Great Crested Grebe
 
 

These articles are written for the Godstone Parish magazine and reproduced here with the permission of the author, Keith Brandwood (01883 742740). If you would like to reproduce them in your magazine, it would be courteous to ask him - he would be very happy to give permission if he gets a credit. He would also probably be able to adjust the article to suit your own area as these are generally aimed for the Godstone and Bletchingley areas. 


 


August
The local group is still in lockdown with no meetings and no field trips arranged for the foreseeable future. A few RSPB Nature Reserves are beginning to re-open but with limited facilities. My local bird watching from the garden during this lockdown is now up to forty five species of birds with nothing out of the ordinary.

On a national level there have been some interesting influxes of rarer birds into the country. A number of Blyth's reed warblers have been recorded, mostly down the east coast of England, but none in southern England. This bird is normally found in Finland, north east of Europe and across Russia. Large flocks of rose-coloured starlings have been reported moving west across Europe from their normal breeding areas of Eastern Europe and central Asia, with the first birds turning up in England in late May. Look out for this bird among flocks of common starlings. They are known to come into gardens with other starlings. Most of these rose-coloured starlings are likely to be adult birds, with a pink body and a black head, wings and tail. Rose-coloured starlings very occasionally turn up in the autumn in this country, but are usually immature birds which look similar to our immature common starlings but with darker wings. There also seems to have been a large influx of common crossbills into the country, probably from Scandinavia. Some of these birds have been recorded in Surrey, locally in Warlingham and Woldingham, and further south in Sussex and Kent. Look out for these birds flying over with their clipping flight call.

By the end of July the first of our summer migrant birds will be on the way south as they move to their winter quarters. Keith Brandwood


June
LOCKDOWN 2 A month has gone by and we are still restricted in our everyday lives in many ways. My garden birdwatching has been ongoing and with the weather being unseasonally bright and warm I have spent hours on the patio with a pot of tea and a handful of biscuits. Raptors have been very visible with red kites, buzzards, sparrowhawks and kestrels seen over the fields on many occasions. Swallows, house martins and swifts have been observed moving north, and the garden has seen young blue tits, great tits, dunnocks and robins feeding in various places.

One highlight is a song thrush that is in the garden everyday, it is unusual to see a thrush in the garden during the spring and summer months in recent years. Also a jay comes into the garden each day to feed on a container containing peanuts, the bird hangs upside down like a blue tit and pulls out a peanut which it devours, should the bird drop the peanut it swoops down to take the nut before going back to the feeder. As part of my daily exercise I occasionally walk up the Bay path in Godstone, on two occasions I have seen common terns over the Bay Pond, and another time saw a pair of mandarin duck. Butterflies in good numbers are still in the garden, also large red damselflies and beautiful demoiselle damselflies are now appearing in the garden.

Once we were allowed to travel a little further I popped down to Ashdown Forest where I heard and saw a cuckoo, a rather unusual sight in this general area these days, also saw redstart, tree pipit, willow warbler and stonechat. Among other species seen on the forest were emperor dragonfly, broad-bodied chaser dragonfly and a four-spotted chaser dragonfly Keith Brandwood


May
With the local RSPB group meetings and field trips suspended until further notice, most of the nature reserves closed, and limited access to open spaces, my birdwatching year has taken a nose dive. However I am fortunate in having a reasonable sized south facing garden with a small stream at the bottom which backs onto fields up to Tilburstow Hill woods in the distance.

April and May has seen the normal species of birds coming into the feeders in the garden, and with my birdwatching sessions confined to a seat on the patio I have seen a number of more unusual sightings. A kingfisher has turned up on a couple of occasions using a perch that I had put up a few years ago over the stream, a pair of stock doves have been feeding in the garden each week since the lockdown, and a pair of mallards have taken to resting on the bank by the stream on sunny afternoons. A chiffchaff and blackcap are constantly singing from bushes just outside the garden, occasionally coming in to the garden, and swallows, house martins and swifts are seen flying over the garden.

One surprise was seeing a pair of ravens above the garden slowly moving north. I know ravens are present along the North Downs where they have attempted to nest in recent years. Over the fields behind the house birds seen included mute swan, Canada geese, Egyptian geese, red kites, sparrowhawk, kestrel,and buzzards. Roe deer have taken to regularly coming down to the first field behind the house, while fallow deer are occasionally seen on the top field by Tilburstow Hill Woods, usually in the late afternoon. A fox comes into the garden usually at night, but on one occasion popped up in the late afternoon. The sunny weather in April and May saw a number of butterflies in the garden including brimstone, small white, small tortoiseshell, peacock, red admiral, holly blue and orangetip. The only bumble bees seen so far are Buff-tailed, white-tailed, red-tailed and tree bumble bee, but no doubt as the wild flowers in the garden start to flower and the weather warms I will see more insects. As the lockdown eases and more open spaces become more open to visit, I'll be able to venture further afield. Keith Brandwood


April
With the local RSPB group meetings and field trips suspended, all nature reserves closed, and limited access to open spaces, my birdwatching year has taken a nose dive. However I am fortunate in having a reasonable sized south facing garden with a small stream at the bottom which backs onto fields up to Tilburstow Hill woods in the distance.
April has seen the normal species of birds coming into the feeders in the garden, and with my birdwatching sessions confined to a seat on the patio I have seen a number of more unusual sightings. A kingfisher has turned up on a couple of occasions using a perch that I had put up a few years ago, a pair of stock doves have been feeding in the garden each week since the lockdown, and a pair of mallards have taken to resting on the bank by the stream on sunny afternoons. A chiffchaff and blackcap are constantly singing from bushes just outside the garden, and a single swallow flew over the garden, no doubt travelling further north.
One surprise was seeing a pair of ravens above the garden slowly moving north. I know ravens are present along the North Downs where they have attempted to nest, but this is the first time that I have actually seen them in Surrey, although I have seen ravens in many other parts of the country including Sussex, the West Country, Wales and Scotland. Over the fields behind the house birds seen included mute swan, Canada geese, Egyptian geese, and buzzards.
Roe deer have taken to regularly coming down to the first field behind the house, while fallow deer are occasionally seen on the top field by Tilburstow Hill Woods usually in the late afternoon. A fox comes into the garden usually at night, but on one occasion popped up in the late afternoon. The sunny weather in April saw a number of butterflies in the garden including brimstone, small white, small tortoiseshell, peacock, red admiral and orangetip.
The only bumble bees seen so far are Buff-tailed, white-tailed and tree, but no doubt as the wild flowers in the garden start to flower and the weather warms I will see more insects. As it looks as if I shall spend the next month on my seat on the patio, hopefully I will experience some more unusual sightings. Stay safe.
Keith Brandwood


February
GULLS a group of brilliant white birds often with black or grey areas of plumage, and often misnamed - seagulls.
The British Isles has a range of interesting, many becoming increasingly rare. Black-headed gulls are our most familiar gull. This is the gull that is regularly seen on playing fields and village greens during the autumn and winter without its black head. The black head appears in early spring when the bird produces its breeding plumage, although this plumage is not actually black but chocolate brown. Black- headed gulls breed on isles, sand dunes etc usually preferring fresh water habitats. The noisy gull of the seaside, the one that even takes food from your hand, is the herring gull, a large gull with a light grey back, white head and underparts, with a bright yellow bill with a red spot. Although their numbers seem stable in seaside towns, overall their numbers are declining. They breed on coastal areas and some move inland during the winter months to reservoirs, fields and landfill sites.
Among flocks of black-headed gulls one may find a few common gulls (sometimes called mew gull). It is a smaller gentler slimmer-billed version of a herring gull with a yellowish bill and legs and breeds on islands, marshes, along rivers and inland lakes. Somewhat misnamed as it is certainly not the commonest of our gulls.
Lesser black-backed gull is about the size of a herring gull, but with a slate grey back and yellow legs, unlike the herring gull which has pink legs. Many lesser black-backed gulls migrate down to West Africa for the winter. Forty percent of the world population of these gulls breed in the British Isles, the majority at less than ten sites.
Great black-backed gull is our largest gull, like a herring gull but noticeably heftier and bigger with a black back and pinkish legs. Typically coastal during the breeding season, but will join other gulls inland during winter.
Kittiwake is a small gull with a grey back, the rest white with an unmarked yellow bill, and solid black wing tips. Breeds on cliffs and spends the winter at sea, the population is declining world-wide.
Mediterranean gull is slightly chunkier than a black-headed gull with a thicker blunter red bill, has a jet black hood, white eyelids and an all-white wings. Has become increasingly more common in the British Isles in recent years.
Glaucous and Iceland gulls are all white-winged gulls that breed in the arctic and spend the winter in small numbers in the British Isles usually in the northern areas, although both have been recorded during the winter in Surrey. Other gulls on the British list include little gull, Sabine's gull, Caspian gull and yellow-legged gull.


January
Starlings are resident birds in our country, and most never leave us. However the number of starlings almost doubles every winter with the arrival of thousands of starlings from Eastern Europe. Hard weather there forces them to migrate west in search of food. In October and November large flocks arrive along the east coast of England, most have flown across the North Sea from Belgium and the Netherlands, after travelling across Northern Europe.
Most of these starlings will continue migrating westwards until they have spread across the whole country, they join our resident birds forming huge flocks, often roosting in parks, reed beds and city centres. In spring the migrant starlings return to Eastern Europe, while our resident birds set up breeding territories at home. They nest in holes in trees and buildings, where they have four to six eggs. The young spend about twenty one days in the nest, and are then fed by their parents for a few more days before leaving to join up in late summer flocks.
One would think from these huge numbers that our starlings have got nothing to worry about. But sadly our starling numbers are declining. The UK breeding population has fallen by about fifty percent between 1972 and 1998.