Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Above the trees

It wasn’t fun sitting in the office on Thursday and Friday last week. The first warm, spring-like days of the year – the best days of the year – were upon us and whether it was news of the first hirundines in the west of Britain or friends having butterflies on the wing locally, it was a painful grip-fest. However, as is rarely the case, the weekend managed to deliver weather-wise and indeed Sunday was probably the most enjoyable patch session I’ve had since September.

A view from Broomy Down, 17/2/2019.

Saturday, unfortunately, was a foggy write-off and the day was very quiet, aside from three Pochard on Mill Pond and a flyover Hawfinch at Gatestreet Farm. After the 2017/18 influx, the latter species occurred slightly more than normal last autumn. So, if the pattern continues on this minor scale then I expect one or two more during March.

In contrast, Sunday was gloriously sunny, though a fairly hefty southwest breeze meant it wasn’t as warm as midweek, and woodpecker action as minimal. I took up position on Broomy Down at 9.30 and was perfectly content for a few hours. It wasn’t heaving with action, but by midday the local raptors were up above the trees en masse and I managed six species, with wonderful views of each. Two Peregrines were notable not just as a year tick for myself, but also as the first time more than one individual has been recorded here. To top it off, a Red Admiral flew by – my first butterfly of the year. It definitely felt like spring.

Pheasant, Broomy Down, 17/2/2019.

Peregrine, Junction Field, 17/2/2019.

A quick recce of Winkworth yesterday morning was decidedly gloomier, though a Brambling flew over, three Marsh Tits were singing and a couple of Chiffchaffs were notable. At Unstead on Sunday a further nod to spring came courtesy of my first singing chiff of the year. The Green Sandpiper was also in situ on the Dry Lagoon. The forecast for this week suggests more of the same and indeed Saturday looks – at the moment at least – really nice. Fingers crossed.

Monday, 11 February 2019

From Iceland with love?

It was back into patch action proper over the past few days, though the usual difficult adjustment from bird-rich holidaying to bird-free local graft wasn’t the case, with three year ticks and two potentially interesting records rounding off a decent weekend. As well as this, with the shooting season over, I was allowed back on Broomy Down; there are few places I prefer to be than there.

Fieldfare, Bonhurst Farm, 10/2/2019.

I have long wanted to discover an Icelandic Redwing (coburni) on patch. With much overlap between coburni and iliacus in-field separation is impossible, and it can even prove the case in the hand too. As a result, Icelandic records are few and far between away from the west of the country and Scotland (they winter in Ireland and west Scotland down to northern Spain). Elsewhere they are treated as rare and in Birds of Surrey (2007) only two records are mentioned. That said, coburni is considered rare but regular in The Netherlands and parts of Germany.

Anyway, long story short, while sifting through a flock of a couple of hundred thrushes at Bonhurst Farm on Sunday, one Redwing really caught my eye and field notes combined with photos confirmed a few things: a darker bird with mud-brown upperparts, heavy streaking on non-chrome white underparts, a fairly hefty bill, darker malar stripe/brown feathering and solid dark brown ear coverts. So, a few Icelandic Redwing features there for sure – annoyingly the bird was part of a seriously jumpy flock and photos difficult to obtain. Any comments are appreciated.

Icelandic Redwing candidate, Bonhurst Farm, 10/2/2019.

I was writing off Sunday as a birding day and beginning to look forward to the pub and Manchester City – Chelsea when I got a message from City fan Rich S about the Pink-footed Goose at Burpham Court Farm. I hadn’t planned on going for it by this point but the realisation it was 15 minutes from home and very straightforward viewing extinguished my laziness. I saw the bird, hanging about with Greylags. Regardless of origin it’s another smart find by Steve C who is on a great roll at Stoke – in the last few months he’s unearthed Caspian Gull, Shag and Siberian Chiffchaff too.

Single grey geese should definitely be questioned in these parts and past form (Brockham 2015, Cobham 2010) dictates that this bird won’t get accepted as wild (Pink-footed Goose is a county mega). Arriving on the back of relentless westerlies doesn’t help and one must remember Surrey has one of highest numbers of private waterfowl collections in Britain. Should the bird stick about for a few months the answer is clear.

Pink-footed Goose, Burpham Court Farm, 10/2/2019 (D Carlsson).

However, there is absolutely a case to be made for this bird being wild. Pinkfeet have enjoyed a massive population increase over the past decade or so and extralimital records (for what’s traditionally a very localised species) are occurring more and more often. This winter Cornwall, Hampshire and Sussex have enjoyed multiple records, and it’s been a great few months for Pinkfeet in Kent (at least seven sites hosting birds). So, why not? Only a week before its discovery a bitterly cold spell gripped the UK and winter swans, interesting ducks and grey geese are usually what you’d associated with such weather … basically, it’s a very tough call!

Yellowhammer, Broomy Down, 9/2/2019.

Anyway, it’s unlikely firm answers on these two potentially Icelandic visitors will be established. In other patch news, a truly uplifting count of at least 30 Yellowhammers on Broomy Down on Saturday was both a surprise and a modern-day record for here. Credit must go to the Wintershall gamekeepers for allowing much of this area to go fallow over winter, with crucial cover crops supporting the birds. Hopefully we can get ringing some of them soon. Less heartwarming was a flyover Ring-necked Parakeet. Still very rare here (and in this part of Surrey), it’s the first known first-half of the year record.

Pochard, Mill Pond, 10/2/2019.

Aside from the thrushes, Sunday was fairly quiet though a day when Pochard are on Mill Pond is always a good one. Four to be precise, and surely the same three drakes and female that Abel found at the back end of last month. Following Storm Eric gulls were prominent all weekend and a Great Black-backed on Sunday was a second of the year, after three Lesser Black-backed on Saturday. Other bits included the continued presence of Crossbills (a pair and flock of 11) and the Bramley Park Lake Firecrest, which Shaun F got some nice shots of. Shaun also photographed a Buzzard that was ringed by Jeremy just outside the patch, near Munstead, in June 2016.

Friday, 8 February 2019

South Florida: day one and two

While much of the UK was snowed under last week I was in southern Florida, in somewhat warmer climes. I’ve been to the US before (including Florida) but never properly birded, so we took advantage of some pretty cheap flights and headed over for a week from 26 January. The plan was to visit the southern Everglades before touring around the southern half of the state, chasing a few target species and booking accommodation wherever said route took us. 

Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Castellow Hammock, 27/1/2019.

The trip was a real success with 152 different species recorded. Highlights included great views of the all the specialities (including, most pleasingly, Mangrove Cuckoo), an encounter with two Bobcats and finding a Florida rarity in Tropical Kingbird. I’ll do a formal Cloudbirders trip report at some stage but over the next few weeks and months I’ll do a few blog posts on the trip, in chronological order, mainly to make a home for some of the thousands of photos taken.

Day 1 and 2: Southern Everglades and Homestead

We landed at Fort Lauderdale at about 1 pm local time, eventually on the road south to Homestead a couple of hours later. At the airport, Collared Dove, Feral Rock Dove and House Sparrow made for an inauspicious first three species of the trip … however, we were soon on the Florida Turnpike and birds that’d become common daily sightings were soon noted from the car: American White Ibis, Black and Turkey Vultures, Boat-tailed Grackle, Great Blue and Tricoloured Heron, Loggerhead Shrike, Mourning Dove, Osprey, Red-shouldered Hawk and so on …

Black Vulture, Paurotis Pond, 27/1/2019.

Dark and white morph Great Blue Herons, Mrazek Pond, 27/1/2019.

With a bit of light to play with we stopped at Black Point Park for our first birding of the trip. Hundreds of Laughing Gulls were heading to roost, with Brown Pelicans prominent in the quay. The best bird here, however, was a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron – a species I was keen to see. This actually turned out to be the only good view we got all trip, with the other record a flushed roadside bird on Sanibel Island.

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Black Point Park, 26/1/2019.

Despite the only poor weather of the trip the following morning, a first visit to the southern Everglades was incredible. Driving in before dawn, Great Egrets and Wood Storks were prominent along the road verge. The first stop was Royal Palm, home to the famous Anhinga Trail. This opening dawn walk in the Everglades will stick with me a long time and this post (which will be too long anyway) can’t possibly include all the species we saw.

Anhingas, Anhinga Trail, 27/1/2019.

Yellow-throated Warbler, Anhinga Trail, 27/1/2019.

Purple Gallinule, Anhinga Trail, 27/1/2019.

Highlights here included ridiculously showy Anhingas, Belted Kingfisher, Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Pheobe, Green Herons, Purple Gallinules and Orange-crowned, Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers. Both Pileated (impressive beasts) and Red-bellied Woodpeckers were noted too. A particular favourite of mine was Great Crested Flycatcher. Eye-catchingly coloured and quite unlike anything in the Palearctic, I enjoyed watching these quietly zip from tree to tree.

Palm Warbler, Anhinga Trail, 27/1/2019.

Green Heron, Anhinga Trail, 27/1/2019.

American Alligator, Anhinga Trail, 27/1/2019.

Common Yellowthroat, Anhinga Trail, 27/1/2019.

A Northern Cardinal welcomed us onto the Gumbo Limbo Trail which – quite possibly – was my favourite walk of the trip (we visited several more times). This mainly West Indian tree hammock was heaving with warblers and other insect-eaters, and upon return visits I picked up some nice birds. Today, though, Black-and-white Warbler, Northern Waterthrush and White-eyed Vireo stole the show.

Grey Catbird, Anhinga Trail, 27/1/2019.
Turkey Vulture, Paurotis Pond, 27/1/2019.

Northern Cardinal, Snake Bight Trail, 27/1/2019.

We tore ourselves away, driving through a diverse landscape that included sawgrass prairie, pine woods, mangrove forests and ponds. A few White-crowned Pigeons were seen flying over at various points – frustratingly I never got great views of this species, nor Roseate Spoonbill, which were fairly numerous, but often distant, flying over or shy. A flock of Tree Swallows fed low over an area of sawgrass as a Red-tailed Hawk circled overhead. We walked about halfway up Snake Bight Trail but the mosquitoes – for which the trail is famed – proved too much.

Red-bellied Woodpecker, Snake Bight Trail, 27/1/2019.
Roseate Spoonbill, Eco Pond, 27/1/2019.

Next up was Eco Pond, just past the small village of Flamingo at the end of the road. This was a fairly productive area and our only American Avocets of the trip were seen here, along with an Indigo Bunting and a rather smart Northern Parula. We looped round to the beach, where a Grey Plover reminded me of home, before a flushed flock of Savannah Sparrows confirmed we were the other side of the Atlantic. On the slow, stop-punctuated drive back to Homestead, we picked up American White Pelicans.

American Avocet, Eco Pond, 27/1/2019.

Indigo Bunting, Eco Pond, 27/1/2019.

The final stop of the morning was the renowned ‘Lucky Hammock’, at Frog Pond Wildlife Management on the outskirts of Homestead. This rather nondescript site has a fine record of attracting rare birds and I really enjoyed working it. Each visit here was productive, though I didn’t realise the full potential of the area until the last couple. With the humidity increasing bird activity was fairly minimal now, though two Common Ground Doves, a Meadowlark and a female Painted Bunting were good value. At least 10 Blue-grey Gnatcatchers were here too.

Painted Bunting, Lucky Hammock, 27/1/2019.

The rest of the morning and early afternoon was spent doing touristy stuff, though we’d pencilled in a visit to Castellow Hammock Preserve in Homestead later in the day. What was a suburban and essentially oversized garden was a really cool spot and we enjoyed our only hummingbirds of the trip – three Ruby-throated. Having never seen a hummingbird this was an encounter to savour and we spent a couple of hours relaxing on the benches watching these tiny things go about their business.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Castellow Hammock, 27/1/2019.

White-winged Doves – the only ones of the trip – were also seen here and nearby. The Everglades had left such an impression, and been so successful, that after just the first full day we decided to move on and complete our circuit so that we could come back here for the final couple of nights.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Bohemian interlude

This is just a quick post to update on recent patch news. While Britain was locked in a bit of a chill last week I was far away in much warmer climes – plenty of photos and posts on that to come, hence this brief update before it gets lost. On Thursday 24th I got very lucky on a cold weather movement watch, scoring four vocal Waxwings as they haphazardly headed southeast over Tilsey Farm.

Cold times on Mill Pond, 24/1/2019.

The watch was actually quite good, with two large Goldfinch and Linnet flocks piling south, presumably seeking unfrozen feeding grounds. A few Starlings had been heading that way too, and I initially thought I had another four when I locked eyes on the pink quartet, before getting bins on them. The birds were calling too – suggestive that they were looking for somewhere to ditch down. I messaged Cranleigh-based Robin straight away and also Abel (who was in Cranleigh), but neither connected. There was certainly a bit of a southerly Waxwing influx that day – later, small groups were seen in Petersfield and Crawley (latter possibly my birds?).

My first visit after the holiday came today. To be honest, I was a bit jetlagged and hadn’t slept so it was a bit of a dazed affair, though my first ringed gull on patch (inevitably a Common) was a really pleasing discovery at Lower Combe Farm. More on that soon, but it seems it’s from an inland colony in the Highlands … Outside the patch, a 2nd-winter Mediterranean Gull over Guildford Rugby Club was a notable local record and a species that will surely appear at Thorncombe Street soon. Determined not to fall asleep, I later dipped the Frimley GPs Black-throated Diver.

Egyptian Goose, Tilsey Farm, 24/1/2019.

In my absence, Abel admirably grabbed the patch duty baton last week, managing an excellent record of four Pochard on Mill Pond on 27th. He also had one of the Phillimore Water Rails on 31st, and notable extralimital records of Reed Bunting (New Barn Pond) and Teal (Thorncombe Street stream) on 29th. Despite the heavy snow and really cold weather, however, it seems the patch and Surrey in general had a quiet week or so.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Dusk delivers

The last week or so conjured up a mixed bag of weather – largely cold – though the really hard conditions forecast for some time never quite materialised. As a result, patch has been a steady affair, though some nice records have occurred with three new species for the 2019 Thorncombe Street list, as well as some notable counts. Moment of the weekend, however, came away from patch on Sunday evening …

Little Owl, Bonhurst Farm, 17/1/2019.

I was able to get a morning session in on Thursday. In glorious sunshine there wasn’t masses of action, though concluding the visit with a Little Egret at Bramley Park Lake was pleasing. Far more satisfactory, however, was confirming the continued presence of one of the Little Owl pairs, with a bird catching the rays at Bonhurst Farm. That is came not long after I suggested they’d be hard to locate this year is apparently a nice piece of reverse psychology. So, I’m never going to see Rough-legged Buzzard here …

Two species having a good winter are Gadwall and Meadow Pipit. Some notable flocks of the latter have been notched up during the last few days including two separate groups of more than 30. Gadwall are ever-increasing and 22 on Saturday was a joint highest site count. Despite the drop in temperature no other ducks have increased and Sunday WeBS survey was quiet, though a few Shoveler have appeared on Mill Pond for the first time this year.

Meadow Pipits, Lea Farm, 17/1/2019.
Linnet, Bonhurst Farm, 17/1/2019.

Saturday was damp and gloomy so little birding took place. I did however enjoy quality time with some Marsh Tits. I mentioned increased numbers in a recent post and, from a new hide (sadly private) on one of the estates, I was thoroughly entertained by two individuals for an hour or so. It’s well known that this species has the greatest memory of all tits and these guys were constantly flying to and from the feeders, stashing away nyger seed and peanuts.

Marsh Tit, Ridings Pools, 19/1/2019.

In terms of weather Sunday was a complete opposite, with sunshine and clear skies. This prompted two year firsts: a skywatch and displaying raptors. I spent two hours on The Ridge gazing at the sky, hoping for a nice harrier or Merlin to dash through. Alas, none materialised, and the displaying birds of prey were just the commoner locals, but it was still nice to be out and feeling hopeful, even if two Crossbills was the best I could manage. Away from here, I did bag another Little Egret, at Eastwaters Pond.

Little Egret, Eastwaters Pond, 20/1/2019.
Sparrowhawk, Bonhurst Farm, 17/1/2019.

It was also quite a treat to be on the patch with birders – at least four others were out and about in the Thorncombe Street area during the day and while Abel is a bit of a fixture now, ‘guests’ are still very rare! He managed at least seven Crossbills at Nore Hanger (it’s a good winter for them) and Gillian was delighted to catch up with one of the Little Owls and the wintering Firecrest at Bramley Park Lake.

Reed Bunting, The Ridge, 20/1/2019.

Common Gulls, The Ridge, 20/1/2019.

Despite a relatively quiet day the fine weather felt perfect for a smart owl or raptor, and I was tempted out one final time towards sundown. Last week I stated my intentions to give Unstead Sewage Farm a bit of a check when I can and, having exhausted efforts on patch, I figured I’d have a late afternoon stomp around there, in case I could locate a Barn Owl or Woodcock. Wandering a little off-piste I flushed a Snipe, with a Water Rail calling nearby and the Green Sandpiper was still bobbing about. Birds were ditching into various roosts and with the temperature and amount of light dropping, I decided to call it a day.

Literally as soon as I turned to head back, I found myself looking at the silhouette of a Marsh Harrier – not what I was expecting at all! The bird calmly continued fairly low north over the meadows, seemingly looking for somewhere to spend the night. To be honest, I expected it to drop in, but I lost it as it made its way towards Broadford. Surely, it must’ve roosted at Shalford Water Meadows … The dim light and unexpected appearance account for the poor images (Photoshop tried its best).

A definite weekend highlight, though I admit a tinge of annoyance I hadn’t seen it over the patch. I strongly suspect it cruised up the Arun and then Wey on the raptor-friendly conditions, though a mid-January record is unusual for a bird that peaks in Surrey in March/April and August/September. Matt later told me that numbers in the Arundel Marsh Harrier roost have dropped off recently – perhaps this individual got a bit restless and decided to have a nose north? Either way, a splendid encounter and my first in Surrey (where it remains a rare bird – perhaps 4-5 a year) since a patch individual in 2016.

Ravens, The Ridge, 20/1/2019.

Things were rounded off yesterday with another Ridge vigil, this time fuelled by the optimistic thought that some hard weather movement may take place. It didn’t, in short, though several flocks of Starlings moved keenly southwest, suggestive of birds on the run. I’d have taken two Goosander flying over, which Wes scored atop Leith Hill tower, but in the end it was a watch that goes down as valuable hours of not much seen in the bank – in the inland patch game they all count as currency to eventually exchange for a rare!

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Green Sandpiper showing well down memory lane

The last week or so on patch has been somewhat slow for myself, with the uninspiring weather not exactly helping to liven things up. That said I haven’t put in a huge number of hours and indeed have endured that rarest of things, patch grippage! Abel enjoyed Little Egret and Peregrine on Saturday, both year firsts, and species that are not easy to connect with here. On Sunday I had a day birding in Sussex, with a mixed bag of results.

Gadwall, Mill Pond, 12/1/2019.

My humbler patch offerings on Saturday included Brambling, continued Marsh Tit abundance and – best of all – Chiffchaff. The latter was a mild vindication of my new efforts to check neglected areas, with the individual in question in a nondescript copse at Goose Green. Chiffchaff are rare here in winter, or at least hard to come by. Certainly, three birds (including a frustratingly silent Siberian candidate), in Furze Field with Matt in January 2015, stands out as an odd record.

On the subject of Chiffchaffs, I’ve been popping into Unstead Sewage Farm a fair bit recently. I pass it on my way to and from patch and have been giving the wintering birds around the works and lagoons a going through, in case there’s something hidden among them. Nothing of note so far, though a crafty look at the old lagoons on Saturday did yield a Green Sandpiper, along with several Snipe.

Green Sandpiper, Unstead Sewage Farm, 12/1/2019.

Pleasant, but ultimately sad, as any time spent here is these days – had things run differently, or if my visit was on a Saturday a decade or two ago, the site would have been packed with both eager patchers, visitors and – ultimately – birds. The main man Brian doesn't even visit anymore and it really is like a ghost town. Some of my first and richest birding memories came at Unstead and looking at the last remaining speck of suitable habitat gives a feel of stepping back in time. I’ll continue to visit – it’d be fitting for the site to sign off with one last county rarity, like the Red-necked Phalarope, Purple Heron and so many others before …

Purple Sandpiper, Newhaven, 13/1/2019.

For a while David and I have planned to take young Surrey birder Arjun out for a day in the field. We eventually managed to nail a date and on Sunday clocked up more than nine hours traipsing around Sussex. Offshore action let us down a bit and the short winter day meant we ran out of time a little, but we still managed 92 species, eight of which were lifers for Arjun.

Highlights included a previously suppressed, super elusive and very mobile Hume’s Warbler at Newhaven, an in-off flock of Barnacle Geese at Church Norton, a Black Redstart at Medmerry and two distant Pink-footed Geese at Rodmell Brooks. However, for me, nothing could beat the atmospheric pre-dawn start at Arundel – Woodcocks flying around our heads, quartering Barn and calling Little and Tawny Owls and Bewick’s Swans and Marsh Harriers departing from roost, all as the sun comes up … magic.

Black Redstart, Medmerry, 13/1/2019.

Hume's Warbler, Newhaven, 13/1/2019.

Numbers of wildfowl and waders seemed low at Church Norton (we didn’t see any Avocet, godwits, Knot, Pintail or Shoveler). With cold weather set to kick in for a week or two from Thursday, perhaps things will liven up everywhere, including on patch. Certainly, the lack of wildfowl is striking and the seedeater flocks on The Ridge remain small.