap (out of view in this picture) and they all eventually made it to the other side.

 A nearby Coot also watched all the antics but was obviously unimpressed.

The next part of my route took me away from the lake across the adjoining wet marsh onto the new boardwalk which was erected over the winter months by the local Council. I am told that the original estimate was £60 - £80,000 but actually the final cost was three times this figure! A number of local residents and wildlife watchers that I met questioned the validity of the eventual cost and whether it needed to be so elaborate ..... only time will tell.

It has taken just over three years for the old 'simple' boardwalk to be replaced and now includes a number of seating areas and a viewing screen overlooking a small pool within the damp wooded area. 

Whilst this hide or viewing screen has been expertly constructed with seating and murals depicting the local wildlife ... the portholes, from my point of view, are not very friendly, being far too small and provide a very restricted view. Having said this on the three occasions I have visited recently there hasn't been any wildlife to watch on the other side of this barrier!

I have mentioned this before in recent post but one certain reason for the apparent lack of avian activity is, in my opinion, down to the lack of insects due to the lower temperatures. 

My footsteps onwards across the snaking boardwalk eventually led me to the Wey Navigation Lock where I sat in front of the house watching a female Blackcap and Chaffinch imitating a flycatcher's method of catching  flies over the water surface with a few Swifts circling overhead. Below the lock and close to the water outflow I spotted a couple of juvenile Grey Wagtails patiently waiting for the parents to bring them food. They were well hidden by the leafy overhanging branches so I waited hoping that an adult might appear and eventually one stopped reasonably close by.

 Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)

As I had been out for over two hours and a visitor was expected it was time to head for home via the towpath serenaded by numerous Blackcaps singing from their hidden perches. FAB.

Thursday, 23 May 2013


A visit to another area of important lowland heath on a very windy morning today provided me with the opportunity to spend a little time with a typical inhabitant, the Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola), whose throaty, clicking alarm call 'vist trak-trak, vist ...' always  alerts me to its presence. (Click below to listen).

The males love to perch atop young pine or on the top of gorse bushes to survey their territory, to warn their partners of any predators and to sing. (Click below to listen to its song.)

They regularly move from perch to perch but never straying too far from the nesting area. Unfortunately the much drabber female only made a brief appearance above the vegetation before disappearing.

Hopefully on a less windy day a few other species will show themselves ..... FAB.

Linking to Camera Critters and I'D-Rather-B-Birdin'

Monday, 20 May 2013

Garden Delights.

After an early morning visit to the local recycling depot to dispose of numerous bags of unwanted hedge trimmings I decided to sit for a while on the low retaining wall beneath the lilac that is just coming into flower and snap whatever came within my field of view. The low growing Dicentra behind the shed is slowly loosing its colour. Over the past few days the stems of the Alliums have been getting taller and taller all around the garden and now some of the heads are just starting to pop open and will shortly reveal their spherical blooms.

Over the years, Aquilegia vulgaris 'William Guiness' has freely spread to many areas of the garden, often appearing from tiny cracks in the concrete path, but it can take anything from 2 - 5 years to achieve its ultimate height of 75cm.

A few avian visitors, Blue Tit, Magpie, Starling and House Sparrow, dropped in to check out the feeders. Others that failed to get within focus range included Goldfinch, Coal Tit, Blackbird and Robin.

One visitor that I initially failed to notice, until I stood up, was resting only two feet away .... a female Orange Tip with its very distinctive under-wing pattern.

Despite stroking her wing very gently with my finger she wouldn't move from her perch.   FAB.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Friendly Deer.

During a mid-day visit to Bushy Park there were a number of Fallow Deer very close to the pond who were showing particular interest in any person who might have food for them (despite signs that remind the public NOT to feed them).

This provided me with a brief opportunity to get a few images showing the beginnings of their new antler growth.  FAB.


Despite the lack of wind today and some welcome intermittent sunshine there didn't appear to be many butterflies on the wing. I did however manage to find a Brimstone (Genepteryx rhamni) which in the spring prefers yellow flowers and then in the autumn switches its allegiance to purple flowers.

This is a very long-lived butterfly that is one of the first species to appear after winter hibernation and some individuals live until July, often overlapping the next generation .  FAB.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Goslings at Feeding Time.

During a very brief visit to my local patch yesterday (Epsom Common Pond) the first batch of six young Goslings were out of the water feeding under the watchful eyes of their parents.


I always enjoy getting down to their level and never fail to be enthralled by how close the parents will allow me to approach without being warned off.

Time to find a juicy piece of salad for lunch.
 The look tells all .... this is my dinner and it's not for sharing!  FAB.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Green Hairstreak.

During my very recent wander around Thursley Common I came across a couple of tiny green 'flutters' dancing around the fringes of a young Birch sapling in the middle of one of the sandy tracks. My first thought was to carry on walking as they obviously weren't in the mood to settle BUT then I thought well it might pay to just wait and see ....
.... and eventually one decided to take a rest. From memory this is probably the closest view I have had of a Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi)

This is the only British species that is truly green in colour and although it is the commonest of the hairstreaks, when at rest it is often so well camouflaged against the green foliage that many go unnoticed. The male and female are very similar and very difficult to tell apart as the brown upper-sides of their wings (the male has a pale sex brand on each forewing) are rarely seen as this butterfly always immediately settles with its wings closed. On this individual the row of white spots, known as 'hairstreaks' on the under-wing is somewhat reduced and can be completely absent. 

I am guessing that this individual was a male, guarding his territory, and very occasionally darting away to chase off another male before returning to his favorite perch.  All images were taken with my pocket Canon Powershot. FAB.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Sights and sounds on Thursley Common.

Yesterday I made a return visit to one of my favorite heathland locations, Thursley Common. It is one of the largest remaining fragments of Surrey heath and includes areas of lowland heath, mire and woodland. The site supports a range of typical heathland wildlife including large invertebrate populations. The reserve's mixture of mire and wet heath is one of the finest examples of its type in southern England. The views above were taken in mid February and show the open and somewhat bleak nature of this very important habitat.

Last year the boardwalk which winds out across one of the many wetter areas towards Pine Island was replaced  and provides an excellent place to scan around for some of the resident and migrant wildlife.

While focusing on a male Stonechat (back-lit by the strong sunshine) perched atop a young pine tree I heard the very distinctive calls of a Curlew and just managed a couple of hurried shots as one individual flew low across the heath and disappeared amongst the heathers and grasses. I eventually logged 4 individuals feeding and calling to one another. Scanning overhead produced views of at least 5 Hobby hawking insects very high over the common for about 15 minutes before they also disappeared northwards.

Curlews were very regular winter visitors in the 19th century with breeding first recorded at Chobham Common in 1893 and the number of breeding pairs peaked at 12 - 14 pairs at various Surrey sites in the 1940's. As far as I am aware, Thursley/Ockley Commons is now the only location within Surrey where at least one pair has attempted to breed since 1970. They usually arrive in mid February and depart during July.

This wide open landscape is dominated by plants such as Heathers, Gorse and heathland grasses and punctuated by scattered trees such as Silver Birch and Pines. In July 2006 around 60% of the habitat was destroyed by fire but slowly nature is returning although sightings of Dartford Warbler which were previously relatively easy to locate are now very scare and I didn't hear or see one during this walk. Apart from some habitat loss, the recent cold, wet winters have obviously had a dramatic effect on this species but hopefully their numbers will increase so we can all enjoy this charismatic little bird.

On sunny days the wide open sandy tracks are a good spot to locate butterflies soaking up the warmth. While I saw Brimstone, Peacock and Green Hairstreak (images saved for another post) the only species that stopped for a photo-call was this Speckled Wood.

Bird sightings during my walk were not particularly numerous but included several Common Buzzard, including one perched on the remains of a Birch tree, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Woodlark, Meadow Pipit, Tree Pipit, Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker, a couple of male Redstarts, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Willow Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Crow, Jay, Grey Heron, Greylag Geese, Mallard, Tufted Duck and a male Cuckoo. 
 Another Stonechat.

And finally my four hour stroll ended back at the boardwalk were I noticed my first 'dragons and damsels' .. a number of Large Red Damselflies and one recently emerged Four-spotted Chaser but never close enough to capture an image. Never fear I will be back over the coming months.  FAB.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

A Restful Day.

On Sunday I was up with the Lark ... actually it was 3am and the Lark was still sleeping ... and headed over to Bookham Common for a Dawn Chorus walk at 4.30am with a few like-minded birders from the Surrey Bird Club. I arrived well before the start time so I spent a very enjoyable half hour with a crescent moon lighting a very dark sky and listened to at least three Nightingales singing their hearts out while a couple of Tawny Owls provided some background sounds.
During the first 30-45 minutes of the Dawn Chorus it was difficult (even for a reasonably trained ear) to distinguish the individual songsters but throughout the following two hours I heard 5 separate Nightingales, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Cuckoo, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Dunnock, Blue Tit, Great Tit and Common Whitethroat just to name a few. Unfortunately I failed to hear a Lesser Whitethroat and there was no indication of any Willow Warblers on the common. One thing I did notice is that once it was light and throughout the rest of the morning there was a distinct lack of bird activity (very few flying or feeding) and I put this down to the obvious lack of insects. I finally logged about 33 species, including the unexpected flyover of a Red Kite.

So on Monday I decided to have a restful day in the garden; well that was until I realised that part of the retaining wall behind the shed needed rebuilding! A fern had outgrown its allotted space and had lifted the coping stone so after removing the offending plant I reconstructed the wall and then it was time for an 'al-fresco' light snack and enjoy some of the spring colour in the garden.

 Euphorbia, Tulip, Cammasia, Narcissus and Muscari.

Symphytum (Comfrey), Dicentra, Bergenia, Euphorbia and Anemone.

Erythronium 'Pagoda'.

 A number of visits from butterflies including this Comma plus several Holly Blues ....

.... and a very fresh Speckled Wood who decided to stop for a rest.    FAB.


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